Page images

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,

[ocr errors]

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


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

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 subsecive; 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 O. Gilchrist, Esquire, to W. Gifford, on the late edition of Ford's Plays." 1811.

"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 enjoyThe 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 very wise 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 poem 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

« PreviousContinue »