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To fret thy soule wirh crosses and with cares ;
To spend, to give, to want, to be undonne." Spenser's earthly career ended very mournfully. In the rebellion of Tyrone, his castle was attacked, and to conclude in Ben Jonson's words, “The Irish having robbed Spenser's goods, and burnt his house, and a little child new-born, he and his wife escaped; and after, he died for lake (lack) of bread, in King Street, and refused twenty pieces sent to him by my lord of Essex, adding, “He was sorrie he had no time to spend them."" He died in 1598, and was buried, at his own request, near Chaucer, in Westminster Abbey, and the most celebrated poets of the time followed the hearse, and threw “mournful elegies” into his grave. PRINCIPAL WORKS.-Spenser's most important poems are
The Shepheards Calender," "An Hymne of Heavenly Love," "An
" " Hymne of Heavenly Beautie," "Prothalamion” and “Epithalamion,” both nuptial poems; two elegies entitled “ Daphnaïda” and
Astrophel,” *The Ruines of Rome,” “The Ruines of Time," Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterfly;" and far transcending all the rest both in extent and merit, The Faerie Queene. The subject of this poem is thus described by Dr. Aikin : _“His
Faery Queen' is by much the most considerable allegorical poem in our language; and in many respects it deserves the reputation which through two centuries it has enjoyed. Its plan, indeed, is most singularly perplexed and incoherent; and as the work is unfinished, it would be entirely unintelligible had not the author himself given a prefatory explanation of it. The term faery is used by him to denote something existing only in the regions of fancy, and the Faery Queen is the abstract idea of Glory personified. The knights of faery-land are the twelve virtues, who are the champions or servants of the Queen. The British Prince Arthur, who is the subject of so many fabulous legends, becomes enamoured of the Faery Queen in a vision, and comes to seek her in faery-land. He is the image of perfect excellence, and is regarded as the general hero of the piece. Each book, however, has its particular hero, who is one of the virtues above mentioned, and who goes through a course of adventures modelled upon the tales of chivalry, and having for their object the relief of some distressed damsel, or other sufferer under wrong and oppression. He encounters giants, monsters, enchanters, and the like, who are the allegorised foes of the particular virtue of which he is the representative; and prince
(1) “Letters on English Poetry,” p. 212.
Arthur, the general hero, occasionally appears as his auxiliary when he is hard pressed.
“ Thus far there is some consistency in the plan; but the poet had the further view of paying his court to Queen Elizabeth, the great topic of all the learned adulation of the age. She is therefore typified by the person of the Faery Queen, and several incidents of her history are related under the veil of allegory: the principal personages of her court are likewise occasionally alluded to in the characters of the faery knights. Moreover, the supposed real history of Arthur and other British princes is interwoven with the tissue of fictitious adventure. It is impossible to conceive a more tangled skein of narrative, and the author could scarcely expect that any reader would take the pains to unravel it. In fact, no one at present regards this poem in any other light than as a gallery of allegorical pictures, no otherwise connected than by the relation several of them bear to one common hero. It would be no easy matter to form one consistent allegory of
any single book, and to explain the emblematical meaning of every
adventure ascribed to its particular knight.”
CHARACTERISTIC SPIRIT AND STYLE." His command of imagery is wide, easy, and luxuriant. He threw the soul of harmony into our verse, and made it more warmly, tenderly, and magnificently descriptive than it ever was before, or, with a few exceptions, than it has ever been since. It must certainly be owned, that in description he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes and robust power which characterise the very greatest poets; but we shall nowhere find more airy and expansive
images of visionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, or a finer flush in the colours of language, than in this Rubens of English poetry. His fancy teems exuberantly in minuteness of circumstance, like a fertile soil sending bloom and verdure through the utmost extremities of the foliage which it nourishes. On a comprehensive view of the whole work, we certainly miss the charm of strength, symmetry, and rapid or interesting progress; for though the plan which the poet designed is not completed, it is easy to see that no additional cantos could have rendered it less perplexed. But still there is a richness in his materials, even where their coherence is loose, and their disposition confused. The clouds of his allegory may seem to spread into shapeless forms, but they are still the clouds of a glowing atmosphere. Though his story grows desultory, the sweetness and grace of his manner still abide by him. He is like a speaker whose tones continue to be pleasing, though he may speak too long; or like a painter who makes us forget the defect of his design, by the magic of his colouring. We always rise from
perusing him with melody in the mind's ear, and with pictures of romantic beauty impressed on the imagination.
