1787
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Phineas Fletcher.

Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry. With Remarks by Henry Headley, A.B.

Henry Headley


In the supplemental notes to the Select Beauties Henry Headley compares Phineas Fletcher's work as an allegorist to Spenser's, with a detailed list of parallels between the Purple Island and the Faerie Queene.

Monthly Review: "The biographical sketches contain short and pleasing accounts of all those authors from whose works Mr. H. has made selections. The principal are Corbet, Carew, Crashaw, Daniel, Drummond, Davenant, Drayton, the Fletchers, the Earl of Surry, May, Quarles, Sackville, and Sir W. Raleigh. In the delineation of characters, and style of observation, we think we discover something of the manly and spirited manner of Walpole. The low Anecdotes from Awbrey's Manuscripts add nothing to the respectability of Bishop Corbet, nor do they contribute to the illustration of his poetry. The competition between the 'muddy Cam' and the 'more genial Isis' had better have been omitted. Mr. H. by his partiality to Oxford, has unguardedly been betrayed into an appearance of illiberality, which may provoke the hostilities of the Cambridge wranglers. The accounts of Quarles and Drummond are written con amore. The endeavours to rescue the Author of the Emblems from neglect, are spirited and commendable. Every reader of sensibility and taste will justify the partiality shewn to the Poet of Hawthornden" 78 (January 1788) 20.

British Critic: "What Headley might have produced, had health been given him to preserve in the line of study which he had engaged, may easily be conjectured from the examination of these two volumes. With the exception of the very few poetical collections of the kind, from the Paradise of Dainty Devises to the Muse's Library by Mrs. Cooper, this miscellany by Mr. Headley may be said to have led the way to all the beautiful compilations which have succeeded; to have given a new direction to the public taste, and to have pointed out less familiar objects of research to collectors. The volumes soon became popular, and of late exceedingly scarce, and they well deserved such distinction. They possess various claims to attention, whether we consider the taste and judgment with which the selection was made, or the neatness, point, and felicitous discrimination of character with which the biographical sketches introducing them are universally marked" Review of Select Beauties, 35 (May 1810) 483.




At the bright lamp of Spenser, who's flame will never expire but with our language, many inferior bards have lighted their slender torches. The perusal of the Fairy Queen biassed the minds both of Cowley and More to the pursuit of poetry. And to them we may add Fletcher, who, not contented with deriving his general taste for Allegory and Personification from him, has gone so far as immediately to adopt imagery and particular figures. Though it may somewhat detract from the invention of Fletcher to compare him in some instances with his original, yet it is the only method of forming a real estimate of his merits; and as Dr. Johnson well observes, "it is the business of critical justice to give every bird of the Muses his proper feather;" nor has he himself been backward in due acknowledgment, as these instances sufficiently evince:

Two Shepherds most I love with just adoring;
That Mantuan swain, who chang'd his slender reed
To trumpets martiall voice, and warres loud roaring,
From Corydon to Turnus' derring deed;
"And next our home-bred Colins sweetest firing;
Their steps not following close, but farre admiring:
To lackey one of these is all my pride's aspiring."
Can. 6. 5. St. P. Ist.

The following Eulogium to his memory does equal credit to his heart as to his abilities, and deserves being brought forward to notice. He is lamenting the fate of Genius:

Witnesse our Colin; whom though all the graces,
And all the Muses nurst; whose well taught song
Parnassus' self and Glorian embraces,
And all the learn'd, and all the shepherds throng;
Yet all his hopes were crost, all suits deni'd;
Discourag'd, scorn'd, his writings vilifi'd:
Poorly (poore man) he liv'd; poorly (poore man) he di'd.

And had not that great Hart, (whose honour'd head
Ah lies full low) piti'd thy wofull plight;
There hadst thou li'en unwept, unburied,
Unblest, nor grac't with any common rite:
Yet shalt thou live, when thy great foe shall sink
Beneath his mountain tombe, whose fame shall stink;
And time his blacker name shall blurre with blackest ink.

