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ally furnished materials for the plot, which is laid in Parma, and has not one French name in it.
It is not easy to speak too favourably of the poetry of this play in the more impassioned passages; it is in truth too seductive for the subject, and flings a soft and soothing light over what, in its natural state, would glare with salutary and repulsive horror.
Somewhat too much indulgence has been shown to the management of the two principal characters: the author has been praised for the skill with which he has marked the progress of their guilt, from the innocence of fraternal intercourse to all the madness of incestuous passion; and said to have “ held them up to our admiration at the commencement, the one gifted with every qualification of a generous and philosophical soul, the other interesting for every thing which can render a female mind amiable.” But is it so? Giovanni comes upon the scene a professed and daring infidel, and, like all other infidels, a fatalist; a shameless avower, and justifier of his impure purpose: Annabella is not a jot behind him in precocity of vice; and, as appears from a confession wrung from her with little effort, had long suffered her thoughts to wander in the same polluted path as her brother; and, though her conscience, as she subsequently professes, stood up against her lust, it was not till the ominous solitude to which she was
condemned by her husband, convinced her that speedy and fearful vengeance was about to overwhelm her. After all, her repentance is of a very questionable nature; while, on his part, Giovanni continues to accumulate crime on crime till the harassed mind can bear no more.
It is unnecessary to prolong these remarks, as occasional observations on the subject will be found in the notes; it may however be added that the comic characters are simply inoffensive in this drama; a rare merit in our poet.
“ The Broken Heart" was given to the press in the same year as the foregoing piece, (1633.) It was brought out at the Black Friars; but the date of its appearance is not known. Ford seems to have felt some alarm at the deep tragedy which he was about to develope; and he therefore takes an early opportunity, in the Prologue, to inform the audience that the story was a borrowed one, and that “ what may be thought a fiction,
when time's youth Wanted some riper years, was known a truth.”
He could not be so ignorant of history as to suppose that Sparta was ever the scene of a tragedy like this; and he probably means no more than that it was extant in some French or Italian collection of tales. But whatever may be the groundwork, it must, after all, be admitted that the story
derives its main claim on our affections from the poetic powers of the author himself. They are here exerted with wonderful effect: the spell is early laid, and we have scarcely stepped within the circle, when we feel the charm too effectual to resist, and abide under it, not without occasional misgivings, till all is dissolved in the awful catastrophe. Ford was not unconscious of its merits: he had, he says,
“ wrought the piece with the best of his art;” and it will not perhaps be denied that, with respect to the diction, and the deep inherent feeling of the more solemn and tragic scenes, many superior to it will not be found; in truth, it seems scarcely possible to turn back and review the beautiful passages which abound in the first three plays of this volume, without placing the author in a very honourable rank among the dramatic writers of his day.
Ford occasionally repeats his characters. The Tecnicus of this drama is an improved copy of the Friar in the preceding one. He is skilfully conceived, and judiciously elevated to the subject : his incidental glances at the moody and ominous meditations of Orgilus prove that the author meant to invest him with something of the prophetic character; and his language, at once pious and monitory, is every where worthy of his sacred office. It is observable that both are withdrawn before the catastrophe takes place.
In the Friar's case,
it was undoubtedly a just measure of precaution; but Tecnicus might have witnessed the closing scene with impunity, and even with good effect. He had, however, fairly fulfilled his mission.
The “ Broken Heart” is dedicated, (not without the poet's usual glance at his professional industry,) in a style highly respectful, yet manly and independent, to the well-known Lord Craven; a nobleman worthy of all praise, and not ill chosen for the patron of a wild, a melancholy, and romantic tale.
The year 1633 must have proved auspicious to our author's fame, for it also gave to the public “Love's Sacrifice,” printed, like the former play, for Hugh Beeston. It appears to have been somewhat of a favourite; and was ushered into the world with more than the usual accompaniments of approbation. That it has many passages of singular merit, many scenes, favourable to the display of the writer's powers beautifully executed, it is impossible to deny; but the plot is altogether defective; and the characters proceed from error to error, and from crime to crime, till they exhaust their own interest, and finally expire without care or pity. In the last exquisite drama, the lighter characters, though ill calculated to please, may yet be tolerated; but in this, they are gratuitously odious and repellent.
Something, perhaps, should be attributed to the
country from which the poet derived his plot, (for I have no doubt that it is taken from an Italian novel,) and something indulged to the illdefined manners and language of the age, which, though, strictly speaking, not licentious, were little polished by the collision of good society, which indeed could then be scarcely said to exist. Our poet, however, entertained no misgivings of this kind; he seems, on the contrary, to have been pleased with the management of the story, (which, as the title-page informs us, was generally well received,) and, as a proof of his satisfaction, dedicates it to “ his truest friend and worthiest cousin,” John Ford, of Gray's Inn, in a short address highly creditable to his amiable qualities, and full of respectful gratitude and affection. The year before this was written, the indefatigable Prynne had published his ponderous
" Histriomastix;" in which he collected and reproduced, with increased bitterness and rancour, all his former invectives against the stage: to this Ford adverts with becoming warmth. “The contempt,” he says, “ thrown on studies of this kind by such as dote on their own singularity, hath almost so outfaced invention, and proscribed judgment, that it is more safe, more wise, to be suspectedly silent, than modestly confident of opinion, herein." In this, he is supported by Shirley, who has a com: plimentary poem prefixed to “ Love's Sacrifice;"