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-an extraction too that accords very well with the general gaiety and levity of their genius.
Our dramatist became a gentleman-commoper of Broadgate Hall (now Pembroke College), during the Lent term, 1596, when but ten years old ;* studied, or neglected, law at the Inner Temple for some brief time; turned the fable of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus from Ovid into English rhyme,t and published it when but sixteen ; became the friend of Ben Jonson before nineteen, and as such addressed a letter to him on his “ Fox,” produced in 1605. This letter has been said to evince the “soundest criticism,” and “a familiar acquaintance with the models of the ancient drama ;” it consists of twenty-six lines, a short space to include so much, even were they all given up to critique ; but twenty-one are general praise of Jonson or abuse of his audience, and five alone remain for criticism, whose soundness may be estimated by the fact, that it gives the palm of comic style to Jonson above Shakspeare :
"I would have shown
To all the world, the art, which thou alone
Yet for a critic in his teens, and commendatory verses moreover, these exhibit singular judgment. Jonson submitted to him, it is said, the plots of his dramas,-Dryden believes "all his plots," which would prove our author indeed a precocious genius, as
Every Man in his Humour," was produced in 1596, when Beaumont was but ten years old. But Dryden seems to have been the loosest speaker, not an intentional liar, among all our great literati.
Jonson, insensible neither to services nor laudations, repaid both with the following deep-thoughted lines :
TO MR. FRANCIS BEAUMONT.
Beaumont married Ursula, daughter and coheir of Henry Isley, of Sundridge, in Kent, by whom he left two daughters. One of these was living in 1700, at which time she enjoyed one hundred pounds a-year pension from the Duke of Ormond, having been, Weber says, a “domestic” of his family : this was a large pension for a servant; perhaps she had lived as companion to one of the Ormond ladies. Several poems, written by her father, we are told, were in her possession, and lost on her passage from Ireland to England. He died at an age as premature as his genius—twenty-nine, and was buried near the entrance of St Benedict's Chapel, Westminster Abbey, near the Earl of Middlesex's monument. Like his friend even in this, neither slab nor epitaph points out his grave. A huge erection to Dryden, raised by Sheffield about 1720, may have encroached on the spot consecrate to him, or altogether usurped it.
I give the ingenious Bishop Corbet's epitaph upon him as, besides being a high testimonial, it suggests a cause, not improbable, of his early death :
T® On the 4th of February, 1596-7, when he was at the age of twelve. See Dycee Account, &c., p. xxii.)
[t It is a huge paraphrase, not a translation. See Dyce's Account, &c., p. xxiv.)
ON MR. FRANCIS BEAUMONT.
(THEN NEWLY DEAD.)
As would ask ten good heads to husband it;
Wit then expressed genius, or mental power-somewhat as the French word esprit does now. This cause of our author's death appears to have been more than a poetical conceit, from some verses written by his brother, Sir John Beaumont:
AN EPITAPH ON MY DEARE BROTHER, FRANCIS BEAUMONT.
" Thou should'st have followed me, but Death, to blame,
Miscounted years, and measured age by fame;
Of his private character, the single trait before quoted from Shirley remains,—that he talked a comedy: a hyperbolism not so well supported by what we know to be his works as by Fletcher's. He possessed, we have seen, much judgment, which rather belongs to a grave character; and such a one tradition has always assigned him. His celebrated description of the “wit con ts,” at the Mermaid tavern, proves ly that he, as well as the saturnine Ben Jonson, could be jocund at times and under excitement.
" What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid ! heard words that have been
Beaumont, as has been remarked of English poets generally, seems to have been handsome: a portrait of him exists in Lord Harcourt's collection.
