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simplicity of Heywood, his homely and lively fertility of invention, his honest pathos and gentleness of feeling, give a real charm to his sweet and clear flow of plain verse, but not weight and force enough to support the fame of a tragic poet of the first rank. Middleton had more facility and freedom of hand, less height and concentration of mind, than Ford ; Massinger had far more fluency, regularity, and variety of interest, but far less tragic depth and directness of force. Chapman's plays, overweighted with thoughtful and majestic eloquence, sink down and break short under the splendid burden, or wander into empty lands and among rocky places of barren declamation ; as a tragic artist he must give place to lesser men. With a far more genuinely dramatic gift, the fiery spirit of Cyril Tourneur lived and laboured in such a tempest that his work, so to speak, is blown out of all shape ; the burning blast of his genius rages without intermission at such stormy speed along such wild wastes of tragedy that we have hardly time to note the fresh beauty of a rare oasis here and there ; but for keenness and mastery of passionate expression in sublime and sonorous verse he can hardly be overmatched : while for single lines of that intense and terrible beauty which makes incision in the memory, there is none, after Shakespeare, to compare with him but Webster; the grandest verses of Marston or Chapman, both great in their use of deep and ardent words to give life and form to moral passion, have less of cautery in their stroke. Against his tragedies as against theirs the charge of excess and violence may be fairly brought, and the brand of such epithets as “spasmodic” and “horrible” may be set
on their choice and composition of incidents; though the pure and strong limpidity of Tourneur's style is never broken into the turbid froth and turgid whirlpools of tortuous rant which here and there convulse and deface the vigorous currents of Chapman's and Marston's. But the application of any such stigmatic phrase to the work of Webster is absurd. If it be true that his tragedies exemplify the old distinction of horrible from terrible, it must be as superb instances of terrible beauty undeformed by horrible detail. There is no such scene or incident in his two great plays as the blinding of Gloster in “ King Lear;” nothing from which the physical sense recoils with such a shudder of instant sickness; nothing defensible only on the ground that where all scenes are terrible to the utmost limit that art can endure, one scene among them may be for once allowed to be simply horrible. Defensible or not, the license was claimed and the experiment made by Shakespeare, and not by Webster. Nor, again, are any of the lesser poet's characters so liable to the charge of monstrous or abnormal excess as the figures of Goneril and Regan; the wickedness of his worst villain never goes beyond the mark of Edmund's. To vindicate the comparative moderation of Webster's moral painting is not to impugn in any least degree the rectitude of Shakespeare's; but it is absurd for those who see no excess of horror in the incidents or of criminality in the characters of the master poet to impeach the greatest of his disciples for the exercise of much less liberty in his handling of criminal and terrible matter. Simplicity and purity mark the most tragic scenes and figures of Webster, not less than sublimity and sweetness. Nothing on a first study of “The Duchess of Malfi” makes deeper impression on a capable student than this negative quality of noble abstinence, the utter and most admirable absence of any chaotic or spasmodic element, the chastity of a controlling instinct which rejects as impossible all hollow extravagance and inflation, “even in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) the whirlwind of passion.” For one instance, if the comparison is to be made, we cannot but see that the curse of the Duchess on her brothers is less intemperate in the excess and exaltation of its rage than the curse of Lear on his daughters; which of course is as it should be, but is not what the general verdict of critics on Webster's art and style would have led us to expect. The note of extravagance is far more real and far more patent in the tragic genius of Beaumont and Fletcher. Of their comic power there is here no more question than of Jonson's or Massinger's or any other's; we are concerned merely to examine by comparison the rank among tragic poets of a poet who was nothing if not tragic. In this field, then, we find “those suns of glory, those two lights of men,” the Dioscuri of our “heaven of invention," to be swister and gracefuller runners than Ford, but neither surer of foot nor stronger of hand. Their genius has more of flame and light, less of fire and intensity ; more of air and ease, less of force and concentration ; more of beautiful and graceful qualities, less of positive and severe capacity ; there is more of a charm about it, and less of a spell. With all its great and affluent beauties, “ The Maid's Tragedy" leaves a less absolute and inevitable mark upon the mind of a student than “The Broken Heart.” No poet is less
forgetable than Ford; none fastens (as it were) the fangs of his genius and his will more deeply in your memory. You cannot shake hands with him and pass by ; you cannot fall in with him and out again at pleasure; if he touch you once he takes you, and what he takes he keeps his hold of; his work becomes part of your thought and parcel of your spiritual furniture for ever ; he signs himself upon you as with a seal of deliberate and decisive power. His force is never the force of accident ; the casual divinity of beauty which falls as though direct from heaven upon stray lines and phrases of some poets falls never by any such heavenly chance on his; his strength of impulse is matched by his strength of will ; he never works more by instinct than by resolution ; he knows what he would have and what he will do, and gains his end and does his work with full conscience of purpose and insistence of design. By the might of a great will seconded by the force of a great hand he won the place he holds against all odds of rivalry in a race of rival giants. In that gallery of monumental men and mighty memories, among or above the fellows of his godlike craft, the high figure of Ford stands steadily erect; his name is ineffaceable from the scroll of our great writers ; it is one of the loftier landmarks of English poetry.
NOTES ON DESIGNS OF THE OLD MASTERS
In the spring of 1864 I had the chance of spending many days in the Uffizj on the study of its several collections. Statues and pictures I found ranged and classed, as all the world knows they are, with full care and excellent sense ; but one precious division of the treasury was then, and I believe is still, unregistered in catalogue or manual. The huge mass of original designs, in pencil or ink or chalk, swept together by Vasari and others, had then been but recently unearthed and partially assorted. Under former Tuscan governments this sacred deposit had lain unseen and unclassed in the lower chambers of the palace, heaped and huddled in portfolios by the loose stackful. A change of rule had put the matter at length into the hands of official men gifted with something more of human reason and eyesight. Three rooms were filled with the select flower of the collection acquired and neglected by past Florentine governors. Each design is framed, glazed, labelled legibly outside with the designer's name: the arrangement is not too far from perfect for convenience of study. As there can be no collection of the kind more rich, more various, more singular in interest, I supplied for myself the want of a