Martyr. In the invention and management of his plots, Shirley is generally skilful, and possesses a degree of originality wbich few dramatic writers can boast ; many of them seem to be the mere produce of his brain, unassisted by the events of history or the traditions of the chroniclers. From what we have said, it may be inferred that the cha. racters of Shirley are not so strongly drawn as those of some of his contemporaries, or rather precursors, but to 'this there are exceptions, as may be particularly illustrated in the Cardinal and the Royal Master.

It is to be recollected, that Shirley often wrote on the spur of the moment to obtain bread for his wife and numerous family; yet not one of his many productions are devoid of considerable merit; and his quick invention and ready wit always secured him from becoming contemptible. Besides his own intrinsic merit he is worthy of admiration and respect as “the last supporter of the dying scene," as one of his friends well expresses it;* for as we have elsewhere remarked in the course of our articles upon old English literature, he was the last of what may be termed, for the sake of distinction, the school of Shakspeare, the decline of whose popularity he laments in the prologue to his Eode Tricks ;

. .. " sy « In our old plays, the bumor love and passion, Like doublet, hose, and cloak are out of fashion ; * That which the world call'd wit in Shakespeare's age

O , Is laugh'd at as improper for our stage." Nearly all the particulars known of the life of Shirley are contained in the memoir in the Biographia Dramatica : 'he was born in 1594, and after being at Merchant Taylors' School was sent to Oxford, and from thence went to Cambridge.t A living was given him near St. Albans, but he

". Verses by Hall, prefixed to the Cardinal. + He was of Catherine Hall, as appears by the following epigram which Mr. Gifford in his Massenger very incorrectly gives from a MS. in Mr. Wal. dron's hands; the original is to be found in a rare collection of Epigrams apd Epitaphs, by Thomas Bancroft, printed in 1639.

TO JAME SHIRLEY, “ James, thou and I did spend some precious yeares noise

At Katherine Hall ; since when we sometimes feele au In our poetick braines (as plaine appeares)

A whirling trick, then caught from Katherine's Wheele." " * · Catherine's Wheel was, no doubt, the sign of a tavern. The above is alt most the only notice of Shirley by contemporaries, excepting in the com. mendatory verses prefixed to many of his plays.

resigned it on changing of his religion to the catholic persuasion. Like another, and a greater poet, he became a schoolmaster, but on the breaking out of the civil war he joined the king's party under the Duke of Newcastle, who patronized him, and whom, it is asserted, he assisted in some of his plays. On the decline of the cause of Charles I. he returned to London, and recommenced his school, which he continued for many years, publisbing various tracts connected with his avocation : one of them is rather a curious performance, entituled, “ Via ad Latinam Languam complanata, &c. the Rules composed in English and Latin Verse,” 1649. This is another respect in which he resembled Milton ; his Rules continued so long in estimation, that they were reprinted as late as 1726. Another singular tract published with his initials and motto about this time, contains disjected sentences from various writers, collected in the course of his reading. He continued to print his plays till 1660, when Andrumana appeared; but it is probable that . the last he wrote was Honoria and Mammon, with the Contest of Ajax and Ulysses, 1659, which is one of the scarcest of his productions, and though a very small volume usually sells at the price of three or four guineas: be there says, that " it is like to be the last, for in my resolve nothing of this nature shall after this engage either my pen or my invention.” It appears from the dedication to his Royal Master, that he was in Ireland in 1638, where several of his pieces were played: he mentions his return in the prefatory matter to the Opportunity, 1640.

The mind of Shirley was certainly of a very delicate tex. ture, and the portraits that have been preserved of bim, justify this opinion : he was burnt out of his house by the great fire in 1666, and he died very soon afterwards : it is supposed that this dreadful event accelerated his end at the advanced age of 72: his wife survived him only twentyfour hours, and they were buried in the same grave.

Among his friends were many of the literary men of the day: in the dedication to his Grateful Servant, he terms Ben Jonson his “ acknowledged master,” though there is little general resemblance in the stile of the two poets. Thomas Stanley, John Ford, Philip Massinger, Thomas May, Alex. Broome, William Habingdon, Robert Stapyl. ton, and several other poets, lend their names to him in commendatory verses, at that time often prefixed by authors to their works, whether in prose or verse : the Grateful Servant is ushered by no less than ten laudatory poems in

English and Latin, which Shirley states were “the free vote of his friends, whom he could not with civility refuse." Although this practice was often abused, yet it originated in a noble disinterestedness far above the petty rivalships of modern authors.

Although at the head of this article we have placed only one of the productions of Shirley, (which indeed is one of his best, and one of the rarest and dearest), yet it is by no means our intention to confine ourselves to extracts from it, but to give such specimens of his various pieces as will enable the reader to forin a fair estimate of his talents or genius. He has left behind him numerous efforts in all departments of the drama, tragedy, comedy, pastoral, and masque, besides poems, each of which we shall notice as we proceed, and in so doing we shall confine ourselves to those works in which there is every reason to believe that Shirley was solely engaged. It may be necessary to premise that we do not pretend to give the very best extracts that might have been chosen : tastes will of course differ upon a point of this kind, but we have selected them with a double view, to their excellence, and to the characteristic marks they bear of the author. It is admitted that no plays have been worse printed than those of Shirley, but as it can fall to the lot of few individuals to examine the originals, and as their condi tion is a matter of curiosity, we have only made such alterations as were obvious and injurious mistakes, without presuming to change any word purposely employed by the author.

