Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beaumont, Joseph (1616-1699)

BEAUMONT, JOSEPH, D.D. (1616–1699), master of Peterhouse, poet, was descended from the Leicestershire Beaumonts. He was the son of John Beaumont, clothier, and of Sarah Clarke, his wife. He was born at Hadleigh in Suffolk, on 13 March 1616, and was baptised on the 21st of the same month. From his earliest years he displayed an extraordinary love of learning. He was educated at Hadleigh grammar school. He proceeded to Cambridge in 1631, and was admitted as a pensioner to Peterhouse College on 26 Nov. His university career was a brilliant one; he took his degree of B. A. in 1634, became a fellow of his college on 20 Nov. 1636, the master then being Dr. Cosin, afterwards bishop of Durham. Richard Crashaw, the poet, had now passed from Pembroke to Peterhouse, and in 1638 he and Beaumont received their degree of M.A. together. He read with great enthusiasm during the early years of his fellowship, and gained a high reputation for classic acquirements, although he never became a really fine scholar. In 1640 'he was called out by the master of his college, and appointed guardian and director of the manners and learning of the students of that society.' In 1644 he was one of the royalist fellows ejected from Cambridge, and he retired to his old home at Hadleigh, where he sat down to write his epic poem of 'Psyche.' As this is of very great length, extending in its first form to twenty cantos, it is surprising to learn that its composition occupied Beaumont only eleven months. It was published early in 1648. The poem represented the soul led by divine grace and her guardian angel through the various temptations and assaults of life into her eternal felicity; it is written in a six-line heroic stanza, and contains, in its abridged form, not less than 30,000 lines. Beaumont seems to have fared particularly well during the Commonwealth. From 1643 he held the rectory of Kelshall in Hertfordshire, as non-resident, and in 1646 he added to this, or exchanged it for, the living of Elm-cum-Emneth in Cambridgeshire. He was appointed in the same year to a canonry of Ely. In 1650 he became domestic chaplain to Wren, bishop of Ely, and held various other sinecures. The wealthy ward of the bishop, a Miss Brownrigg, fell in love with the rising young churchman, and they were married from Ely House in 1650. Beaumont and his wife resided for the next ten years at the manor-house of the latter, Tatingston Place, in the county of Suffolk. During this period of retirement he wrote the greater number of his minor poems. At the Restoration Beaumont was not forgotten; he was made D.D. and one of the king's chaplains in 1660. Early in 1661 he went down to Ely to reside, at the bishop's request, but unfortunately Mrs. Beaumont caught the fen fever, and died on 31 May 1662. She was buried in Ely Cathedral. During his wife's fatal illness Beaumont was appointed master of Jesus College, in succession to Pearson, the expounder of the Creed; and after her funeral he proceeded to Cambridge with his six young children, only one of whom lived to manhood. He restored Jesus Chapel at his own expense; but his connection with that college was brief. On 24 April 1663 he was admitted master of his own college of Peterhouse. His long-winded controversy with Dr. Henry More, the Platonist, dates from 1665. In 1674 he was appointed regius divinity professor to the university, and delivered a course of lectures on Romans and Colossians, which he forbade his executors to publish. In 1689 he was appointed to meet the leaders of nonconformity as one of the commissioners of comprehension. He continued to enjoy good health to extreme old age, and, being in his eighty-fourth year, persisted in preaching before the university on 5 Nov. 1699. He was, however, very much exhausted by this exertion, and was attacked a few days after with gout in the stomach. In great composure and resignation of mind he lingered until the 23rd of the month, when he died. He was buried in the college chapel of Peterhouse. Beaumont was an artist of some pretension, and adorned the altar of Peterhouse Chapel with scripture scenes which have now disappeared. In 1702 Charles Beaumont, the only surviving son, brought out a new edition of his father's 'Psyche,' entirely revised, and enlarged by the addition of four fresh cantos.

[The life of Joseph Beaumont was written by the Rev. John Gee, M.A., of Peterhouse, who affixed it to the collection of Beaumont's miscellaneous poems which he first edited at Cambridge in 1749. Further information was published by the Rev. Hugh Pigot in his 'History of Hadleigh' in 1860. The complete poems of Beaumont, in English and Latin, were first edited, in two 4to vols., privately printed, by the Rev. A. B. Grosart in 1880, with a memoir, in which some important additions are made to the information preserved by Gee. Beaumont prefixed a copy of Latin verses to the 'Muse Juridicæ' of William Hawkins in 1634, and published in 1665, at Cambridge, 'Some Observations upon the Apologie of Dr. Henry More.']

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