Abbildungen der Seite

by a Lady who is neither maid, wife, nor widow. The Spirit blows a magical horn, and the Lady appears, breaks the glass, and puts out the light. A curtain being then withdrawn discovers the sister asleep: she is disenchanted by being spoken to thrice; joins her brothers, and returns home with them; and the Spirit vanishes into the earth.

The resemblances to Milton's Comus need not be specified The difference of the two pieces in all points of execution is literally immense. Mr. Dyce has the following just re marks on the subject : “Milton, it is well known, read with attention the writings of his predecessors, and not unfrequently adopted their conceptions, which, after passing through his mighty mind, came forth purified from all dross, and glowing with new beauties. That, for the composition of his enchanting Masque, a portion of The Old Wives' Tale was submitted to this intellectual process, there is, 1 think, great reason to believe: Sacrapant, Delia, her Brothers, and Jack, when divested of their meanness and vulgarity, and arrayed in all the poetic loveliness that the highest genius could pour around them, assumed the forms of Com mus, the Lady, her Brothers, and the Attendant Spirit.”

The Love of King David and Fair Bethsabe is generally regarded as Peele's masterpiece. Here, again, we breathe the genuine air of nature and simp'icity. The piece is all in blank-verse, which, though wanting in variety of movement, is replete with melody. There is, perhaps, a somewhat too literal adherence to the Scripture narrative, and very little art used in the ordering and disposing of the materials, for Peele was neither strong nor happy in the gift of invention ; but the characters generally are seized in their most peculiar traits, and presented with a good degree of vigour and discrimination ; while at the same time the more prominent features are not worked into disproportion with the other parts. Nathan's artful reproof of David is a favourable specimen of the author's style. The Prophet is made to speak as follows:

# Thus Natban saith opto his lord the King :
There were two men, bolb dwellers in one towns
The one was mighty, and exceeding rich
In oxen, sheep, and cattle of the field ;
The other poor, baving nor ox, nor calf,
Nor other cattle, save one little lamb,
Which he had bought and nourish'd by the hand;
And it grew up, and fed with him and his,
And ate and drank, as he and his were wont,
And in his bosom slept, and was to live
As was his daughter or his dearest child.
There came a stranger to this wealthy man;
And he refus'd and spar'd to take his own,
Or of his store to dress or make him meat,
But look the poor man's sheep," &c.

On the whole, Campbell's elegant criticism of the piece, though perhaps slightly overcharged, may fitly go in company with the subject : “We may justly cherish the memory of Peele as the oldest genuine dramatic poet in our language. His David and Bethsabe is the earliest fountain of pathos and harmony that can be traced in our dramatic poetry. His fancy is rich, and his feeling tender; and his conceptions of dramatic character have no inconsiderable mixture of solid veracity and ideal beauty. There is no such sweetness of versification and imagery to be found in our blank-verse anterior to Shakespeare."

Still it is not to be denied that Peele's contributions towards the Drama were mainly in the single article of poetry: in the development of character, and in the high art of dramatic composition and organisation, he added but very little: his genius was far unedual to this great task, and his judgment still more so. And his literary efforts were doubtless rendered fitful and unsteady by his habits of profligacy; which may explain why it was that he who could do so well, sometimes did so meanly. Often, no doubt, when reduced to extreme shifts he patched up his matter loosely and trundled it off in haste, to replenish his wasted means and start him on a fresh course of riot and debauchery Mr. Dyce is strongly of the opinion that not more than half of his dramatic works “has survived the ravages of time.” We hear of a play by him, entitled the Turkish Mahomet and Hiren the Fair Greek, but nothing more is known of it. Some fragments, also, of a pastoral drama, called The Hunting of Cupid, are preserved among the manuscript selections of Drummond of Hawthornden. It was ficenced for the press in 1591, but no copy has come to light.

