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criticism of commentators, rhetoricians, and theorists gave him a method of handling that material more secure, more reasoned, than native instinct could provide. Whatever his success or failure, Spenser knew what he wished to do, and had at least some notion of how it ought to be done and of how he proposed to do it : his lost critical treatise, The English Poet, was written before The Shepheardes Calender was published. Not that theorists and rhetoricians solved all his problems; much labour went in experiment until he had worked out a medium of verse and language, and still more labour in the acquisition of the technical skill required to exploit that medium. Spenser could feel that Chaucer had a master's control over language and metre, but the language was not Spenser's, and English metres, apart from a few lyrical forms kept alive by music, were defaced and dulled by the incompetence of generations. Chaucer gave him the foundations of his verse, the habit of the rhymed stanza and the compromise between the accentual system of England and the syllabic system of France; experiments in classical quantity taught him the weight and balance of syllables ; from the Italians he learned the values of vowels in sequence, from the French, the charm of such gay and various measures as the April song in The Shepheardes Calender. Ronsard and du Bellay, again and his schoolmaster, Richard Mulcaster, might claim at least some part of the credit-freed him from the purism which humanists like Sir John Cheke and Roger Ascham, the dominant group in English education and especially in Cambridge, had carried over from their Ciceronian Latin into English. The Frenchmen taught him that the poet is free to make and borrow as he pleases, subject only to the judgement of his trained ear, and under their guidance he exploited all the resources of the untried and untempered English of his day, gathering fine and significant terms from the older literature, from those dialects which retained some strength and savour of their own, from arts and crafts and all branches of learning, devising as he required them new terms by analogy with existing forms, and, though more rarely than is sometimes supposed, adopting foreign words he coveted for English. This was an artistic, not a scientific procedure ; it was controlled, not by a theory of language, but by the artistic principle of 'decorum'. Style and language vary with the subject and are coloured by its associations, growing elaborate and fanciful in the Tale of the Butterfly, “rude and rustical' among the shepherds, and ancient in romantic episodes borrowed from Malory or Chaucer. They are the style and language of a sensitive artist who was also learned in his art.
A noble and flexible style, and a rich language for its medium, were required for the fulfilment of Spenser's ambition. His purpose is avowed by his friend and commentator E. K.: The Shepheardes Calender is only a first flight; after the Bucolics, the Aeneid. The accomplishment is claimed, with a kind of magnisicent arrogance, by the Virgilian reminiscence with which he introduces The Faerie Queene : 'Lo I the man' 1-Ille ego ; the inference is plain. It was no accident that made Spenser a heroic poet, but the conscious purpose of a life. Rather we might say, the conscious purpose of his time, and a duty he owed to his native land and his native tongue: Virgil had raised for his Latin the trophy of a great heroic poem, Ariosto for Tuscan ; Ronsard had attempted it for French : Spenser must attempt it for English. In so doing he could follow both the classical and the native masters. No theory of the evolution of Epic removed Homer into another world ; Virgil was an ancestor ; Ronsard could still describe his Franciade as 'a romance like the Iliad and the Aeneid'. Du Bellay had called upon the French poets to 'choose me some one of those fine old French romances, as a Lancelot, a Tristan, or suchlike, and bring into the world once again an admirable Iliad and laborious Aeneid'. Ronsard quoted Homer, 'who, coming across some old tale of his day about the fair Helen and the army of the Greeks at Troy, as we do tales
of Lancelot, Tristan, Gawain and Arthur, founded thereon his Iliad,' and Virgil, who built up his Aeneid on the common fame, that a certain Trojan called Aeneas, sung by Homer, came to the Lavinian shores'. The same scheme is present in them all : a national tradition of old date was to be treated on the great scale and in a high style, reflecting also on their own time and on the history and the glory of the reigning house, Augustus Caesar, the house of Este, of Valois, the most excellent and glorious person of our soveraine the Queene'. Spenser's attempt to combine the virtues of romance and epic was thus shaped, in both matter and conduct, by critical theory. Ariosto's great poem was notoriously loose in con- struction and only half serious in conception; Ronsard's Franciade showed, on the other hand, how excessive devotion to classical formulas could kill the free heroic spirit that flourished in Orlando Furioso. Spenser would overgo both. Italian critics of Ariosto distinguished romance and epic by this criterion, that epic treats of a single adventure of a single hero, romance of the various adventures of many heroes ; in The Faerie Queene each book contains its own hero and the exploit he takes upon him, and the whole poem is the history of the search for Gloriana by the single, the epic hero, Prince Arthur.
