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Men. He look'd upon the trophies of his art,
James Shirley, “the last of a great race,” to quote Lamb, "all of whom spoke nearly the same language, and had a set of moral feelings and notions in common," was the author of some forty dramatic productions, most of them marked by a deep poetic vein, but deficient in character and humour, and some of them bearing marks of carelessness or hasty composition, yet full of animation and sprightly dialogue, that still secure the reader's interest. Here are a few lines by way
of specimen from his comedy of “ The Changes :"
Friend. Master Caperivit, before you read, pray tell me,
But for all that,
Like Switzers, and bear all the fields before them ;
Poets write masculine numbers. During the time of these dramatists and that of their predecessors there existed at Court a kind of entertainment, which was furnished by the chief poets of the day, and the utter abandonment of which by our parsimonious German monarchs we have great cause to regret. This was the court masque, a theatrical pageant, imitated also by the lawyers and the divines at the inns of court and the universities, which was called the Masque; of which Milton's “ Comus is to us the most poetical and familiar specimen. There is no reason why such an entertainment should not thrive now, and give an impulse to literature and an ennobling and elevating entertainment to all concerned. In Mr. Collier's “ Annals of the Stage ”—a book written with a certain exact dryness, but well worthy of attentive perusal—we find that this kind of drama arose in the early days of Elizabeth, and that it chiefly consisted in a grave and graceful musical and dramatic allegory, in which sometimes deep truths were impressed, and always graceful fancies presented. Many of these masques were given in Whitehall, in that banqueting room through which Charles I., who often enacted part in them, walked to the scaffold, and they ended at the death of Charles II.
EAVING for a time the Drama, once, as we have seen, a theological and still a moral teacher, we now approach that which has given the greatest literary im
pulse to the world, for he who would rightly understand the nature of the British people, should by no means forget that two great impulses have always governed them, and seem to interest them more than any others. These may be summed up in two words — Religion and Politics for
, while endeavouring to be thoroughly well governed, and justly dealt by in this world, the Englishman bends his thoughts to the next. Religion indeed mixes itself with his policy, and policy with his religion. He has his favourite statesman and his favourite preacher, the one offering him a panacea for all political evils; the other showing him an infallible method of salvation. It is but just to say that, although we may well be proud of the Statesmen who have conducted English affairs through many perilous times, we may be even prouder of the race of Theologians of all shades of opinion who have for centuries directed the thoughts of those who have relied on
them, in a manly, free, bold, and yet Christian way, and who have followed for the most part John Bunyan's advice, and have “stuck close by the Bible.”
These Theologians have produced an immense body of literature ; of which though few can wholly 'master it-yet is it incumbent upon all self-improvers to know something. Indeed it is earnestly to be wished that a deeper study of Christian theology were undertaken by the
young, who would find the old Church of England and Puritan divines, as well as the earlier English writers of the Roman Catholic Church, not only instructive, but really amusing and absorbing writers, totally devoid of the unpleasant mannerisms which make the religious tract and the religious magazine of to-day often nauseous, and full of true Christian piety, open, cheerful, and sunshiny in character. They abound in racy, nervous, and characteristic writing; not lacking in humorous, homely illustration, and free from the conventional solemnity and dulness which some later religious writers have assumed. For neither Lord Macaulay's description of the “Young Levite,” the play-writer's “Parson Subtle," nor Fielding's “Parson Trulliber” can be accepted as wholly characteristic of an age, since in that age good and sound Christians and Churchmen were to be found in plenty. The World and the Church, using these words in more senses than one, have been ever at variance. The man of the world paints the humorous, the characteristic, and the wicked of various classes ; and the “Parson” has always afforded an easy butt to fling those bitter jibes and jeers at, which, though they may cause the thoughtless to laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve. It is, however, to be remarked that the very painters of these Aristophanic characters of the professors of religion give us an antidote to their poison. As Fielding supplies us with one or two parsons to laugh at, so he takes care to paint one whom all the world may admire; and if Chaucer speaks full freely of the monk, the friar, and the abbot, he does not omit to paint the poor parson (curate) of a town in such tender words that the world will not readily forget them
A good man was ther of religioun,
He taught ; and ferst he folwed it himselve. It will not be necessary for the general student to read the very early English divines. Neither in matter nor in manner will these writers repay him. The venerable Bede, and the Anglo-Saxon and Norman ecclesiastical writers may also be left to those scholars who make special researches in these fields of literature. Even the Fathers of the Christian Church are, with very few exceptions—and we may say this freely, as they are common property, and neither Romanist nor Protestant-hardly worth reading. They were, says a modern Professor of History, and we can reecho his words, "extravagantly over-rated in the days of the Reformers as divines and authorities in matters of faith ; and there is something melancholy in such men as Ridley and Cranmer resting their own doctrines on the authority of men so greatly inferior to