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MONTHLY REVIEW ,
For JANUARY, 1807.
Art. I." The Plays of Philip Massinger, with Notes critical and
explanatory, by William Gifford, Esq. 8vo. 4 Vols. 21. Ss. Nicol, &c. It is with considerable satisfaction that we receive a new
edition of the plays of a great dramatic Poet, who was the cotemporary of Shakspeare, of Jonson, of Beaumont, and of Fletcher; and with whom his own name may be joined as giving lustre to the times in which they lived. Yet never within our memory, scarcely more than at the present moment, have the compositions of this writer been so generally known as their merit has deserved ; although neither their phraseology will appear uncouth or obsolete, nor their humour be disrelished, while the plays of Shakspeare are studied and esteemed. They possess similar characteristics of the age which gave them birth, and are distinguished by kindred genius : but it must at the same time be remarked that they often offend equally, or in a greater degree, against the laws of probability in their incidents and the rules of decorum in their language. They must be admired for the invention, for the poetry, for the knowlege of mankind, for the powers of satire, of ridicule, and of wit which they discover, and even for the moral which they are designed to inculcate : but the alloy of indecency is so great that they can never be indiscriminately recommended, nor be read in a circle in which the modesty of youth or the delicacy of sex should be held sacred. The dramatists might find an apology for their licentiousness in the grossness of their days: but if we are not now in reality more virtuous, we are atdcast more refined.
Of Massinger's life, but little seems to be known. He was born in the year 1584 at Salisbury, or, as it is conjectured, at Wilton, the seat of the Earl of Pembroke, in whose service his father lived, and where he himself appears to have received his carlyinstruction. His education was literal; and inlis eighteenth year, he was sent to the Universicy of Oxford, where he be
came a Cominoner of St. Alban's Hall. We find him afterward obliged' by his necessities, and perhaps by the peculiar bent of his talents, to dedicate himself to the service of the Stage ; and here we are sorry to see him struggling with difficulties, in common with others whose subsistence depended on the emoluments to be derived from dramatic writings. He died on the 17th of March, 1640.
• He went to bed in good health, says Langhaine, and was found dead in the morning in his own house on the Bankside. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Saviour's, and the comedians paid the last sad duiy to his name, by attending him to the grave.
It does not appear, from the strictest search, that a stone, or inscription of any kind, marked the place where his dust was deposited: : even the memorial of bis mortality is given with a pathetick brevity, which accords but too well with the obscure and humble passages of his life: “ March 20, 1639-40, buried Philip Massinger, - A STRANGER"!
No flowers were fung into his grave, elegies “ soothed his hovering Spirit," and of all the admirers of his talents and his worth, none but Sir Astone Cockayne dedicated a line to his memory. It would be an abuse of language to honour any composition of Sir Aston with the name of poetry, but the steadiness of liis regard for Massinger may be justly praised. In that collection of doggrel rhymes, which I have already mentioned, (p. xiii.) there is “an epitaph on Mr. John Fletcher, and Mr. Philip Massinger, who lie both buried in one grave in St. Mary Overy's church, in Southwark :
“ In the same grave was Fletcher buried, here
Lies the stage poet, Philip Massinger ;
· Here in their fame they lie, in spight of death,” "The number of Massinger's plays which are known to be extant, and which are printed in the present collection, is eighteen : but one of these, The Parliament of Love, pow first committed to the press, is in an imperfect state.
Several others, by some strange negligence, were destroyed among the manuscript plays, collected with such care by Mr. Warburton (Somerset Herald) and applied with such perseverance by his cook to the covering of his pies.' Concerning this piece of destruction, Mr. Gifford shall speak for himself. The number of these plays, said to be written by Massinger alone, was not less than twelve, but probably two of them did not belong to him.
• Their titles, as given by Mr. Warburton, are-Minerva's Sacri. fice The Force Lady. Antonio and Valia. The Woman's Plot. . The Tyrans, " Phileixi and Hippolite. The Judje. Fast and Wel
Believe as you List. The Honour of Women. The Noble Choice. And, The Parliament of Love. When it is added that, together with these, forty other manuscript plays of various authors were destroyed, it will readily be allowed that English literature has reldom sustained a greater loss than by the strange conduct of Mr. Warburton, who becoming the master of treasures which ages may not reproduce, lodges them, as he says, in the honds of an ignorant servant, and when, after a lapse of years, he condescends to revisit his boards, finds that they have been burnt from an economical wish to save him the charges of more valuable brown paper! It is time to bring on shore the beok hunting passenger* in Locher's Navis Stultifera, and exchange him for one more suitable to the rest of the targo. • Tardy, however, as Mr. Warburton it
that he came in time to preserve three dramas from the general wreck ; The Second Maid's Tragedy. The Bugbears. And The Queen of Corsica.
• These, it is said, are now in the library of the marquis of Lansdowne, where they will probably remain in safety till moths, or damps, or fires mingle their “ forgotten dust” with that of their late companions.
When it is considered at how trifing an expense a manuscript play may be placed beyond the reach of accident, the witholding it from the press will be allowed to prove a strange indifference to the ancient literature of the country.
The fact however seems to be, that these treasures are made subservient to the gratification of a spurious rage for notoriety : it is not that any benefit may accrue from them either to the proprietors or others, that manuscripts are now hoarded, but that A or B may be celebrated for possessing whal no other letter of the alphabet can hope to acquire.
