Imágenes de página

equability of all the passions, which made. his English style the purest and most free from violent metaphors and harsh constructions, of any of the dramatists who were his contemporaries. LAMB, CHARLES, 1808, Specimens of Dramatic Poets.


The fame of Massinger has lately been revived by an edition of his works. Some literary men wish to rank him above Beaumont and Fletcher, as if he had approached more closely to the excellence of Shakspeare. I cannot find this. appears to me to have the greatest resemblance to Beaumont and Fletcher in the plan of the pieces, in the tone of manners, and even in the language and negligences of versification. I would not undertake to decide, from internal symptoms, whether a play belonged to Massinger, or

Beaumont and Fletcher. SCHLEGEL, AUGUSTUS WILLIAM, 1809, Dramatic Art and Literature, Lecture xiii, tr. Black, p. 392.

Massinger, like Fletcher, pursued the path in which Shakspeare had preceded him with such imperishable glory; but he wants the tenderness and wit of the for

mer, and that splendour of imagination and that dominion over the passions, which characterise the latter.

He has, however, qualities of his own, sufficiently great and attractive, to gift him with the envied lot of being contemplated, in union with these two bards, as one of the chief pillars and supporters of the Romantic drama. He exhibits, in the first place, a perfectibility, both in diction and versification, of which we have, in dramatic poesy at least, no corresponding example. There is a transparency and perspicuity in the texture of his composition, a sweetness, harmony, and ductility, together with a blended strength and ease in the structure of his metre, which, in his best performances, delight, and never satiate the ear. To this, in some degree technical merit, must be added a spirit of commanding eloquence, a dignity and force of thought, which, while they approach the precincts of sublimity, and indicate great depth and clearness of intellect, show, by the nervous elegance of language in which they are clothed, a combination and comprehension of talent of very unfrequent occurrence.-DRAKE, NATHAN, 1817, Shakspeare and His Times, vol. II, p. 561.

With regard to Massinger, observe, 1. The vein of satire on the times; but this is not as in Shakspere, where the natures evolve themselves according to their incidental disproportions, from excess, deficiency, or mislocation, of one or more of the component elements; but is merely satire on what is attributed to them by others. 2. His excellent metre- a better model for dramatists in general to imitate than Shakspere's, even if a dramatic taste existed in the frequenters of the stage, and could be gratified in the present size and management, or rather mismanagement, of the two patent theatres. I do not mean that Massinger's verse is superior to Shakspere's or equal to it. Far from it; but it is much more easily constructed and may be more successfully adopted by writers in the present day. is the nearest approach to the language of real life at all compatible with a fixed metre. I like Massinger's comedies better than his tragedies, although where the situation requires it, he often rises into the truly tragic and pathetic. He excels in narration, and for the most part displays his mere story with skill. But he is not a poet of high imagination; he is like a Flemish painter, in whose delineations objects appear as they do in nature, have the same force and truth, and produce the same effect upon the spectator. COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR, 1818, Notes on Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher and Massinger, ed. Ashe, pp. 403, 406.


[blocks in formation]

a general view, nevertheless, Massinger has more art and judgment in the serious drama than any of the other successors of Shakspeare. His incidents are less entangled than those of Fletcher, and the scene of his action is more clearly thrown open for the free evolution of character. Fletcher strikes the imagination with more vivacity, but more irregularly, and amidst embarrassing positions of his own choosing. Massinger puts forth his strength more collectively. Fletcher has more action and character in his drama, and leaves a greater variety of impressions upon the mind. His fancy is more volatile and surprising, but then he often blends disappointment with our surprise,

and parts with the consistency of his characters even to the occasionally apparent loss of their identity. This is not the case with Massinger. It is true that Massinger excels more in description and declamation than in the forcible utterance of the heart, and in giving character the warm colouring of passion. Still, not to speak of his one distinguished hero in comedy, he has delineated several tragic characters with strong and interesting traits. They are chiefly proud spirits. Poor himself, and struggling under the rich man's contumely, we may conceive it to have been the solace of his neglected existence to picture worth and magnanimity breaking through external disadvantages, and making their way to love and admiration.-CAMPBELL, THOMAS, 1819, An Essay on English Poetry.

