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“First, therefore, when ye have in handsome wise
And be thou sure one not to lack or long.' But he is impartial, and points out that there are other ways of rising -by adopting the fashions of the Court, “ facing, and forging, and scoffing, and crouching to please," and so to "mock out a benefice ;" or else, by compounding with a patron to give him half the profits, and in the case of a bishopric, to submit to the alienation of its manors to some powerful favorite, as the Bishop of Salisbury had to surrender Sherborn to Sir Walter Ralegh. Spenser, in his dedication of Mother Hubberd's Tale to one of the daughters of Sir John Spencer, Lady Compton and Monteagle, speaks of it as “ long sithence composed in the raw conceit of youth.” But, whatever this may mean, and it was his way thus to deprecate severe judgments, his allowing the publica. tion of it at this time shows, if the work itself did not show it, that he was in very serious earnest in his bitter sarcasms on the basc and evil arts which brought success at the Court.
He stayed in England about a year and a half (1590-91), long enough, apparently, to make up his mind that he had not much to hope for from his great friends, Ralegh and perhaps Essex, who were busy on their own schemes. Ralegh, from whom Spenser might hope most, was just beginning to plunge into that extraordinary career, in the thread of which glory and disgrace, far-sighted and princely public spirit and insatiate private greed, were to be so strangely intertwined. In 1592 he planned the great adventure which astonished London by the fabulous plunder of the Spanish treasure-ships ; in the same year he was in the Tower, under the Queen's displeasure for his secret marriage, affecting the most ridiculous despair at her going away from the neighborhood, and pouring forth his flatteries on this old woman of sixty as if he had no bride of his own to love :-“I that was wont to behold her riding like Alexander, hunting like Diana, walking like Venus ; the gentle wind blowing her fair hair about her pure cheeks like a nymph; sometimes, sitting in the shade like a goddess ; sometimes, singing like an angel ; sometimes, playing like Orpheus-behold the sorrow of this world-once amiss, hath bereaved me of all." Then came the exploration of Guiana, the expedition to Cadiz, the Island voyage (1595-1597). Ralegh had something else to do than to think of Spenser's fortunes.
Spenser turned back once more to Ireland, to his clerkship of the Council of Munster, which he soon resigned ; to be worried with lawsuits about “lands in Shanballymore and Ballingrath,” by his timeserving and oppressive Irish neighbor, Maurice Roche, Lord Fermoy; to brood still over his lost ideal and hero, Sidney ; to write the story of his visit in the pastoral supplement to the Shepherd's Calendar, Colin Clout's come home again ; to pursue the story of Gloriana's knights ; and to find among the Irish maidens another Elizabeth, a wife instead of a queen, whose wooing and winning were to give new themes to his imagination.
THE FAERIE QUEENE.
Uncouth [=unknown), unkist," are the words from Chaucer, * with which the friend who introduced Spenser's earliest poetry to the world bespeaks forbearance, and promises matter for admiration and delight in the Shepherd's Calendar. “You have to know my new poet, he says in effect : “and when you have learned his ways, you will find how much you have to honor and love him.” “I doubt not,” he says, with a boldness of prediction, manifestly sincere, which is remarkable about an unknown man, " that so soon as his name shall come into the knowledge of men, and his worthiness be sounded in the trump of fame, but that he shall be not only kissed, but also beloved of all, embraced of the most, and wondered at of the best." · Never was prophecy more rapidly and more signally verified, probably beyond the prophet's largest expectation. But he goes on to explain and indeed apologize for certain features of the new poet's work, which even to readers of that day might seem open to exception. And to readers of to-day, the phrase, uncouth, unkist, certainly expresses what many have to confess, if they are honest, as to their first acquaintance with the Faerie Queene. Its place in literature is established beyond controversy. Yet its first and unfamiliar aspect inspires respect, perhaps interest, rather than attracts and satisfies. It is not the remoteness of the subject alone, nor the distance of three centuries which raises a bar between it and and those to whom it is new. Shakspeare becomes familiar to us from the first moment. The impossible legends of Arthur have been made in the language of to-day once more to touch our sympathies, and have lent themselves to
*“ Unknow, unkyst ; and lost, that is unsoght."
