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walk on all fours, with permission to relieve himself occasionally by “ standing on his hind-legs,” and “a mask and visor for a spirit in the shape of Katherine,” were all the machinery which the simplicity or poverty of the old theatre allowed him; and these were not regarded without considerable interest by those who knew no superstitions but the legendary ones of long ages, and whose creed was in full accordance with that of the stage. We laugh at all this now; and we do well: but, in justice to the poets, we should try them by the code under which they lived and wrote. Nothing more is required.
If it were worth the pains to enter more at large on the subject, it might be observed that the two parts of this drama (the human and superhuman) are very loosely, not to say unskilfully, combined. If the authors ever had a plan, they made good haste to forget it. Mother Sawyer becomes a witch to revenge herself on old Banks, who had ill treated her; yet she passes him without injury to wreak her malice on Carter, who had never wronged her, nor even come into contact with her. In addition to which, it may be noticed that not a single circumstance takes place in the serious part which calls for the intervention of supernatural aid. Young Thorney required no instigation to perpetrate any mischief: he carried the fiend (a far more awful demon than the stage could supply) in his own breast, and the meddling of Mother Sawyer's familiar was altogether superfluous. Skilfully disencumbered of this poor traditionary juggling, the fable would form a beautiful whole, and prove one of the most tender and affecting of our domestic tragedies.
It has been observed (p. ix.) that the poet entertained a high degree of love and respect for his cousin John Ford, of Grays Inn; and he took the earliest opportunity of showing it, by prefixing his name, with that of one or two others of “his honoured friends of that Noble Society,"* to his first acknowledged piece, the Lover's Melancholy. There is an affectation of modesty in the dedication, which, when the writer's age is considered, (for he was now in the full maturity of life, might be wished away;
and there is something of unsuspicious pleasantry in following up the timely hint “ that printing his works might soon grow out of fashion with him," by sending all his subsequent ones to the
press ! The “Lover's Melancholy” was published in 1629. It appeared on the stage in the winter of the preceding year; and was probably written not long before, since Burton's popular work, “the Anatomie of Melancholy,” on which the comic part si Dîs placet) of the story is founded, and to which
* Nathaniel Finch, Esquire, Mr. Henry Blunt, (probably some relation of the Devonshire family,) and Mr. Rob. Ellice.
the title evidently refers, had not been above a year or two, I believe, before the public.
Mr. Campbell speaks favourably of the poetic portion of this play; he thinks, and I fully agree with him, that it has much of the grace and sweetness which distinguish the genius of Ford. It has also somewhat more of the sprightliness in the language of the secondary characters, than is commonly found in his plays; and, could we suppose that the idle buffoonery was introduced at a later period, in compliance with the taste of the age, which seems to have found a strange and unnatural delight in the exhibition of these humiliating aberrations of the human mind, we might almost be tempted to surmise that the rest of the drama was of an earlier period than is here set down for it.
Were it my plan to analyze the story of this and the succeeding dramas, and to lengthen out the introductory matter by extracts, I scarcely know where more favourable specimens of the harmony and unaffected pathos of the writer might be found than in the Lover's Melancholy, debased as it is by abortive attempts at humour, and the admission of what the facetious Corax is pleased to term the Masque of Melancholy, especially when the author had skilfully presented, in the characters of Meleander and the Prince, two species of melancholy on which the fable hinges, and to which none of
the examples introduced from Burton bear the slightest reference. The catastrophe, indeed the whole of the last act, is beautifully written, and exhibits a degree of poetical talent and feeling which few of the dramatic writers of that day surpassed.
Ford had somewhat pettishly observed in the Epilogue to this piece, that if it failed to please the audience he would not trouble them again; and in the same peevish mood he tells his cousin of Grays-Inn, in the dedication, that offering “a play to the reader may soon grow out of fashion with him.” He certainly evinced no great degree of earnestness to appear again before the public, as the next play, “ Tis pity she's a Whore,” was not given to the press till nearly four years after the former; when, as if to indemnify himself for his constrained forbearance, he published three of his dramas at short intervals. The present play has neither prologue nor epilogue; but in the dedication to the Earl of Peterborough, who had openly manifested his satisfaction with the piece on its first appearance, (when the actors exerted themselves with such success as to call for a separate acknowledgement,) Ford terms it “ the first fruits of his leisure.” And here again, we have to lament that indistinctness which every where obscures the personal history of the poet. The first fruits of his leisure, the play before us could scarcely be; as (to omit all mention of those in which he joined with Decker) one of his dramas was performed at court nearly twenty years before the date of the present,* which bears besides tokens of a mind habituated to deep and solemn musings, and formed by long and severe practice to a style of composition at once ardent and impressive.
The groundwork of this dreadful plot is loosely noticed by Bandello; but it appears from a note in the last edition of Beaumont and Fletcher (vol. i. p. 239.)f that the tale is extant in a small collection of French Tales by Rossell; from whom Ford perhaps may have borrowed it.
" Rossell relates the story as having actually happened in the reign of Henry IV.” To me, however, it has not the air of a French adventure. France is not the soil for the production of such fervid and frantic displays of unhallowed desire; her domestic histoires tragiques, as far, at least, as they have come under my notice, take their rise principally from avarice and revenge: but I can readily believe that Italy, or even Spain, (and Ford has here drawn his characters from both countries,) actu
* An Ill Beginning, &c. See p. xiii. .
t “ Histoires Tragiques de notre temps. Paris. 1616. 12mo. p. 174.” My attempts to procure this volume, though seconded by the kindness of Mr. Petrie, and some other friends, have not proved successful.