Ford, John

, an early English dramatic author, the second son of Thomas Ford, esq. a gentleman in the commission of the peace, was a native of Ilsington in Devonshire, where he was born in 158G, probably in the beginning of April, as he was baptised on the 17th of that month at Ilsington. It does not appear where he was educated, but on Nov. 16, 1602, he entered as a member of the Middle Temple, for the purpose of studying law. While there he published, in 1606, “Fame’s Memoriall, on the earle of Devonshire deceased; with his honourable life, peaceful end, and solemne funerall,” a small quarto of twenty-eight leaves. This poem, considered as the production of a youth, is creditable to the talents of Ford, as | it exhibits a freedom of thought and command of language, of which there are few contemporaneous examples. At this time Ford was in his twenty-first year, and deeply engaged, but unfortunate, in an affair of the heart; and being disappointed also by the death of lord Mountjoy, the liberal friend of the poet Daniel, to whom he was about to look up as a patron, he determined to seek relief in travel. Whether he actually went abroad, or finding a nymph less cruel, and an avenue to fame without individual patronage, remained in England, is matter of conjecture: but we next hear of him on the stage. With a forbearance, however, unusual with those who have once adventured before the public, Ford abstained from the press from 1606 to 1629, when he printed his tragicomedy of the “Lover’s Melancholy.” But this was not his first attempt on the stage, as his play entitled “A bad beginning makes a good ending,” was acted at court as early as 1613. He wrote at least eleven dramas, and such as were printed appeared from 1629 to 1639. The greater part of those were entirely of his own composition, but in some he wrote conjointly, probably with Decker, Drayton, Hatherewaye, or some of the numerous retainers of the stage. It has been asserted that Jonson was jealous of Ford, and that Ford was frequently pitted against Jonson, as the champion of his antagonists. But Mr. Gilchrist, in, “A Letter to William Gifford, esq.1811, has most satisfactorily proved that there is no foundation for either of these assertions. The date of Ford’s death is unknown; he wrote nothing for the stage after 1639, and it is probable that he did not long survive that period. A writer in the “Censura Literaria,” has attributed to him an excellent little manual, entitled “A Line of Life, pointing at the immortalitie of a vertuous name,1620, 12mo.

As a dramatic writer, his merit has been thus appreciated by one admirably qualified for the task. Reversing the observation of Dry den on Shakspeare, it may be said of Ford, that “he wrote laboriously, not luckily;” always elegant, often elevated, never sublime, he accomplished by patient and careful industry what Shakspeare and Fletcher produced by the spontaneous exuberance of native genius. He seems to have acquired early in life, and to have retained to the last, a softness of versification peculiar to himself. Without the majestic march of verse which distinguishes the poetry of Massinger, and with | none of that playful gaiety which characterizes the dialogue of Fletcher, he is still easy and harmonious. There is, however, a monotony in his poetry, which those who have perused his scenes long together must have inevitably perceived. His dialogue is declamatory and formal, and wants that quick chace of replication and rejoinder so necessary to effect in representation. His genius was mostly inclined to tragedy. In his plots he is far from judicious; they are for the most part too full of the horrible, and he seems to have had recourse to an accumulation of terrific incidents to obtain that effect which he despairs of producing by pathos of language. Another defect in Ford’s poetry, proceeding from the same source, is the alloy of pedantry which pervades his scenes, at one time exhibited in the composition of uncooth phrases, at another in perplexity of language; and he frequently labours with a remote idea, which, rather than throw it away, he obtrudes upon his reader involved in inextricable obscurity. For this opinion of Ford’s merits, as well as for the particulars of his life, we are indebted to an elaborate and comprehensive article in the “Quarterly Review,” occasioned by an edition of “The Dramatic Works of John Ford; with an introduction and explanatory notes, by Henry Weber, esq.1811, 2 vols. 8vo. In this article the reader will also find a masterly delineation of the principal plays of Ford. 1


Quarterly Review, No. XII. Centura Lit. vol. VI. p. 5.