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Again : Dorus's song
whom Fletcher is thought to have meant Spenser; Dorus's song goes ius
Let us fling
Faithful Shepherdess. Act v. Scene 5.
Shepherd's Calendar. April
We are, indeed, without positive evidence that Fletcher wrote anything till he reached the age of thirty ; but it is likelier his free-spoken and somewhat loose-tongued Muse was scarce so old ere she came to her speech. From certain manuscripts, preserved at Dulwich College, of Henslowe, a theatrical proprietor, Malone concludes Fletcher to have written for the stage as early as 1596, his twentieth year: these manuscripts, however, may regard a comedian of his name, or some other person, the surname alone “ Fleatcher," being specified.* No earlier work than his “Woman-Hater,” produced in 1606-7, has been ascertained to exist.
His circumstances, it is probable, were such as did not compel him to turn stage-writer, and “coin his brain, or drop its sweat for drachmas,” during youth's gay season, because his father lived till 1596 ; and he who could remember a College, could scarcely have forgotten a son, in his will.f Some verses which precede the “Faithful Shepherdess,” published about 1610, assert his independence : he declares that poem not written
u to make it serve to feed
At my need,"
but to please good judges. I am not sure whether much more reliance can be placed on this alleged motive than on the “request of friends," so proverbially an excuse for a wish to get bread : but the above Henslowe papers are brought forward in confirmation of its truth. From these manuscripts I give a letter written by certain prisoners for debt, which Gifford well observes, “it is impossible to read without the most poignant regret at the distress of such men ;” I give it also as a warning to every aspirant who thinks his genius can elevate him above such distress, when he finds Massinger among them. “ To our most loving Friend, Mr. Philip Hinchlow, Esquire, These.
Mr. Hinchlow, “You understand our unfortunate extremities, and I do not thinke you so void of christianitie but that you would throw so much money into the Thames as wee request now of you, rather than endanger so many innocent lives. You know there is x'. more, at least, to be receaved of you for the play. We desire you to lend us vl of that, which
shall be allowed to you ; without which wee cannot be bayled, nor I play any more till ! this be dispatch't. It will lose you xx' ere the end of the next weeke, besides the
hinderance of the next new play. Pray, sir, consider our cases with humanitie, and now give us cause to acknowledge you our true friend in time of neede. We have entreated Mr. Davison to deliver this note, as well to witnesse your love as our promises, and alwayes acknowledgment to be ever,
“Your most thanckfull and loving friends,
Laurence Fletcher was an actor, and likewise joint-principal with Shakspeare of the Lord Chamberlain's company soon after this time. [lenslowe's entries undoubtedly refer to Laurence Fletcher: at that time our dramatist was under seventeen years of age. See Dyce's Account, &c., p. xix.]
[t But there is incontrovertible evidence that Bishop Fletcher left his family in necessitous circumstances. See Dyce's Account, &c., p. xiv.
“The money shall be abated out of the money remayns for the play of Mr. Fletcher
“ ROB. DABORNE." “I have ever found you a true loving friend to mee, and in so small a suite, it beinge honest, I hope you will not faile us.
“Philip MASSINGER." Indorsed. “Received by mee, Robert Davison, of Mr. Hinchlowe, for the use of Mr. Daboerne Mr. Field, Mr. Messenger, the sum of vl.
“ROBERT Davison." The “play of Mr. Fletcher and ours,” here mentioned, must have been written before Henslowe died (1616).* Malone conjectures its date to lie between 1612 and 1615; whence, as Fletcher did not sign this petition, for a fourth of five pounds, he was probably, say the commentators, less indigent than his associates--a conclusion which, even if the premises authorised, would do little towards proving him independent at this time. His joyous social temper might have led him to dissipate whatever funds he had obtained from his father's will long before ; and that he did so, the numerous plays written by him during his later years seem to evince. Eleven new playst flowed from his pen in the last four years of his life—an average of three per annum, as he died some months ere the fourth year ended. This surpasses even the ratio of Shakspeare's rapid effusions, except for one or two of his earlier years, when he was poor, and is calculated to have written three plays per annum. Malone “makes no doubt” that Fletcher wrote "near twenty dramas " between 1615 (the date of Beaumont's death) and 1622 ; which, added to the above eleven, comprise thirty-one written, with a little occasional help, in eleven years. It is not often that a gentleman of easy circumstances, even now when language has become flexible enough to bend at almost any gentleman's will, without much exertion of power, into verse—it is not often that such a person writes for so long a time as fast as a dun-driven poet. Fletcher's lines “Upon an Honest Man's Fortune,” which bear the marks of being composed in life's autumn, particularise Want among the various ills our author relies solely on God to aid him against, for he does not disavow it :
“Nor Want, the curse of man, shall make me groan,"
a line that sounds all through like an imprecative groan, expressive of conscious affliction,
" Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not."
