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may go on with greater ease. A scene of mirth, mixed with tragedy, has the same effect upon us which our musick has betwixt the acts; which we find a relief to us from the best plots and language of the stage, if the discourses have been long. I must therefore have stronger arguments, ere I am convinced that compassion and mirth in the same subject destroy each other; and in the mean time cannot but conclude, to the honour of our nation, that we have invented, increased, and perfected a more pleasant way of writing for the stage, than was ever known to the ancients or moderns of any nation, which is tragi-comedy.
"As for his other argument, that by pursuing one single theme they gain an advantage to express and work up the passions, I wish any example he could bring from them would make it good; for I confess their verses are to me the coldest I have ever read. Neither, indeed, is it possible for them, in the way they take, so to express passion, as that the effects of it should appear in the concernment of an audience, their speeches being so many declamations, which tire us with the length; so that instead of persuading us to grieve for their imaginary heroes, we are concerned for our own trouble, as we are in tedious visits of bad company; we are in pain till they are gone. When the French stage came to be reformed by Cardinal Richelieu, those long harangues were introduced to comply with the gravity of a churchman. Look upon the CINNA and the POMPEY; they are not so properly to be called plays, as long discourses of reasons of state; and POLIEUCTE in matters of religion is as solemn as the long stops upon our organs. Since that time it is grown into a custom, and their actors speak by the hour-glass, like our parsons: nay, they account it the grace of their parts, and think themselves disparaged by the poet, if they may not twice or thrice in a play entertain the audience with a speech of an hundred lines. I deny not but this may suit well enough with the French; for as we, who are a more sullen people, come to be diverted at our plays, so they, who are of an airy and gay temper, come thither to make themselves more serious and this I conceive to be one reason why comedies are more pleasing to us, and tragedies to them. But to speak generally: it cannot be denied that short speeches and replies are more apt to move the passions and beget concernment in us, than the other; for it is unnatural for any one in a gust of passion to speak long together, or for another in the same condition, to suffer him, without interruption. Grief and passion are like floods raised in little brooks by a sudden rain; they are quickly up; and if the concernment be poured unexpectedly in upon us, it overflows us: but a long sober shower gives them leisure to run out as they came in, without troubling the ordinary current. As for comedy, repartee is one of its chiefest graces; the greatest pleasure of the audience is a chase of wit, kept up on both sides, and swiftly managed. And this our forefathers, if not we, have had in Fletcher's plays, to a much higher degree of perfection than the French poets can reasonably hope to reach.
"By their servile observations of the unities of time and place, and integrity of scenes, they have brought on themselves that dearth
of plot, and narrowness of imagination, which may be observed in all their plays. How many beautiful accidents might naturally happen in two or three days, which cannot arrive with any probability in the compass of twenty-four hours? There is time to be allowed also for maturity of design, which, amongst great and prudent persons, such as are often represented in tragedy, cannot, with any likelihood of truth, be brought to pass at so short a warning. Farther; by tying themselves strictly to the unity of place, and unbroken scenes, they are forced many times to omit some beauties which cannot be shewn where the act began; but might, if the scene were interrupted, and the stage cleared for the persons to enter in another place; and therefore the French poets are often forced upon absurdities: for if the act begins in a chamber, all the persons in the play must have some business or other to come thither, or else they are not to be shewn that act; and sometimes their characters are very unfitting to appear there; as, suppose it were the king's bed-chamber; yet the meanest man in the tragedy must come and dispatch his business there, rather than in the lobby or court-yard, (which is fitter for him,) for fear the stage should be cleared, and the scenes broken."
In the preface to All for Love, he ridicules the nicety of manners, in which the excellency of French poetry is made to consist.
