1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Fletcher

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 203-18.



I am now arriv'd at a brace of Authors, who like the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, succeeded in Conjunction more happily than any Poets of their own, or this Age, to the reserve of the Venerable Shakespear, and the Learned and Judicious Johnson. 'Tis impossible for me to reach their Characters; and therefore, as the Witty Dr. Fuller cites Bale's saying of Randal Higden, That 'tis no shame to crave aid in a Work too weighty for any ones back to bear; I must have recourse to others Assistance, for the Characters of this worthy pair of Authors. To speak first of Mr. Beaumont, he was Master of a good Wit, and a better Judgment; he so admirably well understood the Art of the Stage, that even Johnson himself thought it no disparagement to submit his Writings to his Correction. What a great Veneration Ben. had for him, is evident by those Verses he writ to him when living. Mr. Fletcher's Wit was equal to Mr. Beaumont's Judgment, and was so luxuriant, that like superfluous Branches, it was frequently prun'd by his Judicious Partner. These Poets perfectly understood Breeding, and therefore successfully copy'd the Conversation of Gentlemen. They knew how to describe the Manners of the Age; and Fletcher had a peculiar tallent in expressing all his thoughts, with Life and Briskness. No Man ever understood, or drew the Passions more lively than he; and his witty Raillery was so drest, that it rather pleas'd than disgusted the modest part of his Audience. In a word, Fletcher's Fancy, and Beaumont's Judgment combin'd, produc'd such Plays, as will remain Monuments of their Wit to all Posterity. Nay, Mr. Fletcher himself after Mr. Beaumont's Decease, compos'd several Dramatick Pieces, which were well worthy the Pen of so great a Master. Of this, the following Lines, writ by that Excellent Poet Mr. Carthwright, are a proof.

Tho' when All-Fletcher writ, and the entire
Man was indulg'd unto that sacred fire,
His thoughts and his thoughts dress, appear'd both such,
That 'twas his happy fault to do too much;
Who therefore wisely did submit each Birth
To knowing Beaumont, e're it did come forth;
Working again, until he said 'twas fit,
And made him the sobriety of his Wit;
Tho' thus he call'd his Judge into his Fame,
And for that aid allow'd him half the Name,
'Tis known, that sometimes he did stand alone,
That both the spunge and pencil were his own;
That himself judg'd himself, could singly do,
And was at last Beaumont and Fletcher too.
Else we had lost his Shepherdess, a piece,
Even, and smooth, sprung from a finer fleece,
Where Softness reigns, where passions passions greet,
Gentle and high, as floods of Balsam meet:
Where, drest in white Expressions, sit bright Loves,
Drawn, like their fairest Queen, by milky Doves;
A Piece, which Johnson, in a Rapture bid,
Come up a glorify'd Work, and so it did.

They who would read more of these admirable Poets worth, may peruse at their leisure those excellent Copys of Verses printed with their Works, written by the prime Wits of the Age, as Waller, Denham, Sir John Berkenhead, Dr. Main, &c. I am extreamly sorry, that I am not able to give any Account of the Affairs of these Great Men; Mr. Beaumont's Parentage, Birth, County, Education, and Death, being wholly unknown to me: And as to Mr. Fletcher, all I know of him is, That he was Son to the Eminent Richard  Fletcher, created Bishop of Bristol, by Queen Elizabeth An. 1559. and by her preferr'd to London, 1593. He died in London of the Plague in the First Year of King Charles the Martyr, 1625. being Nine and fourty Years of Age, and was bury'd in St. Mary Overies Church in Southwarke.

I beg my Reader's Leave to insert the Inscription, which I find writ under his Picture, by that well known Wit, Sir John Berkenhead; which will give the Reader a fuller Knowledge of his Abilities and Merit, than I am able to express.

Felicis aevi, ac Praesulis Natus; comes
Beaumontio; sic, quippe Parnassus, Biceps;
FLETCHERUS unam in Pyramida furcas agens.
Struxit chorum plus simplicem Vates Duplex;
Plus Duplicem solus: nec ullum transtulit;
Nec transferrendus: Dramatum aeterni sales,
Anglo Theatro, Orbi, Sibi, superstitites.
FLETCHERE, facies absque vultu pingitur;
Quantus! vel umbram circuit nemo tuam.

Where, or when Mr. Beaumont died, I know not; but I have met with an Epitaph, writ by Dr. Corbet, immediately after his Death, that well deserves the Reader's perusal.

