Page images
PDF
EPUB

poets delighted, but which is proscribed by the decency of modern manners. In Shirley, as in all the school to which he belongs, there is the same remarkable contrast between the manners and the morals. Excepting in passages of coarse, and it should seem privileged buffoonery, which, especially in the earlier plays, occur far too frequently, and sometimes intrude when they are most out of keeping with the purer character of the scene,—(yet in which, we must remember, the actors are accused of venturing on liberties of which their authors are blameless)—almost all which seems offensive to propriety was de facto intended to improve and elevate, rather than to corrupt and degrade, the mind. Virtue ever obtains the mastery over vice-vice is visited with shame and misery. Those passions and animal propensities of our nature, over the secret workings of which delicacy now draws a veil, which are left unexplored by the most searching moralist in the dark recesses of the heart, are exhibited by these unscrupulous painters in their repulsive nakedness. They will trace lust in its inmost thoughts and impulses, as they would ambition or jealousy. Stern anatomists, and intent only on the progress of their science, that of the moral nature of man, they unblushingly lay open the most hidden mysteries of that nature to the gaze. In fact, on such subjects they spoke language which was common to the age, and sanctioned by writers of a far graver class. Our old divines enlarge with a minuteness and particularity on points of this kind, at which the sensitive propriety of modern manners would stand aghast. There are many passages in the works of Jeremy Taylor, intended for general use, and no doubt for family instruction, which it would be impossible to read aloud; and even our older books of devotion can be used only with the strictest caution.

These observations are made, not to extenuate what is objectionable in the older dramatists, but in strict justice, lest the great distinction between the plays of this earlier period, and those of Charles the Second's time, should be lost sight of. With the former the manners are coarse and indelicate, the morals sound and vigorous; in the latter, manners and morals are alike corrupt and embruted. In one respect the dramatic writers of the older and better age might read a lesson to times, if of more fastidious nicety in expression, by no means endowed with an equally fine moral sensitiveness. Broad and plain-spoken as they are in their description of vice, and true to the worse as to the better parts of our nature— strangely and violently as they sometimes precipitate their nobler characters to their fall, or extricate their guilty ones from the trammels of sin-they never mingle and mould up the most incongruous qualities, the best and the worst ingredients of human character, at the same time, in the same individual.

They

They never shadow off the lofty into the base, and dash what is most admirable in the heart and soul of man, with that which is most loathsome, till the judgment is perplexed and confounded. Their lines of demarcation are strong and decided; nor among all their inconsistencies do we find that which was resorted to, with malice prepense against the elemental principles of morality, by the filthier pioneers of anarchy in France, and which we are sorry to see has, in our own time, been often employed to stimulate, if not on purpose to corrupt, the jaded mind of the public-the selection of the most virtuous and highly-gifted personage for the lowest crime, the meanest ruffian for the sublimest act of virtue. The energetic imagination and fiery verse of a Byron might throw a veil over offences even of this class :—He could make us overlook, for example, the absurdity of representing a Corsair, whose trade was murder, as revolting from that streak of blood on a woman's brow which was the witness and symbol of his own personal salvation, due to the daring of her hand. It is well, on the other hand, for our literary pastry-cooks, who rummage the Newgate Calendar for some vile domestic atrocity, and serve it up frosted over with Rosa-Matilda sentiment, under the name of romance-that when people have before them the coxcombry of a Malvolio, graver faults can hardly fix attention.

"

The Traitor' of Shirley is the dark Macchiavellian minister of an Italian court, one of his favourite characters, but no where drawn with such boldness and vigour as in this striking tragedy. The manner in which he winds to his purposes the passions of the feeble and voluptuous duke, of the fiery and daring Sciarrha, and of the vain Depazzi, is imagined and executed with equal power and skill. We can, however, venture on only one quotation from this play; and that is, to our judgment, in a vein of exquisite sweetness. By the wiles of Lorenzo, Amidea, the sister of Sciarrha, the original of Otway's Chamont, is exposed to the criminal passion of the Duke, and rejected by Pisano, to whom she had been betrothed. The faithless Pisano is on his way to be married to Oriana, when the bridal procession is arrested by Amidea :

:-

'Ami. Not for my sake, but for your own, go back,
Or take some other way-this leads to death;
My brother-

Pis. What of him?

Ami. Transported with

The fury of revenge for my dishonour,

As he conceives, for 'tis against my will,

Hath vow'd to kill you in your nuptial glory.

VOL. XLIX. NO. XCVII.

Alas!

Alas! I fear his haste; now, good my lord,
Have mercy on yourself; I do not beg
Your pity upon me, I know too well
You cannot love me now, nor would I rob
This virgin of your faith, since you have pleas'd
To throw me from your love: I do not ask
One smile, nor one poor kiss; enrich this maid,
Created for those blessings; but again
I would beseech you, cherish your own life,
Though I be lost for ever.

Alon. It is worth

Your care, my lord, if there be any danger.

Pis. Alas! her grief hath made her wild, poor lady.

I should not love Oriana to go back;

Set forward.-Amidea, you may

live

To be a happier bride: Sciarrha is not
So irreligious to profane these rites.