Troylus and Cryseide, lib. i.
express our thoughts. But at first acquaintance the Faerie Queene to many of us has been disappointing. It has seemed not only antique, but artificial. It has seemed fantastic. It has seemed, we cannot help avowing, tiresome. It is not till the early appearances have worn off, and we have learned to make many allowances and to surrender ourselves to the feelings and the standards by which it claims to affect and govern us, that we really find under what noble guidance we are proceeding, and what subtle and varied spells are ever round us.
1. The Faerie Queene is the work of an unformed literature, the product of an unperfected art. English poetry, English language, in Spenser's, nay in Shakspeare's day, had much to learn, much to unlearn. They never, perhaps, have been stronger or richer than in that marvellous burst of youth, with all its freedom of invention, of observation, of reflection. But they had not that which only the experience and practice of eventful centuries could give them. Even genius must wait for the gifts of time. It cannot forerun the limitations of its day, nor anticipate the conquests and common possessions of the future. Things are impossible to the first great masters of art which are easy *o their second-rate successors. The possibility or the necessity of breaking through some convention, of attempting some unattempted ffort, had not, among other great enterprises, occurred to them. They were laying the steps in a magnificent fashion on which those after them were to rise, But we ought not to shut our eyes to mistakes or faults to which attention had not yet been awakened, or for avoiding which no rcasonable means had been found. To learn from genius, we must try to recognize both what is still imperfect and what is grandly and unwontedly successful. There is no great work of art, not excepting even the Iliad or the Parthenon, which is not open, especially in point of ornament, to the scoff of the scoffer, or to the injustice of those who do not mind being unjust. But all art belongs to man; and man, even when he is greatest, is always limited and imperfect.
The Faerie Queene, as a whole, bears on its face a great fault of construction. It carries with it no adequate account of its own story; it does not explain itself, or contain in its own structure what would enable a reader to understand how it arose. It has to be accounted for by a prose explanation and key outside of itself. The poet intended to reserve the central event, which was the occasion of all the adventures of the poem, till they had all been related, leaving them as it were in the air, till at the end of twelve long books the reader should at last be told how the whole thing had originated, and what it was all about. He made the mistake of confounding the answer to a riddle with the crisis which unties the tangle of a plot and satisfies the suspended interest of a tale. None of the great model poems before him, however full of digression and episode, had failed to arrange their story with clearness. They needed no commentary outside themselves to say why they began as they did, and out of what antecedents they arose. If they started at once from the middle of things, they made their story, as it unfolded itself, explain, by more or less skilful devices, all that needed to be known about their beginnings. They did not think of rules of art. They did of themselves naturally what a good story-teller does, to make himself intelligible and interesting; and it is not easy to be interesting, unless the parts of the story are in their place.
The defect seems to have come upon Spenser when it was too late to remedy it in the construction of his poem; and he adopted the somewhat clumsy expedient of telling us what the poem itself ought to have told us of its general story, in a letter to Sir Walter Ralegh. Ralegh himself, indeed, suggested the letter : apparently (from the date, Jan. 23, 1590), after the first part had gone through the press. And without this after-thought, as the twelfth book was never reached, we should have been left to gather the outline and plan of the story from imperfect glimpses and allusions, as we have to fill up from hints and assumptions the gaps of an unskilful narrator, who leaves out what is essential to the understanding of his tale.
Incidentally, however, this letter is an advantage: for we have in it the poet's own statement of his purpose in writing, as well as a necessary sketch of his story. His allegory, as he had explained to Bryskett and his friends, had a moral purpose. He meant to shadow forth, under the figures of twelve knights, and in their various exploits, the characteristics of “a gentleman or noble person," "fashioned in virtuous and gentle discipline.” He took his machinery from the popular legends about King Arthur, and his heads of moral philosophy from the current Aristotelian catalogue of the Schools.
