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INTRODUCTION.

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SHIRLEY the dramatist, when concluding his Preface to the works of Beaumont and

FLETCHER, pronounces an interdict by way of an opinion—" he must be a bold man that dares undertake to write their lives.” Yet Shirley lived at the same time as our authors, was a member of the same literary guild to which they belonged, and, moreover, stood towards one of them (Fletcher) in the position of friend. What had deserved the name boldness under his circumstances, would escape with no such ambiguous epithet under those of a modern biographer. Biography and history differ beyond common idea in this, that a subtle philosophical process will oftentimes, from the multifold, inter-dependent, full-fraught, known facts of the latter, elicit other facts unrecognised before, even by the age itself when they took place; whilst the facts of a particular life, unless it were prominent enough to be historic, are so scanty, exclusive, and meagre, that a similar process, applied to them, would seldom have a similar effect. Man's general nature is sufficiently uniform to admit of our reasoning out consequences which must have occurred at a certain time past, because parallel situations would always produce them ; but man, as an individual, being far more variable than any other sentient creature upon earth, to divine from all he ever did aught he would ever do again, baffles the calculus of probabilities in most cases. Hence, without exact and abundant contemporaneous memoirs, it becomes an easier matter to develope, by help of those few and superficial we may have, the united life of Mankind during a given period gone by, than the life of one Man.

Such desirable memoirs of Beaumont and of Fletcher we should now possess, had Shirley not been either too modest or too proud for a biographer, a very circumspect or a very careless friend. He gives us in his Preface but a single trait, and that at second-hand, of their private character. His aforesaid Preface, less a critique than a panegyrical flourish, little elucidates even the character of their works. I cannot weil forgive him the amiable, or the unamiable, motive of his silence, through which my present task seems yet more hopeless than that of a Jew under Pharaoh, as to make my bricks I have only the straw, and not the clay. But let me excuse Shirley, if possible, though his costiveness places me in the predicament of a tombstone-poet, expected to draw out a handsome epitaph from a proper name, two calendar dates, and “here lies.” An inventive age leaves the business of criticism to a barren one, just as biography, a sort of criticism upon lives, is left for the most part to those whose own lives are beneath its notice. This explains why Fletcher's friend, himself an original dramatist, left the office of critic and biographer to Theobald, to Seward, to Weber, and to me. Another reason yet more honourable for his suppression of evidence may be pleaded. Fireside treachery was less venial in his time, or was at least made less a marketable article of literature than in ours ; rich-minded men were

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less swarmed upon by brain-suckers to qualify themselves as book-makers ; and persons of great note could then admit persons of none to their discourse, without much dread lest it would be sold (adulterated or attenuated), by the retailer, towards his own especial benefit, except in reputation. The example of Drummond had not become contagious ; nor can we rank among petty-traitors of this species an eminent poet, whose crime against friendship sprang from a darker source than love of money, while theirs arises from the dirtier. I have no such cause for gratitude to the literary parasites of Beaumont and Fletcher as future biographers will have to those of our intellectual notables. If Shirley be taciturn, other persons who were acquainted with my authors are dumb. How simple a thing will prove the compilation of Lives belonging to this present tell-tale era! Aliquid usui est in illo malo.

Another disposition our earlier poets seem to have cultivated far less than our modernfar less than is convenient to life-compilers-videlicet, egotism. Egotism displays a good deal of the owner's character besides his vanity, and records some important facts along with many things which appear such to himself alone. Jonson has, it is true, facilitated not a little his biographer's task by frequent allusions to “Ben” throughout his minor poems, and a genial indulgence in this overflow of the soul everywhere. But even he had not that particular view, as it were, towards the ease of us pitiable gropers after personal details, which a modern poet exhibits, wliose works, well furnished with what he might callContributions to the Memoirs of Byself, will do much to render our office henceforth a sinecure. “He spreads his bounty with a sowing hand,” it may be said of each generous author like this ; and we shall reap a plentiful, perhaps a superabundant, harvest. As in Beaumont and Fletcher's age, however, it was not the fashion to make poetry subservient to the poet, rather than the poet to poetry, I am denied those aids their egotism might have afforded. Some hints from their prologues and smaller pieces—some casual remarks thrown out by others---some few dates—and some anecdotes, trivial or dubious—must complete these brief memoirs, with which I can have no hope the public will be satisfied, being myself discontent with them altogether.

John FLETCHER was born in the year 1576,* of something more than “honest parents," as the phrase is ; we may guess even of more than respectable ; for his father had pretensions to a bishopric, which he soon after obtained at the hands of a Sovereign Mistress not wont to confer such dignities when unchallenged by particular merit. This circumstance likewise warrants the supposition that our poet's mother, although her name is forgotten, must have been of good repute; more especially since it appears Elizabeth took much greater care about her dependants' moral connexions than her own. Dr. Fletcher, upon

his elevation to the see of London, having married again, had to endure a suspension from his sacred office, for an act so little in accord with the Queen's notions of episcopal decorum, and, I may add, with her celibatarian prejudices.f He was, it is said, like most of her favourites, very handsome, eloquent, accomplished, and courtly; attributes to which, perhaps, as well as solider recommendations, he owed the repeal of his suspension after a few months, and all the re-admission a twice-married bishop could expect to that Royal Coquette's good graces. His son inherited the perfections above specified, if his portrait and his friends flatter him no more than is customary ; but he did not, I believe, inherit the weakness (so called by Elizabeth), as he remained a bachelor till thirty; and research has failed to detect he ever had a wife. Whether he derived his poetic tastes from his father, or, like Alfred, from his gentler parent, or from Heaven alone, may be a question : although the talents of a bishop are seldom left unrecorded, we do not find poetry numbered amongst Dr. Fletcher's. Yet there was, beyond doubt, a rich imaginative vein flowing through his family: Dr. Giles

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{John Fletcher was born at Rye, in Sussex (while his father officiated there as minister), in December, 1579. See Dyce's Account of the lives and Writings of Beaumont and Fletcher, p. xvii.)