Ami. Will you not then believe me?-Pray persuade him,

You are his friends.-Lady, it will concern
You most of all; indeed, I fear you'll weep
To see him dead, as well as I.

Pis. No more;

Go forward.

Ami. I have done; pray be not angry,
That still I wish you well: may heaven divert
All harms that threaten you; full blessings crown
Your marriage! I hope there is no sin in this;
Indeed I cannot choose but pray for you.-
This might have been my wedding-day--
Ori. Good heaven,

I would it were! my heart can tell, I take
No joy in being his bride, none in your prayers;
You shall have my consent to have him still;
I will resign my place, and wait on you,

If you will marry him.

Ami. Pray do not mock me,

But if you do, I can forgive you too.

Ori. Dear Amidea, do not think I mock

Your sorrow; by these tears, that are not worn
By every virgin on her wedding-day,

I am compell'd to give away myself:

Your hearts were promis'd, but he ne'er had mine.
Am not I wretched too?

Ami. Alas, poor

maid!

We two keep sorrow alive then; but I prithee,
When thou art married, love him, prithee love him,
For he esteems thee well; and once a day
Give him a kiss for me; but do not tell him

"Twas

"Twas my desire; perhaps 'twill fetch a sigh
From him, and I had rather break my heart.
But one word more, and heaven be with you all.-
Since you have led the way, I hope, my lord,
That I am free to marry too?

Pis. Thou art.

Ami. Let me beseech you then, to be so kind,
After your own solemnities are done,

To grace my wedding; I shall be married shortly.
Pis. To whom?

Ami. To one whom you have all heard talk of,-
Your fathers knew him well; one, who will never
Give cause I should suspect him to forsake me;
A constant lover, one whose lips, though cold,
Distil chaste kisses: though our bridal bed
Be not adorn'd with roses, 'twill be green;
We shall have virgin laurel, cypress, yew,
To make us garlands; though no pine do burn,
Our nuptial shall have torches, and our chamber
Shall be cut out of marble, where we'll sleep,
Free from all care for ever: Death, my lord,
I hope, shall be my husband. Now, farewell;
Although no kiss, accept my parting tear,

And give me leave to wear my willow here.'-vol. ii. p. 163-165. The Cardinal' is another tragedy of great power; dark and impressive; but too often revolting where it ought to be terrible. The Duchess Rosaura, though obliged to plight her vows to Columbo, the nephew of the all-powerful cardinal, is still in love with Alvarez. While Columbo is absent with the army, she obtains by artifice a letter releasing her from her vows. Alvarez is murdered by Columbo. He, in his turn, is slain in a duel at her instigation, by Hernando, to whom, in her incipient frenzy, she has promised her hand as his reward, and who accosts his victim in these terrific lines :

'You must account, sir, if that my sword prosper,
Whose point and every edge is made more keen
With young Alvarez' blood. Does not that sin
Benumb thy arteries, and turn the guilty flowings
To trembling jelly in thy veins ?-One little knot
Of phlegm that clogs my stomach, and I've done ;—
You have an uncle, called a Cardinal,
Would he were lurking now about that heart,

That the same wound might reach you both, and send
Your reeling souls together!-Now have at you.'

There is great tenderness in some touches of the ensuing madness of the Duchess-a sort of agony of suppressed and conflicting

emotion :

C 2

• Her.

6

• Her. Dear madam, do not weep.
Duch. You're very welcome;

I have done; I will not shed a tear more
Till I meet Alvarez, then I'll weep for joy.

He was a fine young gentleman, and sung sweetly;
had heard him but the night before

An you

We were married, you would have sworn he had been
A swan, and sung his own sad epitaph.

But we'll talk o' the Cardinal.

Her. Would his death

Might ransom your fair sense! he should not live
To triumph in the loss. Beshrew my manhood,
But I begin to melt.

Duch. I pray, sir, tell me,

For I can understand, although they say

I have lost my wits; but they are safe enough,
And I shall have them when the Cardinal dies;
Who had a letter from his nephew, too,

Since he was slain.

Her.

From whence?

Duch. I know not where he is. But in some bower Within a garden he is making chaplets, And means to send me one; but I'll not take it;

I have flowers enough, I thank him, while I live.
Her. But do you love your governor?

Duch. Yes, but I'll never marry him; I am promis'd Already.

Her. To whom, madam?

Duch. Do not you

Blush when you ask me that? must not you be
My husband? I know why, but that's a secret.
Indeed, if you believe me, I do love

No man alive so well as you: the Cardinal
Shall never know't: he'll kill us both; and yet
He says he loves me dearly, and has promis'd
To make me well again; but I'm afraid,
One time or other, he will give me poison.

Her. Prevent him, madam, and take nothing from him.
Duch. Why, do you think 'twill hurt me?

Her. It will kill you.

Duch. I shall but die, and meet my dear-lov'd lord,
Whom, when I have kiss'd, I'll come again and work
A bracelet of my hair for you to carry him,
When you are going to heaven; the poesy shall
Be my own name, in little tears, that I

Will weep next winter, which congeal'd i' the frost,
Will shew like seed-pearl. You'll deliver it?
I know he'll love, and wear it for my sake.

« PreviousContinue »