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Muse communicated a tinge of that spirit to our poetry, which must have been farther excited in the minds of poetical scholars by the influence of Grecian literature. Hurd indeed observes, that the Platonic doctrines had a deep influence on the sentiments and character of Spenser's age. They certainly form a very poetical creed of philosophy. The Aristotelian system was a vast mechanical labyrinth, which the human faculties were chilled, fatigued, and darkened by exploring. Plato, at least, expands the imagination, for he was a great poet; and if he had put in practice the law respecting poets, which he prescribed to his ideal republic, he must have begun by banishing himself.
The Reformation, though ultimately beneficial to literature, like all abrupt changes in society brought its evil with its good. Its establishment under Edward VI. made the English too fanatical and polemical to attend to the finer objects of taste. Its commencement under Henry VIII., however promising at first, was too soon rendered frightful, by bearing the stamp of a tyrant's character, who, instead of opening the temple of religious peace, established a Janus-faced persecution against both the old and new opinions. On the other hand, Henry's power, opulence, and ostentation, gave some encouragement to the arts. He himself, monster as he was, affected to be a poet. His masques and pageants assembled the beauty and nobility of the land, and prompted a gallant spirit of courtesy. The cultivation of musical talents among his courtiers fostered our early lyrical poetry. Our intercourse with Italy was renewed from more enlightened motives than superstition; and under the influence of Lord Surrey, Italian poetry became once more, as it had been in the days of Chaucer, a source of refinement and regeneration to our own. I am not indeed disposed to consider the influence of Lord Surrey's works upon our language in the very extensive and important light in which it is viewed by Dr. Nott. I am doubtful if that learned editor has converted many readers to his opinion, that Lord Surrey was the first who gave us metrical instead of rhythmical versification; for, with just allowance for ancient pronunciation, the heroic measure of Chaucer will be found in general not only to be metrically correct, but to possess consider
able harmony*. Surrey was not the inventor of our metrical versification; nor had his genius the potent voice and the magic spell which rouse all the dormant energies of a language. In certain walks of composition, though not in the highest, viz. in the ode, elegy, and epitaph, he set a chaste and delicate example; but he was cut off too early in life, and cultivated poetry too slightly, to carry the pure stream of his style into the broad and bold channels of inventive fiction. Much undoubtedly he did, in giving sweetness to our numbers, and in substituting for the rude tautology of a former age a style of soft and brilliant ornament, of selected expression, and of verbal arrangement, which often winds into graceful novelties; though sometimes a little objectionable from its involution. Our language was also indebted to him for the introduction of blank verse. It may be noticed at the same time that blank verse, if it had continued to be written as Surrey wrote it, would have had a cadence too uniform and cautious to be a happy vehicle for the dramatic expression of the passions. Grimoald, the second poet who used it after Lord Surrey, gave it a little more variety of pauses; but it was not till it had been tried as a measure by several composers, that it acquired a bold and flexible modulation+.
[* Our father Chaucer hath used the same liberty in feet and measures that the Latinists do use: and whosoever do peruse and well consider his works, he shall find that although his lines are not always of one self-same number of syllables, yet being read by one that hath understanding, the longest verse and that which hath that which hath in it fewest syllables, shall be found yet most syllables, will fall (to the ear) correspondent unto to consist of words that have such natural sound, as may seem equal in length to a verse which hath many more syllables of lighter accents.-GASCOIGNE.
But if some Englishe woorde, herein seem sweet,
It is a disputed question whether Chaucer's verses be rhythmical or metrical. I believe them to have been written rhythmically, upon the same principle on which Coleridge composed his Christabel-that the number of beats or accentuated syllables in every line should be the same, although the number of syllables themselves might vary. Verse so composed will often be strictly metrical; and because Chaucer's is frequently so, the argument has been raised that it is always so if it be read properly, according to the intention of the author.-SOUTHEY, Cowper, vol. ii. p. 117.]
