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Almighty, who is goodness itself, the true light and life, keep you and yours, and have mercy upon me, and forgive my persecutors and false accusers, and send us to meet in his glorious kingdom. My dear wife, farewell; bless my boy, pray for me, and let my true God hold you both in his arms."
Such are the extracts which we proposed to give from a few of the minor works of this great man. But it must not be imagined that we have done with him. The neglected remains of this “hero, sage, and patriot,” are a treasure which we shall revisit in due season: for it is by a frequent contemplation of such lofty and splendid specimens of humanity as Sir Walter Raleigh, that the modern character may be elevated and invigorated. There was, indeed, in him such a grasp of thought, such an energy of spirit, and such a majesty of expression, that the mind cannot dwell upon either his character or his works without feeling itself exalted, expanded, and informed. It is, also, true, that an alloy of littleness, of temporizing and evasive cunning, had infused itself into his lofty nature; but which, while it drags him down to our level, affords us a near insight into the mechanism and operations of the human heart. We see in him a combination of the most various and opposite ingredients in our nature—the coolest and most calculating sagacity, joined with a flowing and gorgeous imagination—the most irrepressible energy of will, with the subtlest motions of the intellect-the most sanguine and unsubdued spirit, with the most patient resignation to irresistible circumstances. We have also a most improving exhibition of that gradual obscuration of the gay and trusting faith which inexperience fondly reposes in human kind -of the slow and reluctant expiration of the love of virtue and excellence for their own sakes—of that eventual desertion of lofty principle, and the substitution of worldly wisdom, with all its appliances, subterfuges, and evasions, which a long commerce with mankind, in the course of a perilous life, slowly but amply supply. Surely there is something to be learnt from a man like this-admiral, philosopher, statesman, historian, and poet, all in one—first in some, distinguished in all; who, bold and adventurous in discovery, whether moral or geographical, untamed in war and indefatigable in literature, as inexhaustible in ideas as in exploits, after having brought a new world to light, wrote the history of the old in a prison.
Art. XI. The Purple Island; or, Isle of Man. A Poem, by
Phineas Fletcher, Cambridge, 1633, 4to.
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 Faëry Queen of Spenser," vol. 1. p. 107, and v. 2, p. 106.
qualities of the mind of Fletcher are fancy and ingenuity. His 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 Island.”--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 “ Faëry Queen" out of view.
The description of Parthenia, or Chastity, is in many respects a close imitation of the Belphæbe 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 disgusting compliment?
With her, her sister went, a warlike Maid,
Parthenia*, all in steel and gilded arms;
The boldest champion she down would bear,
And like a thunderbolt wide passage tear, Flinging all to the earth with her enchanted spear. 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 fit for any warlike exercise:
The fairest Maid she was, that ever yet
Prison'd her locks within a golden net,
Thou beauty's lily, set in heav'nly earth ;
Sure Heav'n with curious pencil at thy birth • In thy rare face her own full picture drew:
It is a strong verse here to write, but true, 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,
And in the midst was set a circling rose;
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:
And with rare musick charm the ravish'd ears,
Daunting bold thoughts, but cheering modest fears :
From green silk fillets yet not all unbound,
From those two bulwarks love doth safely fight;
Which swelling easily, may seem to sight
Yet all these stars which deck this beauteous sky
By force of th' inward sun both shine and move;
As when a taper shines in glassy frame,
The sparkling crystal burns in glitt'ring flame,
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 Belphebe of Spenser.
Her face so faire, as flesh it seemed not,
But hevenly pourtraict of bright Angels' hew,
And gazer's sence with double pleasure fed,