1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Beaumont

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:118-19.



FRANCIS BEAUMONT (1585-1616), whose name is most conspicuous as a dramatist, in union with that of Fletcher, wrote a small number of miscellaneous pieces, which his brother published after his death. Some of these youthful effusions are witty and amusing; others possess a lyrical sweetness and a few are grave and moralising. The most celebrated is the letter to Ben Jonson, which was originally published at the end of the play "Nice Valour," with the following title: "Mr. Francis Beaumont's letter to Ben Jonson, written before he and Master Fletcher came to London, with two of the precedent comedies then not finished, which deferred their merry meetings at the Mermaid." Notwithstanding the admiration of Beaumont for "Rare Ben," he copied Shakspeare in the style of his dramas. Fletcher, however, was still, more Shakspearian than his associate. Hazlitt says finely of the premature death of Beaumont and his more poetical friend — "The bees were said to have come and built their hive in the mouth of Plato when a child; and the fable might be transferred to the sweeter accents of Beaumont and Fletcher. Beaumont died at the age of five-and-twenty [thirty]. One of these writers makes Bellario, the page, say to Philaster, who threatens to take his life—

—'Tis not a life,
'Tis but a piece of childhood thrown away.

But here was youth, genius, aspiring hope, growing reputation, cut off like a flower in its summer pride, or like 'the lily on its stalk green,' which makes us repine at fortune, and almost at nature, that seem to set so little store by their greatest favourites. The life of poets is, or ought to be (judging of it from the light it lends to ours), a golden dream, full of brightness and sweetness, lapt in Elysium; and it gives one a reluctant pang to see the splendid vision, by which they are attended in their path of glory, fade like a vapour, and their sacred heads laid low in ashes, before the sand of common mortals has run out. Fletcher, too, was prematurely cut off by the plague."