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which nothing is heard of him. Of Decker's decease there can be little doubt; he talks of himself as a worn out old man in the Dedication to “ Match me in London,” published in 1631, when Ford was only in his forty-fifth year.
“ I have been,” he says, “ a priest in Apollo's Temple many years; my voice is decaying with my age,” &c. Why it is so generally assumed that our poet died almost immediately after the appearance of the Lady's Trial, except that he ceased to write, I have never been able to conjecture. Faint traditions in the neighbourhood of his birthplace lead rather to the supposition that, having from his legal pursuits acquired a sufficient fortune, he retired to his home, to pass the remainder of his days among the youthful connections whom time had yet spared him.*
Nor were there wanting powerful motives for the retirement of one of Ford's lonely and contemplative mood, who watched the signs of the times. Deep and solemn notes of preparation for a tragedy far more terrible than aught the stage could show were audible in the distance; and
* I looked into Mr. Carrington's Poem on Dartmoor, with the hope of finding some memorial of the poet. All that this gentleman says, is—" At Bagtor is a seat of Lord Ashburton, with woods, where, in 1586, was born John Ford, a popular dramatic writer, whence sprung the family of the same name and place."--Notes,
hollow mutterings, which could not be mistaken, told that the tempest was gathering round the metropolis with fearful acceleration. It is possible that he may have foreseen the approaching storm, and fled from the first efforts of its violence.*
Apparent diræ facies, inimicaque Trojæ
The Covenanters were already in arms, and advancing towards the borders; and at home the stern and uncompromising enemies of all that was graceful and delightful were rapidly ascending in the scale of power.
Of what nature Ford's chief employment at the Temple was, we have no means of ascertaining. That he was not called to the bar may be fairly surmised, as he never makes the slightest allusion to his pleadings; and his anxious disavowals to his several patrons of permitting his dramatic labours to encroach upon his proper business would almost lead to a conclusion that he acted as a kind of auditor, or comptroller, for the landed property of the nobility, and managed the pecuniary concerns of their estates, for which his knowledge of the law afforded facility on the one side, and security on the other.
Of his social habits there, little can be told
* It fell, indeed, soon after with fatal fury on the dramatic writers. The theatres were closed in 1641.
There is sufficient, however, to show that he lived, if not familiarly, yet friendlily, with the dramatic writers of his day, and neither provoked nor felt personal enmities. He speaks, indeed, of opposition : but this is merely the language of the stage--opposition is experienced by every dramatic writer worth criticism, and has nothing in common with ordinary hostility. In truth, with the exception of an allusion to the “ voluminous” and rancorous Prynne, nothing can be more general than his complaints. Yet Ford looked not much to the brighter side of life: he could, like Jaques, “ suck melancholy out of a song as a weazle sucks eggs;" but he was unable, like this wonderful creation of our great poet, to extract mirth from it. When he touched a lighter string, the tones, though pleasingly modulated, were still sedate; and it must, I think, be admitted that his poetry is rather that of a placid and serene than of a happy mind : he was, in truth, an amiable ascetic amidst a busy world.
Something of this may be attributed to his parents. To take a moody youth from his classical studies, or from his first terms at College, and plunge him at once into the moping drudgery of the law, is not, perhaps, the most approved recipe for enlivening him, especially if he happens also to have fallen in love; and thus our poet's retired and gloomy turn may in some measure be ac
counted for; but, exclusively of this, it seems clear that
.“ Nature, in his soul Put something of the raven." In the Time's Poets, the first and almost the only place in which he is noticed by his contemporaries, * it is said
Deep in a dump John Forde was alone got,
These “ signs of the judicious," as Shirley calls them, were undoubtedly assumed by many who, like Master Stephen, aspired to look fashionable as well as wise; but Ford had apparently no affectation of this kind, and they must therefore be taken
* In a doggerel list, by Heywood, of the familiar appellations by which the writers for the stage were known among their acquaintance, he says of our poet :
« And he's but now Jacke Ford, who once was John.” One word, with respect to this disputed name. I inquired of my old friend, Mr. Palk, if that which he copied for Mr. Malone was without an e final ? the answer was in the affirmative. Little, undoubtedly, can be concluded from this, when the lax mode of spelling in that age is considered; but the anagram which is seen on several of the title-pages of Ford's plays-Fide HONOR-appears to me more like the impress on the armorial bearing of the family than a proud claim set forward by the poet. I am not skilled enough in the mysteries of this profound science to know whether its hierophants admitted of an extra symbol : but, in common parlance, a letter more or less weighs little with our old writers, few of whom could spell their own names correctly, and still fewer followed
as genuine indications of his humour. His love of seclusion is here noticed he was alone.
No village anecdotes are told of him, as of his countryman Herrick, nor do any memorials of his private life remain. The troubles which followed, and the confusion which frequently took place in the parish registers in consequence of the intrusion of ministers little interested in local topics, have flung a veil of obscurity over much of the domestic history of that turbulent and disastrous period. In these troubles the retreat of the Fords is known to have largely shared; and it is more than probable that the family suffered under the Usurpation. The neighbourhood was distinguished for its loyalty; and many of the fugitives who escaped from the field after the overthrow of Lord Wentworth at Bovey-Tracy, by Cromwell, unfortunately for the village, took refuge in Ilsington Church, whither they were pursued and again driven to flight by the victorious army. .
There is no appearance of Ford's being married at the period of his retirement from the Temple, as none of his Dedications or Addresses make the slightest allusion to any circumstance of a domesti nature; it is probable therefore that he accommodated himself with a wife at Ilsington. If he withdrew, as I have supposed, about 1639, he was then in his fifty-third year,--no very auspicious period, it must be allowed, for venturing on a