1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Beaumont

G. G. Cunningham, in Memoirs of Illustrious Englishmen (1834-37) 3:367.



This learned ecclesiastic and poet was descended from a collateral branch of the ancient family of the Beaumonts, from whence sprang Sir John Beaumont, the author of Bosworth Field, Francis, the celebrated dramatist, and others. He was born at Hadleigh in Suffolk, and educated at the university of Cambridge, where we find him, at the time of the civil war, fellow and tutor of Peterhouse. Being ejected from his offices by the republicans, he retired to his native place, and employed himself in the composition of his Psyche. On the return of Charles he was reinstated in his former dignities, with the addition of some valuable pieces of preferment which were conferred on him by his patron, the munificent Bishop Wren. He afterwards exercised in succession the offices of master of Jesus and the Peterhouse, and king's professor of divinity, which latter situation he held from 1670 to 1699 the year of his death. One of his biographers describes his character in a long sentence of antithetical eulogy, beginning with "religious without bigotry," and ending with "humble without meanness." "We are not inclined," says a writer in the Retrospective Review, "to question the latter assertion, but the former is more than problematical; although his bigotry was probably more of the heart than the head. He appears, in truth, from his writings, to have been one of a class of characters not uncommon in that age, and which it is impossible to contemplate without a mixture of reverence for their high worth, and regret for the human prejudices and infirmities which rendered that worth, in a great measure, useless; a truly religious and upright, though narrow-minded man, capable of undergoing any sacrifice in defence of principles which he perhaps only imperfectly understood; tenacious to an excess, of the outward forms and observances of religion, yet strenuous in the performance of active duties to a degree not always united with this species of punctiliousness." Besides Psyche, which appeared first in 1648, and of which a second and posthumous edition was published by his son in 1702, with numerous corrections, and the addition of four cantos by the author, he wrote several smaller poems in English and Latin, and a polemical tract in reply to Dr. Henry More's Mystery of Godliness. He also composed a number of theological works, the bulk of which are still in manuscript, owing to a provision in his will to that effect, but his remarks on St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians were printed in 4to. in 1749.