PHINEAS FLETCHER, who surpassed his brother in poetical genius, took his bachelor's degree at King's College, Cambridge, in 1604, and his master's degree in 1608. Though his poems were not published until 1633, there is convincing proof that they were written before 1610; for Giles, at the close of his Christ's Victory, printed in this year, thus beautifully alludes not only to his brother's Purple Island, but to his eclogues, as previous compositions:—
But let the Kentish lad, that lately taught
His oaten reed the trumpets silver sound,
Young Thyrsilis; and for his music brought
The willing spheres from Heav'n, to lead around
The dancing nymphs and swains, that sung, and crown'd
Eclectas Hymen with ten thousand flowers
Of choicest praise, and hung her heav'nly bow'rs
With saffron garlands, dress'd for nuptial paramours;
Let his shrill trumpet, with her silver blast
Of fair Eclecta, and her spousal bed,
Be the sweet pipe, and smooth encomiast:
But my green Muse, hiding her younger head,
Under old Camus's flaggy banks, that spread
Their willow locks abroad, and all the day
With their own wa'try shadows wanton play:
Dares not those high amours, and love-sick songs assay.
It is, indeed, highly probable, that they were composed even before he took his bachelor's degree; for, in the dedication of his Purple Island to his learned friend, Edward Benlowes, Esq., he terms them "raw essays of my very unripe years, and almost childhood."
The Purple Island, is an allegorical description, in twelve cantos, of the corporeal and intellectual functions of man. Its interest and effect have been greatly injured by a too minute investigation of anatomical facts; the first five cantos being little else than a lecture in rhyme, and productive more of disgust than any other sensation. In the residue of the poem, the bard bursts forth with unshackled splendour, and the passions and mental powers are personified with great brilliancy of imagination, and greet warmth of colouring. Like his brother, however, he is defective in taste; the great charm of composition, simplicity, is too often lost amid the mazes of quaint conception and meretricious ornament. Yet are there passages interspersed through this allegory, of exquisite tenderness and sweetness, alike simple and correct in diction, chaste in creative power, and melodious in versification.
The Piscatory Eclogues, to novelty of scenery add many passages of genuine and delightful poetry, and the music of the verse is often highly gratifying to the ear; but many of the same faults are discernible in these pieces, which we remarked in the Purple Island; pedantry and forced conceits occasionally intrude, and, though the poet has not injured the effect of his delineations by coarseness, or rusticity of expression, he has sometimes forgotten the simple elegance which should designate the pastoral muse.
Our author was presented to the living of Hilgay, in Norfolk, in 1621, and died there about the year 1650.