1610 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To my beloved Thenot in Answer of his Verse.

The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man: together with Piscatorie Eclogs and other Poeticall Miscellanies. By P. F.

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


Four irregular Spenserians (ababbccC) of undetermined date. Phineas Fletcher declares his ambition to (humbly) follow in the footsteps of Virgil and Spenser: "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'd a reed." Fletcher was a very ambitious poet, though his career stalled at Cambridge and two decades would pass before his eclogues and Purple Island were eventually published in 1633.

The dating of this poem is a crux, since it is unclear who Thenot might be, and thus whether these verses were written before or after Fletcher's troubles, or before or after he had written The Purple Island. Abram Barnett Langdale suggests that Thenot is Fletcher's friend, Francis Quarles, which would imply a late date, Phineas Fletcher (1937) 46. Frank S. Kastor, Giles and Phineas Fletcher (1978), identifies Fusca with an early lover and dates the poem 1606-10.

William Oldys: "Whether he was acquainted with Spenser, we know not: but he almost idolized him" Faerie Queene, ed. Church (1758) 1:xlii.

Edmund Gosse: "The relation of Phineas Fletcher to Spenser is very close, but the former possesses a distinct individuality. He is enamoured to excess of the art of personification, and the allegorical figures he creates in so great abundance are distinct and coherent, with, as a rule, more of Sackville than of Spenser in the evolution of their types. In the eclogues he imitates Sannazaro, but not without a reminiscence of The Shepherd's Calendar. Nevertheless, Spenser is the very head and fount of his being, and the source of some of his worst mistakes, for so bound is Phineas to the Spenserian tradition that he clings to it even where it is manifestly unfitted to the subject he has in hand" The Jacobean Poets (1894); in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 2:118.

W. J. Courthope: "While Spenser founds himself primarily on the example of Ariosto, I doubt if an allusion to the Orlando Furioso occurs in the works of either Fletcher. Giles, as we have seen, looks, for the models and precedents of his epic style, to the Christian successors of Virgil; he copies Prudentius and Sedulius, and announces, like any Latin epic poet, the subject of his song. Phineas, while expressing his love and admiration for Spenser, goes back for his person and epic forms to Virgil. He says of his style: — 'Two shepherds most I love with just adoring [...].' But though they thus deliberately employed a pastoral-epic form, the real poetical motive of the Fletchers was didactic, descriptive, epigrammatic, rather than narrative. True children of their age, they were alive to all the influences expressed in the word 'wit,' and they perceived that the dogmas of theology offered to the imagination a wild field for the development of the poetical resources of Christian paradox. Giles in particular turned his attention in this direction: Phineas worked rather in the philosophical vein opened by Sir John Davies in Nosce Teipsum: in both of their epics the theological or scientific motive modifies the structure of the action, and determines the character of the diction" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 3:134-35.

Abram Barnett Langdale: "Spenser 'plains' his Rosalind in the January and June eclogues of The Shepheardes Calender; evidently Fletcher preferred The Shepherdes Calender to The Faerie Queene" Phineas Fletcher (1937) 134.

Henry Marion Hall: "It can be shown that the Latin pastorals were written before the English, by an examination of these verses.... Evidently the friend, to flatter the poet, has called him 'Colin' (i.e. Spenser). He replies that he is unworthy the name, and that he has given up his earlier appellation, 'Myrtilus,' from which it appears that the 'Myrtilus' of the two Latin piscatories is the poet himself. A third Latin piece, later expanded into two of the English piscatories, is called 'Fusca Ecloga,' and in this the poet, calling himself 'Thyrsilis,' sings of his love for the maiden 'Fusca.' This shows that the two Latin poems were written earlier than the 'Fusca,' and as in in the English poems and in the 'Purple Island' the poet styles himself 'Thyrsilis,' it is safe to assume that they are of later composition" Idylls of Fishermen (1944) 110.



Thenot my deare, how can a lofty hill
To lowly shepherds thoughts be rightly fitting?
An humble dale well fits with humble quill:
There may I safely sing, all fearlesse sitting,
My Fusca's eyes, my Fusca's beauty dittying;
My loved lonenesse, and hid Muse enjoying:
Yet should'st thou come, and see our simple toying,
Well would fair Thenot like our sweet retired joying.

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'd a reed: what e're befall me,
Or Myrtil, (so 'fore Fusca fair did thrall me,
Most was I know'n) or now poore Thirsil name me,
Thirsil, for so my Fusca pleases frame me:
But never mounting Colin; Colin's high stile will shame me.

Two shepherds I adore with humble love;
Th' high-towring swain, that by slow Mincius waves
His well-grown wings at first did lowly prove,
Where Corydon's sick love full sweetly raves;
But after sung bold Turnus daring braves:
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.

Why then speaks Thenot of the honour'd Bay?
Apollo's self, though fain, could not obtain her;
She at his melting songs would scorn to stay,
Though all his art he spent to entertain her:
Wilde beasts he tam'd, yet never could detain her.
Then sit we here within this willow glade:
Here for my Thenot I a garland made
With purple violets, and lovely myrtil shade.

[Sig. I-Iv]