[ Surrey is not a great poet, but he was an influential
The genius of Sir Thomas Wyat was refined and elevated like that of his noble friend and contemporary; but his poetry is more sententious and sombrous, and in his lyrical effusions he studied terseness rather than suavity. Besides these two interesting men, Sir Francis Bryan, the friend of Wyat, George Viscount Rochford, the brother of Anna Boleyne, and Thomas Lord Vaux, were poetical courtiers of Henry VIII. To the second of these Ritson assigns, though but by conjecture, one of the most beautiful and plaintive strains of our elder poetry, "O Death, rock me on sleep." In Totell's Collection, the earliest poetical miscellany in our language, two pieces have been ascribed to the same nobleman, the one entitled "The Assault of Cupid," the other beginning, "I loath that I did love," which have been frequently reprinted in modern times.
A poem of uncommon merit in the same collection, which is entitled "The restless state of a Lover," and which commences with these lines,
"The Sun, when he hath spread his rays, And shew'd his face ten thousand ways," has been ascribed by Dr. Nott to Lord Surrey' but not on decisive evidence.
In the reign of Edward VI. the effects of the Reformation became visible in our poetry, by blending religious with poetical enthusiasm, or rather by substituting the one for the other. The national muse became puritanical, and was not improved by the change. Then flourished Sternhold and Hopkins, who, with the best intentions and the worst taste, degraded the spirit of Hebrew psalmody by flat and homely phraseology; and mistaking vulgarity for simplicity, turned into bathos what they found sublime. Such was the love of versifying holy writ at that period, that the Acts of the Apostles were rhymed, and set to music by Christopher Tye *.
one; we owe to him the introduction of the Sonnet into our language, and the first taste for the Italian poets.]
To the reign of Edward VI. and Mary may be referred two or three contributors to the "Paradise of Dainty Devices" , who, though their lives extended into the reign of Elizabeth, may exemplify the state of poetical language before her accession. Among these may be placed Edwards, author of the pleasing little piece, "Amantium iræ amoris integratio est," and Hunnis, author of the following song. [See p. 34, and Hallam, vol. ii. p. 303.]
"When first mine eyes did view and mark
Thy beauty fair for to behold,
And when mine ears 'gan first to hark The pleasant words that thou me told,
Lord Sackville's name is the importance in our poetry that Lord Surrey's. The opinion of Brydges, with respect to the dat appearance of Lord Sackville's " the Mirror for Magistrates," woul production, in strictness of chron beginning of Elizabeth's reign. of the "Mirror," however, appea supposing Lord Sackville not to in that edition, the first shape must have been cast and composec of Mary. From the date of Lor birth, it is also apparent, that flourished under Elizabeth, and l direct the councils of James, his must have been spent, and his racter formed, in the most disastr the sixteenth century, a period w suppose the cloud that was passi public mind to have cast a gloom plexion of its literary taste. Duri of his life, from twenty-five to thi when sensibility and reflection strongly, Lord Sackville witnessed of Queen Mary's reign; and I con is not fanciful to trace in his poe of an unhappy age. His plan for of Magistrates" is a mass of dark spondency. He proposed to make Sorrow introduce us in Hell to ev nate great character of English h poet, like Dante, takes us to the gbut he does not, like the Italian Р back again. It is true that t legends were long continued, durin period; but this was only done b order of poets, and was owing to t
I would as then I had been free, From ears to hear, and eyes to see.
And when in mind I did consent
O flatterer false! thou traitor born. What mischief more might thou de Than thy dear friend to have in sec And him to wound in sundry wise ; Which still a friend pretends to be, And art not so by proof I see? Fie, fie upon such treachery."
[† 1536, if not a little earlier
tion of Sackville. Dismal as his allegories may be, his genius certainly displays in them considerable power. But better times were at hand. In the reign of Elizabeth, the English mind put forth its energies in every direction, exalted by a purer religion, and enlarged by new views of truth. This was an age of loyalty, adventure, and generous emulation. The chivalrous character was softened by intellectual pursuits, while the genius of chivalry itself still lingered, as if unwilling to depart, and paid his last homage to a warlike and female reign. A degree of romantic fancy remained in the manners and superstitions of the people; and allegory might be said to parade the streets in their public pageants and festivities. Quaint and pedantic as those allegorical exhibitions might often be, they were nevertheless more expressive of erudition, ingenuity, and moral meaning, than they had been in former times. The philosophy of the highest minds still partook of a visionary character. A poetical spirit infused itself into the practical heroism of the age; and some of the worthies of that period seem less like ordinary men, than like beings called forth out of fiction, and arrayed in the brightness of her dreams. They had "High thoughts seated in a heart of courtesy*." The life of Sir Philip Sydney was poetry put into action.
The result of activity and curiosity in the public mind was to complete the revival of classical literature, to increase the importation of foreign books, and to multiply translations, from which poetry supplied herself with abundant subjects and materials, and in the use of which she showed a frank and fearless energy, that criticism and satire had not yet acquired power to overawe. Romance came back to us from the southern languages, clothed in new luxury by the warm imagination of the south. The growth of poetry under such circumstances might indeed be expected to be as irregular as it was profuse. The field was open to daring absurdity, as well as to genuine inspiration; and accordingly there is no period in which the extremes of good and bad writing are so abundant. Stanihurst, for instance, carried the violence of nonsense to a pitch of which there is no preceding example. Even late in the reign of Elizabeth, Gabriel Harvey * An expression used by Sir P. Sydney.
was aided and abetted by several men of genius in his conspiracy to subvert the versification of the language; and Lyly gained over the court, for a time, to employ his corrupt jargon called Euphuism. Even Puttenham, a grave and candid critic, leaves an indication of crude and puerile taste, when, in a laborious treatise on poetry, he directs the composer how to make verses beautiful to the eye, by writing them in the shapes of eggs, turbots, fuzees, and lozenges."
Among the numerous poets belonging exclusively to Elizabeth's reignt, Spenser stands without a class and without a rival. To proceed from the poets already mentioned to Spenser, is certainly to pass over a considerable number of years, which are important, especially from their including the dates of those early attempts in the regular drama which preceded the appearance of Shakspeare. I shall, therefore turn back again to that period, after having done homage to the name of Spenser.
He brought to the subject of "The Fairy Queen," a new and enlarged structure of stanza, elaborate and intricate, but well contrived for sustaining the attention of the ear, and concluding with a majestic cadence. In the other poets of Spenser's age we chiefly admire their language, when it seems casually to advance into modern polish and succinctness. But the antiquity of Spenser's style has a peculiar charm. The mistaken opinion that Ben Jonson censured the antiquity of the diction in "The Fairy Queen §," has been cor
† Of Shakspeare's career a part only belongs to Elizabeth's reign, and of Jonson's a still smaller.
The tragedy of Gorboduc, by Sackville and Norton, was represented in 1561-2. Spenser's Pastorals were published in 1579; and the three first books of The Fairy Queen in 1590.
§ Ben Jonson applied his remark to Spenser's Pastorals. [Malone was very rash in his correction: "Spenser, in affecting the ancients," says Jonson, "writ no language; yet I would have him read for his matter, but as Virgil read Ennius." (Works, ix, 215.) Jonson's remark is a general censure, not confined to the Shepherd's Calendar alone. "Some," he says in another place, "seek Chaucerisms with us, which were better expunged and banished.” (Works, ix. 220.) Here we conceive is another direct allusion to Spenser.