For our specimens of the tragic powers of Shirley, we have chosen the Cardinal, not because we think it superior upon the whole to some others, but because the author himself, in his dedication and prologue, gives it as his opi. nion, that " it is the best of his flock.” One objection to it in our judgment is, that it bears too near a resemblance to the Duchess of Malfy, by Webster, a tragedy below none, excepting those of Shakspeare. The description Shirley gives of his Duchess Rosaura* in her distress, is exactly the picture of Webster's heroine, worn out by the per, severing cruelty of her tormentors. Shirley finely says,

os She never had so deep a cause of sorrow;

Her chanıber's but a coffin of a larger
Volume, wherein she walks so like a ghost, .

'Twould make you pale to see her.” * The part of the Duchess was played by Hart, an actor of note in his time: this fact appears from the Dialogue on Actors, annexed to the last edition of Dodsley's Old Plays, by Reid.

rough and love of Rbut of compas

- A hint of the story will be enough to make our extracts intelligible: Rosaura has been left a very young widow of immense possessions, which the ambitious Cardinal (who gives the name to the tragedy) is anxious to secure for his nephew Columbo, a rough and successful soldier; in this attempt he is opposed by the love of Rosaura, which is fixed upon Alvarez, a gallant gentleman, but of comparatively mean estate. The following is a scene between Rosaura and Alvarez;

« Enter D'Alvarer.
D'Alv. Madam, I present
One that was glad to obey your Grace, and come
To know what your commands are.

Dut. Where I once
Did promise love, a love that had the Power
And office of a Priest to chain my heart
To yours, it were injustice to command.

D'Alv. But I can look upon you Madam, as
Becomes a servant, with as much humility,
(In tenderness of your honor and great fortunc,)
Give up, when you call back your bounty, all that
Was mine, as I had pride to think them favours.
. “ Dut. Hath love taught thee no more assurance in
Our mutuall vows, thou canst suspect it possible,
Į should revoke a promise made to heaven
And thee so soon ? this must arise from some
Distrust of thy own Faith.

" D'Alv. Your Graces pardon
To speak with freedom, I am not so old
In cunning to betray, nor young in time
Not to see when, and where I am at loss,
And how to bear my fortune, and my wounds,
Which if I look for health must still bleed inward,
(A hard and desperate condition :)
I am not ignorant your birth and greatness,
Have plac'd you to grow up with the Kings grace,
And jealousie, which to remove, his power
Hath chosen a ft object for your beauty
To shine upon, Columbo his great favorite ;
I am a man, on whom but late the King
Has pleas'd to cast a beam, which was not meant
To make me proud, but wisely to direct,
And light me to my safety. Oh, Dear Madam!
I will not call more witness of my love
(If you will let me still give it that name)
Than this, that I dare make my self a loser,
And to your will give all my blessings up:

Preserve your greatness and forget a trifle,
That shall at best when you have drawn me up,
But hang about you like a cloud, and dim
The glories you are born to.

Dut. Misery .
Of birth and state ! that I could shift into
A meaner blood, or find some art to purge i
That part which makes my veins unequall; yet
Those nice distinctions have no place in us, .,
Ther's but a shadow difference, a title,
Thy stock partakes as much of noble sap
As that which feeds the root of Kings, and he
That writes a Lord, hath all the essence of

« D'Alv. 'Tis not a name that makes
Our separation, the Kings displeasure
Hangs a portent to fright us, and the matter
That feeds this exhalation is the Cardinals
Plot to advance his Nephew; then Columbo,
A man made up for some prodigious Act,
Is fit to be considered ; in all three
There is no character you fix upon
But has a form of ruine to us both.

Dut. Then you do look on these with fear..

D'Alv. With eys
That should think tears a duty to lament
Your least unkind fate; but my youth dares boldly
Meet all the tyranny o'th' stars, whose black
Malevolence but shoot my single tragedy; .'.
You are above the value of many worlds,
Peopled with such as I am.

« Dut. What if Columbo
Engag'd to war, in his hot thirst of honor,
Find out the Way to death ?

D'Alv. Tis possible.

" Dut. Or say, no matter by what art or motive
He gives his title up, and leave me to
My own Election ?

D'Alv. If I then be happy of . .
To have a name within your ihought, there can
Be nothing left to crown me with New blessing ;
But I dream thus of heaven, and wake to find
My amorous soul a mockery; when the Priest
Shall tie you to another, and the joys
Of mariage leave no thought at leisure to
Look back upon Alvarez, that must wither .
For loss of you, yet then I cannot lose.
So much of what I was, once in your favour,
But in a sigh pray still you may live happy.

Crit, Rev. Vol. IV. Dec. 1816.

[blocks in formation]
« ElőzőTovább »