Giles Fletcher (Poet) - Encyclopedia

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GILES FLETCHER (c. 1584-1623), English poet, younger son of the preceding, was born about 1584. Fuller in his Worthies of England says that he was a native of London, and was educated at Westminster school. From there he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his B.A. degree in 1606, and became a minor fellow of his college in 1608. He was reader in Greek grammar (1615) and in Greek language (1618). In 1603 he contributed a poem on the death of Queen Elizabeth to Sorrow's Joy. His great poem of Christ's Victory appeared in 1610, and in 1612 he edited the Remains of his cousin Nathaniel Pownall. It is not known in what year he was ordained, but his sermons at St Mary's were famous. Fuller tells us that the prayer before the sermon was a continuous allegory. He left Cambridge about 1618, and soon after received, it is supposed from Francis Bacon, the rectory of Alderton, on the Suffolk coast, where "his clownish and low-parted parishioners ... valued not their pastor according to his worth; which disposed him to melancholy and hastened his dissolution." (Fuller, Worthies of England, ed. 18r 1, vol. ii. p. 82). His last work, The Reward of the FaitIlful, appeared in the year of his death (1623).

The principal work by which Giles Fletcher is known is Christ's Victorie and Triumph, in Heaven, in Earth, over and after Death (1610). An edition in 1640 contains seven full-page illustrative engravings by George Tate. It is in four cantos and is epic in design. The first canto, "Christ's Victory in Heaven," represents a dispute in heaven between Justice and Mercy, assuming the facts of Christ's life on earth; the second, "Christ's Victory on Earth," deals with an allegorical account of the Temptation; the third, "Christ's Triumph over Death," treats of the Passion; and the fourth, "Christ's Triumph after Death," treating of the Resurrection and Ascension, concludes with an affectionate eulogy of his brother Phineas Fletcher as "Thyrsilis." The metre is an eight-line stanza owing something to Spenser. The first five lines rhyme ababb, and the stanza concludes with a rhyming triplet, resuming the conceit which nearly every verse embodies. Giles Fletcher, like his brother Phineas, to whom he was deeply attached, was a close follower of Spenser. In his very best passages Giles Fletcher attains to a rich melody which charmed the ear of Milton, who did not hesitate to borrow very considerably from the Christ's Victory and Triumph in his Paradise Regained. Fletcher lived in an age which regarded as models the poems of Marini and Gongora, and his conceits are sometimes grotesque in connexion with the sacredness of his subject. But when he is carried away by his theme and forgets to be ingenious, he attains great solemnity and harmony of style. His descriptions of the Lady of Vain Delight, in the second canto, and of Justice and of Mercy in the first, are worked out with much beauty of detail into separate pictures, in the manner of the Faerie Queene. Giles Fletcher's poem was edited (1868) for the Fuller Worthies Library, and (1876) for the Early English Poets by Dr A. B. Grosart. It is also reprinted for The Ancient and Modern Library of Theological Literature (1888), and in R. Cattermole's and H. Stebbing's Sacred Classics (1834, &c.) vol. 20. In the library of King's College, Cambridge, is a MS. Aegidii Fletcherii versio poetica Lamentationum Jeremiae.

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