"Their heroes are the most civil people breathing, but their good breeding seldom extends to a word of sense; all their wit is in their ceremony. They want the genius which animates our stage; and therefore it is but necessary, when they cannot please, that they should take care not to offend. But as the civilest man in the company is commonly the dullest, so these authors, while they are afraid to make you laugh or cry, out of pure good manners make you sleep. They are so careful not to exasperate a critick, that they never leave him any work; so busy with the broom, and make so clean a riddance, that there is little left either for censure or for praise: for no part of a poem is worth our discommending, where the whole is insipid; as when we have once tasted of palled wine, we stay not to examine it glass by glass. But while they affect to shine in trifles, they are often careless in essentials. Thus their Hippolitus is so scrupulous in point of decency, that he will rather expose himself to death than accuse his step-mother to his father; and my criticks, I surmise, will commend him for it; but we of grosser apprehensions are apt to think that this excess of generosity is not practicable but with fools and madmen. This was good manners with a vengeance; and the audience is like to be much concerned at the misfortunes of this admirable hero. But take Hippolitus out of his poetick fit, and I suppose he would think it a wiser part to set the saddle on the right horse, and choose rather to live with the reputation of a plain-spoken honest man, than to die with the infamy of an incestuous villain. In the mean time we may take notice, that where the poet ought to have preserved the character as it was delivered to us by antiquity; when
he should have given us the picture of a rough young man of the Amazonian strain, a jolly huntsman, and both by his profession and his early rising a mortal enemy to love, he has chosen to give him the turn of gallantry, sent him to travel from Athens to Paris, taught him to make love, and transformed the Hippolitus of Euripides into Monsieur Hippolite."
From the same preface, we are tempted to make another extract; not from any connection which it has with the preceding subject, but because we have cast our eye upon it, and are so taken with its jocose and ludicrous character, that we cannot prevail upon ourselves to pass it over.
"Horace was certainly in the right, where he said, that no man is satisfied with his own condition. A poet is not pleased because he is not rich, and the rich are discontented because the poets will not admit them of their number. Thus the case is hard with writers: if they succeed not, they must starve; and if they do, some malicious satire is prepared to level them, for daring to please without their leave. But while they are so eager to destroy the fame of others, their ambition is manifest in their concernment; some poem of their own is to be produced, and the slaves are to be laid flat with their faces on the ground, that the monarch may appear in the greater majesty.
"Dionysius and Nero had the same longings, but with all their power they could never bring their business well about. It is true, they proclaimed themselves poets by sound of trumpet; and poets they were, upon pain of death to any man who durst call them otherwise. The audience had a fine time on't, you may imagine; they sat in a bodily fear, and looked as demurely as they could: for it was a hanging matter to laugh unseasonably; and the tyrants were suspicious, as they had reason, that their subjects had them in the wind; so every man in his own defence set as good a face upon the business as he could. It was known beforehand that the monarchs were to be crowned laureats; but when the shew was over, and an honest man was suffered to depart quietly, he took out his laughter which he had stifled, with a firm resolution never more to see an emperor's play, though he had been ten years a making it. In the mean time, the true poets were they who made the best markets, for they had wit enough to yield the prize with a good grace, and not contend with him who had thirty legions. They were sure to be rewarded, if they confessed themselves bad writers; and that was somewhat better than to be martyrs for their reputation. Lucan's example was enough to teach them manners; and after he was put to death for overcoming Nero, the emperor carried it without dispute for the best poet in his dominions; no man was ambitious of that grinning honour; for if he heard the malicious trumpeter proclaiming his name before his betters, he knew there was but one way with him."
He exposes in rather unqualified terms the poverty of the an
cients, with regard to the subjects of the drama, but lays a greater stress upon it than, we think, the occasion requires. If the passions be forcibly represented, it matters very little whether the story be previously known to the audience or not; for curiosity is a feeling which seldom arises within the walls of a theatre. They are, or ought to be, too much occupied with the present, to be solicitous about what is to ensue, or how the play is to terminate. The latter part, which treats of the Roman senate, contains an admirable exposition of a Terentian play.
