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PRESENTATION BEFORE QUEEN ELIZABETH.
EVER till now did object greet mine eyes With any light content: but in her graces All my malicious powers have lost their stings. Envy is fled my soul at sight of her,
And she hath chased all black thoughts from my
Like as the sun doth darkness from the world.
And rugged Treason tremble at the sound,
8 And turtle-footed Peace dance fairy rings
About her court.] There is a true poetical spirit in the preceding and following verses; and the principal occurrences which distinguished the reign of queen Elizabeth are touched upon with extreme delicacy and justice. The allusion of this line refers to Spenser's Fairy Queen, which was a compliment to the princess then on the throne. WHAL.
There is nothing so general, nor so deplorable as the blunders of the commentators about fairies. Spenser's Fairy Queen, which is one of the grossest misnomers in romance or history, bears no features of the fairy nation. She might have been (for it is clear that Spenser himself had no definite ideas on the subject) the Calypso of antiquity, or the Enchantress of the middle ages, but could never have possessed one attribute in common with the fairy of our simple ancestors. I may one day, perhaps, find an opportunity of giving the popular tradition on this subject, which will be found as elegant as any of the mythological fables of Greece and Rome meanwhile it will be sufficient to ask where Whalley found his "reference" to Spenser, whose knights are neither more nor less than the knights of Arthur's Round Table; polished indeed into the formality of his own times; but who neither dance fairy rings, nor very sedulously cultivate the acquaintance of turtle-footed Peace.
This spirited and poetical Epilogue, as he justly terms it, originally made part of Macilente's concluding speech, and was prefaced by four lines of absurd and fulsome rant, bordering on profaneness. It is to the praise of the audience, that, though accustomed to hear the queen addressed in terms of the grossest adulation, they yet murmured at this, and expressed their dislike so strongly as to draw from Jonson an awkward attempt at justification. Neither the verses, nor the apology for them, call for preservation; the former were rejected by the author, and the latter appeared only in the quarto. Jonson was undoubtedly ashamed of both.
In her dread presence/Death himself admire her
Fly from her, Age; sleep, Time, before her throne; Our strongest wall falls down, when she is gone.
9 The preliminary observations of the author have left me little to say on this "Comical Satire." In vigour, in purity and elegance of style, it is, perhaps, superior to Every Man in his Humour: it is also more correspondent to its title; for we have real humours here, i. e. qualities "whose currents run all one way," while, in the former, we have chiefly affectations.
It is said by Hurd that Jonson has given us in this drama "an unnatural delineation of a group of passions wholly chimerical, and unlike to any thing we observe in the commerce of common life:" this is hazarded without much consideration of the subject. The characters seem to be drawn from a close observation of human nature as she appeared in the poet's days; and to call them "chimerical," because the originals, after a lapse of two centuries, are not discernable, is at once illogical and unjust. No one believes that Bobadill was a mere creature of the imagination; yet what is Fastidious Brisk but a Bobadill at Whitehall? The court, like the army, had undoubtedly its boasters and pretenders, and Jonson pourtrayed them as they probably offered themselves to his pencil, in his intercourse with both.
Nor is Bobadill the only character of the preceding play which he has, in the present, endeavoured to heighten and improve. Sogliardo and Fungoso are master Mathew and master Stephen thrown into new situations, and marked with more skilful and vivid touches.
With all these excellencies, and many others- -for most of the persons of the drama, (and above all, cavalier Shift,) are delineated with a masterly hand, Every Man out of his Humour is, as a whole, very deficient in interest. The plot is progressive, but not well combined; the action awkwardly helped forward by the Chorus ; and the catastrophe, though sufficiently ingenious, not altogether legitimately produced by previous occurrences. A poet, says Horace, should endeavour either to profit or delight. This is not enough he should seek to do both, or he will but imperfectly secure his end. Like Jonson, in the present case, he may, and must, be admired in the closet; but he will not be followed to the stage.
CYNTHIA'S REVELS.] The first edition of this "Comical Satire" was printed in quarto, 1601, with this motto,
Quod non dant proceres, dabit histrio
Haud tamen invideas vati, quem pulpita pascunt;
which probably bore an allusion to some circumstance now unknown. When Jonson republished it, he chose a more intelligible passage: Nasutum volo, nolo polyposum; and transferred the last line of the former motto, to the title-page of his general works. The folio edition of this play, which appeared in 1616, differs considerably from the quarto, being increased by several new scenes, with which, to the utter discomfiture of the reader's patience, the author injudiciously swelled out the last two acts. Cynthia's Revels appears to have been not unfavourably received, since we are told that it was "frequently acted at the Blackfriars, by the children of queen Elizabeth's chapel." It was also among the earliest plays revived after the Restoration, and was often performed at the New Theatre in Drury Lane, "very satisfactorily," as Downes says, "to the town" though now laid aside. Cynthia's Revels was first acted in 1600, and the folio gives the names of the boys (children, as they were called) who performed the principal parts: "Nat. Field, Sal. Pavy, Tho. Day, I. Underwood, Rob. Baxter, and John Frost." Of these some lived to be eminent in their profession; and one, who died young, and who was, indeed, an actor of very extraordinary promise, was honoured by the grateful poet with an epitaph, which has not often been surpassed.