« AnteriorContinuar »
Min. How agrees this ? love her, and murder her?
Virg. Yes : give me but a little leave to drain
1 Sold. Oh, villain Appius!
Virg. To you I appeal, you are my sentencers :
1 Sold. Appius is the parricide.
Min. If this be true, Virginius, (as the moan
Virg. Noble Minutius,
Roman. It is a common cause.
Min. It shall be so. Virginius, take my charge:
Virginius shall succeed my full command.
Virg. What's honour unto me? a weak old man,
1 Sold. Stay, noble general.
Min. You much forget revenge, Virginius.
Virg. Thou oughtest, Minutius : soldiers, so ought you :
We thus conclude our extracts from the works of this certainly great dramatist, who was minute, without being trifling-elaborate, without becoming dull; and whose power in touching the passions was equalled by few of his contemporaries.
The comedy of The Thracian Wonder, which he is said to have written in conjunction with Rowley, is a vile performance, filled from the beginning to the end with the most wretched stuff. Langbaine says, Rowley had the least part in this, as well as in the other comedy ascribed to them; but we cannot conceive that Webster could have written any thing so bad; and, indeed, Rowley is also vastly superior to it. We should rather suppose, that they had agreed to correct it in some few places for “ reasonable considerations," as the chapmen of that day express it, or perhaps the bookseller borrowed their names; for both The Thracian Wonder and The Cure for a Cuckold were published by Kirkman after the death of the supposed authors, and the last is stated by that publisher to be then printed for the first time. The Cure for a Cuckold is a much better comedy, but it is also below the separate productions of the reputed authors. Webster, indeed, seems to have had little inclination to cultivate an intimacy with the comic muse. tion of Virginia's servant, there is not in all his plays the usual accompaniment of the tragi-comedies of that day-a buffoon. He is rather sarcastic, than humourous-didactic, than witty. He would rather have soliloquized in the charnel-house, or com
With the excep:
muned with the spirits of the dead, than have spread out his understanding to catch the poor jingle of words, and exercise. his genius in manufacturing a pun.
Art. VII.- The Life and Adventures of Peter. Wilkins, a
Cornish Man. Taken from his own mouth, in his passage to England, from off Cape Horn, in America, in the ship Hector. By R. S. a passenger in the Hector. 1784.
In this brief title is comprised all that is known-all that the curiosity of this inquisitive age can discover of
the history of the work, and name and lineage of its author. There is not a circumstance with which we are acquainted, connected with our literature, that is more strange in itself, or more melancholy in the thoughts it gives rise to. When we consider the high value deservedly attached to works of imagination, and, at the same time, the rare beauty of the fiction developed in the romance before us, it strikes us as incredible, that one, so calculated to please the fancy and beguile the attention, should have failed even to obtain notoriety enough to convey down to us, so much as the name of its author. For that we are right in ascribing this singular omission to the obscurity of the work itself, and not to any intention of concealment on the part of its author, may be fairly presumed, from the absence of any thing in the nature and contents of the book, which could furnish a reasonable cause for such a resolute withdrawing from the notice of the world. The incognito of the author of Waverley, besides being little better than a mere masquerader's disguise, which gives opportunity to a little harmless merriment, and enables persons, perfectly well known to each other, to discourse with a little more than their usual freedom, may also serve a more serious end, in acting as a provocative to the curiosity of the age; or having been originally assumed from a modest self-distrust, may have been involuntarily retained, for want of an opportunity of laying it gracefully aside. The shade too, which, under the name of Junius, has baffled the million attempts that have been made, by prying investigators, to detect the body from which it proceeded, had doubtless potent and weighty reasons for not making itself visible. We know indeed of no motive on earth that should have prevented the writer of those celebrated letters from stepping from behind his curtain to claim the applauses due to the exercise of mighty talents, but the portentous disclosure which such a step might have occasioned of friendships violated, confidence betrayed, patrons abused, and principles, perhaps, strangely abandoned. What if this world of wonders had been alarmed by the apparition of some celebrated Tory chief, masquerading in the dress of Junius ; and the rough old Roman had turned out a smooth, sleek, and supple courtier, with a back somewhat curved, by being too much in the sun, and an oily and adulatory tongue ? At all events, the writer must be acknowledged to have had a sufficient motive for concealment, if it were only from the reflection, that as, like the original Arab, his hand and pen had been against every man, so every man's hand might be against him. That the “ chield,” whoever he was, had closed his " note” book on earth, and resumed his speculations on another stage, even before the storm he had raised on this had entirely subsided, there seem many reasons for concluding; but that he should have carried his secret with him to the safe depository of the grave, is to be attributed only to one or the other of these two causes : either his death was so sudden as to have left no room for the operation of human vanity and weakness, or he had been himself too notorious a fisher in the troubled waters of a political life, to care little about catching any such addition of fame or infamy as might have accrued to him from the dubious reputation of having been the author of Junius.