O let th' Iambic Muse revenge that wrong,
Which cannot slumber in thy sheets of lead:
Let thy abused honour crie as long
As there be quills to write, or eyes to reade:
On his ranke name let thine own notes be turn'd,
"Oh may that man that hath the Muses scorn'd,
Alive, nor dead, be ever of a Muse adorn'd!"
Can. I. St. 19. &c.

He again touches on the misfortune of Spenser, Can. 6. St. 52.

But to come more immediately to the several parallel passages, let the reader compare Fletcher's Gluttonie. Can. 7. Stan. 80. with Spenser's B. I. Can. 4. St. 21 and 22.; compare Fletcher's Atimus. Cant. 8. St. 42. &c. with Spenser's Idleness. B. I. Cant. 4. St. 18.; compare Fletcher's Thumos. Can. 7. St. 55. with Spenser's Wrath. B. I. Can. 4. St. 33.; compare Fletcher's Aselges. Can. 7. St. 23. with Spenser's Lechery. B. I. Can. 4. St. 24.; compare Fletcher's Pleconectes. Can. 8. Stan. 24. with Spenser's Avarice. B. I. Can. 4. St. 27.; compare Fletcher's Envie. Can. 7. St. 66. with Spenser's Envy. B. I. Can. 4. St. 30. likewise with another description. B. 5. Can. 12. St. 31. Some of Fletcher's lines well express what Pope with great felicity styles, "damning with faint praise."

When needs he must, yet faintly, then he praises;
Somewhat the deed, much more the means he raises:
So marreth what he makes, and praising most, dispraises.

Compare Fletcher's Deilos. Can. 8. St. 10. with Spenser's Fear. B. 3. Can. 12. St. 12. There seems to me more nature and real poetry in Fletcher's describing him as but "starting" at the sight of his arms, than in Spenser, who on the same occasion represents him as absolutely "flying fast away;" but perhaps Spenser has heightened the image by making him equally terrified with the sound of them as the sight; this is omitted in Fletcher. No one of Fletcher's figures is more consistently habited than his Death.

A dead man's skull suppli'd his helmet's place,
A bone his club, his armour sheets of lead:
Some more, some lesse fear his "all-frighting" face;
But most who sleep in downie pleasure's bed.
12 Can. 38.

Yet the first of these terrific attributes is suggested by Spenser, who has given it to Meleager:

Upon his head he wore an helmet light,
Made of a dead man's skull, that seem'd a ghastly sight.
II B. Can. 11. St. 22.

In the preceding part of this Canto of Spenser, in which the foes of Temperance besiege her dwelling place, we find sight, hearing, smell, and taste, personified, which remind us of Fletcher, and disgrace Spenser. I have often thought that a painter of taste might extract from the Purple Island, a series of Allegorical Figures, which if well executed might do honour to his pencil; though in some instances he would find Fletcher "nimis Poeta," in others he would have little to do but to supply the colours: and as there can be no necessity for implicitly tying him down to his original, the liberty of rejecting superfluities, and supplying deficiencies, should be allowed. The mottoes and impresses, which in general are very happily adapted, give Fletcher's figures an air of life, which in that particular renders them superior to those of Spenser and of Sackville. The following rich figure of Hope (which is represented as Masculine,) is among Fletcher's best pieces; the attitude of his leaning on his attendant Pollicita, to whom every female grace might be given, seems worthy the notice of a painter. I will quote the description at length, as it affords me an opportunity of comparing it with a figure of Spenser on the same subject:

Next went Elpinus, clad in "sky-like" blue;
And thro' his arms few stars did seem to peep.
Which there the workman's hand so finely drew,
That rock'd in clouds they softly seem'd to sleep:
His rugged shield was like a rockie mold,
On which an anchour bit with surest hold:
"I hold by being held," was written round in gold.

