Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tourneur, Cyril

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TOURNEUR, TURNOUR, or TURNER, CYRIL (1575?–1626), dramatist, born about 1575, was probably a near relative and possibly the son of Captain Richard Turnor or Turner. Richard Turnor had been in the service of the Cecils, and when, in compliance with Queen Elizabeth's agreement with the Dutch, Brill and Flushing were taken over by the English as ‘cautionary towns’ in 1585, Turnor was made water bailiff of Brill, a post of considerable responsibility, under the governor, Sir Thomas Cecil (afterwards first Earl of Exeter) [q. v.], eldest son of the great Lord Burghley. His salary was 8s. a day, and he is spoken of from time to time in the Cecil correspondence as a trustworthy man. In addition to the Cecils he cultivated the patronage of Essex, and there is extant an interesting letter from him to Essex, written in 1595, and expressing a wish that Essex were with the English troops, who only needed a dashing leader. By July 1596 Richard Turnor had risen to be lieutenant-governor, and in the following August he is mentioned as ‘Turnor, lieutenant of Brill.’ The post of acting-governor was given in September 1598 to Sir Francis Vere, who had been a captain of horse at Brill at the commencement of the English occupation. Turnor is not mentioned in the list of Vere's officers or lieutenants, and, as his claims can hardly have been overlooked, it is plausible to assume that he either died or was superannuated between 1596 and 1598.

Cyril Tourneur's literary work shows him to have possessed practical information about soldiering in the Low Countries, and to have counted upon some interest with Essex, with the Vere family, and with the Cecils. Subsequently he obtained employment in the Low Countries. All this confirms the conjecture that he was nearly akin to Richard Turnor, lieutenant of the Brill.

Tourneur's early life was mainly spent in literary work, but it was only as a dramatist that he showed distinct fitness for the literary vocation. In 1600 appeared his obscure satirical allegory, ‘The Transformed Metamorphosis’ (printed by Valentine Sims, at the White Swan, London, 4to); it is dedicated to Sir Christopher Heydon [q. v.], a soldier who had served under Essex and in company with Sir Francis Vere at the sacking of Cadiz in 1596. The only plausible explanation of its enigmatic drift (the grotesque style of which seems to be alluded to in John Taylor's ‘Mad Fashions, Odd Fashions, All Out of Fashions, or the Emblems of these distracted Times,’ 1642, line 4) is that ‘Mavortio’ is intended for Essex, whose Irish exploits are indicated by the hero's achievements on behalf of ‘Delta.’ Tourneur's next non-dramatic work (licensed on 14 Oct. 1609) was ‘A Funerall Poeme. Vpon the Death of the Most Worthie and True Sovldier Sir Francis Vere Knight, Captain of Portsmouth and Lt. Governour of his Majesties Cautionarie Towne of Briell in Holland’ (for Eleazar Edgar, London, 4to). The panegyric, which shows a practised literary hand, consists of twenty-two pages, signed at the end ‘Cyril Tourneur.’ He emphasises Vere's exploits at Nieuport and Ostend (some details of the famous siege of 1601–4 are given in ‘The Atheist's Tragedie,’ act ii. sc. i.), quotes from Roger Williams's ‘Briefe Discourse of Warre’ (p. 58), and refers to Vere's manuscript ‘Commentaries’ (not published until 1657).

About the same time there is good reason to believe that Tourneur was responsible for another panegyric, which, if brought home to him, would serve to confirm the theory of his connection with the Cecil family. In a catalogue of Lord Mostyn's manuscripts at Mostyn Hall (No. 262 folio, second treatise), appears ‘The Character of Robert, Earle of Salisburye, Lord High Treasurer of England … written by Mr. Sevill Turneur and dedicated to the most understandinge and most worthie Ladie, the Ladie Theodosia Cecill … [wife of her first cousin, Sir Edward Cecil]’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. App. p. 361). This treatise, probably written on Lord Salisbury's death in 1612, has not hitherto been ascribed to the dramatist; but as the three letters Cir and Sev are almost indistinguishable in the script of the period, the presumption that the (most uncommon) name ‘Sevill’ is a misreading for Cirill is exceptionally strong.

