« PreviousContinue »
by somebody from the History of the Bible; but quære, from what part of that book? Perhaps from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or, as I rather think, from the sun's standing still in the time of Joshua. What induces me to fix upon this fact, preferable to the other, is, that the effect, though not so violent yet was of far more universal extent. And if this astonishing miracle happened about mid-day, and in the month of June, according to Lyra, an intense heat of the sun for twenty-four hours (which is what I understand by a whole day) superadded to what would be naturally produced on a common day at that time of the year, might very well, in the warm regions of the east, be attended with some very singular circumstances, and enough, if transmitted, as the like events usually were, with a traditional aggravation, to give rise to a fable. However, either of these portions of sacred history afford a better ground for the story of Phaeton than that suggested in the Pantheon, to wit, a great fire that happened in Italy near the Po, in the time of King Phaeton. 1755, Sept. Nov.
XXII. Virgil illustrated,
MR. URBAN, I HAVE always been of opinion, that there is no such thing. as understanding our ancient authors, whether sacred or profane, without a competent knowledge of antiquity; without an almost exact acquaintance with the manners and customs, the funeral and religious ceremonies, the habits, &c. of the several ancients, whose writings we are daily perusing; as likewise of the attributes and representations of their deities. They who make the tour of Italy have a noble opportunity of laying in a rich stock of this most useful branch of knowledge, from those excellent originals of gems and statues they are so often favoured with the sight of; and when I consider what a multitude of passages in Virgil, and Horace, and Juvenal, were illustrated by the late Mr. Addison, (who set out with an immense fund of classical learning) both in his 'Travels and his Treatise on Medals, I cannot but
envy those who are repairing into the same climate, at a time when it has been enriched with the recent discoveries at Herculaneum. What led me to these reflecVOL. II.
tions is a passage in Virgil which I think has not yet been
Quamvis multa meis exiret victima septis,
Non unquam gravis ære domum mihi dextra redibat: Tityrus says, that while he was enamoured of his first mistress, he never could thrive, notwithstanding all the care and pains he took; his right hand never came home heavy from market. Now, though it be a common expression to say a handful of money, or to go empty-handed, yet this is not all, for there seeins to be here an allusion to that custom which the ancients had of carrying their purse in their right-hand; and in a gem of Leonardo Agostino, Part I. No. 199, there is a figure of Mercury, who was the god of gain, with a purse in that hand.* But I will cite you a passage from the Æneid, which is perfectly unintelligible, unless you have recourse to this custom to explain it. Æneid vi. 613, he enu· merates amongst the damned those who had defrauded their masters,
Nec veriti dominorum fallere dextras. But how should fallere dextras express robbing a master, unless the reader happens to recollect, that the purse was usually carried in that hand? When that is once known, the phrase becomes instantly clear and very expressive, and the two passages in the neid and Eclogue very happily and very finely illustrate one another.
Yours, &c. 1756, March.
XXIII. Comment on the old Play of Albumazar.
Mr. URBAN, MR. DODSLEY has presented the world with a select collection of old plays in twelve volumes; I hope it has answered to him as a tradesman, for I am sure we are greatly
* Sec also Spence's Polymetis, Montfaucon, and other authors.
obliged to him for the undertaking, since the original editions of many of these dramatic performances are now grown so scarce, that it is difficult to make any tolerable assemblage of them; and could that be done, yet it would amount to a very considerable expence. But, Sir, I have sometimes been of opinion, that a thirteenth volume is still wanting, which I propose should contain a series of necessary remarks
upon the several plays in the collection; sometimes to give a critique upon the plot, or to deduce a short liistory of the play; sometimes to explain an old custom or piece of history, which are often alluded to; anel at other times to expound an obsolete word or antique phrase. And certainly I must think, since Cicero has declared, “ mihi quidam nulli satis eruditi videntur, quibus nostra ignota sunt,"; to comment upon these old plays must be every whit as laudable, and even as useful, as to explain a tragedy of Sophocles, or a comedy of Aristophanes, upon which the literati, with great pomp and ceremony, will often lay out themselves, and consume an infinite deal of time.
But to make you the more sensible of what I would have done, and therewith to give you a specimen, as it were, of the design proposed, I will here take the comedy of Albumazar, the first in the ninth volume, and not the least valuable in Mr. Dodsley's collection, and offer a few necessary illustrations upon it.
