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His 'May-day' is not so good. All Fools,' the Widow's Tears,' and Eastward Hoe,' are comedies of great merit, particularly the last. The first is borrowed a good deal from Terence, and the character of Valerio, an accomplished rake, who passes with his father for the person of the greatest economy and rusticity of manners, is an excellent idea, executed with spirit. 'Eastward Hoe' was written in conjunction with Ben Jonson and Marston; and for his share in it, on account of some allusions to the Scotch, just after the accession of James I., our author, with his friends, had nearly lost his ears. Such were the notions of poetical justice in those days! The behaviour of Ben Jonson's mother on this occasion is remarkable. "On his release from prison, he gave an entertainment to his friends, among whom were Camden and Selden. In the midst of the entertainment, his mother, more an antique Roman than a Briton, drank to him, and showed him a paper of poison, which she intended to have given him in his liquor, having first taken a portion of it herself, if the sentence for his punishment had been executed." This play contains the first idea of Hogarth's 'Idle and Industrious Apprentices.'
It remains for me to say something of Webster and Decker. For these two writers I do not know how to show my regard and admiration sufficiently. Noble-minded Webster, gentle-hearted Decker, how may I hope to "express ye unblam'd," and repay to your neglected manes some part of the debt of gratitude I owe for proud and soothing recollections? I pass by the Appius and Virginia' of the former, which is however a good, sensible, solid tragedy, cast in a frame-work of the most approved models, with little to blame or praise in it, except the affecting speech of Appius to Virginia just before he kills her; as well as Decker's 'Wonder of a Kingdom,' his 'Jacomo Gentili,' that truly ideal character of a magnificent patron, and Old Fortunatus and his Wishing-cap,' which last has the idle garrulity of age, with the freshness and gaiety of youth still upon its cheek and in its heart. These go into the common catalogue, and are lost in the crowd; but Webster's Vittoria Corombona' I cannot so soon part with; and old honest Decker's Signior Orlando Friscobaldo I shall never forget! I became only of late acquainted with
this last-mentioned worthy character; but the bargain between us is, I trust, for life. We sometimes regret that we had not sooner met with characters like these, that seem to raise, revive, and give a new zest to our being. Vain the complaint! We should never have known their value, if we had not known them always: they are old, very old acquaintance, or we should not recognize them at first sight. We only find in books what is already written within "the red-leaved tables of our hearts." The pregnant materials are there; "the pangs, the internal pangs are ready; and poor humanity's afflicted will struggling in vain with ruthless destiny." But the reading of fine poetry may indeed open the bleeding wounds, or pour balm and consolation into them, or sometimes even close them up for ever! Let any one who has never known cruel disappointment, nor comfortable hopes, read the first scene between Orlando and Hippolito, in Decker's play of the Honest Whore,' and he will see nothing in it. But I think few persons will be entirely proof against such passages as some of the following:
"Enter ORLANDO FRISCOBALDO.
Omnes. Signior Friscobaldo.
Hippolito. Friscobaldo, oh! pray call him, and leave me; we two have business.
Carolo. Ho, Signior! Signior Friscobaldo, the Lord Hippolito.
Orlando. My noble Lord! the Lord Hippolito! The Duke's son! his brave daughter's brave husband! How does your honour'd Lordship? Does your nobility remember so poor a gentleman as Signior Orlando Friscobaldo? old mad Orlando ?
Hip. Oh, sir, our friends, they ought to be unto us as our jewels; as dearly valued, being locked up and unseen, as when we wear them in our hands. I see, Friscobaldo, age hath not command of your blood; for all Time's sickle hath gone over you, you are Orlando still.
Orl. Why, my Lord, are not the fields mown and cut down, and stript bare, and yet wear they not pied coats again? Though my head be like a leek, white, may not my heart be like the blade, green?
Hip. Scarce can I read the stories on your brow,
Which age hath writ there: you look youthful still.
Orl. I eat snakes, my Lord, I eat snakes. My heart shall never have a wrinkle in it so long as I can cry Hem! with a clear voice.
Hip. You are the happier man, sir.
Orl. May not old Friscobaldo, my Lord, be merry now, ha? I have a
little, have all things, have nothing. Ihave no wife, I have no child, have no chick, and why should I not be in my jocundare?
Hip. Is your wife then departed?
Orl. She's an old dweller in those high countries, yet not from me: here, she's here; a good couple are seldom parted.
Hip. You had a daughter, too, sir, had you not?
Orl. Oh, my Lord! this old tree had one branch, and but one branch, growing out of it: it was young, it was fair, it was straight: I pruned it daily, drest it carefully, kept it from the wind, helped it to the sun; yet for all my skill in planting, it grew crooked, it bore crabs: I hew'd it down. What's become of it I neither know nor care.
Hip. Then can I tell you what's become of it: that branch is withered. Orl. So 'twas long ago.
Hip. Her name, I think, was Bellafront; she's dead.
Orl. Ha! dead?
Hip. Yes, what of her was left, not worth the keeping. Even in my sight, was thrown into a grave.
Orl. Dead! my last and best peace go with her! I see death's a good trencherman; he can eat coarse homely meat as well as the daintiest-Is she dead?
Hip. She's turn'd to earth.
