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reminded of the earlier writers, particularly of Fletcher, his plays are far from servile copies ; the manner of composition is the same, yet his lights and shadows are so infinitely varied, that the impression is entirely different. Even his style is his own : far inferior in force, in variety, in richness to his masters, it has an ease, a grace, sometimes an elegance, essentially his own. As softened and more delicately-pencilled outlines of characters, with which we are familiar, meet us again in the volumes of Shirley—so his poetry is full of the same images ;-yet passing, as it were, through the clear and pellucid medium of his mind, they appear as if they were the new-born creations of his own fancy.
If the character of Shirley's genius is less marked, he has escaped the mannerism of many of his predecessors; if there is no one qualification of the dramatist in which he is pre-eminent in the great school to which he belongs, yet he combines more than most, except the very first writers; and it is impossible not to admire the variety and versatility with which he ranges, if with a less vigorous and decided, yet with an easy and graceful step, through every province of the drama ; rarely perhaps exciting any violent or profound emotion, yet rarely failing to awaken and keep alive the curiosity, to amuse and delight the imagination. For, after all, it is the life and activity of Shirley's mind, the fertility of his invention, which is the most extraordinary point in his poetic character. Among all the plays, which nearly fill the volumes before us, there are few in which the interest, however often strange and improbable, is not sustained to the end ; few, in which we do not tind scenes or speeches of easy and unlaboured beauty, which could only be poured forth in such profusion by a true poet.
As a tragic writer, Shirley betrays, perhaps with least disguise, that he is the last of his school. He seems to write for an audience accustomed to sup full of horrors. There is a prodigality of crimé, a profuse pouring forth of blood, not altogether in the coarse aud • King Cambyses' manner of the older school, but still crowded together, as if nothing less than such strong stimulants would produce any effect; as if the poet were under the necessity of working up to an established standard of terror-to equal, if not to surpass, the awful scenes which were in full possession of the public iinagination. In his two finest tragedies, The Traitor' and "The Cardinal;' reminiscences more or less distinct of • The Maid's Tragedy of Fletcher and the · Duchess of Malfy' of Webster involuntarily arise. As he would rival the passion and the sombre grandeur, so he seems to have thought it necessary to vie with his fearful models in the blackness of the crimes which he describes and in the lavish expenditure of blood. "The Traitor,' unfortunatelŷ, turns on a kind of interest in which our older
poets poets delighted, but which is proscribed by the decency of modern manners. In Shirley, as in all the school to which he belongs, there is the same remarkable contrast between the manners and the morals. Excepting in passages of coarse, and it should seem privileged buffoonery, which, especially in the earlier plays, occur far too frequently, and sometimes intrude when they are most out of keeping with the purer character of the scene,-(yet in which, we must remember, the actors are accused of venturing on liberties of which their authors are blameless)—almost all which seems offensive to propriety was de facto intended to improve and elevate, rather than to corrupt and degrade, the mind. Virtue ever obtains the mastery over vice-vice is visited with shame and misery. Those passions and animal propensities of our nature, over the secret workings of which delicacy now draws a veil, which are left unexplored by the most searching moralist in the dark recesses of the heart, are exhibited by these unscrupulous painters in their repulsive nakedness. They will trace lust in its inmost thoughts and impulses, as they would ambition or jealousy. Stern anatomists, and intent only on the progress of their science, that of the moral nature of man, they unblushingly lay open the most hidden mysteries of that nature to the gaze. In fact, on such subjects they spoke language which was common to the age, and sanctioned by writers of a far graver class. Our old divines enlarge with a minuteness and particularity on points of this kind, at which the sensitive propriety of modern manners would stand aghast. There are many passages in the works of Jeremy Taylor, intended for general use, and no doubt for family instruction, which it would be impossible to read aloud ; and even our older books of devotion can be used only with the strictest caution.