"It has already been judiciously observed by a late writer on their tragedies, that it was only some tale derived from Thebes or Troy, or at least something that happened in those two ages; which was worn so threadbare by the pens of all the epick poets, and even by the tradition itself of the talkative Greeklings, (as Ben Jonson calls them,) that before it came upon the stage, it was already known to all the audience; and the people, so soon as ever they heard the name of Oedipus, knew as well as the poet, that he had killed his father by a mistake, and committed incest with his mother, before the play that they were not to hear of a great plague, an oracle, and the ghost of Laius: so that they sat with a yawning kind of expectation, till he was to come with his eyes pulled out, and speak a hundred or more verses in a tragick tone, in complaint of his misfortunes. But one Oedipus, Hercules, or Medea, had been tolerable: poor people, they escaped not so good cheap; they had still the chapon bouillé set before them, till their appetites were cloyed with the same dish, and, the novelty being gone, the pleasure vanished; so that one main end of Dramatick Poesy in its definition, which was to cause delight, was of consequence destroyed.
"In their comedies, the Romans generally borrowed their plots from the Greek poets; and theirs was commonly a little girl stolen or wandered from her parents, brought back unknown to the city, there got with child by some lewd young fellow, who, by the help of his servant, cheats his father; and when her time comes, to cry-Juno Lucina, fer opem, one or other sees a little box or cabinet which was carried away with her, and so discovers her to her friends, if some god do not prevent it, by coming down in a machine, and taking the thanks of it to himself.
"By the plot you may guess much of the characters of the perAn old father, who would willingly, before he dies, see his son well married; his debauched son, kind in his nature to his mistress, but miserably in want of money; a servant or slave, who has so much wit to strike in with him, and help to dupe his father; a braggadocio captain, a parasite, and a lady of pleasure.
"As for the poor honest maid, on whom the story is built, and who ought to be one of the principal actors in the play, she is commonly a mute in it: she has the breeding of the old Elizabeth way, which was for maids to be seen and not to be heard; and it is enough you know she is willing to be married, when the fifth act requires it.
"These are plots built after the Italian mode of houses,—you
see through them all at once: the characters are indeed the imitations of nature, but so narrow, as if they had imitated only an eye or an hand, and did not dare to venture on the lines of a face, or the proportion of a body."
ART. IV. A Small Treatise betwixt Arnalte and Lucenda; entitled; The Evil-intreated Lover; or, The Melancholy Knight. Originally written in the Greeke Tongue by an unknowne Author. Afterwards translated into Spanish; after that, for the excellency thereof, into the French Tongue by N. H. [Nicholas Herberai;] next by B. M. [Bartholomew Maraffi] into the Thuscan; and now turned into English verse by L. L. [Leonard Lawrence,] a well-wisher to the Muses. London, 1639. p.p. 128.
The principal, we had almost said the only, merit of this little work is its extreme rarity; but, in spite of its manifold offences against good taste, and even against common sense, there is a redeeming spirit about it which must preserve it from unmingled reprobation. The story is meagre in design and clumsy in execution; the sentiments extravagant and unnatural; and the language alternately bombastic and grovelling. But the author, (or, as he modestly calls himself, the translator,) had evidently the seeds of true poesy in him, which, with careful and judicious culture, might, instead of its poor and stinted crop, have brought forth a golden harvest. His feeling of his subject is deep and strong, but his power of utterance is unequal to his conceptions, and his passion evaporates in fantastic hyperboles and unnatural conceits. His descriptions of natural scenery, though minute, are rather vague and general than distinct and local; but he looks on nature with the enthusiasm of a poet's love, and sometimes succeeds in conveying to the reader a lively perception of his imaginings.
The story of Arnalte and Lucenda is faithfully copied from an Italian tale, which was already familiar to the English reader in the prose translation of Claudius Hollyband,* but the poetical embellishments, such as they are, are the exclusive property of Leonard Lawrence. The poem is prefaced by a dedication" to his honoured uncle, Adam Lawrence metrical address "to the noble-minded reader;" another "to ;" a all faire ladies famous for their virtues ;" a third to "all ingenious poets;" and six copies of commendatory verses by the author's friends. It thus commences:
* Published in his Italian Schoole Maister, 1608.