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LIFE OF FRANCIS BEAUMONT.
BY MR. CHALMERS.
The reader is indebted for the most valuable part of this life to the historian of Leicestershire, who in many other instances has shown how much information may be recovered of the remotest times by intelligent research, and even when the chain of events seems to be irrecoverably broken.
Francis Beaumont, third son of Francis the judge', was born at Grace-Dieu, Leicestershire, in 1586, and in the beginning of Lent Term, 1596, was admitted (with his two brothers, Henry and John) a gentleman commoner of Broadgate-hall, now Pembroke College, Oxford. Anthony Wood, who refers his education to Cambridge, mistakes him for bis cousin Francis, master of the Charter-house, who died in 162 t. It is remarkable, that there were four Francis Beaumonts of this fainily, all living in 1615, and of these at least three were poetical; the master of the Charter-house, the dramatic writer, and Francis Beaumont, a Jesuit”.
Our poet studied for some time in the Inner Temple, and his Mask of the Inner Temple and Grays Inn, was acted and printed in 1612 - 13, when he was in bis twenty-sixth year. His application to the law was probably not very intense, nor indeed is it possible to conceive that he could have been preparing for the practice of the bar, and producing his poems and plays within the limits of a life not exceeding thirty years. He appears to have devoted himself to the dramatic Muse from a very early period; but at what time he commenced a partnership with Fletcher, who was ten years older, is not known. The date of their first play is 1607, when Beaumont was in his twenty-first year; and it was probably acted some time before. He brought however, into this firm a genius uncommonly fertile and commanding. In all the editions of their plays, and in every notice of their joint-productions, notwithstanding Fletcher's seniority, the name of Beaumont always stands first.
Theis connection, from similarity of taste and studies, was very intimate, and it would appear, at one time, very economical. Aubrey informs us, that “there was á wonderful consimility of fancy between Mr. Francis Beaumont and Mr. John Fletcher, wbich caused that dearness of friendship between them. I have leard Dr.
1 See the Life of Sir John Beaumont, p. 1 of the present volume. C.
John Earl, since bishop of Sarum, say, who knew them, that his (Beaumont's) main business was to correct the super-overflowings of Mr. Fletcher's wit. They lived together on the Bank-side, not far from the play-house, both bachelors; had one bench in the house between them, which they did so admire; the same cloaths, cloak, &c. between them.”
As Beaumon: is not admitted into this collection on account of his being a dramatic poet, it will not be expected that we should enter into a discussion on what specific share he had in the plays which liave been published as the joint production of Beaumont and Fletcher. The reader may find much information, and perhaps all that can now be ascerta' ned on this subject, in the preliminary matter of the edition published in 1778, 10 volumes 8vo. or more briefly in a note in Mr. Malone's life of Dryden, vol. II. p. 100-101.
Mr. Egerton Brydges, whose judgment is of sterling value in matters of literary antiquity, suspects that great injustice has been generally done to Beaumont, by the supposition of Langbaine and others that bis merit was principally confined to lopping the redundancies of Fletcher. He acquits, however, the editors of the Biographia Dramatica of this blame. They say, “ It is probable that the forming of the plan, and contriving the conduct of the fable, the writing of the more serious and pathetic parts, and lopping the redundant branches of Fletcher's wit, whose luxuriances we are told frequently stood in need of castigation, might be in general Beaumont's portion of the work. “This,” adds Mr. Brydges, “is to afford him very high praise," and the authorities of sir John Birkenhead, Jasper Mayne, sir George Lisle, and others, amount to strong proof that he was considered by his contemporaries in a superior light, (and by none more than by Jonson,) and that this estimation of his talents was common in the life-time of his colleague, who, from candour or friendship, appears to have acquiesced in every respect paid to the memory of Beaumont.
How his life was spent his works show. The production of so many plays, and the interest be took in their success, were sufficient to occupy his mind during his short span, which cannot be supposed to have been diversified by any other events than those that are incident to candidates for theatrical fame and profit. Although his ambition was confined to one object, his life probably abounded in those little varieties of hope and fear, perplexity and satisfaction, jealousy and rivalship, friendship and caprice, which are to be experienced within the walls of a theatre, and compose the history of a dramatic writer.
He appears a satirist on women in some of his poems, but he was more influenced by wit than disappointment, and probably only versified the common place raillery of the times. He married Ursula, daughter and co-heir of Hevry Isley of Sundridge in Kent, by whom he had two daughters. One of these, Frances, was living at a great age in Leicestershire, in the year 1700, and at that time enjoyed a pension of 1001. a year from the duke of Ormond, in whose family she had resided for some țime as a domestic. She had once in her possession several poems of her father's writing, which were lost at sea during her voyage from Ireland.
Mr. Beaumont died early in March 1615-16, and was buried on the 9th, at the