If the plea of necessity during his later years be assignable on the evidence above given, it will explain and excuse much of what would otherwise detract from his credit as a poet : several of his scenes, nay, whole acts, must have been written with either an ill-filled stomach or head.
Fletcher's boon and colloquial disposition might be guessed from his works, and is certified by witnesses : Shirley singles it out as the characteristic trait of both our authors : -“Some, familiar in their conversation, deliver them upon every occasion so fluent, to talk a comedy."I The prologue spoken at the revival of “The Chances” has the same image :
"Nor fear I to be taxed for a vain bonst,
[On the 6th of January, 1615-16. See Dyce's Account, &c., p. xlviii.] † Rowley contributed towards one, “ The Maid of the Mill,” but against this may be placed two left unfinished by Fletcher, “ The Night-Walker," and " The Lover's Progress," which were completed by Shirley.
| Let me here note, that this reference to "familiar" acquaintances, does not seem to indicate the very close bond of friendship riveted by commentators between Fletcher and Shirley. Our author is likewise made a particular friend of Shakspeare; I am unable to discover upon what grounds. Yet that he was an admirer of him, for which opinion there are grounds enough, has been denied!
A preceding editor is solicitous to claim for two playwrights the cardinal virtues ; and because they were fine poets, to prove them patriot citizens, as well as exemplary Christians : his attempt resembles that of the old critic, who would persuade us we have in Homer an encyclopædia of all the Arts and Sciences, besides a triumphant demonstration of the Trinity. I should feel myself ungrateful towards a pioneer who has done so much to smooth my way, if my frequent animadversions upon him had been avoidable ; but the last editor of Beaumont and Fletcher was, it may be said, the first—the first meriting such a name
me—and therefore, if therefore alone, no farther a perfect one than a pioneer is a perfect road-maker. His above-mentioned attempt sprang from the fondness of a fosterfather ; and prejudice seldom renders our panegyrics consistent or conclusive. Thus, he will not allow us to find fault with Beaumont and Fletcher for having inculcated the slavish doctrine of passive obedience, “ as that was the almost universal doctrine of the times ;" yet himself lauds Fletcher for having, after Beaumont's death, abjured this “servility.” To prove Beaumont held “religious opinions,” he has no evidence except “occasional effusions put into the mouths of his characters ; ”—but then “the poems of his elder brother abound with piety!” In like manner the Irishman proved his pretensions to genius for music because his brother could play the German flute. Again, Fletcher, it seems, has left us a valuable testimony of his religious and moral creed in his verses upo: an “ Honest Man's Fortune : " these verses beyond doubt breathe an excellent devotional spirit, which may have been entertained when they were written; are we by a parity of reasoning to set him down a profligate from various loose and libertine principles expressed in his dramas ? If such logic be at all admissible, it will only prove that Fletcher was dissolute during one portion of his life, religious and moral during another, but decides nought about his permanent tenets. Biographers are driven to thes“ vague and impertinent topics by the dearth of proper materials.
A Prologue spoken at the revival of his “Nice Valour,” attributes the noble trait of self-respect, in very strong language to our author :
" It grows in fashion of late, in these days,
If Beaumont wrote the above drama, as Seward maintains, but does not prove, we need merely transfer the trait and the praise.
I have nothing else personal to communicate or discuss with regard to Fletcher, save his death, the most momentous fact of a man's existence, yet upon which there is seldom much for others to say. Our author died in his forty-ninth year, August 1625; and was buried on the 29th (as the printed parish register declares), at St. Saviour's Church, Southwark. His death, it would seem, happened from one of those slight fatalities most humiliating to man's pride -wish for a new suit of clothes delayed him in London; he caught the plague then prevalent there, and became its victim. This has no air of a catastrophe made to character, like Anacreon's being choked by a grape-stone, yet is far bitterer as a satire upon the illustrious of earth. That the purchase of new apparel, or perhaps an unpunctual tailor, should occasion a great poet's death! Aubrey, the literary gossip, who was not, however, the less credulous a gossip because he was a learned one, first related it from the mouth, he says, of the tailor himself. Except for the lesson it teaches, its trutlı or falsehood were
immaterial. Aubrey is speaking of St. Saviour's. “In this Church was interred, without any Memorial, that eminent Dramatic Poet, Mr. John Fletcher, son to Bishop Fletcher of London, who dyed of the Plague the 19th of August 1625. When I searched the Register of this Parish in 1670 for his Obit, for the Use of Mr. Anthony à Wood, the Parish-Clerk aged above 80, told me that he was his Taylor, and that Mr. Fletcher, staying for a Suit of Cloaths before he retired into the Country, Death stopped his Journey and laid him low here.” If he died of the plague, we may suspect an error either in the date of his death or
i his burial, as ten days could not well, under such circumstances, have elapsed between them.* The “Beggar's Bush," written by Fletcher but three years before, contains an odd unintentional prophecy
“Pray God it do not prove the Plagu! Yet suro
It has infected me!" Act v. Scene 1.
