« PreviousContinue »
The tragedy of Amboyna, as it was justly termed by the Eng. lish of the seventeenth century, was of itself too dreadful to be heightened by the mimic horrors of the stage. The reader may be reminded, that by three several treaties in the years 1613, 1615, and 1619, it was agreed betwixt England and Holland, that the English should enjoy one-third of the trade of the spice islands. For this purpose, factories were established on behalf of the English East India Company at the Molucca Islands, at Banda, and at Amboyna. At the latter island the Dutch had a castle, with a garrison, both of Europeans and natives. It has been always remarked, that the Dutchman, in his eastern settlements, loses the mercantile probity of his European character, while he retains its cold-blooded phlegm and avaricious selfishness. Of this the Amboyna government gave a notable proof. About the 11th of Feb. 1622, old stile, under pretence of a plot laid between the English of the factory and some Japanese soldiers to seize the castle, the former were arrested by the Dutch, and subjected to the most horrible tortures, to extort confession of their pretend. ed guilt. Upon some they poured water into a cloth previously secured round their necks and shoulders, until suffocation ensu. ed; others were tortured with lighted matches, and torches applied to the most tender and sensible parts of the body. But I will not pollute my page with this monstrous and disgusting detail. Upon confessions, inconsistent with each other, with common sense and ordinary probability, extorted also by torments of the mind or body, or both, Captain Gabriel Towerson, and nine other English merchants of consideration, were executed ; and, to add insult to atrocity, the bloody cloth, on which Towerson kneeled at his death, was put down to the account of the English Company. The reader may find the
whole history in the second volume of Purchas's “ Pilgrim." The news of this horrible massacre reached King James, while he was negociating with the Dutch concerning the assistance which they then implored against the Spaniards ; and the affairs of his son-in-law, the Elector Palatine, appeared to render an union with Holland so peremptorily necessary, that the massacre of Amboyna was allowed to remain unrevenged.
But the Dutch war, which was declared in 1672, the object of which seems to have been the annihilation of the United Provinces as an independent state, a century sooner than Providence had decreed that calamitous event, met with great opposition in England, and every engine was put to work to satisfy the people
the truth of the Lord Chancellor Shaftesbury's averment, that the “ States of Holland were England's eternal enemies, both by interest and inclination.”. Dryden, with the avowed intention of exasperating the nation against the Dutch, assumed from choice, or by command, the unpromising subject of the Amboyna massacre as the foundation of the following play. Exclusive of the horrible nature of the subject, the colours are laid on too thick to produce the desired effect. The monstrous caricatures, which are exhibited as just paintings of the Dutch character, unrelieved even by the grandeur of wickedness, and degraded into actual brutality, must have produced disgust, instead of an animated hatred and detestation. For the horrible spectacle of tortures and mangled limbs exhibited on the stage, the
author might plead the custom of his age. A stage direction in Ravenscroft's alteration of “ Titus Andronicus,” bears “ A curtain drawn, discovers the heads and hands of Demetrius and Chiron hanging up against the wall; their bodies in chairs, in bloody linen.” And in an interlude, called the “ Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru," written by D'Avenant," a doleful pavin is played to prepare the change of the scene, which represents a dark prison at a great distance; and farther to the view are discerned racks and other engines of torment, with which the Spaniards are tormenting the natives and English mariners, who may be supposed to be lately landed there to discover the coast. Two Spaniards are likewise discovered sitting in their cloaks, and appearing more solemn in ruffs, with rapiers and daggers by their sides ; the one turning a spit, while the other is basting an Indian prince, who is roasted at an artificial fire."* The rape of Isabinda is stated by Langbaine to have been borrowed from a novel in the Decamerone of Cinthio Giraldi.
This play is beneath criticism; and I can hardly hesitate to term it the worst production Dryden ever wrote. It was acted and printed in 1673.
. This extraordinary kitchen scene did not escape the ridicule of the wits of that merry age.
O greater cruelty yet,
Like a pig upon a spit,
Just as the people stare
At an ox in the fair,
A little farther in,
Hung a third by his chin,
O that Fox had now been living,
They had been sure of heaven,
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
MY LORD, AFTER so many favours, and those so great, conferred on me by your lordship these many years, which I may call more properly one continued act of your generosity and goodness. I know not whe
* Sir Thomas Clifford, just then created Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and appointed Lord High Treasurer, was one of the six ministers, the initials of whose names furnished the word Cabal, by which their junto was distinguished. He was the most virtuous and honest of the junto, but a Catholic; and, what was then syponymous, a warm advocate for arbitrary power. He is said to have won his promotion by
advising the desperate measure of shutting the Exchequer in 1671, the hint of which he is said to have stolen from Shaftesbury. This piece may have been undertaken by his command; for, even at the very time of the triple alliance, he is reported to have said, “ For all this we must have another Dutch war." Upon the defection of Lord Shaftesbury from the court party, and the passing of the test act, Lord Clifford resigned his office, retired to the country, and died in September 1673, shortly after receiving this dedication.