These observations are made, not to extenuate what is objectionable in the older dramatists, but in strict justice, lest the great distinction between the plays of this earlier period, and those of Charles the Second's time, should be lost sight of. With the former the manifers are coarse and indelicate, the morals sound and vigorous; in the latter, manners and morals are alike corrupt and embruted. In one respect the dramatic writers of the older and better age might read a lesson to times, if of more fastidious nicety in expression, by no means endowed with an equally fine moral sensitiveness. Broad and plain-spoken as they are in their description of vice, and true to the worse as to the better parts of our naturestrangely and violently as they sometimes precipitate their nobler characters to their fall, or extricate their guilty ones from the trammels of sin—they never mingle and mould up the most in4 congruous qualities, the best and the worst ingredients of human character, at the same time, in the same individual.
They never shadow off the lofty into the base, and dash what is most admirable in the heart and soul of man, with that which is most loathsome, till the judgment is perplexed and confounded. Their lines of demarcation are strong and decided ; nor among all their inconsistencies do we find that which was resorted to, with malice prepense against the elemental principles of morality, by the filthier pioneers of anarchy in France, and which we are sorry to see has, in our own time, been often employed to stimulate, if not on purpose to corrupt, the jaded mind of the public—the selection of the most virtuous and highly-gifted personage for the lowest crime, the meanest ruffian for the sublimest act of virtue. The energetic imagination and fiery verse of a Byron might throw a veil over offences even of this class :—He could make us overlook, for example, the absurdity of representing a Corsair, whose trade was murder, as revolting from that streak of blood on a woman's brow which was the witness and symbol of his own personal salvation, due to the daring of her hand. It is well, on the other hand, for our literary pastry-cooks, who rummage the Newgate Calendar for some vile domestic atrocity, and serve it up frosted over with Rosa-Matilda sentiment, under the name of romance-that when people have before them the coxcombry of a Malvolio, graver faults can hardly fix attention.
The · Traitor' of Shirley is the dark Macchiavellian minister of an Italian court, one of his favourite characters, but no where drawn with such boldness and vigour as in this striking tragedy. The manner in which he winds to his purposes the passions of the feeble and voluptuous duke, of the fiery and daring Sciarrha, and of the vain Depazzi, is imagined and executed with equal power and skill. We can, however, venture on only one quotation from this play; and that is, to our judgment, in a vein of exquisite sweetness. By the wiles of Lorenzo, Amidea, the sister of Sciarrha, the original of Otway's Chamont, is exposed to the criminal passion of the Duke, and rejected by Pisano, to whom she had been betrothed. The faithless Pisano is on his way to be married to Oriana, when the bridal procession is arrested by Amidea :-
• Ami. Not for my sake, but for your own, go back,
Pis. What of him?
Ami. Transported with
Hath vow'd to kill you in your nuptial glory.
Alas ! I fear his haste; now, good my lord,
Alon. It is worth
Pis. Alas! her grief hath made her wild, poor lady.
Ami. Will you not then believe me?—Pray persuade him,
Pis. No more;
Ami. I have done ; pray be not angry,
Ori. Good heaven,
Ami. Pray do not mock me,
Ori. Dear Amidea, do not think I mock
Ami. Alas, poor maid !
'Twas my desire; perhaps 't will fetch a sigh
Pis. Thou art.
Ami. Let me beseech you then, to be so kind,
Pis. To whom?
Ami. To one whom you have all heard talk of,
The · Cardinal' is another tragedy of great power; dark and impressive ; but too often revolting where it ought to be terrible. The Duchess Rosaura, though obliged to plight her vows to Columbo, the nephew of the all-powerful cardinal, is still in love with Alvarez. While Columbo is absent with the army, she obtains by artifice a letter releasing her from her vows. Alvarez is murdered by Columbo. He, in his turn, is slain in a duel at her instigation, by Hernando, to whom, in her incipient frenzy, she has promised her hand as his reward, and who accosts his victim in these terrific lines :
You must account, sir, if that my sword prosper,
Your reeling souls together!-Now have at you.' There is great tenderness in some touches of the ensuing madness of the Duchess—a sort of agony of suppressed and conflicting emotion :