Ford, John (DNB00)
FORD, JOHN (fl. 1639), dramatist, second son of Thomas Ford of Ilsington, Devonshire, was baptised at Ilsington 17 April 1586. His mother was a sister of Lord-chief-justice Popham. He is probably the John Ford, 'Devon, gen. f.,' who matriculated at Exeter College, Oxford, 26 March 1601, aged sixteen years (Oxford Univ. Reg. vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 246). On 16 Nov. 1602 Ford was admitted a member of the Middle Temple. In 1606 he published an elegy on the Earl of Devonshire, 'Fames Memoriall; or the Earle of Devonshire Deceased. With his honour- able life, peacefull end, and solemne Funerall,' 4to, with a dedicatory sonnet to the Lady Penelope, countess of Devonshire, and commendatory verses by Barnabe Barnes and 'T. P.' Ford seems to have had no personal acquaintance with the earl or with Lady Penelope, and he is careful to state that his elegy was not written from any mercenary motive. In the course of the poem he makes mysterious allusions to a lady, 'bright Lycia the cruel, the cruel-subtle,' whose affections he had vainly sought to engage. To 1606 also belongs 'Honor Trivmphant; or the Peeres Challenge, by Armes defensible, at Tilt, Turney, and Barriers. . . . Also the Monarches Meeting; or the King of Denmarkes welcome into England,' 4to. His earliest dramatic work was an unpublished comedy entitled 'An Ill Beginning has [or may have] a Good End,' acted at the Cockpit in 1613. On 25 Nov. 1615 ' A booke called Sir Thomas Overburyes Ghost, contayneing the history of his life and vntimely death, by John Fford, gent.,' was entered in the Stationers' Register. This must have been a prose-tract or a poem, as a play on the subject would certainly have been forbidden. In 1620 Ford published a moral treatise, 'A Line of Life. Pointing out the Immortalitie of a Vertuous Name,' 12mo.
First on the list of Ford's plays in order of publication is 'The Lovers Melancholy. Acted at the Private House in the Blacke Friers, and publikely at the Globe by the Kings Maiesties seruants,' 1629, 4to, which had been brought out 24 Nov. 1628. Four copies of commendatory verses are prefixed, and the play is dedicated 'To my worthily respected friends, Nathaniel Finch, John Ford, Esquires ; Master Henry Blunt, Master Robert Ellice, and all the rest of the Noble Society of Gray's Inn.' In the dedicatory epistle Ford states that this was his first appearance in print as a dramatic writer, and hints that it may be his last. Gifford rightly pronounces the comic portions of 'The Lovers Melancholy' to be despicable ; but it contains some choice poetry, notably the description (after Strada) of the contention between the nightingale and the musician.
In 1633 was published ' 'Tis Pity Shee's a Whore. Acted by the Queenes Maiesties Seruants at the Phœnix in Drury Lane,' 4to, with a dedicatory epistle to John, first earl of Peterborough, to whom the dramatist acknowledges his indebtedness for certain favours. In this tragedy, of which the subject is singularly repulsive, Ford displays the subtlest qualities of his genius. The final colloquy between Annabella and Giovanni is one of the most memorable scenes in the English drama. In the same year (1633) was published 'The Broken Heart. A Tragedy. Acted by the Kings Majesties Seruants at the private House in the Black-Friers. Fide Honor,' 4to, dedicated to William, lord Craven. 'Fide Honor' is an anagram of 'John Forde.' 'I do not know,' says Lamb, 'where to find in any play a catastrophe so grand, so solemn, and so surprising as this ;' but Hazlitt and others have remarked on the fantastic unreality, the violent unnaturalness, of the closing scenes. A third play was printed in 1633, 'Loues Sacrifice. A tragedie receiued generally well. Acted by the Queenes Majesties Seruants at the Phcenix in Drury Lane,' 4to, with a dedicatory epistle to the author's cousin, John Ford of Gray's Inn, and commendatory verses by James Shirley. Detached passages and scenes are excellently written, but the plot is unsatisfactory, and the characters badly drawn. 'The Chronicle Historic of Perkin Warbeck. A Strange Truth. Acted (some-times) by the Queenes Maiesties Servants at the Phœnix in Drurie Lane. Fide Honor,' 1634, 4to, with a dedicatory epistle to William Cavendish, earl of Newcastle, and five copies of commendatory verses, is the most faultless, but not the greatest, of Ford's plays well planned and equably written, a meritorious and dignified composition. It was reprinted in 1714, 12mo, when the movements of the Pretender's adherents in Scotland were attracting attention, and it was revived at Goodman's Fields in 1745. 'The Fancies Chast and Noble,' 1638, 4to, a comedy acted at the Phœnix, dedicated to Randal Macdonnel, earl of Antrim, is ingeniously conceived but awkwardly executed. From a passage in the prologue it has been hastily supposed that Ford was abroad when the play was produced. 'The Ladies Triall. Acted by both their Majesties Servants at the private house in Drvry Lane. Fide Honor,' 4to, was brought out 3 May 1638, and was published in the following year with a dedicatory epistle to John Wyrley, esq., and his wife, Mistress Mary Wyrley. The prologue was written by Theophilus Bird, the actor. There is much to admire in the first four acts, but the conclusion is strangely huddled. Pepys notices its revival at the Duke of York's theatre in March 1688.
