Page:EB1911 - Volume 03.djvu/611

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BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER

left by Sir John Beaumont. No more “tastes” were ever vouchsafed, so that it is by this volume and by the juvenile Metamorphosis of Tobacco that Beaumont’s reputation has to stand. Of late years, the peculiarities of John Beaumont’s prosody have drawn attention to his work. He wrote the heroic couplet, which was his favourite measure, with almost unprecedented evenness. Bosworth Field, the scene of the battle of which Beaumont’s principal poem gives a vaguely epical narrative, lay close to the poet’s house of Grace-Dieu. He writes on all occasions with a smoothness which was very remarkable in the first quarter of the 17th century, and which marks him, with Edmund Waller and George Sandys, as one of the pioneers of the classic reformation of English verse.

The poems of Sir John Beaumont were included in A. Chalmers’s English Poets, vol. vi. (1810). An edition, with “memorial introduction” and notes, was included (1869) in Dr A. B. Grosart’s Fuller Worthies’ Library; and the Metamorphosis of Tobacco was included in J. P. Collier’s Illustrations of Early English Popular Literature, vol. i. (1863).

 (E. G.) 


BEAUMONT and FLETCHER, English dramatists[1] The names of Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625) are inseparably connected in the history of the English drama. John Fletcher was born in December 1579 at Rye in Sussex, and baptized on the 20th of the same month. Richard Fletcher, his father, afterwards queen’s chaplain, dean of Peterborough, and bishop successively of Bristol, Worcester and London, was then minister of the parish in which the son was born who was to make their name immortal. That son was just turned of seven when the dean distinguished and disgraced himself as the spiritual tormentor of the last moments on earth of Mary Stuart. When not quite twelve he was admitted pensioner of Bene’t College, Cambridge, and two years later was made one of the Bible-clerks: of this college Bishop Fletcher had been president twenty years earlier, and six months before his son’s admission had received from its authorities a first letter of thanks for various benefactions, to be followed next year by a second. Four years later than this, when John Fletcher wanted five or six months of his seventeenth year, the bishop died suddenly of over much tobacco and the displeasure of Queen Elizabeth at his second marriage—this time, it appears, with a lady of such character as figures something too frequently on the stage of his illustrious son. He left eight children by his first marriage in such distress that their uncle, Dr Giles Fletcher, author of a treatise on the Russian commonwealth which is still held in some repute, was obliged to draw up a petition to the queen on their behalf, which was supported by the intercession of Essex, but with what result is uncertain.

From this date we know nothing of the fortunes of John Fletcher, till the needy orphan boy of seventeen reappears as the brilliant and triumphant poet whose name is linked for all time with the yet more glorious name of Francis Beaumont, third and youngest son of Sir Francis Beaumont of Grace-Dieu, one of the justices of the common pleas—born, according to general report, in 1586, but, according to more than one apparently irrefragable document, actually born two years earlier. The first record of his existence is the entry of his name, together with those of his elder brothers Henry and John, as a gentleman-commoner of Broadgates Hall, Oxford, now supplanted by Pembroke College. But most lovers of his fame will care rather to remember the admirable lines of Wordsworth on the “eager child” who played among the rocks and woodlands of Grace-Dieu; though it may be doubted whether even the boy’s first verses were of the peaceful and pastoral character attributed to them by the great laureate of the lakes. That passionate and fiery genius which was so soon and for so short a time to “shake the buskined stage” with heroic and tragic notes of passion and of sorrow, of scorn and rage, and slighted love and jealousy, must surely have sought vent from the first in fancies of a more ardent and ambitious kind; and it would be a likelier conjecture that when Frank Beaumont (as we know on more authorities than one that he was always called by his contemporaries, even in the full flush of his adult fame—“never more than Frank,” says Heywood) went to college at the ripe age of twelve, he had already committed a tragedy or two in emulation of Tamburlaine, Andronicus or Jeronymo. The date of his admission was the 4th of February 1597; on the 22nd of April of the following year his father died; and on the 3rd of November 1600, having left Oxford without taking his degree, the boy of fifteen was entered a member of the Inner Temple, his two brothers standing sponsors on the grave occasion. But the son of Judge Beaumont was no fitter for success at the bar than the son of Bishop Fletcher for distinction in the church: it is equally difficult to imagine either poet invested with either gown. Two years later appeared the poem of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, generally attributed to Beaumont, a voluptuous and voluminous expansion of the Ovidian legend, not on the whole discreditable to a lad of eighteen, fresh from the popular love-poems of Marlowe and Shakespeare, which it naturally exceeds in long-winded and fantastic diffusion of episodes and conceits. At twenty-three Beaumont prefixed to the magnificent masterpiece of Ben Jonson some noticeable verses in honour of his “dear friend” the author; and in the same year (1607) appeared the anonymous comedy of The Woman-Hater, usually assigned to Fletcher alone; but being as it is in the main a crude and puerile imitation of Jonson’s manner, and certainly more like a man’s work at twenty-two than at twenty-eight, internal evidence would seem to justify, or at least to excuse those critics who in the teeth of high authority and tradition would transfer from Fletcher to Beaumont the principal responsibility for this first play that can be traced to the hand of either. As Fletcher also prefixed to the first edition of Volpone a copy of commendatory verses, we may presume that their common admiration for a common friend was among the earliest and strongest influences which drew together the two great poets whose names were thenceforward to be for ever indivisible. During the dim eleven years between the death of his father and the dawn of his fame, we cannot but imagine that the career of Fletcher had been unprosperous as well as obscure. From seventeen to twenty-eight his youth may presumably have been spent in such painful struggles for success, if not for sustenance, as were never known to his younger colleague, who, as we have seen, was entered at Oxford a few months after Fletcher must in all likelihood have left Cambridge to try his luck in London: a venture most probably resolved on as soon as the youth had found his family reduced by the father’s death to such ruinous straits that any smoother course can hardly have been open to him. Entering college at the same age as Fletcher had entered six years earlier, Beaumont had before him a brighter and briefer line of life than his elder. But whatever may have been their respective situations when, either by happy chance or, as Dyce suggests, by the good offices of Jonson, they were first brought together, their intimacy soon became so much closer than that of ordinary brothers that the household which they shared as bachelors was conducted on such thoroughly communistic principles as might have satisfied the most trenchant theorist who ever proclaimed as the cardinal point of his doctrine, a complete and absolute community of bed and board, with all goods thereto appertaining. But in the year following that in which the two younger poets had united in homage to Jonson, they had entered into a partnership of more importance than this in “the same clothes and cloak, &c.,” with other necessaries of life specified by Aubrey.

In 1608, if we may trust the reckoning which seems trust-worthiest, the twin stars of our stage rose visibly together for the first time. The loveliest, though not the loftiest, of tragic plays that we owe to the comrades or the successors of Shakespeare, Philaster, has generally been regarded as the first-born issue of their common genius. The noble tragedy of Thierry and Theodoret has sometimes been dated earlier and assigned to Fletcher alone; but we can be sure neither of the early date nor the single

  1. Recent research has resulted in some variation of opinion as to the precise authorship of some of the plays commonly attributed to them; but this article, contributed to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, remains the classical modern criticism of Beaumont and Fletcher, and its value is substantially unaffected. As representing to the end the views of its distinguished author, it is therefore retained as written, the results of later research being epitomized in the Bibliographical Appendix at the end. (Ed.)