1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Giles Fletcher

Henry Headley, in Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1789; 1810) 2:156-61.



Milton is somewhat indebted likewise to the Christ's Victory of Giles Fletcher. Our Lord is thus described in the Wilderness, by G. Fletcher:

Seemed that man had them devoured all,
Whom to devour the beasts did make pretence,
But him their salvage thirst did nought appal,
Though weapons none he had for his defence:
What arms for innocence, but innocence?
For when they saw their Lord's bright cognizance
Shine in his face, soon did they disadvance,
And some unto him kneel, and some about him dance.

Down fell the lordly lion's angry mood,
And he himself fell down, in congees low;
Bidding him welcome to his wastful wood.
Sometime he kiss'd the grass where he did go
And, as to wash his feet he well did know,
With fawning tongue he lick'd away the dust,
And every one would nearest to him thrust,
And every one, with new, forgot his former lust.

Unmindful of himself, to mind his Lord,
The lamb stood gazing by the tiger's side,
As though between them they had made accord,
And on the lion's back the goat did ride,
Forgetful of the roughness of the hide
If he stood still, their eyes upon him baited,
If walk'd, they all in order on him. waited,
And when he slept, they as his watch themselves conceited.

After circumstantially describing the person of Jesus, Satan thus introduced disguised:

At length an aged sire far off he saw
Come slowly footing; every step he guess'd
One of his feet he from the grave did draw.
Three legs he had, the wooden was the best,
And all the way he went, be ever blest
With benedicities, and prayers store;
But the bad ground was blessed ne'er the more,
And all his head with snow of age was waxen hoar.

A good old hermit he might seem to be,
That for devotion had the world forsaken,
And now was travelling some saint to see,
Since to his beads he had himself betaken,
Where all his former sins he might awaken,
And them might wash away with dropping brine.
And aims, and fasts, and church's discipline,
And, dead, might rest his bones under the holy shrine.

But when he nearer came, he "lowted" low
With prone obeisance, and with curt'sy kind,
That at his feet his head he seem'd to throw;
What needs him now another saint to find? &c.

He thus exclaims with the most artful simplicity:

Ah, "mote" my humble cell so blessed be
As heav'n to welcome in his lowly roof,
And he the temple for thy deity!
Lo! how my cottage worships thee aloof,
That under ground hath hid his head, in proof
It doth adore thee with the "seeling" low,
Here honey, milk, and chesnuts wild do grow,
The boughs a bed of leaves upon thee shall bestow.
Ch. Vict. Can. ii. Ed. 1610.

Compare Parad. Reg. 295. &c. Where our Saviour passed forty days in the wilderness:

Nor tasted human food, nor hunger felt
Till those days ended, hunger'd then at last
Among wild beasts: they at his sight grew mild,
Nor sleeping him nor waking harm'd, his walk
The fiery serpent fled, and noxious worm,
The lion and fierce tiger glar'd aloof.
But now an aged man in rural weeds
Following, as seem'd, the quest of some stray ewe,
Or wither'd sticks to gather, which might serve
Against a winter's day when winds blow keen,
To warm him wet return'd from field at eve,
He saw approach, who first with curious eye
Perus'd him, then with words thus' utter'd spake.

How far the following Stanzas, which are but a continuation of what I before quoted, might have influenced Milton in his Comus, I leave the reader to determine. Fletcher is describing the Bower of Vain-Delight, to which our Lord is conducted by Satan:

And all about, "embayed" in soft sleep,
A herd of charmed beasts aground were spread,
Which the fair witch in golden chains did keep,
And them in willing bondage fettered.
Once men they liv'd, but now the men were dead,
And turn'd to beasts, so fabled Homer old,
That Circe with her potion, charm'd in gold,
Us'd manly souls in beastly bodies to immould.

Through this false Eden, to his leman's bower,
(Whom thousand souls devoutly idolize)
Our first destroyer led our Saviour.
There in the lower room, in solemn wise,
They danc'd around, and pour'd their sacrifice
To plump Lyaeus, and among the rest
The jolly priest; in ivy garlands drest,
Chanted wild Orgials, in honour of the feast.

