1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Phineas Fletcher

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 38-39.



Of his principal composition, The Purple Island, it does not come within my plan to give an elaborate account. It was praised by Cowley, and Quarles addressed the author as the Spenser of the age. Much of the picturesque fancy of the Faery Queen certainly plays over the ingenious eccentricities of The Purple Island. Fletcher possessed, in no small degree, the same rich imagination, the same love of allegorical extravagances, and the same sweetness and occasional majesty of numbers. But of all the qualities required to form a poet, Fletcher was especially deficient in taste, in that sense of the soul, which, by a kind of Ithuriel instinct, examines every image and epithet, and rejects them when not accordant with the dignity of the art. No man of genius, with the exception of Fletcher, and Quarles, who meditated a poem on a similar subject, would have thought of versifying the structure of the human body. Many parts of the Purple Island read like one of Sir Astley Cooper's lectures turned into metre. Fletcher's medical acquirements must have been considerable. But in the midst of all the wearying minutiae of physiological details, the reader is sometimes refreshed by touches of pure and natural description, worthy of Thomson or Burns. How exquisite is this picture of the lark:—

The cheerful lark, mounting from early bed,
With sweet salutes awakes the drowsy light;
The earth she left, and up to heaven is tied-
There chants her Maker's praises out of sight.
Purple Island, c. 9, st. 2.