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Title: Plays and Puritans
Author: Kingsley, Charles
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcribed from “Plays and Puritans and Other Historical Essays”, 1890
Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org

                          PLAYS AND PURITANS {3}

THE British Isles have been ringing for the last few years with the word
‘Art’ in its German sense; with ‘High Art,’ ‘Symbolic Art,’
‘Ecclesiastical Art,’ ‘Dramatic Art,’ ‘Tragic Art,’ and so forth; and
every well-educated person is expected, nowadays, to know something about
Art.  Yet in spite of all translations of German ‘Æsthetic’ treatises,
and ‘Kunstnovellen,’ the mass of the British people cares very little
about the matter, and sits contented under the imputation of ‘bad taste.’
Our stage, long since dead, does not revive; our poetry is dying; our
music, like our architecture, only reproduces the past; our painting is
only first-rate when it handles landscapes and animals, and seems likely
so to remain; but, meanwhile, nobody cares.  Some of the deepest and most
earnest minds vote the question, in general, a ‘sham and a snare,’ and
whisper to each other confidentially, that Gothic art is beginning to be
a ‘bore,’ and that Sir Christopher Wren was a very good fellow after all;
while the middle classes look on the Art movement half amused, as with a
pretty toy, half sulkily suspicious of Popery and Paganism, and think,
apparently, that Art is very well when it means nothing, and is merely
used to beautify drawing-rooms and shawl patterns; not to mention that,
if there were no painters, Mr. Smith could not hand down to posterity
likenesses of himself, Mrs. Smith, and family.  But when ‘Art’ dares to
be in earnest, and to mean something, much more to connect itself with
religion, Smith’s tone alters.  He will teach ‘Art’ to keep in what he
considers its place, and if it refuses, take the law of it, and put it
into the Ecclesiastical Court.  So he says, and what is more, he means
what he says; and as all the world, from Hindostan to Canada, knows by
most practical proof, what he means, he sooner or later does, perhaps not
always in the wisest way, but still he does it.

Thus, in fact, the temper of the British nation toward ‘Art’ is simply
that of the old Puritans, softened, no doubt, and widened, but only
enough so as to permit Art, not to encourage it.

Some men’s thoughts on this curious fact would probably take the form of
some æsthetic _à priori_ disquisition, beginning with ‘the tendency of
the infinite to reveal itself in the finite,’ and ending—who can tell
where?  But as we cannot honestly arrogate to ourselves any skill in the
_scientia scientiarum_, or say, ‘The Lord possessed me in the beginning
of His way, before His works of old.  When He prepared the heavens, I was
there, when He set a compass upon the face of the deep;’ we shall leave
æsthetic science to those who think that they comprehend it; we shall, as
simple disciples of Bacon, deal with facts and with history as ‘the will
of God revealed in facts.’  We will leave those who choose to settle what
ought to be, and ourselves look patiently at that which actually was
once, and which may be again; that so out of the conduct of our old
Puritan forefathers (right or wrong), and their long war against ‘Art,’
we may learn a wholesome lesson; as we doubtless shall, if we believe
firmly that our history is neither more nor less than what the old Hebrew
prophets called ‘God’s gracious dealings with his people,’ and not say in
our hearts, like some sentimental girl who sings Jacobite ballads
(written forty years ago by men who cared no more for the Stuarts than
for the Ptolemies, and were ready to kiss the dust off George the
Fourth’s feet at his visit to Edinburgh)—‘Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed
victa puellis.’

The historian of a time of change has always a difficult and invidious
task.  For Revolutions, in the great majority of cases, arise not merely
from the crimes of a few great men, but from a general viciousness and
decay of the whole, or the majority, of the nation; and that viciousness
is certain to be made up, in great part, of a loosening of domestic ties,
of breaches of the Seventh Commandment, and of sins connected with them,
which a writer is now hardly permitted to mention.  An ‘evil and
adulterous generation’ has been in all ages and countries the one marked
out for intestine and internecine strife.  That description is always
applicable to a revolutionary generation; whether or not it also comes
under the class of a superstitious one, ‘seeking after a sign from
heaven,’ only half believing its own creed, and, therefore, on tiptoe for
miraculous confirmations of it, at the same time that it fiercely
persecutes any one who, by attempting innovation or reform, seems about
to snatch from weak faith the last plank which keeps it from sinking into
the abyss.  In describing such an age, the historian lies under this
paradoxical disadvantage, that his case is actually too strong for him to
state it.  If he tells the whole truth, the easy-going and respectable
multitude, in easy-going and respectable days like these, will either
shut their ears prudishly to his painful facts, or reject them as
incredible, unaccustomed as they are to find similar horrors and
abominations among people of their own rank, of whom they are naturally
inclined to judge by their own standard of civilisation.  Thus if any
one, in justification of the Reformation and the British hatred of Popery
during the sixteenth century, should dare to detail the undoubted facts
of the Inquisition, and to comment on them dramatically enough to make
his readers feel about them what men who witnessed them felt, he would be
accused of a ‘morbid love of horrors.’  If any one, in order to show how
the French Revolution of 1793 was really God’s judgment on the profligacy
of the _ancien régime_, were to paint that profligacy as the men of the
_ancien régime_ unblushingly painted it themselves, respectability would
have a right to demand, ‘How dare you, sir, drag such disgusting facts
from their merited oblivion?’  Those, again, who are really acquainted
with the history of Henry the Eighth’s marriages, are well aware of facts
which prove him to have been, not a man of violent and lawless passions,
but of a cold temperament and a scrupulous conscience; but which cannot
be stated in print, save in the most delicate and passing hints, to be
taken only by those who at once understand such matters, and really wish
to know the truth; while young ladies in general will still look on Henry
as a monster in human form, because no one dares, or indeed ought, to
undeceive them by anything beyond bare assertion without proof.

‘But what does it matter,’ some one may say, ‘what young ladies think
about history?’  This it matters; that these young ladies will some day
be mothers, and as such will teach their children their own notions of
modern history; and that, as long as men confine themselves to the
teaching of Roman and Greek history, and leave the history of their own
country to be handled exclusively by their unmarried sisters, so long
will slanders, superstitions, and false political principles be
perpetuated in the minds of our boys and girls.

But a still worse evil arises from the fact that the historian’s case is
often too strong to be stated.  There is always a reactionary party, or
one at least which lingers sentimentally over the dream of past golden
ages, such as that of which Cowley says, with a sort of naïve blasphemy,
at which one knows not whether to smile or sigh—

    ‘When God, the cause to me and men unknown,
    Forsook the royal houses, and his own.’

These have full liberty to say all they can in praise of the defeated
system; but the historian has no such liberty to state the case against
it.  If he even asserts that he has counter-facts, but dare not state
them, he is at once met with a _præjudicium_.  The mere fact of his
having ascertained the truth is imputed as a blame to him, in a sort of
prudish cant.  ‘What a very improper person he must be to like to dabble
in such improper books that they must not even be quoted.’  If in
self-defence he desperately gives his facts, he only increases the
feeling against him, whilst the reactionists, hiding their blushing
faces, find in their modesty an excuse for avoiding the truth; if, on the
other hand, he content himself with bare assertion, and with indicating
the sources from whence his conclusions are drawn, what care the
reactionists?  They know well that the public will not take the trouble
to consult manuscripts, State papers, pamphlets, rare biographies, but
will content themselves with ready-made history; and they therefore go on
unblushing to republish their old romance, leaving poor truth, after she
has been painfully haled up to the well’s mouth, to tumble miserably to
the bottom of it again.

                                * * * * *

In the face of this danger we will go on to say as much as we dare of the
great cause, Puritans _v._ Players, before our readers, trusting to find
some of them at least sufficiently unacquainted with the common notions
on the point to form a fair decision.

                                * * * * *

What those notions are is well known.  Very many of her Majesty’s
subjects are of opinion that the first half of the seventeenth century
(if the Puritans had not interfered and spoilt all) was the most
beautiful period of the English nation’s life; that in it the chivalry
and ardent piety of the Middle Age were happily combined with modern art
and civilisation; that the Puritan hatred of the Court, of stage-plays,
of the fashions of the time, was only ‘a scrupulous and fantastical
niceness’; barbaric and tasteless, if sincere; if insincere, the basest
hypocrisy; that the stage-plays, though coarse, were no worse than
Shakspeare, whom everybody reads; and that if the Stuarts patronised the
stage they also raised it, and exercised a purifying censorship.  And
many more who do not go all these lengths with the reactionists, and
cannot make up their mind to look to the Stuart reigns either for model
churchmen or model courtiers, are still inclined to sneer at the Puritan
‘preciseness,’ and to say lazily, that though, of course, something may
have been wrong, yet there was no need to make such a fuss about the
matter; and that at all events the Puritans were men of very bad taste.

Mr. Gifford, in his introduction to Massinger’s plays (1813), was
probably the spokesman of his own generation, certainly of a great part
of this generation also, when he informs us, that ‘with Massinger
terminated the triumph of dramatic poetry; indeed, the stage itself
survived him but a short time.  The nation was convulsed to its centre by
contending factions, and a set of austere and gloomy fanatics, enemies to
every elegant amusement and every social relaxation, rose upon the ruins
of the State.  Exasperated by the ridicule with which they had long been
covered by the stage, they persecuted the actors with unrelenting
severity, and consigned them, together with the writers, to hopeless
obscurity and wretchedness.  Taylor died in the extreme of poverty,
Shirley opened a little school at Brentford, and Downe, the boast of the
stage, kept an ale-house at Brentford.  Others, and those the far greater
number, joined the royal standard, and exerted themselves with more
gallantry than good fortune in the service of their old and indulgent

‘We have not yet, perhaps, fully estimated, and certainly not yet fully
recovered, what was lost in that unfortunate struggle.  The arts were
rapidly advancing to perfection under the fostering wing of a monarch who
united in himself taste to feel, spirit to undertake, and munificence to
reward.  Architecture, painting, and poetry were by turns the objects of
his paternal care.  Shakspeare was his “closet companion,” Jonson his
poet, and in conjunction with Inigo Jones, his favoured architect,
produced those magnificent entertainments,’ etc.

* * *

He then goes on to account for the supposed sudden fall of dramatic art
at the Restoration, by the somewhat far-fetched theory that—

    ‘Such was the horror created in the general mind by the perverse and
    unsocial government from which they had so fortunately escaped, that
    the people appear to have anxiously avoided all retrospect, and, with
    Prynne and Vicars, to have lost sight of Shakspeare and “his
    fellows.”  Instead, therefore, of taking up dramatic poetry where it
    abruptly ceased in the labours of Massinger, they elicited, as it
    were, a manner of their own, or fetched it from the heavy monotony of
    their continental neighbours.’

So is history written, and, what is more, believed.  The amount of
misrepresentation in this passage (which would probably pass current with
most readers in the present day) is quite ludicrous.  In the first place,
it will hardly be believed that these words occur in an essay which,
after extolling Massinger as one of the greatest poets of his age,
second, indeed, only to Shakspeare, also informs us (and, it seems, quite
truly) that, so far from having been really appreciated or patronised, he
maintained a constant struggle with adversity,—‘that even the bounty of
his particular friends, on which he chiefly relied, left him in a state
of absolute dependence,’—that while ‘other writers for the stage had
their periods of good fortune, Massinger seems to have enjoyed no gleam
of sunshine; his life was all one misty day, and “shadows, clouds, and
darkness rested on it.”’

So much for Charles’s patronage of a really great poet.  What sort of men
he did patronise, practically and in earnest, we shall see hereafter,
when we come to speak of Mr. Shirley.

But Mr. Gifford must needs give an instance to prove that Charles was
‘not inattentive to the success of Massinger,’ and a curious one it is;
of the same class, unfortunately, as that with the man in the old story,
who recorded with pride that the King had spoken to him, and—had told him
to get out of the way.

Massinger in his ‘King and the Subject’ had introduced Don Pedro of Spain
thus speaking—

    ‘Monies!  We’ll raise supplies which way we please,
    And force you to subscribe to blanks, in which
    We’ll mulct you as we shall think fit.  The Cæsars
    In Rome were wise, acknowledging no law
    But what their swords did ratify, the wives
    And daughters of the senators bowing to
    Their will, as deities,’ etc.

Against which passage Charles, reading over the play before he allowed of
it, had written, ‘This is too insolent, and not to be printed.’  Too
insolent it certainly was, considering the state of public matters in the
year 1638.  It would be interesting enough to analyse the reasons which
made Charles dislike in the mouth of Pedro sentiments so very like his
own; but we must proceed, only pointing out the way in which men,
determined to repeat the traditional clap-trap about the Stuarts, are
actually blind to the meaning of the very facts which they themselves

Where, then, do the facts of history contradict Mr. Gifford?

