« AnteriorContinuar »
one which can hardly be said of any but the greatest among men ; that come what may to the world in course of time, it will never see his place filled. Other and stronger men, with fuller control and concentration of genius, may do more service, may bear more fruit ; but such as his was they will not have in them to give. The highest lyric work is either passionate or imaginative ; of passion Coleridge's has nothing; but for height and perfection of imaginative quality he is the greatest of lyric poets. This was his special power, and this is his special praise.
WHENEVER the name of the poet Ford comes back to us, it coines back splendid with the light of another man's genius. The fiery panegyric of Charles Lamb is as an aureole behind it. That high-pitched note of critical and spiritual enthusiasm exalts even to disturbance our own sense of admiration ; possibly, too, even to some after injustice of reaction in the rebound of mind. Certainly, on the one hand, we see that the spirit of the critic has been kindled to excess by contact and apprehension of the poet's ; as certainly, on the other hand, we see the necessary excellence of that which could so affect and so attach the spirit of another man, and of such another man as Lamb. And the pure excess of admiration for things indeed admirable, of delight in things indeed delightful, is itself also a delightful and admirable thing when expressed to such purpose by such men.
And this poet is doubtless a man worthy of note and admiring remembrance. He stands apart among his fellows, without master or follower; he has learnt little from Shakespeare or Marlowe, Jonson or Fletcher. The other dramatists of the great age fall naturally into classes; thus, to take two of the greatest, Webster and Decker
both hold of Shakespeare; “The Duchess of Malfi” has a savour of his tragedies, “Old Fortunatus” of his romantic plays; not indeed so much by force of imitation as of affinity. These two poets were as gulfs or estuaries of the sea which is Shakespeare. In Decker's best work we feel an air of the “ Winter's Tale "or“Midsummer Night's Dream ;" in Webster's, of “Lear” and “Othello.” Some. thing of the April sweetness, the dew and breath of morning, which invests the pastoral and fairy world of the master, gives to the one pupil's work a not infrequent touch of delicate life and passionate grace; from the other we catch the echoes of his oceanic harmonies of terror and pity, the refractions of that lightning which strikes into sudden sight the very depths of action and suffering, the motive forces of utter love and hate. But the poetry of Ford is no branch or arm of that illimitable sea; it might rather be likened to a mountain lake shut in by solitary highlands, without visible outlet or inlet, seen fitlier by starlight than by sunlight; much such an one as the Lac de Gaube above Cauterets, steel-blue and sombre, with a strange attraction for the swimmer in its cold smooth reticence and breathless calm. For nothing is more noticeable in this poet than the passionless reason and equable tone of style with which in his greatest works he treats of the deepest and most fiery passions, the quiet eye with which he searches out the darkest issues of emotion, the quiet hand with which he notes them down. At all times his verse is even and regular, accurate and composed; never specially flexible or melodious, always admirable for precision, vigour, and purity.
The fame of Ford hangs mainly upon two great tragedies, which happily are strong enough in structure to support a durable reputation. Two others among his plays are indeed excellent, and worthy a long life of honour; but among the mighty throng of poets then at work a leading place could hardly have been granted to the author only of “The Lover's Melancholy” and “Perkin Warbeck.” To the author of “ 'Tis Pity She's a Whore" and “The Broken Heart” it cannot be refused.
It is somewhat unfortunate that the very title of Ford's masterpiece should sound so strangely in the ears of a generation “whose ears are the chastest part about them.” For of these great twin tragedies the first-bora is on the whole the greater. The subtleties and varieties of individual character do not usually lie well within the reach of Ford's handling ; but in the part of Giovanni we find more of this power than elsewhere. Here the poet has put forth all his strength ; the figure of his protagonist stands out complete and clear. There is more ease and life in it than in his other sculptures ; though here as always Ford is rather a sculptor of character than a painter. But the completeness, the consistency of design is here all the worthier of remark, that we too often find this the most needful quality for a dramatist wanting in him as in other great writers of his time.
Giovanni is the student struck blind and mad by passion; in the uttermost depths of unimaginable crime he reflects, argues, reasons concerning the devils that possess him. In the only other tragedy of the time based on incestuous love, Massinger's “ Unnatural Combat,” the criminal is old and hardened, a soul steeped and tempered in sin, a man of blood and iron
from his youth upwards ; but upon Giovanni his own crime falls like a curse, sudden as lightning ; he stands before us as one plague-stricken in the prime of spiritual health, helpless under the lash of love as Canace or Myrrha, Phædra or Pasiphae. The curious interfusion of reason with passion makes him seem but the more powerless to resist, the more hopeless of recovery. His sister is perhaps less finely drawn, though her ebbs and flows of passion are given with great force, and her alternate possession by desire and terror, repentance and defiance, if we are sometimes startled by the rough rapidity of the change, does not in effect impair the unity of character, obscure the clearness of outline. She yields more readily than her brother to the curse of Venus, with a passionate pliancy which prepares us for her subsequent prostration of mind at the feet of her confessor, and again for the revival of a fearless and shameless spirit under the stroke of her husband's violence. Nothing can be finer than the touches which bring out the likeness and unlikeness of the two ; her fluctuation and his steadfastness, her ultimate repentance and his final impenitence. The sin once committed, there is no more wavering or flinching possible to him, who has fought so hard against the dæmoniac possession; while she who resigned body and soul to the tempter almost at a word remains liable to the influences of religion and remorse. Of all the magnificent scenes which embody their terrible story the last is (as it should be) the most noble ; it is indeed the finest scene in Ford. Even the catastrophe of “The Broken Heart," —that “transcendent scene," as Lamb justly called it—though