Nothing so cheerfull was his thoughtful face,
As was his brother Fido's: fear seem'd to dwell
Close by his heart; his colour chang'd apace,
And went, and came, that sure all was not well:
Therefore a comely maid did oft sustain
His fainting steps, and fleeting life maintain:
Pollicita she hight, which ne'er could lie or feigne.
Can. 9. St. 30.

The following is Spenser's personification which is delineated with greater chastity than usual:

With him went Hope in rank, a handsome maid,
Of chearful look and lovely to behold;
In silken "samite" she was light array'd,
And her fair locks were woven up in gold:
She always smil'd, and in her hand did hold
An holy-water sprinkle, dipt in dew,
With which she sprinkle'd favours manifold
On whom she list, and did great liking shew;
Great liking unto many, but true love to few.
B. 3. Can. 12. St. 13.

The figure is simple, and the attributes new; Hope is here divested of her usual emblem, the anchor, (which Fletcher has preserved) and the water-sprinkle substituted in its room, which gives a religious air to the image; had it but received the sanction of antiquity for its adoption, we might perhaps have heard more in its praise. On their coins, the Ancients, we find represented Hope in the character of a sprightly girl looking forward and holding a blossom, or bud in her right hand, whilst with her left, she holds up her garment to prevent its retarding her pace. On a coin of Hadrian, I have seen Fortune and Hope with this emblem. Mr. Spence has justly objected against Spenser, that many of his Allegorical Personifications are inconsistent, complicated, and overdone; he observes, that when they are well-invented, they are not well-marked out, and instances amongst others the figure of Hope now before us. But surely though his general charge may be true, in this instance he has been misled by his classical taste, and too great a reverence for the Ancients; to expect an implicit adherence to them in all their mythological appendages, is unreasonable and absurd, and at once puts a stop to every exertion of fancy and genius; it is but doing justice to them to acknowledge that their emblematic figures are unrivalled; but as their several distinct attributes are closely connected with, and indeed drawn from their religion, history, dress, and manners, they must be considered as relatively excellent only; we cannot be so barren of invention, as to be obliged tamely to have recourse to their imagery on all occasions; the religion, history, manners, and dress, of our own country, are sufficiently dignified to supply a fertile imagination with combinations infinitely new, and to justify us in forming a style of our own. Propriety in selection is every thing; to produce a strong effect from a few masterly outlines, and to give an individual and exclusive character to the personage, seems to have been the sole aim of the Ancients; from the profusion of ornaments with which most modern allegorical figures are overwhelmed, we are as much at a loss to discover for whom they are designed, as we are to unravel a rebus or an anagram. Milton appears to have been a reader of Fletcher. I will conclude these desultory remarks on him, with noticing a few passages that have escaped the commentators of our Divine Bard. Milton is invoking Mirth to bring with her,

Nods and becks, and wreathed "smiles,"
Such as hang on Hebe's cheek,
And love to live in dimple sleek;
"Sport" that "wrinkled Care derides,"
And "Laughter" holding both his sides.
L'Alleg. 28.

When this exquisite assemblage was formed, it is more than probable that the poet had an eye on the following passage of Fletcher:

Here "sportfull" Laughter dwells, here ever sitting,
"Defies" all lumpish griefs, "and wrinkled care;"
And twentie merry mates "mirth" causes fitting,
And "smiles," which "Laughter's" sonnes, yet infants are.
P. Island. Can. 4. St. 13. Edit. 1633.

Where thou perhaps under the "whelming" tide.
Lycid. 157.

In the edition of 1630, Milton had written "humming" tide, which is perhaps more expressive and poetical. His first epithet he had probably from the following fine passage of Fletcher:

While "humming" rivers by his cabin creeping,
Rock soft his slumbering thoughts in quiet case.
Eclog. 2.

Milton uses "syllable." Comus. Fletcher in his
Miscellanies, page 85, has "syllabled."

[pp. 178-82]