“Sir, knowing how doubtfully all Allegories may be construed, and this booke of mine, which I have entituled the Faerie Queene, being a continued Allegory, or darké conceit, I haue thought good, as well for avoyding of gealous and misconstructions, as also for your better light' in reading thereof (being so by you commanded), to discover unto you the general intention and meaning, which in the whole course thereof I have fashioned, without expressing of any particular purposes, or by accidents, therein occasioned. The generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline: Which for that I conceived shoulde be most plausible and pleasing, being coloured with an historicall fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for variety of matter than for profite of the ensample, I chose the historye of King Arthure, as most fitte for the excellency of his person, being made famous by many mens former workes, and also furthest from the daunger of envy, and suspition of present time. In which I have followed all the antique Poets historicall; first Homere, who in the Persons of Agamemnon and Ulysses hath ensampled a good governour and a vertuous man, the one in his Ilias, the other in his Odysseis :. then Virgil, whose like intention was to doe in the person of Aeneas: after him Ariosto comprised them both in his Orlando: and lately Tasso dissevered them againe, and formed both parts in two persons, namely that part which they in Philosophy call Ethics, or vertues of a private man, coloured in his Rinaldo; the other named Politice in his Godfredo. By ensample of which excellente Poets, I labour to pourtraict in Arthure, before he was king, the image of a brave knight, perfected in the twelve private morall vertues, as Aristotle hath devised; the which is the purpose of these first twelve bookes : which if I finde to be well accepted, I may be
perhaps encouraged to frame the other part of polliticke vertues in his person, after that hee came to be king. Then, after explaining that he meant the Faerie Queene "for glory in general intention, but in particular” for Elizabeth, and his Faerie Land for her kingdom, he proceeds to explain, what the first three books hardly explain, what the Faerie Queene had to do with the structure of the poem.
“But, because the beginning of the whole worke seemed abrupte, and as depending upon other antecedents, it needs that ye know the occasion of these three knights seuerall adventures. For the Methode of a Poet historical is not such, as of an Historiographer. For an Historiographer discourseth of affayres orderly as they were donne, accounting as well the times as the actions, but a Poet thrusteth into the middest, even where it most concerneth him, and their recoursing to the thingęs forepaste, and divining of thinges to come, maketh a pleasing Analysis of all.
The beginning therefore of my history, if it were to be told by an Historio grapher should be the twelfth booke, which is the last ; where I devise that the Faerie Queene kept her Annuall feasté xii. dayes; uppon which xii. severall dayes. the occasions of the xii. severall adventures hapned, which, being undertaken by xii. severall knights, are in these xii. books severally handled and discoursed. The first was this. In the beginning of the feast, there presented him selfe a tall clownishe younge man, who falling before the Queene of Faries desired a boone (as the manner then was) which during that feast she might not refuse ; which was that he might have the atchievement of any adventure, which during that feaste should happen: that being graunted, he rested him on the floore, unfitte through his rusticily for a better place. Soone after entred a faire Ladye in mourning weedes, riding on a white Asse, with a dwarfe behinde her leading a warlike steed, that bore the Armes of a knight, and his speare in the dwarfes hand. Shee, falling before the Queene of Faeries, complayned that her father and mother, an ancient King and Queene, had beene by an huge dragon many years shut up in a brasen Castle, who thence suffered them not to yssew; and therefore besought the Faerie Queene to assygne her some one of her knights to take on him that exployt. Presently that clownish person, upstarting, desired that adventure: whereat the Queene 'mueh wondering, and the Lady much gainesaying, yet he earnestly importuned his desire. In the end the Lady told him, that unlesse that armour which she brought would serve him (that is, the armour of a Christian man specified by Saint Paul, vi. Ephes.) that he could not succeed in that enterprise ; which being forthwith put upon him, with dewe furnitures thereunto, he seemed the goodliest man in al that company, and was well liked of the Lady. And eftesoones taking on him knighthood, and mounting on that straunge courser, he went forth with her on that adventure: where beginneth the first booke, viz.
“A gentle knight was pricking on the playne, &c." That it was not without reason that this expianatory key was prefixed to the work, and that either Spenser or Ralegh felt it to be almost indispensable, appears from the concluding paragraph.
“Thus much, Sir, I have briefly overronne to direct your understanding to the wel-head of the History ; that from ther.ce gathering the whole intention of the conceit, ye may as in a handfull gripe al te discourse, which otherwise may happily seeme tedious and confused.
According to the plan thus sketched out, we have but a fragment of the work. It was published in two parcels, each of three books, in 1590 and 1596; and after his death two cantos, wi.h two stray stanzas,