Page images

Muse communicated a tinge of that spirit to able harmony*. Surrey was not the inventor our poetry, which must have been farther ex of our metrical versification ; nor had his cited in the minds of poetical scholars by the genius the potent voice and the magic spell influence of Grecian literature. Hurd indeed which rouse all the dormant energies of a lanobserves, that the Platonic doctrines had a


In certain walks of composition, deep influence on the sentiments and ch ter though not in the highest, viz. in the ode, elegy, of Spenser's age. They certainly form a very and epitaph, he set a chaste and delicate expoetical creed of philosophy. The Aristotelian ample ; but he was cut off too early in life, system was a vast mechanical labyrinth, which and cultivated poetry too slightly, to carry the the human faculties were chilled, fatigued, and pure stream of his style into the broad and darkened by exploring. Plato, at least, ex

bold channels of inventive fiction. Much unpands the imagination, for he was a great poet; doubtedly he did, in giving sweetness to our and if he had put in practice the law respecting numbers, and in substituting for the rude poets, which he prescribed to his ideal republic, tautology of a former age a style of soft and he must have begun by banishing himself. brilliant ornament, of selected expression, and

The Reformation, though ultimately benefi- of verbal arrangement, which often winds into cial to literature, like all abrupt changes in graceful novelties; though sometimes a little society brought its evil with its good. Its objectionable from its involution. Our lanestablishment under Edward VI. made the guage was also indebted to him for the introEnglish too fanatical and polemical to attend duction of blank verse. It may be noticed at to the finer objects of taste. Its commence the same time that blank verse, if it had conment under Henry VIII., however promising tinued to be written as Surrey wrote it, would at first, was too soon rendered frightful, by have had a cadence too uniform and cautious bearing the stamp of a tyrant's character, who, to be a happy vehicle for the dramatic expresinstead of opening the temple of religious sion of the passions. Grimoald, the second peace, established a Janus-faced persecution poet who used it after Lord Surrey, gave it a against both the old and new opinions. On little more variety of pauses; but it was not the other hand, Henry's power, opulence, and till it had been tried as a measure by several ostentation, gave some encouragement to the composers, that it acquired a bold and flexible arts. He himself, monster as he was, affected modulationt. to be a poet. His masques and pageants as [* Our father Chaucer hath used the same liberty in sembled the beauty and nobility of the land,

feet and measures that the Latinists do use: and whosoand prompted a gallant spirit of courtesy. The

ever do peruse and well consider his works, he shall find

that although his lines are not always of one self-same cultivation of musical talents among his cour number of syllables, yet being read by one that hath tiers fostered our early lyrical poetry. Our

understanding, the longest verse and that which hath

most syllables, will fall (to the ear) correspondent unto intercourse with Italy was renewed from more

that which hath in it fewest syllables, shall be found yet enlightened motives than superstition ; and to consist of words that have such natural sound, as may under the influence of Lord Surrey, Italian seem equal in length to a verse which hath many more poetry became once more, as it had been in

syllables of lighter accents. --Gascoigne. the days of Chaucer, a source of refinement

But if some Englishe woorde, herein seem sweet,

Let Chaucer's name exalted be therefore and regeneration to our own. I am not indeed

Yf any verse, doe passe on plesant feet, disposed to consider the influence of Lord The praise thereof redownd to Petrark's lore. Surrey's works upon our language in the very

GASCOIGNE, The Grief of Joy. extensive and important light in which it is

It is a disputed question whether Chaucer's verses be

rhythmical or metrical. I believe them to have been viewed by Dr. Nott. I am doubtful if that

written rhythmically, upon the same principle on which learned editor has converted many readers to Coleridge composed his Christabel-that the number of

beats or accentuated syllables in every line should be the his opinion, that Lord Surrey was the first

same, although the number of syllables themselves might who gave us metrical instead of rhythmical vary. Verse so composed will often be strictly metrical ; versification ; for, with just allowance for an and because Chaucer's is frequently so, the argunient has

been raised that it is always so if it be read properly, cient pronunciation, the heroic measure of

according to the intention of the author.--SOUTHEY, Chaucer will be found in general not only to Cowper, vol. ii. p. 117.] be metrically correct, but to possess consider [t Surrey is not a great poet, but he was an influential

The genius of Sir Thomas Wyat was refined Lord Sackville's name is the and elevated like that of his noble friend and importance in our poetry that contemporary ; but his poetry is more senten Lord Surrey's. The opinion of tious and sombrous, and in his lyrical effusions Brydges, with respect to the dati he studied terseness rather than suavity. Be- appearance of Lord Sackville's “ sides these two interesting men, Sir Francis the Mirror for Magistrates," woul Bryan, the friend of Wyat, George Viscount production, in strictness of chron Rochford, the brother of Anna Boleyne, and beginning of Elizabeth's reign. Thomas Lord Vaux, were poetical courtiers of of the “ Mirror," however, appea Henry VIII. To the second of these Ritson supposing Lord Sackville not to assigns, though but by conjecture, one of the in that edition, the first shape most beautiful and plaintive strains of our must have been cast and composed elder poetry, “ O Death, rock me on sleep." of Mary. From the date of Lor In Totell's Collection, the earliest poetical mis- birtht, it is also apparent, that cellany in our language, two pieces have been flourished under Elizabeth, and i ascribed to the same nobleman, the one en direct the councils of James, his titled “ The Assault of Cupid," the other be- must have been spent, and his ginning, "I loath that I did love,” which have racter formed, in the most disastr been frequently reprinted in modern times. the sixteenth century, a period w

A poem of uncommon merit in the same col- suppose the cloud that was passi lection, which is entitled “The restless state of a public mind to have cast a gloom Lover," and which commences with these lines, plexion of its literary taste. Dur « The Sun, when he hath spread his rays,

of his life, from twenty-five to thi And shew'd his face ten thousand ways,"

when sensibility and reflection has been ascribed by Dr. Nott to Lord Surrey' strongly, Lord Sackville witnessed but not on decisive evidence.

of Queen Mary's reign ; and I con In the reign of Edward VI. the effects of is not fanciful to trace in his poe the Reformation became visible in our poetry, of an unhappy age. His plan for by blending religious with poetical enthusiasm, of Magistrates” is a mass of dark or rather by substituting the one for the other. spondency. He proposed to make The national muse became puritanical, and

Sorrow introduce us in Hell to ev was not improved by the change. Then nate great character of English h flourished Sternhold and Hopkins, who, with poet, like Dante, takes us to the g the best intentions and the worst taste, de

but he does not, like the Italian

P graded the spirit of Hebrew psalmody by flat

back again. It is true that t and homely phraseology; and mistaking vul legends were long continued, duris garity for simplicity, turned into bathos what period ; but this was only done b they found sublime. Such was the love of order of poets, and was owing to t versifying holy writ at that period, that the

I would as then I had been free, Acts of the Apostles were rhymed, and set to From ears to hear, and eyes to see. music by Christopher Tye*.

And when in mind I did consent one; we owe to him the introduction of the Sonnet into

To follow thus my fancy's will, our language, and the first taste for the Italian poets.]

And when my heart did first relent * To the reign of Edward VI. and Mary may be referred

To taste such bait myself to spill, two or three contributors to the “ Paradise of Dainty

I would my heart had been as thing Devices" (1576), who, though their lives extended into the

Or else thy heart as soft as mine. reign of Elizabeth, may exemplify the state of poetical language before her accession. Among these may be placed

O flatterer false! thou traitor born Edwards, author of the pleasing little piece, “ Amantium

What mischief more might thou de iræ amoris integratio est," and Hunnis, author of the fol

Than thy dear friend to have in scc lowing song. (See p. 34, and Hallam, vol. ii. p. 303.]

And him to wound in sundry wise ;

Which still a friend pretends to be, " When first mine eyes did view and mark

And art not so by proof I see?
Thy beauty fair for to behold,
And when mine ears 'gan first to hark

Fie, fie upon such treachery."
The pleasant words that thou me told,

[t 1536, if not a little earlier

tion of Sackville. Dismal as his allegories was aided and abetted by several men of genius may be, his genius certainly displays in them in his conspiracy to subvert the versification considerable power. But better times were of the language ; and Lyly gained over the at hand. In the reign of Elizabeth, the Eng- court, for a time, to employ his corrupt jargon lish mind put forth its energies in every direc- called Euphuism. Even Puttenham, a grave tion, exalted by a purer religion, and enlarged and candid critic, leaves an indication of crude by new views of truth. This was an age of and puerile taste, when, in a laborious treatise loyalty, adventure, and generous emulation. on poetry, he directs the composer how to The chivalrous character was softened by in make verses beautiful to the eye, by writing tellectual pursuits, while the genius of chivalry them“ in the shapes of eggs, turbots, fuzees, itself still lingered, as if unwilling to depart, and lozenges." and paid his last homage to a warlike and Among the numerous poets belonging exfemale reign. A degree of romantic fancy clusively to Elizabeth's reignt, Spenser stands remained in the manners and superstitions of without a class and without a rival. To prothe people; and allegory might be said to ceed from the poets already mentioned to parade the streets in their public pageants and Spenser, is certainly to pass over a considerfestivities. Quaint and pedantic as those alle- able number of years, which are important, gorical exhibitions might often be, they were especially from their including the dates of nevertheless more expressive of erudition, in those early attempts in the regular drama genuity, and moral meaning, than they had which preceded the appearance of Shakbeen in former times. The philosophy of the speare 1. I shall, therefore turn back again highest minds still partook of a visionary to that period, after having done homage to character. A poetical spirit infused itself into the name of Spenser. the practical heroism of the age ; and some of lle brought to the subject of “The Fairy the worthies of that period seem less like Queen,” a new and enlarged structure of ordinary men, than like beings called forth out stanza, elaborate and intricate, but well conof fiction, and arrayed in the brightness of her trived for sustaining the attention of the ear, dreams. They had “

High thoughts seated in and concluding with a majestic cadence. In a heart of courtesy*” The life of Sir Philip the other poets of Spenser's age we chiefly Sydney was poetry put into action.

admire their language, when it seems casually The result of activity and curiosity in the to advance into modern polish and succinctpublic mind was to complete the revival of But the antiquity of Spenser's style has classical literature, to increase the importation a peculiar charm. The mistaken opinion that of foreign books, and to multiply translations, Ben Jonson censured the antiquity of the from which poetry supplied herself with diction in “ The Fairy Queen $,” has been corabundant subjects and materials, and in the

† Of Shakspeare's career a part only belongs to Elizause of which she showed a frank and fearless beth's reign, and of Jonson's a still smaller. energy, that criticism and satire had not yet

# The tragedy of Gorboduc, by Sackville and Norton,

was represented in 1561-2. Spenser's Pastorals were acquired power to overawe. Romance came

published in 1579; and the three first books of The Fairy back to us from the southern languages, clothed Queen in 1590. in new luxury by the warm imagination of the

$ Ben Jonson applied his remark to Spenser's Pastorals.

(Malone was very rash in his correction: “Spenser, in south. The growth of poetry under such cir

affecting the ancients," says Joneon, “writ no language; cumstances might indeed be expected to be as yet I would have him read for his matter, but as Virgil irregular as it was profuse. The field was read Ennius." (Works, ix, 215.) Jonson's remark is a open to daring absurdity, as well as to genuine alone. “ Some," he says in another place, “ seek Chaucer

general censure, not confined to the Shepherd's Calendar inspiration ; and accordingly there is no period isms with us, which were better expunged and banished.” in which the extremes of good and bad writ

(IVorks, ix. 220.) Here we conceive is another direct allu

sion to Spenser. ing are so abundant. Stanihurst, for instance,

If Spenser's language is the language of his age, who carried the violence of nonsense to a pitch of among his contemporaries is equally obsolete in phraseowhich there is no preceding example. Even

logy? The letters of the times have none of his words late in the reign of Elizabeth, Gabriel Harvey poetry contradistinguished from the drama, or the drama,

borrowed of antiquity, nor has the printed prose, the * An expression used by Sir P. Sydney.

which is always the language of the day. His antiquated


rected by Mr. Malone, who pronounces it to be His command of imagery is wiexactly that of his contemporaries. His au luxuriant. He threw the soul of 1 thority is weighty; still, however, without our verse, and made it more warm reviving the exploded error respecting Jon- and magnificently descriptive tha son's censure, one might imagine the difference before, or, with a few exceptions, of Spenser's style from that of Shakspeare's, ever been since. It must certain whom he so shortly preceded, to indicate that that in description he exhibits no his gothic subject and story made him lean brief strokes and robust power w towards words of the elder time. At all events, terise the very greatest poets ; much of his expression is now become anti- nowhere find more airy and expa quated; though it is beautiful in its antiquity, of visionary things, a sweeter to and like the moss and ivy on some majestic ment, or a finer flush in the col building, covers the fabric of his language with guage, than in this Rubens of En romantic and venerable associations.

His fancy teems exuberantly in words were his choice not his necessity. Has Drayton, or

circumstance, like a fertile soil se Daniel, or Peele, Marlowe, or Shakspeare the obscure words and verdure through the utmost found constantly recurring in Spenser? “ Let others,"

of the foliage which it nourishes. says Daniel (the well-languaged Daniel as Coleridge calls him)

prehensive view of the whole w “Let others sing of knights and paladines,

tainly miss the charm of strengti In aged accents and untimely words,

and rapid or interesting progress I sing of Delia in the language of those who are about her the plan which the poet designe and of her day." Davenant is express on the point, and speaks of Spenser's new grafts of old withered words and

pleted, it is easy to see that n exploded expressions. Surely the writers of his own age

cantos could have rendered it less are better authorities than Malone, who read verbally not But still there is a richness in h spiritually, and, emptying a commonplace-book of obso

even where their coherence is loo lete words, called upon us to see in separate examples what collectively did not then exist. It is easy to find many of disposition confused. The clouds Spenser's Chaucerisms in his contemporaries, but they do gory may seem to spread into sha not crowd and characterize their writings; they tincture,

but they are still the clouds of a but they do not colour; they are there, but not for ever there.

mosphere. Though his story grow Bolton, who wrote in 1622 of language and style, speaks the sweetness and grace of his to this point in his Hypercritica. He is recommending abide by him. He is like a spauthors for imitation and study—“Those authors among us, whose English bath in my conceit most propriety, and

tones continue to be pleasing, tho is nearest to the phrase of court, and to the speech used speak too long; or like a painter among the noble, and among the better sort in London;

us forget the defect of his design, the two sovereign seats, and as it were Parliament tribunals, to try the question in.” “In verse there are," he says,

of his colouring. We always rise " to furnish an English Historian with copy and tongue, ing him with melody in the min Ed. Spenser's Hymns. I cannot advise the allowance of other

with pictures of romantic beauty i of his Poems, as for practick English, no more than I can do Jeff. Chaucer, Lydgate, Peirce Ploughman, or Laureat

the imaginationt. For these attra Skelton. It was laid as a fault to the charge of Sallust, Fairy Queen” will ever continue to that he used some old outworn words, stolen out of Cato

to by the poetical student. It his Books de Originibus. And for an Historian in our tongue to affect the like out of those our Poets would be ever, very popularly read, and sel accounted a foul oversight. That therefore must not be." from beginning to end, even by tl Gray has a letter to prove that the language of the age

fully appreciate its beauties. Th is never the language of poetry. Was Spenser behind or Shakspeare in advance? Stage language must necessarily [* Mr. Campbell has given a character be the language of the time; and Shakspeare gives us 80 enthusiastic as that to which I have words pure and neat, yet plain and customary—the style discriminating, and in general sonnd, that that Ben Jonson loved, the eldest of the present and the

liberty of extracting it from his Specimen Dewest of the past—while Spenser fell back on Chaucer

Poets.—HALLAM, Lil. Hist. vol. ii. p. 334.] Well of English undefilde,

[t Spenser's allegorical story resembles as he was pleased to express it. (See Warton's Essay on continuance of extraordinary dreams.-SIR Spenser, vol. i., and HALLAM, Lit. Hisl. vol. ii, p. 328.) “The After my reading a canto of Spenser tw language of Spenser," says Hallam, "like that of Shak ago to an old lady between 70 and 80, she speare, is an instrument manufactured for the sake of the been showing her a collection of pictures. work it was to perform."]

right.-Pope to Spence.]

as the

ascribed merely to its presenting a few words told, to attach importance to the mere story which are now obsolete ; nor can it be owing, which it relates. Certainly the poet is not a as has been sometimes alleged, to the tedium great one whose only charm is the manageinseparable from protracted allegory. Alle- ment of his fable ; but where there is a fable, gorical fable may be made entertaining. With it should be perspicuous. every disadvantage of dress and language, the There is one peculiarity in “ The Fairy humble John Bunyan has made this species of Queen” which, though not a deeply pervading writing very amusing

defect, I cannot help considering as an inciThe reader may possibly smile at the names dental blemish ; namely, that the allegory is of Spenser and Bunyan being brought forward doubled and crossed with complimentary allufor a moment in comparison ; but it is chiefly sions to living or recent personages, and that because the humbler allegorist is so poor in the agents are partly historical and partly language, that his power of interesting the allegorical. In some instances the characters curiosity is entitled to admiration. We are have a threefold allusion. Gloriana is at once told by critics that the passions may be alle an emblem of true glory, an empress of fairygorised, but that Holiness, Justice, and other land, and her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Envy such thin abstractions of the mind, are too is a personified passion, and also a witch, and, unsubstantial machinery for a poet ;-yet we with no very charitable insinuation, a type of all know how well the author of the Pilgrim's the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. The Progress (and he was a poet though he wrote knight in dangerous distress is Henry IV. of in prose) has managed such abstractions as France; and the knight of magnificence, Prince Mercy and Fortitude. In his artless hands, Arthur, the son of Uther Pendragon, an ancient those attributes cease to be abstractions, and British hero, is the bulwark of the Protestant become our most intimate friends. Had cause in the Netherlands. Such distraction of Spenser, with all the wealth and graces of his allegory cannot well be said to make a fair fancy, given his story a more implicit and ani- ' experiment of its power. The poet may cover mated form, I cannot believe that there was his moral meaning under a single and transpaanything in the nature of his machinery to rent veil of fiction ; but he has no right to set bounds to his power of enchantment. Yet, muffle it up in foldings which hide the form delicious as his poetry is, his story, considered and symmetry of truth. as a romance, is obscure, intricate, and mono Upon the whole, if I may presume to meatonous. He translated entire cantos from sure the imperfections of so great and veneTasso, but adopted the wild and irregular rable a genius, I think we may say that, if his manner of Ariosto. The difference is, that popularity be less than universal and comSpenser appears, like a civilised being, slow plete, it is not so much owing to his obsolete and sometimes half forlorn, in exploring an language, nor to degeneracy of modern taste, uninhabited country, while Ariosto traverses nor to his choice of allegory as a subject, as to the regions of romance like a hardy native of the want of that consolidating and crowning its pathless wilds. Hurd and others, who for- strength, which alone can establish works of bid us to judge of “ The Fairy Queen” by the fiction in the favour of all readers and of all test of classical unity, and who compare it to ages. This want of strength, it is but justice a gothic church, or a gothic garden, tell us to say, is either solely or chiefly apparent when what is little to the purpose. They cannot

we examine the entire structure of his poem, persuade us that the story is not too intricate or so large a portion of it as to feel that it does

not is so entangled, that the poet saw the necessity to its length. To the beauty of insulated pasfor explaining the design of his poem in prose, sages who can be blind ? The sublime dein a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh ; and the scription of Him who with the Night durst ride," perspicuity of a poetical design which requires “ The House of Riches,” “ The Canto of Jeasuch an explanation may, with no great se lousy," “ The Masque of Cupid," and other verity, be pronounced a contradiction in terms.

parts, too many to enumerate, are so splendid, It is degrading to poetry, we shall perhaps be that after reading them, we feel it for the

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »