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Local descriptions, after a few striking circumstances have been selected, admit of no further detail. It is not their length, but their happiness, which enters into our comprehension; the imagination can only take in and keep together a very few parts of a picture. The pen must not intrude on the province of the pencil, any more than the pencil must attempt to perform what cannot in any shape be submitted to the eye, though fully to the mind.
The great art, perhaps, of local description, is rather a general than a particular view ; the details must be left to the imagination; it is suggestion rather than description. There is an old Italian sonnet of this kind which I have often read with delight; and though I may not communicate the same pleasure to the reader, yet the story of the writer is most interesting, and the lady (for such she was) has the highest claim to be ranked, like the lady of Evelyn, among literary wives.
Francesca Turina Bufalini di Citta di Castello, of noble extraction, and devoted to literature, had a collection of her poems published in 1628. She frequently interspersed little domestic incidents of her female friend, her husband, her son, her grandchildren ; and in one of these sonnets she has delineated her palace of San Giustino, whose localities she appears to have enjoyed with intense delight in the company of her lord,” whom she tenderly associates with the scene. There is a freshness and simplicity in the description, which will perhaps convey a clearer notion of the spot than even Pliny could do in the voluminous description of his villa. She tells us what she found when brought to the house of her husband:
Ampie salle, ampie loggie, ampio cortile
E stanze ornate con gentil pitture,
Di marnio fatte, da scalpel non vile.
Di varij fior, di frutti, e di verdure,
E strade di beltà non dissimile;
Ha il ponte, e i fianchi, e lo circonda intorno
Fosso profundo e di real larghezza.
Con santo amor, con somma contentezza
Onde ne benedico il mese e il giorno !
I found together blended ; noble sculpture
It sometimes happens, in the history of national amusements, that a name survives while the thing itself is forgotten. This has been remarkably the case with our court Masques, respecting which our most eminent writers long ventured on so many false opinions, with a perfect ignorance of the nature of these compositions, which combined all that was exquisite in the imitative arts of poetry, painting, music, song, dancing, and machinery, at a period when our public theatre was in its rude infancy. Convinced of the miserable state of our represented drama, and not then possessing that more curious knowledge of their domestic history which we delight to explore, they were led into erroneous notions of one of the most gorgeous, the most fascinating, and the most poetical of dramatic amusements. Our present theatrical exhibitions are, indeed, on a scale to which the twopenny audiences of the barn play houses of Shakspeare could never have strained their sight; and our picturesque and learned costume, with the brilliant changes of our scenery, would have maddened the “property-men” and the “ tire-women” of the Globe or the Red Bull.* Shakspeare himself never beheld the true
Sir Philip Sidney, in his “Defence of Poesy,” 1595, alludes to the custom of writing the supposed locality of each scene over the stage, and asks, “What child is there that coming to a play, and seeing Thebes written in grcat letters on an old door, doth believe that it is Thebes." As late as the production of Davenant's Siege of Rhodes (circa 1656), this custom was continued, and is thus described in the printed edition of the play :-"In the middle of the frieze was a compartment wherein was written Rhodes.” In many instances the spectator was left to infer the locality of the scene from the dialogue.—“Now," says Sidney, “you shall have three ladies walke to gather flowers, and then we must believe the
magical illusions of his own dramas, with “Enter the Red Coat,” and “Exit Hat and Cloak,” helped out with “painted cloths;" or, as a bard of Charles the Second's time chants
Look back and see
And sat knee-deep in nut-shells in the pit. But while the public theatre continued long in this contracted state, without scenes, without dresses, without an : orchestra, the court displayed scenical and dramatic exhi
bitions with such costly magnificence, such inventive fancy, and such miraculous art, that we may doubt if the combined genius of Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and Lawes, or Ferobosco, at an era most favourable to the arts of imagination, has been equalled by the modern spectacle of the Opera.
But this circumstance had entirely escaped the knowledge of our critics. The critic of a Masque must not only have read it, but he must also have heard and have viewed it. The only witnesses in this case are those letter-writers of the day, who were then accustomed to communicate such domestic intelligence to their absent friends: from such ample correspondence I have often drawn some curious and sometimes important information. It is amusing to notice the opinions of some great critics, how from an original mis-statement they have drawn an illegitimate opinion, and how one inherits from the other the error which he propagates. Warburton said on Masques, that “Shakspeare was an enemy to these fooleries, as appears by his writing none.” This opinion was among the many which that singular critic threw out as they arose at the moment; for Warburton forgot that Shakspeare characteristically introduces one in the Tempest's most fanciful scene.* Granger, who had not much time to study the manners of the
whose personages he was so well acquainted stage to be a garden. By and by we heare newes of shipwracke in the same place ; then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock.” In Middleton's Chaste Maid, 1630, when the scene changes to a bed-room, "a bed is thrust out upon the stage, Alwit's wife in it ;" which simple process was effected by pushing it through the curtains that hung across the entrance to the stage, which at that time projected into the pit.
