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ON MISCELLANEOUS POEMS, F. BEAUMONT,
P. FLETCHER, DRAYTON, DANIEL, &c. 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 shew 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;
As short as are the nights
Wherein you spend your folly:
without a sound;
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 !
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,
Or as the flights of eagles are,
66 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 old-fashioned, 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 leadenhoofed; but it as often wore a sylph-like form with Attic vest, with faery 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;
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 seem 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 laid 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 ? Shakespear might have lived another half century, enjoying fame
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 birth-place, 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 should'st have followed me, but death to blame
Miscounted years, and measured age by fame:
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