'The Sun's Darling : A Moral Masque : As it hath been often presented at Whitehall by their Majesties Servants, and after at the Cock-pit in Drury Lane with great applause. Written by John Foard and Tho. Decker, Gent.,' 4to, was posthumously published in 1656, some copies being dated 1657. This play, which may have been an alteration of Dekker's unpublished 'Phaeton,' was licensed for the Cockpit 3 March 1623-4. The lyrical portions, which doubtless belong to Dekker, are the most attractive. From Sir Henry Herbert's 'Diary' it appears that two other plays by Ford and Dekker, 'The Fairy Knight' and 'The Bristowe Merchant,' were produced in 1624, but they were not published. 'The Witch of Edmonton ; A known True Story. Composed into a Tragi-comedy by divers well-esteemed Poets, William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, John Ford, &c.,' 4to, first published in 1658, was probably written in 1621, soon after the execution of the reputed witch, Elizabeth Sawyer. Ford seems to have contributed little or nothing to the powerful scenes in which Mother Sawyer figures, but he must be credited with no small share of the scenes that deal with Frank Thorney. In September 1624 was licensed for the stage 'A new Tragedy, called A late Murther of the Sonn upon the Mother, written by Forde and Webster,' which was not published. A copy of commendatory verses by Ford was prefixed to Webster's 'Duchess of Malfi,' 1623.
A tragedy by Ford, 'Beauty in a Trance,' was entered in the Stationers' Register 9 Sept. 1653, and three comedies, 'The London Merchant,' 'The Royal Combat,' and 'An Ill Beginning has a Good End,' were entered 29 June 1660. These four unpublished pieces were among the plays destroyed by Warburton's cook. Ford prefixed commendatory verses to Barnabe Barnes's 'Foure Bookes of Offices,' 1606, Sir Thomas Overbury's 'Wife,' 1616, Shirley's 'Wedding,' 1629, Richard Brome's 'Northern Lass,' 1632; and he was one of the contributors to 'Jonsonus Virbius,' 1638. Dyce was of opinion that the verses to Barnabe Barnes were by the dramatist's cousin.
Ford drops from sight after the publication of the 'Ladies Trial' in 1639; but in Gifford's time 'faint traditions in the neighbourhood of his birth-place' led to the supposition that, having obtained a competency from his professional practice, he retired to Devonshire to end his days. In the 'Time-Poets' ('Choice Drollery,' 1656) occurs the couplet-
- Deep in a dump John Forde was alone got,
- With folded arms and melancholy hat.
It is certain that he had very little comic talent. That he was a favourite with playgoers is shown by his familiar appellation, 'Jack Ford,' mentioned by Heywood in the 'Hierarchie of Blessed Angels,' 1635-
- And hee's now but Jacke Foord that once was John.
He was not dependent on the stage for his livelihood, and his plays bear few marks of haste. In the prologue to the 'Broken Heart' he declared that his 'best of art hath drawn this piece,' and in all his work the diction is studiously elaborated.
Ford's works were first collected by Weber in 1811, 2 vols. 8vo. A more accurate edition was published by Gifford in 1827, 2 vols. 8vo. An edition of Ford and Massinger, by Hartley Coleridge, appeared in 1848; and in 1869 Dyce issued a revised edition of Gifford's 'Ford,' 3 vols. 8vo.[Memoir by Gifford, revised by Dyce, prefixed to Ford's Works, 1869; Lamb's Specimens of Dramatic Poets; Swinburne's Essays and Studies.]