Massinger makes an impression by hardness and repulsiveness of manner. In the intellectual processes which he delights to describe, "reason panders will;" he fixes arbitrarily on some object which there is no motive to pursue, or every motive combined against it, and then by screwing up his heroes or heroines to the deliberate and blind accomplishment of this, thinks to arrive at "the true pathos and sublime of human life." That is not the way. He seldom touches the heart or kindles the fancy. It is in vain to hope to excite much sympathy with convulsive efforts of the will, or intricate contrivances of the understanding, to obtain that which is better left alone, and where the interest arises principally from the conflict between the absurdity of the passion and the obstinacy with which it is persisted in. For the most part, his villains are a sort of lusus naturæ; his impassioned characters are like drunkards. or madmen. Their conduct is extreme and outrageous, their motives unaccountable and weak; their misfortunes are without necessity, and their crimes without temptation, to ordinary apprehensions. I do not say that this is invariably the case in all Massinger's scenes, but I think it will be found that a principle of playing at cross-purposes is the ruling passion throughout most of them.—HAZLITT, WILLIAM, 1820, Lectures on the Literature of the Age of Elizabeth, p. 131.

The public are much better acquainted with the writings of Massinger than with

those of most of his contemporaries: for which distinction he is mainly indebted to the admirable manner in which he has been edited by Mr. Gifford, and to the circumstance of some of his Plays having been illustrated on the Stage by the talents of a popular Actor. I cannot, however, quite agree with Mr. Gifford, when he ranks this Author immediately after Shakspeare. He certainly yields in versatility of talent to Beaumont and Fletcher, whose Comic genius was very great; and in feeling and nature, I by no means think his Tragedies equal theirs, or to Ford's, or Webster's. Webster's. Massinger excelled in working up a single scene forcibly and effectively, rather than in managing his plots skilfully, or in delineating characters faithfully, and naturally. His catastrophes are sometimes brought about in a very improbable and unnatural manner.

The sweetness and purity of his style, was not surpassed even in his own days. His choice and management of imagery is generally very happy; excepting that he is apt to pursue a favourite idea too long. His descriptive powers were also very considerable, the clearness and distinctness with which he places objects before our eyes, might furnish models for a Painter.-NEELE, HENRY, 182729, Lectures on English Poetry, Lecture iv.

The most striking excellence of this poet is his conception of character; and in this I must incline to place him above Fletcher, and, if I may venture to say it, even above Jonson. He is free from the hard outline of the one, and the negligent looseness of the other. He has indeed no great variety, and sometimes repeats, with such bare modifications as the story demands, the type of his first design.

The poetical talents of Massinger were very considerable, his taste superior to that of his contemporaries; the coloring of his imagery is rarely overcharged; a certain redundancy, as some may account it, gives fulness, or what the painters call impasto, to his style, and, if it might not always conduce to effect on the stage, is on the whole suitable to the character of his composition. The comic powers of this writer are not on a level with the serious: with some degree of humorous conception, he is too apt to aim at exciting ridicule by caricature; and his dialogue wants altogether the sparkling

wit of Shakspeare and Fletcher. Massinger, as a tragic writer, appears to me second only to Shakspeare: in the higher comedy, I can hardly think him inferior to Jonson. In wit and sprightly In wit and sprightly dialogue, as well as in knowledge of theatrical effect, he falls very much below Fletcher.-HALLAM, HENRY, 1837-39, Introduction to the Literature of Europe, pt. iii, ch. vi, par. 91, 93-4, 97.

There can be no doubt that Massinger admired and studied Shakspeare. In the haste of composition, his mind turned up many thoughts and phrases of the elder writer, in a more or less perfect state of preservation, but he was neither a plagiarist nor an imitator. His style, conduct, characterization, and metre, are perfectly distinct. No serious dramatist of the age owed Shakspeare so little. . . . Massinger's excellence-a great and beautiful excellence it is-was in the expression of virtue, in its probation, its strife, its victory. He could not, like Shakspeare, invest the perverted will with the terrors of a magnificent intellect, or bestow the cestus of poetry on simple unconscious loveliness.-COLERIDGE, HARTLEY, 1840, The Dramatic' Works of Massinger and Ford, Introduction, pp. xlviii, liv.

Writes all like a giant-a dry-eyed giant. He is too ostentatiously strong for flexibility, and too heavy for rapidity, and monotonous through his perpetual final trochee; his gesture and enunciation are slow and majestic.-BROWNING, ELIZABETH BARRETT, 1842-63, The Book of the Poets.

In expressing the dignity of virtue, and in showing greatness of soul rising superior to circumstance and fate, Massinger exhibits so peculiar a vigour and felicity, that it is impossible not to conceive such delineations (in which the poet delighted) to be a reflection of his own proud and patient soul, and perhaps, too, but too true a memorial of "the rich man's scorn, the proud man's contumely," which he had himself undergone. In the tender and pathetic Massinger had no mastery; in the moral gloom of guilt, in the crowded agony of remorse, in painting the storm and tempest of the moral atmosphere, he is undoubtedly a great and mighty artist; and in expressing the sentiments of dignity and virtue, cast down but not humbled by undeserved misfortune,

he is almost unequalled. His versification, though never flowingly harmonious, is skilful and learned, an appropriate vehicle for the elevation of the sentiments; and in the description of rich and splendid scenes he is peculiarly powerful and impressive. SHAW, THOMAS B., 1847, Outlines of English Literature, p. 129.