Aubrey relates an anecdote of our two friends, which scandalizes some biographers, but which contains much that is agreeable to me, as offering a picture of perfect union, whose heartiness excuses its homeliness. “They lived,” he says, “ together, on the Bankside, not far from the playhouse, both bachelors ; had one * in their house, which they did so admire ; the same clothes, cloak, &c., between them.” I must own the star implies too florid a spot on this sketch to be a beauty ; but when critics would explain away the community of cloak and clothes, by accident or slander, methinks their fastidiousness exceeds their good feeling. Chalmers supplies a nonsensical word, bench, for the true one, by which moreover he “tells a lie for God's sake”,
—no part of the decalogue. I will subjoin another anecdote, though it comes from a still more turbid source, Winstanley,* because certain of the following scenes appear to substantiate it, and reversely it appears to illustrate them. At a tavern, as our poets choose each his share of some future dramatic task, a fierce ejaculation is heard from their chamber—“I'll undertake to
(* But Winstanley took the anecdote from Fuller's Worthies. See Dyce's Account, &c., p. xxxii.)
kill the king !” One who stood outside, readier to catch up a treasonable than a poetic idea, gives information of this regicide plot; and the poor dramatist, till he can explain, has a prospect of the block, which better befitted the blockhead his betrayer. Critics hold the anecdote apocryphal, or its truth dimly countenanced by the “ Maid's Tragedy ; ” yet I observe a close and very remarkable parallel to it in the “Woman-Hater." Here Lazarillo, an epicure, from his vague talk to a friend about grotesque means to come at the head of an “umbrana-fish,” is accused by Intelligencers [informers] of a plot to “kill the duke,” his sovereign prince; and these wretches are thereupon dragged through three distinct scenes of ridicule for their preposterous mistake in espionage, with a bitterness and vengeful satire that looks very like resentment of a personal wrong:
“ Your grace shall have
As rat-catchers do by poison." Act v. Scene 2. In Act I., Scene 3, the character of an Informer is drawn at great length, and with still greater severity
“This fellow is a kind of an informer, one that lives in ale-houses and taverns; and because he perceives some worthy men in the land, with much labour and great expense, to have discovered things dangerously hanging over the State, he thinks to discover as much out of the talk of drunkards, in tap-houses : he brings me informations, picked out of broken words, in men's common talk, which, with his malicious misapplication, he hopes will seem dangerous ; he doth besides bring me the names of all the young gentlemen in the city that use ordinaries or taverns, talking (to my thinking) only as the freedom of their youth teaches them, without any further ends, for dangerous and seditious spirits,” &c.
I shall now arrange, chronologically, the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, and appropriate to each his own,* as far as this can be done with certitude or likelihood—a very short distance, indeed. There are of the works entitled at hazard “Beaumont and Fletcher," fifty-two plays, besides a Masque, and some Minor Poems. The “Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn," was written by Beaumont alone ; as were the Minor Poems, it is believed, except one, called “The Honest Man's Fortune,” which follows a play of that name, and challenges Fletcher for its sole author. This remains the single undramatic poem extant of Fletcher's, unless we add a few self-commendatory verses prefixed to the "Faithful Shepherdess.” + Out of the fifty-two plays, Beaumont had no share in the first nine here set down, it may be said with little hesitation, and with none in the next nine making in all eighteen.
First represented in 1618.
THE LOYAL SUBJECT
[ Since this Memoir was written, the chronology, authorship, &c., of these plays have been discussed at considerable length by Mr. Dyce, who occasionally differs in opinion from Mr. Darley. See Dyce's Account, &c., and his edition of Brauront and Fletcher, passim.)
[t There are verses by Fletcher prefixed to The Fox, and to the Cataline of Ben Jonson. See, too, the lines printed (for the first time) in Dyce's Account, p. liii.)
For this latter set of dates we have Sir Henry Herbert, the licenser's manuscript, as authority; which also decides the corresponding dramas to be by Fletcher alone, except the “ Maid of the Mill,” wherein he had Rowley's assistance. That the “Faithful Shepherdess” was Fletcher's sole production, there is no doubt, and every evidence. Two other plays by him, licensed in 1623, are lost,—“The Devil of Dowgate, or Usury put to Use," and “The Wandering Lovers.” For the former set of dates we have authority not so direct, but sufficient; and Fletcher seems to have written without help all the dramas, dated and undated, save the last two, which he left imperfect, and Malone says, were finished by Shirley.—These eighteen plays, therefore, furnish criticism a fair, broad ground, whereupon to judge of Fletcher’s individual style. We may perhaps add—“The Woman Hater,” produced about 1606-7.
