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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 wise 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 chạir 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. lle 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 pale
“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 persone 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:
6s Effect and cause the lover and the loved)
Are consequence and origin of one
Unholy thoughts, false gods, and evil deeds."
6. The forest tops
If Nature then declare her law to be
The sage's wisdom is his own-the wand
“I do opine, Master Francis,” continued our illustrious dramatist, with a look of kindness towards his young companion, who had been listening with delighted attention to Master Shakspeare's faultless delivery of his lines, _“I do opine that there is much admirable matter in these words; and the same opinion holds good towards other passages in your play, of similar excellence ; which plainly prove to me that there is no lack of promise in you. But be not too hasty; pluck not the fruit before it be ripe, else they who may chance to taste it will make wry mouths. If you would take the advice of one willing to do you all manner of good offices"
"If I do not, I should be the most unworthy varlet that lives," exclaimed Master Francis warmly.
1. “You will wait awhile before you offer any composition to the public eye,” said Master Shakspeare, affecting not to notice the interruption he had received, yet being much pleased thereat. “You are young--your knowledge of the world, therefore, must be scanty; and although I do perceive in your writings a comprehensive acquaintance with books, he who writeth tragedies should possess an equal knowledge of men ; therefore I do advise you, for some years to come, to study mankind, if you entertain any desire of taking your stand among our English dramatists. Moreover, you have as yet acquired no information as to the business of the stage-a matter of vast moment towards the success of even the best play. This you can only inform yourself of by noting what others have done. The most effective way for you to do this is to come to us at the play-house, where you shall have free ingress and egress upon every fitting occasion: and I will forward your interest in all that my poor skill or influence can effect.”
The tone of kindness with which these last sentences were delivered, seemed to have a most powerful effect upon the listener; indeed it had gone direct to his heart, and he sat for some seconds perfectly unable to utter a syllable.
"Is there anything more I can do for you?” enquired Master Shakspeare, regarding the changing colour and modest demeanour of his visitor with increasing interest. “Though I seek not to make a boast of it, I have some powerful friends, to whom, peradventure, my recommendation would do good service, if ventured in behalf of one of your excellent parts and disposition."
"Oh, Master Shakspeare!” murmured the youth, looking up to him with eyes made humid by his grateful emotions, “I would I had language to thank you; but my heart is too full.”
“Nay, nay, worthy Master Francis," said the other, encouragingly, “ If you love me you must not think of that. He who looks for thanks deserveth them not. Such a one am not I. I will acknowledge I feel a regard for you, and would wish to be your friend; and if you will entrust me with your confidence, rest assured it shall not be abused. Tell me, is your way of life agreeable to you?"
“ Indeed it is not,” replied his visitor, with a melancholy expression of countenance that completely attested the truth of the avowal. “But why should I take advantage of the goodness of your disposition? or why trouble you with my complaints ? I have already taken up too much of your valuable time.” Then he added, as he rose from his chair to depart, “I thank you very heartily for your kindness, which, in all times to come, shall be the most delightful of my remembrances; and if it please you to give me my papers, I would gratefully take my leave."
“We part not thus,” said Master Shakspeare, quickly, as he rose from his seat, and taking hold of Master Francis his shoulders, did affectionately push him back into his chair; then sitting carelessly on the edge of the table adjoining, with one hand of his visitor kindly pressed in his own, and with a most benevolently smiling countenance he proceeded. “We part not thus. Sit you down Master Francis—sit you down: and let not the modesty of your disposition be a stumbling block to the advancement of your fortunes. The world hath not used you well, or I mistake countenances hugely. Let me try to make amends for the unkindness of others. I have both the inclination and the power to serve; and it seemeth to me that I should do myself credit by any service I could render. Let me be your friend, Master Francis. I assure you, on the honour of a Christian gentleman, and a humble follower of the Muses, that you will do me a great wrong if you allow me not the satisfaction of befriending you."
• Indeed, Master Shakspeare, you are too good,” exclaimed his visitor, warmly returning the pressure of the hand he had received. “I know not what to say I lack words-I am quite overpowered."
“What a wittol am I, and one shamefully neglectful of the duties of hospitality!" said Master Shakspeare, suddenly, as he sprung from the table and, proceeding to a cupboard in a recess of the chamber, did presently return, bringing a flask and two drinking horns.
"I would you would excuse me, worthy Master Shakspeare," said the youth, modestly, as soon as he observed the movement of his host.
“Excuse me no excuses,” replied the other, with a smile, as he made room on the little table, and poured out the wine into the vessels: “What! shall it be said that Will Shakspeare denied a brother poet a draught of the fountain from which he hath so often drawn inspiration ? Tell it not at the Mermaid. A cup of this excellent sherris will warm both our hearts."
“You have made my heart warm enough as it is,” observed Master Francis, still hesitating to take the proffered cup.
“Tush, man!” replied Master Shakspeare, hospitably forcing the cup into his guest's almost reluctant hand, “ will you not drink to