페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

dancing, and other varieties, which I know would have pleased you infinitely in the presentment.' The cruel sentence of Prynne, it is well known, was inflicted on account of some real or supposed allusion to the queen as having danced in an interlude at court; and our poet no doubt justified by his loyalty, as well as by the internecine hostility between puritanism, whose spirit was embodied in Prynne, and the stage, of which Shirley might stand forth as the champion, this merciless tone of exultation in his sufferings.

Shirley was engaged in a more honourable and more public testimony which was borne at this time against the austere opinions of Prynne. He was appointed to write the poetry for the most splendid interlude ever performed at Whitehall

, · The Triumph of Peace,' which, at this seasonable time,' was represented at the expense, and by members, of the Inns of Court. The distinguished names, which were selected to conduct this gorgeous pageant, remind us of the days when

-The

grave Lord Keeper led the brawls, The seals and maces danced before him ; while at the same time they carry us on to that darker period, of which the clouds were beginning to gather, and in which these great men, now uniting in festive rejoicings, and alike eager to display their loyalty, were to be arrayed in opposite ranks, and grapple in deadly opposition. For the Middle Temple were chosen Mr. Hyde and Mr. Whitelock; Sir Edward Herbert and Mr. Selden for the Inner Temple; for Lincoln's Inn, Mr. Attorney Noy and Mr. Gerling; Sir John Finch and another for Gray's Iun. The pageant paraded London from Ely House in Holborn to Whitehall

. The masque was performed in the Banqueting-house ; the decorations were by Inigo Jones, the music by William Lawes and Simon Ives. The sumptuousness of the dresses and decorations may be best estimated by the expense —the interlude cost 20,0001. to the Inns of Court. The following observation of a correspondent of Strafford's, then Lord Deputy in Ireland, is very remarkable, and illustrative of the memorable chapter in Clarendon, in which he expatiates on the prosperity of the nation before the civil wars :-* Oh that they would give over these things, or lay them by for a time, and bend all their endeavours to make the king rich ! For it gives me no satisfaction, who am but a looker on, to see a rich commonwealth, a rich people, and the crown poor. God direct them to remedy this quickly.'

When Strafford proceeded to Ireland in 1633, John Ogilby, a name with which that of Shirley was unfortunately associated in later days, went over as posture-master, and teacher of the art of

handling

handling the pike and musket in the family of the deputy, from which he rose to be master of the revels to the vice-regal court. The ill-omened friendship of Shirley with this worthy, who, from an excellent dancing-master, by one unfortunate caper, was lamed into a miserable poet, had already been formed in London; and in 1637 Shirley went to Ireland on his invitation, to support the Dublin stage by his acknowledged talents in dramatic composition. Several of his plays were first acted in the theatre of the Irish metropolis. It does not appear at what time his spirited stanzas on the recovery of the Earl of Strafford’ were written; whether they were inspired by gratitude for his patronage when in Ireland, or that more general admiration of his character, prevalent among the royalist party. • My lord, the voice that did

your

sickness tell,
Strook like a midnight chime or knell;

At every sound
I took into my sense a wound,
Which had no cure till I did hear

Your health again

Restor’d, and then
There was a balsam pour'd into mine ear.
• But hymns are now requir'd ; 'tis time to rise,
And pay the altar sacrifice:

My heart allows
No gums, nor amber, but pure vows ;
There's fire at breathing of your name,

And do not fear

I have a tear Of joy, to curb any immodest flame.' &c.—vol. vi., p. 428. Shirley resided about two years in Ireland ; on his return to London he resumed his occupation-but that occupation soon came to an end. Those days of fiercer excitement were at hand, -the spirit of Prynne was in the ascendant, and in 1642, the first ordinance for the suppression of stage-plays was issued by the parliament. This ordinance, according to Mr. Collier, was not altogether effective; the players, in more than one instance, defied or attempted to elude the hostile edict. On one occasion, in 1644, Beaumont and Fletcher's tragedy, King and no King,' (whether purposely selected on account of its significant title, is not clear,) was performed at the theatre in Salisbury Court. It was not till 1647, that severer measures were taken. An act then passed, empowering the Lord Mayor and other magistrates to pull down and destroy all theatres; condemning all players to be publicly whipped ; confiscating all money received, for the good of the poor; and enforcing a fine of five shillings upon any person present at a dramatic representation. It cannot be wondered that

all

all persons connected with the stage threw themselves into the royal ranks. Shirley followed the fortunes of the brave and chivalrous, but unsteady and eccentric Newcastle, * to whom he had already dedicated one of his plays, the • Traitor,' in language, as is generally the case in Shirley's dedications, though bighly complimentary, yet remarkably graceful, and even dignified. There occurs, by the way, in one of Shirley's anatory pieces, an allusion to his northern campaign, which has escaped the notice of his biographer. The poem may be quoted as a specimen of the sweet and tender thoughts which the bards of that day, after the example of Donne, were apt to mar by quaint language and whimsical metre

• That mistress I pronounce but poor in bliss,

That, when her servant parts,
Gives not as much with her last kiss,
As will maintain two hearts

Till both do meet
To taste what else is sweet.......
Cherish that heart, Odelia, that is mine,

