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For that fine madness still he did retain,
But this happy genius appears to have had as unhappy a will, which obscured his judgment. It made him condescend to write fustian for the town, in order to rule over it; subjected him to the charge of impiety, probably for nothing but too scornfully treating irreverent notions of the Deity; and brought him, in the prime of his life, to a violent end in a tavern. His plays abound in wilful and self-worshipping speeches, and every one of them turns upon some kind of ascendency at the expense of other people. He was the head of a set of young men from the university, the Peeles, Greens, and others, all more or less possessed of a true poetical vein, who, bringing scholarship to the theatre, were intoxicated with the new graces they threw on the old bombast, carried to their height the vices as well as wit of the town, and were destined to see, with indignation and astonishment, their work taken out of their hands, and done better, by the uneducated interloper from Stratford-upon-Avon.
Marlowe enjoys the singular and (so far) unaccountable honour of being the only English writer to whom Shakspeare seems to have alluded with approbation. In As You Like It, Phæbe says,
The “saw” is in Marlowe's Hero and Leander, a poem not comparable with his plays.
The ranting part of Marlowe's reputation has been chiefly owing to the tragedy of Tamburlaine, a passage in which is laughed at in Henry the Fourth, and has become famous. Tamburlaine cries out to the captive monarchs whom he has yoked to his car,
Holla, ye pampered jades of Asia,
Then follows a picture drawn with real poetry :
The horse that guide the golden eye of Heaven,
It has latterly been thought, that a genius like Marlowe could have had no hand in a play so bombastic as this huffing tragedy. But besides the weighty and dignified, though monotonous tone of his versification in many places (what Ben Jonson, very exactly as well as finely, calls “ Marlowe's mighty line”), there are passages in it of force and feeling, of which I doubt whether any of his contemporaries were capable in so sustained a degree, though Green and Peele had felicitous single lines, and occasionally a refined sweetness. Take, for instance, the noble verses to be found in the description of Tamburlaine himself, which probably suggested to Milton his “ Atlantean shoulders”“ fit to bear mightiest monarchies”-and to Beaumont a fine image, which the reader will see in his Melancholy :
Of stature tall and straightly fashioned
By“ passion” we are to understand, not anger, but deep emotions. Peele or Green might possibly have written the beautiful verse that closes these four lines;
Kings of Argier, Moroccus, and of Fesse,
but the following is surely Marlowe's own :-
As princely lions when they rouse themselves,
and in the following is not only a hint of the scornful part of his style, such as commences the extract from the Jew of Malta, but the germ of those lofty
and harmonious nomenclatures, which have been thought peculiar to Milton.
So from the cast unto the farthest west
Milton never surpassed the elevation of that close. Who also but Marlowe is likely to have written the fine passage extracted into this volume, under the title of “ Beauty beyond Expression,” in which the thought argues as much expression, as the style a confident dignity? Tamburlaine was most likely a joint-stock piece, got up from the manager's chest by Marlowe, Nash, and perhaps half-a-dozen others; for there are two consecutive plays on the subject, and the theatres of our own time are not unacquainted with this species of manufacture.
But I am forgetting the plan of my book. Marlowe, like Spenser, is to be looked upon as a poet who had no native precursors. As Spenser is to be criticised with an eye to his poetic ancestors, who had nothing like the Faerie Queene, so is Marlowe with reference to the authors of Gorboduc. He got nothing from them; he prepared the way for the versification, the dignity, and the pathos of his successors, who have nothing finer of the kind to show than the death of Edward the Second-not Shakspeare himself:--and his imagination, like Spenser's, haunted those purely poetic regions of ancient fabling and modern rapture, of beautiful forms and passionate expressions, which they were the first to render the common property of inspiration, and whence their language drew “empyreal air.” Marlowe and Spenser are the first of our poets who perceived the beauty of words; not as apart from their significance, nor upon occasion only, as Chaucer did (more marvellous in that than themselves, or than the originals from whom he drew), but as a habit of the poetic mood, and as receiving and reflecting beauty through the feeling of the ideas.
THE JEW OF MALTA'S IDEA OF WEALTH.
So that of thus much that return was made,