« PředchozíPokračovat »
A New Uway to pay Old Debts.
If we compare the dramatic authors who flourished at the commencement of Shakspeare's career, with the great poet himself, bis contemporaries, and immediate successors, we shall be astonished to find that the infancy and maturity of the stage should embrace a period of but little more than thirty to forty years.
The dawn of Shakspeare dispelled the shadows, clouds, and darkness that rested on the dramatic horizon, and with him arose a host of stars that, while they shone with no borrowed lustre, still gathered glory from his beams. The most illustrious, and next in rank to himself, is Pbilip Massinger, a man of whose life little or nothing is known, beyond the melancholy fact, that he was a literary way-farer, eking ont a penarious existence in humble obscurity, and that his transcendani genius, wbich must command the admiration of the latest posterity, could not protect him from the horrors of a gaol. He died on the 17th of March, 1640. According to Langbaine, he went to bed in good health, and was found dead in the morning, in his own house on the Bank-side. He was buried in the church of St. Mary Overy, in Southwark, “ without a stone, a name,” in the same grave with his friend and fellow-labourer, John Fletcher. The register thus briefly records the memorial of his mortality :-March 20, 1639-40, buried Philip Massinger-A Stranger !".
But, though “no storied urn or animated bust" have transmitted to posterity a record of this great poet, he may well spare the fame of such perishable memorials
" In his own works enshrin'd, the bard shall live !" and, though the regret will be deep and lasting, that the poet's path should have been strewed with briars and thorns, a feeling of exultation will be mingled with it, that, while neglect did its worst to the living bard, time has crowned his memory with immortal bonours. We believe ibat genius, in adversity's darkest hour, has received consolation from the conviction that future ages would gratefully appreciate it; and that, when all other hope has proved unavailing, the hope of immortality bas cheered the drooping spirit, and made it esteem that glorious distinction cheaply bought by contumely and suffering. It is not impossible that such a hope might have broke in upon the sorrows of Massinger.
In assigning Massinger a station above all other dramatic poets, and placing him next to the divine Sbakspeare, we cannot forget the sublimity of Beaumont-the pathos of Fletcher-the wit, nerve, and profound learning of Ben Jonson. It is, that he has a combipation of rarer qualities than bis illustrious contemporaries ; that his conceptions are more just and noble; that in dignity and elegance, in power of description in the melody, grandeur, and variety of his poetry, he is superior to them. In majesty of thought and
diction, he often approaches Shakspeare. Wit was a talent that Massinger possessed not in any degree; in humour, also, he is con. fessedly inferior to most of his contemporaries : yet his cbaracters arc equally natural, and, though not more strongly drawn, are, in the present day, better understood than those of Ben Jonson. None of his plots are, perhaps, original, but were derived, like those of Shakspeare, from history and fiction. Yet he is eminently skilful in the conduct of them, --in producing that intricacy which lays hold of the imagination, and in unravelling them with as little violence to nature and probability as may be consistent with dramatic effect. His language is not always free from impurities; yet, an author, whom hard necessity compelled to write for his daily bread, may reasonably claim some allowance for an occasional sacrifice
licentious freedoms that the stage not only permitted, but enjoined ; when the female characters were performed by males, and the theatre was a recreation generally confined to the common people. But a pernicious sentiment, a sneer at religion, a profane jest, are not to be found in the writings of Massinger. In this respect he claims a merit above all his contemporaries.
In disposition, he was mild, amiable, and unassuming; free from that irritation and jealousy which have sometimes obscured the brightest talents. By those who might be called his rivals in literature, he was panegyrized and beloved. He had opponents, but they provoked neither his envy nor hostility; nor do we discover in bis writings any of those satirical invectives that (however justly provoked) characterize the pages of Jonson. He may be said to have passed through life wholly innoxious. His dedications teem with no servile flattery, but are the warm effusions of a grateful heart; and, though the frequent mention of his unhappy circumstances may not indicate that stern philosophy which endures in silence, it raises our indignation at the apathy of an age that could treat with neg. lect so distinguished a man.
