Sidor som bilder

when he preached at St. Mary's, his prayer before the sermon usually consisted of one entire allegory, "not driven but led on, most proper in all particulars." The few specimens we possess of his prose, afford sufficient testimony of his learning and eloquence; but of the propriety of his allegorical prayers I may be permitted to entertain a doubt.

After 1612 there is a blank in the history of Fletcher, until his settlement in the rectory of Alderton, in Suffolk. Fuller says, that he was placed there "by exchange of livings;" but it seems improbable that he would have relinquished any other preferment for a situation which is supposed to have hastened the period of his death. I think it very likely that he was presented to the living by Sir Robert Naunton, whose family were the patrons of the church, and had their residence in the parish*. Naunton t was Public Orator during several years of Fletcher's residence at Cambridge, and being himself a member of Trinity, it was natural that he should be desirous of forming an acquaintance with an individual so much esteemed as the author of Christ's Victorie must have been by many of his contemporaries.

Fletcher did not live long to reap the advantage of his new preferment; the unhealthiness of the situation combined with the ignorance of his parishioners to depress his spirits and exhaust his constitution; a lonely village in the maritime part of Suffolk, more than two hundred years ago, had few consolations' to offer to one . accustomed to the refined manners and elegant occupations of an University. We are told by Fuller, in that

Magna Britannia, vol. 5, Suffolk, ed. 1730. + Elected Public Orator 27th July, 1594 ; succeeded by F. Nether. sole, 10th December, 1611.

quaint manner for which he is remarkable, that Fletcher's "clownish and low-parted parishioners (having nothing but their shoes high about them), valued not their pastor according to his worth, which disposed him to melancholy and hastened his dissolution*."

Fletcher's death is supposed to have taken place about 'the year 1623f. But Fuller, the only authority upon whom we could, in this instance, safely rely, has left a blank for the last figure. The disquiet of his later years, together with his absence from books, and the derangement of his papers, caused him to be sometimes unsatis. factory with regard to accuracy in dates; his omission cannot now be remedied. I am enabled to state, through the kindness of the Rev. Addington Norton, the present Rector of Alderton, that no record of Giles Fletcher

* In the edition of Phineas Fletcher's Pisentory Eclogues, at Edin. burgh, 1771, the Editor applies a garbled version of this story to Dr. Giles Fleicher, the pock's father. He professes to have derived his information from a Historical Dictionary of England and ll'ales, 1692. After enumerating some parliculars, in the life of Dr. Fletcher, the writer adds, "in the end of his life he commenced Doctor of Divinity; and, being slighted by his clownish parishioners, he fell into a deep melancholy, and in a short time died." Mr. Chalmers, in his lives of Giles and Phineas Fletcher, refers to the Editor of this edition, “the most of whose judi. cious notes, presace, &c." he scrupulously retained, and the one I have quoted among the number. So carefully are errors bequcathed from one "judicious" editor to another.

That negligent and tasteless writer, Jacob, committed a still more ridi. culous blunder in his Poetical Register, where he says, ihat Giles Fletcher wrote a poem called Christ's Victory, and his other brother, George Flercher, was author of a poem entitled Christ's Victory Over and afier Death, both of them very much commended, v. 2, p. 57. It was in an evil hour that Jacob forsook the mora congenial studies that fitted him for the composition of the Law Dictionary. For this mistake, however, Jacob was indebted to his model Winstanley (Lives of the most famous English Poets, 1687, p. 159), whose puerile conceits and affected phraseology render his errors less endurable than the matter-of-fact man. Der of his imitator. The same accomplished critic gives Herbert to Oxford. Winstanley was originally a barber, an occupation for which he was probably well adapted.

Lloyd's State Worthies, vol. I, p. 552-note, with additions by Whitworth.

is preserved, either in the church or the parish, and the register-books oniy go back to the year 1674.

Giles Fletcher left a widow, who was subsequently married to Mr. Ramsay, the minister of Rougham, a small village in Norfolk. From this individual, both Fuller's and Lloyd's information respecting the poet was derived, and it could have been wished, in this instance, that they had allowed their curiosity greater scope. Of Mr. Ramsay I know nothing. Cole mentions a person of that name who was junior Proctor in 1616.

