If it is difficult to write at all on any subject once ennobled by the notice of Charles Lamb without some apprehensive sense of intrusion and presumption, least of all may we venture without fear of trespass upon ground so consecrated by his peculiar devotion as the spacious if homely province or demesne of the dramatist whose highest honor it is to have earned from the finest of all critics the crowning tribute of a sympathy which would have induced him to advise an intending editor or publisher of the dramatists of the Shakespearean age to begin by a reissue of the works of Heywood. The depth and width of his knowledge, the subtlety and the sureness of his intuition, place him so far ahead of any other critic or scholar who has ever done any stroke of work in any part of the same field that it may seem overbold for any such subordinate to express or to suggest a suspicion that this counsel would have been rather the expression of a personal and a partly accidental sympathy than the result of a critical and a purely rational consideration. And yet I can hardly think it questionable that it must have been less the poetic or essential merit than the casual or incidental associations of Heywood's work which excited so exceptional an enthusiasm in so excellent a judge. For as a matter of fact it must be admitted that in one instance at least the objections of the carper Hazlitt are better justified than the commendations of the finer and more appreciative critic. The rancorous democrat who shared with Byron the infamy of sympathetic admiration for the enemy of England and the tyrant of France found for once an apt and a fair occasion to vent his spleen against the upper classes of his countrymen in criticism of the underplot of Heywood's most celebrated play. Lamb, thinking only of the Frankfords, Wincotts, and Geraldines, whose beautiful and noble characters are the finest and surest witnesses to the noble and beautiful nature of their designer's, observes that “Heywood's characters, his country gentlemen, etc., are exactly what we see (but of the best kind of what we see) in life.” But such country gentlemen as his Actons and Mountfords are surely of a worse than the worst kind; more cruel or more irrational, more base or more perverse, than we need fear to see in life unless our experience should be exceptionally unfortunate. Lamb indeed is rather an advocate than a judge in the case of his fellow-Londoners Thomas Heywood and William Rowley; but his pleading is better worth our attention than the summing up of a less cordial or less competent critic.
From critics or students who regard with an academic smile of cultivated contempt the love for their country or the faith in its greatness which distinguished such poor creatures as Virgil and Dante, Shakespeare and Milton, Coleridge and Wordsworth, no tolerance can be expected for the ingrained and inveterate provinciality of a poet whose devotion to his homestead was not merely that of an Englishman but that of a Londoner, no less fond and proud of his city than of his country. The quaint, homely, single-hearted municipal loyalty of an old-world burgess, conscious of his station as “a citizen of no mean city,” and proud even of the insults which provincials might fling at him as a cockney or aristocrats as a tradesman, is so admirably and so simply expressed in the person of Heywood's first hero—the first in date, at all events, with whom a modern reader can hope to make acquaintance—that the nobly plebeian pride of the city poet is as unmistakably personal as the tenderness of the dramatic artist who has made the last night of the little princes in the Tower as terribly and pathetically real for the reader as Millais has made it for the spectator of the imminent tragedy. Why Shakespeare shrank from the presentation of it, and left to a humbler hand the tragic weight of a subject so charged with tenderness and terror, it might seem impertinent or impossible to conjecture—except to those who can perceive and appreciate the intense and sensitive love of children which may haply have made the task distasteful if not intolerable: but it is certain that even he could hardly have made the last words of the little fellows more touchingly and sweetly lifelike.
Were there nothing further to commend in the two parts of the historical play or chronicle history of “King Edward IV.,” this would suffice to show that the dramatic genius of Heywood was not unjustified of its early and perilous venture: but the hero of these two plays is no royal or noble personage, he is plain Matthew Shore the goldsmith. We find ourselves at once in what Coleridge would have called the anachronic atmosphere of Elizabethan London; our poet is a champion cockney, whose interest is really much less in the rise and fall of princes than in the homely loyalty of shopkeepers and the sturdy gallantry of their apprentices. The lively, easy, honest improvisation of the opening scenes has a certain value in its very crudity and simplicity: the homespun rhetoric and the jog-trot jingle are signs at once of the date and of the class to which these plays must be referred. The parts of the rebels are rough-hewn rather than vigorous; the comic or burlesque part of Josselin is very cheap and flimsy farce. The peculiar powers of Heywood in pathetic if not in humorous writing were still in abeyance or in embryo. Pathos there is of a true and manly kind in the leading part of Shore; but it has little or nothing of the poignant and intense tenderness with which Heywood was afterward to invest the similar part of Frankford. Humor there is of a genuine plain-spun kind in the scenes which introduce the King as the guest of the tanner; Hobs and his surroundings, Grudgen and Goodfellow, are presented with a comic and cordial fidelity which the painter of Falstaff's “villeggiatura,” the creator of Shallow, Silence, and Davy, might justly and conceivably have approved. It is rather in the more serious or ambitious parts that we find now and then a pre-Shakespearean immaturity of manner. The recurrent burden of a jingling couplet in the cajoleries of the procuress Mrs. Blague is a survival from the most primitive and conventional form of dramatic writing not yet thoroughly superseded and suppressed by the successive influences of Marlowe, of Shakespeare, and of Jonson; while the treatment of character in such scenes as that between Clarence, Richard, and Dr. Shaw is crude and childish enough for a rival contemporary of Peele. The beautiful and simple part of Ayre, a character worthy to have been glorified by the mention and commendation of Heywood's most devoted and most illustrious admirer, is typical of the qualities which Lamb seems to have found most lovable in the representative characters of his favorite playwright.
