« PreviousContinue »
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 unaccountable, 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 impertinence 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 boss! 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 descent from their height, while listening to their diviner moods.
Hence, all you vain delights,
Wherein you spend your folly;
But only Melancholy;
Welcome, folded arms and fixed eyes;
Fountain heads and pathless groves,
2“ Lovely 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” ab. stractions 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
Here be grapes whose lusty blood
Here be berries for a queen,
3 « Some 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,
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 μεσαμβρινον, ου θεμις αμμιν
Theocritus, Idyll i., v. 15.
No, shepherd, no; we must not pipe at noon :
What a true picture of the half-goat divinity!
A SPOT FOR LOVE TALES.
Here be all new delights, cool streams and wells;
See, the day begins to break,
I have departed from my plan for once, to introduce this very small extract, partly for the sake of its beauty, partly to show the student that great poets do not confine their pleasant descriptions to images or feelings pleasing in the commoner sense of the word, but include such as, while seeming to contradict, harmonize with them, upon principles of truth, and of a genial and strenuous sympathy. The “ subtle streak of fire” is obviously beautiful, but the addition of the cold wind is a truth welcome to those only who have strength as well as delicacy of apprehension,—or rather, that healthy delicacy which arises from the strength. Sweet and wholesome, and to be welcomed, is the chill breath of morning. There is a fine epithet for this kind of dawn in the elder Marston's Antonio and Melida :