Beaumont, Francis (1584-1616) (DNB00)

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BEAUMONT, FRANCIS (1584–1616), dramatist, was the third son of Francis Beaumont, the judge of the common pleas, and younger brother of Sir John Beaumont [see Beaumont, Francis, d. 1598, and Beaumont, Sir John 1583-1627]. He was doubtless born at Grace-Dieu, Leicestershire, the family seat. The baptismal registers of Grace-Dieu and Belton contain, however, no Beaumont entries of service to us; but the rite may have been administered in the metropolis, where was the father's permanent residence. Thomas Bancroft (in his Epigrams, 1639, B. i. Ep. 81), expressly connects all the well-known members of the family with Grace-Dieu in the lines:

Grace-dieu, that under Charnwood stand'st alone . . .
That lately brought such noble Beaumonts forth,
Whose brave heroick Muses might aspire
To match the anthems of the heavenly quire.

The entry of Francis's matriculation in the Oxford university register establishes the date of his birth. It runs: Broadgates [afterwards Pembroke College], 1596-[7], Feb. 4. Francisc. Beaumont Baron, fil. ætat. 12. The age is dated by the last birthday, so that he must have been born in 1584.

In the second year of his academic course at Oxford his father died (22 April 1598), and, with his brothers Henry and John [q. v.], he then abruptly left the university without taking a degree. Beaumont was 'entered a member of the Inner Temple, 3 Nov. 1600;' but no evidence remains that he pursued his legal studies. Judging from after-events and occupations, he was (it is to be suspected) more frequently within the 'charmed circle' of the Mermaid than in chambers. Very early both his elder brother Sir John and himself were bosom friends of Drayton and Ben Jonson. The former, in his epistle to Reynolds 'Of Poets and Poetry,' thus boasts of their friendship:

Then the two Beaumonts and my Browne arose,
My dear companions, whom I freely chose
My bosom friends ; and in their several ways
Rightly born poets, and in these last, days
Men of much note and no less nobler parts,
Such as have freely told to me their hearts,
As I have mine to them.

Francis's earliest known attempt in verse was the little address placed by him before Sir John Beaumont's 'Metamorphosis of Tobacco' (1602). It already shows the inevitable touch of a master, but is mainly interesting for its timorous entrance into that realm of poetry whereof its writer was destined to be a sovereign. Later in the same year (1602) the young poet grew bolder and published 'Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.' Mr. A. C. Swinburne (in Encyc. Brit.) has described this poem as 'a voluptuous and voluminous expansion of the Ovidian legend, not on the whole discreditable to a lad of seventeen [eighteen] fresh from the popular love poems of Marlowe and Shakespeare, which it necessarily exceeds in long-winded and fantastic diffusion of episodes and conceits.' Early in 1613 he wrote a masque for the Inner Temple.

Beaumont must shortly afterwards have come to know Ben Jonson. One priceless memorial of their friendship belongs to 1607 in a commendatory poem prefixed to Jonson's masterpiece, 'The Fox,' acted in 1605. In this beautiful encomium Beaumont addresses the author as his 'dear friend.' In 1609, before Jonson's 'Silent Woman,' and in 1611, before his 'Catiline,' Beaumont was again ready with commendatory verses, though unequal to those of the 'Fox.' Some have supposed that Beaumont did more for Jonson than these slight things – that he helped him to prepare the version of his 'Sejanus' acted in 1603 (cf. Jonson's address 'to the readers' in edition of 1605). But more probably Jonson's assistant there was George Chapman.

There is no record of the circumstances under which Beaumont and Fletcher first met. Jonson may have introduced them to each other, but nothing certain is known. But that their warm and close friendship dated from their early youth there can be little question. 'There was,' says the all-inquiring Aubrey, 'a wonderfull consimility of phansy between him [Beaumont] and Mr. Io. Fletcher, which caused that dearnesse of friendship between them. . . . They lived together on the Banke side [in Southwark], not far from the playhouse [Globe], both batchelors, lay together, had one wench [servant-maid] in the house, between them, which they did so admire, the same cloaths and cloake, &c. between them' (Letters, ii., part i., p. 236). The literary partnership, born of this close intimacy, was not one of the sordid arrangements made between needy playwrights of which Henslowe's 'Diary' gives many examples; it arose at their own, not at any theatrical manager's prompting. In worldly matters Beaumont, though a younger son, had on the death of his eldest brother Sir Henry, in 1605, shared the surplusage of the estate, over and above his own direct inheritance, along with Sir John. Fletcher – latterly at least – may have had his difficulties, but so long as Beaumont lived these could not have pressed on him very heavily.

