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a favorite species of character; we mean the character which, with a rough exterior, possesses great warmth of heart and fidelity of affection; a character somewhat like Shakespeare's Lafeu in the first two particulars, and like his Adam in the last. Of this class, Massinger's Romont is an admirable specimen. His villains are remarkably fine; but of them we have spoken in another place. Massinger's comedy, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, is by no means equal to the pathetic portions of his plays, and is indeed unequal in itself, and rarely moves our laughter in the perusal, whatever it may have done when represented on the stage. It appears at its best in the "Old Law," and in the silly coxcombs who frequently figure in his plays. There is no approach to Falstaff, to Parolles, or to any one of the merry company we meet with on the pages of the great dramatist. Massinger's comedy is at times so disfigured by grossness, of which very little appears in his serious passages, scarcely to be mentioned when one considers the time,—that it has been conjectured by some critics that he did not write the comical parts of his plays himself, but employed an assistant for that purpose; but the conclusion does not follow from the premises; for it may readily be that a poet, endowed with a superior tragic power, but deficient in comic ability, and conscious of that defect, might, from the tone current about him in the Elizabethan era, have mistaken the vulgarity which was commonly adjoined to the wit of that day, for the wit itself, and so, in writing in the endeavor to please and catch the popular ear, have presented simply, and we may add ignorantly, vulgarity and coarseness, under the impression that they constituted wit and humor. This having been done once, and the groundlings, who then, as now, made a large proportion of a theatrical audience, having been pleased, the author would be confirmed in his error, and the course would be continued in. This idea gathers strength in our mind when we discover that the “Old Law,” in which occur the truly amusing characters of Gnotho the clown, and Creon's servants, with their wives, was written by Massinger in conjunction with Rowley and Middleton; and Gifford says that his persuasion is "that the share of Massinger in this strange composition is not the most considerable of the three."
But, from whatever cause it arises, the fact is undeniably true that Massinger's comic ability was infinitely inferior to his tragic, and, worse than that, we find his comic passages frequently disfigured by grossness and vulgarity, which seems the more remarkable when we turn to his tragic, or even his simply serious, parts, and see with what purity and delicacy he has treated even rather questionable subjects.
In conclusion, Massinger may be regarded as a type, in one especial characteristic, of the age in which he lived. The characteristic alluded to is earnestness. Now, that the age acts upon the man, as well as the man upon the age, has become almost a truism, and needs no argument to enforce it; but in every age there are men who stand out as representatives in an eminent degree of its spirit. The age of Elizabeth was distinguished for its earnestness. It was shown in every department of human life,-shown in the voyages undertaken by Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins; it was shown in the uprising of the people on the approach of the Armada,shown even in the spy system of Walsingham,—shown in the rigor of the religious persecutions, and shown, too, in the fortitude with which they were supported, shown, as a final instance, in the literature of the day,But stop! cries some one. Remember euphuism,-remember the careful balancing of words, the seeking after quaintness of expression or oddity of imagery. Well, we remember it; but, waiving the suggestion that there was a certain kind of earnestness exhibited in the very pursuit of oddity, in the very carefulness of balance, and the delight in antithesis,—as a rope-dancer is sometimes one of the most careful, earnest of men for the time being, though what he does is a trifle, remember also that the euphuistic writings were not the main ones of the age. Turn where we will, and especially when we turn in the direction of the drama, we find the spirit of the age-earnestness-stamped upon the national literature; and who more earnest than Massinger? The very
crabbedness and hardness" of which Hazlitt complains, is but earnestness, and it is delightful to read an author who is in earnest, who does not trifle and play with his subject as though it were a mere platform on which to exhibit the performer's skill, and who, by his earnestness, often produces the genuine effect at which all writers should aim,—the elevation of soul,--the enforcement of principle; while another produces only the effect of wonder at his own skill,—a wonder which, when the first impressions of it have worn off, leaves the author who has created it far lower in the estimation of his readers than him who has not been so anxious for display, and thus fails, even in his far inferior object. What has given Carlyle such effect, cursed as he is with a bad style, and extravagant as he appears at times, but his earnestness? Do we not feel, when we have taken up Carlyle,—when we have waded and fought our way, as at times we must, through his involved sentences and strange phraseology, and have gained some knowledge of his meaning,—that this man is in earnest? And does he not force us to think, even after we have laid away the book upon the book-shelf, and imagine ourselves engaged with other things? Verily, he does; and he does all this because he is earnest. Now, if earnestness be so potent, even under disadvantages, how powerful should it be when joined with the graces of speech, kept in proper subordination to the main object, to great skill in development of plot, and to great knowledge of human nature, as is the case with our poet? I do not say Massinger is as earnest as Carlyle, who is one of the most earnest writers the world has seen, but that earnestness is a prominent characteristic of him, -I may say the most prominent—and also that in this characteristic he stands before us as a type of his age, and the worthy compeer of Drake, Raleigh, Campion, Leicester, and, as a writer, the compeer of Ben Jonson, of Ford, of Webster, of all the great dramatists of his day,-save always the greatest, grandest mind that has been given to the world of poesy.
A SHORT EXAMINATION OF HAZLITT'S
CRITICISM OF MASSINGER.
In an article upon Massinger, which appeared in this magazine a few months since, we had occasion to call attention to the fact that all the critics whose dicta with reference to the Elizabethan drama are regarded as of weight, with the exception of Hazlitt, united in assigning to Massinger a high rank amongst the dramatic authors of his time, and in recognizing him as the possessor of genuine poetic, and especially tragic, ability of the highest order. From this general agreement Hazlitt dissented, and, in view of the deservedly high reputation of the critic, it may not be either uninteresting or uninstructive for us to consider for a short time the charges brought against Massinger as a dramatist and poet by Hazlitt, and endeavor to see how far they are justified by the writings which Mr. Hazlitt criticised.
In the fourth of his very interesting lectures on the dramatic literature of Elizabeth, page 104, Hazlitt says: “I must hasten to conclude this lecture with some account of Massinger and Ford, who wrote in the reign of Charles I. I am sorry I cannot do it con amore. The writers of whom I have chiefly had to speak were true poets, impassioned, fanciful, 'musical as is Apollo's lute;' but Massinger is harsh and crabbed, Ford finical and fastidious. . Massinger makes an impression by hardness and repulsiveness of manner. In the intellectual processes which he delights to describe, ‘reason panders will;' he fixes arbitrarily on some object which there is no motive to pursue, or every motive combined against it, and, by screwing up his heroes or heroines to the deliberate and blind accomplishment of this, thinks to
* This paper appeared in the Penn Monthly for November, 1881.