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GILES AND PHINEAS FLETCHER.
THE affinity and genius of these two poets naturally associate their names. They were the cousins of Fletcher the dramatist, and the sons of a Dr. Giles Fletcher, who, among several important missons in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, negotiated a commercial treaty with Russia greatly to the advantage of England, in spite of many obstacles that were presented by a capricious czar and a barbarous court. His remarks on Russia were suppressed on their first appearance, but were afterwards republished in 1643, and incorporated with Hakluyt's Voyages.
Mr. A. Chalmers, in his British Poets, mentions Giles as the elder son of this Dr. Fletcher, evidently by mistake, as Giles, in his poetry, speaks of his
green muse hiding her younger head," with reference to his senior brother. Giles was bred at Cambridge, and died at his living of Alderston, in Suffolk, in 1623. Phineas was educated at the same university, and wrote an account of its founders and learned men. He was also a clergyman, and held the living of Hilgay, in Norfolk, for twenty-nine years. They were both the disciples of Spenser, and, with his diction gently modernized, retained much of his melody and luxuriant expression. Giles, inferior as he is to Spenser and
Milton, might be figured, in his happiest moments, as a link of connexion in our poetry between those congenial spirits, for he reminds us of both, and evidently gave hints to the latter, in a poem on the same subject with Paradise regained.
Giles's “Temptation and Victory of Christ” has a tone of enthusiam peculiarly solemn. Phineas, with a livelier fancy, had a worse taste. He la. vished on a bad subject the graces and ingenuity that would have made a fine poem on a good design. Through five cantos of his “Purple Island,” he tries to sweeten the language of anatomy by the flowers of poetry, and to support the wings of alle. gory by bodily instead of spiritual phenomena. Unfortunately, in the remaining cantos he only quits the dissecting table to launch into the subtlety of the schools, and describes Intellect, the Prince of the Isle of Man, with his eight counsellors, Fancy, Memory, the Common Sense, and the five external Senses, as holding out in the Human Fortress against the Evil Powers that besiege it. Here he strongly resembles the old Scottish poet Gavin Douglas, in his poem of King Heart. But he outstrips all allerorists in conceit, when he exhibits Voletta, or the Will, the wife of Intellect, propt in her fainting fits by Repentance, who administers restorative waters to the Queen, made with lip's confession and with“ pickled sighs,” stilled in the alembic of a broken spirit.
The conclusion of the Purple Island sinks into such absurdity and adulation, that we could gladly wish the poet back again to allegorizing the bladder and kidneys. In a contest about the eternal salvation of the human soul, the event is decided by King James the First (at that time a sinner upon earth) descending from heaven with his treatise on the Revelations under his arm, in the form of an angel, and preceding the omnipotent, who puts the forces of the dragon to the rout.
LIVES OF G. AND P. FLETCHER,
These incongruous conceptions are clothed in harmony, and interspersed with beautiful thoughts: but natural sentiments and agreeable imagery will not incorporate with the shapeless features of such a design; they stand apart from it like things of a different element, and, when they occur, only expose its deformity. On the contrary, in the brother's poem of Christ's Triumph, its main effect, though somewhat sombrous, is not marred by such repulsive contrasts; its beauties, therefore, all tell in relieving tedium, and reconciling us to defects.