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will acknowledge I fancy 'tis rather discreditable to me; but each has his own taste, and therefore it may stand a chance of pleasing thy inamorata. Listen, and I will read it to thee.”
Master Burbage did lean his elbow on the table, having his body bent forward, and supporting his head with his hand; and kept a profound attention whilst Master Shakspeare read the following lines.
6 The Time hath passed for godlike forms
To leave awhile their starry homes,
Elysian joy on mortal domes.
His golden spells on laughing earth;
With hymns of bliss, and shouts of mirth.
The Sea Nymphs dance not on the shore;
And Pan's sweet reed is heard no more.
And from his hand his bow hath cast;
Its tune hath fled—THE TIME HATH PASSED!
“ Gone are the glorious visitants
Who gave this world so bright a grace,
And endless crimes, are in their place;
That once made all Olympus giad;
Or perish with the mean and had.
That famished souls might break their fast,
The world is dead—THE TIME HATH PASSED!
Oh, no, the Time's restored again,
And with it all its gladdening shapes,
The cloud in which they lay, escapes.
Thy words chaste Dian's voice enslave,
When in the bath thy limbs must lave.
And keeps his sharp artillery there;
And stirs them in thy golden hair;
Tuned with the Dryads, measured trips,
When round thee all Olympus glows;
When worth like thine its praise bestows.
And joy that no ill breath can blast
Can harm me not--THE TIME HATH PASSED !"
“Excellent good, i' faith !” exclaimed Master Burbage, delightedly. “Excellent good! If she be not satisfied with it, nothing less than another Iliad will gratify her cormorant fancy. Give me the paper, sweet Will! Dan Homer was a blind ballad-monger to thee, thou prince of rhymers.”
“Avaunt, thou horrid flatterer!” cried Master Shakspeare, as he allowed his companion to conceal the verses in his purse. “But 'tis poor fishing with other folks' tackle, Dick,” he added, in his own facetious way.
“Faith, I care not an' I have good sport: and I'll pay thee for thy tackle with a loose fish or two,” replied the other, with a chuckle of inward satisfaction.
“I'll ha' none o' thy gudgeons,” said his friend, with mock disdain. “When I fish I catch whales.”
“Then hast thou a very blubberly taste," rejoined Master Burbage, “and when I want salve for a wound I'll come to thee; for thou must have a most infinite stock of spermaceti."..
Thus they proceeded, bantering and laughing at one another, and indulging their humours with perfect satisfaction to themselves, when a knock was heard at the door, and admittance being granted, there entered a man of a pleasant aspect, and of spare figure, not so gaily garmented as Master Burbage, yet having much of the outward appearance of respectability.
“Welcome, good Lazarus Fletcher. Welcome !” cried Master Shakspeare.
“Hail to thee, Lazarus !” added Master Burbage, in his usual jocose manner. “Hast thou come to the rich man's table, Lazarus ? Look for the crumbs, man! Look for the crumbs ! and thou art not like to get anything else ; for the table hath nothing better than a bare trencher and an empty tankard. Catch the crumbs that have fallen then, for, in truth, thou lookest woefully like a right hungry** Lazarus.”
“If I look as hungry as Lazarus, thou lookest as fine as Dives,” retorted Master Fletcher.
“What, be there no dogs to lick this Lazarus, that he seemeth so woundily sore?'' said the other. “But I tell thee what, Lazarus, an’ thou ever liest in Abraham's bosom, thou hadst best tuck up thine ancles, for thou must needs find there a plentiful lack of bedroom.”
“Mind not the reprobate, worthy Fletcher,” observed Master Shakspeare-yet unable to refrain from laughing
“Marry, why should I mind him," replied the other, “he only showeth that he hath a spice of the ability of Sampson : for he maketh a goodly use of the jawbone of an ass.”
“Ha, ha !” shouted Master Shakspeare, chafing his hands in the intensity of his delight. “Spare him not, good Lazarus; an' thou loveth me, spare him not.” Then looking towards his friend, he added, “ l'faith, Dick, thou hast found thy match.”
“Match !” exclaimed Master Burbage, turning sharp round from the casement out of which he had that moment been leaning, “ay, marry! and like other matches--all the good lieth in the brimstone.
But tell us thy news, Master Fletcher; for that there is something in the book is evident in the index-thou lookest as important as a tailor's wife threading her husband's needle.”
“O’my troth, I have something worth the telling,” replied he.
“Disburthen thyself then, and quickly, good Lazarus,” observed Master Shakspeare.
“ There hath a message come from the Master of the Revels, worthy Master Edmond Tilney,” said Master Fletcher, “ to the intent that it be the design of the queen's majesty, with divers of her honourable court, to honour her poor players with a visit ; and leaving Hemings and Condell and the rest to prepare for her reception, I posted off here, as Master Burbage had left word that he would be found at Master Shakspeare's lodgings.”
“Hurrah !" shouted Master Burbage, snatching up his hat and waving it over his head, “we'll have a right worshipful audience. Heaven preserve her majesty, and enrich her servants, say I. Come along, good Lazarus !” he added, as he caught his brother actor by the arm, we must to the playhouse.”
