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when Fletcher preached at St. Mary's, his prayer before the sermon usually consisted of one entire allegory " not driven, but led on, most proper in all particulars." The specimens we possess of his prose afford ample testimony to his learning and eloquence.
After 1612 there is a blank in the poet's history, until his settlement in the rectory of Alderton, in Suffolk. Fuller says, that he was placed there "by exchange of livings;" but it seems improbable that he would have relinquished any other preferment for a situation which is supposed to have hastened the period of his death. He may have been presented to the living by Sir Robert Naunton, whose family were the patrons of the church, and had their residence in the parish*. Nauntont was Public Orator during several years of Fletcher's residence at Cambridge, and being himself a member of Trinity, was, probably, well acquainted with his piety and genius.
Fletcher did not live long to reap the advantage of his new preferment; the unhealthiness of the situation combined with the ignorance of his parishioners to depress his spirits and exhaust his constitution; a lonely village in the maritime part of Suffolk, more than two hundred years ago, had few consolations to offer to one accustomed to the refined manners and elegant occupations of an University. We are told by Fuller, in the quaint manner for which he is remarkable, that Fletcher's "clownish and low-parted parishioners (having nothing but their shoes high about them), valued not their pastor according to his worth, which disposed him to melancholy, and hastened his dissolution."
Fletcher's death is supposed to have taken place about
* Magna Britannia, vol. 5, Suffolk, ed. 1730. t Elected Public Orator 27th July, 1594; succeeded by F. Nethersole, 10th December, 1611.
the year 1623*. But Fuller, the only authority upon whom we could, in this instance, safely rely, has left a blank for the last figure. The disquiet of his later years, together with his absence from books, and the derangement of his papers, caused him to be sometimes unsatisfactory with regard to accuracy in dates; his omission cannot now be remedied. I am enabled to state, through the kindness of the Rev. Addington Norton, that no record of Giles Fletcher is preserved, either in the church or the parish, and that the register-books only go back to the year 1674. He left a widow, who was subsequently married to Mr. Rainsey, the minister of Rougham, a small village in Norfolk. From this individual, both Fuller's and Lloyd's information respecting the poet was derived, and it might have been wished, that they had allowed their curiosity greater scope. Of Mr. Rainsey I know nothing.
Such is the brief amount of the imperfect intelligence I have been able to gather respecting this admirable poet. Of his manners and conversation, of all that imparts a peculiar interest to biography, no anecdotes have been preserved. The earlier years of his life were spent in the cloistered quiet of a. college, and his later days, we have reason to fear, were worn out in sorrow and sickness. His most lasting memorial exists in his poem, and in it we may discover the spirit of the author looking mildly and beautifully forth. Into the merits of this composition, I propose to enter somewhat at length.
In the address To the Reader, he endeavours to conciliate the prejudices entertained by many against religious poetry. "What should I speak," he says, "of Juvencus, Prosper, and the wise Prudentius; the last of which living
* Lloyd's State Worthies, vol. 1, p. 552—note, with additions by Whitworth. Fuller compares the poet's life to the half-verses in the iEneid, broken off in the middle.
in Hierom's time, twelve hundred years ago, brought forth in his declining age so many and so religious poems, straitly charging his soul not to let pass so much as one either night or day without some divine song: and as sedulous Prudentius, so prudent Sedulius was famous in this poetical divinity, the coe'tan* of Bernard, who sang the history of Christ with as much devotion in himself as admiration to others, all of which were followed by the choicest wits of Christendome,—Nonnus translating all St. John's Gospel into Greek verse; Sannazar, the late living image and happy imitator of Virgil, bestowing ten years upon a song, only to celebrate that one day when Christ was bom unto us on earth, and we (a happy change) unto God in heaven; Thrice honoured Bartas, and our (I know no other name more glorious than his own) Mr. Edmund Spenser (two blessed souls) not thinking ten years enough, laying out their whole lives upon this one study."
The following eloquent passage may be compared with Sidney's Defence of Poetry:—
"To the second sort, therefore, that eliminate poets out of their city gates as though they were now grown so bad, as they could neither grow worse nor better, though it be somewhat hard for those to be the only men should want cities, that were the only causers of the building of them, and somewhat inhuman to thrust them into the woods, who were the first that called men out of the woods.
"I would gladly learn what kind of professions these men would be entreated to entertain that so deride and disaffect poesy. Would they admit of philosophers, that after they have burnt out the whole candle of their life in the circular study of sciences, cry out at length, se nihil prorsus scire? Or should musicians be welcome to them
* The contemporary.
that Dant sine Ttwnte sonum, bring delight with them indeed, could they as well express with their instruments a voice, as they can a sound. Or would they most approve of soldiers, that defend the life of their countrymen, either by the death of themselves or their enemies?
"If philosophers please them, who is it that knows not that all the lights of example to clear their precepts are borrowed by philosophers from poets; that without Homer's examples, Aristotle would be as blind as Homer. If they retain musicians, who ever doubted but that poets infused the very soul into the inarticulate sounds of music —that without Pindar and Horace, the Lyrics had been silenced for ever? If they must needs entertain soldiers, who can but confess that poets restore that life again to soldiers, which they before lost for the safety of their country; that without Virgil, jEneas had never been so much as heard of. How can they, for shame, deny commonwealths to them, who were the first authors of them; how can they deny the blind philosopher that teaches them, his light; the empty musician that delights them, his soul; the dying soldier that defends their life, immortality after his own death. Let philosophy, let ethics, let all the arts bestow on us this gift, that we be not thought dead men whilst we remain among the living; it is only poetry can make us be thought living men when we lie among the dead. And, therefore, I think it unequal to thrust them out of our cities that call us out of our graves, to think so hardly of them that make us to be so well thought of, to deny them to live awhile among us that make us live for ever among our posterity."
If Fletcher's sermons were composed in this style, their loss deserves to be lamented.
Christ's Victory is divided into four cantos, and opens with a stanza so antithetically constructed as, in some measure, to impair the solemnity of the subject; but the poet soon rises into a nobler strain when he thinks of those
Sacred writings, in whose antique leaves
Milton's Invocation to the Holy Spirit in the Paradise Regained is considered by Mr. Dunster " supremely beautiful;" it does not surpass the solemn and enraptured piety of Fletcher :—
O thou that didst this holy fire infuse,
And taught this breast, but late the grave of hell,
"Wherein a blind and dead heart lived, to swell
With better thoughts; send down those lights that lend
In the first canto, Christ's Victory in Heaven, he traces the redemption of man to the pleadings of mercy, who dwelt in the quiet of that Sabbath where " saintly heroes" rest from their labours. When Mercy beheld the ruin of that "Golden Building," once illuminated with every "star of excellence," she is represented lifting up "the music of her voice" against the decrees of fate.
The interposition of offended Justice is grandly conceived :—
But Justice had no sooner Mercy seen
Opened the world which all in darkness lay,
She was a virgin of austere regard,
Not as the world esteems her, deaf and blind,
But as the eagle, that hath oft compared
* My quotations are made from the original edition of 1610. The orthography only is modernized.