Nor is this all. The hateful passion of literary avarice (a compound of vanity and envy) is becoming epidemick, and branching out in every direction. It has many of the worst symptoms of that madDess which once raged among the Dutch for the possession of tulips : -here, as well as in Hoiland, an artificial rarity is first created, and then made a plea for extortion, or a ground for low-minded and selfish exultation. I speak not of works never intended for sale, and of which, therefore, the owner may print as few or as many as his feelings will allow, but of those which are estensibly designed for the publick, and which, notwithstanding, prove the citors to labour urder this odious disease. Here, an old manusciipt is brought forward, and after a few copies are printed, the press is broken up, that there may be a pretence for selling them at a price which none but a collector can reach : there, explanatory plates are engraved for a work of general use, and, as soon as twenty or thirty impressions are taken off, destroyed with gratuitous malice, (for it deserves no other name,) that there may be a mad competition for the favoured copies ! To conclude, for this is no pleasant subject, books are purchased now
Spem quoque nec parvam collecta volumina prebent
at extravagant rates, not because they are good, but because they are scarce, so that a fire or an enterprising trunk-maker that should take off nearly the whole of a worthless work, would instantly render the small remainder invaluable.'
Of the previous editions of Massinger's plays, Mr. Gifford speaks in terms of reprehension bordering on contempt. The first of these was by Coxeter, or rather one published from Coxeter's papers by a bookseller of the name of Dell; and in which, we are told, “ Massinger appeared to less advantage than in the old copies. A second edition was given by Mr. Thomas Davies: but, on the authority of Mr. Waldron, of Drury-lane Theatre, this is said to be only that of Dell with a new title-page. The last labourer in this work was Mr. Monck. Mason, and his edition is infinitely worse than Coxeter's.'Alas, poor Massinger !
• The genuine merits of the Pret, however, were atrong enough to overcome these wretched remoras. The impression was become scarce, and though never worth the paper on which it was printed, sold at an extravagant price, when a new edition was proposed to me by Mr Evans of Pall-Mall. Massinger was a favourite; and I had frequently lamented, with many others, that he had fallen into such hands. I saw, without the assistance of the old copies, that his metre was disregarded, that his sense was disjointed and broken, that his dialogue was imperfect, and that he was encumbered with explanatory trash which would disgrace the pages of a sixpenny magazine; and in the hope of remedying these, and enabling the Author to take his place on the same shelf, I will not say with Shakspeare, but with Jonson, Beaumont, and his associate Fletcher, I readily undertook the labour.
• My first care was to look round for the old editions. To collect these is not at all times possible, and, in every case, is a work of trouble and expense ; but the kindness of individuals supplied me with all that I wanted. Octavius Gilchrist, a gentleman of Stamford, no sooner heard of my design, than he obligingly sent me all the copies which he possessed; the Rev. P. Bayles of Colchester (only known to pie by this act of kindness) presented me with a small but choice selection ; and Mr. Malone, with a liberality which I shall ever remember with gratitude and delight, furnished me, unsolicited, with his invaluable collection, among which I found all the first editions : these, with such as I could procure in the course of a few months from the booksellers, in addition to the copies in the Museum, and in the rich collection of His Majesty, which I consulted from time to time, form the basis of the present work.'
With these aids, Mr. Gifford undertook the business of col. lation ; and we are informed that every play has undergone, at least, five close examinations with the original text. On this strictness of revision rests the great distinction of this edi. sion from the preceding ones, from which it will be found to
Dary in an infinite number of places : indeed, accuracy, as Mr.
Those who are accustomed to the crowded pages of our modern editors, will probably be somewhat startled at the comparative naked. ness of this. If this be an errour, it is a voluntary one. I never could conceive why the readers of our old dramatists should be suspected of labouring under a greater degree of ignorance than those of any other class of writers; yet, from the trite and insignificant materials amassed for their information, it is evident that a persuasion of this sature is uncommonly prevalent. Customs which are universal, and expressions “familiar as household words” in every mouth, are illustrated, that is to say, overlaid, by an immensity of parallel passages, with just as much wisdom and reach of thought as would be evinced by him who, to explain any simple word in this line, should empty upon the reader all the examples to be found under it in Johnson's Dictionary!'
"I have proceeded on a Wifferent plan. Passages that only exercise the memory, by suggesting similar thoughts and expressions in other writers, are, if somewhat obvious, generally left to the reader's own discovery. Uncommon and obsolete words are briefly explained, and, where the phraseology was doubtful or obscure, it is illustrated and confirmed by quotations from contemporary authors. In this
part of the work, no abuse has been attempted of the reader's patience: the most positive that could be found are given, and a scrupulous attention is every where paid to brevity; as it has been always my persuasion,
56 That where one's proofs are aptly chosen,
Four are as valid as four dozen." "I do not know whether it may be proper to add here, that the freedoms of the Author (of which, as none can be more sensible than myself so none can more lament them) have obtained little of my so. licitude : those, therefore, who examine the notes with a prurient eye, will find no gratification of their licentiousness. I have called in no Amner to drivel out gratuitous obscenities in uncouth language ;* no Collins (whose name should be devoted to lasting infamy) to ransack the annals of a brothel for secrets " better hid;"' + where I wished
"In uncouth language;] It is singular that Mr. Steevens, who was so well acquainted with the words of our ancient writers, should be so ignorant of their style. The language which he has put into the mouth of Amner is a barbarous jumble of different ages, that never had, and never could have, a prototype.
+ One book which (not being, perhaps, among the archives so carefully explored for the beneht of the youthful readers of Shakspeare) seems to have escaped the notice of Mr. Collins, may yet be