ON MR. FRANCIS BEAUMONT. (THEN NEWLY DEAD.)
He that hath such Acuteness, and such Wit,
As would ask Ten good Heads to husband it;
He that can write so well, that no man dare
Refuse it for the best, let him beware:
BEAUMONT is dead, by whose sole Death appears,
Wit's a Disease consumes men in few years.

There are two and fifty Plays written by these worthy Authors; all which are now extant in one Volume, printed fol. Lond. 1679. each of which I shall mention Alphabetically.

Beggers Bush, a Comedy: This Play I have seen several times acted with applause.

Bonduca, a Tragedy. The plot of this Play, is borrow'd from Tacitus's Annals Lib. 14. See Milton's History of England, Book 2. Ubaldino de Vita delle Donne Illustri del Regno d' Inghelterra, & Scotia, pag. 7, &c.

Bloody Brother, or Rollo Duke of Normandy, a Tragedy much in request; and notwithstanding Mr. Rymer's Criticisms on it, has still the good fortune to Please: it being frequently acted by the present Company of Actors, at the Queen's Play-House in Dorset-Garden. The Design of this Play is History: See Herodian. lib. 4. Xiphilini Epit. Dion. in Vit. Ant. Caracallae. Part of the Language is copy'd from Seneca's Thebais.

Captain, a Comedy.

Chances, a Comedy, reviv'd by the late Duke of Buckingham, and very much improv'd; being acted with extraordinary applause at the Theatre in Dorset-Garden, and printed with the Alterations Lond. 4to 1682. This Play is built on a Novel written by the Famous Spaniard Miguel de Cervantes, call'd The Lady Cornelia; which the Reader may read at large in a Fol. Vol. call'd Six Exemplary Novels.

Coronation, a Tragi-comedy.

Coxcomb, a Comedy, which was reviv'd at the Theatre-Royal, the Prologue being spoken by Jo. Hains.

Cupid's Revenge, a Tragedy.

Custome of the Country, a Tragi-comedy. This is accounted an excellent Play; the Plot of Rutilio, Duarte, and Guyomar, is founded on one of Malespini's Novels, Deca. 6. Nov. 6.

Double Marriage, a Tragedy, which has been reviv'd some years ago; as I learn from a new Prologue printed in Covent-Garden Drollexy, p. 14.

Elder Brother, a Comedy, which has been acted with good applause.

Faithful Shepherdess, a Pastoral, writ by Mr. Fletcher, and commended by two Copies written by the Judicious Beaumont, and the Learned Johnson, which the Reader may read at the end of the Play: See the last Edit. Fol. p. 233. When this Pastoral was first acted before their Majesties at Sommerset House on Twelfth-Night, 1633. instead of a Prologue, there was a Song in Dialogue, sung between a Priest and a Nymph, which was writ by Sir William D'Avenant; and an Epilogue was spoken by the Lady Mary Mordant, which the Reader may read in Covent-Garden Drollery, pag. 86.

Fair Maid of the Inn, a Tragi-comedy. Mariana's disowning Caesario for her Son, and the Duke's Injunction to marry him, is related by Causin in his Holy Court, and is transcrib'd by Wanley in his History of Man, Fol. Book 3. Chap. 26.

False One, a Tragedy. This Play is founded on the Adventures of Julius Caesar in Aegypt, and his Amours with Cleopatra. See Suetonius, Plutarch, Dion, Appian, Florus , Eutropius, Orosius, &c.

Four Plays, or Moral Representations in One; viz. The Triumph of Honour; The Triumph of Love; The Triumph of Death; The Triumph of Time. I know not whether ever these Representations appear'd on the Stage, or no. The Triumph of Honour is founded on Boccace his Novels, Day 10. Nov. 5. The Triumph of Love, on the same Author, Day 5. Nov. 8. The Triumph of Death on a Novel in The Fortunate, Deceiv'd, and Unfortunate Lovers, part 3. Nov. 3. See besides Palace of Pleasure, Nov. 4to. Belle-forest, &c. The Triumph of Time, as far as falls within my discovery, is wholly the Authors Invention.

Honest Man's Fortune, a Tragi-Comedy. As to the plot of Montaign's being prefer'd by Lamira to be her Husband, when he was in Adversity, and least expected: the like Story is related by Heywood in his History of Women, Book 9. pag. 641.

