Fletcher, Giles

, brother to bishop Fletcher, and a native of the same county, was a very ingenious man. He received his education at Eton; and, in 1565, was elected thence to KingVcollege in Cambridge, where he took a bachelor’s of arts degree in 1596, a master’s in 1573, and that of LL. D. in 1581. He was, says Wood, an excellent poet, and a very accomplished man; and his abilities recommending him to queen Elizabeth, he was employed by her as a commissioner into Scotland, Germany, and the Low Countries. Of his poetical talent, however, no proofs are known to be extant. In 1588, he was sent ambassador to Russia; not only to conclude a league with the emperor there, but also to re-establish and put into good order the decayed trade of our Russia company. He met, at first, with a cold reception, and even rough usage: for the Dutch, envying the exclusive privilege which the Russia company enjoyed of trading thither, had excited prejudices against them: and a false rumour then spread, of our fleet being totally destroyed by the Spanish armada, had created in the czar a contempt for the English, and a presumption that he might safely injure those who were not in a capacity to take revenge. But the ambassador soon effaced those impressions; and having obtained advantageous conditions, returned to England with safety and honour. Fuller says, that upon his arrival at London, “he sent for an intimate friend, with whom he heartily expressed his thankfulness to God for his safe return from so great a danger. For the poets cannot fancy Ulysses more glad to be come out of the den of Polyphemus, than he was to be rid of the power of such a barbarous prince: who counting himself, by a proud and voluntary mistake, emperor of all nations, cared not for the law of all nations; and who was so habited in blood, that, had | he cut off this ambassador’s head, he and his friends might have sought their own amends, but the question is, where they would have found it.” Shortly after his return, he was made secretary to the city of London, and a master of the Court of Requests: and, in June 1597, treasurer of St. Paul’s. This worthy person died in 1610, in the parish of St. Catherine Colman, Fenchurch-street; and was probably buried in that church. From the observations he had made during his embassy into Russia, he drew up a curious account, “Of the Russe Commonwealth: or manner of Government by the Russe Emperor, commonly called the Emperor of Moskovia, with the manners and fashions of the people of that country,1590, 8vo. This work was quickly suppressed, lest it might give offence to a prince in amity with England: but it was reprinted in 1643, 12mo, and is inserted in Hakluyt’s “Navigations, Voyages,” &c. vol. I. only a little contracted. Camden, speaking of this book, styles it “libellum in quo plurima observanda.” Dr. Fletcher also wrote, “A Discourse concerning the Tartars,” the object of which was to prove that they are the Israelites, or ten tribes, which being captivated by Salmanasser, were transplanted into Media. This opinion was afterwards adopted by Whiston, who printed the discourse in the first volume of his curious “Memoirs.

Dr. Fletcher left two sons, Giles and Phineas. The eldest, Giles, born, according to Mr. Ellis’ s conjecture, in 1588, was educated at Trinity college, Cambridge, where he took the degree of bachelor of divinity, and died at his living of Alderton, in Suffolk, in 1623. His widow married afterwards the rev. Ramsay, minister of Rougham, Norfolk. Winstanley and Jacob, who in this case have robbed one another, instead of better authorities, divide the two brothers into three, and assign Giles’s Poem of “Christ’s Victory” to two authors.

Phineas was educated at Eton, and admitted a scholar of King’s-college, Cambridge, in 1600, where, in 1604, he frook his bachelor’s degree, and his master’s in 1608. After going into the church, he was presented, in 1621, to the living of Hilgay, in Norfolk, by sir Henry Willoughby, bart. and according to Elomefield, the historian of Norfolk, he held this living twenty-nine years. Mr. Ellis conjectures that he was born in 1584, and died about 1650. | Besides the poems which are added to the last edition of the “English Poets,” he was the author of a dramatic piece, entitled “Sicelides,” which was performed at King’s college, Cambridge, and printed in 1631. A manuscript copy is in the British Museum. The editor of the Biographm Dramatica informs us, that “it was intended originally to be performed before king James the First, on the thirteenth of March, 1614; but his majesty leaving the university sooner, it was net then represented. The serious parts of it are mostly written in rhyme, with choruses between the acts. Some of the incidents are borrowed from Ovid, and some from the Orlando Furioso.” He published also, at Cambridge, in 1632, some account of the lives of the founders and other learned men of that university, under the title of “De Literatis antique Britanniae, praesertim qui doctrina claruerunt, quique collegia Cantabrigise fundarunt.

The only production we have of Giles Fletcher is entitled “Christ’s Victory and Triumph in Heaven and Earth over and after Death,Cambridge, 1610, 4to, in four parts, and written in stanzas of eight lines. It was reprinted in 1632, again in 1640, and in 1783, along with Phineas Fletcher’s “Purple Island;” but many unwarrantable liberties have been taken in modernizing the language of this last edition. Mr. Headley, who has bestowed more attention than any modern critic on the works of the Fletchers, pronounces the “Christ’s Victory” to be a rich and picturesque poem, and on a much happier subject than the “Purple Island,” yet unenlivened by personification. He has also very ingeniously pointed out some resemblances which prove that Milton owed considerable obligations to the Fletchers.

