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BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER,

BEAUMONT, BORN 1586-DIED 1615.
FLETCHER, 1576— " 1625.

POETRY of the highest order and of the loveliest character abounds in Beaumont and Fletcher, but so mixed up with incon. sistent, and too often, alas! revolting matter, that, apart from passages which do not enter into the plan of this book, I had no alternative but either to confine the extracts to the small number which ensue, or to bring together a heap of the smallest quota. tions,—two or three lines at a time. I thought to have got a good deal more out of the Faithful Shepherdess, which I had not read for many years; but on renewing my acquaintance with it, I found that the same unaccountable fascination with the evil times which had spoilt these two fine poets in their other plays, had followed its author, beyond what I had supposed, even into the regions of Arcadia.

Mr. Hazlitt, who loved sometimes to relieve his mistrust by a fit of pastoral worship, pronounces the Faithful Shepherdess to be " a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets, where no crude surfeit reigns.” I wish I could think so. There are both hot and cold dishes in it, which I would quit at any time to go and dine with the honest lovers of Allan Ramsay, whose Gentle Shepherd, though of another and far inferior class of poetry, I take upon the whole to be the completest pastoral drama that ever was written.

It is a pity that Beaumont and Fletcher had not been born earlier, and in the neighborhood of Shakspeare, and become his playmates. The wholesome company of the juvenile yeoman (like a greater Sandford) might have rectified the refined spirits of the young gentlemen, and saved their Hippocrene from becoming ditch-water. Even as it is, they seem different men when writing in their own persons, and following the taste of the town. Compare, for example, Beaumont's exquisite verses on Melancholy (here printed) with any one of their plays; or Fletcher's lines entitled An Honest Man's Fortune with the play of the same name, to which it is appended. The difference is so great, and indeed is discernible to such an equal degree in the poetry which startles you in the plays themselves (as if two different souls were writing one passage), that it appears unac. countable, except on some principle anterior to their town life, and to education itself. Little is known of either of their fami. lies, except that there were numerous poets in both ; but Fletcher's father was that Dean of Peterborough (afterwards Bishop of London) who behaved with such unfeeling imperti. nence to the Queen of Scots in her last moments, and who is said (as became such a man) to have died of chagrin, because Elizabeth was angry at his marrying a second time. Was poetry such a “drug” with “both their houses” that the friends lost their respect for it ? or was Fletcher's mother some angel of a woman—some sequestered Miranda of the day-with whose spirit the “ earth” of the Dean her husband but ill accorded ?

Every devout lover of poetry must have experienced the wish of Coleridge, that Beaumont and Fletcher had written "poems instead of tragedies.” Imagine as voluminous a set of the one as they have given us of the other! It would have been to sequestered real life what Spenser was to the land of Faery,—a retreat beyond all groves and gardens, a region of medicinal sweets of thought and feeling. Nor would plenty of fable have been wanting. What a loss! And this,--their birthright with posterity—these extraordinary men sold for the mess of the loathsome pottage of the praise and profligacy of the court of James I.

But let us blush to find fault with them, even for such a de. scent from their height, while listening to their diviner moods.

MELANCHOLY.

BY BEAUMONT.

Hence, all you vain delights,
As short as are the nights

Wherein you spend your folly;
There's naught in this life sweet,
Were men but wise to see 't,

But only Melancholy;
O sweetest Melancholy !

Welcome, folded arms and fixed eyes;
A sigh, that piercing, mortifies ;
A look thať s fasten'd to the ground;
A tongue chain'd up without a sound.

Fountain heads and pathless groves,
Places which pale passion loves ;?
Moonlight walks, when all the fowls
Are warmly hous'd save bats and owls;
A midnight bell, a parting groan,
These are the sounds we feed upon:
Then stretch our bones in a still gloomy valley,
Nothing so dainty sweet as lovely Melancholy.2

2Lovely Melancholy.—Tradition has given these verses to Beaumont, though they appeared for the first time in a play of Fletcher's after the death of his friend. In all probability Beaumont had partly sketched the play, and left the verses to be inserted.

I cannot help thinking that a couplet has been lost after the words “ bats and owls.” It is true the four verses ending with those words might be made to belong to the preceding four, as among the things “welcomed ;” but the junction would be forced, and the modulation injured. They may remain, too, where they are, as combining to suggest the “sounds” which the melancholy man feeds upon; “fountain-heads” being audible, “groves” whispering, and the “ moonlight walks” being attend. ed by the hooting “owl.” They also modulate beautifully in

this case. Yet these intimations themselves appear a little forced; whereas, supposing a couplet to be supplied, there would be a distinct reference to melancholy sights, as well as sounds.

The conclusion is divine. Indeed the whole poem, as Hazlitt says, is “the perfection of this kind of writing.” Orpheus might have hung it, like a pearl, in the ear of Proserpina. It has naturally been thought to have suggested the Penseroso to Milton, and is more than worthy to have done so; for fine as that is, it is still finer. It is the concentration of a hundred melancholies. Sir Walter Scott, in one of his biographical works, hardly with the accustomed gallantry and good-nature of the great novelist, contrasted it with the “ melo-dramatic” abstractions of Mrs. Radclyffe (then living). He might surely, with more justice, have opposed it to the diffuseness and conventional phraseology of “ novels in verse.”

16. Places which pale passion loves.”—Beaumont, while writing this verse, perhaps the finest in the poem, probably had in his memory that of Marlowe, in his description of Tamburlaine.

Pale of complexion, wrought in him with passion.

A SATYR PRESENTS A BASKET OF FRUIT TO THE

FAITHFUL SHEPHERDESS.

BY FLETCHER.

Here be grapes whose lusty blood
Is the learned poet's good;
Sweeter yet did never crown
The head of Bacchus; nuts more brown
Than the squirvel's teeth that crack them;
Deign, oh, fairest fair! to take them.
For these black-eyed Dryope
Hath oftentimes commanded me
With my clasped knee to climb :
See how well the lusty time
Hath deckd their rising cheeks in red,
Such as on your lips is spread.

Here be berries for a queen,
Some be redsome be green ;3
These are of that luscious meat
The great god Pan himself doth eat ;
All these, and what the woods can yield,
The hanging mountain or the field,
I freely offer; and ere long
Will bring you more, more sweet and strong;
Till when, humbly leave I take,
Least the great Pan do awake
That sleeping lies in a deep glade,
Under a broad beech's shade :4
I must go, I must run,
Swifter than the fiery sun

3Some be red, some be green.”—This verse calls to mind a beautiful one of Chaucer, in his description of a grove in spring :

In which were oakès great, straight as a line,
Under the which the grass, so fresh of hue,
Was newly sprung, and an eight foot or nine,
Ev-e-ry tree well from his fellow grew,
With branches broad, laden with leavès new,
That sprangen out against the sunny sheen,
Some very red, and some a glad light green.

The Flower and the Leaf.

Coleridge was fond of repeating it.

4 That sleeping lies,” &c.—Pan was not to be waked too soon with impunity.

Ου θεμις, ω ποιμαν, το μεσημβρινον, ου θεμις αμμιν
Τυρισδεν τον Πανα δεδoικαμες' η γαρ απ’ αγρα
Τανικα κεκμακως αμπαυεται εντι δε πικρος
Και οι αι δριμεία χολα ποτι ρινι καθηται.

Theocritus, Idyll i., v. 15.

No, shepherd, no; we must not pipe at noon :
We must fear Pan, who sleeps after the chase,
Ready to start in snappish bitterness
With quivering nostril.

What a true picture of the half-goat divinity!

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