Humourous Lieutenant, a Tragi-Comedy which I have often seen acted with Applause. The Character of the Humourous Lieutenant refusing to fight after he was cured of his Wounds, resembles the Story of the Souldier belonging to Lucullus describ'd in the Epistles of Horace, lib. 2. Ep. 2. but the very Story is related in Ford's Apothegms, p. 30. How near the Poet keeps to the Historian I must leave to those that will compare the Play with the Writers of the Lives of Antigonus and Demetrius, the Father and the Son. See Plutarch's Life of Demetrius, Diodorus, Justin, Appian, &c.

Island Princess, a Tragi-Comedy. This Play about three Years ago was reviv'd with Alterations by Mr. Tate, being acted at the Theatre Royal, printed in quarto Lond. 1687. and dedicated to the Right Honourable Henry Lord Walgrave.

King and No King, a Tragi-Comedy, which notwithstanding its Errors discover'd by Mr. Rymer in his Criticisms, has always been acted with Applause, and has lately been reviv'd on our present Theatre with so great success, that we may justly say with Horace,

Haec placuit semel, haec decies repetita placebit.

Knight of the burning Pestle, a Comedy. This Play was in vogue some years since, it being reviv'd by the King's House, and a new Prologue (instead of the old One in prose) being spoken by Mrs. Ellen Guin. The bringing the Citizen and his Wife upon the Stage, was possibly in imitation of Ben Johnson's Staple of News, who has introduc'd on the Stage Four Gossips, Lady-like attir'd, who remain during the whole Action, and criticise upon each Scene.

Knight of Malta, a Tragi-Comedy.

Laws of Candy, a Tragi-Comedy.

Little French Lawyer, a Comedy. The Plot is borrow'd from Gusman or The Spanish Rogue, part 2. ch. 4. The Story of Dinant, Clerimont, and Lamira, being borrow'd from Don Lewis de Castro, and Don Roderigo de Montalva. The like Story is in other Novels; as in Scarron's Novel called The Fruitless Precaution; and in The Complaisant Companion, 8vo p. 263. which is copied from the above-mentioned Original.

Love's Cure, or The Martial Maid, a Comedy.

Love's Pilgrimage, a Comedy. This I take to be an admirable Comedy. The Foundation of it is built on a Novel of Miguel de Cervantes called The Two Damsels. The Scene in the first Act, between Diego the Host of Ossuna, and Lazaro his Ostler, is stoln from Ben Johnson's New Inn: which I may rather term borrow'd, for that Play miscarrying in the Action, I suppose they made use of it with Ben's Consent.

Lovers Progress, a Tragi-Comedy. This Play is built on a French Romance written by M. Daudiguier, call'd Lisander and Calista.

Loyal Subject, a Tragi-Comedy.

Mad Lover, a Tragi-Comedy. The Design of Cleanthe's Suborning the Priestess to give a false Oracle in favour of her Brother Syphax, is borrow'd from the Story of Mundus and Paulina, describe'd at large by Josephus Lib. 18. Cap. 4. This Play Sr. Aston Cockain has chiefly commended in his Copy of Verses on Mr. Fletcher's Plays. See the Verses before the old Edition, printed 1647. and Cockain's Poems, pag. 101.

Maid in the Mill, a Comedy. This Play amongst othershas likewise been reviv'd by the Duke's House. The Plot of Antonio, Ismenia, and Aminta, is borrowed from Gerardo, a Romance translated from the Spanish of Don Gonzalo de Cespides, and Moneces; see the Story of Don Jayme pag. 350. As to the Plot of Otrante's seizing Florimel the Millers supposed Daughter, and attempting her Chastity; 'tis borrow'd from an Italian Novel writ by Bandello; a Translation of which into French, the Reader may find in Les Histoires Tragiques par M. Belleforest, Tom. 1. Hist. 12. The same Story is related by M. Goulart; see Les Histoires admirables de notre temps, 8vo. Tom. 1. p. 212.

Maids Tragedy, a Play which has always been acted with great Applause at the King's Theatre; and which had still continu'd on the English Stage, had not King Charles the Second, for some particular Reasons forbid its further Appearance during his Reign. It has since been reviv'd by Mr. Waller, the last Act having been wholly alter'd to please the Court: as the Author of the Preface to the second part of his Poems informs us, and give us further the following Account: "Tis not to be doubted, who sat for the Two Brothers Characters. 'Twas agreeable to the Sweetness of Mr. Waller's Temper, to soften the Rigor of the Tragedy, as he expresses it; but whether it be agreeable to the Nature of Tragedy it self, to make every thing come off easily, I leave to the Criticks." This last Act is publisht in the Second Part of Mr. Waller's Poems, printed in quarto Lond. 1690.

