« PreviousContinue »
Fel. Oh, Felisarda ?
Fel. This will be no exception, sir, I hope,
We shall be married when our spirits meet.'-vol. i. pp. 246–252. Scenes like this are interspersed throughout the whole of the intermediate compositions which form nearly two-thirds of Shirley's dramas. They bear considerable resemblance to some of Calderon's plays, those which are not in his more serious vein, but more elevated and poetical than those Capo y Espada comedies, from which the later English comic writers borrowed so largely. There is the same disregard of probability, (this, however, the animation and activity of the scene scarcely allow us time to detect, or inclination to criticize)—the same love of disguises, princesses in the garb of pages, princes who turn out to be changelings, and humbler characters who turn out to be princes, everybody in love, and everybody in love with the wrong personuntil, by some unexpected dénouement, they all fall into harmonious and well-assorted couples—and a general marriage winds up the whole piece. Like the great Spanish dramatist, Shirley delights in throwing his leading characters into the most embarrassing situations—their constancy is exposed to the rudest trials ; sometimes he has caught the high chivalrous tone of self-devotion, the sort of voluntary martyrdom of love which will surrender its object, either at the call of some more commanding duty, or for the greater glory and happiness of its mistress. We would direct particular attention to "The Grateful Servant.'
There is still another class of drama in which Shirley is extremely successful, though here, likewise, the skill of the author is rather shown in the general conduct of his piece, than in the striking execution of single parts. It is a poetic comedy of English and domestic manners, mingled with serious, sometimes with
pathetic scenes. To this class belong the Lady of Pleasure, Hyde Park, the whimsical play of Love in a Maze, the Constant Maid, the Gamester, the Example, and one or two others. Shirley's comic, like his tragic powers, are rather fertile and various than rich and original; he is easy and playful rather than broad and vigorous. Of course, even his more serious and tragic plays are relieved, according to the invariable practice of his school, by the humours of the clown or the buffoon. In some of the romantic tragic-comedies, as in the Sisters, a play which we cannot but think might succeed on the modern stage, the main interest is altogether comic ; and even in this last class, the comedy of Manners, occur many of those passages of gentle and quiet sweetness, which are characteristic of Shirley. As a satirical painter of manners, as a playful castigator of the fashions, the follies, the humours of the day, he is to Jonson what, in his serious efforts, he is to Fletcher. In all such pictures the very excellence, in some degree, endangers the lasting popularity; the more accurately the resemblance of the poet's own times is drawn, the more alien it is to the habits and feelings of modern days; in precise proportion that such pieces are valuable to the antiquarian, they are obsolete and unintelligible to the common reader. Much, therefore, of the zest and raciness of the following scene must, of course, be lost; it is from the Lady of Pleasure, a play which, but for one wanton and unnecessary blemish, might be quoted almost throughout as a very curious and lively description of fashionable manners in the days of Charles I. Aretina, the wife of Sir Thomas Bornwell, is the Lady Townley, or the Lady Teazle, of an older date :
Steward. Be patient, Madam; you may have your pleasure.
Stew. These, with your pardon, are no argument
To make the country life appear so hateful;
Lady B. You do imagine,
Enter Sir Thomas BORNWELL.
Lady B. I am angry with myself,
Born. In what, Aretina,
Lady B. What charge, more than is necessary for
Born. Your charge of gaudy furniture, and pictures
And common cries pursue your ladyship,
Lady B. Have you done, sir?
Born. I could accuse the gaiety of your wardrobe,
Lady B. Pray do, I like
Born. I could wish, madam,
Lady B. A gamester too !
Born. But are not come to that acquaintance yet,
Lady B. Good! proceed.
Born. Another game you have, which consumes more
Lady B. Have you concluded ?
Born. I have done ; and howsoever
And noble freedom.-vol. iv., pp. 5–10. We conclude with a few observations on this ' editio princeps' of Shirley. The plays, as we have before observed, were collected, arranged, and edited by the late Mr. Gifford; and his was a task of no light labour—for never had unhappy author suffered so much from careless and ignorant printers as Shirley. Some errors of the press, which have either crept into this edition or have remained uncorrected, show that the keen eye of that most
accurate `scholar was somewhat bedimmed before his work was concluded ; but the fame of Shirley is deeply indebted to the collector of his dramas. Many passages of poetry, which had been crowded into halt and disjointed prose, have been brought back, as near as possible, to their original harmonious flow: in some places, the sense, which might have appeared irrevocably lost, by the dislocation of sentences and the transposition of lines, has been restored by conjectural emendations, both bold and felicitous; in others, where words or lines have been lost, the hiatus is marked, and the reader is spared much unprofitable waste of time, in endeavouring to elucidate the meaning of vocables which might seem cast at random from the types.* No one, in short, who has not attempted to acquaint himself with the beauties of Shirley's drama, through the old quartos, can appreciate the luxury of reading them in the clearer letter, and more genuine text of the present edition. Mr. Dyce has performed his humbler task as editor of the poems, with his accustomed ability; and, on the whole, it is no fault of the edition, if justice be not at length fairly done to the merit of Shirley. One of his cotemporary poets ventured to prophesy,–
That ages yet to come shall hear and see,
When dead, thy works a living elegy. For the first time, in the nineteenth century, this elegy has been removed from the obscure and inaccessible quarter where it had long mouldered unseen ; it has been transcribed in legible characters; and fully asserts the claim of this last of our Elizabethan dramatists, to be admitted to a high place among the second class of the poetical hierarchy of England.
Art. II.—Mémoires de René Le Vasseur, de la Sarthe, ex-Con
ventionnel. 4 vols. Paris. 1829-1832. THESE Mémoires profess to be written by one Le Vasseur, an
1 old Jacobin and regicide, who is still, or lately was alive, and are preceded by an introduction and a biographical notice avowedly from the pen of an editor, M. Achille Roche. We had not, however, read half-a-dozen pages of the Mémoires before we began to suspect that they were not the actual composition of Le Vasseur- that this was a fresh instance of French fabrication, and
* In the fine and eloquent tragedy of Chabot, the obscurity of Chapman's manner, the hardness of which his contemporaries called his “full and heightened style,' is greatly increased by the incorrectness of the press. This play, as bearing the name of Shirley in its title-page, conjoined with that of Chapman, ought not to have been omitted: yet it is very difficult to assign any part of it to Shirley; even the comic scenes are more in Chapman's close and pregnant manner than in the light and airy style of Shirley.