Francis Beaumont



The Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, ed. Alexander Dyce, 11 vols (London, 1843-6).


Letters and Documents

Only a single specimen of Francis Beaumont's handwriting is known. It is his boyish signature, with those of his brothers, Henry and John, written at the time of their matriculation, 4 February 1596/7, in an Oxford subscription book (*BmF 152).

Various letters and documents written or signed by ‘Francis Beaumont’ found elsewhere prove to be written by other persons of the same name, of which there were several in Beaumont's own family: see T.W. Baldwin, ‘The Three Francis Beaumonts’, Modern Language Notes, 39 (1924), 505-7. The most prolific writer of these other Francis Beaumonts was the poet's relative Francis Beaumont (d.1624), of Cole Orton, Leicestershire, who became Master of the Charterhouse in 1617. Examples of his letters are among the Newdegate Papers in the Warwickshire Record Office; the Cecil Papers (192/76) at Hatfield House; the Talbot Papers in Lambeth Palace; and papers in the Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone (U1590 C4/14); to which may be added, as possibly by him or another relative, a signature recorded in the printed catalogue of the R.B. Adam Library (1929), III, 23, later owned by Mary Hyde (1912-2003), Lady Eccles; and perhaps the inscribed names of ‘Francis Beamount’ and ‘Anne Broughton’ (daughter of Richard Bagot of Blithfield, Staffordshire), in a printed exemplum of The Woorkes of Geffrey Chaucer (London, 1561) offered in F. Benger's sale catalogue No. 4 [c.1945], item 17.


Probably only one of the manuscripts recorded in CELM, the apparently unique text of his prose burlesque Grammar Lecture (BmF 151), has anything approaching special authority. It is possible that it was transcribed by or for a fellow student or member of one of the Inns of Court during the time of Beaumont's association with the Inner Temple. It may be noted that ‘a book called A Gramar lecture, with elegies written by Francis Beaumont, Gent.’ was entered in the Stationers' Register, 6 October 1656, for Humphrey Moseley (d.1661), and was also included in a printed catalogue of Moseley's books, c.1659 (Bodleian, Don. f. 144), as item 347, under the heading‘These Books I purpose to Print, Deo Volente’. The Lecture apparently remained unpublished, however, until modern times.


Another notable work included in the entries is the lengthy verse romance Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. The work was published anonymously in 1602 and was not attributed to Beaumont in print until the appearance of his Poems in 1640 and 1653. Exempla of the first edition (STC 18972) are extremely rare (only three are known at present: two in the Folger, one in the Bodleian), possibly suggesting that the book was very popular (so that exempla became worn out) or that its licentiousness led to some form of suppression. In either event early manuscript copies were made, of which four are known at present (BmF 133-6).

Various other poems generally attributed to Beaumont, and not published until long after his death, enjoyed an extensive circulation in manuscript, and numerous extant copies in miscellanies and other sources are recorded in CELM.

The Canon

Since the early editions of Beaumont's Poems (1640, 1653, 1660), produced according to John Aubrey by ‘cheating knaves’, include verse by other authors, the canon is far from certain. For an overview of it, and warning not to accept any attribution in these two editions without other evidence, see William A. Ringler, ‘The 1640 and 1653 Poems: By Francis Beaumont, Gent. and the Canon of Beaumont's Nondramatic Verse’, SB. 40 (1987), 120-40. That accepted for present purposes is based on Dyce (II, 8; XI, 439-513) with certain modifications. The entries here include four poems which Dyce considered of doubtful authorship: The Examination of his Mistress's Perfections (BmF 84-86), The Glance (BmF 96), The Indifferent (BmF 97-99), and True Beauty (BmF 141-143). Also, three poems are added to Dyce's version of the canon on the basis of fairly consistent ascription to Beaumont in manuscript sources: namely, On Madam Fowler desiring a sonnet to be writ on her (BmF 117-132), To Mr B[en]. J[onson]: (BmF 137-140), and “Why should not pilgrims to thy body come” (BmF 144-150).

A few other poems which Dyce rejected from the canon have been given entries under the category of ‘Verse doubtfully attributed to Beaumont’ (BmF 150.1-150.350).

On the other hand, a number of further poems attributed to Beaumont can certainly be rejected from the canon and have not been given entries. These are, namely:

The elegy On the Death of Sir Thomas Overbury poisoned in the Tower (‘Hadst thou as other knights and sirs of worth’) is ascribed to ‘Beamond’ in Cambridge University Library (MS Add. 4138, f. 44) (and in a transcript of this MS in the Bodleian (MS Firth d. 7, f. 138)), but is more generally found ascribed to Richard Corbett: see CoR 110-126.5).

Another poem, generally known as The Comparison (‘Dearest thy tresses are not threads of gold’), is ascribed to Beaumont in Corpus Christi College, Oxford (MS 328, f. 22) and British Library (Stowe MS 962, f. 62), and also occurs among poems of his brother John in the British Library (Add. MS 25707, f. 76v); but it is more generally assigned to Thomas Carew: see CwT 44-95.

For Like a ring without a finger (Dyce, XI, 493-5), see Sir Walter Ralegh, RaW 428-33.

For On the Life of Man (‘Like to the falling of a Star’) (Dyce, XI, 492-3), see Henry King, KiH 514-525.

The poem On the Tombs in Westminster (‘Mortality behold, and fear!’) (Dyce, XI, 497) comprises extracts from a longer poem by William Basse: see Norman Ault, Elizabethan Lyrics, 4th edition (London, 1966), pp. 528-9. Copies of Basse's poem are found in the Bodleian (MS Ashmole 38, pp. 175c-6; MS Eng. poet. f. 27, pp. 337-9), British Library (Add. MS 18044, f. 72v), Folger (MS V.a.275, p. 85), Yale (Osborn MS b 226, p. 90); and elsewhere.

In addition, two sets of verses ascribed to Beaumont in manuscript have yet to be identified: one, seventeen lines headed ‘Against Ambition’ and beginning ‘That I might honor thee’, in the library of the Duke of Bedford, Woburn Abbey, HMC MS No. 26, f. 62r; the other, lines beginning ‘My tongue hath ceased to speak’ in University of Kansas, MS 4A: 1, pp. 58-60.


For important documents relating to Beaumont's student life at Cambridge, newly discovered in the University Archives, see Hilton Kelliher, ‘Francis Beaumont and Nathan Field: New Records of their Early Years’, EMS, 8 (2000), 1-42.

For dramatic works attributed to Beaumont, and for lyrics included in these plays, see Dramatic Works in the Traditional Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, B&F 1-211).

Peter Beal