Less distinctive than his previous efforts of like kind is ‘A Griefe on the Death of Prince Henrie. Expressed in a Broken Elegie, according to the nature of such a sorrow. By Cyril Tourneur’ (London, printed for William Welbie, 1613). Tourneur's is the first of ‘Three Elegies,’ the other two being by John Webster and Thomas Heywood (cf. Nichols, Progresses of James I, ii. 507; Brydges, Restituta, iv. 173).

But Cyril Tourneur is only really memorable on account of two plays. The first to be published (in 1607) was ‘The Revenger's Tragædie. As it hath been sundry times acted by the King's Majesties Servants.’ Four years later was published ‘The Atheists Tragedie: or the Honest Mans Revenge. As in diuers places it hath often beene Acted, Written by Cyril Tourneur.’ The order of publication is probably the inverse of that in which the plays were composed. The ‘Atheists Tragedie’ must have been written after 1600, as there is a reference to Dekker's ‘Fortune's Tennis’ of that date, but not much later than 1603–4, while the siege of Ostend was still in men's minds.

A third drama by Tourneur, ‘The Nobleman,’ licensed to Edward Blount [q. v.] on 15 Feb. 1612, and acted at the court by the king's men on 23 Feb. 1611–12, is said to have been destroyed by Warburton's cook (see, however, Hazlitt's Collections, i. 424; cf. Fleay; and Gent. Mag. 1815, ii. 220).

On 5 June 1613 Robert Daborne [q. v.] wrote to Henslowe that he had given Tourneur a commission to write an act of an unpublished play, ‘The Arraignement of London,’ a performance of which had been promised by ‘La. Eliz. men.’ Positive evidence there is none, but upon internal grounds Mr. Robert Boyle would assign to Tourneur most of the last three acts of ‘The Second Maiden's Tragedy,’ 1611 [see under Fletcher, John, and Massinger, Philip], and some part in ‘The Knight of Malta’ (1617?).

Meanwhile Tourneur obtained employment in the Low Countries. On 23 Dec. 1613 he was granted forty-one shillings upon a warrant signed by the lord chamberlain at Whitehall ‘for his charges and paines in carrying letters for his Majestie's service to Brussells.’ He probably remained in the Low Countries for many years after this. Sir Horace Vere had succeeded his brother, Sir Francis Vere, as governor of Brill, and it is likely that Tourneur made some interest with him. He seems at any rate to have obtained an annuity of 60l. from the government of the United Provinces, and it is most probable that he was granted this allowance in compensation for some post vacated when Brill was handed over to the States in May 1616. In whatever manner Tourneur came by his pension from the States, his hopes of preferment must have been greatly stimulated in the summer of 1624 by the arrival in Holland with his regiment of Sir Edward Cecil, the son of Sir Thomas Cecil, the former governor of Brill. Sir Edward Cecil had served at Ostend and elsewhere under Sir Francis Vere, whom Tourneur had panegyrised, and doubtless he had known Tourneur's kinsman, Captain Richard Turnor. When Buckingham wrote to Cecil at the Hague in May 1625, and asked him to undertake the command of a projected expedition to Cadiz, Cecil provisionally appointed Tourneur secretary to the council of war with a good salary. The nomination was subsequently cancelled by Buckingham, as the post was required for Sir John Glanville (1586–1661) [q. v.] Tourneur nevertheless accompanied the Cadiz expedition as ‘secretary to the lord marshall’ (i.e. to Cecil himself), a nominal post at a nominal salary. He sailed for Cadiz in Cecil's flagship, the Royal Anne, and when, after the miserable failure of the expedition, the Royal Anne put into Kinsale on 11 Dec 1625, Tourneur was put on land among the 160 sick who were disembarked before the vessel proceeded to England. He died in Ireland on 28 Feb. 1625–6, leaving his widow Mary destitute (see Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1631–3, pp. 309 and 430, containing Mary Turnour's petition to the council of war, to which is appended Cecil's certificate ‘that Cyril Turnour served as secretary to the council of war until Mr. Glanville was sent down to execute that place;’ and cf. art. Cecil, Edward, Viscount Wimbledon).

