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THÈSE names were so linked together by friendship during life, and have been so harmoniously associated in fame, that although the former of them alone is entitled to notice in these pages, by an interment in Westminster Abbey, it were a graceless scrupulosity to sever them under any circumstances. As their works were a common labour for the entertainment of posterity, so should their commemoration ever continue, as it has been hitherto preserved-one and inseparable. There follow, therefore, a distinct memoir of each, and a review of their joint productions; and should the notice be deemed too brief for their merits, the fact can only be justified upon the plea, that we really are possessed of a most meagre account of both authors.
Francis Beaumont, descended from a family appropriately respectable and talented, is conjectured to have been born during either of the years 1585 or '86, at Grace Dieu, in Leicestershire. His grandfather was a Master of the Rolls, his father a Judge in the Court of Common Pleas, and his mother, Anne Pierrepoint, belonged to that family in Nottinghamshire, from which the late Dukedom of Kingston traced its ancestry. He is said by some, to have studied at the University of Cambridge, and by others, at Oxford, though the name of the college has not been discovered :—but it is certain that he was a member of the Inner Temple. Whether he attained any, or what proficiency in legal knowledge, are points not now to be ascertained; but if we may decide by probabilities, the profession with him, as with many others of the same lively imagination, was but nominal, and at an early period exchanged for more congenial pursuits. He became acquainted with Fletcher before he had completed his twentieth year; and from the voluminousness of his productions, and the prematurity of his death, cannot be supposed to have had much
leisure for any other occupations. He married the daughter and heiress of Henry Isley, in Kent, and was suddenly snatched away from life before he had reached his thirtieth year, and buried in Westminster Abbey, immediately under the spot where the monument to Dryden now stands. He had two daughters, of whom it is only known that one of them, Frances, was supported, so late as the year 1700, upon a pension of 1001. a year from the noble House of Ormond.
John Fletcher was born in 1576; and educated at Oxford. His father, the Rev. Dr. Fletcher, was promoted to the bench of bishops by Queen Elizabeth, and enjoyed first the see of Bristol, and afterwards that of London. Of Fletcher the younger, we are informed, that at College he was distinguished not only for the promptitude, but the profundity of his attainments; and that in maturer age, he was courted for the vivacity of his conversation, and greatly prized for the ready fineness of his wit. He was not known as an author before his intimacy with Beaumont, and produced nothing material after the extinction of their friendship. It has also been remarked, that he was born about ten years before Beaumont, and lived just ten after him-for he fell a victim to the ravages of the great plague in 1625.
Another coincidence observed upon between these eminent partners in literary celebrity is, that out of fifty-seven dramas to which their names are affixed, only two are independent productions, and those one by each, namely, the “Faithful Shepherdess,"? a pastoral, by Fletcher; and the “Masque of Gray's Inn Gentle: men,” by Beaumont. In their fifty-seven pieces are to be found every variety of character, and every display of passion ; laughter and tears are moved with equal mastery, and we hate and love obedient to the scene. The characters are prominent, and the plots are sufficiently interesting, but not the most artfully conducted, and rather striking in a few situations, than attractively sustained throughout the whole story. In comedy the dialogue is lively and seasoned, and in tragedy so bold and poetical as to have provoked a comparison with the matchless passages of Shakspeare. Throughout works produced in such numbers, and with such rapidity, many faults are to be expected, and many blemishes will be found. Of these the most striking are an extravagance of repartee and metaphysical conceit; and, the least pardonable because the most avoidable, a gross and frequent indulgence of obscenity. The period at which the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were most popularly estimated, was the licentious reign of Charles II., when they were by some vain judges held superior even to Shakspeare. That era, however, is past ; and they are now only presented to the public, after considerable prunings, and in consequence of a deficiency in stage effect, with considerable additions.
