Page images
PDF
EPUB

matrimonial connection, and yet no uncommon one for those who, like himself, have devoted their time to the arduous and absorbing profession of the law. Be this as it may, there is—or rather was-an indistinct tradition among his neighbours that he married and had children. The cruelty of the flinty Lycia could now affect him but little, as she was probably herself a grandmother; but a person of our poet's character and fortune had not far to seek for a worthy partner, and with such a one it is pleasing to hope that he spent the residue of his blameless and honourable life.

None of his descendants, however, are specified, but Sir Henry Ford, (Secretary for Ireland in the reign of Charles II.) who is traditionally reported to be the poet's grandson, or rather son, and in whom, be he who he will, (for I suspect that he was of a more remote branch,) the property of the family eventually centered. Sir Henry left no family, and with him, who died in 1684, terminated the line of the Fords; and the property was dispersed. Much of it fell by purchase to Egerton Falconer, Esq., whose descendants held it till within a few years of the present period, when it passed altogether into the hands of strangers.

All that now remain of this once opulent and respectable name are a little charity-school founded at Ashburton by a Mr. John Ford, who endowed it with a few pounds a year, for a master “ to teach reading and writing;” and a small parcel of

land of the annual value of twenty pounds bequeathed to the parish of Ilsington by a Mrs. Jane Ford, for “ instructing the children of the poor, and for the purchase of bibles.” What’s property, dear Swift?

It is said by Winstanley that Ford's plays were profitable to the managers. It might be so; though Winstanley, as Langbaine justly observes, is not the best authority for this or any other fact relative to the stage. They seem, however, not to have found many readers, since few, if any, of thein ever reached a second edition. True it is, that the civil commotions supplied other employment for men's minds about the close of Ford's dramatic career; but he could at no period of his life have been a popular writer. Not the slightest mention of his name occurs in Wright's excellent Dialogue on the old stage; nor does it once appear in the long lists of Downes, the prompter, when, upon the Restoration, the repositories of the play-houses were ransacked for dramas to gratify the rising passion for theatrical performances. Once, and but once, he is mentioned by Pepys, (an unwearied frequenter of the stage,) who witnessed the representation of the "

Lady's Trial.”

I have not Pepys before me at this instant, and may therefore have mistaken the piece: whatever it was, however, he passes it over with perfect indifference. From this period (1664) nothing farther is heard

of the poet till the year 1714, when an absurd attempt was made to overthrow the Pretender's hopes by a reprint of “ Perkin Warbeck”! and again, in 1745,* when, with similar wisdom, and similar expectations, that play was brought out at Goodman's Fields !

From this period, (with the exception of Macklin's despicable forgery, which took place in 1748,) the dramatic works of Ford, together with his name, relapsed into obscurity. He is not mentioned by Mr. G. Ellis, nor by Mr. Headly. At length, however, he appears to have attracted the notice of Mr. C. Lambe, who, in his “ Specimens of Dramatic Authors,” gave several extracts of considerable length from his best pieces :- and to the elaborate and somewhat metaphysical eulogium which was subjoined to one of them, my ingenious friend, Mr. O. Gilchrist, t attributed his being finally thought worthy of a reprint.

The person selected by the booksellers for this purpose was Mr. Henry Weber. It would be curious to learn the motives of this felicitous choice. Mr. Weber had never read an old play in his life; he was but imperfectly acquainted with the language; and of the manners, customs, habits-of what was and what was not familiar to us as a nation--he possessed no knowledge what

* 'Tis Pity She's a Whore” had, however, been given to the public the year before by Dodsley,

+ Letter, &c., p. 15.

ever: but, secure in ignorance, he entertained a comfortable opinion of himself, and never doubted that he was qualified to instruct and enliven the public. With Ford's quartos, therefore, and a wallet containing Cotgrave's French Dictionary, the Variorum Edition of Shakspeare, and Dodsley's Collection of Old Plays, he settled himself to his appointed task, and, in due time, produced the two volumes now before the public, much to the delight of “ the judicious admirers of our ancient drama,” and so entirely to the satisfaction of his employers, that they wisely resolved to lose no time in securing his valuable services for an edition of Beaumont and Fletcher.

All, however, did not quite agree with “ the judicious admirers of the ancient drama,” respecting the value of Mr. Weber's labours. In particular, Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, whose memory will long be cherished by the sincere inquirer after truth, for the vigorous and successful stand which he made against the base attacks of the Shakspeare commentators on the moral character of Jonson, came once more forward in the same cause, and was again triumphant.*

* This gentleman, whom, with Mr. Roscoe, I lament to call " the late ingenious Mr. Gilchrist," bad not reached the meridian of life when he fell a sacrifice to some consumptive complaint, which had long oppressed him. His last labour of love was an attempt to rescue Pope from the rancorous persecution of his editor, the Rev. Mr. Bowles. I know not why this doughty personage

Mr. Weber seems to have relied for the success of his undertaking, not so much on the merits of bis author, as on the exposition (for the hundredth time) of the bitter enmity of Ben Jonson towards him on account of his close intimacy with Shakspeare.” Obtuse as the optics of this person were, they were keen enough to discover that abuse of Jonson, however hacknied, was still a saleable commodity; and, as recent examples powerfully proved, if seasoned with an additional sprinkling of falsehood and malignity, thankfully received by the public, and no questions asked. On this hint Mr. Weber spake. He manifests a visible impatience to reach the main subject of his work, and, accordingly, he has hardly entered upon the Introduction, before he brings from the Variorum Shakspeare all the baffled trash which Steevens had raked together for a particular purpose; though, as Mr. Gilchrist justly observes, “ after its complete overthrow by such a determined champion of Shakspeare as Mr. Malone, it certainly required more than ordinary intrepidity to repeat imputations already refuted, and, in pre

gives himself such airs of superiority over Mr. Gilchrist; nor why, unless from pure taste, he clothes them in a diction not often heard out of the purlieus of St. Giles. Mr. Gilchrist was a man of strict integrity; and in the extent and accuracy of his critical knowledge, and the patient industry of his researches, as much superior to the Rev. Mr. Bowles, as in good manners.

e-f

« PreviousContinue »