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On Miscellaneous Poems; F. Beaumont, P. Fletcher, Drayton, Daniel, etc.; Sir P. Sidney's 'Arcadia,' and other works.
I SHALL, in the present Lecture, attempt to give some idea of the lighter productions of the Muse in the period before us, in order to show that grace and elegance are not confined entirely to later times, and shall conclude with some remarks on Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia.'
I have already made mention of the lyrical pieces of Beaumont and Fletcher. It appears from his poems, that many of these were composed by Francis Beaumont, particularly the very beautiful ones in the tragedy of The False One,' the 'Praise of Love' in that of Valentinian,' and another in 'The Nice Valour, or Passionate Madman,' an "Address to Melancholy," which is the perfection of this kind of writing.
"Hence, all you vain delights,
There's nought in this life sweet,
Oh, sweetest melancholy,
Welcome folded arms and fixed eyes,
A sight that piercing mortifies;
A midnight bell, a passing groan,
These are the sounds we feed upon:
Then stretch our bones in a still, gloomy valley;
Nothing so dainty sweet as lovely melancholy."
It has been supposed (and not without every appearance of good reason) that this pensive strain, "most musical, most melancholy," gave the first suggestion of the spirited introduction to Milton's 'Il Penseroso.'
"Hence, vain deluding joys,
The brood of folly without father bred!
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight," &c.
The same writer thus moralises on the life of man, in a set of similes, as apposite as they are light and elegant :
"Like to the falling of a star,
The flight is past, and man forgot."
"The silver foam which the wind severs from the parted wave" is not more light or sparkling than this: the dove's downy pinion is not softer and smoother than the verse. We are too ready to conceive of the poetry of that day, as altogether oldfashioned, meagre, squalid, deformed, withered and wild in its attire, or as a sort of uncouth monster, like " grim-visaged, comfortless despair," mounted on a lumbering, unmanageable Pegasus, dragon-winged and leaden-hoofed; but it as often wore a sylph-like form with Attic vest, with fairy feet, and the butterfly's gaudy wings. The bees were said to have come, and built their hive in the mouth of Plato when a child; and the fable might be transferred to the sweeter accents of Beaumont and Fletcher! Beaumont died at the age of five-and-twenty. One of these writers makes Bellario the Page say to Philaster, who threatens to take his life
""Tis not a life;
'Tis but a piece of childhood thrown away."
But here was youth, genius, aspiring hope, growing reputation, cut off like a flower in its summer-pride, or like "the lily on its stalk green," which makes us repine at fortune and almost at nature, that seems to set so little store by their greatest favourites. The life of poets is, or ought to be (judging of it from the light it lends to ours,) a golden dream, full of brightness and sweetness, "lapt in Elysium;" and it gives one a reluctant pang to see the splendid vision, by which they are attended in their path of glory, fade like a vapour, and their sacred heads led low in ashes, before the sand of common mortals has run out. Fletcher too was prematurely cut off by the plague. Raphael died at four-and-thirty, and Correggio at forty. Who can help wishing that they had lived to the age of Michael Angelo and Titian? Shakspeare might have lived another half century, enjoying fame and repose, "now that his task was smoothly done," listening to the music of his name, and better still, of his own thoughts, without minding Rymer's abuse of "the tragedies of the last age." His native stream of Avon would then have flowed with softer murmurs to the ear, and his pleasant birthplace, Stratford, would in that case have worn even a more gladsome smile than it does, to the eye of fancy!—Poets, however, have a sort of privileged after-life, which does not fall to the common lot; the rich and mighty are nothing but while they are living; their power ceases with them but "the sons of memory, the great heirs of fame," leave the best part of what was theirs, their thoughts, their verse, what they most delighted and prided themselves in, behind them-imperishable, incorruptible, immortal! Sir John Beaumont (the brother of our dramatist), whose loyal and religious effusions are not worth much, very feelingly laments his brother's untimely death in an epitaph upon him :
"Thou shouldst have followed me, but Death (to blame)
So dearly hast thou bought thy precious lines,
Thy Muse, the hearer's Queen, the readers Love,
All ears, all hearts (but Death's) could please and move."
Beaumont's verses addressed to Ben Jonson at the Mermaid are a pleasing record of their friendship, and of the way in which they "fleeted the time carelessly" as well as studiously "in the golden age" of our poetry:
[Lines sent from the country with two unfinished Comedies, which deferred their merry meetings at the Mermaid.]
"The sun which doth the greatest comfort bring
Than here, good only for the sonnet's strain,
Think with one draught a man's invention fades,
'Tis liquor that will find out Sutcliffe's wit,
Like where he will, and make him write worse yet:
It is a potion sent us down to drink
By special providence, keep us from fights,
Make us not laugh when we make legs to knights;
"Tis this that keeps our minds fit for our states,
A medicine to obey our magistrates.
Methinks the little wit I had is lost
Since I saw you, for wit is like a rest
Held up at tennis, which men do the best
With the best gamesters.
Done at the Mermaid!
What things have we seen
So nimble, and so full of subtile flame,
* So in Rochester's epigram:
"Sternhold and Hopkins had great qualms,
Of his dull life; then when there hath been thrown
For three days past, wit that might warrant be
For the whole city to talk foolishly,
Till that were cancell'd; and when that was gone,
We left an air behind us, which alone
Was able to make the two next companies
Right witty, though but downright fools more wise."
I shall not in this place repeat Marlowe's celebrated song, 'Come live with me and be my love,' nor Sir Walter Raleigh's no less celebrated answer to it (they may both be found in Walton's 'Complete Angler,' accompanied with scenery and remarks worthy of them); but I may quote, as a specimen of the high and romantic tone in which the poets of this age thought and spoke of each other, the 'Vision upon the Conceipt of the Faëry Queen,' understood to be by Sir Walter Releigh:
"Methought I saw the grave where Laura lay,
At whose approach the soul of Petrarch wept;
A higher strain of compliment cannot well be conceived than this, which raises your idea even of that which it disparages in the comparison, and makes you feel that nothing could have torn the writer from his idolatrous enthusiasm for Petrarch and his Laura's tomb, but Spenser's magic verses and diviner ‹ Faëry Queen' the one lifted above mortality, the other brought from
The name of Drummond of Hawthornden is in a manner entwined in cypher with that of Ben Jonson. He has not done himself or Jonson any credit by his account of their conversa