We believe that, so far from the triumph of dramatic poetry terminating
with Massinger, dramatic art had been steadily growing worse from the
first years of James; that instead of the arts advancing to perfection
under Charles the First, they steadily deteriorated in quality, though
the supply became more abundant; that so far from there having been a
sudden change for the worse in the drama after the Restoration, the taste
of the courts of Charles the First and of Charles the Second are
indistinguishable; that the court poets, and probably the actors also, of
the early part of Charles the Second’s reign had many of them belonged to
the court of Charles the First, as did Davenant, the Duke and Duchess of
Newcastle, Fanshaw, and Shirley himself; that the common notion of a ‘new
manner’ having been introduced from France after the Restoration, or
indeed having come in at all, is not founded on fact, the only change
being that the plays of Charles the Second’s time were somewhat more
stupid, and that while five of the seven deadly sins had always had free
licence on the stage, blasphemy and profane swearing were now
enfranchised to fill up the seven.  As for the assertion that the new
manner (supposing it to have existed) was imported from France, there is
far more reason to believe that the French copied us than we them, and
that if they did not learn from Charles the First’s poets the
superstition of ‘the three unities,’ they at least learnt to make ancient
kings and heroes talk and act like seventeenth century courtiers, and to
exchange their old clumsy masques and translations of Italian and Spanish
farces for a comedy depicting native scoundrelism.  Probably enough,
indeed, the great and sudden development of the French stage, which took
place in the middle of the seventeenth century under Corneille and
Molière, was excited by the English cavalier playwrights who took refuge
in France.

No doubt, as Mr. Gifford says, the Puritans were exasperated against the
stage-players by the insults heaped on them; but the cause of quarrel lay
far deeper than any such personal soreness.  The Puritans had attacked
the players before the players meddled with them, and that on principle;
with what justification must be considered hereafter.  But the fact is
(and this seems to have been, like many other facts, conveniently
forgotten), that the Puritans were by no means alone in their protest
against the stage, and that the war was not begun exclusively by them.
As early as the latter half of the sixteenth century, not merely
Northbrooke, Gosson, Stubs, and Reynolds had lifted up their voices
against them, but Archbishop Parker, Bishop Babington, Bishop Hall, and
the author of the _Mirror for Magistrates_.  The University of Oxford, in
1584, had passed a statute forbidding common plays and players in the
university, on the very same moral grounds on which the Puritans objected
to them.  The city of London, in 1580, had obtained from the Queen the
suppression of plays on Sundays; and not long after, ‘considering that
play-houses and dicing-houses were traps for young gentlemen and others,’
obtained leave from the Queen and Privy Council to thrust the players out
of the city, and to pull down the play-houses, five in number; and,
paradoxical as it may seem, there is little doubt that, by the letter of
the law, ‘stage plays and enterludes’ were, even to the end of Charles
the First’s reign, ‘unlawful pastime,’ being forbidden by 14 Eliz., 39
Eliz., 1 Jacobi, 3 Jacobi, and 1 Caroli, and the players subject to
severe punishment as ‘rogues and vagabonds.’  The Act of 1 Jacobi seems
even to have gone so far as to repeal the clauses which, in Elizabeth’s
reign, had allowed companies of players the protection of a ‘baron or
honourable person of greater degree,’ who might ‘authorise them to play
under his hand and seal of arms.’  So that the Puritans were only
demanding of the sovereigns that they should enforce the very laws which
they themselves had made, and which they and their nobles were setting at
defiance.  Whether the plays ought to have been put down, and whether the
laws were necessary, is a different question; but certainly the court and
the aristocracy stood in the questionable, though too common, position of
men who made laws which prohibited to the poor amusements in which they
themselves indulged without restraint.

But were these plays objectionable?  As far as the comedies are
concerned, that will depend on the answer to the question, Are plays
objectionable, the staple subject of which is adultery?  Now, we cannot
but agree with the Puritans, that adultery is not a subject for comedy at
all.  It may be for tragedy; but for comedy never.  It is a sin; not
merely theologically, but socially, one of the very worst sins, the
parent of seven other sins,—of falsehood, suspicion, hate, murder, and a
whole bevy of devils.  The prevalence of adultery in any country has
always been a sign and a cause of social insincerity, division, and
revolution; where a people has learnt to connive and laugh at it, and to
treat it as a light thing, that people has been always careless, base,
selfish, cowardly,—ripe for slavery.  And we must say that either the
courtiers and Londoners of James and Charles the First were in that
state, or that the poets were doing their best to make them so.

We shall not shock our readers by any details on this point; we shall
only say that there is hardly a comedy of the seventeenth century, with
the exception of Shakspeare’s, in which adultery is not introduced as a
subject of laughter, and often made the staple of the whole plot.  The
seducer is, if not openly applauded, at least let to pass as a ‘handsome
gentleman’; the injured husband is, as in that Italian literature of
which we shall speak shortly, the object of every kind of scorn and
ridicule.  In this latter habit (common to most European nations) there
is a sort of justice.  A man can generally retain his wife’s affections
if he will behave himself like a man; and ‘injured husbands’ have for the
most part no one to blame but themselves.  But the matter is not a
subject for comedy; not even in that case which has been always too
common in France, Italy, and the Romish countries, and which seems to
have been painfully common in England in the seventeenth century, when,
by a _mariage de convenance_, a young girl is married up to a rich idiot
or a decrepit old man.  Such things are not comedies, but tragedies;
subjects for pity and for silence, not for brutal ribaldry.  Therefore
the men who look on them in the light which the Stuart dramatists looked
are not good men, and do no good service to the country; especially when
they erect adultery into a science, and seem to take a perverse pleasure
in teaching their audience every possible method, accident, cause, and
consequence of it; always, too, when they have an opportunity, pointing
‘Eastward Ho!’ _i.e._ to the city of London, as the quarter where court
gallants can find boundless indulgence for their passions amid the fair
wives of dull and cowardly citizens.  If the citizens drove the players
out of London, the playwrights took good care to have their revenge.  The
citizen is their standard butt.  These shallow parasites, and their
shallower sovereigns, seem to have taken a perverse and, as it happened,
a fatal pleasure in insulting them.  Sad it is to see in Shirley’s
‘Gamester,’ Charles the First’s favourite play, a passage like that in
Act i. Scene 1, where old Barnacle proclaims, unblushing, his own shame
and that of his fellow-merchants.  Surely, if Charles ever could have
repented of any act of his own, he must have repented, in many a
humiliating after-passage with that same city of London, of having given
those base words his royal warrant and approbation.

The tragedies of the seventeenth century are, on the whole, as
questionable as the comedies.  That there are noble plays among them here
and there, no one denies—any more than that there are exquisitely amusing
plays among the comedies; but as the staple interest of the comedies is
dirt, so the staple interest of the tragedies is crime.  Revenge, hatred,
villany, incest, and murder upon murder are their constant themes, and
(with the exception of Shakspeare, Ben Jonson in his earlier plays, and
perhaps Massinger) they handle these horrors with little or no moral
purpose, save that of exciting and amusing the audience, and of
displaying their own power of delineation in a way which makes one but
too ready to believe the accusations of the Puritans (supported as they
are by many ugly anecdotes) that the play-writers and actors were mostly
men of fierce and reckless lives, who had but too practical an
acquaintance with the dark passions which they sketch.  This is
notoriously the case with most of the French novelists of the modern
‘Literature of Horror,’ and the two literatures are morally identical.
We do not know of a complaint which can be justly brought against the
School of Balzac and Dumas which will not equally apply to the average
tragedy of the whole period preceding the civil wars.

This public appetite for horrors, for which they catered so greedily,
tempted them toward another mistake, which brought upon them (and not
undeservedly) heavy odium.

One of the worst counts against Dramatic Art (as well as against
Pictorial) was the simple fact that it came from Italy.  We must fairly
put ourselves into the position of an honest Englishman of the
seventeenth century before we can appreciate the huge _præjudicium_ which
must needs have arisen in his mind against anything which could claim a
Transalpine parentage.  Italy was then not merely the stronghold of
Popery.  That in itself would have been a fair reason for others beside
Puritans saying, ‘If the root be corrupt, the fruit will be also: any
expression of Italian thought and feeling must be probably unwholesome
while her vitals are being eaten out by an abominable falsehood, only
half believed by the masses, and not believed at all by the higher
classes, even those of the priesthood; but only kept up for their private
aggrandisement.’  But there was more than hypothesis in favour of the men
who might say this; there was universal, notorious, shocking fact.  It
was a fact that Italy was the centre where sins were invented worthy of
the doom of the Cities of the Plain, and from whence they spread to all
nations who had connection with her.  We dare give no proof of this
assertion.  The Italian morals and the Italian lighter literature of the
sixteenth and of the beginning of the seventeenth century were such, that
one is almost ashamed to confess that one has looked into them, although
the painful task is absolutely necessary for one who wishes to understand
either the European society of the time or the Puritan hatred of the
drama.  _Non ragionam di lor: ma guarda è passa_.

It is equally a fact that these vices were imported into England by the
young men who, under pretence of learning the Italian polish, travelled
to Italy.  From the days of Gabriel Harvey and Lord Oxford, about the
middle of Elizabeth’s reign, this foul tide had begun to set toward
England, gaining an additional coarseness and frivolity in passing
through the French Court (then an utter Gehenna) in its course
hitherward; till, to judge by Marston’s ‘Satires,’ certain members of the
higher classes had, by the beginning of James’s reign, learnt nearly all
which the Italians had to teach them.  Marston writes in a rage, it is
true; foaming, stamping, and vapouring too much to escape the suspicion
of exaggeration; yet he dared not have published the things which he
does, had he not fair ground for some at least of his assertions.  And
Marston, be it remembered, was no Puritan, but a playwright, and Ben
Jonson’s friend.

Bishop Hall, in his ‘Satires,’ describes things bad enough, though not so
bad as Marston does; but what is even more to the purpose, he wrote, and
dedicated to James, a long dissuasive against the fashion of running
abroad.  Whatever may be thought of the arguments of ‘Quo vadis?—a
Censure of Travel,’ its main drift is clear enough.  Young gentlemen, by
going to Italy, learnt to be fops and profligates, and probably Papists
into the bargain.  These assertions there is no denying.  Since the days
of Lord Oxford, most of the ridiculous and expensive fashions in dress
had come from Italy, as well as the newest modes of sin; and the
playwrights themselves make no secret of the fact.  There is no need to
quote instances; they are innumerable; and the most serious are not fit
to be quoted, scarcely the titles of the plays in which they occur; but
they justify almost every line of Bishop Hall’s questions (of which some
of the strongest expressions have necessarily been omitted):—

    ‘What mischief have we among us which we have not borrowed?

    ‘To begin at our skin: who knows not whence we had the variety of our
    vain disguises?  As if we had not wit enough to be foolish unless we
    were taught it.  These dresses, being constant in their mutability,
    show us our masters.  What is it that we have not learned of our
    neighbours, save only to be proud good-cheap? whom would it not vex
    to see how that the other sex hath learned to make anticks and
    monsters of themselves?  Whence come their (absurd fashions); but the
    one from some ill-shaped dame of France, the other from the
    worse-minded courtesans of Italy?  Whence else learned they to daub
    these mud-walls with apothecaries’ mortar; and those high washes,
    which are so cunningly licked on that the wet napkin of Phryne should
    he deceived?  Whence the frizzled and powdered bushes of their
    borrowed hair?  As if they were ashamed of the head of God’s making,
    and proud of the tire-woman’s.  Where learned we that devilish art
    and practice of duel, wherein men seek honour in blood, and are
    taught the ambition of being glorious butchers of men?  Where had we
    that luxurious delicacy in our feasts, in which the nose is no less
    pleased than the palate, and the eye no less than either? wherein the
    piles of dishes make barricadoes against the appetite, and with a
    pleasing encumbrance trouble a hungry guest.  Where those forms of
    ceremonious quaffing, in which men have learned to make gods of
    others and beasts of themselves, and lose their reason while they
    pretend to do reason?  Where the lawlessness (miscalled freedom) of a
    wild tongue, that runs, with reins on the neck, through the
    bedchambers of princes, their closets, their council tables, and
    spares not the very cabinet of their breasts, much less can be barred
    out of the most retired secrecy of inferior greatness?  Where the
    change of noble attendance and hospitality into four wheels and some
    few butterflies?  Where the art of dishonesty in practical
    Machiavelism, in false equivocations?  Where the slight account of
    that filthiness which is but condemned as venial, and tolerated as
    not unnecessary?  Where the skill of civil and honourable hypocrisy
    in those formal compliments which do neither expect belief from
    others nor carry any from ourselves?  Where’ (and here Bishop Hall
    begins to speak concerning things on which we must be silent, as of
    matters notorious and undeniable.)  ‘Where that close Atheism, which
    secretly laughs God in the face, and thinks it weakness to believe,
    wisdom to profess any religion?  Where the bloody and tragical
    science of king-killing, the new divinity of disobedience and
    rebellion? with too many other evils, wherewith foreign conversation
    hath endangered the infection of our peace?’—Bishop Hall’s ‘Quo
    Vadis, or a Censure of Travel,’ vol xii. sect. 22.

