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TO THE READER.
It was intended to make each volume of the biographical department of the Cabinet Cyclopædia as miscellaneous as possible. In the present volume, however, there is a deviation from that intention. It is, as the reader will perceive, entirely devoted to our old dramatic literature. Taken in connection with the Life of John Heywood in the preceding volume, it exhibits a consecutive and, we hope, comprehensive view of the subject, from the origin of theatrical representation in England to the middle of the seventeenth century.
As the period in question, viz. from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, is less known to the general reader than the subsequent one, viz. from the middle of the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, we have been much more diffuse than we can be hereafter. In the future volumes we cannot find space for the Lives of many dramatists. We will, however, connect the parts of the subject by such observations on the state of dramatic literature, between the periods in which those writers lived, as to leave nothing wanting towards a general knowledge of the English stage, from the most distant antiquity to the present century.
After perusing the present volume, the reader may possibly inquire why we have omitted all notice of Shirley, who is generally esteemed the last of our great dramatists. For this omission we have two reasons. The first is, that in following the stream of time we are not yet descended to the year in which he died. The second is, that we consider him rather the first of a
new than the last of an old race. He is the first link in a chain of which Otway and Dryden, and Wycherley and Congreve, are, after him, the most important.
Another circumstance may strike the reader, — that in both the volumes the extracts are copious. They are, indeed, more copious than we intended, — more so by far than we shall admit in the subsequent volumes. It must, however, be observed, that in the former volumes three fourths of the extracts taken were not from printed books, but from MSS., some of great rarity; and that though in the present volume they are chiefly from books, those sources are too numerous and expensive to be accessible to any other than the persevering student who has time and wealth at his command. Even to him, however, the former volume contains much that is novel; and if the present be in this respect less valuable, it has the merit, at least, of concentrating the rays of light which are scattered throughout the horizon of our early drama. These, it may be said, are pearls which any reader may find. So he may, if he have the leisure, the industry, the perseverance to seek for them. But he who has the greatest share of these advantages will often be discouraged in the search. He may dig many long days before he discovers any thing worth the trouble of picking up. Our ancient drama is, indeed, a rich mine; but the dross outweighs the ore, in the proportion of at least a thousand to one. To drop metaphor, — not one reader in a thousand could, without the help of such epitomes as the present, know any thing of our ancient literature, especially of our dramatic literature.
We have only to add, that the Lives in these two wolumes are not the production of the same pen.
THE STAGE 1
Henry Chittle, and other Dramatists .
The Origin of his Plots -
Literary Character of Massinger
LITERARY AND SCIENTIFIC MEN.
THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH STAGE CON
1. The Stage immediately prior to Shakespear. In this place it may perhaps be necessary to remind the reader that in the present, as in most of the Lives in this collection, our business is with the subject rather ! than the man. Thus St. Columba was chosen, that some account might be given of the introduction of Christianity into North Britain; Alfred, that the state of English civilisation in the ninth century might be described ; John Heywood, that the origin and early history of our stage might be traced from the first rude attempts at miracle plays, to the time of that witty dramatist. For a similar reason, viz. that the early history of our stage may be completed, and the subject
* See Vol. I. Life of John Heywood, VOL. II.