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structure of his ftory. Two reafons may be given for this: the firft is, that, at the time when he wrote, the Italian poets, whom he has chiefly imitated, and who were the firft revivers of this art among the Moderns, were in the highest vogue, and were univerfally read and admired: but the chief reason was, probably, that he chofe to frame his Fable after a model which might give the greatest scope to that range of fancy which was fo remarkably his talent. There is a bent in nature which is apt to determine men that particular way in which they are moft capable of excelling; and, though it is certain he might have formed a better plan, it is to be queftioned whether he could have executed any other fo well.
It is probably for the fame reafon that, among the Italian poets, he rather followed Ariofto, whom he found more agreeable to his genius than Taffo, who had formed a better plan, and from whom he has only borrowed fome particular ornaments; yet it is but juftice to fay, that his plan is much more regular than that of Ariofto. In the Orlando Furiofo we every where meet with an exuberant invention, joined with great livelinefs and facility of defcription, yet debased by frequent mixtures of the comick genius, as well as many shocking indecorums. Befides, in the huddle and diftraction of the adventures, we are for the most part only amufed with extravagant stories, without being inftructed in any moral. On the other hand, Spenfer's Fable, though often wild, is, as I have obferved, always emblematical; and this may very much excufe likewife that air of romance in which he has followed the Italian author. The perpetual ftories of knights, giants, caftles, and enchantments, and all that train of legendary adventures, would indeed appear very trifling, if Spenfer had not found a way to turn them all into Allegory, or if a lefs mafterly hand had filled
up his draught; but it is furprifing to obferve how much the ftrength of the painting is fuperiour to the defign. It ought to be confidered, too, that, at the time when our Author wrote, the remains of the old Gothick chivalry were not quite abolished: it was not many years before that the famous Earl of Surry, remarkable for his wit and poetry in the reign of King Henry VIII., took a romantick journey to Florence, the place of his mistrefs's birth, and publifhed there a challenge against all nations in defence of her beauty. Jufis and turnaments were held in England in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Philip Sidney tilted at one of thefe entertainments, which was made for the French Ambaffador, when the treaty of marriage was on foot with the Duke of Anjou and fome of our hiftorians have given us a very particular and formal account of preparations, by marking out lifts, and appointing judges, for a trial by combat, in the fame reign, which was to have decided the title to a confiderable eftate, and in which the whole ceremony was perfectly agreeable to the fabulous defcriptions in books of Knighterrantry. This might render his story more familiar to his first readers; though knights in armour, and ladies-errant, are as antiquated figures to us, as the court of that time would appear, if we could fee them now in their ruffs and fardingales.
There are two other objections to the plan of the Faerie Queene which, I confefs, I am more at a lofs to answer. I need not, I think, be fcrupulous in mentioning freely the defects of a Poem which, though it was never fuppofed to be perfect, has always been allowed to be admirable.
The firft is, that the fcene is laid in Fairy Land, and the chief actors are Fairies. The reader may fee their imaginary race and history in Book II. at the end of Canto X.; but, if he is not prepared be
forehand, he may expect to find them acting agreeably to the common ftories and traditions about fuch fancied beings. Thus Shakspeare, who has introduced them in his Midfummer-Night's Dream, has made them fpeak and act in a manner perfectly adapted to their fuppofed characters; but the Fairies in this Poem are not diftinguifhed from other perfons. There is this misfortune, likewife, attends the choice of fuch actors, that, having been accustomed to conceive of them in a diminutive way, we find it difficult to raise our ideas, and to imagine a Fairy encountering with a monfter or a giant. Homer has pursued a contrary method, and represented his heroes above the fize and ftrength of ordinary men; and it is certain that the actions of the Iliad would have appeared but ill proportioned to the characters, if we were to have imagined them all performed by pigmies.
But, as the actors our Author has chosen are only fancied beings, he might poffibly think himself at liberty to give them what ftature, cuftoms, and manners, he pleased. I will not fay he was in the right in this but it is plain that by the literal fenfe of Fairy Land he only defigned an Utopia, an imaginary place; and by his Fairies, perfons of whom he might invent any action proper to humankind, without being reftrained, as he must have been if he had chofen a real fcene and hiftorical characters. As for the myftical fenfe, it appears both by the Work itself, and by the Author's explanation of it*, that his Fairy Land is England, and his Fairy Queen queen Elizabeth, at whofe command the
i having been accustomed to conceive of them in a diminutive way,] Mr. Warton has shown, in his differtation on Spenfer's Imitations from old Romances, that "littleness is not always implied in Fairy." TODD.
* Vid. Letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, HUGHES.
adventure of every Legend is fuppofed to be undertaken.
The other objection is, that, having chofen an hiftorical perfon, Prince Arthur, for his principal hero, who is no Fairy, yet is mingled with them, he has not, however, reprefented any part of his hiftory: he appears here, indeed, only in his minority, and performs his exercifes in Fairy Land as a private gentleman; but we might at least have expected that the fabulous accounts of him, and of his victories over the Saxons, should have been worked into fome beautiful vifion or prophecy; and I cannot think Spenfer would wholly omit this, but am apt to believe he had done it in fome of the following Books which were loft'.
In the moral introductions to every Book, many of which have a great propriety and elegance, the Author has followed the example of Ariofto. I will only beg leave to point out fome of the principal beauties in each Book, which may yet more particularly discover the genius of the Author.
If we confider the Firft Book as an entire work of itself, we shall find it to be no irregular contrivance there is one principal action, which is completed in Canto XII.; and the feveral incidents or episodes are proper, as they tend either to obftruct or promote it. The fame may be faid of fome other of the following Books, though I think they are not fo regular as this. The Author has fhown judgement in making his Knight of the Red Crofs, or St. George, no perfect character, without which many
1 of the following Books which were loft.] I have, in the Life of the Poet, queftioned the opinion that any Books were loft. TODD.
If we confider &c.] This is a mistake, which Mr. Warton has rectified in his differtation on the Plan and Conduct of the Faerie Queene, TODD.
of the incidents could not have been represented. The character of Una, or Truth, is very properly opposed by thofe of Dueffa, or Falfehood, and Archimago, or Fraud. Spenfer's particular manner, which (if it may be allowed) I would call his painterlike genius, immediately shows itself in the figure of Errour, who is drawn as a monster, and that of Hypocrify as a hermit. The defcription of the former of thefe, in the mixed shape of a woman and a ferpent, furrounded with her offspring, and efpecially that circumftance of their creeping into her mouth on the fudden light which glanced upon them from the Knight's armour, incline one to think that our great" Milton had it in his eye when he wrote his famous epifode of Sin and Death. The artifices of Archimago and Dueffa, to feparate the Knight from Una, are well invented, and intermingled with beautiful strokes of poetry; particularly in that episode where the magician fends one of his fpirits to fetch a falfe dream from the house of Morpheus :
"Amid the bowels of the earth full steep
"And low, where dawning day does never peep,
Mr. Rymer, as I remember, has, by way of com parifon, collected from moft of the ancient and modern poets the finest descriptions of the Night, among all which he gives the preference to the English poets this of Morpheus, or Sleep, being a poetical subject of the fame kind, might be subjected to a like trial; and the reader may particularly compare it with that in Book XI. of Ovid's Meta
n Milton had it in his eye when he wrote his famous epifode of Sin and Death.] Milton then had in his eye the difciple of Spenfer, rather than Spenfer himself. I have cited the paffage from P. Fletcher's Purple Island, in the note on Par. Lost, B. ii. 650. TODD.