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It is a subject of universal regret, that, by the negligence and want of literary curiosity of our ancestors, we are left almost entirely in the dark respecting the private history of the most emi. nent authors of the seventeenth century. Any account of their lives, which can, at the present period, be prefixed to their works, appears meagre of incidents, and defective in the most material and interesting parts. This is particularly the case with regard to Beaumont and Fletcher, to whom, in the scale of the dramatic poets of that age, the second place has generally been awarded. As it becomes the peculiar duty of an editor to collect every thing which is known respecting his author, he is led continually to regret, that, with the exception of a few anecdotes, perhaps not even sufficiently au
thorised, the whole of his narrative consists of an enumeration of their literary compositions.
Both Beaumont and Fletcher had the advantage of being honourably descended, and, con. sequently, of receiving an excellent education ; and they had both relatives who distinguished themselves in literature. It is scarcely possible to give a separate account of the life of each, and accordingly a chronological arrangement has been adopted in the following pages, which commences and concludes with Fletcher, who was born ten years before his friend Beaumont, and survived him an equal number of years.
Dr Richard Fletcher, Bishop of London, the father of our poet, was a man of considerable eminence. His influence at the court of Queen Elizabeth procured him a very rapid succession of ecclesiastical preferments. He was born in Kent, and educated at Cambridge, either in Bennet or Corpus Christi college, and admitted at that university about the year 1561. He took the degree of Master of Arts at Oxford, in 1572, having previously obtained the same de. gree at Cambridge. The 15th of November, 1583, he was appointed Dean of Peterborough, and, in that capacity, attended at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, at Fotheringay-castle,
on the 8th of February, 1586. On this occasion, he stands charged with having embittered the last moments of that unfortunate princess, by his intemperate zeal to convert her to the protestant faith. He was appointed Bishop of Bristol, which preferment he is said to have obtained on condition of farming out the revenues to some of the principal courtiers, by which means he greatly impoverished the bishopric. He was translated to the see of Worcester, in 1592, and from thence to that of London, to which he was elected the soth of December, 1594, and confirmed the 10th of January fol. lowing. A few days after, he entered into a second marriage' with the Lady Baker of Kent, sister to Sir George Gifford, which so highly offended Queen Elizabeth, who, in spite of her pretended attachment to the reformed religion, encouraged the celibacy of the clergy, and was peculiarly averse to the second marriage of a bishop, that she either reprimanded him personally, or forbid him to appear at court by message. He in vain applied to Lord-treasurer Burleigh to intercede with the queen in his be.
It is entirely unknown who was the first wife of Bishop Fletcher, and the mother of our poet.
half, for he was suspended from the functions of his office, by Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, February 23, 1594. He made, however, sufficient interest to be reinstated in his bishopric after some months, but the queen was inflexi
. ble to his solicitations to be restored to favour and readmitted at court. It is said, however, that she condescended to pay him a visit in his retirement at Chelsea, where he died suddenly, the 15th of June, 1596. Camden says that his death was occasioned by the immoderate use of tobacco. He was buried in St Paul's cathedral without any monument. In his person he was, like most of Queen Elizabeth's favourites, re. markably handsome, in his behaviour courtly, and distinguished for his eloquence. Among other qualifications, he was extremely dexterous in the management of the great great horse. Fuller
that he was condemned for pride by those that did not know him, and for humility by those that did. He left no publications of any sort behind him.
Dr Giles Fletcher, his younger brother, was celebrated for the diplomatic talents he displayed at the courts of Scotland, Germany, the LowCountries, and Russia, and for the accurate ob. servations which he drew up respecting the lat
ter country. Anthony Wood informs us, that he became an excellent poet; his poetical fame was, however, completely eclipsed by his two sons, Giles and Phineas, who are justly ranked amongst the most eminent poets of the seven. teenth century.
John Fletcher, thus honourably descended and related, was born in the year 1576, and educated at Cambridge, probably at Bennet college, to which his father was a benefactor by his will. He is said to have made a considerable proficiency at the university; and, indeed, his works prove him to have been a classical student of respectable acquirements. That he was master of the more fashionable modern languages, such as French, Italian, and Spanish, is also evident from his having borrowed the plots of many of his dramas from works in those languages, which had not at that time been translated. At what period he left the university we are not at present able to decide, but it does not appear that he took any honourable degrée. From two entries in the manuscript of Henslowe, proprietor of the Rose theatre, preserved at Dulwich college, Mr Malone con
*"October 14, 1596. Lent unto Martyne (Slaughter] to fetch Fleatcher, vi. s." Again, “ Gave the company to give