Add to these a third plain fact, that Italy was the mother-country of the
drama, where it had thriven with wonderful fertility ever since the
beginning of the sixteenth century.  However much truth there may be in
the common assertion that the old ‘miracle plays’ and ‘mysteries’ were
the parents of the English drama (as they certainly were of the Spanish
and the Italian), we have yet to learn how much our stage owed, from its
first rise under Elizabeth, to direct importations from Italy.  This is
merely thrown out as a suggestion; to establish the fact would require a
wide acquaintance with the early Italian drama; meanwhile, let two patent
facts have their due weight.  The names of the characters in most of our
early regular comedies are Italian; so are the scenes; and so, one hopes,
are the manners, at least they profess to be so.  Next, the plots of many
of the dramas are notoriously taken from the Italian novelists; and if
Shakspeare (who had a truly divine instinct for finding honey where
others found poison) went to Cinthio for ‘Othello’ and ‘Measure for
Measure,’ to Bandello for ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and to Boccaccio for
‘Cymbeline,’ there were plenty of other playwrights who would go to the
same sources for worse matter, or at least catch from these profligate
writers somewhat of their Italian morality, which exalts adultery into a
virtue, seduction into a science, and revenge into a duty; which revels
in the horrible as freely as any French novelist of the romantic school;
and whose only value is its pitiless exposure of the profligacy of the
Romish priesthood: if an exposure can be valuable which makes a mock
equally of things truly and falsely sacred, and leaves on the reader’s
mind the fear that the writer saw nothing in heaven or earth worthy of
belief, respect, or self-sacrifice, save personal enjoyment.

Now this is the morality of the Italian novelists; and to judge from
their vivid sketches (which, they do not scruple to assert, were drawn
from life, and for which they give names, places, and all details which
might amuse the noble gentlemen and ladies to whom these stories are
dedicated), this had been the morality of Italy for some centuries past.
This, also, is the general morality of the English stage in the
seventeenth century.  Can we wonder that thinking men should have seen a
connection between Italy and the stage?  Certainly the playwrights put
themselves between the horns of an ugly dilemma.  Either the vices which
they depicted were those of general English society, and of themselves
also (for they lived in the very heart of town and court foppery); or
else they were the vices of a foreign country, with which the English
were comparatively unacquainted.  In the first case, we can only say that
the Stuart age in England was one which deserved purgation of the most
terrible kind, and to get rid of which the severest and most abnormal
measures would have been not only justifiable, but, to judge by the
experience of all history, necessary; for extraordinary diseases never
have been, and never will be, eradicated save by extraordinary medicines.
In the second case, the playwrights were wantonly defiling the minds of
the people, and, instead of ‘holding up a mirror to vice,’ instructing
frail virtue in vices which she had not learned, and fully justifying old
Prynne’s indignant complaint—

    ‘The acting of foreign, obsolete, and long since forgotten villanies
    on the stage, is so far from working a detestation of them in the
    spectators’ minds (who, perchance, were utterly ignorant of them,
    till they were acquainted with them at the play-house, and so needed
    no dehortation from them), that it often excites dangerous dunghill
    spirits, who have nothing in them for to make them eminent, to reduce
    them into practice, of purpose to perpetuate their spurious
    ill-serving memories to posterity, leastwise in some tragic

That Prynne spoke herein nought but sober sense, our own police reports
will sufficiently prove.  It is notorious that the representation in our
own days of ‘Tom and Jerry’ and of ‘Jack Sheppard’ did excite dozens of
young lads to imitate the heroes of those dramas; and such must have been
the effect of similar and worse representations in the Stuart age.  No
rational man will need the authority of Bishop Babington, Doctor
Leighton, Archbishop Parker, Purchas, Sparkes, Reynolds, White, or any
one else, Churchman or Puritan, prelate or ‘penitent reclaimed
play-poet,’ like Stephen Gosson, to convince him that, as they assert,
citizens’ wives (who are generally represented as the proper subjects for
seduction) ‘have, even on their deathbeds, with tears confessed that they
have received, at these spectacles, such evil infections as have turned
their minds from chaste cogitations, and made them, of honest women,
light huswives; . . . have brought their husbands into contempt, their
children into question, . . . and their souls into the assault of a
dangerous state;’ or that ‘The devices of carrying and re-carrying
letters by laundresses, practising with pedlars to transport their tokens
by colourable means to sell their merchandise, and other kinds of
policies to beguile fathers of their children, husbands of their wives,
guardians of their wards, and masters of their servants, were aptly
taught in these schools of abuse.’ {27a}

The matter is simple enough.  We should not allow these plays to be acted
in our own day, because we know that they would produce their effects.
We should call him a madman who allowed his daughters or his servants to
see such representations. {27b}  Why, in all fairness, were the Puritans
wrong in condemning that which we now have absolutely forbidden?

We will go no further into the details of the licentiousness of the old
play-houses.  Gosson and his colleague the anonymous Penitent assert
them, as does Prynne, to have been not only schools but antechambers to
houses of a worse kind, and that the lessons learned in the pit were only
not practised also in the pit.  What reason have we to doubt it, who know
that till Mr. Macready commenced a practical reformation of this abuse,
for which his name will be ever respected, our own comparatively purified
stage was just the same?  Let any one who remembers the saloons of Drury
Lane and Covent Garden thirty years ago judge for himself what the
accessories of the Globe or the Fortune must have been, in days when
players were allowed to talk inside as freely as the public behaved

Not that the poets or the players had any conscious intention of
demoralising their hearers, any more than they had of correcting them.
We will lay on them the blame of no special _malus animus_: but, at the
same time, we must treat their fine words about ‘holding a mirror up to
vice,’ and ‘showing the age its own deformity,’ as mere cant, which the
men themselves must have spoken tongue in cheek.  It was as much an
insincere cant in those days as it was when, two generations later,
Jeremy Collier exposed its falsehood in the mouth of Congreve.  If the
poets had really intended to show vice its own deformity, they would have
represented it (as Shakspeare always does) as punished, and not as
triumphant.  It is ridiculous to talk of moral purpose in works in which
there is no moral justice.  The only condition which can excuse the
representation of evil is omitted.  The simple fact is that the poets
wanted to draw a house; that this could most easily be done by the
coarsest and most violent means; and that not being often able to find
stories exciting enough in the past records of sober English society,
they went to Italy and Spain for the violent passions and wild crimes of
southern temperaments, excited, and yet left lawless, by a superstition
believed in enough to darken and brutalise, but not enough to control,
its victims.  Those were the countries which just then furnished that
strange mixture of inward savagery with outward civilisation, which is
the immoral playwright’s fittest material; because, while the inward
savagery moves the passions of the audience, the outward civilisation
brings the character near enough to them to give them a likeness of
themselves in their worst moments, such as no ‘Mystery of Cain’ or
‘Tragedy of Prometheus’ can give.

Does this seem too severe in the eyes of those who value the drama for
its lessons in human nature?  On that special point something must be
said hereafter.  Meanwhile, hear one of the sixteenth century poets; one
who cannot be suspected of any leaning toward Puritanism; one who had as
high notions of his vocation as any man; and one who so far fulfilled
those notions as to become a dramatist inferior only to Shakspeare.  Let
Ben Jonson himself speak, and in his preface to ‘Volpone’ tell us in his
own noble prose what he thought of the average morality of his
contemporary playwrights:—

    ‘For if men will impartially and not asquint look toward the offices
    and functions of a poet, they will easily conclude to themselves the
    impossibility of any man’s being a good poet without first being a
    good man.  He that is said to be able to inform young men to all good
    discipline, inflame grown men to all great virtues, keep old men in
    their best and supreme state, or, as they decline to childhood,
    recover them to their first strength; that comes forth the
    interpreter and arbiter of nature, a teacher of things divine no less
    than human, a master in manners and can alone (or with a few) effect
    the business of mankind; this, I take him, is no subject for pride
    and ignorance to exercise their railing rhetoric upon.  But it will
    here be hastily answered that the writers of these days are other
    things, that not only their manners but their natures are inverted,
    and nothing remaining of them of the dignity of poet but the abused
    name, which every scribe usurps; that now, especially in dramatick,
    or (as they term it) stage poetry, nothing but ribaldry, profanation,
    blasphemies, all licence of offence toward God and man is practised.
    I dare not deny a great part of this (and I am sorry I dare not),
    because in some men’s abortive features (and would God they had never
    seen the light!) it is over true; but that all are bound on his bold
    adventure for hell, is a most uncharitable thought, and uttered, a
    more malicious slander.  For every particular I can (and from a most
    clear conscience) affirm that I have ever trembled to think toward
    the least profaneness, and have loathed the use of such foul and
    unwashed . . . [his expression is too strong for quotation] as is now
    made the food of the scene.’

It is a pity to curtail this splendid passage, both for its lofty ideal
of poetry, and for its corroboration of the Puritan complaints against
the stage; but a few lines on a still stronger sentence occurs:—

    ‘The increase of which lust in liberty, together with the present
    trade of the stage, in all their masculine interludes, what liberal
    soul doth not abhor?  Where nothing but filth of the mire is uttered,
    and that with such impropriety of phrase, such plenty of solecisms,
    such dearth of sense, so bold prolepses, such racked metaphors, with
    (indecency) able to violate the ear of a Pagan, and blasphemy to turn
    the blood of a Christian to water.’

So speaks Ben Jonson in 1605, not finding, it seems, play-writing a
peaceful trade, or play-poets and play-hearers improving company.  After
him we should say no further testimony on this unpleasant matter ought to
be necessary.  He may have been morose, fanatical, exaggerative; but his
bitter words suggest at least this dilemma.  Either they are true, and
the play-house atmosphere (as Prynne says it was) that of Gehenna: or
they are untrue, and the mere fruits of spite and envy against more
successful poets.  And what does that latter prove, but that the greatest
poet of his age (after Shakspeare has gone) was not as much esteemed as
some poets whom we know to have been more filthy and more horrible than
he? which, indeed, is the main complaint of Jonson himself.  It will be
rejoined, of course, that he was an altogether envious man; that he
envied Shakspeare, girded at his York and Lancaster plays, at ‘The
Winter’s Tale’ and ‘The Tempest,’ in the prologue to ‘Every Man in his
Humour’; and, indeed, Jonson’s writings, and those of many other
playwrights, leave little doubt that stage rivalry called out the
bitterest hatred and the basest vanity; and that, perhaps, Shakspeare’s
great soul was giving way to the pettiest passions, when in ‘Hamlet’ he
had his fling at the ‘aiery of children, little eyases, that cry out on
the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for ’t.’  It may
be that he was girding in return at Jonson, when he complained that
‘their writer did them wrong to make them complain against their own
succession,’ _i.e._ against themselves, when ‘grown to common players.’
Be that as it may.  Great Shakspeare may have been unjust to only less
great Jonson, as Jonson was to Shakspeare: but Jonson certainly is not so
in all his charges.  Some of the faults which he attributes to Shakspeare
are really faults.

At all events, we know that he was not unjust to the average of his
contemporaries, by the evidence of the men’s own plays.  We know that the
decadence of the stage of which he complains went on uninterruptedly
after his time, and in the very direction which he pointed out.

On this point there can be no doubt; for these hodmen of poetry ‘made a
wall in our father’s house, and the bricks are alive to testify unto this
day.’  So that we cannot do better than give a few samples thereof, at
least samples decent enough for modern readers, and let us begin, not
with a hodman, but with Jonson himself.

Now, Ben Jonson is worthy of our love and respect, for he was a very
great genius, immaculate or not; ‘Rare Ben,’ with all his faults.  One
can never look without affection on the magnificent manhood of that rich
free forehead, even though one may sigh over the petulance and pride
which brood upon the lip and eyebrow,

    ‘Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,
    The love of love.’

A Michael Angelo who could laugh, which that Italian one, one fancies,
never could.  One ought to have, too, a sort of delicacy about saying
much against him; for he is dead, and can make, for the time being at
least, no rejoinder.  There are dead men whom one is not much ashamed to
‘upset’ after their death, because one would not have been much afraid of
doing so when they were alive.  But ‘Rare Ben’ had terrible teeth, and
used them too.  A man would have thought twice ere he snapt at him
living, and therefore it seems somewhat a cowardly trick to bark securely
at his ghost.  Nevertheless it is no unfair question to ask—Do not his
own words justify the Puritan complaints?  But if so, why does he rail at
the Puritans for making their complaints?  His answer would have been
that they railed in ignorance, not merely at low art, as we call it now,
but at high art and all art.  Be it so.  Here was their fault, if fault
it was in those days.  For to discriminate between high art and low art
they must have seen both.  And for Jonson’s wrath to be fair and just he
must have shown them both.  Let us see what the pure drama is like which
he wishes to substitute for the foul drama of his contemporaries; and, to
bring the matter nearer home, let us take one of the plays in which he
hits deliberately at the Puritans, namely the ‘Alchemist,’ said to have
been first acted in 1610 ‘by the king’s majesty’s servants.’  Look, then,
at this well-known play, and take Jonson at his word.  Allow that Ananias
and Tribulation Wholesome are, as they very probably are, fair portraits
of a class among the sectaries of the day: but bear in mind, too, that if
this be allowed, the other characters shall be held as fair portraits
also.  Otherwise, all must he held to be caricature; and then the
onslaught on the Puritans vanishes into nothing, or worse.  Now in either
case, Ananias and Tribulation are the best men in the play.  They palter
with their consciences, no doubt: but they have consciences, which no one
else in the play has, except poor Surly; and he, be it remembered, comes
to shame, is made a laughing-stock, and ‘cheats himself,’ as he complains
at last, ‘by that same foolish vice of honesty’: while in all the rest
what have we but every form of human baseness?  Lovell, the master, if he
is to be considered a negative character as doing no wrong, has, at all
events, no more recorded of him than the noble act of marrying by deceit
a young widow for the sake of her money, the philosopher’s stone, by the
bye, and highest object of most of the seventeenth century dramatists.
If most of the rascals meet with due disgrace, none of them is punished;
and the greatest rascal of all, who, when escape is impossible, turns
traitor, and after deserving the cart and pillory a dozen times for his
last and most utter baseness, is rewarded by full pardon, and the honour
of addressing the audience at the play’s end in the most smug and
self-satisfied tone, and of ‘putting himself on you that are my country,’
not doubting, it seems, that there were among them a fair majority who
would think him a very smart fellow, worthy of all imitation.

Now is this play a moral or an immoral one?  Of its coarseness we say
nothing.  We should not endure it, of course, nowadays; and on that point
something must be said hereafter: but if we were to endure plain speaking
as the only method of properly exposing vice, should we endure the moral
which, instead of punishing vice, rewards it?

And, meanwhile, what sort of a general state of society among the
Anti-Puritan party does the play sketch?  What but a background of
profligacy and frivolity?

A proof, indeed, of the general downward tendencies of the age may be
found in the writings of Ben Jonson himself.  Howsoever pure and lofty
the ideal which he laid down for himself (and no doubt honestly) in the
Preface to ‘Volpone,’ he found it impossible to keep up to it.  Nine
years afterwards we find him, in his ‘Bartholomew Fair,’ catering to the
low tastes of James the First in ribaldry at which, if one must needs
laugh—as who that was not more than man could help doing over that scene
between Rabbi Busy and the puppets?—shallow and untrue as the gist of the
humour is, one feels the next moment as if one had been indulging in
unholy mirth at the expense of some grand old Noah who has come to shame
in his cups.

But lower still does Jonson fall in that Masque of the ‘Gipsies
Metamorphosed,’ presented to the king in 1621, when Jonson was
forty-seven; old enough, one would have thought, to know better.  It is
not merely the insincere and all but blasphemous adulation which is
shocking,—that was but the fashion of the times: but the treating these
gipsies and beggars, and their ‘thieves’ Latin’ dialect, their filthiness
and cunning, ignorance and recklessness, merely as themes for immoral and
inhuman laughter.  Jonson was by no means the only poet of that day to
whom the hordes of profligate and heathen nomads which infested England
were only a comical phase of humanity, instead of being, as they would be
now, objects of national shame and sorrow, of pity and love, which would
call out in the attempt to redeem them the talents and energies of good
men.  But Jonson certainly sins more in this respect than any of his
contemporaries.  He takes a low pleasure in parading his intimate
acquaintance with these poor creatures’ foul slang and barbaric laws; and
is, we should say, the natural father of that lowest form of all
literature, which has since amused the herd, though in a form greatly
purified, in the form of ‘Beggars’ Operas,’ ‘Dick Turpins,’ and ‘Jack
Sheppards.’  Everything which is objectionable in such modern
publications as these was exhibited, in far grosser forms, by one of the
greatest poets who ever lived, for the amusement of a king of England;
and yet the world still is at a loss to know why sober and God-fearing
men detested both the poet and the king.

And that Masque is all the more saddening exhibition of the degradation
of a great soul, because in it, here and there, occur passages of the old
sweetness and grandeur; _disjecta membra poetæ_ such as these, which,
even although addressed to James, are perfect:—

                               ‘3_rd_ _Gipsy_.

    Look how the winds upon the waves grow tame,
       Take up land sounds upon their purple wings,
    And, catching each from other, bear the same
       To every angle of their sacred springs.
    So will we take his praise, and hurl his name
       About the globe, in thousand airy rings.’

                                   * * * *

Let us pass on.  Why stay to look upon the fall of such a spirit?

There is one point, nevertheless, which we may as well speak of here, and
shortly; for spoken of it must be as delicately as is possible.  The
laugh raised at Zeal-for-the-land Busy’s expense, in ‘Bartholomew Fair,’
turns on the Puritan dislike of seeing women’s parts acted by boys.
Jonson shirks the question by making poor Busy fall foul of puppets
instead of live human beings: but the question is shirked nevertheless.
What honest answer he could have given to the Puritans is hard to
conceive.  Prynne, in his ‘Histriomastix,’ may have pushed a little too
far the argument drawn from the prohibition in the Mosaic law: yet one
would fancy that the practice was forbidden by Moses’ law, not
arbitrarily, but because it was a bad practice, which did harm, as every
antiquarian knows that it did; and that, therefore, Prynne was but
reasonable in supposing that in his day a similar practice would produce
a similar evil.  Our firm conviction is that it did so, and that as to
the matter of fact, Prynne was perfectly right; and that to make a boy a
stage-player was pretty certainly to send him to the devil.  Let any man
of common sense imagine to himself the effect on a young boy’s mind which
would be produced by representing shamelessly before a public audience
not merely the language, but the passions, of such women as occur in
almost every play.  We appeal to common sense—would any father allow his
own children to personate, even in private, the basest of mankind?  And
yet we must beg pardon: for common sense, it is to be supposed, has
decided against us, as long as parents allow their sons to act yearly at
Westminster the stupid low art of Terence, while grave and reverend
prelates and divines look on approving.  The Westminster play has had no
very purifying influence on the minds of the young gentlemen who
personate heathen damsels; and we only ask, What must have been the
effect of representing far fouler characters than Terence’s on the minds
of uneducated lads of the lower classes?  Prynne and others hint at still
darker abominations than the mere defilement of the conscience: we shall
say nothing of them, but that, from collateral evidence, we believe every
word they say; and that when pretty little Cupid’s mother, in Jonson’s
Christmas masque, tells how ‘She could have had money enough for him, had
she been tempted, and have let him out by the week to the king’s
players,’ and how ‘Master Burbadge has been about and about with her for
him, and old Mr. Hemings too,’ she had better have tied a stone round the
child’s neck, and hove him over London Bridge, than have handed him over
to thrifty Burbadge, that he might make out of his degradation more money
to buy land withal, and settle comfortably in his native town, on the
fruits of others’ sin.  Honour to old Prynne, bitter and narrow as he
was, for his passionate and eloquent appeals to the humanity and
Christianity of England, in behalf of those poor children whom not a
bishop on the bench interfered to save; but, while they were writing and
persecuting in behalf of baptismal regeneration, left those to perish
whom they declared so stoutly to be regenerate in baptism.  Prynne used
that argument too, and declared these stage-plays to be among the very
‘pomps and vanities which Christians renounced at baptism.’  He may or
may not have been wrong in identifying them with the old heathen
pantomimes and games of the circus, and in burying his adversaries under
a mountain of quotations from the Fathers and the Romish divines (for
Prynne’s reading seems to have been quite enormous).  Those very prelates
could express reverence enough for the Fathers when they found aught in
them which could be made to justify their own system, though perhaps it
had really even less to do therewith than the Roman pantomimes had with
the Globe Theatre: but the Church of England had retained in her
Catechism the old Roman word ‘pomps,’ as one of the things which were to
be renounced; and as ‘pomps’ confessedly meant at first those very
spectacles of the heathen circus and theatre, Prynne could not be very
illogical in believing that, as it had been retained, it was retained to
testify against something, and probably against the thing in England most
like the ‘pomps’ of heathen Rome.  Meanwhile, let Churchmen decide
whether of the two was the better Churchman—Prynne, who tried to make the
baptismal covenant mean something, or Laud, who allowed such a play as
‘The Ordinary’ to be written by his especial _protégé_, Cartwright, the
Oxford scholar, and acted before him probably by Oxford scholars,
certainly by christened boys.  We do not pretend to pry into the counsels
of the Most High; but if unfaithfulness to a high and holy trust, when
combined with lofty professions and pretensions, does (as all history
tells us that it does) draw down the vengeance of Almighty God, then we
need look no further than this one neglect of the seventeenth century
prelates (whether its cause was stupidity, insincerity, or fear of the
monarchs to whose tyranny they pandered), to discover full reason why it
pleased God to sweep them out awhile with the besom of destruction.

There is another feature in the plays of the seventeenth century, new, as
far as we know, alike to English literature and manners; and that is, the
apotheosis of Rakes.  Let the faults of the Middle Age, or of the Tudors,
have been what they may, that class of person was in their time simply an
object of disgust.  The word which then signified a Rake is, in the
‘Morte d’Arthur’ (temp. Ed. IV.), the foulest term of disgrace which can
be cast upon a knight; whilst even up to the latter years of Elizabeth
the contempt of parents and elders seems to have been thought a grievous
sin.  In Italy, even, fountain of all the abominations of the age,
respect for the fifth commandment seems to have lingered after all the
other nine had been forgotten; we find Castiglione, in his ‘Corteggiano’
(about 1520), regretting the modest and respectful training of the
generation which had preceded him; and to judge from facts, the Puritan
method of education, stern as it was, was neither more nor less than the
method which, a generation before, had been common to Romanist and to
Protestant, Puritan and Churchman.

But with the Stuart era (perhaps at the end of Elizabeth’s reign) fathers
became gradually personages who are to be disobeyed, sucked of their
money, fooled, even now and then robbed and beaten, by the young
gentlemen of spirit; and the most Christian kings, James and Charles,
with their queens and court, sit by to see ruffling and roystering,
beating the watch and breaking windows, dicing, drinking, duelling, and
profligacy (provided the victim be not a woman of gentle birth), set
forth not merely as harmless amusements for young gentlemen, but (as in
Beaumont and Fletcher’s play of ‘Monsieur Thomas’) virtues without which
a man is despicable.  On this point, as on many others, those who have,
for ecclesiastical reasons, tried to represent the first half of the
seventeenth century as a golden age have been altogether unfair.  There
is no immorality of the court plays of Charles II.’s time which may not
be found in those of Charles I.’s.  Sedley and Etherege are not a whit
worse, but only more stupid, than Fletcher or Shirley; and Monsieur
Thomas is the spiritual father of all Angry lads, Rufflers, Blades,
Bullies, Mohocks, Corinthians, and Dandies, down to the last drunken
clerk who wrenched off a knocker, or robbed his master’s till to pay his
losses at a betting-office.  True; we of this generation can hardly
afford to throw stones.  The scapegrace ideal of humanity has enjoyed
high patronage within the last half century; and if Monsieur Thomas
seemed lovely in the eyes of James and Charles, so did Jerry and
Corinthian Tom in those of some of the first gentlemen of England.
Better days, however, have dawned; ‘Tom and Jerry,’ instead of running
three hundred nights, would be as little endured on the stage as
‘Monsieur Thomas’ would be; the heroes who aspire toward that ideal are
now consigned by public opinion to Rhadamanthus and the treadmill; while
if, like Monsieur Thomas, they knocked down their own father, they would,
instead of winning a good wife, be ‘cut’ by braver and finer gentlemen
than Monsieur Thomas himself: but what does this fact prove save that
England has at last discovered that the Puritan opinion of this matter
(as of some others) was the right one?

There is another aspect in which we must look at the Stuart patronage of
profligate scapegraces on the stage.  They would not have been endured on
the stage had they not been very common off it; and if there had not
been, too, in the hearts of spectators some lurking excuse for them: it
requires no great penetration to see what that excuse must have been.  If
the Stuart age, aristocracy, and court were as perfect as some fancy
them, such fellows would have been monstrous in it and inexcusable,
probably impossible.  But if it was (as it may be proved to have been) an
utterly deboshed, insincere, decrepit, and decaying age, then one cannot
but look on Monsieur Thomas with something of sympathy as well as pity.
Take him as he stands; he is a fellow of infinite kindliness, wit,
spirit, and courage, but with nothing on which to employ those powers.
He would have done his work admirably in an earnest and enterprising age
as a Hudson’s Bay Company clerk, an Indian civilian, a captain of a
man-of-war—anything where he could find a purpose and a work.  Doubt it
not.  How many a Monsieur Thomas of our own days, whom a few years ago
one had rashly fancied capable of nothing higher than coulisses and
cigars, private theatricals and white kid gloves, has been not only
fighting and working like a man, but meditating and writing homeward like
a Christian, through the dull misery of those trenches at Sevastopol; and
has found, amid the Crimean snows, that merciful fire of God, which could
burn the chaff out of his heart and thaw the crust of cold frivolity into
warm and earnest life.  And even at such a youth’s worst, reason and
conscience alike forbid us to deal out to him the same measure as we do
to the offences of the cool and hoary profligate, or to the darker and
subtler spiritual sins of the false professor.  But if the wrath of God
be not unmistakably and practically revealed from heaven against youthful
profligacy and disobedience in after sorrow and shame of some kind or
other, against what sin is it revealed?  It was not left for our age to
discover that the wages of sin is death: but Charles, his players and his
courtiers, refused to see what the very heathen had seen, and so had to
be taught the truth over again by another and a more literal lesson; and
what neither stage-plays nor sermons could teach them, sharp shot and
cold steel did.

