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The fifty-three plays, which are published as the joint works of Beaumont and Fletcher, do not give them more reputation as poets, than their steady friendship confers honour upon them as men.
To the querulous and the vain it must be a subject of astonishment, how two persons could derive fame so directly from the same source, as writing plays together, without contending which had the strongest claim to that general admiration, which their productions excited !
—To female authors, of all others, this long mental union must be matter of amazement! With them, such a conjunction of efforts had been intolerable as soon as praise became the reward; each would then have demanded the largest share, prompted by the conscientious scruples of justice.
There is one failing, notwithstanding their stable friendship, which likens these poets to the female sex—they did not write perfect grammar.-It was the fashion of the times to be incorrect; and ease is the parent of genius. Shakspeare, who wrote at the same time, might have been restrained in many of his sublimest flights, by the dread of a modern Review.
These allied dramatists wanted, however, neither learning, nor the most refined society of the period in which they wrote, to qualify them for the task they fulfilled. They were both educated at Cambridge ; and the father of Beaumont was one of the Judges ! of the Court of Common Pleas; whilst Fletcher was son to the Bishop of London. There was nine years difference in their ages; the birth of the last being in 1576, and of the first, in 1585;
The weight of years was on Fletcher's side, but tradition has given the weight of judgment to Beaumont. It is supposed, that Fletcher wrote, whilst Beaumont planned the fable, and corrected the dialogue of his more witty and volatile, though elder associate. But all accounts upon this point are merely conjectural, for the authors behaved too much like men to disclose the secret means of their labour; and here a curious inquirer after facts might almost wish they had been women.
Highly gratifying to the reader of wisdom and learning as the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher may be, there is an uncomfortable antiquity of principle and manners in most of them, which must exclude their representation in the present age, and raise wonder in the mind of many a critic, that there was ever a period so tasteless, as to give them preference before the dramas of Shakspeare.
“ Rule a Wife and have a Wife,” as altered by Garrick, ranks foremost among the selected plays of these
united authors, that are now performed : and though it has an unpleasing fable, with female characters perfectly detestable, yet it is constituted with parts so ably written, so forcible in sentiment and humour, that actors of a certain class of excellence must ever give it powerful effect in the exhibition. But to preserve its fame on the stage, no common performers can be entrusted with the charge.
RULE A WIFE
HAVE A WIFE.
ACT THE FIRST.
Enter Perez and JUAN DE Castro.
Juan. No, not yet, sir :
Per. We pick up still,
Juan, And unexperienc'd: