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T the close of this work, I shall beg leave
to subjoin an apology, for the manner in which it has been conducted and executed.
I presume it will be objected, that these remarks would have appeared with greater propriety, connected with Spenser's text, and arranged according to their respective references; at least it may be urged, that such a plan would have prevented much unnecessary transcription. But I was dissuaded from this method by two reasons. The first is, that these OBSERVATIONS, thus reduced to general heads *, form a series of distinct essays on Spenser, and exhibit a course of systematical criticism on the Faerie Queene, But my principal argument was, that a formal edition of this poem with notes, would have been at once impertinent and superfluous; as two publications of Spenser, under that form, are at present expected from the hands of two learned and ingenious critics t. Besides, it was never my design, to give so complete and perpetual a comment on every part of our author, as such an attempt seemed to require. But while some
* Except in Sections ix. xi.
+ One of these has since appeared.
passages are entirely overlooked, or but superficially touched, others will be found to have been discussed more at large, and investigated with greater research and accuracy, than such an attempt would have permitted.
As to more particular objections, too many, I am sensible, must occur ; one of which will probably be, that I have been more diligent in remarking the faults than the beauties of Spenser. That I have been deficient in encomiums on particular passages, did not proceed from a want of perceiving or acknowledging beauties; but from a persuasion, that nothing is more absurd or useless than the panegyrical comments of thofe, who criticise from the imagination rather than from the judgment, who exert their admiration instead of their reason, and discover more of enthusiasm than discernment. And this will most commonly be the case of those critics, who profess to point out beauties ; because, as they naturally approve then felves to the reader's apprehenfion by their own force, no reason can often be given why they please. The same cannot always be said of faults, which I have frequently displayed without reserve or palliation.
It was my chief aim, to give a clear and
a clear and comprehensive estimate of the characteristical merits and man
ner, of this admired, but neglected, poet. For this purpose I have considered the customs and genius of his age; I have searched his cotemporary writers, and examined the books on which the peculiarities of his style, taste, and composition, are confessedly founded.
I fear I shall be censured for quoting too many pieces of this sort. But experience has frequently and fatally proved, that the commentator whose critical enquiries are employed on Spenser, Jonson, and the rest of our elder poets, will in vain give specimens of his classical erudition, unless, at the same time, he brings to his work a mind intimately acquainted with those books, which though now forgotten, were yet in common use and high repute about the time in which his authors respectively wrote, and which they consequently must have read. While these are unknown, many allusions and many imitations will either remain obscure, or lose half their beauty and propriety: “ as the figures vanish when the canvas is decayed.”
Pope laughs at Theobald for giving us, in his edition of Shakespeare, a sample of
All such READING as was never read.”
But these strange and ridiculous books which Theobald quoted, were unluckily the very books which Shakespeare himself had studied; the knowledge of which enabled that useful editor to explain so many difficult allusions and obsolete customs in his poet, which otherwife could never have been understood. For want of this fort of literature, Pope tells us, that the DREADFUL SAGITTARY in Troilus and Creffida, signifies Teucer, so celebrated for his skill in archery. Had he deigned to consult an old history, called the DESTRUCTION of Troy, a book which was the delight of Shakespeare and of his age, he would have found that this formidable archer, was no other than an imaginary beast, which the grecian army brought against Troy. If Shakespeare is worth reading, he is worth explaining; and the researches used for so valuable and elegant a purpose, merit the thanks of genius and candour, not the satire of prejudice and ignorance. That labour, which so effentially contributes to the fervice of true taste, deserves a more honourable repository than The TEMPLE of DULNESS. In the same strain of false satire, * Pope observes with an air of ridicule that Caxton speaks of the Æneid.“ as a history,
as a book hardly known.". But the fatirist perhaps
* Dupciad. B. i. 149. Not.
would have expressed himself with not much more precision or propriety concerning the Æneid, had he been Caxton's cotemporary. Certainly, had he wrote english poetry in so unenlightened a period, the world would have lost his refined diction and harmonious versification, the fortunate effects of better times. Caxton, rude and uncouth as he is, co-operated in the noblest cause: he was a very considerable inftrument in the grand work of introducing literature into his country. In an illiterate and unpolished age he multiplied books, and consequently readers. The books he printed, besides the grosseft barbarisms of style and composition, are chiefly written on subjects of little importance and utility; almost all, except the works of Gower and Chaucer, translations from the french : yet, such as they were, we enjoy their happy consequences at this day. Science, the progressive state of which succeeding generations have improved and completed, dates her original from these artless and imperfect efforts.
Mechanical critics will perhaps be disgusted at the liberties I have taken in introducing so many anecdotes of ancient chivalry. But my subject required frequent proofs of this fort. Nor could I be persuaded that such enquiries were, in other respects, either