Page images



If ever there was a born poet, Marlowe was one. He perceived things in their spiritual as well as material relations, and impressed them with a corresponding felicity. Rather, he struck them as with something sweet and glowing that rushes by ;perfumes from a censer,-glances of love and beauty. And he could accumulate images into as deliberate and lofty a grandeur. Chapman said of him, that he stood

Up to the chin in the Pierian food.

Drayton describes him as if inspired by the recollection :

Next Marlowe, bathèd in the Thespian springs,
Had in him those brave translunary things,
That the first poets had ; his raptures were
All air and fire, which made his verses clear
For that fine madness still he did retain,
Which rightly should possess a poeť s brain.

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 honor of being the only English writer to whom Shakspeare seems to have alluded with approbation. In As You Like It, Phæbe says,

Dead Shepherd ! now I know thy saw of might,-
“Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?”

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. Tam. burlaine cries out to the captive monarchs whom he has yoked to his car,

Hollo, ye pampered jades of Asia,
What! can ye draw but twenty miles a-day,
And have so proud a chariot at your heels,
And such a coachman as great Tamburlaine ?

Then follows a picture drawn with real poetry:

The horse that guide the golden eye of heaven,
And blow the morning from their nostrils (read nosterils),
Making their fiery gait above the clouds,
Are not so honor'd in their governor,
As you, ye slaves, in mighty Tamburlaine.

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 ex. actly 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 occa

sionally 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
Like his desire lift upward and divine,
So large of limbs, his joints so strongly knit,
Such breadth of shoulders as might mainly bear
Old Atlas' burthen :-
Pale of complexion, wrought in him with passion, &c.

By “passion” we are to understand, not anger, but deep emotions. Peele or Green might possibly have written the beauti. ful verse that closes these four lines :

Kings of Argier, Moroccus, and of Fesse,
You that have marched with happy Tamburlaine
As far as from the frozen place of heaven
Unto the watery morning's ruddy bower :-

but the following is surely Marlowe's own :

As princely lions when they rouse themselves,
Stretching their paws and threatening herds of beasts,
So in his armor looketh Tamburlaine.-

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 east unto the farthest west
Shall Tamburlaine extend his puissant arm.
The gallies and those pilling brigandines
That yearly sail to the Venetian gulf
And hover in the Straits for Christian wreck,
Shall lie at anchor in the isle Arant,
Until the Persian fleet and men of wars,
Sailing along the Oriental sea,
Have fetch'd about the Indian continent,
Even from Persepolis to Mexico,
And thence unto the Straits of Jubaltàr.

Milton never surpassed the elevation of that close. Who also but Marlowe is likely to have written the fine pausaya 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-stork 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 successoij, 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 mod. ern 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.


So that of thus much that return was made,
And of the third part of the Persian ships,
There was the venture summ’d and satisfied.
As for those Samnites, and the men of Uz,
That bought my Spanish oils and wines of Greece,
Here have I purs'd their paltry silverlings.

Fie; what a trouble 'tis to count this trash!
Well fare the Arabians, who so richly pay
The things they traffic for with wedge of gold,
Whereof a man may easily in a day
Tell that which may maintain him all his life
The needy groom, that never finger'd groat,
Would make a miracle of thus much coin ;
But he whose steel-barr'd coffers are cramm'd full,
And all his life-time had been tired (read ti-er-ed),
Wearying his fingers' ends with telling it,
Would in his age be loth to labor so,
And for a pound to sweat himself to death.
Give me the merchants of the Indian mines,
That trade in metal of the purest mould;
The wealthy Moor, that in the eastern rocks
Without control can pick his riches up,
And in his house heap pearl like pebble-stones ;
Receive them free, and sell them by the weight;
Bags of fiery opals, sapphires, amethysts,
Jacinths, hard topaz, grass-green emeralds,
Beauteous rubies, sparkling diamonds,
And seld-seen costly stones of so great price,
As one of them indifferently rated,
And of a carat of this quantity,
May serve, in peril of calamity,
To ransom greai kings from captivity :
This is the ware wherein consists my wealth;
And thus, methinks, should men of judgment frame
Their means of traffic from the vulgar trade,
And as their wealth increaseth, so inclose
Infinite riches in a little room.
But now how stands the wind ?
Into what corner peers my halcyon's bill ?*
Ha! to the East? yes; see how stand the vanes ?
East and by south. Why then, I hope my ships
I sent for Egypt and the bordering isles
Are gotten up by Nilus' winding banks;
Mine argosies from Alexandria,?
Loaden with spice and silks, now under sail,
Are smoothly gliding down by Candy shore
To Malta, through our Mediterranean Sea.

1Samnites” and “ men of Uz,” and “ Spanish oils That is to say, countrymen and contemporaries of old Rome, of Arabian

* “ My halcyon's bill.”—The halcyon is the figure on the vane.

« PreviousContinue »