‘But still the Puritans were barbarians for hating Art altogether.’  The
fact was, that they hated what art they saw in England, and that this was
low art, bad art, growing ever lower and worse.  If it be said that
Shakspeare’s is the very highest art, the answer is, that what they hated
in him was not his high art, but his low art, the foul and horrible
elements which he had in common with his brother play-writers.  True,
there is far less of these elements in Shakspeare than in any of his
compeers: but they are there.  And what the Puritans hated in him was
exactly what we have to expunge before we can now represent his plays.
If it be said that they ought to have discerned and appreciated the
higher elements in him, so ought the rest of their generation.  The
Puritans were surely not bound to see in Shakspeare what his patrons and
brother poets did not see.  And it is surely a matter of fact that the
deep spiritual knowledge which makes, and will make, Shakspeare’s plays
(and them alone of all the seventeenth century plays) a heritage for all
men and all ages, quite escaped the insight of his contemporaries, who
probably put him in the same rank which Webster, writing about 1612, has
assigned to him.

    ‘I have ever cherished a good opinion of other men’s witty labours,
    especially of that full and heightened style of Master Chapman; the
    laboured and understanding works of Mr. Jonson; the no less witty
    composures of the both wittily excellent Mr. Beaumont and Mr.
    Fletcher; and lastly (without wrong last to be named), the right
    happy and copious industry of Shakspeare, Mr. Dekker, and Mr.

While Webster, then, one of the best poets of the time, sees nothing in
Shakspeare beyond the same ‘happy and copious industry’ which he sees in
Dekker and Heywood,—while Cartwright, perhaps the only young poet of real
genius in Charles the First’s reign, places Fletcher’s name ‘’Twixt
Jonson’s grave and Shakspeare’s lighter sound,’ and tells him that

    ‘Shakspeare to thee was dull, whose best wit lies
    I’ th’ ladies’ questions, and the fool’s replies.

    * * * * *

    Whose wit our nice times would obsceneness call.

    * * * * *

    Nature was all his art; thy vein was free
    As his, but without his scurrility;’ {46}

while even Milton, who, Puritan as he was, loved art with all his soul,
only remarks on Shakspeare’s marvellous lyrical sweetness, ‘his native
wood-notes wild’; what shame to the Puritans if they, too, did not
discover the stork among the cranes?

An answer has often been given to arguments of this kind, which deserves
a few moments’ consideration.  It is said, ‘the grossness of the old
play-writers was their misfortune, not their crime.  It was the fashion
of the age.  It is not our fashion, certainly; but they meant no harm by
it.  The age was a free-spoken one; and perhaps none the worse for that.’
Mr. Dyce, indeed, the editor of Webster’s plays, seems inclined to exalt
this habit into a virtue.  After saying that the licentious and debauched
are made ‘as odious in representation as they would be if they were
actually present’—an assertion which must be flatly denied, save in the
case of Shakspeare, who seldom or never, to our remembrance, seems to
forget that the wages of sin is death, and who, however coarse he may be,
keeps stoutly on the side of virtue—Mr. Dyce goes on to say, that
‘perhaps the language of the stage is purified in proportion as our
morals are deteriorated; and we dread the mention of the vices which we
are not ashamed to practise; while our forefathers, under the sway of a
less fastidious but a more energetic principle of virtue, were careless
of words, and only considerate of actions.’

To this clever piece of special pleading we can only answer that the fact
is directly contrary; that there is a mass of unanimous evidence which
cannot be controverted to prove that England, in the first half of the
seventeenth century was far more immoral than in the nineteenth; that the
proofs lie patent to any dispassionate reader: but that these pages will
not be defiled by the details of them.

Let it be said that coarseness was ‘the fashion of the age.’  The simple
question is, was it a good fashion or a bad?  It is said—with little or
no proof—that in simple states of society much manly virtue and much
female purity have often consisted with very broad language and very
coarse manners.  But what of that?  Drunkards may very often be very
honest and brave men.  Does that make drunkenness no sin?  Or will
honesty and courage prevent a man’s being the worse for hard drinking?
If so, why have we given up coarseness of language?  And why has it been
the better rather than the worse part of the nation, the educated and
religious rather than the ignorant and wicked, who have given it up?
Why?  Simply because this nation, and all other nations on the Continent,
in proportion to their morality, have found out that coarseness of
language is, to say the least, unfit and inexpedient; that if it be wrong
to do certain things, it is also, on the whole, right not to talk of
them; that even certain things which are right and blessed and holy lose
their sanctity by being dragged cynically to the light of day, instead of
being left in the mystery in which God has wisely shrouded them.  On the
whole, one is inclined to suspect the defence of coarseness as insincere.
Certainly, in our day, it will not hold.  If any one wishes to hear
coarse language in ‘good society’ he can hear it, I am told, in Paris:
but one questions whether Parisian society be now ‘under the sway of a
more energetic principle of virtue’ than our own.  The sum total of the
matter seems to be, that England has found out that on this point again
the old Puritans were right.  And quaintly enough, the party in the
English Church who hold the Puritans most in abhorrence are the most
scrupulous now upon this very point; and, in their dread of contaminating
the minds of youth, are carrying education, at school and college, to
such a more than Puritan precision that with the most virtuous and
benevolent intentions they are in danger of giving lads merely a
conventional education,—a hot-house training which will render them
incapable hereafter of facing either the temptations or the labour of the
world.  They themselves republished Massinger’s ‘Virgin Martyr,’ because
it was a pretty Popish story, probably written by a Papist—for there is
every reason to believe that Massinger was one—setting forth how the
heroine was attended all through by an angel in the form of a page, and
how—not to mention the really beautiful ancient fiction about the fruits
which Dorothea sends back from Paradise—Theophilus overcomes the devil by
means of a cross composed of flowers.  Massinger’s account of Theophilus’
conversation will, we fear, make those who know anything of that great
crisis of the human spirit suspect that Massinger’s experience thereof
was but small: but the fact which is most noteworthy is this—that the
‘Virgin Martyr’ is actually one of the foulest plays known.  Every pains
has been taken to prove that the indecent scenes in the play were not
written by Massinger, but by Dekker; on what grounds we know not.  If
Dekker assisted Massinger in the play, as he is said to have done, we are
aware of no canons of internal criticism which will enable us to decide,
as boldly as Mr. Gifford does, that all the indecency is Dekker’s, and
all the poetry Massinger’s.  He confesses—as indeed he is forced to
do—that ‘Massinger himself is not free from dialogues of low wit and
buffoonery’; and then, after calling the scenes in question ‘detestable
ribaldry, ‘a loathsome sooterkin, engendered of filth and dulness,’
recommends them to the reader’s supreme scorn and contempt,—with which
feelings the reader will doubtless regard them: but he will also, if he
be a thinking man, draw from them the following conclusions: that even if
they be Dekker’s—of which there is no proof—Massinger was forced, in
order to the success of his play, to pander to the public taste by
allowing Dekker to interpolate these villanies; that the play which,
above all others of the seventeenth century, contains the most supralunar
rosepink of piety, devotion, and purity, also contains the stupidest
abominations of any extant play; and lastly, that those who reprinted it
as a sample of the Christianity of that past golden age of
High-churchmanship, had to leave out one-third of the play, for fear of
becoming amenable to the laws against abominable publications.

No one denies that there are nobler words than any that we have quoted,
in Jonson, in Fletcher, or in Massinger; but there is hardly a play
(perhaps none) of theirs in which the immoralities of which we complain
do not exist,—few of which they do not form an integral part; and now, if
this is the judgment which we have to pass on the morality of the greater
poets, what must the lesser ones be like?

Look, then, at Webster’s two masterpieces, ‘Vittoria Corrombona’ and the
‘Duchess of Malfi.’  A few words spent on them will surely not be wasted;
for they are pretty generally agreed to be the two best tragedies written
since Shakspeare’s time.

The whole story of ‘Vittoria Corrombona’ is one of sin and horror.  The
subject-matter of the play is altogether made up of the fiercest and the
basest passions.  But the play is not a study of those passions from
which we may gain a great insight into human nature.  There is no
trace—nor is there, again, in the ‘Duchess of Malfi’—of that development
of human souls for good or evil which is Shakspeare’s especial power—the
power which, far more than any accidental ‘beauties,’ makes his plays, to
this day, the delight alike of the simple and the wise, while his
contemporaries are all but forgotten.  The highest aim of dramatic art is
to exhibit the development of the human soul; to construct dramas in
which the conclusion shall depend, not on the events, but on the
characters; and in which the characters shall not be mere embodiments of
a certain passion, or a certain ‘humour’: but persons, each unlike all
others; each having a destiny of his own by virtue of his own
peculiarities, and of his own will; and each proceeding toward that
destiny as he shall conquer, or yield to, circumstances; unfolding his
own strength and weakness before the eyes of the audience; and that in
such a way that, after his first introduction, they should be able (in
proportion to their knowledge of human nature) to predict his conduct
under those circumstances.  This is indeed ‘high art’: but we find no
more of it in Webster than in the rest.  His characters, be they old or
young, come on the stage ready-made, full grown, and stereotyped; and
therefore, in general, they are not characters at all, but mere passions
or humours in human form.  Now and then he essays to draw a character:
but it is analytically, by description, not synthetically and
dramatically, by letting the man exhibit himself in action; and in the
‘Duchess of Mall’ he falls into the great mistake of telling, by
Antonio’s mouth, more about the Duke and the Cardinal than he afterwards
makes them act.  Very different is Shakspeare’s method of giving, at the
outset, some single delicate hint about his personages which will serve
as a clue to their whole future conduct; thus ‘showing the whole in each
part,’ and stamping each man with a personality, to a degree which no
other dramatist has ever approached.

But the truth is, the study of human nature is not Webster’s aim.  He has
to arouse terror and pity, not thought, and he does it in his own way, by
blood and fury, madmen and screech-owls, not without a rugged power.
There are scenes of his, certainly, like that of Vittoria’s trial, which
have been praised for their delineation of character: but it is one thing
to solve the problem, which Shakspeare has so handled in ‘Lear,’
‘Othello,’ and ‘Richard the Third,’—‘Given a mixed character, to show how
he may become criminal,’ and to solve Webster’s ‘Given a ready-made
criminal, to show how he commits his crimes.’  To us the knowledge of
character shown in Vittoria’s trial scene is not an insight into
Vittoria’s essential heart and brain, but a general acquaintance with the
conduct of all bold bad women when brought to bay.  Poor Elia, who knew
the world from books, and human nature principally from his own loving
and gentle heart, talks of Vittoria’s ‘innocence—resembling boldness’
{53}—and ‘seeming to see that matchless beauty of her face, which
inspires such gay confidence in her,’ and so forth.

Perfectly just and true, not of Vittoria merely, but of the average of
bad young women in the presence of a police magistrate: yet amounting in
all merely to this, that the strength of Webster’s confest master-scene
lies simply in intimate acquaintance with vicious nature in general.  We
will say no more on this matter, save to ask, _Cui bono_?  Was the art of
which this was the highest manifestation likely to be of much use to
mankind, much less able to excuse its palpably disgusting and injurious

The ‘Duchess of Malfi’ is certainly in a purer and loftier strain: but in
spite of the praise which has been lavished on her, we must take the
liberty to doubt whether the poor Duchess is a ‘person’ at all.  General
goodness and beauty, intense though pure affection for a man below her in
rank, and a will to carry out her purpose at all hazards, are not enough
to distinguish her from thousands of other women: but Webster has no such
purpose.  What he was thinking and writing of was not truth, but effect;
not the Duchess, but her story; not her brothers, but their rage; not
Antonio, her major-domo and husband, but his good and bad fortunes; and
thus he has made Antonio merely insipid, the brothers merely unnatural,
and the Duchess (in the critical moment of the play) merely forward.
That curious scene, in which she acquaints Antonio with her love for him
and makes him marry her, is, on the whole, painful.  Webster himself
seems to have felt that it was so; and, dreading lest he had gone too
far, to have tried to redeem the Duchess at the end by making her break
down in two exquisite lines of loving shame: but he has utterly forgotten
to explain or justify her love by giving to Antonio (as Shakspeare would
probably have done) such strong specialties of character as would compel,
and therefore excuse, his mistress’s affection.  He has plenty of time to
do this in the first scenes,—time which he wastes on irrelevant matter;
and all that we gather from them is that Antonio is a worthy and
thoughtful person.  If he gives promise of being more, he utterly
disappoints that promise afterwards.  In the scene in which the Duchess
tells her love, he is far smaller, rather than greater, than the Antonio
of the opening scene: though (as there) altogether passive.  He hears his
mistress’s declaration just as any other respectable youth might; is
exceedingly astonished, and a good deal frightened; has to be talked out
of his fears till one naturally expects a revulsion on the Duchess’s part
into something like scorn or shame (which might have given a good
opportunity for calling out sudden strength in Antonio): but so busy is
Webster with his business of drawing mere blind love, that he leaves
Antonio to be a mere puppet, whose worthiness we are to believe in only
from the Duchess’s assurance to him that he is the perfection of all that
a man should be; which, as all lovers are of the same opinion the day
before the wedding, is not of much importance.

Neither in his subsequent misfortunes does Antonio make the least
struggle to prove himself worthy of his mistress’s affection.  He is very
resigned and loving, and so forth.  To win renown by great deeds, and so
prove his wife in the right to her brothers and all the world, never
crosses his imagination.  His highest aim (and that only at last) is
slavishly to entreat pardon from his brothers-in-law for the mere offence
of marrying their sister; and he dies by an improbable accident, the same
pious and respectable insipidity which he has lived,—‘_ne valant pas la
peine qui se donne pour lui_.’  The prison-scenes between the Duchess and
her tormentors are painful enough, if to give pain be a dramatic virtue;
and she appears in them really noble; and might have appeared far more
so, had Webster taken half as much pains with her as he has with the
madmen, ruffians, ghosts, and screech-owls in which his heart really
delights.  The only character really worked out so as to live and grow
under his hand is Bosola, who, of course, is the villain of the piece,
and being a rough fabric, is easily manufactured with rough tools.
Still, Webster has his wonderful touches here and there—

    ‘_Cariola_.  Hence, villains, tyrants, murderers!  Alas
    What will you do with my lady?  Call for help!
    _Duchess_.  To whom? to our next neighbours? they are mad folk.
    Farewell, Cariola.
    I pray thee look thou giv’st my little boy
    Some syrup for his cold; and let the girl
    Say her prayers ere she sleep.—Now, what you please;
    What death?’

And so the play ends, as does ‘Vittoria Corrombona,’ with half a dozen
murders _coram populo_, howls, despair, bedlam, and the shambles; putting
the reader marvellously in mind of that well-known old book of the same
era, ‘Reynolds’s God’s Revenge,’ in which, with all due pious horror and
bombastic sermonising, the national appetite for abominations is duly fed
with some fifty unreadable Spanish histories, French histories, Italian
histories, and so forth, one or two of which, of course, are known to
have furnished subjects for the playwrights of the day.

The next play-writer whom we are bound to notice is James Shirley, one of
the many converts to Romanism which those days saw.  He appears, up to
the breaking out of the Civil War, to have been the Queen’s favourite
poet; and, according to Laugbaine, he was ‘one of such incomparable parts
that he was the chief of the second-rate poets, and by some has been
thought even equal to Fletcher himself.’

We must entreat the reader’s attention while we examine Shirley’s
‘Gamester.’  Whether the examination be a pleasant business or not, it is
somewhat important; ‘for,’ says Mr. Dyce, ‘the following memorandum
respecting it occurs in the office-book of the Master of the Records:—“On
Thursday night, 6th of February, 1633, ‘The Gamester’ was acted at Court,
made by Sherley out of a plot of the king’s, given him by mee, and well
likte.  The king sayd it was the best play he had seen for seven years.”’

This is indeed important.  We shall now have an opportunity of fairly
testing at the same time the taste of the Royal Martyr and the average
merit, at least in the opinion of the Caroline court, of the dramatists
of that day.

The plot which Charles sent to Shirley as a fit subject for his muse is
taken from one of those collections of Italian novels of which we have
already had occasion to speak, and occurs in the second part of the
‘Ducento Novelle’ of Celio Malespini; and what it is we shall see

The play opens with a scene between one Wilding and his ward Penelope, in
which he attempts to seduce the young lady, in language which has
certainly the merit of honesty.  She refuses him, but civilly enough; and
on her departure Mrs. Wilding enters, who, it seems, is the object of her
husband’s loathing, though young, handsome, and in all respects charming
enough.  After a scene of stupid and brutal insults, he actually asks her
to bring Penelope to him, at which she naturally goes out in anger; and
Hazard, the gamester, enters,—a personage without a character, in any
sense of the word.  There is next some talk against duelling, sensible
enough, which arises out of a bye-plot,—one Delamere having been wounded
in a duel by one Beaumont, mortally as is supposed.  This bye-plot runs
through the play, giving an opportunity for bringing in a father of the
usual play-house type,—a Sir Richard Hurry, who is, of course, as stupid,
covetous, proud, and tyrannical and unfeeling, as play-house fathers were
then bound to be: but it is a plot of the most commonplace form, turning
on the stale trick of a man expecting to be hanged for killing some one
who turns out after all to have recovered, and having no bearing
whatsoever on the real plot, which is this,—Mrs. Wilding, in order to win
back her husband’s affections, persuades Penelope to seem to grant his
suit; while Mrs. Wilding herself is in reality to supply her niece’s
place, and shame her husband into virtue.  Wilding tells Hazard of the
good fortune which he fancies is coming, in scenes of which one can only
say, that if they are not written for the purpose of exciting the
passions, it is hard to see why they were written at all.  But, being
with Hazard in a gambling-house at the very hour at which he is to meet
Penelope, and having had a run of bad luck, he borrows a hundred pounds
of Hazard, stays at the table to recover his losses, and sends Hazard to
supply his place with the supposed Penelope.  A few hours before Penelope
and Hazard have met for the first time, and Penelope considers him, as
she says to herself aside, ‘a handsome gentleman.’  He begins, of course,
talking foully to her; and the lady, so far from being shocked at the
freedom of her new acquaintance, pays him back in his own coin in such
good earnest that she soon silences him in the battle of dirt-throwing.
Of this sad scene it is difficult to say whether it indicates a lower
standard of purity and courtesy in the poet, in the audience who endured
it, or in the society of which it was, of course, intended to be a
brilliant picture.  If the cavaliers and damsels of Charles the First’s
day were in the habit of talking in that way to each other (and if they
had not been, Shirley would not have dared to represent them as doing
so), one cannot much wonder that the fire of God was needed to burn up
(though, alas! only for a while) such a state of society; and that when
needed the fire fell.

The rest of the story is equally bad.  Hazard next day gives Wilding
descriptions of his guilt, and while Wilding is in the height of
self-reproach at having handed over his victim to another, his wife meets
him and informs him that she herself and not Penelope has been the
victim.  Now comes the crisis of the plot, the conception which so
delighted the taste of the Royal Martyr.  Wilding finds himself, as he
expresses it, ‘fitted with a pair of horns of his own making;’ and his
rage, shame, and base attempts to patch up his own dishonour by marrying
Penelope to Hazard (even at the cost of disgorging the half of her
portion, which he had intended to embezzle) furnish amusement to the
audience to the end of the play; at last, on Hazard and Penelope coming
in married, Wilding is informed that he has been deceived, and that his
wife is unstained, having arranged with Hazard to keep up the delusion in
order to frighten him into good behaviour; whereupon Mr. Wilding promises
to be a good husband henceforth, and the play ends.

Throughout the whole of this farrago of improbable iniquity not a single
personage has any mark of personal character, or even of any moral
quality, save (in Mrs. Wilding’s case) that of patience under injury.
Hazard ‘The Gamester’ is chosen as the hero, for what reason it is
impossible to say; he is a mere nonentity, doing nothing which may
distinguish him from any other gamester and blackguard, save that he is,
as we are told,

    ‘A man careless
    Of wounds; and though he have not had the luck
    To kill so many as another, dares
    Fight with all them that have.’

He, nevertheless, being in want of money, takes a hundred pounds from a
foolish old city merchant (city merchants are always fools in the
seventeenth century) to let his nephew, young Barnacle, give him a box on
the ear in a tavern, and (after the young cit has been transformed into
an intolerable bully by the fame so acquired) takes another hundred
pounds from the repentant uncle for kicking the youth back into his
native state of peaceful cowardice.  With the exception of some little
humour in these scenes with young Barnacle, the whole play is thoroughly
stupid.  We look in vain for anything like a reflection, a sentiment,
even a novel image.  Its language, like its morality, is all but on a
level with the laboured vulgarities of the ‘Relapse’ or the ‘Provoked
Wife,’ save that (Shirley being a confessed copier of the great
dramatists of the generation before him) there is enough of the manner of
Fletcher and Ben Jonson kept up to hide, at first sight, the utter want
of anything like their matter; and as one sickens at the rakish swagger
and the artificial smartness of his coxcombs, one regrets the racy and
unaffected blackguardism of the earlier poets’ men.

This, forsooth, is the best comedy which Charles had heard for seven
years, and the plot, which he himself furnished for the occasion, fitted
to an English audience by a Romish convert.

And yet there is one dramatist of that fallen generation over whose
memory one cannot but linger, fancying what he would have become, and
wondering why so great a spirit was checked suddenly ere half developed
by a fever which carried him off, with several other Oxford worthies, in
1643, when he was at most thirty-two (and according to one account only
twenty-eight) years old.  Let which of the two dates be the true one,
Cartwright must always rank among our wondrous youths by the side of
Prince Henry, the Admirable Crichton, and others, of whom one’s only
doubt is, whether they were not too wondrous, too precociously complete
for future development.  We find Dr. Fell, some time Bishop of Oxford,
saying that ‘Cartwright was the utmost man could come to’; we read how
his body was as handsome as his soul; how he was an expert linguist, not
only in Greek and Latin, but in French and Italian, an excellent orator,
admirable poet; how Aristotle was no less known to him than Cicero and
Virgil, and his metaphysical lectures preferred to those of all his
predecessors, the Bishop of Lincoln only excepted; and his sermons as
much admired as his other composures; and how one fitly applied to him
that saying of Aristotle concerning Œschron the poet, that ‘he could not
tell what Œschron could not do.’  We find pages on pages of high-flown
epitaphs and sonnets on him, in which the exceeding bad taste of his
admirers makes one inclined to doubt the taste of him whom they so bedaub
with praise; and certainly, in spite of all due admiration for the
Crichton of Oxford, one is unable to endorse Mr. Jasper Mayne’s opinion,

    ‘In thee Ben Jonson still held Shakspeare’s style’;

or that he possest

    ‘Lucan’s bold heights match’d to staid Virgil’s care,
    Martial’s quick salt, joined to Musæus’ tongue.’

This superabundance of eulogy, when we remember the men and the age from
which it comes, tempts one to form such a conception of Cartwright as,
indeed, the portrait prefixed to his works (ed. 1651) gives us; the
offspring of an over-educated and pedantic age, highly stored with
everything but strength and simplicity; one in whom genius has been
rather shaped (perhaps cramped) than developed: but genius was present,
without a doubt, under whatsoever artificial trappings; and Ben Jonson
spoke but truth when he said, ‘My son Cartwright writes all like a man.’
It is impossible to open a page of ‘The Lady Errant,’ ‘The Royal Slave,’
‘The Ordinary,’ or ‘Love’s Convert,’ without feeling at once that we have
to do with a man of a very different stamp from any (Massinger perhaps
alone excepted) who was writing between 1630 and 1640.  The specific
gravity of the poems, so to speak, is far greater than that of any of his
contemporaries; everywhere is thought, fancy, force, varied learning.  He
is never weak or dull; though he fails often enough, is often enough
wrong-headed, fantastical, affected, and has never laid bare the deeper
arteries of humanity, for good or for evil.  Neither is he altogether an
original thinker; as one would expect, he has over-read himself: but then
he has done so to good purpose.  If he imitates, he generally equals.
The table of fare in ‘The Ordinary’ smacks of Rabelais or Aristophanes:
but then it is worthy of either; and if one cannot help suspecting that
‘The Ordinary’ never would have been written had not Ben Jonson written
‘The Alchemist,’ one confesses that Ben Jonson need not have been ashamed
to have written the play himself: although the plot, as all Cartwright’s
are, is somewhat confused and inconsequent.  If he be Platonically
sentimental in ‘Love’s Convert,’ his sentiment is of the noblest and the
purest; and the confest moral of the play is one which that age needed,
if ever age on earth did.

       ‘’Tis the good man’s office
    To serve and reverence woman, as it is
    The fire’s to burn; for as our souls consist
    Of sense and reason, so do yours, more noble,
    Of sense and love, which doth as easily calm
    All your desires, as reason quiets ours. . . .
    Love, then, doth work in you, what Reason doth
    In us; here only lies the difference,—
    Ours wait the lingering steps of Age and Time;
    But the woman’s soul is ripe when it is young;
    So that in us what we call learning, is
    Divinity in you, whose operations,
    Impatient of delay, do outstrip time.’

For the sake of such words, in the midst of an evil and adulterous
generation, we will love young Cartwright, in spite of the suspicion
that, addressed as the play is to Charles, and probably acted before his
queen, the young rogue had been playing the courtier somewhat, and
racking his brains for pretty sayings which would exhibit as a virtue
that very uxoriousness of the poor king which at last cost him his head.
The ‘Royal Slave,’ too, is a gallant play, right-hearted and lofty from
beginning to end, though enacted in an impossible court-cloud-world, akin
to that in which the classic heroes and heroines of Corneille and Racine
call each other Monsieur and Madame.

As for his humour; he, alas! can be dirty like the rest, when necessary:
but humour he has of the highest quality.  ‘The Ordinary’ is full of it;
and Moth, the Antiquary, though too much of a lay figure, and depending
for his amusingness on his quaint antiquated language, is such a sketch
as Mr. Dickens need not have been ashamed to draw.

The ‘Royal Slave’ seems to have been considered, both by the Court and by
his contemporaries, his masterpiece.  And justly so; yet our pleasure at
Charles’s having shown, for once, good taste, is somewhat marred by
Langbaine’s story, that the good acting of the Oxford scholars, ‘stately
scenes, and richness of the Persian habits,’ had as much to do with the
success of the play as its ‘stately style,’ and ‘the excellency of the
songs, which were set by that admirable composer, Mr. Henry James.’  True
it is, that the songs are excellent, as are all Cartwright’s; for grace,
simplicity, and sweetness, equal to any (save Shakspeare’s) which the
seventeenth century produced: but curiously enough, his lyric faculty
seems to have exhausted itself in these half-dozen songs.  His minor
poems are utterly worthless, out Cowleying Cowley in frigid and fantastic
conceits; and his varied addresses to the king and queen are as bombastic
and stupid and artificial as anything which bedizened the reigns of
Charles II. or his brother.

Are we to gather from this fact that Cartwright was not really an
original genius, but only a magnificent imitator; that he could write
plays well, because others had written them well already, but only for
that reason; and that for the same reason, when he attempted detached
lyrics and addresses, he could only follow the abominable models which he
saw around him?  We know not; for surely in Jonson and Shakspeare’s minor
poems he might have found simpler and sweeter types; and even in those of
Fletcher, who appears, from his own account, to have been his especial
pattern.  Shakspeare however, as we have seen, he looked down on; as did
the rest of his generation.

Cartwright, as an Oxford scholar, is of course a worshipper of Charles,
and a hater of Puritans.  We do not wish to raise a prejudice against so
young a man by quoting any of the ridiculous, and often somewhat abject,
rant with which he addresses their majesties on their return from
Scotland, on the queen’s delivery, on the birth of the Duke of York, and
so forth; for in that he did but copy the tone of grave divines and pious
prelates; but he, unfortunately for his fame, is given (as young geniuses
are sometimes) to prophecy; and two of his prophecies, at least, have
hardly been fulfilled.  He was somewhat mistaken when, on the birth of
the Duke of York, he informed the world that

    ‘The state is now past fear; and all that we
    Need wish besides is perpetuity’;

and after indulging in various explanations of the reason why ‘Nature’
showed no prodigies at the birth of the future patron of Judge Jeffreys,
which, if he did not believe them, are lies, and if he did, are very like
blasphemies, declares that the infant is

       ‘A son of Mirth,
    Of Peace and Friendship; ’tis a quiet birth.’

Nor, again, if spirits in the other world have knowledge of human
affairs, can Mr. Cartwright be now altogether satisfied with his rogue’s
augury as to the capacities of the New England Puritans, when he intends
to pick pockets in the New World, having made the Old too hot to hold

    ‘They are good silly people; souls that will
    Be cheated without trouble: one eye is
    Put out with zeal, th’ other with ignorance,
    And yet they think they’re eagles.’

Whatsoever were the faults of the Pilgrim Fathers (and they were many),
silliness was certainly not among them.  But such was the court fashion.
Any insult, however shallow, ribald, and doggrel (and all these terms are
just of the mock-Puritan ballad which Sir Christopher sings in ‘The
Ordinary,’ just after an epithalamium so graceful and melodious, though a
little warm in tone, as to be really out of place in such a fellow’s
mouth), passes current against men who were abroad the founders of the
United States, and the forefathers of the acutest and most enterprising
nation on earth; and who at home proved themselves, by terrible fact, not
only the physically stronger party, but the more cunning.  But so it was
fated to be.  A deep mist of conceit, fed by the shallow breath of
parasites, players, and pedants, wrapt that unhappy court in blind
security, till ‘the breaking was as the swelling out of a high wall,
which cometh suddenly in an instant.’

                                * * * * *

But, after all, what Poetry and Art there was in that day, good or bad,
all belonged to the Royalists.

All?  There are those who think that, if mere concettism be a part of
poetry, Quarles is as great a poet as Cowley or George Herbert, Vaughan
or Withers.  On this question, and on the real worth of the seventeenth
century lyrists, a great deal has to be said hereafter.  Meanwhile, there
are those, too, who believe John Bunyan, considered simply as an artist,
to be the greatest dramatic author whom England has seen since
Shakspeare; and there linger, too, in the libraries and the ears of men,
words of one John Milton.  He was no rigid hater of the beautiful, merely
because it was heathen and Popish; no more, indeed, were many
highly-educated and highly-born gentlemen of the Long Parliament: no more
was Cromwell himself, whose delight was (if we may trust that double
renegade Waller) to talk over with him the worthies of Rome and Greece,
and who is said to have preserved for the nation Raphael’s cartoons and
Andrea Mantegna’s triumph when Charles’s pictures were sold.  But Milton
had steeped his whole soul in romance.  He had felt the beauty and glory
of the chivalrous Middle Age as deeply as Shakspeare himself: he had as
much classical lore as any Oxford pedant.  He felt to his heart’s core
(for he sang of it, and had he not felt it he would only have written of
it) the magnificence and worth of really high art, of the drama when it
was worthy of man and of itself.

    ‘Of gorgeous tragedy,
    Presenting Thebes’ or Pelops’ line,
    Or the Tale of Troy divine,
    Or what, though rare, of later age,
    Ennobled hath the buskin’d stage.’

No poet, perhaps, shows wider and truer sympathy with every form of the
really beautiful in art, nature, and history: and yet he was a Puritan.

Yes, Milton was a Puritan; one who, instead of trusting himself and his
hopes of the universe to second-hand hearsays, systems, and traditions,
had looked God’s Word and his own soul in the face, and determined to act
on that which he had found.  And therefore it is that to open his works
at any stray page, after these effeminate Carolists, is like falling
asleep in a stifling city drawing-room, amid Rococo French furniture, not
without untidy traces of last night’s ball, and awaking in an Alpine
valley, amid the scent of sweet cyclamens and pine boughs, to the music
of trickling rivulets and shouting hunters, beneath the dark cathedral
aisles of mighty trees, and here and there, above them and beyond, the
spotless peaks of everlasting snow; while far beneath your feet—

    ‘The hemisphere of earth, in clearest ken,
    Stretched to the amplest reach of prospect, lies.’

Take any—the most hackneyed passage of ‘Comus,’ the ‘Allegro,’ the
‘Penseroso,’ the ‘Paradise Lost,’ and see the freshness, the sweetness,
the simplicity which is strangely combined with the pomp, the
self-restraint, the earnestness of every word; take him even, as an
_experimentum crucis_, when he trenches upon ground heathen and
questionable, and tries the court poets at their own weapons—

    ‘Or whether (as some sager sing),
    The frolic wind that breathes the spring,
    Zephyr, with Aurora playing,
    As he met her once a-Maying,
    There on beds of violets blue,
    And fresh-blown roses washed in dew—’

but why quote what all the world knows?—where shall we find such real
mirth, ease, sweetness, dance and song of words in anything written for
five and twenty years before him?  True, he was no great dramatist.  He
never tried to be one; but there was no one in his generation who could
have written either ‘Comus’ or ‘Samson Agonistes.’  And if, as is
commonly believed, and as his countenance seems to indicate, he was
deficient in humour, so were his contemporaries, with the sole exception
of Cartwright.  Witty he could be, and bitter; but he did not live in a
really humorous age: and if he has none of the rollicking fun of the
foxhound puppy, at least he has none of the obscene gibber of the ape.

After all, the great fact stands, that the only lasting poet of that
generation was a Puritan; one who, if he did not write dramas in sport,
at least acted dramas in earnest.  For drama means, etymologically,
action and doing: and of the drama there are, and always will be, two
kinds: one the representative, the other the actual; and for a world
wherein there is no superabundance of good deeds, the latter will be
always the better kind.  It is good to represent heroical action in
verse, and on the stage: it is good to ‘purify,’ as old Aristotle has it,
‘the affections by pity and terror.’  There is an ideal tragedy, and an
ideal comedy also, which one can imagine as an integral part of the
highest Christian civilisation.  But when ‘Christian’ tragedy sinks below
the standard of heathen Greek tragedy; when, instead of setting forth
heroical deeds, it teaches the audience new possibilities of crime, and
new excuses for those crimes; when, instead of purifying the affections
by pity and terror, it confounds the moral sense by exciting pity and
terror merely for the sake of excitement, careless whether they be well
or ill directed: then it is of the devil, and the sooner it returns to
its father the better for mankind.  When, again, comedy, instead of
stirring a divine scorn of baseness, or even a kindly and indulgent smile
at the weaknesses and oddities of humanity, learns to make a mock of
sin,—to find excuses for the popular frailties which it pretends to
expose,—then it also is of the devil, and to the devil let it go; while
honest and earnest men, who have no such exceeding love of ‘Art’ that
they must needs have bad art rather than none at all, do the duty which
lies nearest them amid clean whitewash and honest prose.  The whole
theory of ‘Art, its dignity and vocation,’ seems to us at times
questionable, if coarse facts are to be allowed to weigh (as we suppose
they are) against delicate theories.  If we are to judge by the example
of Italy, the country which has been most of all devoted to the practice
of ‘Art,’ then a nation is not necessarily free, strong, moral, or happy
because it can ‘represent’ facts, or can understand how other people have
represented them.  We do not hesitate to go farther, and to say that the
now past weakness of Germany was to be traced in a great degree to that
pernicious habit of mind which made her educated men fancy it enough to
represent noble thoughts and feelings, or to analyse the representations
of them: while they did not bestir themselves, or dream that there was a
moral need for bestirring themselves, toward putting these thoughts and
feelings into practice.  Goethe herein was indeed the type of a very
large class of Germans: God grant that no generation may ever see such a
type common in England; and that our race, remembering ever that the
golden age of the English drama was one of private immorality, public
hypocrisy, ecclesiastical pedantry, and regal tyranny, and ended in the
temporary downfall of Church and Crown, may be more ready to do fine
things than to write fine books; and act in their lives, as those old
Puritans did, a drama which their descendants may be glad to put on paper
for them long after they are dead.

For surely these Puritans were dramatic enough, poetic enough,
picturesque enough.  We do not speak of such fanatics as Balfour of
Burley, or any other extravagant person whom it may have suited Walter
Scott to take as a typical personage.  We speak of the average Puritan
nobleman, gentleman, merchant, or farmer; and hold him to have been a
picturesque and poetical man,—a man of higher imagination and deeper
feeling than the average of court poets; and a man of sound taste also.
What is to be said for his opinions about the stage has been seen
already: but it seems to have escaped most persons’ notice, that either
all England is grown very foolish, or the Puritan opinions on several
matters have been justified by time.

On the matter of the stage, the world has certainly come over to their
way of thinking.  Few highly educated men now think it worth while to go
to see any play, and that exactly for the same reasons as the Puritans
put forward; and still fewer highly educated men think it worth while to
write plays: finding that since the grosser excitements of the
imagination have become forbidden themes, there is really very little to
write about.

But in the matter of dress and of manners, the Puritan triumph has been
complete.  Even their worst enemies have come over to their side, and the
‘whirligig of time has brought about its revenge.’

Most of their canons of taste have become those of all England.  High
Churchmen, who still call them Roundheads and Cropped-ears, go about
rounder-headed and closer cropt than they ever went.  They held it more
rational to cut the hair to a comfortable length than to wear effeminate
curls down the back.  We cut ours much shorter than they ever did.  They
held (with the Spaniards, then the finest gentlemen in the world) that
sad, _i.e._ dark colours, above all black, were the fittest for all
stately and earnest gentlemen.  We all, from the Tractarian to the
Anythingarian, are exactly of the same opinion.  They held that lace,
perfumes, and jewellery on a man were marks of unmanly foppishness and
vanity.  So hold the finest gentlemen in England now.  They thought it
equally absurd and sinful for a man to carry his income on his back, and
bedizen himself out in reds, blues, and greens, ribbons, knots, slashes,
and treble quadruple dædalian ruffs, built up on iron and timber, which
have more arches in them for pride than London Bridge for use.  We, if we
met such a ruffed and ruffled worthy as used to swagger by dozens up and
down Paul’s Walk, not knowing how to get a dinner, much less to pay his
tailor, should look on him as firstly a fool, and secondly a swindler:
while if we met an old Puritan, we should consider him a man gracefully
and picturesquely drest, but withal in the most perfect sobriety of good
taste; and when we discovered (as we probably should), over and above,
that the harlequin cavalier had a box of salve and a pair of dice in one
pocket, a pack of cards and a few pawnbroker’s duplicates in the other;
that his thoughts were altogether of citizens’ wives and their too easy
virtue; and that he could not open his mouth without a dozen oaths: then
we should consider the Puritan (even though he did quote Scripture
somewhat through his nose) as the gentleman; and the courtier as a most
offensive specimen of the ‘snob triumphant,’ glorying in his shame.  The
picture is not ours, nor even the Puritan’s.  It is Bishop Hall’s, Bishop
Earle’s, it is Beaumont’s, Fletcher’s, Jonson’s, Shakspeare’s,—the
picture which every dramatist, as well as satirist, has drawn of the
‘gallant’ of the seventeenth century.  No one can read those writers
honestly without seeing that the Puritan, and not the Cavalier conception
of what a British gentleman should be, is the one accepted by the whole
nation at this day.

In applying the same canon to the dress of women they were wrong.  As in
other matters, they had hold of one pole of a double truth, and erred in
applying it exclusively to all cases.  But there are two things to be
said for them; first, that the dress of that day was palpably an
incentive to the profligacy of that day, and therefore had to be
protested against; while in these more moral times ornaments and fashions
may be harmlessly used which then could not be used without harm.  Next,
it is undeniable that sober dressing is more and more becoming the
fashion among well-bred women; and that among them, too, the Puritan
canons are gaining ground.

We have just said that the Puritans held too exclusively to one pole of a
double truth.  They did so, no doubt, in their hatred of the drama.
Their belief that human relations were, if not exactly sinful, at least
altogether carnal and unspiritual, prevented their conceiving the
possibility of any truly Christian drama; and led them at times into
strange and sad errors, like that New England ukase of Cotton Mather’s,
who is said to have punished the woman who should kiss her infant on the
Sabbath day.  Yet their extravagances on this point were but the honest
revulsion from other extravagances on the opposite side.  If the
undistinguishing and immoral Autotheism of the playwrights, and the
luxury and heathendom of the higher classes, first in Italy and then in
England, were the natural revolt of the human mind against the Manichæism
of monkery: then the severity and exclusiveness of Puritanism was a
natural and necessary revolt against that luxury and immorality; a
protest for man’s God-given superiority over nature, against that
Naturalism which threatened to end in sheer animalism.  While Italian
prelates have found an apologist in Mr. Roscoe, and English playwrights
in Mr. Gifford, the old Puritans, who felt and asserted, however
extravagantly, that there was an eternal law which was above all Borgias
and Machiavels, Stuarts and Fletchers, have surely a right to a fair
trial.  If they went too far in their contempt for humanity, certainly no
one interfered to set them right.  The Anglicans of that time, who held
intrinsically the same anthropologic notions, and yet wanted the courage
and sincerity to carry them out as honestly, neither could nor would
throw any light upon the controversy; and the only class who sided with
the poor playwrights in asserting that there were more things in man, and
more excuses for man, than were dreamt of in Prynne’s philosophy, were
the Jesuit Casuists, who, by a fatal perverseness, used all their little
knowledge of human nature to the same undesirable purpose as the
playwrights; namely, to prove how it was possible to commit every
conceivable sinful action without sinning.  No wonder that in an age in
which courtiers and theatre-haunters were turning Romanists by the dozen,
and the priest-ridden queen was the chief patroness of the theatre, the
Puritans should have classed players and Jesuits in the same category,
and deduced the parentage of both alike from the father of lies.

But as for these Puritans having been merely the sour, narrow, inhuman
persons they are vulgarly supposed to have been, _credat Judæus_.  There
were sour and narrow men among them; so there were in the opposite party.
No Puritan could have had less poetry in him, less taste, less feeling,
than Laud himself.  But is there no poetry save words?  No drama save
that which is presented on the stage?  Is this glorious earth, and the
souls of living men, mere prose, as long as ‘_carent vate sacro_,’ who
will, forsooth, do them the honour to make poetry out of a little of them
(and of how little!) by translating them into words, which he himself,
just in proportion as he is a good poet, will confess to be clumsy,
tawdry, ineffectual?  Was there no poetry in these Puritans because they
wrote no poetry?  We do not mean now the unwritten tragedy of the
battle-psalm and the charge; but simple idyllic poetry and quiet
home-drama, love-poetry of the heart and the hearth, and the beauties of
everyday human life.  Take the most commonplace of them: was
Zeal-for-Truth Thoresby, of Thoresby Rise in Deeping Fen, because his
father had thought fit to give him an ugly and silly name, the less of a
noble lad?  Did his name prevent his being six feet high?  Were his
shoulders the less broad for it, his cheeks the less ruddy for it?  He
wore his flaxen hair of the same length that every one now wears theirs,
instead of letting it hang half-way to his waist in essenced curls; but
was he therefore the less of a true Viking’s son, bold-hearted as his
sea-roving ancestors who won the Danelagh by Canute’s side, and settled
there on Thoresby Rise, to grow wheat and breed horses, generation
succeeding generation, in the old moated grange?  He carried a Bible in
his jack-boot: but did that prevent him, as Oliver rode past him with an
approving smile on Naseby field, thinking himself a very handsome fellow,
with his moustache and imperial, and bright red coat, and cuirass well
polished, in spite of many a dint, as he sate his father’s great black
horse as gracefully and firmly as any long-locked and essenced cavalier
in front of him?  Or did it prevent him thinking, too, for a moment, with
a throb of the heart, that sweet Cousin Patience far away at home, could
she but see him, might have the same opinion of him as he had of himself?
Was he the worse for the thought?  He was certainly not the worse for
checking it the next instant, with manly shame for letting such ‘carnal
vanities’ rise in his heart while he was ‘doing the Lord’s work’ in the
teeth of death and hell: but was there no poetry in him then?  No poetry
in him, five minutes later, as the long rapier swung round his head,
redder and redder at every sweep?  We are befooled by names.  Call him
Crusader instead of Roundhead, and he seems at once (granting him only
sincerity, which he had, and that of a right awful kind) as complete a
knight-errant as ever watched and prayed, ere putting on his spurs, in
fantastic Gothic chapel, beneath ‘storied windows richly dight.’  Was
there no poetry in him, either, half an hour afterwards, as he lay
bleeding across the corpse of the gallant horse, waiting for his turn
with the surgeon, and fumbled for the Bible in his boot, and tried to hum
a psalm, and thought of Cousin Patience, and his father, and his mother,
and how they would hear, at least, that he had played the man in Israel
that day, and resisted unto blood, striving against sin and the Man of

And was there no poetry in him, too, as he came wearied along Thoresby
dyke, in the quiet autumn eve, home to the house of his forefathers, and
saw afar off the knot of tall poplars rising over the broad misty flat,
and the one great abele tossing its sheets of silver in the dying gusts;
and knew that they stood before his father’s door?  Who can tell all the
pretty child-memories which flitted across his brain at that sight, and
made him forget that he was a wounded cripple?  There is the dyke where
he and his brothers snared the great pike which stole the ducklings—how
many years ago?—while pretty little Patience stood by trembling, and
shrieked at each snap of the brute’s wide jaws; and there, down that long
dark lode, ruffling with crimson in the sunset breeze, he and his
brothers skated home in triumph with Patience when his uncle died.  What
a day that was! when, in the clear bright winter noon, they laid the gate
upon the ice, and tied the beef-bones under the four corners, and packed
little Patience on it.  How pretty she looked, though her eyes were red
with weeping, as she peeped out from among the heap of blankets and
horse-hides; and how merrily their long fen-runners whistled along the
ice-lane, between the high banks of sighing reed, as they towed home
their new treasure in triumph, at a pace like the race-horse’s, to the
dear old home among the poplar-trees.  And now he was going home to meet
her, after a mighty victory, a deliverance from heaven, second only in
his eyes to that Red Sea one.  Was there no poetry in his heart at that
thought?  Did not the glowing sunset, and the reed-beds which it
transfigured before him into sheets of golden flame, seem tokens that the
glory of God was going before him in his path?  Did not the sweet clamour
of the wild-fowl, gathering for one rich pæan ere they sank into rest,
seem to him as God’s bells chiming him home in triumph, with peels
sweeter and bolder than those of Lincoln or Peterborough steeple-house?
Did not the very lapwing, as she tumbled, softly wailing, before him, as
she did years ago, seem to welcome the wanderer home in the name of

Fair Patience, too, though she was a Puritan; yet did not her cheek
flush, her eye grow dim, like any other girl’s, as she saw far off the
red coat, like a sliding spark of fire, coming slowly along the strait
fen-bank, and fled upstairs into her chamber to pray, half that it might
be, half that it might not be he?  Was there no happy storm of human
tears and human laughter when he entered the courtyard gate?  Did not the
old dog lick his Puritan hand as lovingly as if it had been a Cavalier’s?
Did not lads and lasses run out shouting?  Did not the old yeoman father
hug him, weep over him, hold him at arm’s length, and hug him again, as
heartily as any other John Bull, even though the next moment he called
all to kneel down and thank Him who had sent his boy home again, after
bestowing on him the grace to bind kings in chains and nobles with links
of iron, and contend to death for the faith delivered to the saints?  And
did not Zeal-for-Truth look about as wistfully for Patience as any other
man would have done, longing to see her, yet not daring even to ask for
her?  And when she came down at last, was she the less lovely in his eyes
because she came, not flaunting with bare bosom, in tawdry finery and
paint, but shrouded close in coif and pinner, hiding from all the world
beauty which was there still, but was meant for one alone, and that only
if God willed, in God’s good time?  And was there no faltering of their
voices, no light in their eyes, no trembling pressure of their hands,
which said more, and was more, ay, and more beautiful in the sight of Him
who made them, than all Herrick’s Dianemes, Waller’s Saccharissas,
flames, darts, posies, love-knots, anagrams, and the rest of the
insincere cant of the court?  What if Zeal-for-Truth had never strung two
rhymes together in his life?  Did not his heart go for inspiration to a
loftier Helicon when it whispered to itself, ‘My love, my dove, my
undefiled, is but one,’ than if he had filled pages with sonnets about
Venuses and Cupids, lovesick shepherds and cruel nymphs?

And was there no poetry, true idyllic poetry, as of Longfellow’s
‘Evangeline’ itself in that trip round the old farm next morning; when
Zeal-for-Truth, after looking over every heifer, and peeping into every
sty, would needs canter down by his father’s side to the horse-fen, with
his arm in a sling; while the partridges whirred up before them, and the
lurchers flashed like gray snakes after the hare, and the colts came
whinnying round, with staring eyes and streaming manes; and the two
chatted on in the same sober businesslike English tone, alternately of
‘The Lord’s great dealings’ by General Cromwell, the pride of all honest
fen-men, and the price of troop-horses at the next Horncastle fair?

Poetry in those old Puritans?  Why not?  They were men of like passions
with ourselves.  They loved, they married, they brought up children; they
feared, they sinned, they sorrowed, they fought—they conquered.  There
was poetry enough in them, be sure, though they acted it like men,
instead of singing it like birds.


{3}  _The North British Review_, No. XLIX.—1. ‘Works of Beaumont and
Fletcher.’  London, 1679.—2. ‘Works of Ben Jonson.’  London, 1692—3.
‘Massinger’s Plays.’  Edited by William Gifford, Esq.  London, 1813.—4.
‘Works of John Webster.’  Edited, etc., by Rev. Alexander Dyce.
Pickering, London, 1830.  5. ‘Works of James Shirley.’  Edited by Rev. A.
Dyce.  Murray, 1833.—6. ‘Works of T. Middleton.’  Edited by the Rev. A.
Dyce.  Lumley, 1840.—7.  ‘Comedies,’ etc.  By Mr. William Cartwright.
London, 1651.—8.  ‘Specimens of English Dramatic Poets.’  By Charles
Lamb.  Longmans and Co., 1808—9.  ‘Histriomastix.’  By W. Prynne,
Utter-Barrister of Lincoln’s Inn.  London, 1633.—10.  ‘Northbrooke’s
Treatise against Plays,’ etc.  (Shakspeare Soc.), 1843.—11. ‘The Works of
Bishop Hall.’  Oxford, 1839.—12. ‘Marston’s Satires.’  London, 1600.  13.
‘Jeremy Collier’s Short View of the Profaneness, etc., of the English
Stage.’  London, 1730.—14. ‘Langbaine’s English Dramatists.’  Oxford,
1691.—15. ‘Companion to the Playhouse.’  London, 1764.—16.  ‘Riccoboni’s
Account of the Theatres in Europe.  1741.

{27a}  ‘The Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres.’  Penned by a

{27b}  This was written sixteen years ago.  We have become since then
more amenable to the influences of French civilisation.

{46}  What canon of cleanliness, now lost, did Cartwright possess, which
enabled him to pronounce Fletcher, or indeed himself, purer than
Shakspeare, and his times ‘nicer’ than those of James?  To our
generation, less experienced in the quantitative analysis of moral dirt,
they will appear all equally foul.

{53}  C. Lamb, ‘Specimens of English Dramatic Poets,’ p. 229.  From which
specimens, be it remembered, he has had to expunge not only all the comic
scenes, but generally the greater part of the plot itself, to make the
book at all tolerable.

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