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“ Sun's Darling" and the “ Witch of Edmonton,” are taken into the account.
The first of these, in the composition of which Ford joined with Decker, is termed a “ Moral Masque.”-For a moral masque, however, it sets the main business of life sufficiently low: there is nothing worthy of a wise and good man; nothing, in short, beyond what one of the herd of Epicurus might desire-sensual pleasures and gross enjoyments. The plot may be briefly dispatched.
Raybright (the Sun's Darling) is roused from a pleasant dream, and informed that his great progenitor, the Sun, will descend from his sphere to gratify his wildest longings for enjoyment: accordingly, at his imperial command, he is entertained by the Four Seasons in succession, all of whom endeavour to recommend themselves to his affection, and to all of whom he vows eternal fidelity; but abruptly abandons each of them in turn, at the instigation of Humour and her attendant, Folly.”
The result may be anticipated. The youth recognizes his error, and determines to be and virtuous for the residue of his days; when he is told, in strains not unworthy of the subject, that his days are already numbered, and that the inevitable hour is fast closing upon all his earthly prospects.
Indifferent as is the execution of this piece, it
is still far superior to its conception. Passages of considerable beauty, especially in the last two acts, frequently occur; but there is nothing to redeem the absurdity of the plot.
Instead of taking up an inexperienced, unsophisticated youth, and opening the world to him for the first time, for the instruction of others, the authors have inconsiderately brought forward a kind of modern Virbius; a character who had previously run through life, and its various changes, and seen and enjoyed infinitely more than is tendered to him in his new career.
“ The Sun's Darling,” in its present state, was performed in 1624; but not printed till 1658, when the long persecution of the stage (fortunately for the lovers of the old drama) compelled the actors to have recourse to the press with such of the prompter's copies as remained in their hands, for a temporary relief. In the dedication to the Earl of Southampton, we are told that "the
lived by the breath of general applause;" and it might have attained some degree of popularity from the quick succession of characters, the songs, the dances and other incidental entertainments, which, though rude and homely, were yet all that the theatres could give, and such as the audiences of those days were well content to admire.
Langbaine tells us, that the greatest part of the Sun's Darling was written by Ford; but he quotes
no authority for the assertion. A piece with this name is mentioned in Henslowe's MSS. as having once belonged to the Rose Theatre. I suspect that this was the foundation of the present Masque, and that Decker was the author of it. If it be so, the incongruous nature of the fable is easily accounted for, by the additions which other poets, and above all our author, were called upon to supply, as occasions presented themselves; for we deceive ourselves greatly if we suppose, from the combination of names which sometimes appears on the old title-pages, that those who are specified were always simultaneously employed in the production of the same play.
The second piece, “the Witch of Edmonton,” was brought out about the same period as the former, and printed in 1658, probably at the suggestion of Bird, whose name appears to a few introductory lines, which he calls a Prologue. If 'I understand him, he says, that it was favourably received on the stage; and he therefore argues well of its reception from the general reader.
“ But as the year doth with his plenty bring
As well a latter as a former spring,
In the title-page it is called “A known true story.” All my acquaintance with it is derived
from the following passages in Caulfield's popular collection of “the Lives and Portraits of Remarkable Persons, 1794.” • Elizabeth Sawyer, executed in 1621 for witchcraft.'
“ The following title,” Mr. Caulfield adds,“ is prefixed to a 4to. pamphlet printed in London, 1621.
“The wonderful discovery of Elizabeth Sawyer, a witch, late of Edmonton, her conviction, condemnation and death, together with the devil's access to her, and their conference together. Written by Henry Goodcole, minister of the word of God, and her constant visitor in the gaole at Newgate."
I have not been able to procure a sight of this pamphlet, and therefore can only venture to speak from conjecture—but I am disposed to believe that it furnished our poets with little more than a titlepage. It is apparently a story made up for the occasion, and though it is highly probable that a woman of this name was executed for a witch, yet I place no reliance on the date, though, in compliance with the general supposition, I have fixed its first appearance in 1623. “ The Witch of Islington” appears among the plays performed by Mr. Henslowe's company in 1597 ; this was not too early for Decker, and may have been the foundation of the present work, with a more popular name:—for Edmonton had already given a “ Devil to the delighted stage;" and this may be thought to account in some measure for the “ &c.” subjoined to the list of writers in the titlepage.
And popular, no doubt, the piece was. The Sorceress of our times (for they will not be called Witches now) is a splendid character; she moves like a volcano, amidst smoke and fire, and throws heaven and earth into commotion at every step: but the witch of those days was a miserable creature, enfeebled by age, soured by poverty, and maddened by inveterate persecution and abuse. And what were the scenic adjuncts which gave reality and life to the pranks of this august personage? Briefly, a few hereditary “ properties” from the green-room of old John Heywood's days, the whole of which might inhabit lax in a single cloak-bag. No sweet symphonies from viewless harps, no beautiful displays of hell broke-up, and holyday devils dancing ad libitum through alternate scenes of terror and delight, were at our poet's command, call for them as he might: a black shaggy rug in imitation of a dog's-skin, * into which a clever imp was thrust, and taught to
* In speaking of the Black Dog of Newgate, (vol. ii. p. 527.) it escaped me that a piece with this title, by R. Hathway, was performed in 1602. A drama with a similar name, by Luke Hutton, is mentioned by the Editor of Dodsley's Old Plays as printed before 1600. I have never seen it. Vol. viii.