From such a magnitude of matter, the task of culling examples of beauty or instancing faults, is one by far too lengthy and burdened for the limits of these pages. It must, therefore, suffice to present the reader with a catalogue of the pieces, in which the nature of each, and the date of its publication, will be distinguished. Their labours began with The Woman Hater,' a comedy published in 4to. in 1607, which was followed in order by “ The Knight of the Burning Pestle,' a comedy, in 1613 ; Cupid's Revenge,' a tragedy, in 1615; · The Scornful Lady,' a comedy, in 1616; -“ The King and no King,' a tragi-comedy, in 1619; « The Maid's Tragedy,' an exquisite production, in the same year; • Thierry and Theodoret,' a tragedy, in 1621; · Philaster,' a tragi-comedy, in 1622, and frequently revived; The two noble Kinsmen,' a tragi-comedy, in 1634; “The Elder Brother,' a comedy, in 1637; “Monsieur Thomas,' a comedy, in 1638; Wit without money,' a comedy, in 1639; Rule a Wife and have a Wife,' still a favourite comedy, in 1640; and “The NightWalker, a comedy, in 1640. For seven years from this date nothing was printed with their names ; but in 1647 there appeared together, in folio, no less than thirty-four plays, of which the titles and styles are as follow :- The Mad Lover,' a tragi-comedy; • The Spanish Curate,' a comedy; · The Little French Lawyer," a comedy; The Custom of the Country,' a comedy; "The noble Gentleman,' a tragi-comedy; "The Captain,' a comedy; • The Beggar's Bush,' a comedy; · The Coxcomb,' a comedy; • The False One,' a tragedy; The Chances,' an excellent comedy; "The Loyal Subject,' a tragedy; "The Laws of Candy,' a tragi-comedy; • The Lover's Progress,' a tragi-comedy; • The Island Princess,'a tragi-comedy; The Humourous Lieutenant,' a tragi-comedy, long highly popular; “The Nice Valour,' a tragi-comedy; "The Maid in the Mill,' a comedy; The Phrophetess,' a tragedy; Bonduca, a tragedy, still ranked among the acting plays of the day; "The Sea Voyage,' a tragi-comedy; * The Double Marriage,' a tragi-comedy; • The Pilgrim,' a comedy; "The Knight of Malta,' a tragedy; "The Woman's Prize,' a comedy; 'Love's Cure,' a comedy; The Honest Man's Fortune, a comedy; • The Queen of Corinth,' a tragi-comedy; ‘Women Pleased,' a comedy; “A Wife for a Month,' a tragi-comedy; ‘Wit at several Weapons,' a comedy; "Valentinian,' a tragedy; "The Fair Maid of the Inn,' a tragi-comedy; 'Love's Pilgrimage, a tragi-comedy, and ‘Four Plays in One. All these were printed and acted; but they wrote two other comedies never printed, which were entitled, “The Faithful Friend;' and the · Right Woman.' Fletcher's name also appears, in conjunction with Ben Jonson, Massinger, and others, to two comedies; and Beaumont is believed to have produced a piece by himself, which he called, The History of Mador, King of Britain.
Of the distinctive powers of these joint authors, or the specific share which each of them took in the composition of their dramas, our only sources of information are traditional conjecture, and the preliminary matter to the edition of their works published in 1778. From these it would appear that wit was the characteristic of Fletcher, and judgment of Beaumont: that the talents of the former were the more luxuriant, and those of the latter the more mature. By consequence, Fletcher chiefly projected the story, while Beaumont contrived the developement of the play ;-the one amplified, and the other corrected. According to this estimate, Fletcher must have written the larger portion of what has appeared under their names, and besides the honour of a more inventive genius, becomes entitled, from a longer life, to the praise of having co-operated with other dramatists. If we may credit an account given by Winstanley, the manner in which they proceeded with their labours, was agreeable and gentlemanlike in the extreme; for he represents them as meeting at a tavern, and there digesting and choosing their respective scenes for composition over a bottle of wine:-a division of employment in which Beaumont is represented as always preferring the more serious and lofty parts. It would seem too, that Fletcher believed in the general opinion which awarded to Beaumont the possession of mental superiority, as notwithstanding his seniority in years, he always acquiesced in the precedence which the name of his colleague still bears on the title pages of their works. A further confirmation of the propriety of this judgment, is derived from the fact, that Ben Jonson, who is well known to have estimated his own talents at their full value, was yet glad upon every occasion to avail himself of the critical aid of Beaumont, and formally submitted many of his works to his correction. The best editions of Beaumont and Fletcher's works are those edited by Theobald, Sympson, and Seward, in 10 vols. 8vo. 1751; by Colman, in 1778; and in our own time by Gifford.
And now to conclude as we began, with the legitimate subject of this work:-Beaumont, independent of the reputation earned by his dramatic composition, is entitled to a very respectable place among the poets of his age by some miscellaneous productions, which have always borne an engaging character. Many of his subjects, and the manner in which they are treated, are happily original ; his amatory addresses are distinguished by great richness of feeling, and liveliness of imagination; and his versification is particularly marked by correctness and modulation. These compositions were first printed in 8vo. 1653, and principally comprise, the “Hermaphrodite,' a very imaginative piece; an “Epistle to Ben Jonson ;' and `Verses to his friend Master John Fletcher,' &c. &c. They are now generally given at the end of the plays. Besides these he left several pieces in manuscript, which were possessed by his daughter Frances, but unfortunately lost, like the conclusion of Spenser's Fairy Queen, in a shipwreck during a voyage to Ireland. Beaumont had a brother, Sir John, also a poet, whose works are not to be confounded with those of the dramatist. He is the author of "Bosworth Field,' an heroic poem, which presents a very favourable view of the style of writing at that day: he also wrote several minor pieces in a pleasing vein ; translated largely from Horace, Virgil, Juvenal, and Persius; and may justly be commended as a scholar of taste, and a writer of pure English. He was created a baronet by Charles I., and died aged forty-six, in the year 1628.