. The play of Pyramus and Thisbe, performed by the clowns in Shak. speare's Midsummer Night's Dream, is certainly constructed in burlesque of characters in court Masques, which sometimes were as difficult to be made comprehensible to an audience as “the clowns of Athens” found Wall and Moonshine to be.
with, in a note on Milton's Masque, said that “these compositions were trifling and perplexed allegories, the persons of which are fantastical to the last degree. Ben Jonson, in his
Masque of Christmas,' has introduced Minced Pie,' and * Baby Cake,' who act their parts in the drama.* But the most wretched performances of this kind could please by the help of music, machinery, and dancing.” Granger blunders, describing by two farcical characters a species of composition of which farce was not the characteristic. Such personages as he notices would enter into the Anti-masque, which was a humorous parody of the more solemn Masque, and sometimes relieved it. Malone, whose fancy was not vivid, condemns Masques and the age of Masques, in which, be says, echoing Granger's epithet, “ the wretched taste of the times found amusement.” And lastly comes Mr. Todd, whom the splendid fragment of the “ Arcades," and the entire Masque, which we have by heart, could not warm ; while his neutralising criticism fixes him at the freezing point of the thermometer. “ This dramatic entertainment, performed not without prodigious expense in machinery and decoration, to which humour we certainly owe the entertainment of • Arcades,' and the inimitable Mask of Comus.'” Comus, however, is only a fine dramatic poem, retaining scarcely any features of the Masque. The only modern critic who had written with some research on this departed elegance of the English drama was Warton, whose fancy responded to the fascination of the fairy-like magnificence and lyrical spirit of the Masque. Warton had the taste to give a specimen from “ The Inner Temple Mask by William Browne," the pastoral poet, whose Address to Sleep, he observed, “ reminds
* It is due to a great poet like Ben Jonson, that, without troubling the reader to turn to his works, we should give his own description of these characters, to show that they were not the “perplexed allegories" they are asserted to be by Granger; nor inappropriate to the Masque of Christmas, for which they were designed. MINCED-Pie was habited “like a fine cook's wife, drest neat, her man carrying a pie, dish, and spoon." BABY-CAKE was drest like a boy, in a fine long coat, biggin-bib), muckender (or handkerchief), and a little dagger ; his usher bearing a great cake, with a bean and a pease ;” the latter being indicative of those generally inserted in a Christmas cake, which, when cut into slices and distributed, indicated by the presence of the bean the person who should be king ; the slice with the pea doing the same for the queen. Neither of these characters speak, but make part of the show to be described by ! Father Christmas. Jonson's inventive talent was never more conspicuous than in the concoction of court Masques.
x of some favourite touches in Milton's Comus, to which it perhaps gave birth.” Yet even Warton was deficient in that sort of research which only can discover the true nature of these singular dramas.
Such was the state in which, some years ago, I found all our knowledge of this once favourite amusement of our court, oor nobility, and our learned bodies of the four inns of court. Some extensive researches, pursued among contemporary manuscripts, cast a new light over this obscure child of fancy and magnificence. I could not think lightly of what Ben Jonson has called “The Eloquence of Masques ;" entertainments on which from three to five thousand pounds were expended, and on more public occasions ten and twenty thousand. To the aid of the poetry, composed by the finest poets, came the most skilful musicians and the most elaborate machinists; Ben Jonson, and Inigo Jones, * and Lawes blended into one piece their respective genius; and Lord Bacon, and Whitelocke, and Selden, who sat in committees for the last grand Masque presented to Charles the First, invented the devices; composed the procession of the Masquers and the Anti-Masquers; while one took the care of the dancing or the brawlers, and Whitelocke the musicthe sage Whitelocke! who has chronicled his self-complaeency on this occasion, by claiming the invention of a Coranto, which for thirty years afterwards was the delight of the nation, and was blessed by the name of “ Whitelocke's Coranto," and which was always called for, two or three times over, whenever that great statesman came to see a play!"+ So much personal honour was considered to be involved in the conduct of a Masque, that even this committee of illustrious men was on the point of being broken up by too serious a discussion concerning precedence; and the Masque bad nearly not taken place, till they hit on the expedient of throwing dice to decide on their rank in the procession ! On this jealousy of honour in the composition of a Masque, I discovered, what hitherto had escaped the knowledge, although not the curiosity, of literary inquirersthe occasion of the memorable enmity between Ben Jonson
* The first employment of these two great men was upon The Masque of Blackness, performed at Whitehall on Twelfth-Night, 1603; and which cost nearly 10,0001. of our present money.
+ The music of Whitelocke's Coranto is preserved in Hawkins's “ History of Music.” Might it be restored for the ladies as a waltz ?