Tourneur's reputation mainly rests on his ‘Revenger's Tragædie.’ The ‘Atheists Tragedie,’ of which the crude plot owes something to the ‘Decameron’ (vii. 6), is childishly grotesque, and, in spite of some descriptive passages of a certain grandeur, notably the picture of the hungry sea lapping at the body of a drowned soldier, is so markedly inferior to ‘The Revenger's Tragædie’ as to have given rise to some fanciful doubts as to a common authorship. ‘The Revenger's Tragædie’ displays a lurid tragic power that Hazlitt was the first to compare with that of Webster. ‘I never read it,’ wrote Lamb, ‘but my ears tingle.’ Mr. Swinburne, in an unmeasured eulogy on the play, pronounces Tourneur to be as ‘passionate in his satire as Juvenal or Swift, but with a finer faith in goodness.’ In his character of Vendice Tourneur, according to the same critic, expresses ‘such poetry as finds vent in the utterances of Hamlet or Timon;’ while as to the workmanship it is ‘so magnificent, so simple, impeccable, and sublime, that the finest passages can be compared only with the noblest examples of tragic dialogue or monologue now extant in English or in Greek.’ Finally, Mr. Swinburne insists ‘that the only poet to whose manner and style the style and manner of Cyril Tourneur can reasonably be said to bear any considerable resemblance is William Shakespeare’ (Nineteenth Century, March 1887; cf. Mr. Swinburne's art. in Encycl. Britannica, 9th edit.). Mr. Swinburne's estimate of Tourneur's genius is unduly enthusiastic. Great as is his tragic intensity, Tourneur luxuriates in hideous forms of vice to an extent which almost suggests moral aberration, and sets his work in a category of dramatic art far below the highest. Whether his choice of topics was due to a morbid mental development, or merely to a spirit of literary emulation in the genre of Ford and Webster, a more extended knowledge of Tourneur's life might possibly enable us to ascertain.

‘The Revengers Tragædie’ first appeared in quarto, London, 1607 (licensed to Geo. Eld on 7 Oct. 1607; the British Museum has three copies, one containing some seventeenth century emendations); some remainder copies are dated 1608. It has not been reprinted separately, but appears in Dodsley's ‘Old Plays,’ 1744, 1780, and 1825, vol. iv., and 1874, vol. x., and in the ‘Ancient British Drama,’ 1810, vol. ii. ‘The Atheists Tragedie’ (licensed to John Stepneth on 14 Sept.) appeared in quarto, London, 1611; some unsold copies were dated 1612. It was reprinted 1792, 8vo, and 1794, 8vo (Brit. Mus. Cat.)

An edition of the ‘Plays and Poems of Cyril Tourneur, edited, with Critical Introduction and Notes, by John Churton Collins,’ appeared in 1878 (London, 2 vols. 8vo). The two plays were edited along with ‘The White Devil’ and the ‘Duchess of Malfi’ of John Webster, and an ‘introduction’ by John Addington Symonds in 1888 (London, 8vo, the Mermaid Series).

[Nothing whatever was known of the life of Cyril Tourneur until, in a communication to the Academy, 9 May 1891, Mr. Gordon Goodwin gave the references to Tourneur in the Calendar of State Papers, forming a clue which has here been followed up. For criticism and bibliography see Plays and Poems of Tourneur, 1878; Langbaine's Lives of the English Dramatists, 1691; Baker's Biogr. Dram.; Fleay's Chron. of the English Drama, ii. 263–4; Genest's Hist. of English Stage, x. 19–21; Ward's Engl. Drama, ii. 263–4; Hunter's Chorus Vatum (Addit. MS. 24491, f. 56); Cunningham's Revels, p. xliii; Hazlitt's Handbook, p. 612; Huth's Libr. Cat.; Hallam's Lit. of Europe, vol. ii.; Hazlitt's Elizabethan Literature, 1884, p. 104; Lamb's Dramatic Writers, 1884, p. 251; Minto's English Poets, 1874, pp. 466–70; Lee's Euphorion, i. 72–9; Monthly Mag. new ser. v. 135; Retrospective Review, vii. 331–52; see also Hatfield Papers (Hist. MSS. Comm.), iii. 292, 299, iv. 293, 567, vi. 307, 311; Dalton's Life and Times of General Sir Edward Cecil, Viscount Wimbledon; Glanville's Journal of the Voyage to Cadiz (Camden Soc.); Markham's Fighting Veres, 1888; Academy, 31 March 1894; Lowndes' Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 2701; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.