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Broken Heart,' has failed (as far as I can judge) in establishing the parallel between this uncalled-for exhibition of stoicism, and the story of the Spartan boy.
It may be proper to remark here, that most of the great men of the period I have treated of (except the greatest of all, and one other,) were men of classical education. They were learned men in an unlettered age; not self-taught men in a literary and critical age. This circumstance should be taken into the account in a theory of the dramatic genius of that age. Except Shakspeare, nearly all of them, indeed, came up from Oxford or Cambridge, and immediately began to write for the stage. No wonder. The first coming up to London in those days must have had a singular effect upon a young man of genius, almost like visiting Babylon or Susa, or a journey to the other world. The stage (even as it then was,) after the recluseness and austerity of a college life, must have appeared like Armida's enchanted palace, and its gay votaries like
"Fairy elves beyond the Indian mount,
Or dreams he sees; while overhead the moon
Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth
Wheels her pale course: they on their mirth and dance
Intent, with jocund music charm his ear:
At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds."
So our young novices must have felt when they first saw the magic of the scene, and heard its syren sounds with rustic wonder and the scholar's pride: and the joy that streamed from their eyes at that fantastic vision, at that gaudy shadow of life, of all its business and all its pleasures, and kindled their enthusiasm to join the mimic throng, still has left a long lingering glory be hind it; and though now "deaf the praised ear, and mute the tuneful tongue," lives in their eloquent page, "informed with music, sentiment, and thought, never to die!"
On Single Plays, Poems, &c.—The Four P's, The Return from Parnassus, Gammer Gurton's Needle, and other Works.
I SHALL, in this lecture, turn back to give some account of single plays, poems, &c. ; the authors of which are either not known or not very eminent, and the productions themselves, in general, more remarkable for their singularity, or as specimens of the style and manners of the age, than for their intrinsic merit or poetical excellence. There are many more works of this kind, however, remaining, than I can pretend to give an account of; and what I shall chiefly aim at, will be to excite the curiosity of the reader, rather than to satisfy it.
The Four P's' is an interlude, or comic dialogue, in verse, between a Palmer, a Pardoner, a Poticary, and a Pedlar, in which each exposes the tricks of his own and his neighbours' profession, with much humour and shrewdness. It was written by John Heywood, the Epigrammatist, who flourished chiefly in the reign of Henry VIII., was the intimate friend of Sir Thomas More, with whom he seems to have had a congenial spirit, and died abroad, in consequence of his devotion to the Roman Catholic cause, about the year 1565. His zeal, however, on this head, does not seem to have blinded his judgment, or to have prevented him from using the utmost freedom and severity in lashing the abuses of Popery, at which he seems to have looked "with the malice of a friend." The Four P's' bears the date of 1547. It is very curious, as an evidence both of the wit, the manners, and opinions of the time. Each of the parties in the dialogue gives an account of the boasted advantages of his own particular calling, that is, of the frauds which he practises on credulity and ignorance, and is laughed at by the others in turn. In fact, they all of them strive to outbrave each other, till the contest becomes a jest, and it ends in a wager who shall tell the greatest lie, when
the prize is adjudged to him who says that he had found a patient woman.* The common superstitions (here recorded) in civil and religious matters are almost incredible; and the chopped logic, which was the fashion of the time, and which comes in aid of the author's shrewd and pleasant sallies to expose them, is highly entertaining. Thus the Pardoner, scorning the Palmer's long pilgrimages and circuitous road to heaven, flouts him to his face, and vaunts his own superior pretensions :
"Pard. By the first part of this last tale,
But in one part you are beyond me,
That no man can be their controller,
And where you esteem your labour so much
I say yet again, my pardons are such,
That if there were a thousand souls on a heap,
Which is far a-this side heaven, by God:
These pardons bring them to heaven plain:
In half an hour, or three quarters at the most,
The Poticary does not approve of this arrogance of the Friar, and undertakes, in mood and figure, to prove them both "false knaves." It is he, he says, who sends most souls to heaven, and who ought, therefore, to have the credit of it.
"No soul, ye know, entereth heaven-gate,
* Or, never known one otherwise than patient.
Without help of the Poticary?
Nay, all that cometh to our handling,
Have thank of all their coming thither?"
The Pardoner here interrupts him captiously—
"If ye kill'd a thousand in an hour's space,
But the Poticary, not so baffled, retorts
"If a thousand pardons about your necks were tied;
But when ye feel your conscience ready,
I can send you to heaven very quickly."
The Pedlar finds out the weak side of his new companions, and tells them very bluntly, on their referring their dispute to him, a piece of his mind.
"Now have I found one mastery,
That ye can do indifferently;
At this game of imposture, the cunning dealer in pins and laces undertakes to judge their merits; and they accordingly set to work like regular graduates. The Pardoner takes the lead, with an account of the virtues of his relics; and here we may find a plentiful mixture of popish superstition and indecency. The bigotry of any age is by no means a test of its piety, or even sincerity. Men seemed to make themselves amends for the enormity of their faith by levity of feeling, as well as by laxity of principle; and in the indifference or ridicule with which they treated the wilful absurdities and extravagances to which they hood-winked their understandings, almost resembled children playing at blindman's-buff, who grope their way in the dark, and make blunders on purpose to laugh at their own idleness and
folly. The sort of mummery at which popish bigotry used to play at the time when this old comedy was written, was not quite so harmless as blindman's-buff: what was sport to her, was death to others. She laughed at her own mockeries of common sense and true religion, and murdered while she laughed. The tragic farce was no longer to be borne, and it was partly put an end to. At present, though her eyes are blind-folded, her hands are tied fast behind her, like the false Duessa's. The sturdy genius of modern philosophy has got her in much the same situation that Count Fathom has the old woman that he lashes before him from the robbers' cave in the forest. In the following dialogue of this lively satire, the most sacred mysteries of the Catholic faith are mixed up with its idlest legends by old Heywood, who was a martyr to his religious zeal, without the slightest sense of impropriety. The Pardoner cries out in one place (like a lusty Friar John, or a trusty Friar Onion)—
"Lo, here be pardons, half a dozen,
As in this world no man can find.
Kneel down all three, and when ye leave kissing,
Who list to offer shall have my blessing.
Friends, here shall ye see, even anon,
Of All-Hallows the blessed jaw-bone.
Mark well this, this relic here is a whipper;
My friends unfeigned, here's a slipper
Of one of the seven sleepers, be sure.
Here is an eye-tooth of the great Turk:
Whose eyes be once set on this piece of work,
May happily lose part of his eye-sight,
But not all till he be blind outright.
Kiss it hardly, with good devotion.
Pot. This kiss shall bring us much promotion:
For, by All-Hallows, yet methinketh
That All-Hallows' breath stinketh.
Palm. Ye judge All-Hallows' breath unknown:
If any breath stink, it is your own.