If Spenser's language is the language of his age, who among his contemporaries is equally obsolete in phraseology? The letters of the times have none of his words borrowed of antiquity, nor has the printed prose, the poetry contradistinguished from the drama, or the drama, which is always the language of the day. His antiquated
rected by Mr. Malone, who pronounces it to be exactly that of his contemporaries. His authority is weighty; still, however, without reviving the exploded error respecting Jonson's censure, one might imagine the difference of Spenser's style from that of Shakspeare's, whom he so shortly preceded, to indicate that his gothic subject and story made him lean towards words of the elder time. At all events, much of his expression is now become antiquated; though it is beautiful in its antiquity, and like the moss and ivy on some majestic building, covers the fabric of his language with romantic and venerable associations.
words were his choice not his necessity. Has Drayton, or Daniel, or Peele, Marlowe, or Shakspeare the obscure words found constantly recurring in Spenser? "Let others," says Daniel (the well-languaged Daniel as Coleridge calls him)
"Let others sing of knights and paladines, In aged accents and untimely words,
I sing of Delia in the language of those who are about her and of her day." Davenant is express on the point, and speaks of Spenser's new grafts of old withered words and exploded expressions. Surely the writers of his own age are better authorities than Malone, who read verbally not spiritually, and, emptying a commonplace-book of obsolete words, called upon us to see in separate examples what collectively did not then exist. It is easy to find many of Spenser's Chaucerisms in his contemporaries, but they do not crowd and characterize their writings; they tincture, but they do not colour; they are there, but not for ever there.
Bolton, who wrote in 1622 of language and style, speaks to this point in his Hypercritica. He is recommending authors for imitation and study-" Those authors among us, whose English hath in my conceit most propriety, and is nearest to the phrase of court, and to the speech used among the noble, and among the better sort in London; the two sovereign seats, and as it were Parliament tribunals, to try the question in." "In verse there are," he says, "to furnish an English Historian with copy and tongue, Ed. Spenser's Hymns. I cannot advise the allowance of other of his Poems, as for practick English, no more than I can do Jeff, Chaucer, Lydgate, Peirce Ploughman, or Laureat Skelton. It was laid as a fault to the charge of Sallust, that he used some old outworn words, stolen out of Cato his Books de Originibus. And for an Historian in our tongue to AFFECT the like out of those our Poets would be accounted a foul oversight. That therefore must not be."
Gray has a letter to prove that the language of the age is never the language of poetry. Was Spenser behind or Shakspeare in advance? Stage language must necessarily be the language of the time; and Shakspeare gives us words pure and neat, yet plain and customary-the style that Ben Jonson loved, the eldest of the present and the newest of the past-while Spenser fell back on Chaucer as the Well of English undefilde,
as he was pleased to express it. (See WARTON'S Essay on Spenser, vol. i., and HALLAM, Lit. Hist. vol. ii. p. 328.) "The language of Spenser," says Hallam, "like that of Shakspeare, is an instrument manufactured for the sake of the work it was to perform."]
His command of imagery is wiluxuriant. He threw the soul of l our verse, and made it more warm and magnificently descriptive tha before, or, with a few ceptions, ever been since. It must certain that in description he exhibits no brief strokes and robust power w terise the very greatest poets; nowhere find more airy and expar of visionary things, a sweeter to ment, or a finer flush in the col guage, than in this Rubens of En His fancy teems exuberantly in n circumstance, like a fertile soil se and verdure through the utmost of the foliage which it nourishes. prehensive view of the whole w tainly miss the charm of strength and rapid or interesting progress the plan which the poet designe pleted, it is easy to see that n cantos could have rendered it less But still there is a richness in h even where their coherence is loodisposition confused. The clouds gory may seem to spread into shap but they are still the clouds of a mosphere. Though his story grov the sweetness and grace of his abide by him. He is like a sp tones continue to be pleasing, tho speak too long; or like a painter us forget the defect of his design, of his colouring. We always rise ing him with melody in the min with pictures of romantic beauty i the imaginationt. For these attra Fairy Queen" will ever continue to to by the poetical student. It ever, very popularly read, and selfrom beginning to end, even by th fully appreciate its beauties. Th
[* Mr. Campbell has given a character so enthusiastic as that to which I have discriminating, and in general sound, that liberty of extracting it from his Specimen Poets.-HALLAM, Lit. Hist. vol. ii. p. 334.]
