Page images



2. Combined with this sweetness and fluency, the scientific construction of the metre of the Faery Queene is very noticeable. One of Spenser's arts is that of alliteration, and he uses it with great effect in doubling the impression of an image :In wildernesse and wastful deserts, Through woods and wastnes wilde,They passe the bitter waves of Acheron, Where many soules sit wailing woefully, And come to fiery flood of Phlegeton, Whereas the damned ghosts in torments fry, And with sharp shrilling shrieks doth bootlesse cry,—&c. He is particularly given to an alternate alliteration, which is, perhaps, when well used, a great secret in melody :A ramping lyon rushed suddenly,And sad to see her sorrowful constraint,And on the grasse her daintie limbes did lay,—&c. You cannot read a page of the Faery Queene, if you read for that purpose, without perceiving the intentional alliterativeness of the words; and yet so skilfully is this 20 > managed, that it never strikes any unwarned ear as artificial, or other than the result of the necessary movement *** of the verse.

3. Spenser displays great skill in harmonizing his descriptions of external nature and actual incidents with the allegorical character and epic activity of the poem. Take these two beautiful passages as illustrations of what I mean :

By this the northerne wagoner had set
His sevenfold teme behind the stedfast starre
That was in ocean waves yet never wet,
But firme is fixt, and sendeth light from farre
To all that in the wide deepe wandring arre;
And chearefull chaunticlere with his note shrill
Had warned once, that Phoebus' fiery carre
In hast was climbing up the easterne hill,
Full envious that Night so long his roome did fill ;

[ocr errors]


When those accursed messengers of hell,
That feigning dreame, and that faire-forged spright
Came, &c. B. I, c. 2, st. 1.


At last, the golden orientall gate
Of greatest Heaven gan to open fayre ;
And Phoebus, fresh as brydegrome to his mate,
Came dauncing forth, shaking his deawie hayre ;
And hurld his glistring beams through gloomy ayre.
Which when the wakeful Elfe perceiv’d, streightway;
He started up, and did him selfe prepayre
In sunbright armes and battailons array;
For with that Pagan proud he combat will that day

Ib. c. 5, st. 2. Observe also the exceeding vividness of Spenser's descriptions. They are not, in the true sense of the word, picturesque ; but are composed of a wondrous series of images, as in our dreams. Compare the following passage with anything you may remember in pari materia in Milton or Shakspeare :

His haughtie helmet, horrid all with gold,
Both glorious brightnesse and great terrour bredd
For all the crest a dragon did enfold
With greedie pawes, and over all did spredd
His golden winges; his dreadfull hideous hedd,
Close couched on the bever, seemd to throw
From flaming mouth bright sparkles fiery redd,
That suddeine horrour to faint hartes did show ;
And scaly tayle was stretcht adowne his back full low.
Upon the top of all his loftie crest.
A bounch of haires discolourd diversly,
With sprinkled pearle and gold full richly drest,
Did shake, and seemd to daunce for jollitie ;
Like to an almond tree ymounted hye
On top of greene Selinis all alone,
With blossoms brave bedecked daintily,
Whose tender locks do tremble every one
At everie little breath that under heaven is blowne.

Ib. c. 7, st. 31–2.



4. You will take especial note of the marvellous independence and true imaginative absence of all particular space or time in the Faery Queene. It is in the domains neither of history nor geography ; it is ignorant of all artificial boundary, all material obstacles ; it is truly in land of Faery, that is, of mental space. The poet has placed you in a dream, a charmed sleep, and you neither wish, nor have the power, to inquire where you are, or how you got there. It reminds me of some lines of my own : Oh! would to Alla !

10 The raven or the sea-mew were appointed To bring me food !-or rather that my soul Might draw in life from the universal air ! It were a lot divine in some small skiff Along some ocean's boundless solitude To float for ever with a careless course And think myself the only being alive! .

Remorse, Act iv, sc. 3. Indeed Spenser himself, in the conduct of his great poem, may be represented under the same image, his symbolizing purpose being his mariner's compass :

20 As pilot well expert in perilous wave, That to a stedfast starre his course hath bent, When foggy mistes or cloudy tempests have The faithfull light of that faire lampe yblent, And coverd Heaven with hideous dreriment; Upon his card and compas firmes his eye, The maysters of his long experiment, And to them does the steddy helme apply, Bidding his winged vessell fairely forward fly.

B. II, c. 7, st. 1. So the poet through the realms of allegory.

5. You should note the quintessential character of Christian chivalry in all his characters, but more especially in his women. The Greeks, except, perhaps, in Homer, seem to have had no way of making their women interesting, but by unsexing them, as in the instances of the tragic


Medea, Electra, &c. Contrast such characters with Spenser's Una, who exhibits no prominent feature, has no particularization, but produces the same feeling that a statue does, when contemplated at a distance :

From her fayre head her fillet she undight,
And layd her stole aside : her angels face,
As the great eye of Heaven, shyned bright,
And made a sunshine in the shady place ;
Did never mortal eye behold such heavenly grace.

B. I, c. 3, st. 4. 1o 6. In Spenser we see the brightest and purest form of

that nationality which was so common a characteristic of our elder poets. There is nothing unamiable, nothing contemptuous of others, in it. To glorify their country, to elevate England into a queen, an empress of the heartthis was their passion and object; and how dear and important an object it was or may be, let Spain, in the recollection of her Cid, declare! There is a great magic in national names. What a damper to all interest is a list

of native East Indian merchants ! Unknown names are 20 non-conductors; they stop all sympathy. No one of our

poets has touched this string more exquisitely than Spenser ; especially in his chronicle of the British Kings (B. II, c. 10), and the marriage of the Thames with the Medway (B. IV, c. II), in both which passages the mere names constitute half the pleasure we receive. To the same feeling we must in particular attribute Spenser's sweet reference to Ireland : Ne thence the Irishe rivers absent were ; Sith no lesse famous than the rest they be, &c. Ib.

30 And Mulla mine, whose waves I whilom taught to weep. Ib.

And there is a beautiful passage of the same sort in the
Colin Clout's Come Home Again :

‘One day,' quoth he, “I sat, as was my trade,
Under the foot of Mole,' &c.

Lastly, the great and prevailing character of Spenser's mind is fancy under the conditions of imagination, as an ever present but not always active power. He has an imaginative fancy, but he has not imagination, in kind or degree, as Shakspeare and Milton have; the boldest effort of his powers in this way is the character of Talus. Add to this a feminine tenderness and almost maidenly purity of feeling, and above all, a deep moral earnestness which produces a believing sympathy and acquiescence in the reader, and you have a tolerably adequate view of Spenser's 10 intellectual being.

From LEIGH HUNT'S Essay on Spenser

Imagination and Fancy, 1844 SPENSER's great characteristic is poetic luxury. If you go to him for a story, you will be disappointed ; if for a style, classical or concise, the point against him is conceded ; if for pathos, you must weep for personages half-real and too beautiful; if for mirth, you must laugh out of good breeding, and because it pleaseth the great, sequestered man, to be facetious. But if you love poetry well enough to enjoy it for its own sake, let no evil reports of his ' allegory' deter you from his acquaintance, for great will be your loss. 20 His allegory itself is but one part allegory, and nine parts beauty and enjoyment; sometimes an excess of flesh and blood. His forced rhymes, and his sentences written to fill up, which in a less poet would be intolerable, are accompanied with such endless grace and dreaming pleasure, fit to

Make heaven drowsy with the harmony,

« PreviousContinue »