« PreviousContinue »
rity, and here, when the roof of the cathedral fell in, and the burning beams broke through the floor, they were involved in one general and dreadful conflagration.
I would not willingly be suspected of deeming too lightly of this drama; it is the plot in which I think the poet has failed; the language of the serious parts is deserving of high praise, and the more prominent characters are skilfully discriminated, and powerfully sustained. The piece, however, has no medium; all that is not excellent is intolerably bad.
In the prologue to the “Fancies,” the poet makes the only allusion to his native county which appears in any part of his works
.“ if traduced by some,
The succeeding year (1639) gave to the public the “ Lady's Trial,” which, it appears, had been performed in May, 1638. It is dedicated, in the spirit of true kindness, to Mr. and Mrs. Wyrley; and the poet, though now near the close of his dra
* I once thought-or rather, without thinking, followed the prevailing opinion—that Ford was now on his travels : the words quoted prove that this could not be, as the poet speaks in his own person. He probably alludes to the old manor house at Ilsington, which, though in a dilapidated state, is still standing. It was built as early as Elizabeth's reign.
matic labours, has not yet conquered his fear of misemploying his time, or rather of being suspected of it, and assures his partial friends that the piece which he has thus placed under their tuition “ is the issue of some less serious hours.” There seems but little occasion for this; his patrons must have known enough of his personal concerns to render such apologies unnecessary. At fifty-two—and Ford had now reached that age-his professional industry could surely be no subject of doubt; and it requires some little portion of forbearance in the general reader to tolerate this affected and oftrepeated depreciation of the labour to which the genius and inclination of the writer perpetually tended, and overlook the wanton abasement of his own claims to fame.
The “ Lady's Trial,” like the “ Fancies,” declines in interest towards the conclusion, in consequence of the poet's imperfect execution of his own plan: that he meditated a more impressive catastrophe for both is sufficiently apparent, but event comes huddling on event, and all is precipitation, weakness and confusion. It is curious that, in the winding up of each of these pieces, the same expedient is employed; and the honour of Adurni in the former, like that of Troylo in the latter, ultimately vindicated by an unlooked-for marriage. Feeble and imperfect, however, as the plot of the “ Lady's Trial” is, and trifling as some
of the characters will be found, it is not destitute of passages
which the lovers of our ancient drama may contemplate with unreproved pleasure.
There is nothing in the Dedication, or in the Prologue and Epilogue, to this play, that indicates the slightest inclination of the poet to withdraw from the stage: on the contrary, his mind seems to have attained a cheerful tone and a sprightlier language; yet this was apparently the last of his dramatic labours, and here he suddenly disappears from view.
Much as has been said of the dramatic poets of Elizabeth and James's days, full justice has never yet been rendered to their independence on one another: generally speaking, they stand insulated and alone, and draw, each in his station, from their own stores. Whether it be, that poetry in that age
“ Wanton'd as in its prime, and play'd at will
Its virgin fancies"or that some other fruitful cause of originality was in secret and powerful operation; so it is, that every writer had his peculiar style, and was content with it. At present, we are become an imitative, not to say a mimic, race. A successful poem, a novel, nay even a happy title-page, is eagerly caught at, and a kind of ombre chinoise representation of it propagated from one extremity
of the kingdom to the other. Invention seems almost extinct among us.
That it does not somewhere exist, it would be folly to imagine--but it appears to move, comet-like, in very eccentric orbits, and to have its periods of occultation of more than usual duration. It may, and undoubtedly will re-visit us; meanwhile, as the knight of the enchanted cavern judiciously advises, patience, and shuffle the cards!
I bave been led into these desultory remarks, notwithstanding it may be urged, that an exception to the subject of them may be found in Ford. He appears to have discovered, indeed, that one of the nameless charms of Shakspeare's diction consisted in the skill with which he has occasionally vivified it, by converting his substantives into verbs; and to have aspired to imitate him. He cannot be complimented on his success--nor, indeed, can much be expected without such a portion of Shakspeare's taste and feeling as it seems almost hopeless to expect :-Ford's grammatical experiments take from the simplicity of his diction, while they afford no strength whatever to his descriptions. Not so with the great original; in his conversions all is life. Take, for example, the following passage: it is not a description that we read; it is a series of events that we hear and
" the quick comedians
With this slight exception, which, after all, may be purely visionary, the style of Ford is altogether original, and his own. Without the majestic march which distinguishes the poetry of Massinger, and with little or none of that light and playful humour which characterises the dialogue of Fletcher, or even of Shirley, he is yet elegant, and easy, and harmonious; and, though rarely sublime, yet sufficiently elevated for the most pathetic tones of that passion on whose romantic energies he chiefly delighted to dwell. It has (as has been observed) its inherent beauties and defects: among the latter of which may be set down a pedantic affectation of novelty, at one time exhibited in the composition of uncouth phrases, at another (and this is Ford's principal failure) in perplexity of language; frequently, too, after perversely labouring with a remote idea till he has confused his meaning, instead of throwing it aside, he obtrudes it upon the reader involved in inextricable obscurity.
Its excellencies, however, far outweigh its defects; but they are rather feit than understood.