Concerning the other thirty-three dramas (half a dozen excepted), we can ascertain the times of their representation, or at least publication, with various degrees of precision ; but it is difficult to apportion their authorship-I might say, impossible—though easy enough to hypothesize, and yet easier to pronounce about it. Strange perversity of man's disposition, strange alternative between its supineness and precipitateness, that when he had some right to pronounce, he would not, and now when he has none, he will! I have mentioned the provoking reserve of Shirley: but Humphrey Moseley, the stationer, exceeds him as much as Shallow does Silence : he adds a preamble of his own, and therein has the face to tell us—“It was once in my thoughts to have printed Mr. Fletcher's works by themselves, because single and alone he would make a just volume,”—yet he neglects giving us their name, or even their number, or any one note of distinction between them and their jointlywritten companions! Still worse : Sir Aston Cockayne falls foul of Moseley for this said omission
"In the large book of plays you late did print
Yet able, by his own evidence here cited, to repair Moseley's fault, what does this addlepated baronet but reiterate it ? These are not things to sweeten a biographer's temper. Hear with how much noble concern for the interest of Fletcher, and of futurity, our indignant doggerelist follows up his philippic against the stationer
" What a foul
I have heard a story of two Bathers, one of whom uttering a contemptuous laugh at the other, who had plunged in with spectacles on, followed himself immediately after in a pair of tight leather breeches. But the two bathers committed ludicrous mistakes, Moseley and Sir Aston lamentable.
Neither my space, time, power, nor disposition, encourages me to undertake a conjectural critique upon these thirty-three plays, for the purpose of ascribing, probably or possibly, as others have done, such a part or whole, such a plot or character, to this or that author. Besides the above-mentioned definite class of Eighteen attributable almost entirely to Fletcher, I shall mark out another of Nine, all which may have been partly written by Beaumont, as they were composed or made public before his death, and some of them eveu claim him for their chief author on good evidence.
THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE.
First represented in 1611.
Published in 1616.
I add " the Scornful Lady,” though not published till after the death of Beaumont, because it was written some years earlier ; and I omit the “Woman Hater," though published before that epoch, because he is understood to have had no share in this work.
Even from the above small class we can select but three dramas, verified as joint compositions of our English Damon and Pythias, to wit, “ Philaster,” “ The Maid's Tragedy," " King and No King." The former two, indeed, if they be not equi-valuable with all the other plays together of this collection, are beyond doubt those on which has depended, and ever will depend, its principal charm, and the chief renown of Beaumont and Fletcher. “King and No King" also renders their genius apparent in its brightest phase.
Critics, however, go farther than I can. They affirm, that of the fifty-two plays these under-named-sixteen or seventeen (if we include “ The Knight of the Burning Pestle,”) vindicate the time-honoured title of our volume. Beaumont, it is thought, was co-parent to these, but no more than these. I will particularise such of their dates as have been ascertained.
First represented in 1611.
THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE.
Partnership in but seventeen out of fifty-two plays, gives Beaumont small apparent claim on the total joint-stock reputation acquired. It seems possible, however, that some others, zot brought out till after his death, may have been planned, and partly or wholly written, with his co-operation, before it. “ Valentinian,” for example, was produced before 1619 ; “Thierry and Theodoret,” before 1621 ;* two plays which approach nearer in solid, sustained merit, “ Philaster” and “The Maid's Tragedy,” than any of Fletcher's known eighteen.. We are now, it will be remembered, somewhat beyond the actual bounds of terra cognita, so I permit myself a conjecture or two, if merely to keep up with the critics. Another play, “The Bloody Brother," bears traces of Beaumont's deeper, graver enthusiasm. Weber pronounces the Fletcher-like portion far superior to the rest (Acts III., IV., and part of V.); yet Edith's noble pleading for her father's life, and Aubrey's fine philippic against sycophants, occur in the condemned portion : when it was produced is not known. There are intrinsic qualities of rythm and general style, to come under discussion hereafter, which would give these conjectures verisimilitude ; still they are but conjectures.
How happens it, the reader may ask, that this collection of plays, although not a third part ascribed to Beaumont, should be called “Beaumont and Fletcher" instead of “ Fletcher and Beaumont ?” A question of mere curiosity rather than of moment fortunately
• Said in the epilogue to be by one poet.