The works of Phineas Fletcher, including the “Purple Island, or the Isle of Man;” the * Piscatory Eclogues;“and Miscellanies, were published at Cambridge in 1633, 4to. The only part that has been correctly reprinted is the” Piscatory Eclogues,“published at Edinburgh in 1771, by an anonymous editor. There are few of the old poets whom Mr. Headley seems more anxious to revive than Phinean Fletcher, and he has examined his claims to lasting fame with much acuteness, yet, perhaps, not without bomewhat of that peculiar prejudice which seems to pervade many of the critical essays of this truly ingenious and amiable young man. Having at a very early period of life | commenced the perusal of the ancient English poets, his enthusiasm carried him back to their times, their imbits, and their language. Froai pardoning their quaintnesses, he proceeded to admire them, and has in some instances placed among the most striking proofs of invention, many of those antitheses and conceits which modern refinement does not easily tolerate. Stiil, taste and judgment are generally predominant in the following criticism.” Were the celebrated Mr. Pott compelled to read a lecture upon the anatomy of the human frame at large, in a regular set of stanzas, it is much to be questioned whether he could make himself understood by the most apprehensive author, without the advantage of professional knowledge. FJetrher seems to have undertaken a nearly similar task, as the rive first cantos of The Purple Island are almost entirely taken up with an explanation of the title; in the course of which the reader forgets the poet, and is sickened‘ with the anatomist. Such minute attention to this part of the subject was a material error in judgment; for which, however, ample amends is made in what follows. Nor is Fletcher wholly undeserving of praise for the intelligibility with which he has struggled through his difficulties, for his uncommon command of words, and facility of metre. After describing the body, he proceeds to personify the passions and intellectual faculties. Here fatigued attention is not merely relieved, but fascinated and enraptured; and notwithstanding his figures, in many instances, are too arbitrary and fantastic in their habiliments, often disproportioned and over-done, sometimes lost in a superfluity of glaring colours, and the several characters, in general, by no means sufficiently kept apart; yet, amid such a profusion of images, many are distinguished by a boldness of outline, a majesty of manner, a brilliancy of colouring, a distinctness and propriety of attribute, and an air of life, that we look for in vain in modern productions, and that rival, if not surpass, what we meet with of the kind even in Spenser, from whom our author caught his inspiration. After exerting his creative powers on this department of his subject, the virtues and better qualities of the heart, under their leader Eclecta, or Intellect, are attacked by the vices: a battle ensues, and the latter are vanquished, after a vigorous opposition, through the interference of an angel, who appears at the prayers of Eclecta. The poet here abruptly takes an opportunity of paying a fulsome, | and unpardonable compliment to James the First (stanza 55, canto 12), on that account perhaps the most unpalatable passage in the book. From Fletcher’s dedication of this his poem, with the Piscatory Eclogues and Miscellanies, to his friend Edmund Beniowes, it seems that they were written very early? as he calls them ’ raw essays of ray very unripe years, and almost childhood.* It is to his honour that Milton read and imitated him, as every attentive reader or* both poets must soon discover. He is eminently entitled to a very high rank among our old English classics. Quarles, in his verses prefixed to The Purple Island, hints that he had a poem on a similar subject in agitation, but was prevented from pursuing it by finding it had got into other hands. In a map to one of his Emblems are these names of places, London, Finchfield, Roxwell, and Httgay: edit. 1669."

That Mr. Headley is not blind to the defects of his favourite will farther appear from his remarks on Orpheus and Eurydice in The Purple Island. “These lines of Fletcher are a paraphrase, or rather a translation from Boethius. The whole description is forcible: some of the circumstances perhaps are heightened too much; but it is the fault of this writer to indulge himself in every aggravation that poetry allows, and to stretch his prerogative of 4 quidlibet audendi' to the utmost.

In the supplement to his second volume, Mr. Headley has demonstrated at considerable length how much Fletcher owed to Spenser, and Milton to Fletcher. For this he has offered the apology due to the high characters of those poets, and although we have been accustomed to see such researches carried too far, yet it must be owned that there is a certain degree to which they must be carried before the praise of invention can be justly bestowed. How far poets may borrow from one another without injury to their fame, is a question yet undetermined. After, however, erery deduction of this kind that can be made, the Fletchers will still remain in possession of a degree of invention, imagination, spirit, and sublimity, which we seldom meet with among the poets of the seventeenth century before we arrive at Milton. 1


Biog. Brit. —Headley’s Beauties. Ellis’s Specimens. Johnson and Chalmers’s English Poets, 1810.