1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Beaumont

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:117-18.



Among the numerous minor poets who flourished, or rather composed, in the reign of James, were SIR JOHN BEAUMONT (1582-1628) and DR. HENRY KING, bishop of Chichester (1591-1669). The former was the elder brother of the celebrated dramatist. Enjoying the family estate of Grace Dieu, in Leicestershire, Sir John dedicated part of his leisure hours to the service of the Muses. He wrote a poem on Bosworth Field in the heroic couplet, which, though generally cold and unimpassioned, exhibits correct and forcible versification. As a specimen, we subjoin Richard's animated address to his troops on the eve of the decisive battle:—

My fellow soldiers! though your swords
Are sharp, and need not whetting by my words,
Yet call to mind the many glorious days
In which we treasured up immortal praise.
If, when I served, I ever fled from foe,
Fly ye from mine — let me be punish'd so!
But if my father, when at first he tried
How all his sons could shining blades abide,
Found me an eagle whose undazzled eyes
Affront the beams that from the steel arise;
And if I now in action teach the same,
Know, then, ye have but changed your general's name.
Be still yourselves! Ye fight against the dross
Of those who oft have run from you with loss.
How many Somersets (dissension's brands)
Have felt the force of our revengeful hands?
From whom this youth, as from a princely flood,
Derives his best but not untainted blood.
Have our assaults made Lancaster to droop?
And shall this Welshman with his ragged troop,
Subdue the Norman and the Saxon line,
That only Merlin may be thought divine?
See what a guide these fugitives have chose!
Who, bred among the French, our ancient foes,
Forgets the English language and the ground,
And knows not what our drums and trumpets sound!

Sir John Beaumont wrote the heroic couplet with great ease and correctness. In a poem to the memory of Ferdinando Pulton, Esq., are the following excellent verses:—

Why should vain sorrow follow him with tears,
Who shakes off burdens of declining years?
Whose thread exceeds the usual bounds of life,
And feels no stroke of any fatal knife?
The destinies enjoin their wheels to run,
Until the length of his whole course be spun.
No envious clouds obscure his struggling light,
Which sets contented at the point of night:
Yet this large time no greater profit brings,
Than every little moment whence it springs;
Unless employ'd in works deserving praise,
Must wear out many years and live few days.
Time flows from instants, and of these each one
Should be esteem'd as if it were alone
The shortest space, which we so lightly prize
When it is coming, and before our eyes:
Let it but slide into the eternal main,
No realms, no worlds, can purchase it again:
Remembrance only makes the footsteps last,
When winged time, which fixed the prints, is past.

Sir John also wrote an epitaph on his brother, the dramatist, but it is inferior to the following:—

ON MY DEAR SON, GERVASE BEAUMONT.
Can I, who have for others oft compiled
The songs of death, forget my sweetest child,
Which like a flow'r crush'd with a blast, is dead,
And ere full time hangs down his smiling head,
Expecting with clear hope to live anew,
Among the angels fed with heavenly dew?
We have this sign of joy, that many days,
While on the earth his struggling spirit stays,
The name of Jesus in his month contains
His only food, his sleep, his ease from pains.
O may that sound be rooted in my mind,
Of which in him such strong effect I find
Dear Lord, receive my son, whose winning love
To me was like a friendship, far above
The course of nature, or his tender age
Whose looks could all my bitter griefs assuage:
Let his pure soul — ordain'd seven years to be
In that frail body, which was part of me—
Remain my pledge in heaven, as sent to show
How to this port at every step I go.