But while he looked abroad and to the past for his artistic theories and models, Spenser's very serious and thoughtful message was for England and his contemporaries. To embody, and preach with all the didactic fervour of his time, the ideal of the Renaissance, to gather into one great poem all the various strands of the complex civilization he represented, was a task greater than either Virgil's or Chaucer's. The Roman virtue was clear and decisive, and while it is the glory of Chaucer that he comprised all the categories into which the legal bias of the Middle Ages has divided the world, and all the variety of literature which this division had created, they appear in The Canterbury Tales as so many strata, side by side,
but each unaffected by the others. The Knight, the Parson, the Clerk of Oxford, stand for so many different ideals; in the ideal of Renaissance knighthood-Philip Sidney proverbially its exemplar—these three are fused together. The combination in The Faerie Queene of the diversity and excitement of the romances with the scholarly dignity of the epic is typical of the synthesis in the Renaissance mind of the chivalric ideal of life with that gathered from the classics—the social ideal that developed equally from amour courtois and ‘Platonic' philosophy; the moral ideals which combined Christian holiness and Aristotelian 'magnificence'; the political ideals in which were blended the civic virtues of the heroes of Plutarch and the national feeling that made of Queen Elizabeth a symbol to be adored. The theory of a learned poetry, so far from being incompatible with these other aims, was really essential to them. Spenser was an aristocratic poet, but he did not write for an unlettered aristocracy. Learning was part of the 'vertuous and gentle discipline' in which the 'gentleman or noble person’ was to be fashioned, for Learning had issued forth from cloisters and quadrangles to walk in courts with Valour and Courtesy, and gentlemen adventurers sought for knowledge and wisdom as they sought for El Dorado. The old boundaries of thought were destroyed : reason, emotion, and human interest were one again, and so men turned from Scotus and Aquinas to Plato; morality was no longer on one hand a matter of law or of instinct, on the other a subject of unemotional dialectic; social values were not incommensurable with religious, nor religious with political and artistic. So The Faerie Queene is a various poem, as the ideal it celebrates was a complex ideal. But it was a single ideal. The contradictions it contains are the contradictions of its time. If some parts appear imperfectly assimilated, that is the unconscious expression of an ideal which attempted to fuse together in a single life the best of learning, ethics, manners, beauty, and emotion, and as the poet appears by. turns
Platonist, Epicurean, Aristotelian, but is in reality always a? Protestant Christian, so the contradictions are resolved in the whole and superseded in the allegory; and the allegory symbolizes the warfare and victory of the Christian soul in the world.
Allegory seems to have had a special attraction for Spenser. His first published work was a version of allegorical poems by Petrarch and du Bellay, and he was sufficiently interested long afterwards to recast these early translations and to imitate them in an original series. The study of Plato may have helped to develop the taste, but it was strong in the mediaeval poetry Spenser loved, it is endemic in England, and it seems of permanent recurrence in the Christian churches. And it was in the air when Spenser wrote: if The Faerie Queene is a gallery of pictures, the volume of Complaints is a book of emblems, and one of hundreds. Spenser's mind, at once meditative and imaginative, was sensitive to the appearances and also to the significance of things. He would turn to allegory, since nature and circumstance denied him any share in drama, in order both to wring out for himself and to make evident to others the fullest measure of significance perceptible in the outward shows of the world. There was precedent also for the historical allegory (as distinct from the historical allusions) with which The Faerie Queene is complicated. All Spenser's poetry was addressed primarily to an intimate circle of cultured acquaintance, and in such a circle the roman à clef is bound to appear. In all probability many of the mediaeval romances contain personal details recognizable to the courts at which they were produced ; Sidney's Arcadia had a key, and so had the French romances of the Précieuses. The Shepheardes Calender similarly is full of personal allusions, many of them very obscure to us who are outside the society in which they were written. The same is true of Virgil's Bucolics. In The Faerie Queene Spenser expressed his political opinions in allegory, not only because of their possible danger to