Succeeding generations have acknowledged the pathos and richness of his strains, and the new contour and enlarged dimensions of
gave to English poetry. He is the poetical father of a Milton and a Thomson. Gray habitually read him when he wished to frame his thoughts for composition, and there are few eminent poets in the language who have not been essentially indebted to him.
“Hither, as to their fountain, other stars
Repair, and in their urns draw golden light.'" The following testimony from Pope will confirm the remarks just cited :—“After my reading," said he, “a canto of Spenser, two or three days ago, to an old lady, between seventy and eighty, she said that I had been showing her a collection of pictures. She said very right; and I know not how it is, but there is something in Spenser that pleases one as strongly in one's
old age as it did in one's youth. I read the 'Faery Queen’ when I was about twelve, with a vast deal of delight, and I think it gave me as much when I read it over about a year or two ago." 2
Spenser accounted himself the poetical son of Chaucer; and, to do honour to his parentage, adopted a style and diction belonging to a previous stage of the language. He was, therefore, in his own times, taunted with “affecting the ancients," with his “Chaucerisms, and with his “new grafts of old withered words and exploded expressions.” “One might imagine," says Mr. Campbell," " the
, difference of Spenser's style from that of Shakspere’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."
VERSIFICATION.—The stanza employed by Spenser in the “Faerie Queene” was borrowed from the Italian ; the poet, however, made it his own by the addition of an Alexandrine, or long
(1) Campbell. “Specimens,” &c., Introduction, p. liv. (2) “Literary History," &c., vol ii. p. 334. (3) In the “Faerie Queene” (book iv. canto 2), Spenser speaks of Chaucer, as
“ Don Chaucer, well of English undefyled,
On fame's eternall beadroll worthie to be fyled." (4) Campbell "Specimens,” &c., Introduction, p. lv.
line, which closes the whole with a majestic cadence. This style of versification-subsequently called the Spenserian-has been, notwithstanding its difficulty, adopted with much success by Thomson, in “The Castle of Indolence”-Beattie, in “The Minstrel”—and Byron, in “Childe Harold.”
EXTRACTS FROM THE FAERIE QUEENE.
UNA AND THE RED-CROSS KNIGHT.
A GENTLE knightwas pricking on the plaine,
Ycladd in mightie arines4 and silver shielde,
Full iolly 6 knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
But of his cheere 10 did seeme too solemne sad ; 11
(1) “Faerie Queene,” book i. canto 1. This extract is the commencement of the poem.
(2) Gentle knight—the Red-Cross knight, St. George, the tutelary Saint of England, who represents True Holiness. (3) Pricking --riding fast, or rather here, spurring his horse, but at the same time checking him to keep the pace of the lady upon her“ palfrey slow.” (4) Mightie armes, dec.—The armour of the Christian, described in Ephes. vi. 13-17, is here intended. (5) Dintsmarks. (6) Iolly - from the French joli—handsome. (7) Giusts-jousts or tilting matches. (8) Dead, as living ever-i.e. though dead, yet alive for evermore (see Rev. i. 18). (9) For soveraine, &c.-On account of the supreme hope, &c. (10) Cheere-countenance, appearance. (11) Sad--grave, not, mournful. (12) Ydrad-dreaded.
Upon a great adventure he was bond,
That greatest Glorianato him gave
prove his püissance4 in battell brave
Upon a lowly asse more white then snow;
Seeméd in heart some hidden care she had;
and innocent, as that same lambe,
That lasie seemd, in being ever last,
(1) Bond-bound. (2) Gloriana-Glory-the “Faery Queene.” (3) Earne --yearn. (4) Püissance (three syllables here)-power. (5) Learne-in its old sense-teach, show, manifest. (6) Dragon-this is intended to represent Error. (7) Lovely ladie-this is Una, or Truth, the representative of the one true church. (8) Wimpled-plaited or folded over. (9) Stole--a long robe or garment. (10) Lynage--lineage. (11) Forwasted-i.e. forth wasted, thoroughly laid waste. (12) Compeld—from the Latin compellare, to addresscalled on.