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Art. XI. The Purple Island; or, Isje of Man. A Poem, by Phineas Fletcher, Cambridge, 1633, Ato.
The author of this Poem is supposed to have been born in the year 1584. He was the son of Dr. Giles Fletcher, who was himself a poet; the brother of Giles Fletcher, the author of Christ's Victory; and the cousin of John Fletcher, the dramatist; so that it was with some truth said "his very name's a poet." Besides the Purple Island, he was the author of seven "Piscatory Eclogues," and several miscellaneous pieces. The fate of the former poem has been singular,—it laid for a long time neglected and almost forgotten, until Mr. Headley made it the subject of praise equally excessive and undeserved. He raised it at once from neglect to eminence, and placed it by the side of Spenser, from whom, he says, Fletcher drew his inspiration. The pride of discovery—of being the first to point out its beauties, may have had some influence with him in assigning it this lofty station.* Headley is more elaborate and less happy in his criticism on this author, than he is in general. The Purple Island has little of inspiration in it—the author has not only imitated Spenser in the general outline of his allegorical personifications—has not only borrowed his conceptions, but has with a little variation and inversion copiously made use of the attributes by which Spenser has characterised them, and not unfrequently of his phrases and modes of expression.—There are indeed but few traces either of invention or originality to be found in the whole twelve cantos. We shall take occasion to notice, in the progress of this article, some of the instances in which Fletcher has more palpably imitated his more poetical and imaginative predecessor.—We do not found our opinion on the slight ground on which the ingenious critic before mentioned concludes, that Milton had read and imitated Fletcher—nor adjudge him a plagiarist on the similarity of a word or a phrase which might be casual as well as designed; but on such direct and obvious resemblances as cannot be mistaken. Although this detracts from the higher qualities of his poetry, it still leaves something to be really admired and praised.—In heightening the colouring of Spenser's inventions, we cannot say that he has generally succeeded in improving them.—The chief
• Warton mentions it in general terms, and with but faint praise, in his " Observations on the Faery Queen of Spenser," vol. 1. p. 107, and v. 2, p. 106.
Dualities of the mind of Fletcher are fancy and ingenuity, [is poem is too much cumbered with ornament, which is sometimes gorgeous, and sometimes fantastic.—The title of" The Purple Island is most attractive and most fallacious." If a reader should take it up, (as would probably be the case with those who are ignorant of its nature,) with the expectation of finding some delightful story of romantic fiction, what must be his disappointment to plunge at once into an anatomical lecture in verse on the human frame—to find that the poet had turned topographer of an island founded upon human bones, with veins for its thousand small brooks, and arteries for its larger streams; and that the mountains and valleys with which it is diversified are neither more nor less than the inequalities and undulations of this microcosm? He might perhaps persevere, through the whole of the second canto, in the continued hope that it would soon be over; but when he had achieved this task, and found that he had only made one quarter of the survey, he must of necessity be constrained to lay it down in despair.
This is not the case with us—we are in the habit of encountering such difficulties, and are not disheartened by slight obstructions or disappointments.—Such books come immediately within the range of one branch of our undertaking. But to return to the "Purple Is/and."—After enumerating with great minuteness and considerable ingenuity the different parts of the body, and their several functions, the author goes on to describe the qualities of the mind—and here the subject gives him a little more scope. The passions are next described in still more poetical colours. The virtuous qualities of the heart, under the command of Eclecta, or Intellect, are then attacked By the vices. After a severe struggle, an angel* appears at a very critical moment, and decides the contest in favor of the former.—Such is the outline of the Purple Island. We now proceed to make a few extracts from it, which would be considered eminently poetical if we could keep the " Fairy Queen" out of view.
The description of Parthenia, or Chastity, is in many respects a close imitation of the Belphcebe of Spenser. Nearly the whole of the sentiments of Spenser are transferred into this description, with different degrees of colourable alteration, except the second stanza, which is certainly beautiful.
In those parts in which he has deviated from his prototype, (and which we shall omit,) he has fallen into coldness and bad taste.
* Will our readers believe that this angel was the Rev. Phineas Fletcher's Sovereign Lord, King James the First, to whom he pays this most ridiculous and disgustmg compliment?
With her, her sister went, a warlike Maid,
Parthenia*, all in steel and gilded arms;
Her goodly armour seem'd a garden green,
Where thousand spotless lilies freshly blew; And on her shield the lone bird might be seen, Th' Arabian bird, shining in colours new; Itself unto itself was only mate; Ever the same, but new in newer date: And underneath was writ 'Such is chaste single state.'
Thus hid in arms she seem'd a goodly knight,
And fit for any warlike exercise:
Choice nymph! the crown of chaste Diana's train,
Thy fair's unpattern'd, all perfection stain:
Hyperboles in others are but half thy due.
Upon her forehead Love his trophies fits,
A thousand spoils in silver arch displaying: And in the midst himself full proudly sits, Himself in awful majesty arraying: Upon her brows lies his bent ebon bow, And ready shafts; deadly those weapons show; Yet sweet the death appear'd, lovely that deadly blow.
A bed of lilies flow'r upon her cheek,
Whose sweet aspect would force Narcissus seek
To deck his beauteous head in snowy 'tire;
But all in vain: for who can hope t' aspire
Her ruby lips lock up from gazing sight
A troop of pearls, which march in goodly row:
Her dainty breasts, like to an April rose
From green silk fillets yet not all unbound,
And fairly spread their silver circlets round:
Yet all these stars which deck this beauteous sky
By force of th' inward sun both shine and move;
This passage, if it were original, would be considered fine and highly creditable to the talents of the author. But in majesty—in grace and voluptuous harmony of expression—in all that is most delicious in poetry—it is at an immeasurable distance from the Belphcebe of Spenser.
Her face so faire, as flesh it seemed not,
Hable to heale the sicke, and to revive the ded.
In her faire eyes two living lamps did flame,
She broke his wanton darts, and quenched bace desyre.
Her yvorie forehead, full of bountie brave,
A silver sound, that heavenly musicke seem'd to make.
Upon her eyelids many Graces sate,
For feare, through want of skill, her beauty to disgrace!
So faire, and thousand thousand times more faire,
was hem'd with golden finge.
Below her ham her weed did somewhat trayne,