Orl. Would she were turned to heaven. Umh! Is she dead? I am glad the world has lost one of his idols: no whoremonger will at midnight beat at the doors in her grave sleep all my shame and her own; and all my sorrows, and all her sins.
Hip. I'm glad you are wax, not marble; you are made
Of man's best temper; there are now good hopes
That all these heaps of ice about your heart,
By which a father's love was frozen up,
Are thaw'd in those sweet show'rs fetch'd from your eye:
We are ne'er like angels till our passions die.
She is not dead, but lives under worse fate;
I think she's poor; and more to clip her wings
Her husband at this hour lies in the jail,
For killing of a man: to save his blood,
Join all your force with mine; mine shall be shown,
The getting of his life preserves your own.
Orl. In my daughter you will say! Does she live, then? I am sorry wasted tears upon a harlot! but the best is, I have a handkerchief to drink them up, soap can wash them all out again. Is she poor?
Hip. Trust me, I think she is.
Orl. Then she's a right strumpet. I never knew one of their trade rich two years together; sieves can hold no water, nor harlots hoard up money; taverns, tailors, bawds, panders, fiddlers, swaggerers, fools, and knaves, do all wait upon a common harlot's trencher; she is the gallypot to which these' drones fly: not for love to the pot, but for the sweet sucket in it, her money, her money.
Hip. I almost dare pawn my word her bosom gives warmth to no such snakes; when did you see her?
Orl. Not seventeen summers.
Orl. Older; it has a white head, and shall never die till she be buried; her wrongs shall be my bedfellow.
Hip. Work yet his life, since in it lives her fame.
Orl. No, let him hang, and half her infamy departs out of the world; I hate him for her: he taught her first to taste poison; I hate her for herself, because she refused my physic.
Hip. Nay, but Friscobaldo.
Orl. I detest her, I defy both, she's not mine, she's
Hip. Hear her, but speak.
Orl. I love no mermaids, I'll not be caught with a quail-pipe.
Hip. You're now beyond all reason. Is't dotage to relieve your child, being poor?
Orl. 'Tis foolery; relieve her! Were her cold limbs stretcht out upon a bier, I would not sell this dirt under my nails to buy her an hour's breath, nor give this hair unless it were to choke her.
Hip. Fare you well, for I'll trouble you no more.
Orl. And fare you well, sir, go thy ways; we have few lords of thy making, that love wenches for their honesty.-'Las, my girl, art thou poor? Poverty dwells next door to despair, there's but a wall between them: despair is one of hell's catchpoles, and lest that devil arrest her, I'll to her; yet she shall not know me: she shall drink of my wealth as beggars do of running water, freely; yet never know from what fountain's head it flows. Shall a silly bird pick her own breast to nourish her young ones: and can a father see his child starve? That were hard: the pelican does it, and shall not I?"
The rest of the character is answerable to the beginning. The execution is, throughout, as exact as the conception is new and masterly. There is the least colour possible used; the pencil drags; the canvas is almost seen through: but then, what precision of outline, what truth and purity of tone, what firmness of hand, what marking of character! The words and answers all along are so true and pertinent, that we seem to see the gestures, and to hear the tone with which they are accompanied. So when Orlando, disguised, says to his daughter, "You'll forgive me,' and she replies, "I am not marble, I forgive you;" or again, when she introduces him to her husband, saying simply, "It is my father," there needs no stage-direction to supply the relenting tones of voice or cordial frankness of manner with which these words are spoken. It is as if there were some fine art to chisel
thought, and to embody the inmost movements of the mind in every-day actions and familiar speech. It has been asked,
"Oh! who can paint a sun-beam to the blind,
But this difficulty is here in a manner overcome. Simplicity and extravagance of style, homeliness and quaintness, tragedy and comedy, interchangeably set their hands and seals to this admirable production. We find the simplicity of prose with the graces of poetry. The stalk grows out of the ground; but the flowers spread their flaunting leaves in the air. The mixture of levity in the chief character bespeaks the bitterness from which it seeks relief; it is the idle echo of fixed despair, jealous of observation or pity. The sarcasm quivers on the lip, while the tear stands congealed on the eye-lid. This "tough senior," this impracticable old gentleman softens into a little child; this choke-pear melts in the mouth like marmalade. In spite of his resolute professions of misanthropy, he watches over his daughter with kindly solicitude; plays the careful housewife; broods over her lifeless hopes; nurses the decay of her husband's fortune, as he had supported her tottering infancy; saves the high-flying Matheo from the gallows more than once, and is twice a father to them The story has all the romance of private life, all the pathos of bearing up against silent grief, all the tenderness of concealed affection-there is much sorrow patiently borne, and then comes peace. Bellafront, in the two parts of this play taken together, is a most interesting character. It is an extreme, and I am afraid almost an ideal case. She gives the play its title, turns out a true penitent, that is, a practical one, and is the model of an exemplary wife. She seems intended to establish the converse of the position, that a reformed rake makes the best husband, the only difficulty in proving which, is, I suppose, to meet with the character. The change of her relative position, with regard to Hippolito, who, in the first part, in the sanguine enthusiasm of youthful generosity, has reclaimed her from vice, and in the second part, his own faith and love of virtue having been impaired with the progress of years, tries in vain to lure her back again to her former follies, has an effect the most striking and beautiful. The