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ES S AY VIII.
H E R O I S. M.
IN the elder English dramatists, and mainly in the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, there is a constant recognition of gentility, as if a noble behaviour were as easily marked in the society of their age, as colour is in our American population. When any Rodrigo, Pedro, or Valerio enters, though he be a stranger, the duke or governor exclaims, This is a gentleman,—and proffers civilities without end; but all the rest are slag and refuse. In harmony with this delight in personal advantages, there is in their plays a certain heroic cast of character and dialogue, -as in Bonduca, Sophocles, the Mad Lover, the Double Marriage, – wherein the speaker is so earnest and cordial, and on such deep grounds of character, that the dialogue, on the slightest additional incident in the plot, rises naturally into poetry. Among many texts, take the following. The Roman Martius has conquered Athens,—all but the invincible spirits of Sophocles the duke of Athens, and Dorigen his wife. The beauty of the latter inflames Martius, and he seeks to save her husband ; but Sophocles will not ask his life, although assured that a word will save him, and the execution of both proceeds.
* Valerius. Bid thy wife farewell. Soph. No, I will take no leave. My Dorigen, Yonder above, ’bout Ariadne’s crown, My spirit shall hover for thee. Prithee, haste. Dor. Stay, Sophocles, with this tie up my sight; Let not soft nature so transformed be, And lose her gentler-sexed humanity, To make me see my lord bleed. So, 'tis well; Never one object underneath the Sun Will I behold before my Sophocles. Farewell; now teach the Romans how to die. L. Mar. Dost know what 'tis to die : Soph. Thou dost not, Martius, And therefore not what 'tis to live. To die Is to begin to live ; it is to end An old, stale, weary work, and to commence A newer and a better; ’tis to leave Deceitful knaves for the Society Of gods and goodness. Thou thyself must part At last from all thy garlands, pleasures, triumphs, And prove thy fortitude what then 'twill do. Val. But art not grieved nor vexed to leave thy life thus: Soph. Why should I grieve or vex for being sent To them I ever loved best ? Now I’ll kneel,
But with my back toward thee; ’tis the last duty
I do not readily remember any poem, play, sermon, novel, or oration, that our press vents in the last few years, which goes to the same tume. We have a great many flutes and flageolets, but not often the sound of any fife. Yet Wordsworth's Laodamia, and the ode of Dion, and some sonnets, have a certain noble music; and Scott will sometimes draw a stroke like the