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Phineas Fletcher

(1582 - 1650 / England)

Biography of Phineas Fletcher

English poet, elder son of Dr Giles Fletcher, and brother of Giles the younger, was born at Cranbrook, Kent, and was baptized on the 8th of April 1582.

He was admitted a scholar of Eton, and in 16oo entered King’s College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. in 1604, and M.A. in 16o8, and was one of the contributors to Sorrow’s Joy (1603). His pastoral drama, Sicelides or Piscatory (pr. 1631) was written (1614) for performance before James I., but only produced after the king’s departure at King’s College.

He had been ordained as a priest and before 1611 became a fellow of his college, but he left Cambridge before 1616, apparently because certain emoluments were refused him.

He became chaplain to Sir Henry Willoughby, who presented him in 1621 to the rectory of Hilgay, Norfolk, where he married and spent the rest of his life.

In 1627 he published Locustae, vel Pietas Jesuitica. The Locusts or Apollyonists, two parallel poems in Latin and English furiously attacking the Jesuits. Dr Grosart saw in this work one of the sources of Milton’s conception of Satan.

Next year appeared an erotic poem, Britain's Ida, with Edmund Spenser’s name on the title-page. It is certainly not by Spenser, and is printed by Dr Grosart with the works of Phineas Fletcher.

Sicelides, a play acted at King’s College in 1614, was printed in 1631. In 1632 appeared two theological prose treatises, The Way to Blessedness and Joy in Tribulation, and in 1633 his magnum opus, The Purple Island. The book was dedicated to his friend Edward Benlowes, and included his Piscatorie Eclsgs and other Poetical Miscellanies.

He died in 165o, his will being proved by his widow on the 13th of December of that year.

The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man, is a poem in twelve cantos describing in cumbrous allegory the physiological structure of the human body and the mind of man. The intellectual qualities are personified, while the veins are rivers, the bones the mountains of the island, the whole analogy being worked out with great ingenuity. The manner of Spenser is preserved throughout, but Fletcher never lost sight of his moral aim to lose himself in digressions like those of the Faerie Queene. What he gains in unity of design, however, he more than loses in human interest and action. The chief charm of the poem lies in its descriptions of rural scenery.

The Piscatory Eclogues are pastorals, the characters of which are represented as fisher boys on the banks of the Cam, and are interesting for the light they cast on the biography of the poet himself (Thyrsil) and his father (Thelgon).

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The Happy Shepherd

Thrice, oh, thrice happy, shepherd's life and state!
When courts are happiness' unhappy pawns!
His cottage low and safely humble gate
Shuts out proud Fortune with her scorns and fawns
No feared treason breaks his quiet sleep,
Singing all day, his flocks he learns to keep;
Himself as innocent as are his simple sheep.

No Syrian worms he knows, that with their thread

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