[t Spenser's allegorical story resembles continuance of extraordinary dreams.-SIR After my reading a canto of Spenser tw ago to an old lady between 70 and 80, she = been showing her a collection of pictures. right.-POPE to Spence.]
ascribed merely to its presenting a few words which are now obsolete; nor can it be owing, as has been sometimes alleged, to the tedium inseparable from protracted allegory. Allegorical fable may be made entertaining. With every disadvantage of dress and language, the humble John Bunyan has made this species of writing very amusing.
The reader may possibly smile at the names of Spenser and Bunyan being brought forward for a moment in comparison; but it is chiefly because the humbler allegorist is so poor in language, that his power of interesting the curiosity is entitled to admiration. We are told by critics that the passions may be allegorised, but that Holiness, Justice, and other such thin abstractions of the mind, are too unsubstantial machinery for a poet;-yet we all know how well the author of the Pilgrim's Progress (and he was a poet though he wrote in prose) has managed such abstractions as Mercy and Fortitude. In his artless hands, those attributes cease to be abstractions, and become our most intimate friends. Had Spenser, with all the wealth and graces of his fancy, given his story a more implicit and animated form, I cannot believe that there was anything in the nature of his machinery to set bounds to his power of enchantment. Yet, delicious as his poetry is, his story, considered as a romance, is obscure, intricate, and monotonous. He translated entire cantos from Tasso, but adopted the wild and irregular manner of Ariosto. The difference is, that Spenser appears, like a civilised being, slow and sometimes half forlorn, in exploring an uninhabited country, while Ariosto traverses the regions of romance like a hardy native of its pathless wilds. Hurd and others, who forbid us to judge of "The Fairy Queen" by the test of classical unity, and who compare it to a gothic church, or a gothic garden, tell us what is little to the purpose. They cannot persuade us that the story is not too intricate and too diffuse. The thread of the narrative is so entangled, that the poet saw the necessity for explaining the design of his poem in prose, in a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh; and the perspicuity of a poetical design which requires such an explanation may, with no great severity, be pronounced a contradiction in terms. It is degrading to poetry, we shall perhaps be
told, to attach importance to the mere story which it relates. Certainly the poet is not a great one whose only charm is the management of his fable; but where there is a fable, it should be perspicuous.
There is one peculiarity in "The Fairy Queen" which, though not a deeply pervading defect, I cannot help considering as an incidental blemish; namely, that the allegory is doubled and crossed with complimentary allusions to living or recent personages, and that the agents are partly historical and partly allegorical. In some instances the characters have a threefold allusion. Gloriana is at once an emblem of true glory, an empress of fairyland, and her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Envy is a personified passion, and also a witch, and, with no very charitable insinuation, a type of the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. The knight in dangerous distress is Henry IV. of France; and the knight of magnificence, Prince Arthur, the son of Uther Pendragon, an ancient British hero, is the bulwark of the Protestant cause in the Netherlands. Such distraction of allegory cannot well be said to make a fair experiment of its power. The poet may cover his moral meaning under a single and transparent veil of fiction; but he has no right to muffle it up in foldings which hide the form and symmetry of truth.
Upon the whole, if I may presume to measure the imperfections of so great and venerable a genius, I think we may say that, if his popularity be less than universal and complete, it is not so much owing to his obsolete language, nor to degeneracy of modern taste, nor to his choice of allegory as a subject, as to the want of that consolidating and crowning strength, which alone can establish works of fiction in the favour of all readers and of all ages. This want of strength, it is but justice to say, is either solely or chiefly apparent when we examine the entire structure of his poem, or so large a portion of it as to feel that it does not impel or sustain our curiosity in proportion to its length. To the beauty of insulated passages who can be blind The sublime description of "Him who with the Night durst ride,” "The House of Riches," "The Canto of Jealousy," "The Masque of Cupid," and other parts, too many to enumerate, are so splendid, that after reading them, we feel it for the