Fletcher, Giles (1588?-1623) (DNB00)

FLETCHER, GILES, the younger (1588?–1623), poet, younger son of Giles Fletcher, LL.D., the elder [q. v.], and younger brother of Phineas Fletcher [q. v.], was (according to the account given to Fuller by John Ramsey, who married the poet's widow) born in London, and educated at Westminster School. Neither statement has been corroborated. Before 1603 Fletcher matriculated at Cambridge. He was elected scholar of Trinity College on 12 April 1605; proceeded B.A. in 1606; became a minor fellow of his college on 17 Sept. 1608, reader in Greek grammar in 1615, and in Greek language in 1618. To Thomas Nevile, D.D., master of Trinity, Fletcher acknowledged special indebtedness. About 1618 he left Cambridge to hold a college living, which he soon exchanged for the rectory of Alderton, Suffolk. It has been suggested that the great Francis Bacon presented him to the latter living. In Fletcher's latest work, ‘The Reward of the Faithfull,’ which he dedicated to Sir Roger Townshend, he expresses his gratitude for favours rendered him to Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey, the father of Sir Roger's wife, and to Francis Bacon, Sir Nathaniel's half-brother. He refers to the latter as his ‘honourable benefactor,’ although he admits that he had no personal acquaintance with him. Fuller writes that Fletcher's ‘clownish, low-parted parishioners, having nothing but their shoes high about them, valued not their pastor, according to his worth, which disposed him to melancholy and hastened his dissolution.’ He died in 1623; the registers of Alderton are not extant at that date. Letters of administration were granted to his widow Anne on 12 Nov. 1623. She afterwards married John Ramsey.

Fletcher wrote his poems at a very early age. In 1603 he contributed a somewhat frigid ‘Canto upon the death of Eliza’ to a volume of academic verse issued at Cambridge to celebrate Elizabeth's death and James I's accession. His chief work followed in 1610, while he was still at Trinity. It is entitled ‘Christ's Victorie and Triumph in Heaven and Earth over and after Death’ (Cambridge, by C. Legge, small 4to), in two parts, with separate title-pages (‘Christ's Triumph over Death,’ and ‘Christ's Triumph after Death’), dedicated to Dr. Nevile, master of Trinity, with prefatory verses by Francis (afterwards Sir Francis) Nethersole, and by the author's brother Phineas. The poet in a prose preface defends the application of verse to sacred subjects, and acknowledges his obligations to ‘thrice-honoured Bartas, and our (I know no name more glorious than) Edmund Spencer, two blessed soules.’ Fletcher tells the story of Christ's life with many digressions, and concludes with an affectionate reference to the poetic work of his brother Phineas, whom he calls ‘Young Thyrsilis.’ His admiration of Spenser is very apparent. Allegorical descriptions of vices and virtues abound in his poem. There is a wealth of effective imagery, with which the occasional simplicity of some passages descriptive of natural scenery contrasts attractively. But exaggerated Spenserian characteristics mar the success of the work as a whole. The versification, although based on Spenser's, is original. Each stanza has eight lines, the last an Alexandrine, rhyming thus: ababbccc. Milton borrowed something from ‘Christ's Triumph’ for his ‘Paradise Regained.’ Fletcher's poem was reissued at Cambridge in 1632, and (in four parts) in 1640; it was again issued in 1783 (with Phineas Fletcher's ‘Purple Island’), in 1824, in 1834 (as vol. xx. of Cattermole and Stebbing's ‘Sacred Classics’), and in 1888 in the ‘Library of Theological Literature.’

Fletcher also published a prose tract (dedicated to Sir Roger Townshend, bart.), ‘The Reward of the Faithfull: the Labour of the Faithfull: the Ground of our Faith,’ London, 1623. A few verse translations from Boethius and Greek epigrams are scattered through the book. Among the Tanner MSS. (465 f. 2) at the Bodleian are some verses by Fletcher, ‘after Petronius,’ and in the library of King's College, Cambridge, is a manuscript entitled ‘Ægidii Fletcheri Versio Poetica Lamentationum Ieremiæ,’ which was presented to the college on 2 Feb. 1654–5 by ‘S[amuel] Th[oms] soc.’

Fletcher's poetical works appear in Chalmers's and Sandford's collections; in Dr. Grosart's ‘Fuller's Worthies Library’ (1868), and his ‘Early English Poets’ (1876); and in ‘Giles and Phineas Fletcher—Poetical Works,’ ed. F. S. Boas (Cambridge Univ. Press) 1908.

[Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24487, f. 122; Cole's MS. Athenæ Cantabr.; Grosart's introduction; Fuller's Worthies.]

S. L. L.