Of this author we have only a very short notice in the last edition of the Biographia Britannica, augmented, however, by the successful researches of Mr. Nichols in his history of Leicestershire, a work to which we shall have occasion to acknowledge yet more substantial obligations, in the life of the dramatic poet of this family.
Sir John Beaumont was the son of Francis Beaumont, one of the judges of the Common Pleas in the reign of queen Elizabeth, and brother of Francis, the dramatic colleague of Fletcher. He was born in 1582 at Grace-dieu, the family seat, in Leicestershire, and admitted a gentleman commoner of Broadgate's Hall (now Pembroke College) Oxford, the beginning of Lent Term, 1596. After three years' study here, during which he seems to have attached himself most to the poetical classics, he became a member of one of the inns of court, but soon quitted that situation, and returned to Leicestershire, where he married Elizabeth, daughter of John Fortescue, esq.
In 1626, king Charles conferred on him the dignity of a baronet, which sir John survived only two years, dying in the winter of 1628. He is said by Anthony Wood, to have been buried at Grace-dieu: but this is a mistake for Belton, as the priory church was not then existing. The cause of his death is obscurely hinted at in the following lines by Drayton:
Thy care for that, which was not worth thy breath,
Brought on too soon thy much lamented death.
But Heav'n was kind, and would not let thee see
The plagues that must upon this nation be,
By whom the Muses have neglected been,
Which shall add weight and measure to their sin.
What these lines imply it is not easy to conjecture. Sir John died at the age of forty-six, almost in the prime of life, and his poetical attempts were the amusement of his young days, which he had relinquished for more serious studies.
He had seven sons and four daughters. Of his sons the most noticeable were John, his successor, the editor of his father's poems, and himself a minor poet: Francis, the author of some verses on his father's poems, who became afterwards a Jesuit: Gervase, who died at seven years old, and was lamented by his father in some very pathetic verses in the present collection: and Thomas, the third baronet. Sir John, who succeeded his father, is recorded as a man of prodigious bodily strength. He was killed in 1644, at the siege of Gloucester, and dying unmarried, was succeeded in title by his brother Thomas, who, like him, was plundered by the republicans.
Besides the present collection, Wood ascribes to our author a poem in eight books, entitled The Crown of Thorns, and a work under this title is alluded to in Hawkins's commendatory verses, but it has escaped the researches of the poetical collectors.
His other poems were published in 1629, under the title of Bosworth-field: with a Taste of the Variety of other Poems, left by Sir John Beaumont, Baronet, deceased: set forth by his Sonne, Sir Iohn Beaumont, Baronet; and dedicated to the King's most Excellent Maiestie. They are prefixed by a loyal dedication to the king, and commendatory verses by Thomas Hawkins, the author's sons John and Francis, George Fortescue, the brother of his lady, Ben Jonson, Drayton, &c.
Bosworth Field is the most considerable of this collection, and in Mr. Headley's opinion "merits republication for the easy flow of its numbers, and the spirit with which it is written." It certainly contains many original specimens of the heroic style, not exceeded by any of his contemporaries. and the imagery is frequently just and striking. The lines describing the death of the tyrant may be submitted with confidence to the admirers of Shakspeare. Among his lesser poems, a few sparklings of invention may now and then be discovered, and his translations are in general spirited and correct. His verses on the true form of English poetry, addressed to king James I. entitle him to a place among the most judicious critics of his time, and the chaste complexion of the whole shows that to genius he added virtue and delicacy.