A New Way to Pay Old Debts is the most popular of all the dramas of Massinger — not because it is the best, for there are others that possess higher qualities than this play, but because it is the best adapted for representation ; that it is a valuable and curious picture of life and manners, that it displays an interesting variety of incident and character, and of passion, delineated with great truth and effect. No part of it is built on abstract ideas; no. thing is obsolete or unintelligible; the plot works easily, and the catastrophe is at once striking and grand. We behold avarice and cunning foiled by their own weapons, and hypocritical villany be. come the mean of exemplary justice, in the betrayal of Sir Giles, by his creature Marrall. And, though the integrity of the more amiable characters, Lovell, Lady Allworth, and the two lovers, is, in a certain degree, violated by the deceits they are made to practise upon Overreach, their justification may be fairly admitted in the full and ample punishment of that cruel extortioner. We may learn from the example of Wellborn, that youthful prodigality is the parent of poverty and contempt; and, from that of Sir Giles, that fraud and oppression are their own bane and punishment; and that providence, sooner or later, marks the man who questions its onnipotence, and braves its justice.
It has been proved, beyond all doubt, that Sir Giles and Justice Greedy are real portraits. The former was intended to represent Sir Giles Mompesson, a notorious usurer of that day, who was expelled anıl banished the king's dominions, and degraded of the order of knighthood; and the latter, Sir Francis Michell, his assó
ciate and accomplice, who was also degradled, fined a thousand pounds, carried on horseback through the priocipal streets, with his face to the horse's tail, and imprisoned for life ;-names consecrated to never dying infamy, by the genius of Massinger. Thus has the poet consummated what the unequal hand of justice left undone. “ De mortuis nil nisi bonum" is a maxim false and pernicious in prin. ciple. If, when the wretch has lost the power of doing mischief, his name shall be held sacred and inviolate, virtue loses half its reward, and vice its punishment. By gibbeting infamy through succeeding generations, we perform an important duty to mankind, and restrain many whom neither justice, virtue, nor humanity, would have the power to restrain.
Sir Giles Overreach was not one of the late Mr. Kemble's happiest efforts. We have before remarked, that the expression of hypocrisy and malice was not his forte. In certain passages be was fally equal to himself; and the following noble images called forth his utmost energy and power :
“ Ha! I am feeble :
Cooke's performance of this difficult character was very fine. He delineated, with great force, the meanness of aspiring baseness, and the malignant joy of successful villany. Mr. Kean's conception of the part is correct, but his physical powers are unequal to sccond his conception. Thns, in the last scene, where his countenance exbibits the mingled passions of fury, madness, and despair, with almost superhuman effect, his voice sinks under the tremendous effort, and we have little else but dumb show. In his interviews with Marrall, where he unfolds his base designs, and with his daughter, where he revels in the prospect of her future greatness, be more than satisfied criticism. Munden's delineation of the sordid, unprincipled wretch, Marrall, was as nigh perfection as any piece of acting we ever bebeld. His portentous wbisper of meditated vengeance
“I may yet cry quittance,
Though now I suffer, and dare not resist ;"
and his eavage joy, when that vengeance is consummateu, in the distraction of Sir Giles, “ Is't not brave sport ?" were powerful be. yond description.
MEMOIR OF MISS SMITHSON.
This pleasing actress is the daughter of Mr. W. J. Smithson, who was, for nearly thirty years, manager of the Waterford and Kilkenny companies. She was born at Ennis, in the county of Clare, March 18, 1800. The early part of her life was passed in retire ment, under the care of the Rev. Dr. James Barrett, of Ennis; nor did she quit the hospitable roof of that gentleman until his decease, which took place in the year 1809. From that period her thoughts were turned to the stage; and, having had the good fortune to attract the notice of Lord and Lady Castle Coote, she was by them recom mended to Mr. Jones, the patentee of the Dublin Theatre, on which stage she soon afterwards appeared, in Albina Mandeville and Lady Teazle. Her success induced Mr. Talbot, of the Belfast, Lime. rick, and Cork theatres, to offer her an engagement; by his permis. sion she continued to perform during the summer months with the Dublin company, and acted, with applause, Mrs. Haller, Lady Teazle, Yarico, Lady Contest, Cora, and a variety of characters both in tragedy and comedy.
In 1817 Miss Smithson made her first appearance at the Birmingham Theatre. Her friends, Lord and Lady Castle Coote, still ho nouring her with their patronage, introduced her to Mr. Elliston, who was so well pleased with the abilities she displayed, that he engaged her for Drury Lane; and, on the 20th January, 1818, she appeared for the first time on the boards of that theatre, in Letitia Hardy; and, on the 26th of February following, she personated Lady Racket, in the farce of Three Weeks after Marriage.
Her efforts were received with encouragement; and, by an uni. form diligence and propriety in her profession, she has continued to improve in the public favour. Her assumption of the highest characters in tragedy, at the French theatres, has been crowned with rapturous applause, which may easily be accounted for, since the French critics never saw Miss O'Neil, and can have no conception of Siddons.