When Fox was a young man, a copy of Massinger accidentally fell into his hands: he read it, and, for some time after, could talk of nothing but Massinger. ROGERS, SAMUEL, 1855, Recollections of the TableTalk of Samuel Rogers, p. 90.

Of the Jacoban, as distinct from the Elizabethan dramatists, the greatest surviving representative was undoubtedly Massinger, the modest and manly Massinger.-MASSON, DAVID, 1858, The Life of John Milton, vol. 1, ch. vi.

Massinger possessed a large though not especially poetic mind, and a temperament equable rather than energetic. He lacked strong passions, vivid conceptions, creative imagination. In reading him we feel that the exulting, vigorous life of the drama of the age has begun to decay. But though he has been excelled by obscurer writers in special qualities of genius, he still attaches us by the harmony of his powers, and the uniformity of his excellence. The plot, style, and characters of one of his dramas all conduce to a common interest. His plays, indeed, are novels in dialogue. They rarely thrill, startle, or kindle us, but, as Lamb says, "are read with composure and placid delight." ... Massinger's style, though it does not evince a single great quality of the poet, has always charmed English readers by its dignity, flexibility, elegance, clearness, and ease. His metre and rhythm Coleridge pronounces incomparably good. Still his verse, with all its merits, is smooth rather than melodious; the thoughts are not born in music, but mechanically set to a tune; and even its majestic flow is frequently purchased at the expense of dramatic closeness to character and passion.-WHIPPLE, EDWIN P., 1859-68, The Literature of the Age of Elizabeth, pp. 181, 182.

After Shakspeare, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Jonson, the next great name in our drama is that of Philip Massinger. Massinger, like Jonson, had received a learned education, and his classic

reading has colored his style and manner; but he had scarcely so much originality of genius as Jonson. He is a very eloquent writer, but has little power of high imagination or pathos, and still less wit or comic power.-CRAIK, GEORGE L., 1861, A Compendious History of English Literature and of the English Language, vol. I, p. 605.

The reader who peruses Massinger can hardly fail to be charmed with the force and chaste elegance of his language, happily yet sparingly enriched with choice. classical allusions, and none of his contemporaries knew so well the art of developing his plot in such a way as to surprise and delight the spectator, while meting out strict poetical justice to all. His declamatory speeches are very fine models of their kind; and some of his characters, especially his females, are elaborated with great care. Massinger's style and versification are strongly marked with his own peculiar manner; yet so little is that manner known, even to professed scholars, that in most of the current manuals and books of "specimens, a scene from "The Virgin Martyr," undoubtedly written by Decker, is given as an example of his brother poet's composition! FRISWELL, JAMES HAIN, 1869, Essays on English Writers, p. 160.

[ocr errors]

The greatest master of characterization of that age next to Shakespeare is certainly Massinger. Sir Giles Overreach and Luke are both real men. Luke is a true piece of nature, not all black-souled, nor all white, but of a mixed complexion. But the area which Massinger could make his own was of limited dimensions. When he stepped across its limits, his strength failed him, and he was even as other men. -HALES, JOHN W., 1873, Notes and Essays on Shakespeare, p. 67.

[ocr errors]

His view of life, indeed, is not only grave, but has a distinct religious colouring. He is throughout a sentimentalist and a rhetorician. He is not, like the greatest men, dominated by thoughts and emotions which force him to give them external embodiment in life-like symbols. He is rather a man of much real feeling and extraordinary facility of utterance, who finds in his stories convenient occasions for indulging in elaborate didactic utterances upon moral topics.

When we turn to Massinger,

this boundless vigour has disappeared. The blood has grown cool. The tyrant no longer forces us to admiration by the fulness of his vitality, and the magnificence of his contempt for law. Whether for good or bad, he is comparatively a poor creature. He has developed an uneasy conscience, and even whilst affecting to defy the law, trembles at the thought of an approaching retribution. His boasts have a shrill, querulous note in them. His creator does not fully sympathise with his passion. Massinger cannot throw himself into the situation; and is anxious to dwell upon the obvious moral considerations which prove such characters to be decidedly inconvenient members of society for their tamer neighbours. He is of course the more in accordance with a correct code of morality, but fails correspondingly in dramatic force and brilliance of colour. . Massinger's remarkable flow of genuine eloquence, his real dignity of sentiment, his sympathy for virtuous motive, entitle him to respect; but we cannot be blind to the defect which keeps his work below the level of his greatest contemporaries. It is, in one word, a want of vital force.-STEPHEN, LESLIE, 1874-79, Hours in a Library, vol. II, pp. 153, 154, 160, 175.