In that prodigious monument of learning and labor, Mr. Fleay's Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, the common attribution of these two plays to Heywood is impeached on the aesthetic score that “they are far better than his other early work.” I have carefully endeavored to do what justice might be done to their modest allowance of moderate merit; but whether they be Heywood's or—as Mr. Fleay, on apparent grounds of documentary evidence, would suggest—the work of Chettle and Day, I am certainly rather inclined to agree with the general verdict of previous criticism, which would hardly admit their equality and would decidedly question their claim to anything more than equality of merit with the least admirable or memorable of Heywood's other plays. Even the rough-hewn chronicle, “If you know not me you know nobody,” by which “the troubles of Queen Elizabeth” before her accession are as nakedly and simply set forth in the first part as in the second are “the building of the Royal Exchange” and “the famous victory” over the Invincible Armada, has on the whole more life and spirit, more interest and movement, in action as in style. The class of play to which it belongs is historically the most curious if poetically the least precious of all the many kinds enumerated by Heywood in earnest or by Shakespeare in jest as popular or ambitious of popularity on the stage for which they wrote. Aristophanic license of libel or caricature, more or less ineffectually trammelled by the chance or the likelihood of prosecution and repression, is common under various forms to various ages and countries; but the serious introduction and presentation of contemporary figures and events give to such plays as these as mixed and peculiar a quality as though the playwright's aim or ambition had been to unite in his humble and homespun fashion the two parts of an epic or patriotic historian and a political or social caricaturist; a poet and a pamphleteer on the same page, a chronicler and a jester in the same breath. Of this Elizabethan chronicle the first part is the more literal and prosaic in its steady servility to actual record and registered fact: the bitterest enemy of poetic or dramatic fiction, from William Prynne to Thomas Carlyle, might well exempt from his else omnivorous appetite of censure so humble an example of such obsequious and unambitious fidelity. Of fiction or imagination there is indeed next to none. In Thomas Drue's play of “The Duchess of Suffolk,” formerly and plausibly misattributed to Heywood, part of the same ground is gone over in much the same fashion and to much the same effect; but the subject, a single interlude of the Marian persecution, has more unity of interest than can be attained by any play running on the same line as Heywood's, from the opening to the close of the most hideous episode in our history. That the miserable life and reign of Mary Tudor should have been “staged to the show” for the edification and confirmation of her half-sister's subjects in Protestant and patriotic fidelity of animosity toward Rome and Spain is less remarkable than that the same hopelessly improper topic for historical drama should in later days have been selected for dramatic treatment by English writers and on one occasion by a great English poet. As there are within the range of any country's history, authentic or traditional, periods and characters in themselves so naturally fit and proper for transfiguration by poetry that the dramatist who should attempt to improve on the truth—the actual or imaginary truth accepted as fact with regard to them—would probably if not certainly derogate from it, so are there others which cannot be transfigured without transformation. Such a character is the last and wretchedest victim of a religious reaction which blasted her kingdom with the hell-fire of reviving devil-worship, and her name with the ineffaceable brand of an inseparable and damning epithet. If even the genius of Tennyson could not make the aspirations and the agonies of Mary as acceptable or endurable from the dramatic or poetic point of view as Marlowe and Shakespeare could make the sufferings of such poor wretches as their Edward II. and Richard II., it is hardly to be expected that the humbler if more dramatic genius of Heywood should have triumphed over the desperate obstacle of a subject so drearily repulsive: but it is curious that both should have attempted to tackle the same hopeless task in the same fruitless fashion. The “chronicle history” of Mary Tudor, had Shakespeare's self attempted it, could scarcely have been other—if we may judge by our human and fallible lights of the divine possibilities open to a superhuman and infallible intelligence—than a splendid and priceless failure from the dramatic or poetic point of view. The one chance open even to Shakespeare would have been to invent, to devise, to create; not to modify, to adapt, to adjust. Bloody Mary has been transfigured into a tragic and poetic malefactress: but only by the most audacious and magnificent defiance of history and possibility. Madonna Lucrezia Estense Borgia (to use the proper ceremonial style adopted for the exquisitely tender and graceful dedication of the “Asolani") died peaceably in the odor of incense offered at her shrine in the choicest Latin verse of such accomplished poets and acolytes as Pietro Bembo and Ercole Strozzi. Nothing more tragic or dramatic could have been made of her peaceful and honorable end than of the reign of Mary Tudor as recorded in history. The greatest poet and dramatist of the nineteenth century has chosen to immortalize them by violence—to give them a life, or to give a life to their names, which history could not give. Neither he nor Shakespeare could have kept faith with the torpid fact and succeeded in the creation of a living and eternal truth. One thing may be registered to the credit, not indeed of the dramatist or the poet, but certainly of the man and the Englishman: the generous fair play shown to Philip II. in the scene which records his impartial justice done upon the Spanish assassin of an English victim. There is a characteristic manliness about Heywood's patriotism which gives a certain adventitious interest to his thinnest or homeliest work on any subject admitting or requiring the display of such a quality. In the second and superior part of this dramatic chronicle it informs the humbler comic parts with more life and spirit, though not with heartier devotion of good-will, than the more ambitious and comparatively though modestly high-flown close of the play: which is indeed in the main rather a realistic comedy of city life, with forced and formal interludes of historical pageant or event, than a regular or even an irregular historical drama. Again the trusty cockney poet has made his hero and protagonist of a plain London tradesman: and has made of him at once a really noble and a heartily amusing figure. His better-born apprentice, a sort of Elizabethan Gil Bias or Gusman d'Alfarache, would be an excellent comic character if he had been a little more plausibly carried through to the close of his versatile and venturous career; as it is, the farce becomes rather impudently cheap; though in the earlier passages of Parisian trickery and buffoonery there is a note of broad humor which may remind us of Moliere—not of course the Moliere of Tartuffe, but the Moliere of M. de Pourceaugnac. The curious alterations made in later versions of the closing scene are sometimes though not generally for the better.
Lamb, in a passage which no reader can fail to remember, has declared that “posterity is bound to take care” (an obligation, I fear, of a kind which posterity is very far from careful to discharge) “that a writer loses nothing by such a noble modesty” as that which induced Heywood to set as little store by his dramatic works as could have been desired in the rascally interest of those “harlotry players” who thought it, forsooth, “against their peculiar profit to have them come in print.” But I am not sure that it was altogether a noble or at all a rational modesty which made him utter the avowal or the vaunt: “It never was any great ambition in me, to be in this kind voluminously read.” For, eight years after this well-known passage was in print, when publishing a “Chronographicall History of all the Kings, and memorable passages of this Kingdome, from Brute to the Reigne of our Royall Soveraigne King Charles,” he offers, on arriving at the accession of Elizabeth, “an apologie of the Author” for slurring or skipping the record of her life and times in a curious passage which curiously omits as unworthy of mention his dramatic work on the subject, while complacently enumerating his certainly less valuable and memorable other tributes to the great queen's fame as follows: “To write largely of her troubles, being a princesse, or of her rare and remarkable Reigne after she was Queen, I should but feast you with dyet twice drest: Having my selfe published a discourse of the first: from her cradle to her crowne; and in another bearing Title of the nine worthy Women: she being the last of the rest in time and place; though equall to any of the former both in religious vertue, and all masculine magnanimity.” This surely looks but too much as though the dramatist and poet thought more of the chronicler and compiler than of the truer Heywood whose name is embalmed in the affection and admiration of his readers even to this day; as though the author of “A Challenge for Beauty,” “The Fair Maid of the West,” and “A Woman Killed with Kindness,” must have hoped and expected to be remembered rather as the author of “Troja Britannica,” “Gynaikeion,” “The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angels,” and even this “Life of Merlin, sirnamed Ambrosius. His Prophesies, and Predictions Interpreted; and their truth made good by our English Annalls”: undoubtedly, we may believe, “a Subject never published in this kind before, and deserves” (sic) “to be knowne and observed by all men.” Here follows the motto: “Quotque aderant Vates, rebar adesse Deos.” The biographer and chronographer would apparently have been less flattered than surprised to hear that he would be remembered rather as the creator of Frankford, Mountferrers, and Geraldine, than as the chronicler of King Brute, Queen Elizabeth, and King James.
