1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Phineas Fletcher

Edward S. Creasy, in Memoirs of Eminent Etonians (1850) 61-62.



Southey says, "No single family has ever in one generation produced three such poets as Giles and Phineas Fletcher, and their Cousin the dramatist." Eton has the honour of having educated the two first of the poetical triumvirate. They were the sons of Dr. Giles Fletcher, who will be soon mentioned in these pages. Phineas Fletcher was elected from Eton to King's in 1600. He became a Fellow of the College in due course, and continued to be one till 1621, when he was presented to the living of Hilgay, in Norfolk, by Sir Henry Willoughby. He held this living till his death in 1650. The poem of "The Purple Island," by which he is known to posterity, was chiefly written by him in youth, as is proved by allusions in it to the latter part of Queen Elizabeth's reign. "The Purple Island" is a long allegorical poem, wherein a shepherd gives to his companions, under the guise of describing an island, its inhabitants, and enemies, first an anatomical description of the human body, and then a metaphysical account of the passions, vices, and virtues of the human mind. No genius could render such a subject attractive; but it is greatly to the credit of the author's purity and taste, that in his hands no part of it is coarse or repulsive. He is an obvious admirer and follower of Spenser; and those who find the "Faery Queen" tedious, will certainly find "The Purple Island" unreadable. On the other hand, a true lover of Spenser will read Fletcher with pleasure. His versification is graceful, his language clear and well-chosen, and there are some passages in his poem which would command the praise of all who became acquainted with them.