1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Beaumont

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 4:286-88.



JOSEPH BEAUMONT, D.D. master of Peter-house, Cambridge, and king's professor of divinity, was a descendant of the ancient family of Beaumont in Leicestershire. His father, who died in 1653, had been a woollen manufacturer at Hadleigh in Suffolk, where our author, his eldest son, was born March 13, 1615. His father, who discovered in him a turn for letters, placed him at the grammar school of his native place, where he made uncommon proficiency in classical learning, and in his sixteenth year was removed to Peterhouse in Cambridge, and distinguished himself, not more by his literary acquirements than by his pious and orderly deportment, acquiring the high esteem of Dr. Cosins; then master of that college, and afterwards bishop of Durham. After taking his degree of A.B. he was elected fellow, and afterwards tutor and moderator. In 1643, as he adhered loyally to his sovereign, he was obliged to leave the university, then in possession of the usurping powers, and being ejected from his fellowship, he retired to Hadleigh, where he associated with some other persons of his own sentiments, chiefly his former pupils and the sons of his friend and patron bishop Wren; and here he appears to have amused himself in writing his Psyche, which was begun in April 1647, finished before the end of March 1648, and published the same year; an allegorical poem, displaying the "Intercourse between Christ and the Soul," which was much admired in his time, but has not preserved its popularity. Pope is reported to have said of it, that "there are in it a great many flowers well worth gathering, and a man who has the art of stealing wisely will find his account in reading it." His biographer, however, confesses that he has generally preferred the effusions of fancy to the corrections of judgment, and is often florid and affected, obscure and perplexed. His Latin poems, although perhaps superior in style, are yet below the purity of the Augustan age. All his poetical efforts were the amusement of his leisure hours during the rebellion, by which he lost, besides his fellowship, some preferments which bishop Wren had be stowed on him, as the rectory of Kelshall in Hertfordshire in 1643, that of Elm with the chapel of Emneth in 1646, and the seventh canonry and prebend in the cathedral of Ely in 1647. And so zealous was bishop Wren for his interest and happiness, that he took him into his house as his domestic chaplain, and married him to his step-daughter in 1650. With her Mr. Beaumont retired to Tatingston-place, where they lived in a private manner until the restoration. On that event he took possession of his former livings and was also admitted into the first list of his majesty's chaplains, and by his majesty's mandamus was created D.D. in 1660. In 1661 he removed, at bishop Wren's desire, to Ely, where he had the misfortune to lose his wife in 1662. In April of that year, an the resignation of Dr. Pearson, master of Jesuit college, Cambridge, the bishop of Ely appointed him successor, and in 1663, on the death of Dr. Hale, master of Peterhouse, he was removed to the headship of that college, which he governed with great care and liberality. The same year he was instituted to the rectory of Teversham near Cambridge, and in 1664 to that of Barley in Hertfordshire, where he alternately resided in the vacation months every summer, feeding the poor, instructing the ignorant, and faithfully discharging his pastoral charge. In 1665 he was drawn into a controversy with Dr. Henry More, who had advanced some doctrines in his Mystery of Godliness, which our author thought subversive of our constitution in church and state, and productive of many evils to the Christian religion; Dr. More replied to this charge, but Dr. Beaumont received the thanks of the university for his services on this occasion. In 1670 he was elected to the divinity chair. In the course of his lectures, which he read for twenty-nine years, he went through the two epistles to the Romans and Colossians, with a view to explain the difficulties and controversies occasioned by some passages in them. In 1689, when the Comprehension was attempted, in order to unite the church and dissenters, he was one of the commissioners appointed for that purpose, but never took his place at the board, convinced of the little probability that such a scheme should succeed. He continued to discharge the several duties of his office, even when advanced to his eighty-fourth year, and preached before the university in turn, Nov. 5, 1699; but a high fever came on the same evening, which, with the addition of the gout in his stomach, proved fatal on the 23d of the same month. His biographer sums up his character in these words: "He was religious without bigotry, devout without superstition, learned without pedantry, judicious without censoriousness, eloquent without vanity, charitable without ostentation, generous without profusion, friendly without dissimulation, courteous without flattery, prudent without cunning, and humble without meanness." Mr. Cole informs us, that in 1662 he obtained, from the vice-chancellor of Cambridge, a dispensation to eat flesh in Lent, as fish did not agree with his constitution; probably this was among the last instances of such a scruple in the Protestant church. His Psyche was reprinted, with many of the author's corrections, and the addition of four cantos, in 1702, by his son Charles Beaumont, A.M. of Peterhouse, who informs us that his father left all his works, critical and polemical, to the college, strictly forbidding the printing of any of them. In 1749 was published his lesser Poems in English and Latin, with an appendix, containing some dissertations and remarks on the Epistle to the Colossians, 4to. To this is prefixed an account of his life, from which the present sketch has been taken.