And if the north thou fear,
Dispatch but from thy southern clime
A sigh, to warm thine here;

But be so kind
To send by the next wind,

'Tis far, And many accidents do wait on war.'—vol. vi., p. 408. On the discomfiture of Newcastle at Marston Moor, and his unaccountable abandonment of the royal cause, Shirley stole back to London, where, in his obscurity, he obtained the patronage of a man of much higher literary rank than Newcastle, Thomas Stanley, the editor of • Æschylus,' and author of the · History of Philosophy.' But his chief maintenance and that of his wife and family depended on his own exertions; he was glad to siuk again to his old drudgery of keeping a school in White Friars; the poetic spirit which had so long delighted a polished court and a tasteful age, by the fertility of its invention, the grace and elegance of its dramatic dialogue, now condescended to versify the accidence of the Latin Grammar; the successor, if not the rival of Fletcher and Massinger, entered the lists with old John Lily. The author of the • Traitor' and the Cardinal' now sang thus

• In di, do, dum, the Gerunds chime and close :

Um the first Supine, u the latter shows.' An amusing chapter in the history of human life might be * Wood insinuates, that Shirley had no inconsiderable hand in the plays which this singular nobleman afterwards published. Mr. Dyce is inclined to acquit him of this serious charge.

formed

We re

formed on the great men who have been schoolmasters. commend the subject to Mr. D’Israeli. Among monarchs it would descend from Dionysius the tyrant, to the present King of France. (By this juxta-position we would not be thought to disparage the by no means least honourable, perhaps not the least happy, period in the life of Louis Philippe.) Among men of letters the tines of which we write offer us the nanies of Shirley, and that far greater · blind old schoolmaster,' as Milton was denominated by the miserable scorn of his enemies.

The dedication to his very amusing comedy of the 'Sisters,' reprinted with several others at this period, may well be quoted here. It is, in the words of Mr. Gifford,' singularly affecting, as a well expressed and striking picture of the times. The play is inscribed to the most worthily honoured Wm. Paulet, Esquire :

• Compositions of this nature have heretofore been graced by the acceptance and protection of the greatest nobility (I say not princes); but in this age, when the scene of dramatic poetry is changed into a wilderness, it is hard to find a patron to a legitimate muse. Many that were wont to encourage poems are fallen beneath the proverbial want of the composers, and, by their ruins, are only at leisure to take measure with their eye of what they have been. Some, extinguished with their fortune, have this happiness to be out of capacity of further shipwreck, while their sad remains peep out of the sea, and may serve as naked marks, and caution to other navigators' malignant stars the while. In this unequal condition of the times, give me leave to congratulate my own felicity that hath directed this comedy unto you, who wear your nobleness with more security than titles, and a name that continues bright and impassable among the constellations in our sphere of English honour.'-vol. v., p. 355.

But the fire of Shirley's invention was not yet completely extinguished either by the base use to which he had fallen, or by his chilling association with his old friend Ogilby. It is next to impossible to doubt that it was by the fall, if not by the death of Charles I., that the mind of the royalist poet was solemnized to the creation of those imperishable stanzas, which first appeared in his Contention of Ajax and Ulysses. • Oliver Cromwell is said, on the recital of them, to have been seized with great terror and agitation of mind. This is one of those stories which ought to be true; unfortunately, Zouch, who has published it in his notes on Walton's Lives, has given no authority. Frequently as this noble dirge has been quoted, it must not be omitted here :

• The glories of our mortal state

Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:

Sceptre Sceptre and crown

Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.
Some men with swords may reap the field,

And plant fresh laurels where they kill;
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still :

Early or late,

They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath,
When they, pale captives, creep to death.
The garlands wither on your brow;

Then boast no more your mighty deeds ;
Upon death's purple altar now,
See, where the victor-victim bleeds :

Your heads must come

To the cold tomb,
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet; and blossom in their dust.'

vol. vi., pp. 396, 397. At the Restoration Shirley had his full share in the benefits of the Act of Oblivion, passed, as it was humorously said, in favour of the king's friends. His plays were revived, but he remained toiling in his school, and drudging, in his ill-assorted partnership with Ogilby, in those vast volumes, the translations of Virgil and Homer, which tower in undisturbed dignity on the tallest shelves of our public libraries. The worthy ex-dancing master, it may be observed, had qualified himself for translating Homer by beginning Greek, in the year 1654, under the tuition of a Scotch usher of Shirley's. The fact of this literary copartnership must be borne in mind, as in some degree accounting for the contemptuous acrimony of the Macflecknoe :

Heywood and Shirley are but types of thee,

Thou last great prophet of tautology.'
And again on the coronation of Shadwell-

• No Persian carpets spread the imperial way,
But scattered limbs of mangled poets lay.
From dusty shops neglected authors come,
Martyrs of pies
Much Heywood, Shirley, Ogilby there lay,

But loads of Shadwell almost chok'd the way.' The Mezentian martyrdom by which Shirley bound his living self to the dead weight of old Ogilby—was thus all but fatal at the time. According to the general principle by which a poet, during his life, is often noted for his worst work, but is remem

bered

[ocr errors]
« 이전계속 »