[f Bishop Fletcher's second wife was Lady Baker (widow of Sir Richard Baker, of Sisingherst, in Kent). Her character was very duubtful; and the marriage was hurried on with unusual laste. See Dyce's dccount. &c., p. ix. seq.'

Fletcher, the bishop's younger brother, is entitled by Wood “an excellent poet,” terms indeed often applied to a lettered person for the sake of rounding his character, but here it would seem justifiable : his sons, Giles and Phineas, wrote, the one,“ Christ's Victory and Triumph,” a poem of merit enough to attract Milton ; the other, what he names with classical indistinctness, “The Purple Island,” which poem also deserves praise. These particulars may go some length towards an explanation of certain details and various peculiarities in our author's life and in his works. I do not see what light is thrown upon either by such circumstances as my predecessor, Weber, takes pains to mention—that the Bishop “was extremely dextrous in the management of the great horse," or that Camden charges him with having died of tobacco.* But the wanderer through a desert will often stop to pluck trash from the few wild shrubs which adorn it, and to take a mouthful, no less green and bitter, from its brackish springs.

Cambridge had the honour of completing our poet's education, and Bene't College lays more particular claim to it, the bishop having remembered this establishment in his will. A youth from London of his name was admitted to Bene't, October the 15th, 1591, when Fletcher was about fifteen,t the usual entrance-age then : this appears to fix both his birth-place and his college. Here we are told he acquired much classical erudition, of which, however, no creditable degree remains as a proof, nor do his works furnish a valid one, although they superabound with antique dramatis personæ and localities that might as well be modern. So many of his plots taken from Spanish, French, and Italian dramas then untranslated, seem to attest his knowledge of the living languages, which may have been sought at the expense of the dead. We are not told what verses the mellifluous waters of Cam inspired, or the memory of Spenser, who had chosen its sweetest reed for his Dorique pipe a little before. Fletcher was born that same year the immortal Sizar of Pembroke took a master's degree at Cambridge, where it is probable the “Shepherd's Calendar," which came out soon after, had been meditated or composed, and must have been in high repute when our author entered college. Is it subtilizing (no mark of true discerning power), when I trace the origin of his “ Faithful Shepherdess,” a pastoral drama, to these pastoral dialogues of his fellow-academic ? Various thoughts, descriptions, &c., are taken or imitated from the “Shepherd's Calendar;" some peculiar words, as dell," leese," are common to both productions; and so likewise are some proper names, as Thenot, Perigot, which do not exist in Fletcher's supposed prototypes, the “Aminta" and the “ Pastor Fido.” I will give two specimens of the former coincidences :

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"Sort all your shepherds from the lazy clowns
That feed their heifers in the budded brooms."

Faithful Shepherdess, Act v. Scene 5.
“So loytering live you, little herd-grooms,
Keeping your beasts in the budded brooms."

Shepherd's Calendar. February.

Spenser himself imitated in this a passage of Chaucer, from which I quote the last lines, to show how much sweeter the stream of poetry often is at the source :

" And many a floite and litlyng horne,

And pipis made of grenè corne,
As have these litle herde-gromnes,
That kepen bestis in the bromes."

Hlouse of Fame. Boke iii. 133.

• As others might deem this of some consequence, I give Camden's accusation at length:-"Endeavouring to smother the cares of an unlucky match in the smoke of tobacco, which he took to excess, and falling under the Queen's displeasure, who thought it enough for Bishops to be fathers of the Church Calluding to his marriage], between the experiment and the misfortune, lost his life.”History of England, vol. ii., p. 596.

Weber should have furnished the answer when he quoted the accusation. Tobacco, on its first introduction, was imagined by many sagacious persons, besides Camden and King James, most fatal to health, with perhaps the same justice as it is imagined beneficial now.

[f He had not completed his twelfth year; but in those days students were admitted into the universities at a very early age. His Pather had been Fellow and President of Bene't College. See Dyce's Account, &c., p. xvii.]

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Again : Dorus's song

Dorus, he
That was the soul and god of melody,"

wnom Fletcher is thought to have meant Spenser; Dorus's song goes thus

“Daffadillies,
Roses, pinks, and loved lilies,

Let us fling
While we sing,
&c. &c."

Faithful Shepherdess. Act v. Scene 5.
“ Strowe me the ground with daffadowndillies,
And cowslips and kingcups and loved lilies."

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.t Some verses which precede the “ Faithful Shepherdess,” published about 1610, assert his independence : he declares that poem not written

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* 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 pl. 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,

“NAT. FIELD.”

Laurence Fletcher was an actor, and likewise joint-principal with Shakspeare of the Lord Chamberlain's company soon after this time. (Henslowe'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./

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“ The money shall be abated out of the money remayns for the play of Mr. Fletcher and ours.

“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 boast,

My promise will find credit with the most,
When they know ingenious Fletcher made it, he
Being in himself a perfect comedy;
And some sit here, I donbt not, dare Aver,
Living, he made that house a theatre
Which he pleased to frequent "

[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.

1 Let me bere 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 Slak sprare; 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!

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