1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Fletcher

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 20-21.



FRANCIS BEAUMONT,

From an original Picture in the collection of the Earl of Harcourt; and

JOHN FLETCHER,

From an original Picture in the collection of the Earl of Clarendon.

BEAUMONT and FLETCHER — for we will not divide those who have been united in renown — are the starry brothers, the "lucida sidera" of our poetical hemisphere, who have ever shone in conjunction. As dramatists, they are two of the first who stand up to claim our favour, after the long interval which separates Shakspeare from the rest of the world. Their comedy is inferior to that of Ben Jonson, but it is more airy; and their tragedy possesses more elevation, though less pithy and sententious; and it has also a pathos, which their sterner rival did not approach. Beaumont and Fletcher were brilliant writers they possessed buoyancy and variety, and, at one time, were as popular as Shakspeare himself. Time, however, that fine adjuster of men's pretensions, has now satisfactorily settled the vast pre-eminence of Shakspeare, and has placed our associate poets, together with Ben Jonson and others, on nearly a level seat beneath.

The countenance of Beaumont is squared like that which we should ascribe to a mathematician; and, indeed, Beaumont is reported to have brought the square and rule to limit the too fantastic wanderings of Fletcher's pen. In the phrase of the day, he is said to have "brought the ballast of judgement," while his friend came elate and stored with the airier fancy.

The portrait of Fletcher is one of the very finest in this collection. It will, perhaps, strike the reader less at the first view than others, but it will improve greatly upon closer examination. There is a spaciousness of forehead, and a fine intense expression in the eye, which none but a poet could have possessed it seems fixed upon some object, or idea, as though it would "pluck out the heart of the mystery" — it is a glance full of pathos, and imagination, and love. In the original picture, the face looks eager and florid, like the poet's verse, and the countenance, altogether, is, to our apprehension, eminently striking, and full of character. Let not the reader be sceptical too soon, as to the excellence of this portrait, but refer to it again — and again.