Others within their arbours swilling sat,
(For all the room about was arboured)
With laughing Bacchus, that was grown so fat,
That stand he could not, but was carried,
And every evening freshly watered,
To quench his fiery cheeks, and all about
Small rocks broke through the wall, and sallied out
Flaggons of wine, to set on fire that spueing rout.

This their "inhumed" souls esteem'd their wealths
To crown the boozing can from day to night,
And sick to drink themselves with drinking healths,
Some vomiting, all drunken with delight.
Hence to a loft, carv'd all in ivory white,
They came, where whiter ladies naked went,
Melted in pleasure, and soft languishment,
And sunk in beds of roses, amorous glances sent.
Stan. 49, 50, 51, 52.

After a description of Avarice and Ambition, we are presented with the throne of Panglory, who is thus described

"A silver wand the sorceress did sway,"
And, for a crown of gold, tier hair she wore,
Only a garland of rose-buds did play
About her locks, and in her hand she bore
"A hollow globe of glass," that long before
She full of emptiness had bladdered,
And all the world therein depictured,
Whose colour, like the rainbow, ever vanished.

Thus the Spirit in Milton, in giving directions to the Brother, speaking of the haemony which he gives him as an antidote to the charms of Comus, says:

—if you have this about you,
(As I will give you when we go) you may
Boldly assault the necromancer's hall;
Where if he be, with dauntless hardihood
And brandish'd blade rush on him, "break his glass,"
And shed the luscious liquor on the ground.
"But seize his wand."
l. 647.

The goddess in Fletcher sings a song of allurement, the subject of which is love (to use Milton's words), "obtruding false rules prankt in reason's garb," and endeavours to captivate our Saviour in the same manner as Comus does the Lady; see his speech at length, l. 706. A part of Fletcher's song I produce for its elegance:

See, see the flowers that below
Now as fresh as morning blow,
And of all, the virgin rose,
That as bright Aurora shows,
How they all unleaved die,
Losing their virginity:
Like unto a summer shade,
But now born, and now they fade.
Every thing doth pass away,
There is danger in delay,
Come, come, gather then the rose,
Gather it, or it you lose.
All the sand of Tagus shore
Into my bosom casts his ore;
All the valleys swimming corn
To my house is yearly borne;
Every grape of every vine
Is gladly bruis'd to make me wine,
While ten thousand kings, as proud,
To carry up my train, have bow'd.
And a world of ladies send me
In my chambers to attend me:
All the stars in heav'n that shine,
And ten thousand more, are mine;
Only bend thy knee to me
Thy wooing shall thy winning be.

The effect of the song on our Saviour is as follows:

Thus sought the dire enchantress in his mind
Her guileful bait to have embosomed,
But he her charms dispersed into wind,
And her of insolence admonished,
"And all her optic glasses shattered."

Milton uses the very expression "shattered." Comus, 799

I will conclude these observations on the two Fletchers with an extract from Howell's Letters. "To E. Benlowes, Esq; upon the receipt of a Table of exquisite Latin Poems. I must thank you for your visits, and other fair respects you show me; especially that you have enlarged my quarters among these melancholy walls, by sending me a whole isle to walk in, I mean that delicate Purple Island I received from you, wher I meet with Apollo and all his daughters, with other excellent society; I stumble also ther often upon myself, and grow better acquainted with what I have within me, and without me: insomuch that you could not make choice of a fitter ground for a prisoner, as I am, to pass over, than of that Purple Isle, that Isle of Man you sent me, which, as the ingenious author hath made it, is a far more dainty soil than that Scarlet Island which lys near the Baltic sea." Let. 66. Edit. 1650. It is, perhaps being triflingly minute to remark, that Milton's "Sable Stole of Cyprus lawn." Il Pen. 35. might have originated from G. Fletcher.

After them flew the prophets, brightly "stol'd"

In shining "lawn," and wimpled manifold.

Chr. Trium.