Suckling, Sir John
court time charles plays
SUCKLING, SIR JOHN (1609-1642), one of the most admired poets and men of fashion at the court of Charles I., and an active spirit in politics as well as in fashionable gaieties, belonged to a Norfolk family. His father was a high official under James I. and a comptroller of the household under Charles I.; finance seems to have been his strong point, and he managed his own affairs so well as to accumulate a considerable fortune, of which the poet was left master at the age of eighteen. His earliest bio- graphers fixed his birth in 1613, and founded on this a reputation for extraordinary precocity in school learning. Mr Alfred Suckling, who edited his works in 1836, corrected this error, ascertaining that he was born at Whitton in Middlesex and baptized on 10th February 1609. He was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1623, at what was then the usual age, and thereafter travelled on the Continent, as was also the custom for youths of his birth. Returning to London, he did not long remain inactive at court, but sought experience as a soldier, volunteering into the force raised by the marquis of Hamilton for the support of Gustavus Adolphus in the Palatinate. He reached Germany in July 1631 and was back at Whitehall in May 1632 ; but during this time lie saw a good deal of hard service, being present at the battle of Leipsic and the sieges of Crossen, Guben, Glogau, and Magdeburg. Reappearing at court, he at once became a prominent figure. "He had the peculiar happiness of making everything that he did become him." He was ready of wit, handsome of person, wealthy and generous, a leader in all pastimes, the best bowler and the best card-player at court. His happy skill in verse was only one of the distinctions of a man who excelled in everything ; but, as it happened, both the king and the queen had literary tastes, and he aimed at distinction in poetry with the ardent thoroughness which seems to have been part of his character. He became eminent at court just at the time when masques, after being the rage for a few years, had reached the height of their splendour and were beginning to pall ; and it occurred to him to apply to the ordinary drama the improved scenery which the taste for masques had developed. We can trace in his plays both the taste for spectacular effect and the admiration for the wit of Shakespeare which he shared with his royal master. Aglaura was the first of them, and is said to have been the first play produced with elaborate stage scenery. It was produced first at Christmas in 1637 with a tragic ending, then reproduced at the following Easter with ingenious changes in the fifth act which made it end happily. With all its clever play on words and images, and its natural felicity of diction, it is not an interesting drama to read ; the characters have no body or vitality. But it is full of incident, as if the dramatist were revelling in the newly discovered power of shifting the scenes, and making the most of his advantage in having the co-operation of Inigo Jones. His comedy the Goblins is much happier, and there the frequent changes of scene are used with great skill to maintain the liveliness of the action. Suckling produced another tragedy in 1639, Brennoralt ; it has more body than its predecessor, but shows no mastery of passion or tragic character. He began still another tragedy, the Sad One, but was abruptly stopped in his literary career by the beginning of a tragedy in real life, the quarrel between Charles and his subjects. Suckling took a prominent part for a time on the Royalist side. When war was levied on the Scottish Covenanters in 1639 Suckling raised a troop of a hundred horse at his own expense and accompanied them on the bloodless expedition to the Border. He was elected member for Bramber to the Long Parliament which met in November 1640 ; but in May of the following year he got into trouble in connexion with a plot for the escape of Strafford from the Tower and a project for calling in French aid, was charged with high treason, and fled beyond sea. The circumstances of his short life in exile are obscure. He continued to attract attention, and many pamphlets about him were circulated, one in particular describing how he eloped with a lady to Spain and fell into the clutches of the Inquisition. The tradition is that he committed suicide in Paris some time before the end of 1642. Suckling's reputation as a poet rests not upon his plays but upon his minor pieces. They have wit and fancy and at times exquisite felicity of diction. The happiest as a whole is the Ballad upon a Wedding. "Prithee, why so pale, fond lover 1" is an occasional song in Aglaura.
A collection of Suckling's poems was first published in 1646 with the title Fragmenta Aurea. The so-called Selections published by Mr Alfred Suckling in 1836 is really a full edition of his poems, letters, and plays, which was re-edited, with slight additions, by Mr W. C. Hazlitt in 1874.