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had in view a scene in " the Virgin Martyr," where an evil spirit, disguised as Harpax, persuades Hircius and Spungius, that the devil is a better fellow than they imagine.
Harp. How! the devil? I'll tell you what now of the devil, He's no such horrid creature; cloven-footed, Black, saucer-eyed, his nostrils breathing fire, As these lying Christians make him.
Harp. He's more loving To man,
than man to man is. Hir. Is he so ? would we two might come acquainted with him.
Harp. You shall : he's a wondrous good fellow, loves a cup of wine, a whore, any thing ; if you have money, it's ten to one but I'll bring him to some tavern to you or other.
Spun. I'll bespeak the best room in the house for him.
[See vol. I. page 73.]
In his higher comedy, Massinger is admirable, abounding every where in strength, feeling, poetry, character, and precepts of wisdom. It is difficult to quote where almost equal excellence is universal, and unnecessary, as his works are now published in so desirable a form. Mr. Gifford is indignant with Mr. M. Mason, for inclining
to make a partial exception in favor of Shakespeare, on the point of harmony of numbers, an excellence in which, according to the former of these gentlemen, Massinger stands unrivalled. This is the overheated zeal of an editor. At least, I cannot imagine that the harmony of Massinger, easy, flowing, and attractive as it is, can be preferred by a deliberate judgment to the wild, natural, ever-appropriate music of Shakespeare, which, though too frequently interrupted and sometimes even turned into dissonance, (faults, indeed, of which Massinger is guilty to an equal extent,) often surpasses imitation or praise, and arrives at that degree of cxccllcuce, which, if we may apply to poetry a phrase, originating in the sister arts of painting and sculpture, may be termed the ideal perfection. Massinger has the defects, as well as the merits of his age, in the occasional grossness and indelicacy of his dialogue, his exaggerated delineation of character, the rapidity, boldness, I had almost said, the ferocity of his incidents. The play of " the City Madam,” which Mr. Gifford seems to think the best of his comedies, exhibits this latter fault in a most flagrant
After many circumstances suffe
ciently strong and energetic, the fifth act commences with an uncle agreeing to send his brother's wife and his two nieces to Virginia, for the express purpose of being sacrificed to the devil. This play, notwithstanding, is crouded with the most eminent beauties of every description. In the general management of his plots, Massinger appears to me to surpass his great contemporaries, not excepting Jonson, who comes next him in this respect. Massinger was born in 1584 and died in 1640.
It will not be superfluous here to observe, that what is called the management of the plot has generally held too high a consideration in dramatic composition. Indeed, a play is frequently injured nearly in proportion to the value that is set and the industry that is bestowed on this point. Carelessness should unquestionably be avoided, but an author, who trusts much for success to this sort of dexterity, has seldoin much time for attending to the beauties of dialogue, or the display of character, and he puts his audience into the same predicament. Lord Holland, in his very amusing account of the life and writings of the great Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega Carpio, bestows too high a pane
gyric upon his author for his skill in contriving and managing his plots. It must be added that the play, sketched as a proof of the justice of this praise, even considered according to the intention with which it is given, is far too violent in its transitions. At least, I cannot agree with the noble critic in his admiration of the scene, where a lady at her toilette, preparing with great exultation of heart for her marriage, is suddenly interrupted by persons bringing before her the corpse of her brother, who has been murdered, at the request of the king, by his dearest friend her lover.
There were other authors of considerable dramatic excellence at thc period of which I have been treating, such as Rowley, Middleton, Field, Decker, Shirley, and Ford. Enough, however, has been said to distinguish the style of the age, (which I take from the birth of Shakespeare to the death of Massinger) and though it may be rash to follow the various editors and commentators of our ancient dramatists to the full extent of their panegyricks, all men, undoubtedly, who delight more in striking passages than in a finished whole, who above all things dislike a laborious mediocrity, who love to estimate the capacity as well as the works of an author, and measure him by what he could do as well as by what he does, who value power above exertion, and can pardon all errors but those of imbecility, all men of this stamp will undoubtedly prefer, and greatly prefer these early writers of the drama to any who have succeeded them. To enable the reader to form a clear judgment upon the merits of our ancient and modern dramatists, perhaps no more effectual mode could be adopted than to bring before him passages from the former, compared with the same passages adapted by the latter to present representation. The task would be easy, and one of these contrasts already produced by Seward, in his preface to Beaumont and Fletcher, I will quote here. “Mr. Cibber" says Seward,“ has consolidated two of our author's plays, the Elder Brother, and the Custom of the Country, to form his Love Makes a Man, or the Fops Fortune. In the former there are two old French noblemen, Lewis and Brisac, the first proud of his family and fortune, the other of his magisterial power and dignity; neither men of learning, and therefore preferring courtly accomplishments, and the knowledge of the world, to the deepest knowledge of books, and the most extensive literature. Fletcher makes Brisac and