1810 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Phineas Fletcher

Samuel Egerton Brydges, in "George Wither" British Bibliographer 1 (1810) 4.



The reign of King James was not propitious to the higher orders of poetry. All those bold features, which nourished the romantic energies of the age of his predecessor, had been suppressed by the selfish pusilanimity and pedantic policy of this inglorious monarch. Loving flattery and a base kind of luxurious ease, he was insensible to the ambitions of a gallant spirit, and preferred the cold and barren subtleties of scholastic learning to the breathing eloquence of those who were really inspired by the Muse. Poetical composition therefore soon assumed a new character. Its exertions were now overlaid by learning; and the strange conceits of metaphysical wit took place of the creations of a pure and unsophisticated fancy. It was thus that Donne wasted in the production of unprofitable and short-lived fruit the powers of a most acute and brilliant mind. It was thus that Phineas Fletcher threw away upon an unmanageable subject the warblings of a copious and pathetic imagination. the understanding was more exercised in the ingenious distortion of artificial stores, than the faculties which mark the poet in pouring forth the visions of natural fiction.

Such scenes as youthful poets dream,
On summer eve, by haunted stream,

were now deemed insipid. The Fairy Fables of Gorgeous Chivalry were thought too rude and boisterous, and too unphilosophical for the erudite ear of the book-learned king!