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have been, not so much passages of wit and humour, though the old plays are rich in such, as scenes of passion, sometimes of the deepest quality, interesting situations, serious descriptions, that which is more nearly allied to poetry than to wit, and to tragic rather than to comic poetry. The plays which I have made choice of have been, with few exceptions, those which treat of human life and manners, rather than masques, and Arcadian pastorals, with their train of abstractions, unimpassioned deities, passionate mortals, Claius, and Medorus, and Amintas, and Amarillis. My leading design has been, to illustrate what may be called the moral sense of our ancestors. To show in what manner they felt, when they placed themselves by the power of imagination in trying situations, in the conflicts of duty and passion, or the strife of contending duties; what sort of loves and enmities theirs were; how their griefs were tempered, and their full-swoln joys abated: how much of Shakspeare shines in the great men his contemporaries, and how far in his divine mind and manners he surpassed them and all mankind.
Another object which I had in making these selections was, to bring together the most admired scenes in Fletcher and Massinger, in the estimation of the world the only dramatic poets of that age who are entitled to be considered after Shakspeare, and to exhibit them in the same volume with the more impressive scenes of old Marlowe, Heywood, Tourneur, Webster, Ford, and others. To show what we have slighted, while beyond all proportion we have cried up one or two favourite
The specimens are not accompanied with anything
in the shape of biographical notices.* I had nothing of consequence to add to the slight sketches in Dodsley and the Biographia Dramatica, and I was unwilling to swell the volume with mere transcription. The reader will not fail to observe, from the frequent instances of two or more persons joining in the composition of the same play (the noble practice of those times), that of most of the writers contained in these selections it may be strictly said, that they were contemporaries. The whole period, from the middle of Elizabeth's reign to the close of the reign of Charles I., comprises a space of little more tha half a century, within which time nearly all that we have of excellence in serious dramatic composition was produced, if we except the Samson Agonistes of Milton.
* The few notes which are interspersed will be found to be chiefly critical,
LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF HONE'S "TABLE BOOK."
It is not unknown to you, that about nineteen years since I published "Specimens of English Dramatic Poets, who lived about the time of Shakspeare." For the scarcer Plays I had recourse to the collection bequeathed to the British Museum by Mr Garrick. But my time was but short, and my subsequent leisure has discovered in it a treasure rich and exhaustless beyond what I then imagined. In it is to be found almost every production in the shape of a Play that has appeared in print, from the time of the old Mysteries and Moralities to the days of Crown and D'Urfey. Imagine the luxury to one like me, who, above every other form of poetry, have ever preferred the Dramatic, of sitting in the princely apartments, for such they are, of poor condemned Montagu House, which I predict will not speedily be followed by a handsomer, and culling at will the flower of some thousand Dramas. It is like having the range of a Nobleman's Library, with the Librarian to your friend. Nothing can exceed the courteousness and attentions of the Gentleman who has the chief direction of the Reading Rooms here; and you have scarce to ask for a volume, before it is
LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF HONE'S TABLE BOOK. Xxiii
laid before you. If the occasional Extracts which I have been tempted to bring away, may find an appropriate place in your Table Book, some of them are weekly at your service. By those who remember the "Specimens," these must be considered as mere after-gleanings, supplementary to that work, only comprising a longer period. You must be content with sometimes scene, sometimes a song; a speech, or passage, or a poetical image, as they happen to strike me. I read without order of time; I am a poor hand at dates; and for any biography of the Dramatists, I must refer to writers who are more skilful in such matters. My business is with their poetry only.
January 27, 1827.