“I will be with thee anon, Dick,” said Master Shakspeare, as his visitors were proceeding to the door. “But I have a letter to write to my Lord Southampton, to thank him for yonder exquisite present of flowers he hath sent me from his own garden, and to acquaint him with our proceedings with the court of aldermen, touching our threatened liberties, at the Blackfriars.”
“Success attend thee, Will, in all thy doings,” exclaimed his friend, and putting on his hat he led his companion out of the chamber.
Master Shakspeare being left alone, did presently draw up his chair closer to the table on which he had been writing, and did recommence his labours with an admirable diligence. Mayhap he was engaged in the inditing of one of those right famous plays which did bring so much honour to his name; but know I not this for a surety; and as a trusty chronicler, I will only subscribe to that of which I have perfect knowledge. However, it be certain that he had not been long so engaged, when a third knock was heard at the door, so gentle it was scarcely audible; and although he seemed at first somewhat impatient of interruption (for no man liketh to be much disturbed in his privacy), when, upon his giving permission to the person to enter, he observed his visitor, he gave him most courteous welcome. He was a youth, aged seventeen, or thereabouts, tall, slim, and elegant, and though clad in homely russet, there was that in his graceful carriage, and in his mild yet thoughtful countenance, that did signify something of a far higher quality than such poor apparel did denote. But most remarkable was the exceeding modesty of his deportment. He opened and closed the door almost tremblingly, and respectfully taking off his hat, advanced into the room with downcast eyes, to the great marvel of our illustrious poet.
“I took the boldness, Master Shakspeare,” said the youth falteringly, as he kept smoothing his hat with his hand where he stood in the middle of the chamber-" I took the boldness some short time since to send you a tragedy of my poor contrivance; hoping, from
what I had heard of your worthy disposition, that you would honour that humble attempt to such an extent as to give it your perusal; and peradventure if such an obscure individual be not thought altogether unworthy of attention from one so excellently gifted as yourself, you will favour me so far as to grant me your opinion of its matter and management."
“ That will I, worthy sir, without fail,” replied Master Shakspeare, regarding his young visitor with a more than ordinary interest. “But you must first acquaint me with your name, and the title of the play you entrusted to my custody; for my reputation, however little deserved it may be, and my influence at the playhouse, which is thought to be greater than it is, are the causes of my being continually applied to for a similar purpose.”
“The tragedy was called “Hero and Leander,' and I signed my name · Francis,'” murmured the youth.
“Let me beg of you to be seated, worthy Master Francis,” exclaimed the other, as he hastily handed him a chair. “I remember it well,” he added, as he searched among his papers on the table, “ by the token that it did contain many passages that exhibited no mean ability."
The melancholy aspect of the young stranger did brighten up marvellously at the hearing of this commendation, and his eyes looked abundance of thanks. He argued the most favourable conclusion from so promising a commencement, for it is the nature of youth to be sanguine upon very little occasion.
I have it," said Master Shakspeare, as he laid hold of the manuscript; and, opening it, sat himself down in the chair, as if to give it a careful examination: then added, “but in all honesty, I must acknowledge that it hath a total unfitness for representation.” At this the youth's countenance became blanched with a sudden paleness. “It hath a lack of everything which is most necessary for a drama to have: to wit, action-interest-and character; the which if it have not, were it written by King Solomon himself, or the seven wise masters in conjunction, it would have no chance with our modern audiences. The time of mysteries and moralities hath gone by. People now will not listen to dialogues without an object, and plays without a plot. David hath ceased to abuse Goliath in a set speech an hour long, and Joseph lingereth no longer to preach a thrice tedious sermon to Potiphar's wife. If a play have not action it must needs have but little interest; for although something may occasionally be done in a narrative form, if the ball be not kept up-that is to say, if the dramatis personæ be doing of nothing-even if the sentences be proverbs of wisdom, then shall the play be a bad play. Again, if the characters who form the plot have no individuality or distinct features, in accordance with nature or probability, though they look like Alexanders and argue like Aristotles, shall the play be a bad play. Your tragedy, Master Francis, hath these particular defects, and I should be hugely deficient in candour, and in no way deserving the confidence you have been pleased to place in me, were I to refrain from telling you that it cannot be acted with any profit
either to yourself or others. There is another objection to it—the subject hath already been done by Kit Marlowe.”
Master Shakspeare observing for the first time that the lips of his visitor had lost their accustomed ruddiness, and that he did look most despairing and woe-begone, with that sweet sympathy which maketh the generous so fearful of giving pain to another, instantly began to turn over the leaves of Master Francis his play, and resumed his discourse. “But let me not cause you to imagine that I think naught of your tragedy, Master Francis. Far be it from me to say so. I do consider the blank verse very musical and eloquent, and full of right admirable conceits. Here is a passage in which a lover, expostulating with his mistress, who doth affect inconstancy in no small measure, sayeth this much as argument to prove the unity of love:
“ Effect and cause the lover and the loved)
Are consequence and origin of one
Unholy thoughts, false gods, and evil deeds.”
“ The forest tops
"If Nature then declare her law to be
The moment that in other bands 'tis placed