1758 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Phineas Fletcher

William Oldys?, in Faerie Queene, ed. Church (1758) 1:xlii-xliv.



Phineas Fletcher, Nephew to Richard Fletcher Bishop of London, who died suddenly June 15, 1596; and first Cousin to John Fletcher, who wrote so many plays in conjunction with Francis Beaumont. Phineas was probably a Kentish man, lived at Brenchly within a few miles of Penshurst, was of Eaton School, of King's College in Cambridge, and had the living of Hilgay in Norfolk. By some verses, in the 2d part of his poems, p. 62, on Lord Essex's death, which was on Feb. 25, 1600-01, he seems to have been about that time settled at Cambridge.

Or when me list my slender pipe to raise,
Sing of Eliza's fixed mournfulnesse,
And much bewail such wofull heavinesse;
Whilst she a dear-lov'd Hart (ah lucklesse!) flew:
Whose fall she all too late, too soon, too much, did rue.

The verses we first cited are from the first Canto out of twelve of his poem called the Purple Island. It treats of man in body and mind; and the five first Cantoes are chiefly of the anatomy of the body, and particularly the heart; which is the Purple Island. But those five (though in general dry and filled with allusions to terms of art) and all the other Cantoes are intermixt with great variety of beauties. In the 2d part of the volume are smaller poems; all with abundance of genius and sweetness. It was printed at Cambridge in Quarto, 1633: and in his dedication of the Purple Island he calls it, "these raw Essayes of my very unripe yeares, and almost childehood. How unseasonable are Blossomes in Autumne! — I am entring upon my Winter—"

Whether he was acquainted with Spenser, we know not: but he almost idolized him. To his beloved Thenot, p. 65, he says;

But if my Thenot love my humble vein
(Too lowly vein) ne're let him Colin call me;
He, while he was, was (ah!) the choicest swain
That ever grac't a reed—
Two shepherds I adore with humble love;

he then points out Virgil,

And next our nearer Colin's sweetest strain;
Most, where he most his Rosalind doth plain.
Well may I after look, but follow all in vain.

But he had many allusions to Spenser and his Poems. As we have taken the liberty to introduce on this occasion this Poet so little known; we can't but add, that he seems to be of Spenser's own turn of mind. At Hilgay 'tis most likely this ingenious and good man past his days, privately and humbly, and with all the modest sentiments with which he every where abounds. We can't but think of him and love him, when he mentions

—the blushing strawberries,
Which lurk close shrouded from high-looking eyes;
Shewing that sweetnesse oft both low and hidden lies:
And we can't but revere and envy him, when giving us advice.

Wouldst thou live honour'd? clip Ambition's wing;
To Reason's yoke thy furious passions bring:
Thrice noble is the man who himself is King.

We are to beg pardon for as much of this as may seem a digression.