Page images

As a dramatist, Lilly attained great popularity in his day, and he has been fortunate enough to receive more justice in this department of literature from modern criticism. Mr. Canıpbell, after applying his predecessor's phrase of “jargon” to Euphues, allows that his dramas exhibit traits of genius, and that he has several graceful interspersions of “sweet lyric song.”

The truth is, that there is no perceptible difference between his plays and his novel; the style is exactly similar, and they are both carried on almost entirely in dialogue. Lilly wanted the principal requisites for a successful dramatist, invention of character and of incident. All his personages hold the same lofty language, and tropes and metaphors are banded about by gods and serving men, heroes and artisans. The same poverty ofrinvention is also exhibited in the conduct of his plots, which display all the absurdities of his contemporaries, without any of their wild originality or artful intricacy. The gods and goddesses of the pantheon are assembled in the fens of Lincolnshire, and classic incidents are strangely blended with modern customs. Lilly was a Jearned man, and when he undertook to write plays for the amusement of his learned mistress, he naturally reverted to the authority of classic models. His comedies very much resemble those of antiquity : much

strange title :-“Pap with a hatchet; alias a fig for my godson; or crack me this out; or a country cuff ; that is, a sound box on the ear for the ideot Martin to hold his peace. Written by one that dares call a dog, a dog.” Isaac Walton remarks that publications of this kind from Lilly, Nash, Green, and others, effected more purpose in opposing the Martinists, than the grave and formal replies of the numerous divines engaged in the controversy, Titles similar to the above, were applied in ridicole of the uncouth phrases used by the Puritanic writera.

In "

of the plots is carried on by the agency of servants, old men dispute respecting the disposal of their children, exhibit much fatuity and suffer themselves to be duped by artful knaves. There is the same catalogue of seniors and juniors, parasites, serving men, matrons and harlots, which has, in the pages of Terence, served to try the patience and corrupt the morals of our school boys from generation to generation. Most of Lilly's plays were written designedly for the ear as well as the eye of Queen Elizabeth, and are consequently dashed with an ample portion of court flattery, To effect this purpose, some of the" common tales of classic lore are strangely wrested from their course. Endimion" Diana is converted into an earthly sovereign, and so is the Grecian poetess in “ Sappho and Phaon :"—in “Galathea,” we have Diana again, with all her attributes, holding Capid captive, and defying his power: and in "Alexander" conquering his affection, the prototype is visible.

Lilly's plays were collected and published after his death, by Edward Blount, in one volume, with the following title :-"Six Court Comedies, often presented and acted before Queen Elizabeth by the children of her majesty's chapel, and the children of Paul's. Written by the only rare poet of that time, the witty, comical, facetiously-quick, and unparalleled John Lilly, Master of Arts. Decies repetita placebunt. London, printed by William Stanley, for Edward Blount, 1632.” This editor appears to bave been a disciple of our courtly bard, and exhibits the perfection of his style in the following neat dedication to Richard Lord Lumley of Waterford," and " Address to the Reader.”

“My noble Lord :

“ It can be no dishonour to listen to this poet's music, whose tunes alighted in the ears of a great and ever famous queen. His invention was so curiously strung, that Eliza's court held his notes in admiration. Light airs are now in fashion ; and these not being sad fit the season, though perchance not suit so well with your more serious contemplations.

“ The spring is at hand, and therefore I present you with a Lilly growing in a grove of laurels; for this poet sat at the sun's table; Apollo gave him a wreath of his own bays without snatching. The lute he played on had no borrowed strings.

“I am, my Lord, no executor, yet I presurne to distribute the goods of the dead. Their value being in no way answerable to those debts of duty and affection in which I stand obliged to your Lordship. The greatest treasure our poet left behind him are these six ingots of refined invention, richer than gold. Were they diamonds they are now yours. Accept them, noble Lord, in part, and me

Your Lordship's
Ever obliged and

ED. BLOUNT." - To the Reader:

“ Reader, I have for the love I bear lo posterity, digged up


grave of a rare and excellent poet, whom Queen Elizabeth heard, graced and rewarded. These papers of his lay I ke dead laurels in a church-yard; but I have gathered ihe scattered branches up, and by a charm gotten froin Apolio, made them green again, and set them up as epitaphs to his memory.

“ A sin it were to suffer these rare monuments of wit to be covered in dust; and a shame such conceited comedies should be acted by nothing but worms. Oblivion shall not so trample upon a son of the muses,

and such a son as they called their darling. Our nation are in debt for a new English which he taught them.Euphues and his England began fist that language ; all our ladies were then his scholars, and that beauty in court which could not parley Euphuism, was as little regarded, as she which now there, speaks not French.

" These his plays crowned him with applause, and the spectators with pleasure. Thou canst not repent reading them over; when old John Lilly is merry with thee in thy chamber, thou shalt say, few, or none of our poets now are such witty companions, and thank me that brings him to thy acquaintance.


ED. BLOUNT.” These six comedies are severally entitled,—“Endimion,"_"Alexander and Campaspe,”—“Sappho and Phaon, L" Galathea,”—“Midas,"_" and “Mother Bombie.” It would be a waste of time to attempt an analysis of any of them; a few extracts, carefully selected, will enable the reader to form a correct estimate and character of the writer.

Every play has its prologue and epilogue, and some of them two, one of them being addressed immediately to the Queen, when the representation was graced with her presence. The following is prefixed to Midas :

The Prologue in Pauls.Gentlemen, so nice is the world, that for apparel there is no fashion, for music no instrument, for diet

no delicate, for plays no invention, but breedeth satiety before noon, and contempt before night.

“ Come to the taylor, he is gone to the painters to learn how more cunning may lurk in the fashion, than can be expressed in the making. Ask the musicians, they will say their heads ach with devising notes beyond E La. Enquire at the ordinaries, there must be sallads for the Italian; pick-tooths for the Spaniards; pots for the German; pottage for the Englishman. At our exercises, soldiers call for tragedies, their object is blood; courtiers for comedies, their subject is love; countrymen for pastorals, shepherds are their saints. Trafic and travel have woven the nature of all nations into ours, and made this land like arras, which was broadcloth full of workmanship.

“ Time hath confounded our minds, our minds the matter; but all cometh to this pass, that what heretofore hath been served in several dishes for a feast, is now minced in a charger for a gallimaufry. If we present a mingle-mangle, our fault is to be excused, because the whole world is become a hodge-podge.

“We are jealous of your judgments because you are wise; of our own performance because we are imperfect; of our author's device because he is idle; only this doth encourage us, that presenting our studies before gentlemen, though they receive an inward mislike, we shall not be hissed with an open disgrace : stirps rudis urtica est: stirps generosa rosa.

The following scene, which concludes the "Tragical Comedy of Alexander and Campaspe," is perhaps the best in the whole series.

« PreviousContinue »