The singular series of plays which covers much the same ground as Caxton's immortal and delightful chronicle of the “Histories” of Troy may of course have been partially inspired by that most enchanting “recuyell”: but Heywood, as will appear on collation or confrontation of the dramatist with the historian, must have found elsewhere the suggestion of some of his most effective episodes. The excellent simplicity and vivacity of style, the archaic abruptness of action and presentation, are equally noticeable throughout all the twenty-five acts which lead us from the opening of the Golden to the close of the Iron Age; but there is a no less perceptible advance or increase of dramatic and poetic invention in the ten acts devoted to the tale of Troy and its sequel. Not that there is anywhere any want of good simple spirited work, homely and lively and appropriate to the ambitious humility of the design; a design which aims at making popular and familiar to the citizens of Elizabethan London the whole cycle of heroic legend from the reign of Saturn to the death of Helen. Jupiter, the young hero of the first two plays and ages, is a really brilliant and amusing mixture of Amadis, Sigurd, and Don Juan: the pretty scene in which his infant life is spared and saved must be familiar, and pleasantly familiar, to all worthy lovers of Charles Lamb. The verse underlined and immortalized by his admiration—“For heaven's sake, when you kill him, hurt him not”—should suffice to preserve and to embalm the name of the writer. I can scarcely think that a later scene, apparently imitated from the most impudent idyl of Theocritus, can have been likely to elevate the moral tone of the young gentleman who must have taken the part of Callisto; but the honest laureate of the city, stern and straightforward as he was in the enforcement of domestic duties and contemporary morals, could be now and then as audacious in his plebeian fashion as even Fletcher himself in his more patrician style of realism. There is spirit of a quiet and steady kind in the scenes of war and adventure that follow: Heywood, like Caxton before him, makes of Saturn and the Titans very human and simple figures, whose doings and sufferings are presented with child-like straightforwardness in smooth and fluent verse and in dialogue which wants neither strength nor ease nor propriety. The subsequent episode of Danae is treated with such frank and charming fusion of realism and romance as could only have been achieved in the age of Shakespeare. To modern readers it may seem unfortunate for Heywood that a poet who never (to the deep and universal regret of all competent readers) followed up the dramatic promise of his youth, as displayed in the nobly vivid and pathetic little tragedy of “Sir Peter Harpdon's End,” should in our day have handled the story of Danae and the story of Bellerophon so effectively as to make it impossible for the elder poet either to escape or to sustain comparison with the author of “The Earthly Paradise”; but the most appreciative admirers of Morris will not be the slowest or the least ready to do justice to the admirable qualities displayed in Heywood's dramatic treatment of these legends. The naturally sweet and spontaneous delicacy of the later poet must not be looked for in the homely and audacious realism of Heywood; in whose work the style of the Knight's Tale and the style of the Miller's Tale run side by side and hand in hand.
From the Golden Age to the Iron Age the growth and ascent of Heywood's dramatic power may fairly be said to correspond in a reversed order with the degeneracy and decline of human heroism and happiness in the legendary gradation or degradation of the classical four ages. “The Golden Age” is a delightful example of dramatic poetry in its simplest and most primary stage; in “The Silver Age” the process of evolution is already visible at work. Bellerophon and Aurea cannot certainly be compared with the Joseph and Phraxanor of Charles Wells: but the curt and abrupt scene in which they are hastily thrust on the stage and as hastily swept off it is excellently composed and written. The highest possible tribute to the simple and splendid genius of Plautus is paid by the evidence of the fact that all his imitators have been obliged to follow so closely on the lines of his supernatural, poetical, and farcical comedy of Amphitryon. Heywood, Rotrou, Moliere, and Dryden have sat at his feet and copied from his dictation like school-boys. The French pupils, it must be admitted, have profited better and shown themselves apter and happier disciples than the English. I cannot think that even Moliere has improved on the text of Rotrou as much, or nearly as much, as he has placed himself under unacknowledged obligation to his elder countryman: but in Dryden's version there is a taint of greasy vulgarity, a reek of obtrusive ruffianism, from which Heywood's version is as clean as Shakespeare's could have been, had he bestowed on the “Amphitruo” the honor he conferred on the “Menaechmi.” The power of condensation into a few compact scenes of material sufficient for five full acts is a remarkable and admirable gift of Heywood's.
After the really dramatic episode in which he had the advantage of guidance by the laughing light of a greater comic genius than his own, Heywood contentedly resumes the simple task of arranging for the stage a mythological chronicle of miscellaneous adventure. The jealousy of Juno is naturally the mainspring of the action and the motive which affords some show of connection or coherence to the three remaining acts of “The Silver Age”: the rape of Proserpine, the mourning and wandering and wrath of Ceres, are treated with so sweet and beautiful a simplicity of touch that Milton may not impossibly have embalmed and transfigured some reminiscence of these scenes in a passage of such heavenly beauty as custom cannot stale. Another episode, and one not even indirectly connected with the labors of Hercules, is the story of Semele, handled with the same simple and straightforward skill of dramatic exposition, the same purity and fluency of blameless and spontaneous verse, that distinguish all parts alike of this dramatic chronicle. The second of the five plays composing it closes with the rescue of Proserpine by Hercules, and the judgment of Jupiter on “the Arraignment of the Moon.”
In “The Brazen Age” there is somewhat more of dramatic unity or coherence than in the two bright easy-going desultory plays which preceded it: it closes at least with a more effective catastrophe than either of them in the death of Hercules. However far inferior to the haughty and daring protest or appeal in which Sophocles, speaking through the lips of the virtuous Hyllus, impeaches and denounces the iniquity of heaven with a steadfast and earnest vehemence unsurpassed in its outspoken rebellion by any modern questioner or blasphemer of divine providence, the simple and humble sincerity of the English playwright has given a not unimpressive or inharmonious conclusion to the same superhuman tragedy. In the previous presentation of the story of Meleager, Heywood has improved upon the brilliant and passionate rhetoric of Ovid by the introduction of an original and happy touch of dramatic effect: his Althaea, after firing the brand with which her son's life is destined to burn out, relents and plucks it back for a minute from the flame, giving the victim a momentary respite from torture, a fugitive recrudescence of strength and spirit, before she rekindles it. The pathos of his farewell has not been overpraised by Lamb: who might have added a word in recognition of the very spirited and effective suicide of Althaea, not unworthily heralded or announced in such verses as these:
This was my son,
Born with sick throes, nursed from my tender breast,
Brought up with feminine care, cherished with love;
His youth my pride; his honor all my wishes;
So dear, that little less he was than life.
The subsequent adventures of Hercules and the Argonauts are presented with the same quiet straightforwardness of treatment: it is curious that the tragic end of Jason and Medea should find no place in the multifarious chronicle which is nominally and mainly devoted to the record of the life and death of Hercules, but into which the serio-comic episode of Mars and Venus and Vulcan is thrust as crudely and abruptly as it is humorously and dramatically presented. The rivalry of Omphale and Deianeira for their hero's erratic affection affords a lively and happy mainspring—not suggested by Caxton—for the tragic action and passion of the closing scenes.