Masque of Grays-Inn Gentlemen, and the Inner-Temple. This Masque was written by Mr. Beaumont alone, and presented before the King and Queen in the Banqueting-house of Whitehall, at the Marriage of the Illustrious Frederick and Elizabeth, Prince and Princess Palatine of the Rhine.

Monsieur Thomas, a Comedy, which not long since appear'd on the present Stage under the Name of Trick for Trick.

Nice Valour, or The Passionate Mad-man, a Comedy.

Night Walker, or The Little Thief, a Comedy, which I have seen acted by the King's Servants, with great Applause, both in the City and Country.

Noble Gentleman, a Comedy which was lately reviv'd by Mr. Durfey, under the Title of The Fools Preferment, or The Three Dukes of Dunstable.

Philaster, or Love lies a Bleeding: a Tragi-Comedy which has always been acted with Success; and has been the diversion of the Stage, even in these days. This was the first Play that brought these Excellent Authors in Esteem; and this Play was One of those that were represented at the old Theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields, when the Women acted alone. The Prologue and Epilogue were spoken by Mrs. Marshal, and printed in Covent-garden Drollery, pag. 18. About this Time there was a Prologue written on purpose for the Women by Mr. Dryden, and is printed in his Miscellany Poems in octavo, p. 285.

Pilgrim, a Comedy which was reviv'd some years since, and a Prologue spoke, which the Reader may find in Covent-garden Dollery, p. 12.

Prophetess, a Tragical History, which has lately been reviv'd by Mr. Dryden, under the Title of The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian, with Alterations and Additions after the manner of an Opera, represented at the Queens Theatre, and printed 4to Lond. 1690. For the Plot consult Eusebius Lib 8. Nicephorus Lib. 6. and 7. Vopisc. Car. & Carin. Aur. Victoris Epitome. Eutropius L. 9. Baronius An. 204. &c. Orosius L. 7. C. 16. Coeffeteau L. 20. &c.

Queen of Corinth, a Tragi-Comedy.

Rule a Wife, and have a Wife, a Tragi-Comedy which within these few years has been acted, with applause at the Queens Theatre in Dorset-Garden.

Scornful Lady, a Comedy acted with good Applause even in these times, at the Theatre in Dorset-Garden. Mr. Dryden has condemn'd the Conclusion of this Play in reference to the Conversion of Moor-craft the Usurer [author's note: Dram. Essay, p. 35]; but whether this Catastrophe be excusable, I must leave to the Criticks.

Sea Voyage, a Comedy lately reviv'd by Mr. Durfey, under the Title of The Common-wealth of Women. This Play is supposed by Mr. Dryden, (as I have observ'd) to be copied from Shakespears's Tempest.

The Storm which vanisht on the neighbring shore,
Was taught by Shakespears Tempest first to roar,
That Innocence and Beauty which did smile
In Fletcher, grew on this Enchanted Isle.

Spanish Curate, a Comedy frequently reviv'd with general Applause. The Plot of Don Henrique, Ascanio, Violante, and Jacintha, is borrow'd from Gerardo's History of Don John, pag. 202. and that of Leandro, Bartolus, Amarantha and Lopez, from the Spanish Curate of the same Author, pag. 214. &c.

Thirry and Theodoret, a Tragedy. This Play is accounted by some an excellent old Play; and therefore 'tis pitty the Compositor was so careless in this new Edition as to omit a great part of the last Act, which contains the King's behaviour during the Operation of the Poison given him by his Mother; and which is as moving as any part of the Play. This Imperfection may be supply'd from the Copy printed in quarto, and I hope the Proprietors of the Copy, will take care in the next Impression to do justice to these admirable Authors.

For Beaumont's Works and Fletcher's should come forth,
With all the Right belonging to their Worth.

The Plot of this Play is founded on History. See the French Chronicles in the Reign of Clotaire the Second. See Fredegarius Scholasticus, Aimoinus Monachus Floriacensis, De Serres, Mezeray, Crispin, &c.

