Page images
PDF
EPUB

the family. Popham was made Attorney-General in 1581; and in 1592 he was advanced to the rank of Chief Justice of the King's Bench, which he held for many years; so that his patronage, which must have been considerable, (as he appears to have been in some favour both with Elizabeth and her successor,) probably afforded many facilities to his young relatives in the progress of their studies, and opened advantages of various kinds.

Our poet had been preceded in his legal studies by his cousin John Ford, son of an elder brother of his father's family, to whom he appears to have looked up with much respect, and to have borne an almost fraternal affection: this gentleman was entered at Gray's Inn; but Popham seems to have taken his young relation more immediately under his own care, and placed him at the Middle Temple, of which he had been appointed Treasurer in 1581.

It is probable that Ford was not inattentive to his studies; but we hear nothing of him till 1606, (four years after his admission,) when he published “ Fame's Memorial, or the Earl of Devonshire deceased,” &c. an elegiac poem, in 4to. which he dedicated to the Countess, his widow.. Why he came forward in so inauspicious a cause, cannot now be known. He was a stranger to both parties; yet he appears to bewail the death of the Earl, as if it had been attended with some failure of professional hope to himself. “ Elegies“ and “ Memorials” were sufficiently common at that period, and indeed long after it; but the authors steadfastly looked to the surviving heir, for pay or patronage, in return for their miserable dole of consolation; and our youthful poet sets out with affirming (and he deserves the fullest credit) that his Muse was unfeed. Be this as it may, it argued no little spirit in him to advocate an unpopular cause, and step forward in the sanguine expectation of stemming the current of general opinion: not to add, that the praise which he lavishes on the Earl of Essex could scarcely fail to be ill-received by the Lord Chief Justice, who was one of those commissioned by the Queen to inquire into the purport of the military assemblage at his house, was detained there by the troops during the crazy attempt of this ill-starred nobleman to raise an insurrection, and was finally a witness against him for the forcible detention.

“ Fame's Memorial” adds little or nothing to the poet's personal history. It would seem, if we might venture to understand him literally, (for he writes to the GUVET0l, and takes especial pains to keep all but those familiarly acquainted with him in complete ignorance of his story,) that he had involved himself in some unsuccessful affair of love. while at home, with a young lady, whom, by an ungallant allusion, I fear, to the Greek, he at one

time calls the cruel Lycia, and, at another, the cruel subtile Lycia. He wishes that she were less wise; and in truth she does exhibit no unfavourable symptom of good sense in “ confining her thoughts to elder merits," instead of “ solacing” her youthful admirer, who, at the period of first taking the infection into his eye, could not have reached his eighteenth year. Yet he owes something to this pursuit. He had evidently wooed the lady (herself a muse) in verse, and symptoms of wounded vanity occasionally appear at the inflexibility of this second Lyde, to whose obstinate ears he sang in vain: yet the attempt gave him some facility in composition; for though he evinces little of either taste or judgment, his lines flow smoothly, and it may be said of him, as it was of a greater personage,

He caught at love, and fill'd his arms with bays.

In consequence of her blindness or obduracy, he declares his intention of “ travailing till some comfort reach his wretched heart forlorn.” This is merely a rhetorical flourish; for the travail which he contemplated, appears to be the labour and pains employed, to divert the current of his thoughts, on the “ lamentation for this great lord.”

He found, however, better resources against illrequited love, than “ perpetual lamentation" for

ne

one who was not unwillingly forgotten by his contemporaries, in the pursuit of the law, to which he prudently adhered; a circumstance which he never forgets, nor ever suffers his patrons to forget, as if he feared to pass with them more for a poet than a man of business.

But he had yet another resource. He had apparently contracted a strong and early passion for the Stage, to which he devoted most of his horæ subsecivæ; and, without prematurely grasping at a name, wrote, as the custom then was, in conjunction with the regular supporters of the minor theatres. That he published nothing, we are warranted to conclude from the assertion in the dedication to the “ Lover's Melancholy,” (given to the press in 1629,) that this was “ the first” (dramatic) “piece of his that ever courted reader.But in the twenty-three years which had elapsed since the appearance of his Elegy, he had more than once courted the favour of the spectator, * and “ stood rubrick” with others in the title-page of several plays which have come down to us, and in more, perhaps, which remain to be discovered. The late Mr. G. Chalmers gave to the public the

* We have the authority of Singleton for the fact, who, in the lines prefixed to this very play, (the Lover's Melancholy,) says,

“ Nor seek I praise for thee, when thine own pen

Hath forced a praise long since from knowing men.”

names of three pieces hitherto unnoticed, in which he was concerned, “ the Fairy Knight,” and “ the Bristowe Merchant," written in conjunction with Decker; and “ a late Murther of the Sonne upon the Mother,"* in which he was assisted by Webster: and Isaac Reed, in the interleaved copy of his Langbaine, (now in the possession of Mr. Heber,) has given from the Stationers' books the title of several others, entered under our poet's name, among which are “Sir Thomas Overbury's Life and untimely Death,” 25th November, 1615. “ The Line of Life,” 10th October, 1620. “An ill Beginning has a good End, &c.” which is known to have been brought on the stage as early as 1613. When to these we add the four plays which were among the manuscript dramas destroyed by Mr. Warburton's servant, and recollect that this is still but an imperfect list of his dramatic labours, we may venture to appreciate the just force of the expression quoted in the preceding page; and, at all events, to admit that, though new to the Press, he came before the public well graduated to the Stage.

This will be yet more apparent, when the two pieces which now close the second volume, the

* “ Letter of 0. Gilchrist, Esquire, to W. Gifford, on the late edition of Ford's Plays.” 1811.

« PreviousContinue »