At the opening of “The Iron Age,” nineteen years later in date of publication, we find ourselves at last arrived in a province of dramatic poetry where something of consecutive and coherent action is apparently the aim if not always the achievement of the writer. These ten acts do really constitute something like a play, and a play of serious, various, progressive, and sustained interest, beginning with the elopement and closing with the suicide of Helen. There is little in it to suggest the influence of either Homer or Shakespeare: whose “Troilus and Cressida” had appeared in print, for the helplessly bewildered admiration of an eternally mystified world, just twenty-three years before. The only figure equally prominent in either play is that of Thersites: but Heywood, happily and wisely, has made no manner of attempt to rival or to reproduce the frightful figure of the intelligent Yahoo in which the sane and benignant genius of Shakespeare has for once anticipated and eclipsed the mad and malignant genius of Swift. It should be needless to add that his Ulysses has as little of Shakespeare's as of Homer's: and that the brutalization or degradation of the god-like figures of Ajax and Achilles is only less offensive in the lesser than in the greater poet's work. In the friendly duel between Hector and Ajax the very text of Shakespeare is followed with exceptional and almost servile fidelity: but the subsequent exchange of gifts is, of course, introduced in imitation of earlier and classic models. The contest of Ajax and Ulysses is neatly and spiritedly cast into dramatic form: Ovid, of course, remains unequalled, as he who runs may read in Dryden's grand translation, but Heywood has done better—to my mind at least—than Shirley was to do in the next generation; though it is to be noted that Shirley has retained more of the magnificent original than did his immediate precursor: but the death of Ajax is too pitiful a burlesque to pass muster even as a blasphemous travestie of the sacred text of Sophocles. In the fifth play of this pentalogy Heywood has to cope with no such matchless models or precursors; and it is perhaps the brightest and most interesting of the five. Sinon is a spirited and rather amusing understudy of Thersites: his seduction of Cressida is a grotesquely diverting variation on the earlier legend relating to the final fall of the typical traitress; and though time and space are wanting for the development or indeed the presentation of any more tragic or heroic character, the rapid action of the last two acts is workmanlike in its simple fashion: the complicated or rather accumulated chronicle of crime and retribution may claim at least the credit due to straightforward lucidity of composition and sprightly humility of style.
In “Love's Mistress; or, The Queen's Masque,” the stage chronicler or historian of the Four Ages appears as something more of a dramatic poet: his work has more of form and maturity, with no whit less of spontaneity and spirit, simplicity and vivacity. The framework or setting of these five acts, in which Midas and Apuleius play the leading parts, is sustained with lively and homely humor from induction to epilogue: the story of Psyche is thrown into dramatic form with happier skill and more graceful simplicity by Heywood than afterward by Moliere and Corneille; though there is here nothing comparable with the famous and exquisite love scene in which the genius of Corneille renewed its youth and replumed its wing with feathers borrowed from the heedless and hapless Theophile's. The fortunes of Psyche in English poetry have been as curious and various as her adventures on earth and elsewhere. Besides and since this pretty little play of Heywood's, she has inspired a long narrative poem by Marmion, one of the most brilliant and independent of the younger comic writers who sat at the feet or gathered round the shrine of Ben Jonson; a lyrical drama by William the Dutchman's poet laureate, than which nothing more portentous in platitude ever crawled into print, and of which the fearfully and wonderfully wooden verse evoked from Shadwell's great predecessor in the office of court rhymester an immortalizing reference to “Prince Nicander's vein”; a magnificent ode by Keats, and a very pretty example of metrical romance by Morris.
“Inexplicable and eccentric as were the moods and fashions of dramatic poetry in an age when Shakespeare could think fit to produce anything so singular in its composition and so mysterious in its motive as 'Troilus and Cressida,' the most eccentric and inexplicable play of its time, or perhaps of any time, is probably 'The Rape of Lucrece.'“ This may naturally be the verdict of a hasty reader at a first glance over the party-colored scenes of a really noble tragedy, crossed and checkered with the broadest and quaintest interludes of lyric and erotic farce. But, setting these eccentricities duly or indulgently aside, we must recognize a fine specimen of chivalrous and romantic rather than classical or mythological drama; one, if not belonging properly or essentially to the third rather than to the second of the four sections into which Heywood's existing plays may be exhaustively divided, which stands on the verge between them with something of the quaintest and most graceful attributes of either. The fine instinct and the simple skill with which the poet has tempered the villany of his villains without toning down their atrocities by the alloy of any incongruous quality must be acknowledged as worthily characteristic of a writer who at his ethical best might be defined as something of a plebeian Sidney. There are touches of criminal heroism and redeeming humanity even in the parts of Sextus and Tullia: the fearless desperation of the doomed ravisher, the conjugal devotion of the hunted parricide, give to the last defiant agony of the abominable mother and son a momentary tone of almost chivalrous dignity. The blank verse is excellent, though still considerably alloyed with rhyme: a fusion or alternation of metrical effects in which the young Heywood was no less skilful and successful, inartistic as the skill and illegitimate as the success may seem to modern criticism, than the young Shakespeare.
The eleven plays already considered make up the two divisions of Heywood's work which with all their great and real merit have least in them of those peculiar qualities most distinctive and representative of his genius: those qualities of which when we think of him we think first, and which on summing up his character as a poet we most naturally associate with his name. As a historical or mythological playwright, working on material derived from classic legends or from English annals, he shows signs now and then, as occasion offers, of the sweet-tempered manliness, the noble kindliness, which won the heart of Lamb: something too there is in these plays of his pathos, and something of his humor: but if this were all we had of him we should know comparatively little of what we now most prize in him. Of this we find most in the plays dealing with English life in his own day: but there is more of it in his romantic tragicomedies than in his chronicle histories or his legendary complications and variations on the antique. The famous and delicious burlesque of Beaumont and Fletcher cannot often be forgotten but need not always be remembered in reading “The Four Prentices of London.” Externally the most extravagant and grotesque of dramatic poems, this eccentric tragicomedy of chivalrous adventure is full of poetic as well as fantastic interest. There is really something of discrimination in the roughly and readily sketched characters of the four crusading brothers: the youngest especially is a life-like model of restless and reckless gallantry as it appears when incarnate in a hot-headed English boy; unlike even in its likeness to the same type as embodied in a French youngster such as the immortal d'Artagnan. Justice has been done by Lamb, and consequently as well as subsequently by later criticism, to the occasionally fine poetry which breaks out by flashes in this quixotic romance of the City, with its serio-comic ideal of crusading counter-jumpers: but it has never to my knowledge been observed that in the scene “where they toss their pikes so,” which aroused the special enthusiasm of the worthy fellow-citizen whose own prentice was to bear the knightly ensign of the Burning Pestle, Heywood, the future object of Dryden's ignorant and pointless insult, anticipated with absolute exactitude the style of Dryden's own tragic blusterers when most busily bandying tennis-balls of ranting rhyme in mutual challenge and reciprocal retort of amoebaean epigram.
[Footnote 1: Compare this with any similar sample of heroic dialogue in “Tyrannic Love” or “The Conquest of Granada”:
“Rapier and pike, is that thy honored play?
Look down, ye gods, this combat to survey.”
“Rapier and pike this combat shall decide:
Gods, angels, men, shall see me tame thy pride.”
“I'll teach thee: thou shalt like my zany be,
And feign to do my cunning after me.”
This will remind the reader not so much of the “Rehearsal” as of Butler's infinitely superior parody in the heroic dialogue of Cat and Puss.]