The numerous conjoint works of Beaumont and Fletcher ranged from about 1605-6 to 1616. The question as to the share taken by the two authors will be discussed under Fletcher, John.

Beaumont, in his occasional retirements from the capital to Grace-Dieu, apparently carried Fletcher with him. His verse 'Letter to Ben Jonson,' most probably written from Leicestershire, leaves the impression that the two friends were then together. This letter furnishes the best-remembered example of Beaumont's non-dramatic verse in the un-dying description of the wit-combats between Shakespeare and Jonson and their fellows. Ben Jonson in reply to these verses paid a high tribute to their author.

It seems to be agreed that Beaumont married 'about 1613' (Dyce, i. li). His wife was Ursula, daughter and coheiress to Henry Isley,of Sundridge in Kent, an ancient though then decayed house (Hasted, Kent, i. 368-9). Two daughters were their issue, Elizabeth and Frances, the latter born after her father's death. Elizabeth married 'a, Scotch colonel,' and was resident in Scotland in March 1681-2. Frances was living at a great age in Leicestershire in 1700, and then receiving a pension of 100l. from the Duke of Ormond, in whose family she had been domesticated as, probably, lady's maid (Dyce, i. lii, and authorities).

The married life was a brief one, for Francis Beaumont died on 6 March 1615-16, and was, like his elder brother, interred in Westminster Abbey. The following is the entry in the register: '9 March 1615-16. Francis Beaumont: at the entrance of St. Benedict's Chapel' (Chester, Westminster Register). He left no will, but his widow administered his estate 20 June 1619. Drayton ascribed the elder brother's death to a too 'fiery brain' or overwrought body. Similarly Bishop Corbet sang of the younger:

So dearly hast thou bought thy precious lines;
Their praise grew swiftly, as thy life declines.
Beaumont is dead, by whose sole death appears,
Wit's a disease consumes men in few years.
Dyce, i. lii.

Beaumont's successive 'elegies' and minor poems, written at various times, are in the aggregate inexplicably poor and unequal. Even with the 'sole daughter' of a Sidney to inspire him, his 'mourning' verse is mechanical. It is alone as a dramatic poet that he lives. Two collections of poems, published after his death (1640 and 1653) and bearing his name, included miscellaneous waifs and strays by all manner of men, and very few are to be ascribed to his pen.

The first collected edition of Beaumont and Fletcher's plays appeared in 1647 under the title 'Comedies and Tragedies written by Francis Beavmont and Iohn Fletcher, Gentlemen. Never printed before, and now published by the Authours Originall Copies,' 1647 (folio). Dyce's edition (11 vols. 1843) is the latest, and, like all texts edited by him, modernised. Beaumont and Fletcher, like Ben Jonson, still await a competent editor, for with its many merits Dyce's work lacks faithfulness and thoroughness of collation. Hunter, in his 'Chorus Vatum,' notes Oldys's difficulty as to Beaumont's early poems, viz. that his name appears in Speght's 'Chaucer' (1598); but there was another earlier writer of the same name.

[Burton's Leicestershire; Nichols's Hist. of Leicestershire; Collier's Life of Shakespeare (cf. with Dyce's Beaumont and Fletcher, xi. 445); Malone's Shakespeare; Darley's Introduction to the Works of Beaumont and Fletcher; Francis Beaumont, a critical study by G. C. Macaulay, 1883; Jonson's Works by Cunningham, 3 vols.; Hallam's Introduction to the Literature of Europe, iii. 99 (ed. 1843); Notes of Jonson's Conversations with Drummond by Laing; College of Arms MSS.; Visitations of Leicestershire; Thompson's Leicester; Davies's Scourge of Folly in his complete works in Fuller's Worthies Library, 2 vols. 4to; Heywood's Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells, 1635, p. 206.]

A. B. G.