Sir Aston Cockayne, a worthless poetaster in general, wrote some valuable verses as stating curious facts : he lived at the same time, and appears to have been acquainted with Massinger:
“In the same grave was Fletcher buried, here
The grave, so enriched with poetic earth, cannot be found: pilgrims wishing to pay genius their homage vainly search about for a shrine,—they cannot find even a tombstone !
Of Beaumont's life the authentic particulars are scarce numerous enough to support a fanciful memoir upon them, or important enough to admit of being swelled by decoration. But in truth the written life of a great poet is often far duller than the life of a great blockhead: while this latter, through mere mental unfitness for meditative pursuits or seclusion, plunges blind amidst life's many vortices, to attain the pleasure, or the profit, or the excitement from without he cannot have from within, and after perhaps a few years has to deliver no unvarnished tale
" of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
—the poet, the intellectual Quietist, has perhaps during the same period beheld no object more outlandish than the “Saracen’s Head” or the “Mermaid,” met with no peril more romantic than a tumble off his Pegasean hobby, nor encountered anything more like an anthropophagus than a bum-bailiff. An author's deeds are his works—his explorements and excursions are those into the world of Reflection and Imagination-his chief adventures are with the ogre Popular Ignorance, the dwarf Distorted Taste, and the blatant beast Detraction : his hair-breadth 'scapes are i’ the imminent deadly Theatre or Review, his insolent foe is the playhouse swaggerer or the pert scribbler-critic. Alas ! how many severer trials of the spirit, the fortitude, the temper, yea the frame (for sickness assails this with its most poisonous tooth within-doors), has the hearthstone been witness to than the battle-field, or the desert, or the ocean ! But those evils are not striking because so common, while these are interesting because so rare.
(* Aubrey's statement, “who dyed of the plague the 19th of August," should evidently be, “who dyed of the plague, and was buried the 29th of August." See Dyce's Account, &c., p. lxxii.]
FRANCIS BEAUMONT was born in 1586, ten years after Fletcher, and died in 1615,* ten years before him : besides memory, it may help comparative analysis of what greater and lesser minds did for our literature at its most improving epoch, to remark that Fletcher's death occurred the same year as Lord Bacon's (1625), that Beaumont's preceded Shakspeare's (1616) by but one year, and that Bacon was born three years earlier than Shakspeare. I select Bacon because he is a well known biographical landmark; because he is a poetic imaginator ; because dramatic poets are (or ought to be) philosophers ; and because his influence upon our Humane Literature (manifested at times even in the present light Works) has been, through the direction he gave to the whole world of Thought, far more considerable than palpable.
Beaumont and Fletcher were both born in the aristocratical “purple ;” both their fathers enjoyed high offices; the one we have seen held a bishopric, the other became a judge of the Common Pleas. Beaumont's family, however, the older and more honourable, longt had its seat at Grace-Dieu, in Leicestershire. Another coincidence between our “ Two Noble Kinsmen” of Wit, as if their likeness extended beyond their minds, was that each could boast even his very blood poetic. I have enumerated three cognate Fletcher poets, besides the dramatist ; our British Parnassus numbers no less than five relatives of Beaumont, along with himself. These are, his elder brother, Sir John Beaumont, who wrote “Bosworth Field,” and much improved our rhyme couplet ; § John, a son of this Sir John, who lives upon his old reputation rather than his present; Francis Beaumont, master of the Charter-House, a cousin of the far-greater Francis ; Dr. Joseph Beaumont, from whom Pope thought an author might “steal wisely ”-an offset of this stock; and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, whose race and maiden name, Pierrepont, were those of Anne, our author's mother, and who attested her relationship by some “ fugitive pieces creditable enough at a time of mere wit, when England's Hippocrer
rene was a dry well. We know there are castes of priests, husbandmen, soldiers, traders, and mechanics of all kinds in the East ; but castes of poets are, I believe, rare even in that wonder-breeding land : no such castes occur to me as having existed in Great Britain at least since the days of the Druids, save those two just mentioned, the Fletcher and the Beaumont. Let me add another coincidence, though trivial, to complete a parallel which runs so far of itself: both our authors' names are French (Beau-Mont and Fléchier), indicating a foreign extraction,
[* There is reason to believe that Beaumont was born somewhat earlier than 1586. He died on the 6th of March, 1615-16. See Dyce's Account, &c., pp. xxii., lii.]
[t Not so long as the poet's biographers have supposed. See Dyce's Account, &c., p. xx.]
Grace-Dieu, that under Charnwood stand'st alone,
Nor pride o'ertop, nor envy undermine."
8 Drayton, in one of his epistles, celebrates him and his brother Francis, as well as William Browne, author of * Britannia's Pastorals :"
" Then the two Beaumonts and my Browne arose,
My dear companions, whom I freely chose