It is a pity that Heywood's civic or professional devotion to the service of the metropolis should ever have been worse employed than in the transfiguration of the idealized prentice: it is a greater pity that we cannot exchange all Heywood's extant masques for any one of the two hundred plays or so now missing in which, as he tells us, he “had either an entire hand, or at least a main finger.” The literary department of a Lord Mayor's show can hardly be considered as belonging to literature, even when a poet's time and trouble were misemployed in compiling the descriptive prose and the declamatory verse contributed to the ceremony. Not indeed that it was a poet who devoted so much toil and good-will to celebration or elucidation of the laborious projects and objects both by water and land which then distinguished or deformed the sundry triumphs, pageants, and shows on which Messrs. Christmas Brothers and their most ingenious parent were employed in a more honorable capacity than the subordinate function of versifier or showman—an office combining the parts and the duties of the immortal Mrs. Jarley and her laureate Mr. Shum. Lexicographers might pick out of the text some rare if not unique Latinisms or barbarisms such as “prestigion” and “strage”: but except for the purpose of such “harmless drudges” and perhaps of an occasional hunter after samples of the bathetic which might have rewarded the attention of Arbuthnot or Pope, the text of these pageants must be as barren and even to them it would presumably be as tedious a subject of study as the lucubrations of the very dullest English moralist or American humorist; a course of reading digestible only by such constitutions as could survive and assimilate a diet of Martin Tupper or Mark Twain. And yet even in the very homeliest doggrel of Heywood's or Shakespeare's time there is something comparatively not contemptible; the English, when not alloyed by fantastic or pedantic experiment, has a simple historic purity and dignity of its own; the dulness is not so dreary as the dulness of mediaeval prosers, the commonplace is not so vulgar as the commonplace of more modern scribes.
“The Trial of Chivalry” is a less extravagant example of homely romantic drama than “The Four Prentices of London.” We owe to Mr. Bullen the rediscovery of this play, and to Mr. Fleay the determination and verification of its authorship. In style and in spirit it is perfect Heywood: simple and noble in emotion and conception, primitive and straightforward in construction and expression; inartistic but not ineffectual; humble and facile, but not futile or prosaic. It is a rather more rational and natural piece of work than might have been expected from its author when equipped after the heroic fashion of Mallory or Froissart: its date is more or less indistinctly indicated by occasional rhymes and peculiar conventionalities of diction: and if Heywood in the panoply of a knight-errant may now and then suggest to his reader the figure of Sancho Panza in his master's armor, his pedestrian romance is so genuine, his modest ambition so high-spirited and high-minded, that it would be juster and more critical to compare him with Don Quixote masquerading in the accoutrements of his esquire. Dick Bowyer, whose life and death are mendaciously announced on the catch-penny title-page, and who (like Tiny Tim in “A Christmas Carol") “does not die,” is a rather rough, thin, and faint sketch of the bluff British soldier of fortune who appears and reappears to better advantage in other plays of Heywood and his fellows. That this must be classed among the earlier if not the earliest of his works we may infer from the primitive simplicity of a stage direction which recalls another in a play printed five years before. In the second scene of the third act of “The Trial of Chivalry” we read as follows: “Enter Forester, missing the other taken away, speaks anything, and exit.” In the penultimate scene of the second part of “King Edward IV.” we find this even quainter direction, which has been quoted before now as an instance of the stage conditions or habits of the time: “Jockie is led to whipping over the stage, speaking some words, but of no importance.”
A further and deeper debt of thanks is due to Mr. Bullen for the recovery of “The Captives; or, The Lost Recovered,” after the lapse of nearly three centuries. The singularly prophetic sub-title of this classic and romantic tragicomedy has been justified at so late a date by the beneficence of chance, in favorable conjunction with the happy devotion and fortunate research of a thorough and a thoroughly able student, as to awaken in all fellow-lovers of dramatic poetry a sense of hopeful wonder with regard to the almost illimitable possibilities of yet further and yet greater treasure to be discovered and recovered from the keeping of “dust and damned oblivion.” Meantime we may be heartily thankful for the recovery of an excellent piece of work, written throughout with the easy mastery of serious or humorous verse, the graceful pliancy of style and the skilful simplicity of composition, which might have been expected from a mature work of Heywood's, though the execution of it would now and then have suggested an earlier date. The clown, it may be noticed, is the same who always reappears to do the necessary comicalities in Heywood's plays; if hardly “a fellow of infinite jest,” yet an amusing one in his homely way; though one would have thought that on the homeliest London stage of 1624 the taste for antiphonal improvisation of doggrel must have passed into the limbo of obsolete simplicities. The main plot is very well managed, as with Plautus once more for a model might properly have been expected; the rather ferociously farcical underplot must surely have been borrowed from some fabliau. The story has been done into doggrel by George Colman the younger: but that cleanly and pure minded censor of the press would hardly have licensed for the stage a play which would have required, if the stage-carpenter had been then in existence, the production of a scene which would have anticipated what Gautier so plausibly plumed himself upon as a novelty in stage effect—imagined for the closing scene of his imaginary tragedy of “Heliogabalus.”
There are touches of pathetic interest and romantic invention in “A Maidenhead Well Lost”: two or three of the leading characters are prettily sketched if not carefully finished, and the style is a graceful compromise between unambitious poetry and mildly spirited prose: but it is hardly to be classed among Heywood's best work of the kind: it has no scenes of such fervid and noble interest, such vivid and keen emotion as distinguish “A Challenge for Beauty”: and for all its simple grace of writing and ingenuous ingenuity of plot it may not improbably be best remembered by the average modern reader as remarkable for the most amusing and astonishing example on record of anything but “inexplicable” dumb show—to be paralleled only and hardly by a similar interlude of no less elaborate arrangement and significant eccentricity in the sole dramatic venture of Henri de Latouche—“La Reine d'Espagne.”
Little favor has been shown by modern critics and even by modern editors to “The Royal King and the Loyal Subject”: and the author himself, in committing it to the tardy test of publication, offered a quaint and frank apology for its old-fashioned if not obsolete style of composition and versification. Yet I cannot but think that Hallam was right and Dyce was wrong in his estimate of a play which does not challenge and need not shrink from comparison with Fletcher's more elaborate, rhetorical, elegant, and pretentious tragicomedy of “The Loyal Subject”; that the somewhat eccentric devotion of Heywood's hero is not more slavish or foolish than the obsequious submission of Fletcher's; and that even if we may not be allowed to make allowance for the primitive straightforwardness or take delight in the masculine simplicity of the elder poet, we must claim leave to object that there is more essential servility of spirit, more preposterous prostration of manhood, in the Russian ideal of Fletcher than in the English ideal of Heywood. The humor is as simple as is the appeal to emotion or sympathetic interest in this primitive tragicomedy; but the comic satire on worldly venality and versatility is as genuine and honest as the serious exposition of character is straightforward and sincere.
The best of Heywood's romantic plays is the most graceful and beautiful, in detached scenes and passages, of all his extant works. The combination of the two plots—they can hardly be described as plot and underplot—is so dexterously happy that it would do the highest credit to a more famous and ambitious artist: the rival heroes are so really noble and attractive that we are agreeably compelled to condone whatever seems extravagant or preposterous in their relations or their conduct: there is a breath of quixotism in the air which justifies and ennobles it. The heroines are sketched with natural grace and spirit: it is the more to be regretted that their bearing in the last act should have less of delicacy or modesty than of ingenious audacity in contrivances for striking and daring stage effect; a fault as grave in aesthetics as in ethics, and one rather to have been expected from Fletcher than from Heywood. But the general grace and the occasional pathos of the writing may fairly be set against the gravest fault that can justly be found with so characteristic and so charming a work of Heywood's genius at its happiest and brightest as “A Challenge for Beauty.”