Such is the brief amount of the imperfect intelligence I have been able to gather respecting Giles Fletcher. Of his manners and conversation, of all that imparts a peculiar interest to biography, no anecdotes have been preserved. The earlier years of his life were spent in the cloistered quiet of a College, and his later days, we have reason to fear, were worn out in sorrow and sickness. His most lasting memorial exists in his poem, and in it. we may discover the spirit of the author looking mildly and beautifully forth. Into the merits of this composition, I propose to enter somewhat at length.

The life of Phineas was equally unobtrusive with his brother's, and more happy in its termination. He was admitted from Eton, a scholar of King's College, Cambridge, in 1600, where he took his degree of B. A. in 1604, and that of M. A. in 1608: he subsequently became a Fellow of the College*. In 1621 he was presented to the living of Hilgay, in Norfolk, by Sir Henry Willoughby, and probably retained it until his death, which is supposed to have happened about 1650, in which year he was succeeded by Arthur Tower,

Dyer's History of the University of Cambridge, v. 2, p. 195.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

admitted by the Committee of plundered ministers *. P. Fletcher passed many of his youthful days among his father's friends, in Kent. His poems contain frequent allusions to the beauty of its scenery, and a desire is expressed to pipe his simple some humble Kentish dale," in "woody Cranebrook," or on "high Brenchley Hill," or by the "rolling Medway." The poetry, and the learning of Wyat and Sidney, have endeared Kent to the lovers of literature. The ancestors of Waller, of Cowper, and of Hammond, had also their seats in this county.

P. Fletcher's poems, although not published until the author was “entering upon his winter," we learn from the dedication to Mr. Edward Benlowes, were the "raw essays" of his "very unripe years." of his principal composition, The Purple Island, it does not come within my plan to give an elaborate account. It was praised by Cowley, and Quarles addressed the author as the Spenser of the age. Much of the picturesque fancy of the Faery Queen certainly plays over the ingenious ercentricities of The Purple Island. Fletcher possessed, in no small degree, the same rich imagination, the saine love of allegorical extravagances, and the same sweetness and occasional majesty of numbers. But of all the qualities required to form a poet, Fletcher was especially

deficient in taste, in that sense of the soul, which, by a kind of Ithuriel instinct, examines every image and epithet, and rejects them when not accordant with the dignity of the art. No man of 'genius, with the exception of Fletcher,

• Blomefield's Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, Il vols. Bro. London, 1805-10, v. 7, p. 373. Mr. Chalmers, who refers to this History, takes no notice of its author's error in calling P. Fletcher the brother of the Bishop of London, who, we have seen, . was his uncle.

and Quarles, who meditated a poem on a similar subject, would have thought of versifying the structure of the human body. Many parts of the Purple Island read like one of Sir Astley Cooper's lectures turned into metre. Fletcher's medical acquirements must have been considerable. But in the midst of all the wearying minutiæ of physiological details, the reader is sometimes refreshed by touches of pure and natural description, worthy of Thomson or Burns. How exquisite is this picture of the lark:

The cheerful lark, mounting from early bed,

With sweet salutes awakes the drowsy light;
The earth she left, and up to heaven is fled
There chants her Maker's praises out of sight.

Purple Island, c. 9, st. 2. I return to the consideration of Christ's Victorie.

In his address To the Reader, Fletcher endeavours to conciliate the prejudices entertained by many against religious poetry. “What should I speak, he says, of Juvencus, Prosper, and the wise Prudentius ; the last of which living in Hierom's time, twelve hundred years ago, brought forth in his declining age so many and so religious poems, straitly charging his soul not to let pass so much is one either night or day without some divine song: and as sedulous Prudentius, so prudent Sedulius was famous in this poetical divinity, the coëtan* of Bernard, who sang the history of Christ with as much devotion in himself as admiration to others, all of which were followed by the choicest wits of ChristendomeNonnus translating all St. John's Gospel into Greek verse; Sannazar, the late living image and happy imitator of Virgil, bestowing ten years upon a song, only to cele

• The contemporary.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »