« PreviousContinue »
all persons connected with the stage threw themselves into the royal
That, when her servant parts,
Till both do meet
And if the north thou fear,
But be so kind
'Tis far, And many accidents do wait on war.'—vol. vi., p. 408. On the discomfiture of Newcastle at Marston Moor, and his unaccountable abandonment of the royal cause, Shirley stole back to London, where, in his obscurity, he obtained the patronage of a man of much higher literary rank than Newcastle, Thomas Stanley, the editor of • Æschylus,' and author of the History of Philosophy.' But his chief maintenance and that of his wife and family depended on his own exertions; he was glad to sink again to his old drudgery of keeping a school in White Friars ; the poetic spirit which had so long delighted a polished court and a tasteful age, by the fertility of its invention, the grace and elegance of its dramatic dialogue, now condescended to versify the acci. dence of the Latin Grammar; the successor, if not the rival of Fletcher and Massinger, entered the lists with old John Lily. The author of the · Traitor and the · Cardinal' now sang thus
• In di, do, dum, the Gerunds chime and close :
Um the first Supine, u the latter shows.' An amusing chapter in the history of human life might be * Wood insinuates, that Shirley had no inconsiderable hand in the plays which this singular nobleman afterwards published. Mr. Dyce is inclined to acquit him of this serious charge.
formed on the great men who have been schoolmasters. We recommend the subject to Mr. D’Israeli. Among monarchs it would descend from Dionysius the tyrant, to the present King of France. (By this juxta-position we would not be thought to disparage the by no means least honourable, perhaps not the least happy, period in the life of Louis Philippe.) Among men of letters the tiines of which we write offer us the nanies of Shirley, and that far greater • blind old schoolmaster,' as Milton was denominated by the miserable scorn of his enemies.
The dedication to his very amusing comedy of the Sisters,' reprinted with several others at this period, may well be quoted here. It is, in the words of Mr. Gifford, . singularly affecting, as a well expressed and striking picture of the times.'-—The play is inscribed to the most wortbily honoured Wm. Paulet, Esquire :
• Compositions of this nature have heretofore been graced by the acceptance and protection of the greatest nobility (I say not princes); but in this age, when the scene of dramatic poetry is changed into a wilderness, it is hard to find a patron to a legitimate muse. Many that were wont to encourage poems are fallen beneath the proverbial want of the composers, and, by their ruins, are only at leisure to take measure with their eye of what they have been. Some, extinguished with their fortune, have this happiness to be out of capacity of further shipwreck, while their sad remains peep out of the sea, and may serve as naked marks, and caution to other navigators' malignant stars the while. In this unequal condition of the times, give me leave to congratulate my own felicity that hath directed this comedy unto you, who wear your nobleness with more security than titles, and a name that continues bright and impassable among the constellations in our sphere of English honour.'—vol. V., p. 355.
But the fire of Shirley's invention was not yet completely extinguished either by the base use to which he had fallen, or by his chilling association with his old friend Ogilby. It is next to impossible to doubt that it was by the fall, if not by the death of Charles I., that the mind of the royalist poet was solemnized to the creation of those imperishable stanzas, which first appeared in his Contention of Ajax and Ulysses. • Oliver Cromwell is said, on the recital of them, to have been seized with great terror and agitation of mind.' This is one of those stories which ought to be true; unfortunately, Zouch, who has published it in his notes on Walton's Lives, has given no authority. Frequently as this noble dirge has been quoted, it must not be omitted here :
• The glories of our mortal state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill;
Early or late,
They stoop to fate,
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb,-
vol. vi., pp. 396, 397. At the Restoration Shirley had his full share in the benefits of the Act of Oblivion, passed, as it was humorously said, in favour of the king's friends. His plays were revived, but he remained toiling in his school, and drudging, in his ill-assorted partnership with Ogilby, in those vast volumes, the translations of Virgil and Homer, which tower in undisturbed dignity on the tallest shelves of our public libraries. The worthy ex-dancing master, it may be observed, had qualified himself for translating Homer by beginning Greek, in the year 1654, under the tuition of a Scotch usher of Shirley's. The fact of this literary copartnership must be borne in mind, as in some degree accounting for the contemptuous acrimony of the Macflecknoe :
• Heywood and Shirley are but types of thee,
Thou last great prophet of tautology.'
• No Persian carpets spread the imperial way,
But loads of Shadwell almost chok'd the way.' The Mezentian martyrdom by which Shirley bound his living self to the dead weight of old Ogilby—was tbus all but fatal at the time. According to the general principle by which a poet, during his life, is often noted for his worst work, but is remem
bered by posterity, if remembered at all, for his best--so Shirley's nobler flights, his dramatic invention, the graceful ease of his dialogue, were cast into the shade by the impenetrable obscurity of those huge folios, in which he was admitted to be an accomplice, and of which the unmitigated dulness could be known to no one better than to Dryden, who himself trod the same ground. Dryden, conscious of Shirley's immeasurable inferiority as a translator, was no doubt blinded by this, as well as by the false taste of his day for rhyming tragedy and profligate comedy, to his own no less undoubted inferiority, as a dramatist, to the last legitimate descendant of Shakspeare.
The death of Shirley was a tragic termination to a life of vicissitude. He and his second wife, Frances, were burnt out of their dwelling, near Fleet Street, in the memorable Fire of London. They fled to St. Giles's, then in the fields, and broken down with fright, exposure, and distress of mind at their losses. the unhappy old couple died in one day, and were buried in one grave in the churchyard of that parish.
Few poets have meralized more beautifully on death than Shirley ; happy if in that sad hour the sentiment, embodied in the following exquisite verses, soothed and consoled his failing spirit:
I have not lived
That's ever calm. - Honoria and Mammon, vi. p. 78. We are tempted to transcribe also the following beautiful lines :
· Hark! how chimes the passing bell !
And the captive soul was she
To the sacrificer's knife.'-vol. vi., p. 452. Shirley, as a dramátist, bears evident indications of being the last of a great, but almost exhausted school. It is the decline, though still the serene and beautiful decline of a glorious day. The royal race submits with tranquil dignity to its deposition, but the sceptre is passing into other hands. His poetic character is by no means so strongly marked as that of most of his predecessors. The distinctive peculiarities of genius were pre-occupied. Of course the ground where Shakspeare had trod was not merely sacred-it was unattainable ; and Jonson—though in his Comedy of Männers he was followed by many of the later writers-in his profound learning, and not less in his full and elaborate delineation of character, stood also alone. Massinger had excelled in vigorous and masculine eloquence, and in a peculiar style of dark moral painting, such as we trace in his Luke and his Sir Giles Overreach. The infinite variety of Beaumont and Fletcher seemed to leave no character unattempted, no passion unexplored, no situation untried. Among the inferior writers, Ford had stretched the passions on the rack till they almost burst with agony. Webster, the Spagnolet of the old drama, had, in the same manner, overwrought the principle of terror, and thus too often marred the impressiveness of that sombre grandeur in which lies his true strength. Middleton had passages of a kind of homely pathos not easily surpassed. Thus, when Shirley came on the stage, he might seem to succeed to a mine, of which the wealth had been completely exhausted-a land, of which every nook and corner had been explored and cultivated to its utmost height of productiveness. Every source from which dramatic invention had drawn its materials might seem dried up. The history of every country had been dramatized - every distinguished personage in ancient or modern times had appeared on the stage-even the novelists of Italy were well nigh run to their dregs : human nature itself might almost appear to have been worked outevery shade and modification of character had been variously combined, every incident placed in every possible light. Yet under all these disadvantages Shirley is an original writer : though he perpetually works up materials of the same kind as those of his predecessors, yet his forms are new; though we are constantly
Spaguble the principlebat sombre graof a kind
the imple Midassed. Tho a minet which