The line of demarcation between realism and romance is sometimes as difficult to determine in the work of Heywood as in the character of his time: the genius of England, the spirit of Englishmen, in the age of Shakespeare, had so much of the practical in its romance and so much of the romantic in its practice that the beautiful dramatic poem in which the English heroes Manhurst and Montferrers play their parts so nobly beside their noble Spanish compeers in chivalry ought perhaps to have been classed rather among the studies of contemporary life on which their author's fame must principally and finally depend than among those which have been defined as belonging to the romantic division of his work. There is much the same fusion of interests, as there is much the same mixture of styles, in the conduct of a play for which we have once more to tender our thanks to the living benefactor at once of Heywood and of his admirers. That Mr. Bullen was well advised in putting forward a claim for Heywood as the recognizable author of a play which a few years ago had never seen the light is as evident as that his estimate of the fine English quality which induced this recognition was justified by all rules of moral evidence. There can be less than little doubt that “Dick of Devonshire” is one of the two hundred and twenty in which Heywood had “a main finger”—though not, I should say, by any means “an entire hand.” The metre is not always up to his homely but decent mark: though in many of the scenes it is worthy of his best plays for smoothness, fluency, and happy simplicity of effect. Dick Pike is a better study of the bluff and tough English hero than Dick Bowyer in “The Trial of Chivalry”: and the same chivalrous sympathy with the chivalrous spirit and tradition of a foreign and a hostile nation which delights us in “A Challenge for Beauty” pervades and vivifies this long-lost and long-forgotten play. The partial sacrifice of ethical propriety or moral consistency to the actual or conventional exigences of the stage is rather more startling than usual: a fratricidal ravisher and slanderer could hardly have expected even from theatrical tolerance the monstrous lenity of pardon and dismissal with a prospect of being happy though married. The hand of Heywood is more recognizable in the presentation of a clown who may fairly be called identical with all his others, and in the noble answer of the criminal's brother to their father's very natural question: “Why dost thou take his part so?”
Because no drop of honor falls from him
But I bleed with it.
This high-souled simplicity of instinct is as traceable in the earlier as in the later of Heywood's extant works: he is English of the English in his quiet, frank, spontaneous expression, when suppression is no longer either possible or proper, of all noble and gentle and natural emotion. His passion and his pathos, his loyalty and his chivalry, are always so unobtrusive that their modesty may sometimes run the risk of eclipse before the glory of more splendid poets and more conspicuous patriots: but they are true and trustworthy as Shakespeare's or Milton's or Wordsworth's or Tennyson's or Browning's.
It was many a year before Dick Pike had earned the honor of commemoration by his hand or by any other poet's that Heywood had won his spurs as the champion presenter—if I may be allowed to revive the word—of his humbler and homelier countrymen under the light of a no less noble than simple realism. “The Fair Maid of the Exchange” is a notable example of what I believe is professionally or theatrically called a one-part piece. Adapting Dr. Johnson's curiously unjust and inept remark on Shakespeare's “King Henry VIII.”—the play in which, according to the principles or tenets of the new criticism which walks or staggers by the new light of a new scholarship, “the new Shakspere" may or must have been assisted by Flitcher (why not also by Meddletun, Messenger, and a few other novi homines?), we may say, and it may be said this time with some show of reason, that the genius of the author limps in and limps out with the Cripple. Most of the other characters and various episodical incidents of the incomposite story are alike, if I may revive a good and expressive phrase of the period, hastily and unskilfully slubbered up: Bowdler is a poor second-hand and third-rate example of the Jonsonian gull; and the transfer of Moll's regard from him to his friend is both childishly conceived and childishly contrived. On the whole, a second-rate play, with one or two first-rate scenes and passages to which Lamb has done perhaps no more than justice by the characteristic and eloquent cordiality of his commendations. Its date may be probably determined as early among the earliest of its author's by the occurrence in mid-dialogue of a sestet in the popular metre of “Venus and Adonis,” with archaic inequality in the lengths of the second and fourth rhyming words: a notable note of metrical or immetrical antiquity in style. The self-willed if high-minded Phyllis Flower has something in her of Heywood's later heroines, Bess Bridges of Plymouth and Luce the goldsmith's daughter, but is hardly as interesting or attractive as either.
Much less than this can be said for the heroines, if heroines they can in any sense be called, of the two plays by which Heywood is best known as a tragic and a comic painter of contemporary life among his countrymen. It is certainly not owing to any exceptional power of painting or happiness in handling feminine character that the first place among his surviving works has been generally and rationally assigned to “A Woman Killed with Kindness.” The fame of this famous realistic tragedy is due to the perfect fitness of the main subject for treatment in the manner of which Heywood was in his day and remains to the present day beyond all comparison the greatest and the most admirable master. It is not that the interest is either naturally greater, or greater by force and felicity of genius in the dramatist, than that of other and far inferior plays. It is not that the action is more artistically managed: it is not that curiosity or sympathy is aroused or sustained with any particular skill. Such a play as “Fatal Curiosity” is as truthfully lifelike and more tragically exciting: it is in mere moral power and charm, with just a touch of truer and purer poetry pervading and coloring and flavoring and quickening the whole, that the work of a Heywood approves itself as beyond the reach or the ambition of a Lillo. One figure among many remains impressed on his reader's memory once for all: the play is full of incident, perhaps over-full of actors, excellently well written and passably well composed; but it lives, it survives and overtops its fellows, by grace of the character of its hero. The underplot, whether aesthetically or historically considered, is not more singular and sensational than extravagant and unpleasant to natural taste as well as to social instinct: the other agents in the main plot are little more than sketches—sometimes deplorably out of drawing: Anne is never really alive till on her death-bed, and her paramour is never alive—in his temptation, his transgression, or his impenitence—at all. The whole play, as far as we remember or care to remember it, is Frankford: he suffices to make it a noble poem and a memorable play.
The hero of “The English Traveller,” however worthy to stand beside him as a typical sample of English manhood at its noblest and gentlest, cannot be said to occupy so predominant a place in the conduct of the action or the memory of the reader. The comic Plautine underplot—Plautus always brought good luck to Heywood—is so incomparably preferable to the ugly and unnatural though striking and original underplot of “A Woman Killed with Kindness” as wellnigh to counterbalance the comparative lack of interest, plausibility, and propriety in the main action. The seduction of Mrs. Frankford is so roughly slurred over that it is hard to see how, if she could not resist a first whisper of temptation, she can ever have been the loyal wife and mother whose fall we are expected to deplore: but the seduction of Mrs. Wincott, or rather her transformation from the likeness of a loyal and high-minded lady to the likeness of an impudent and hypocritical harlot, is neither explained nor explicable in the case of a woman who dies of a sudden shock of shame and penitence. Her paramour is only not quite so shapeless and shadowy a scoundrel as the betrayer of Frankford: but Heywood is no great hand at a villain: his nobly simple conception and grasp and development of character will here be recognized only in the quiet and perfect portraiture of the two grand old gentlemen and the gallant unselfish youth whom no more subtle or elaborate draughtsman could have set before us in clearer or fuller outline, with more attractive and actual charm of feature and expression.
