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same time offer us no compensation for the perplexity in which they involve us. Beaumont and Fletcher afford an instance of it in the general plot of “ The Chances,” “ The Custom of the Country," " Rule a Wife and have a Wife,” and other plays. The dialogue of these authors, though for the most part appropriate, is sometimes singularly the reverse.
What shall we say to the following noble and magnificent line being put into the mouth of a young lady defending the character of her lover.
Virtue is never wounded, but I suffer.
(Custom of the Country, Act 1.)
Had such a line found place in Mr. Ad-. dison's Cato, it would have been granted to a man, whom conscious merit had elevated to the idea that he was the peculiar favorite of heaven. The learning of these authors is frequently obtrusive and unnatural. Their young ladies prefer a “happiness in esse” to a “ happiness in posse;" their servants draw their illustrations from the waters of Nonacris in Arcadia, and their waiting maids talk of Bellarmine. Enough has been said to mark out a wide distinction between them and Shakespeare. It must also be observed that their characters
are usually of a higher cast, being mostly of the rank of gentlemen, while Shakespeare generally contents himself with exercising his comic talents on drunken sailors, clowns, constables, and watchmen.
They understood," says Dryden, “and imitated the conversation of gentlemen much better, whose wild debaucheries and quickness of wit in repartees, no poet can eyer paint as they have done.” This panegyric may sufficiently account for the preference given to their plays above all others in the reign of Charles II. when the courtiers vied with each other in adopting them to representation; and we may suppose, that in the hands of Buckingham and Rochester, there would be at least one class of faults undiminished either in frequency or extent. We must also remember that the task they had to perform was less difficult than that of Shakespeare. In his plays each individual is a distinct character, " the representation of a species," and there is scarcely a speech which could be transferred from one person to another; but in the general dialogue of the gentlemen who figure in the plots of Beaumont and Fletcher, the style is the same on all sides, and a sentence that becomes Ruțilio, is equally suited
to the lips of Arnoldo. It is impossible, however, to dismiss the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, without acknowledging the high degree of amusement and instruction they afford—without feeling that they are crouded with every species of excellence with moral wisdom inforced by much poetic beauty and singular felicity of expression-with exhibition of character faithful to the feelings of mankind, and as various and extended as those feelings. If their vigour sometimes runs into licentiousness, it generally displays itself in the exuberant glow of genius, giving a higher colour to nature in order to impress her works the more upon our minds. Beaumont died in 1615. Fletcher in 1625.
Massinger, whose unmerited poverty and distress, during his life, have been exchanged by posterity for a neglect equally unjust, or a notice more cruel than any neglect in the presumptuous ignorance of his editors, shall close my enumeration of the writers of this early age. His fame has at length been amply vindicated by the literary and moral anger of Mr. Gifford, and I have to name him chiefly in justice to my subject.
subject. He is a writer of various and extraordinary merit. In his lower
comedy, indeed, he is often unsuccessful. The comic scenes, for instance, where Spungius and Hircius appear in the horrible but magnificent tragedy of " the Virgin Martyr,” are, for the most part, vulgar without merriment, gross without passion, smart without wit, and laborious without effect. The same persons are sometimes on the contrary ridiculously learned. A fault of this latter description may also be found in the powerful play of “ the New Way to Pay Old Debts,” as where the cook talks of raising,
Fortifications in the pastry,
A third instance may be adduced from " the very woman,” where “ the prodigal author" puts the following description of Almira's despair on the occasion of her lover Martino having received a dangerous wound from Antonio, into the mouth of a waiting woman.
Wom. I am sure she slept not. If she slumber'd, straight, As if some dreadful vision had appear’d, She started up, her hair unbound, and, with Distracted looks staring about the chamber, She asks aloud--where is Martino ? where
Have you conceal'd him ? sometimes names Antonio,
This splendid harmonious eloquence of one chambermaid is succeeded by the equally preposterous learning of a second.
2d. Wom. Nay more :
Of such inappropriateness of dialogue, whether from elevation or depression, the first of which is so flattering to the pride, the latter so consonant to the frailty of an author, Shakespeare is never guilty. Massinger, as was before observed, fails in his lower comedy. Mr. Gifford himself, indeed, allows that he has no pretensions to wit, but maintains his claim to a considerable portion of humour. He should have defined his idea of humour and given us some examples of it, as nothing is so vague as these general observations. Perhaps he