The account Mr. Dodsley gives us of this piece is this: “I can give no account of this play, or its author, but that it was acted before his majesty at Cambridge, by the gentlemen of Trinity College, and printed in 1634. 'It was after: wards thought worthy of being revived by Mr. Dryden, &c." By this one is led to imagine it was written in King Charles the First's time, who was upon the throne in 1634. Mr. Dodsley, I presume, took his account from the title, as likewise did the author of a book intitled, “The lives and characters of the English dramatic Poets," printed 1693, or then abouts, where the author registering this piece amongst the unknown authors, at p. 156, writes" Albumazer, a comedy 40. 1534, played at Cambridge before the king, by the gentlemen of Trinity College ; afterwards revived at the king's house, with a new prologue written by Mr. Dryden.”
The play passes, you see, Sir, for the work of an unknown author, and is supposed to have been acted in the reign of King Charles I. and thirdly, it is intimated that the first
* Cic. de Finibus, Lib. i.
edition of it was A. D. 1634. But in regard to these parti. culars I shall here discover the author, and at the same time rectify the two latter suggestions.
King James I. made a progress to Cambridge and other parts, in the winter of the year 1614, as is particularly taken notice of by Rapin, vol. ii. p. 156, who observes, that the play called Ignorarnus was then acted before his Majesty at Cambridge, and gave him infinite pleasure. I found in the library of Sir Edward Derring, a minute in manuscript, of what passed at Cambridge for the five days the king stayed there, which I sha!! here transcribe, for it accords perfectly with the account given by the historian, both of the king's progress, and the play intitled Ignoranus, and at the same time will afford us the best light to the matter in hand.
“On Tuesday the 7th of March, 1514, was acted before the king in Trinity College Hall,
1. Æmilia, a Latin comedy, made by Mr. Cecill, Johannis. On Wednesday night,
2. Ignoramus the Lawyer, latine, and part English ; composed by Mr. Ruggle, Clarensis.
3. Albunazar the astronomer, in English, by Mr. Tomkis, Trinit.
4. Melanthe, a Latin pastoral, made by Mr. Brookes, (mox doctor) Trinitatis.
On the next Monday,
5. The Piscatory, an English comedy, was acted before the university, in King's College, which master Fletcher of that college had provided if the king should have tarried another night."
And the king, before whom this comedy was first played, was not King Charles, but King James, and the author of it was Mr. Tomkis, of Trinity College, in the University of Cambridge, the gentlemen of which house played it, as I apprehend, in that college hall. Now this little portion of history is very signally verified by an edition of this play in 4t0. Å. D. 1614, which has happily come into my hands, and in the title of which is mentioned the very day of acting, consonant to the above manuscript minute. mazar, a comedy presented before the king's majestie at Cambridge, the ninth of March 1614, by the gentlemen of Trinitie Colledge. London, printed by Nicholas Okes, for Walter Burre, 1615.” I have a copy likewise of Dr. Brookes's Latin pastoral, intitled Melanthe, the title whereof runs,
Melanthe, fabula pastoralis, acta cum Jacobus Magnæ
Brit. Franc. et Hiberniæ Rex, Cantabrigiam suam nuper inviserat, ibidemque musarum atque animi gratia dies quinque commoraretur. Egerunt Alumni Coll. San. et individuæ Trinitatis, Cantabrigiæ. Excudebat Cantrellus Legge, Mart. 27, 1615." It is remarkable, that in this exemplar, which formerly belonged to Matthew Hutton, the names of the masters of arts and bachelors, concerned in acting the play, are written against the respective dramatis personæ.
Now, Sir, as to the play of Albumazar, which may justly be esteemed one of the very best in this large collection, it takes its name from the principal character, a pretended astrologer, whom Mr. Tomkis thought fit to call Albumazar, from a learned Arabian astrologer of that name, that flourished in the ninth or tenth century:
Mr. Dryden, who, by making the observation, seems to have been well aware of the antiquity of this play, would intimate to us, that Ben Jonson formed his Alchymist upon the model of Albumazar, which indeed is doing Mr. Tomkis great honour, for the Alchymist is generally supposed to be the masterpiece of the learned Ben. These are his words.
And Jonson (of those few [writers) the best) chose this,
But if Albumazar was composed on occasion of King James's coming to Cambridge in 1614, the Alchymist was written before it, it being acted in the year 1610; and yet our author himself, at p. 46, seems to insinuate, that a play might be advantageously written upon the plan of an Alchymist, for he makes Albumazar say to Furbo, who asked him, what will you do?
First in, and usher out our changeling Trincalo,
My skill in alchymy. And yet I will not pretend to say, that Mr. Dryden was mis. taken, because it cannot now be known from what anecdotes he might say what he does; and because it is not impossi