Robert Greene, though inferior to Peele as a whole, surpassed him in fertility and aptness of invention, in quickness and luxuriance of fancy, and in the right seizing and placing of character, especially for comic effect. In his day he was vastly notorious both as a writer and a man: this cheap counterfeit of fame he achieved with remarkable ease, and seems not to have coveted any thing better. He was born at Norwich, in what year, is not known; took his first degree at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1578, proceeded Master of Arts at Clare-hall in 1583, and was incorporated at Oxford in 1588; after which he was rather fond of styling himself “ Master of Arts in both Universities." It is highly probable that he was for some time in holy orders; for a person of his name held the vicarage of Tollesbury in 1584 ; and in that year he published a moral discourse entitled The Mirror of Modesty, on the story of Susanna and the Elders. He also translated a funeral sermon by Pope Gregory XIII., and published it in 1585 ; by which time his unfitness for the Ministry of the Church had probably be come so apparent as to cause his ejection from office; for in the title-page of his Planetomachia, also printed that year, he calls himself “ Student in Physic." Soon after this time, if not before, he betook himself to London, where he speedily sank into the worst type of a literary adventurer. Henceforth his life seems to have been one continual spasm, plunging hither and thither in transports of wild debauchery and as wild repentance.

Between the taking of his first and second degrees, in

1578 and 1583, Greene travelled into Spain, Italy, and other parts of the Continent, where, according to his own statement, he saw and practised such villainy as is abominable to declare." This is quoted from a tract entitled “The Re pentance of Robert Greene, wherein by himself is laid open his loose life.” He continues his self-anatomy as follows : “ After I had by degrees proceeded Master of Arts, I left the University, and away to London, where I became an author of plays and a penner of love-pamphlets, so that I soon grew famous in that quality, that who for that trade grown so ordinary about London as Robin Greene? Young yet in years, though old in wickedness, I began to resolve that there was nothing bad that was profitable : whereupon I grew so rooted in all mischief, that I had as great delight in wickedness as sundry hath in godliness; and as much felicity I took in villainy as others had in honesty.” From this, and much more in the like strain, it would seem that in his repentant moods the wretched man took a morbid pleasure in hanging over and displaying his moral blotches and sores. He died in 1592, eaten up with diseases purchased by sin. The immediate cause of his death is thus stated by Meres in his Palladis Tamia, 1598: “ Robert Greene died of a surfeit taken at pickled herring and Rhenish wine, as witnesseth Thomas Nash, who was at the fatal banquet." Mr. Dyce, in his memoir of Greene, speaks of the event with real pathos : “There have been," says he, “ too many of the Muses' sons whose vices have conducted them to shame and sorrow; but none, perhaps, who have sunk to deeper degradation and misery than the subject of this memoir."

Much, if not most, of Greene's notoriety during his lifetime grew from his prose writings, which, in the form of tracts, were rapidly thrown off one after another, and were well adapted both in matter and style to catch a loud but transient popularity. One of them had the high honour of being laid under contribution by Shakespeare for The Winter's Tale, and some account of it may be seen in our Introduction to that charming play. In these pieces, generally, the most striking features are a constant affecting of the euphuistic style which John Lyly had rendered popular, and a certain redundancy or incontinence of words and metaphors and classical allusions, the issue of a full and ready memory unrestrained in its discharges by taste or judgment: the writer gallops on from page to page with unflagging volubility, himself evidently captivated with the rolling sound of his own sentences. Still his descriptions are often charged with a warmth and height of colouring that could not fail to take prodigiously in an age when severity or delicacy of taste was none of the commonest. And sometimes, when he is thoroughly in earnest, as in the address printed along with his Groatsworth of Wit, and quoted in our third Chapter of the Poet's Life, his style fairly degenerates into eloquence, or something bordering upon it. Several of his prose pieces are liberally interspersed with passages of poetry, in many of which his fluent and teeming fancy is seen to great advantage. He uses in these a variety of measures, and most of them with an easy and natural skill, while his cast of imagery and course of thought show him by no means a stranger to the true springs of poetic sweetness and grace, though he never rises to any thing like grandeur or pathos.

At what time Greene began to write for the stage, is not certainly known. Up to the time of his going to London, we have met with but three dramas composed, wholly or partly, in blank-verse. These are Gorboduc, Jocasta, and The Arraignment of Paris, neither of which was written expressly for the public stage, but only for use in private or at Court ; though, as all three of them were in print, they may have been used more or less by some of the theatrical companies. The point now is, whep blank-verse first came to be used in plays designed for public representation ? Gosson, in his Plays Confuted, 1581, tells us that “poets send their verses to the stage upon such feet as continually

« ZurückWeiter »