He was the Gray of his generation— greater than Gray, inasmuch as his generation was greater than Gray's-a man of large, open, fertile, and versatile mind.

All Massinger's characteristics are those of a widely sympathetic man, with a genial propensity to laughter. He has written several very obscene passages, such as the courtship of Asotus by Corisca in "The Bondman," but they are all pervaded by genuine humour; and a countless number of his scenes, such as that between Wellborn and Marrall in "A New

Way to Pay Old Debts," are irresistibly laughable. It may perhaps be said with justice that there is often a certain serious motive underlying Massinger's humour, which connects itself with the earnestness of his distressed life; but humour he undoubtedly had, and that of the most ebullient and irrepressible sort. ---MINTO, WILLIAM, 1874-85, Characteristics of English Poets, pp. 363, 365.

Amongst the Caroline dramatists Massinger takes a high place. If it cannot be said of his works, that

"Every word is thought

And every thought is pure," his coarseness is merely adventitious. The main intention of his work is moral. He never descends to paint immoral intention as virtuous because it does not succeed in converting itself into vicious act. It will probably be a surprise even to those who are far better acquainted with the history of literature than I can pretend to be, that in many of Massinger's plays we have a treatment of the politics of the day so plain and transparent, that any one who possesses only a slight acquaintance with the history of the reigns of the first two Stuarts can read it at a glance. It is quite unintelligible to me that, with the exception of a few cursory words in Mr. Ward's "History of Dramatic Literature," no previous inquirer should have stumbled on a fact so obvious.-GARDINER, S. R., 1876, The Political Element in Massinger, The Contemporary Review, vol. 28, p. 495. Clouds here and there arisen an hour past


Checkered our English heaven with lengthening bars

And shadow and sound of wheel-winged thunder-cars

Assembling strength to put forth tempest


When the clear still warm concord of thy tune

Rose under skies unscared by reddening Mars,

Yet, like a sound of silver speech of stars, With full mild flame as of the mellowing


Grave and great-hearted Massinger, thy face High melancholy lights with loftier grace

Than gilds the brows of revel: sad and wise,

depths in which both Middleton and Dekker too often complacently wallow. Unless we are to count by mere flashes, he must, I think, rank after Shakespere, Fletcher, and Jonson among his fellows; and this I say, honestly avowing that I have nothing like the enthusiasm for him that I have for Webster, or for Dekker, or for Middleton. We may no doubt allow too much for bulk of work, for sustained excellence at a certain level, and for general competence as against momentary excellence. But we may also allow far too little; and this has perhaps been the general tendency of later criticism in regard to Massinger. gard to Massinger. It is unfortunate that he never succeeded in making as perfect a single expression of his tragic ability as he did of his comic, for the former was, I incline to think, the higher of the two. But many of his plays are lost, and many of those which remain come near to such excellence. It is by no means impossible that Massinger may have lost incomparably by the misdeeds of the constantly execrated, but never to be execrated enough, minion of that careless herald. -SAINTSBURY, GEORGE, 1887, History of Elizabethan Literature, p. 401.

To me Massinger is one of the most interesting as well as one of the most delightful of the old dramatists, not so much for his passion or power, though at times he reaches both, as for the love he shows for those things that are lovely and of good report in human nature, for his sympathy with what is generous and highminded and honorable, and for his equable. flow of a good every-day kind of poetry with few rapids or cataracts, but singu

The spirit of thought that moved thy deeper larly soothing and companionable. The


Sorrow serene in soft calm scorn of wrong, Speaks patience yet from thy majestic eyes -SWINBURNE, ALGERNON CHARLES, 1882, Philip Massinger.

He had a high, a varied, and a fertile imagination. He had, and was the last to have, an extensive and versatile command of blank verse, never perhaps reaching the most perfect mastery of Marlowe or of Shakespere, but singularly free from monotony, and often both harmonious and dignified. He could deal, and deal well, with a large range of subjects; and if he never ascends to the height of a De Flores or a Bellafront, he never descends to the

Latin adjective for gentleman, generosus, fits him aptly. His plots are generally excellent; his versification masterly, with skilful breaks and pauses, capable of every needful variety of emotion; and his dialogue easy, natural, and sprightly, subsiding in the proper places to a refreshing conversational tone. This graceful art was one seldom learned by any of those who may be fairly put in comparison with him. LOWELL, JAMES RUSSELL, 1887-92, Massinger and Ford, The Old English Dramatists, ed. Norton, p. 122.

The Massinger weak line, which often is as hard to distinguish from measured prose as the iambics of Dickens or Musæus

« AnteriorContinuar »