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pared with his great contemporaries ; his imagination was not pervaded by that fiery essence which gives to their style its figurative condensation, its abrupt turns, and its quick, startling flights. His mind was more gentle, equable, and reflective. There is a majestic sadness in Massinger, - an indication of great energies preyed upon and weakened by inward sorrow, — a stifled anguish of spirit, — which seem to point to unfortunate circumstances in his life. There is every reason to believe that he was a disappointed man, though little of his biography is known. He was born in 1584. His father was a gentleman in the service of the Earl of Pembroke. At the age of eighteen he was sent to Oxford, and, after residing there four years, left without taking a degree, and went to London, where he gained a precarious subsistence as a dramatic writer. Anthony Wood says, that while at Oxford he “ gave his mind more to poetry and romance, for about four years or more, than to logic and philosophy, which he ought to have done, being patronized to that end.” This shows that he offended a patron. Massinger's spirit was independent, though not fiery, and probably would not brook any exercise of
power which controlled his disposition. There runs through his plays an almost republican hatred of arbitrary rule. As a man, Massinger seems to have been much esteemed for his virtues. The panegyrists of his plays address to him terms almost of endearment; he is their beloved," “ dear,” “ deserving,” “long known,” and “long loved friend." As a dramatist, however, though his plays appear to have been successful, and written at the rate of two or three a year, he never raised himself above the poor gentleman. Reynolds and Morton, at the close of the last century, generally obtained five hundred pounds for their five-act farces and sentimental dramas ; Massinger, in his day, could not hope to average more than fifteen for his comedies and tragedies. He is known to have written, in all, thirty-seven plays, of which sixteen and the fragment of another are extant. Eleven of them, in manuscript, were in the possession of a Mr. Warburton, whose cook found them very serviceable, as waste paper, in the prosecution of culinary operations.
Massinger died on the 17th of March, 1640, at the age of fifty-six. According to Langbaine, he went to bed in good health, and was found dead in the morning. He was buried
in the church-yard of St. Saviour's. No stone marks the place of his interment ; and “the only memorial of his mortality,” says Gifford, " is given with a pathetic brevity, which accords but too well with the obscure and humble passages of his life: March 20, 1639-40, buried Philip Massinger, a stranger.'”
Massinger did not write so closely to the heart of things as some of his contemporaries. His sweet and serious mind was better fitted for description and contemplation than for representation. Possessing neither wit nor humor in any eminent degree, he had not that quick, joyous sympathy with external things, which sent the souls of many of his brethren running genially out to animate other forms of being. His characters are framed rather in the region of the understanding and the moral sentiments, than conceived by the imagination ; and though often morally beautiful, have not the free, flowing, substantial life which we require in dramatic representation. The resistance of virtue to all temptations is his favorite theme; but the temptations are often contrived out of the natural course of things, and exist rather as possibilities to the intellect than realities to the imagination. Had he possessed a little more of spontaneous creative energy, he would have been a great dramatist. His reflective habit of mind tended at once to restrain his passionateness within the bounds of a preconceived order, and to dim that keen vision by which the poet penetrates into the inmost recesses of the soul, and lays open the finest veins of thought and sentiment. Still, Massinger is one of the most original of the old dramatists, and his plays, though they do not reach the heights nor strike the depths of some others, are sustained throughout with more skill and level power. His style has been long celebrated for its sweetness and majesty of march, and its freedom from “ violent metaphors and harsh constructions."
“He is read," says Lamb, “with composure and placid delight.” His plays exhibit a more pervading religious feeling than those of his contemporaries; and, strange to add, a coarseness of expression, in some parts, more vulgar and disgusting than the same quality in others, because utterly wanting in wit and fancy. His indecencies seem coldly and atrociously contrived in the understanding, without the concurrence of his other powers, and only introduced in obedience to “ the spirit of the age.” They are No. 132.
most essentially of the mud, muddy. They affect us like lewdness muttered from the lips of age ; and his jests must be considered, on the whole, more tragical than his pathos. We never gaze on his fine serious face, as it looks out so mournfully from the canvass, without feeling how sad and degrading, how replete with that self-contempt “bitterer to drink than blood" must have been to him the task of coining vile indecencies, and bespattering his creations with the phraseology of the fish-market. It is due to Massinger to say, that his coarseness is introduced, rather than woven, into his dramas, and that the string which binds the seraph to the corpse can be easily severed.
Massinger's most powerful male characters are Sforza, in The Duke of Milan, Sir Ģiles Overreach, in the New Way to pay Old Debts, and Luke, in The City Madam. The second of these still keeps the stage, and the third sometimes appears in a modern version, called Riches. Luke is a fine villain, forcibly conceived and strongly sustained. As we have but little space for extracts from Massinger, we can hardly do better than give Luke's soliloquy on taking a survey of his new wealth.
“ Luke. 'T was no fantastic object, but a truth,
[To the Key.
That flow'd about the room, conceald itself.
There being scarce one shire
Lamb, Vol. 11., pp. 172, 173. John Ford, a scholar and gentleman, occupies a prominent place in English dramatic literature, as a poet of pathos and sentiment. His most splendid successes are in the handling of subjects which are, in themselves, unwritten tragedies, the deepest distresses of the heart and the terrible aberrations of the passions. His works make a sad, deep, and abiding impression on the mind, though hardly one that is pleasing or healthy. He had little of that stalwart strength of mind, and heedless daring, which characterize the earlier dramatists. Like Massinger, he is deficient in wit and humor, and like Massinger resorts to dull indecencies as substitutes. His sentiment is soft, rich, and sensuous, informed by a mild, melancholy heroism, often inexpressibly touching, and expressed in a fine, fluent diction, which melts into the mind like music. We give below the celebrated contention of a bird and a musician, described in The Lover's Melancholy, as a specimen of his grace and sweetness of mind. In Lamb's opinion, it almost equals the strife it celebrates.
Passing from Italy to Greece, the tales
To glorify their Tempe, bred in me