Two Noble Kinsmen, a Tragi-Comedy. This Play was written by Mr. Fletcher, and Mr. Shakespear.

Valentinian, a Tragedy reviv'd not long ago by that Great Wit, the Earl of Rochester; acted at the Theatre-Royal, and printed in quarto 1685. with a Preface concerning the Author and his Writings. For the Plot see the Writers of those Times; as Cassidori Chron.; Amm. Marcell. Hist. Evagrius Lib. 2. Procopius, &c.

Wife for a Month, a Tragi-Comedy. This Play is in my poor Judgment well worth reviving, and with the alternation of a judicious Pen, would be an excellent Dramma. The Character and Story of Alphonso, and his Brother Frederick's Carriage to him, much resembles the History of Sancho the Eighth, King of Leon. I leave the Reader to the perusal of his Story in Mariana, and Louis de Mayerne Turquet.

Wild-Goose Chase, a Comedy valued by the best Judges of Poetry.

Wit at several Weapons, a Comedy which by some is thought very diverting; and possibly was the Model on which the Characters of the Elder Pallatine and Sr. Morglay Thwack were built by Sr. William D'Avenant, in his Comedy call'd The Wits.

Wit without Money, a Comedy which I have seen acted at the Old House in little Lincolns-Inn-Fields with very great Applause; the part of Valentine being play'd by that compleat Actor Major Mohun deceas'd. This was the first Play that was acted after the Burning the King's House in Drury-lane: a New Prologue being writ for them by Mr. Dryden, printed in his Miscellany Poems in octavo, p. 285.

Woman Hater, a Comedy. This Play was reviv'd by Sr. William D'Avenant, and a new Prologue (instead of the old One writ in prose) was spoken, which the Reader may peruse in Sir William's Works in Fol. p. 249. This Play was one of those writ by Fletcher alone.

Women pleas'd, a Trigo-comedy. The Comical parts of this Play throughout between Bartello, Lopez, Isabella, and Claudio, are founded on several of Boccace's Novels: See Day 7. Nov. 6. and 8. Day 8. Nov. 8.

Woman's Prize, or the Tamer tam'd, a Comedy, written on the same foundation with Shakespear's Taming of the Shrew; or which we may better call a Second part or counter-part to that admirable Comedy. This was writ by Mr. Fletcher's Pen likewise.

I wish I were able to give the Reader a perfect Account what Plays He writ alone; in what Plays he was assisted by the Judicious Beaumont, and which were the Plays in which Old Phil. Massinger had a hand: but Mr. Charles Cotton being dead, I know none but Sir Aston Cockain (if he be yet alive) that can satisfy the World in this particular: all that I can say, is that most of these Plays were acted at the Globe and Black-Friars, in the Time of those Actors Taylor, Lowin, Burbage, &c. This Account I receiv'd from Sir Aston Cockain's Poems, who writ an Epistle to his Cosen Charles Cotton, concerning these excellent Authors, part of which I shall transcribe for the Reader's better Satisfaction, and because his Poems are not very common.

'Tis true, Beaumont and Fletcher both were such
Sublime Wits, none could them admire too much;
They were our English Pole-Stars, and did bear
Between them all the World of Fancy clear:
But as two Suns when they do shine to us,
The Air is lighter, they prodigious;
So while they liv'd and writ together, we
Had Plays exceeded what we hop'd to see.
But they writ few; for youthful Beaumont soon
By Death eclipsed was at his high Noon.
Surviving Fletcher then did Penn alone
Equal to both, (pardon Comparison)
And suffer'd not the Globe and Black-Friar's Stage
T' envy the Glories of a former Age.
As we in Humane Bodies see that lose
An Eye, or Limb, the Vertue and the Use
Retreat into the other Eye or Limb,
And makes it double. So I say of him:
Fletcher was Beaumont's Heir, and did inherit
His searching Judgment, and unbounded Spirit.
His Plays were printed therefore, as they were
Of Beaumont too, because his Spirit's there.

I know no Poems writ by Mr. Fletcher; but Mr. Beaumont has a Poem extant call'd Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, printed Lond. 4to. 1602. and which was again re-printed with his Elegy of Love; Elegies, Sonnets, and other Poems, 8vo. Lond. 1653. Our Author joyn'd with the Famous Johnson, and Middleton, in a Comedy called The Widow. Of this Play, see more under the Name of Ben. Johnson.