Similar to neither of these cases is the one, which is the subject of our present consideration. In the work before us, affording, as it does, numerous indications of a fine imagination, native elegance of mind, simpleness of heart, and purity of life and conversation, there are most of the qualities of which a man is deservedly proud, and nothing of which to be ashamed. To suppose the unknown author to have been insensible to, or careless about the fair fame, to which a work, original in its conception, and almost unique, we are sorry to say, in purity, did justly entitle him, is to suppose him to have been exempt from the influence of that universal feeling, which is ever deepest in the noblest bosoms ;-the ardent desire of being long remembered after death-of shining bright in the eyes of their contemporaries, and, when their sun is set, of leaving behind a train of glory in the heavens, for posterity to contemplate with love and veneration. What, then, should have prevented him from being so known, .so admired, and so remembered, but that the approbation of his contemporaries was wanting to set that seal upon his fair page, which was to give it currency with succeeding generations :--but that its modest author was reluctant to come forward, and claim a work the world had not deigned to notice, and that the world itself felt no curiosity about the anonymous writer of a book, in which it had taken no interest. Obscure no doubt, and as poor, it may be, in the wealth of this world, as he was rich in that of an imaginary one, with a timid and hesitating hand he may have " cast it on the waters,” to be at the mercy of the wind and tide. “ Its vein,” indeed, was “good,” and the world has “ found it after many days,” and the stream of time, we will venture to predict, will carry it down to that ocean, destined to ingulph alike the whole of our literature; yet, at first, no favouring gale wafted it on its way, but, thrown out of the current, it had stuck fast among the reeds and shallows, till a good-natured poet kindly took
it in tow, and set it once more fairly before the breeze. "May he have his reward !-and when his own bark shall be dropping behind, or drifting aside among those dangerous shoals, where so many a goodly vessel has been wrecked, may its stouter companion return the kindness it before received, and draw it along even unto the end of the voyage. Something there is singularly mournful in the strange and wayward fate of many a bright genius, whose name is fraught to us with recollections of varied and distinguished excellence. Neglected by the world, an Otway dies of want, and five, or more, successive generations store their memories with the beauties of his verse, or their pockets with the profits of new editions of his works. And here a story of infinite merit, which has supplied the poet to whom we alluded, one certainly of no mean celebrity in his day, with the most elegant of his fictions, and from which, as from an unexpected mine, we mean to make large extracts to enrich our own pages, might possibly have originally brought enough of fame to raise a sigh over the vanity of human hopes, and enough of profit to suffice for the purchase of six deal boards, and the loan of a spade and pick-axe, to dig its author's grave.
Frange, miser, calamos, vigilataque prælia dele,
We must needs think it somewhat discreditable to the critical discernment of the times, which allowed a book, of such great and peculiar excellence, to fall still-born from the press; if, indeed, it be not more just to regard it as the misfortune of the age, that its taste was so constituted as to disqualify it for appreciating a work of so much imagination, and, at the same time, of a character so simple and unpretending.
Considered as a work of imagination, it appeared at a season, either too late or too early, to captivate the fancies or strike deep root in the minds of men. At that particular period, when the gross realities of life had superseded the