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ON SINGLE PLAYS, POEMS, &c. THE FOUR P'S, THE RETURN FROM PARNASSUS, GAMMER GURTON'S NEEDLE, AND OTHER WORKS.
I SHALL, in this Lecture, turn back to give some account of single plays, poems, &c.; the authors of which are either not known or not very eminent, and the productions themselves, in general, more remarkable for their singularity, or as specimens of the style and manners of the age, than for their intrinsic merit or poetical excellence. There are many more works of this kind, however, remaining, than I can pretend to give an account of; and what I shall chiefly aim at, will be, to excite the curiosity of the reader, rather than to satisfy it.
The Four P's is an interlude, or comic dialogue, in verse, between a Palmer, a Pardoner, a Poticary, and a Pedlar, in which each exposes the tricks of his own and his neighbours' profession, with much humour and shrewdness. It was written by John Heywood, the Epigrammatist, who flourished chiefly in the reign of Henry VIII. was the intimate friend of Sir Thomas More, with whom he seems to have had a congenial spirit, and died abroad, in consequence of his devotion to the Roman Catholic cause, about the
1565. His zeal, however, on this head, does not seem to have blinded his judgment, or to have prevented him from using the utmost freedom and severity in lashing the abuses of Popery, at which he seems to have looked us with the malice of a friend.” The Four P's bears the date of 1547. It is very curious, as an evidence both of the wit, the manners, and opinions of the time. Each of the parties in the dialogue gives an account of the boasted advantages of his own particular calling, that is, of the frauds which he practises on credulity and ignorance, and is laughed at by the others in turn. In fact, they all of them strive to outbrave each other, till the contest becomes a jest, and it ends in a wager, who shall tell the greatest lie? when the prize is adjudged to him, who says, that he had found a patient woman*. The common superstitions (here recorded) in civil and religious matters, are almost incredible; and the chopped logic, which was the fashion of the time, and which comes in aid of
* Or never known one otherwise than patient.
the author's shrewd and pleasant sallies to expose them, is highly entertaining. Thus the Pardoner, scorning the Palmer's long pilgrimages and circuitous road to Heaven, flouts him to his face, and vaunts his own superior pretensions.
“ Pard. By the first part of this last tale,
be as untrue as I:
labour so much,
The Poticary does not approve of this arrogance of the Friar, and undertakes, in mood and figure, to prove them both “ false knaves." It is he, he says, who sends most souls to heaven, and who ought, therefore, to have the credit of it.
“ No soul, ye know, entereth heaven-gate,
'Till from the body he be separate:
The Pardoner here interrupts him captiously
“ If ye kill'd a thousand in an hour's space,
When come they to heaven, dying out of grace ?"
But the Poticary not so baffled, retorts
“ If a thousand pardons about your necks were tied ;
When come they to heaven, if they never died?
The Pedlar finds out the weak side of his new companions, and tells them very bluntly, on their referring their dispute to him, a piece of his mind.
“ Now have I found one mastery,
That ye can do indifferently;
At this game of imposture, the cunning dealer in pins and laces undertakes to judge their merits; and they accordingly set to work like regular graduates. The Pardoner takes the lead, with an account of the virtues of his relics; and here we may find a plentiful mixture of Popish superstition and indecency. The bigotry of any age is by no means a test of its piety, or even sincerity. Men seemed to make themselves amends for the enormity of their faith by levity of feeling, as well as by laxity of principle; and in the indifference or ridicule with which they treated the wilful absurdities and extravagances to which they hood-winked their understandings, almost resembled children playing at blindman's buff, who grope their way in the dark, and make blunders on purpose to laugh at their own idleness and folly. The sort of mummery at which Popish bigotry used to play at the time when this old comedy was written, was not quite so harmless as blind-man's buff: what was sport to her, was death to others. She laughed at her own mockeries of common sense and true religion, and murdered while she laughed. The tragic farce was no longer to be borne, and it was partly put