1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Giles Fletcher

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 1:122.



These brother poets were sons of Dr Giles Fletcher, and cousins of Fletcher the dramatist; both were clergymen, whose lives afforded but little variety of incident. Phineas was born in 1584, educated at Eton and Cambridge, and became rector of Hilgay, in Norfolk, where he died in 1650. Giles was younger than his brother, but the date of his birth has not been ascertained. He was rector of Alderton, in Suffolk, where he died, it is supposed, some years before his brother....

GILES FLETCHER published only one poetical production of any length — a sacred poem, entitled Christ's Victory and Triumph. It appeared at Cambridge in 1610, and met with such indifferent success, that a second edition was not called for till twenty years afterwards. There is a massive grandeur and earnestness about "Christ's Victory" which strikes the imagination. The materials of the poem are better fused together, and more harmoniously linked in connexion, than those of the Purple Island. "Both of these brothers," says Mr Hallam, "are deserving of much praise; they were endowed with minds eminently poetical, and not inferior in imagination to any of their contemporaries. But an injudicious taste, and an excessive fondness for a style which the public was rapidly abandoning, that of allegorical personification, prevented their powers from being effectively displayed." Mr. Campbell remarks, "They were both the disciples of Spenser, and, with his diction gently modernised, retained much of his melody and luxuriant expression. Glles, inferior as he is to Spenser and Milton, might be figured, in his happiest moments, as a link of connexion in our poetry between these congenial spirits, for he reminds us of both, and evidently gave hints to the latter in a poem on the same subject with Paradise Regained." These hints are indeed very plain and obvious. The appearance of Satan as an aged sire "slowly footing" in the silent wilderness, the temptation of our Saviour in the "goodly garden," and in the Bower of Vain Delight, are outlines which Milton adopted and filled up in his second epic, with a classic grace and force of style unknown to the Fletchers. To the latter, however, belong the merit of original invention, copiousness of fancy, melodious numbers, and language at times rich, ornate, and highly poetical. If Spenser had not previously written his Bower of Bliss, Giles Fletcher's Bower of Vain Delight would have been unequalled in the poetry of that day; but probably, like his master Spenser, he copied from Tasso.