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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

II. Chapman, Marston, Dekker

§ 18. His place as a Dramatist

Quick, impulsive sympathies and a deep vein of humanity were the qualities beyond price in Dekker’s dramatic equipment, and to these good gifts of nature the muses added their authentic inspiration. “A priest in Apollo’s temple many years,” as he said, his place and honours were acknowledged by his own age and remain unchallenged. The “poetry enough for anything,” of which Lamb spoke, was joined in Dekker to an amazing and unflagging interest in life, without touch or trace of weariness or cynicism. It would be absurd to claim for him the intellectual range, the sure-footed judgment or unerring taste of the great masters, and perilous to assert that his faults became him; yet, from his very artlessness, there shines a charm denied to better considered and far more perfect work. By the way of unaffected simplicity, Dekker almost captured greatness, and, while some of his fellows have secured a larger share of the admiration of posterity, he has crept into its more affectionate remembrance. If we incline to criticise his haste and carelessness, we ought to remember that he wrote “with the printer’s devil and the bailiff always at his elbow,” and we may well be astonished not so much at the demerits as at the wealth and value of his performance. “The right happy and copious industry” which, in Webster’s estimate, placed “Master Dekker” beside “Master Shakespeare,” is a tribute from a critic who knew what excellence was, and against what mighty currents men must struggle to attain it. As a humorist, London was his province, a sufficient field. Sinful humanity did not lie beyond his pale, but the sunny breadth of mind which was his, while he retained reverence for the things that call for reverence, transforms and transfigures the world, and we are the more reluctant to dismiss it as merely common and unclean. Dekker’s satire is without sting, for, while he laughs, he loves, and is honest without being angry. He only among the men of his time seems to have recognised the whole hardness of the fate of the poor, and to have ranged himself on the side of distressed persons, maltreated animals, misjudged, lonely and eccentric members of society.