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BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER

authorship. The main body of the play, comprising both the great scenes which throw out into full and final relief the character of either heroine for perfect good or evil, bears throughout the unmistakable image and superscription of Fletcher; yet there are parts which for gravity and steady strength of style, for reserve and temperance of effect, would seem to suggest the collaboration of a calmer and more patient hand; and these more equable and less passionate parts of the poem recall rather the touch of Massinger than of Beaumont. In the second act, for example, the regular structure of the verse, the even scheme of the action, the exaggerated braggardism which makes of the hero a mere puppet or mouthpiece of his own self-will, are all qualities which, for better or for worse, remind us of the strength or the weakness of a poet with whom we know that Fletcher, before or after his alliance with Beaumont, did now and then work in common. Even the Arbaces of Beaumont, though somewhat too highly coloured, does not “write himself down an ass,” like Thierry on his first entrance, after the too frequent fashion of Massinger’s braggarts and tyrants; does not proclaim at starting or display with mere wantonness of exposure his more unlovely qualities in the naked nature of their deformity. Compare also the second with the first scene of the fourth act. In style and metre this second scene is as good an example of Massinger as the first is of Fletcher at his best. Observe especially in the elaborate narrative of the pretended self-immolation of Ordella these distinctive notes of the peculiar style of Massinger; the excess of parenthetic sentences, no less than five in a space of twenty lines; the classical common-place of allusion to Athens, Rome and Sparta in one superfluous breath; the pure and vigorous but somewhat level and prosaic order of language, with the use of certain cheap and easy phrases familiar to Massinger as catchwords; the flat and feeble terminations by means of which the final syllable of one verse runs on into the next without more pause or rhythm than in a passage of prose; the general dignity and gravity of sustained and measured expression. These are the very points in which the style of Massinger differs from that of Fletcher; whose lightest and loosest verses do not overlap each other without sensible distinction between the end of one line and the beginning of the next; who is often too fluent and facile to be choice or forcible in his diction, but seldom if ever prosaic or conventional in phrase or allusion, and by no means habitually given to weave thoughts within thoughts, knit sentence into sentence, and hang whole paragraphs together by the help of loops and brackets. From these indications we might infer that this poem belongs altogether to a period later than the death of Beaumont; though even during his friend’s life it appears that Fletcher was once at least allied with Massinger and two lesser dramatists in the composition of a play, probably the Honest Man’s Fortune, of which the accounts are to be found in Henslowe’s papers.

Hardly eight years of toil and triumph of joyous and glorious life were spared by destiny to the younger poet between the date assigned to the first radiant revelation of his genius in Philaster and the date which marks the end of all his labours. On the 6th of March 1616 Francis Beaumont died—according to Jonson and tradition, “ere he was thirty years of age,” but this we have seen to be inconsistent with the registry of his entrance at Oxford. If we may trust the elegiac evidence of friends, he died of his own genius and fiery overwork of brain; yet from the magnificent and masculine beauty of his portrait one should certainly never have guessed that any strain of spirit or stress of invention could have worn out so long before its time so fair and royal a temple for so bright and affluent a soul. A student of physiognomy will not fail to mark the points of likeness and of difference between the faces of the two friends; both models of noble manhood, handsome and significant in feature and expression alike;—Beaumont’s the statelier and serener of the two, with clear thoughtful eyes, full arched brows, and strong aquiline nose, with a little cleft at the tip; a grave and beautiful mouth, with full and finely curved lips; the form of face a long pure oval, and the imperial head with its “fair large front” and clustering hair set firm and carried high with an aspect at once of quiet command and kingly observation: Fletcher’s a more keen and fervid face, sharper in outline every way, with an air of bright ardour and glad fiery impatience; sanguine and nervous, suiting the complexion and colour of hair; the expression of the eager eyes and lips almost recalling that of a noble hound in act to break the leash it strains at;—two heads as lordly of feature and as expressive of aspect as any gallery of great men can show. That spring of 1616, we may note in passing, was the darkest that ever dawned upon England or the world; for, just forty-eight days afterwards, it witnessed, on the 23rd of April, the removal from earth of the mightiest genius that ever dwelt among men. Scarcely more than a month and a half divided the death-days of Beaumont and of Shakespeare. Some three years earlier by Dyce’s estimate, when about the age of twenty-nine, Beaumont had married Ursula, daughter and co-heiress to Henry Isley of Sundridge in Kent, by whom he left two daughters, one of them posthumous. Fletcher survived his friend just nine years and five months; he died “in the great plague, 1625,” and was buried on the 29th of August in St Saviour’s, Southwark; not, as we might have wished, beside his younger fellow in fame, who but three days after his untimely death had added another deathless memory to the graves of our great men in Westminster Abbey, which he had sung in such noble verse. Dying when just four months short of forty-six, Fletcher had thus, as well as we can now calculate, altogether some fourteen years and six months more of life than the poet who divides with him the imperial inheritance of their common glory.

The perfect union in genius and in friendship which has made one name of the two names of these great twin brothers in song is a thing so admirable and so delightful to remember, that it would seem ungracious and unkindly to claim for either a precedence which we may be sure he would have been eager to disclaim. But if a distinction must be made between the Dioscuri of English poetry, we must admit that Beaumont was the twin of heavenlier birth. Only as Pollux was on one side a demigod of diviner blood than Castor can it be said that on any side Beaumont was a poet of higher and purer genius than Fletcher; but so much must be allowed by all who have eyes and ears to discern in the fabric of their common work a distinction without a difference. Few things are stranger than the avowal of so great and exquisite a critic as Coleridge, that he could trace no faintest line of demarcation between the plays which we owe mainly to Beaumont and the plays which we owe solely to Fletcher. To others this line has always appeared in almost every case unmistakable. Were it as hard and broad as the line which marks off, for example, Shakespeare’s part from Fletcher’s in The Two Noble Kinsmen, the harmony would of course be lost which now informs every work of their common genius, and each play of their writing would be such another piece of magnificent patchwork as that last gigantic heir of Shakespeare’s invention, the posthumous birth of his parting Muse which was suckled at the breast of Fletcher’s as a child of godlike blood might be reared on the milk of a mortal mother—or in this case, we might sometimes be tempted to say, of a she-goat who left in the veins of the heaven-born suckling somewhat too much of his nurse Amalthaea. That question however belongs in any case more properly to the study of Shakespeare than to the present subject in hand. It may suffice here to observe that the contributions of Fletcher to the majestic temple of tragedy left incomplete by Shakespeare show the lesser workman almost equally at his best and at him worst, at his weakest and at his strongest. In the plays which we know by evidence surer than the most trustworthy tradition to be the common work of Beaumont and Fletcher, there is indeed no trace of such incongruous and incompatible admixture as leaves the greatest example of romantic tragedy—for Cymbeline and the Winter’s Tale, though not guiltless of blood, are in their issues no more tragic than Pericles or the Tempest—a unique instance of glorious imperfection, a hybrid of heavenly aid other than heavenly breed, disproportioned and divine. But throughout these noblest of the works inscribed generally with the names of both dramatists we trace on every other page the touch of a surer hand, we hear at every other turn the note of a deeper