The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Beaumont and Fletcher
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER, two English dramatists and poets, whose names are inseparably connected by the fact that they produced their works jointly, and, without indicating the parts written by each, published them under their united names.—Francis Beaumont, born at Gracedieu, Leicestershire, about 1585, died in 1615. He was the son of a judge of the common pleas, and a member of a family which had held important state offices for several generations. In 1697 he entered Oxford, and on taking his degree became a student of law in the Inner Temple. But he neglected his profession for literary pursuits, in which he became almost immediately associated with Fletcher. Of Beaumont's personal history there is little record. He married (in 1613, it is believed) Ursula, daughter of Henry Isley, of Sundridge, Kent, and had two daughters, who appear to have survived him. He died when not quite 30 years old, and was buried in Westminster. The idea hinted at in an epitaph written by Bishop Corbit, and in a stanza by Beaumont's brother, that he had caused his early death by too great literary labor, seems a very probable one when we consider the long list of works to each of which he must have contributed very largely. The only writings which he is believed to have produced alone are the “Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray's Inn,” and the minor poems in the collection of his and Fletcher's works, with one exception, Fletcher's “Honest Man's Fortune,” accompanying the play with the same title.—John Fletcher, born in 1576, died in London in 1625. He was the son of Richard Fletcher, a prominent ecclesiastic who was dean of Peterborough, and afterward successively bishop of Bristol, Worcester, and London. He received his education at Cambridge, but of his personal history after his graduation almost nothing is known. No record of his marriage has been found, and as he lived as a bachelor with his friend Beaumont until the latter took a wife, at which time Fletcher was nearly 40, there is a fair presumption that he died unmarried. The slight clues we possess to his story seem to show that he spent most of his life in London, among a company of literary men who, as was apparently the case with him also, wrote for bread, and assisted each other in both pecuniary and literary matters, forming a kind of brotherhood. Allusions in Beaumont's “Letter to Ben Jonson” show that he and Fletcher were among the circle of wits of the famous Mermaid tavern.—The collected works of the two poets consist, besides the writings named above as attributed to Beaumont exclusively, of 52 plays. Of these Fletcher is considered by good authorities to have written 18 unaided, probably either before Beaumont joined him or after the latter's death. The chief among those which were the joint productions of the two friends are “The Maid's Tragedy” (represented about 1610, and often considered the best of all their dramas), “King and No King,” and “Philaster.” Of those considered the sole work of Fletcher, “The Faithful Shepherdess” is especially famous for the grace and delicacy of its verse. The plays are somewhat disfigured for modern readers by the licentious language which the time of their production permitted; but they abound in strong and beautiful conceptions, and in examples of a literary style which has been held superior to that of Ben Jonson, and has even given rise to an ingeniously defended theory that Shakespeare aided in composing two or three of the dramas.