“The Fair Maid of the West” is one of Heywood's most characteristic works, and one of his most delightful plays. Inartistic as this sort of dramatic poem may seem to the lovers of theatrical composition and sensational arrangement, of emotional calculations and premeditated shocks, it has a place of its own, and a place of honor, among the incomparably various forms of noble and serious drama which English poets of the Shakespearean age conceived, created, and left as models impossible to reproduce or to rival in any generation of poets or readers, actors or spectators, after the decadent forces of English genius in its own most natural and representative form of popular and creative activity had finally shrivelled up and shuddered into everlasting inanition under the withering blast of Puritanism. Before that blight had fallen upon the country of Shakespeare, the variety and fertility of dramatic form and dramatic energy which distinguished the typical imagination or invention of his countrymen can only be appreciated or conceived by students of what yet is left us of the treasure bequeathed by the fellows and the followers of Shakespeare. Every other man who could speak or write at all was a lyric poet, a singer of beautiful songs, in the generation before Shakespeare's: every other such man in Shakespeare's was a dramatic poet above or beyond all comparison with any later claimant of the title among Shakespeare's countrymen. One peculiarly and characteristically English type of drama which then flourished here and there among more ambitious if not more interesting forms or varieties, and faded forever with the close of the age of Shakespeare, was the curious and delightful kind of play dealing with records or fictions of contemporary adventure. The veriest failures in this line have surely something of national and historical interest; telling us as they do of the achievements or in any case of the aspirations and the ideals, the familiar traditions and ambitions and admirations, of our simplest and noblest forefathers. Even such a play as that in which the adventures of the Shirleys were hurried and huddled into inadequate and incoherent presentation as “The Travels of Three English Brothers,” however justly it may offend or dissatisfy the literary critic, can hardly be without attraction for the lover of his country: curiosity may be disappointed of its hope, yet patriotism may find matter for its sympathy. And if so much may be said on behalf of a poetic and dramatic failure, this and far more than this may be claimed on behalf of such plays as “The Fair Maid of the West” and “Fortune by Land and Sea.” Of these the first is certainly the better play: I should myself be inclined to rank it among Heywood's very best. He never wrote anything brighter, sprightlier, livelier or fuller of life and energy: more amusing in episodical incident or by-play, more interesting and attractive in the structure or the progress of the main story. No modern heroine with so strong a dash of the Amazon—so decided a cross of the male in her—was ever so noble, credible and lovable as Bess Bridges: and Plymouth ought really to do itself the honor of erecting a memorial to her poet. An amusing instance of Heywood's incomparable good-nature and sweetness of temper in dealing with the creatures of his genius—incomparable I call it, because in Shakespeare the same beautiful quality is more duly tempered and toned down to more rational compliance with the demands of reason and probability, whether natural or dramatic—is here to be recognized in the redemption of a cowardly bully, and his conversion from a lying ruffian into a loyal and worthy sort of fellow. The same gallant spirit of sympathy with all noble homeliness of character, whether displayed in joyful search of adventure or in manful endurance of suffering and wrong, informs the less excellently harmonious and well-built play which bears the truly and happily English title of “Fortune by Land and Sea.” It has less romantic interest than the later adventures of the valiant Bess and her Spencer with the amorous King of Fez and his equally erratic consort; not to mention the no less susceptible Italians among whom their lot is subsequently cast: but it is a model of natural and noble simplicity, of homely and lively variety. There is perhaps more of the roughness and crudity of style and treatment which might be expected from Rowley than of the humaner and easier touch of Heywood in the conduct of the action: the curious vehemence and primitive brutality of social or domestic tyranny may recall the use of the same dramatic motives by George Wilkins in “The Miseries of Enforced Marriage”: but the mixture or fusion of tender and sustained emotion with the national passion for enterprise and adventure is pleasantly and peculiarly characteristic of Heywood.
In “The Wise Woman of Hogsdon” the dramatic ability of Heywood, as distinct from his more poetic and pathetic faculty, shows itself at its best and brightest. There are not many much better examples of the sort of play usually defined as a comedy of intrigue, but more properly definable as a comedy of action. The special risk to which a purveyor of this kind of ware must naturally be exposed is the tempting danger of sacrificing propriety and consistency of character to effective and impressive suggestions or developments of situation or event; the inclination to think more of what is to happen than of the persons it must happen to—the characters to be actively or passively affected by the concurrence or the evolution of circumstances. Only to the very greatest of narrative or dramatic artists in creation and composition can this perilous possibility be all but utterly unknown. Poets of the city no less than poets of the court, the homely Heywood as well as the fashionable Fletcher, tripped and fell now and then over this awkward stone of stumbling—a very rock of offence to readers of a more exacting temper or a more fastidious generation than the respective audiences of patrician and plebeian London in the age of Shakespeare. The leading young man of this comedy now under notice is represented as “a wild-headed gentleman,” and revealed as an abject ruffian of unredeemed and irredeemable rascality. As much and even more may be said of the execrable wretch who fills a similar part in an admirably written play published thirty-six years earlier and verified for the first time as Heywood's by the keen research and indefatigable intuition of Mr. Fleay. The parallel passages cited by him from the broadly farcical underplots are more than suggestive, even if they be not proof positive, of identity in authorship: but the identity in atrocity of the two hideous figures who play the two leading parts must reluctantly be admitted as more serious evidence. The abuse of innocent foreign words or syllables by comparison or confusion with indecent native ones is a simple and school-boy-like sort of jest for which Master Hey wood, if impeached as even more deserving of the birch than any boy on his stage, might have pleaded the example of the captain of the school, and protested that his humble audacities, if no less indecorous, were funnier and less forced than Master Shakespeare's. As for the other member of Webster's famous triad, I fear that the most indulgent sentence passed on Master Dekker, if sent up for punishment on the charge of bad language and impudence, could hardly in justice be less than Orbilian or Draconic. But he was apparently if not assuredly almost as incapable as Shakespeare of presenting the most infamous of murderers as an erring but pardonable transgressor, not unfit to be received back with open arms by the wife he has attempted, after a series of the most hideous and dastardly outrages, to despatch by poison. The excuse for Heywood is simply that in his day as in Chaucer's the orthodox ideal of a married heroine was still none other than Patient Grizel: Shakespeare alone had got beyond it.
The earlier of these two plays, “a pleasant” if somewhat sensational “comedy entitled 'How to Choose a Good Wife from a Bad,'“ is written for the most part in Heywood's most graceful and poetical vein of verse, with beautiful simplicity, purity, and fluency of natural and musical style. In none of his plays is the mixture or rather the fusion of realism with romance more simply happy and harmonious: the rescue of the injured wife by a faithful lover from the tomb in which, like Juliet, she has been laid while under the soporific influence of a supposed poison could hardly have been better or more beautifully treated by any but the very greatest among Heywood's fellow-poets. There is no merit of this kind in the later play: but from the dramatic if not even from the ethical point of view it is, on the whole, a riper and more rational sort of work. The culmination of accumulating evidence by which the rascal hero is ultimately overwhelmed and put to shame, driven from lie to lie and reduced from retractation to retractation as witness after witness starts up against him from every successive corner of the witch's dwelling, is as masterly in management of stage effect as any contrivance of the kind in any later and more famous comedy: nor can I remember a more spirited and vivid opening to any play than the quarrelling scene among the gamblers with which this one breaks out at once into life-like action, full of present interest and promise of more to come. The second scene, in which the fair sempstress appears at work in her father's shop, recalls and indeed repeats the introduction of the heroine in an earlier play: but here again the author's touch is firmer and his simplicity more masculine than before. This coincidence is at least as significant as that between the two samples of flogging-block doggrel collated for comparison by Mr. Fleay: it is indeed a suggestive though superfluous confirmation of Heywood's strangely questioned but surely unquestionable claim to the authorship of “The Fair Maid of the Exchange.” A curious allusion to a more famous play of the author's is the characteristic remark of the young ruffian Chartley: “Well, I see you choleric hasty men are the kindest when all is done. Here's such wetting of handkerchers! he weeps to think of his wife, she weeps to see her father cry! Peace, fool, we shall else have thee claim kindred of the woman killed with kindness.” And in the fourth and last scene of the fourth act the same scoundrel is permitted to talk Shakespeare: “I'll go, although the devil and mischance look big.”
Poetical justice may cry out against the dramatic lenity which could tolerate or prescribe for the sake of a comfortable close to this comedy the triumphant escape of a villanous old impostor and baby-farmer from the condign punishment due to her misdeeds; but the severest of criminal judges if not of professional witch-finders might be satisfied with the justice or injustice done upon “the late Lancashire Witches” in the bright and vigorous tragicomedy which, as we learn from Mr. Fleay, so unwarrantably and uncharitably (despite a disclaimer in the epilogue) anticipated the verdict of their judges against the defenceless victims of terrified prepossession and murderous perjury. But at this time of day the mere poetical reader or dramatic student need not concern himself, while reading a brilliant and delightful play, with the soundness or unsoundness of its moral and historical foundations. There may have been a boy so really and so utterly possessed by the devil who seems now and then to enter into young creatures of human form and be-monster them as to amuse himself by denouncing helpless and harmless women to the most horrible of deaths on the most horrible of charges: that hideous passing fact does not affect or impair the charming and lasting truth of Heywood's unsurpassable study, the very model of a gallant and life-like English lad, all compact of fearlessness and fun, audacity and loyalty, so perfectly realized and rendered in this quaint and fascinating play. The admixture of what a modern boy would call cheek and chaff with the equally steadfast and venturesome resolution of the indomitable young scapegrace is so natural as to make the supernatural escapades in which it involves him quite plausible for the time to a reader of the right sort: even as (to compare this small masterpiece with a great one) such a reader, while studying the marvellous text of Meinhold, is no more sceptical than is their chronicler as to the sorceries of Sidonia von Bork. And however condemnable or blameworthy the authors of “The Witches of Lancashire” may appear to a modern reader or a modern magistrate or jurist for their dramatic assumption or presumption in begging the question against the unconvicted defendants whom they describe in the prologue as “those witches the fat jailor brought to town,” they can hardly have been either wishful or able to influence the course of justice toward criminals of whose evident guilt they were evidently convinced. Shadwell's later play of the same name, though not wanting in such rough realistic humor and coarse-grained homespun interest as we expect in the comic produce of his hard and heavy hand, makes happily no attempt to emulate the really noble touches of poetry and pathos with which Heywood has thrown out into relief the more serious aspect of the supposed crime of witchcraft in its influence or refraction upon the honor and happiness of innocent persons. Og was naturally more in his place and more in his element as the second “fat jailor” of Lancashire witches than as the second English dramatic poet of Psyche: he has come closer than his precursors, closer indeed than could have been thought possible, to actual presentation of the most bestial and abominable details of demonolatry recorded by the chroniclers of witchcraft: and in such scenes as are rather transcribed than adapted from such narratives he has imitated his professed master and model, Ben Jonson, by appending to his text, with the most minute and meticulous care, all requisite or more than requisite references to his original authorities. The allied poets who had preceded him were content to handle the matter more easily and lightly, with a quaint apology for having nothing of more interest to offer than “an argument so thin, persons so low,” that they could only hope their play might “pass pardoned, though not praised.” Brome's original vein of broad humor and farcical fancy is recognizable enough in the presentation of the bewitched household where the children rule their parents and are ruled by their servants; a situation which may have suggested the still more amusing development of the same fantastic motive in his admirable comedy of “The Antipodes.” There is a noticeable reference to “Macbeth" in the objurgations lavished by the daughter upon the mother under the influence of a revolutionary spell: “Is this a fit habit for a handsome young gentlewoman's mother? as I hope to be a lady, you look like one o' the Scottish wayward sisters.” The still more broadly comic interlude of the bewitched rustic bridegroom and his loudly reclamatory bride is no less humorously sustained and carried through. Altogether, for an avowedly hasty and occasional piece of work, this tragicomedy is very creditably characteristic of both its associated authors.
How small a fraction of Heywood's actual work is comprised in these twenty-six plays we cannot even conjecturally compute; we only know that they amount to less than an eighth part of the plays written wholly or mainly by his indefatigable hand, and that they are altogether outweighed in volume, though decidedly not in value, by the existing mass of his undramatic work. We know also, if we have eyes to see, that the very hastiest and slightest of them does credit to the author, and that the best of them are to be counted among the genuine and imperishable treasures of English literature. Such amazing fecundity and such astonishing industry would be memorable even in a far inferior writer; but, though I certainly cannot pretend to anything like an exhaustive or even an adequate acquaintance with all or any of his folios, I can at least affirm that they contain enough delightfully readable matter to establish a more than creditable reputation. His prose, if never to be called masterly, may generally be called good and pure: its occasional pedantries and pretentions are rather signs of the century than faults of the author; and he can tell a story, especially a short story, as well as if not better than many a better-known writer. I fear, however, that it is not the poetical quality of his undramatic verse which can ever be said to make it worth reading: it is, as far as I know, of the very homeliest homespun ever turned out by the very humblest of workmen. His poetry, it would be pretty safe to wager, must be looked for exclusively in his plays: but there, if not remarkable for depth or height of imagination or of passion, it will be found memorable for unsurpassed excellence of unpretentious elevation in treatment of character. The unity (or, to borrow from Coleridge a barbaric word, the triunity) of noble and gentle and simple in the finest quality of the English character at its best—of the English character as revealed in our Sidneys and Nelsons and Collingwoods and Franklins—is almost as apparent in the best scenes of his best plays as in the lives of our chosen and best-beloved heroes: and this, I venture to believe, would have been rightly regarded by Thomas Heywood as a more desirable and valuable success than the achievement of a noisier triumph or the attainment of a more conspicuous place among the poets of his country.