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The following little work is a humble attempt to supply a deficiency in the histories of Kent, by bringing into one point of view some account of individuals born, or resident, within its limits, who have distinguished themselves in one department of literature ; and to exhibit their claims to such distinction, by producing specimens of their compositions.
During the golden age of our poetry, the county of Kent produced a succession of writers, votaries of the Muse, exceeding in numerical amount, if not in character and reputation, that exhibited in the same period by any other province in the kingdom. It had also the honour, if such it be, of affording the scene of two of the earliest tragedies in our language. They were the works of unknown authors, but have, for the time in which they appeared, no inconsiderable share of merit. As we were prevented by circumstances which it would be useless to explain, from inserting an account of these early efforts of the dramatic muse in the regular order of our series, we may perhaps de excused if we venture to supply the deficiency in this place.
In the year 1592 was published in quarto a tragedy with the following title-" The lamentable and true tragedy of M. Arden of Feversham, in Kent, who was most wickedly murdered by the means of his disloyal and wanton wife, who for the love she bare to one Mosbie, hired two desperate ruffians, Black Will and Shagbag, to kill him. Wherein is shewed the great malice and dissimulation of a wicked woman, the insatiable desire of filthy lust, and the shameful end of all murderers." This work, which had become extremely scarce, was republished by Mr. Edward Jacob, of Feversham, in the form of an octavo volume, in the year 1770, and in a short preface, in which he gives an account of the play and the history on which it was founded, he ventures upon slight grounds, to attribute it to Shakspear. There are certainly a few good passages, in this old play, and some strong coincidences between certain expressions and phrases it contains, and others in the acknowledged works of our great dramatist; but they are not sufficiently numerous or important to warrant the opinion formed by Mr. Jacob. It is unnecessary to give any analysis of this tragedy, which has become well known to all frequenters of the theatre by the modern play of Lillo, founded upon the same incidents, and containing many passages borrowed directly from it, which still keeps possession of the provincial stage, and is occasionally acted for the edification, if not the amusement of the populace, alternately with its counterpart George Barnwell. The old play is, as may be expected, deficient in plan, and there is but little variety or merit in the characters; that of the bired ruffian Black Will
being by far the best ; but there is no offensive ribaldry, the common attendant of most contemporary efforts of that nature, and the language is in general correct. That it has some pretensions to poetry the following extracts will
however are of rare occurrence, and the dialogue is most commonly tame and insipid.
Ales. Husband, what mean you to get up so early ?
Summer nights are short, and yet you rise ere day;
Had I been waking, you had not risen so soon. Arden. Sweet love thou koow'st that we two, Ovid like,
Hare often chid the morn when't 'gan to peep,
I heard thee call on Mosbie in thy sleep.
For being awake he comes not in my thoughts. Arden. Ay, but you started up, and suddenly
Instead of him, caught me about the neck. Ales. Instead of him! why who was there but you,
And where but one is, how can I mistake? Arden. Nay love there is no credit in a dream ;
Let it suffice ;-I know thou lovest me,
Black Will. I tell thee, Green, the forlorn traveller,
Whose lips are glew'd with summer's parching heat,
Seest thou this gore that cleaveth to my face?
'Till Arden's heart be panting in my hand. Green. Why that's well said, but what says Shakbag? Shakbag. I cannot paint my valour out in words ;-
But give me place and opportunity,
Franklin. Ah what a hell is fretful jealousy!
What pity-moving words, what deep-fetch'd sighs,
Shakbag. Black night hath hid the pleasure of the day,
And sheeting darkness overhangs the earth,
As loath to give due audit to the hour ;
Mosbie. A woman's love is like the lightning's flame,
Which even in bursting forth consumes itself.
Arden. This night I dream'd, that being in a park,
A toil was pitch'd to overthrow the deer,