« PreviousContinue »
Though Spenser's affection to his master Chaucer led him in many things to copy after him, yet those who have read both will easily observe that these two geniuses were of a very different kind. Chaucer excelled in his characters, Spenser in his descriptions. The first studied humour, was an excellent satirist, and a lively but rough painter of the manners of that rude age in which he lived: the latter was of the serious turn, had an exalted and elegant mind, a warm and boundless fancy, and was an admirable imager of virtues and vices, which was his particular talent. The embellishments of defcription are rich and lavish in him beyond comparifon; and as this is the most striking part of poetry, · especially to young readers, I take it to be the reafon that he has been the father of more poets among us than any other of our writers ; poetry being first kindled in the imagination, which Spenser writes to more than any one, and the season of youth being the most susceptible of the impression. It will not seem strange, therefore, that Cowley, as himself tells us, first caught his flame by reading Spenser; that our great Milton owned him for his original, as Mr. Dryden afsures us; and that Dryden ftudied him, and has bestowed more frequent commendations on him than on any other English poet.
The most known and celebrated of his Works, though I will not say the most perfect, is the Faerie Queene : it is conceived, wrought up, and coloured with a stronger fancy, and discovers more the particular genius of Spenser than any of his other writings. The Author, in a Letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, having called this poem a continued allegory, or dark conceit, it may not be improper to offer some Remarks on Allegorical Poetry in general, by which the beauties of this work may more eafily be discovered by ordinary readers. I muft, at the
same time, beg the indulgence of those, who are conversant with critical discourses, to what I shall here propose; this being a subject something out of the way, and not expressly treated upon by those who have laid down rules for the art of poetry.
An Allegory is a fable or story in which, under imaginary persons or things, is shadowed some real action or instructive moral; or, as I think it is somewhere very shortly defined by Plutarch, it is that “in which one thing is related, and another thing is understood.” It is a kind of poetical picture, or hieroglyphick, which, by its apt resem: blance, conveys instruction to the mind by an analogy to the senses, and so amuses the fancy, whilft it informs the understanding. Every allegory has, therefore, two lenses, the literal and the mystical : the literal sense is like a dream or vision, of which the mystical sense is the true meaning or interpretation.
This will be more clearly apprehended by considering, that as a fimile is but a more extended metaphor, fo an allegory is a kind of continued simile, or an assemblage of fimilitudes drawn out at full length. Thus, when it is said that Death is the offspring of Sin, this is a metaphor, to fignify that the former is produced by the latter, as a child is brought into the world by its parent. Again, to compare Death to a meagre and ghastly apparition, starting out of the ground, moving towards the spectator with a menacing air, and shaking in his hand a bloody dart, is a representation of the terrours which attend that greatenemy to human nature. But let the reader observe, in Milton's Paradise Loft, with what exquisite fancy and skill this common metaphor and fimile, and the moral contained in them, are extended and wrought up into one of the most beautiful allegories in our language.
.. The reseniblance which has been so often, ob
served in general between poetry and painting is yet more particular in allegory, which, as I said before, is a kind of picture in poetry. Horace has, in one of his Odes, pathetically described the ruinous condition of his country after the Civil wars, and the hazard of its being involved in new diffentions, by the emblem of a fhip shattered with storms, and driven into port with broken masts, torn fails, and disabled rigging, and in danger of being forced, by new'storms, out to fea again. There is nothing said
in the whole Ode but what is literally applicable to · a ship; but it is generally agreed that the thing
fignified is the Roman State. Thus Rubens, who . had a good allegorical genius in painting, has, in
his famous work of the Luxemburg gallery, figured the government of France, on Lewis XIII.'s arriving at age, by a galley. The King ftands at the helm, Mary of Medicis, the Queen-mother and Regent, puts the rudder in his hand; Justice, Fortitude, Religion; and Public Faith, are seated at the oars; and other Virtues have their proper employments in managing the fails and tackle.
By this general description of Allegory, it may eafily be conceived, that in works of this kind there is a large field open to invention, which among the Ancients was universally looked upon to be the principal part of poetry. The power of raising images or resemblances of things, giving them life and action, and presenting them as it were before the eyes, was thought to have something in it like creation ; and it was probably for this fabling part that the first authors of such works were called Poets or Makers, as the word fignifies, and as it is literally translated and used by Spenter; though the learned Gerard Voffius • is of opinion that it was rather
.a De Arte Poetica, cap. 3. §. 16. HUGHES....
for the framing their verses. However, by this art of fiction or allegory, more than by the ftructure of their numbers, or what we now call Versification, the poets were distinguished from historians and philosophers, though the latter sometimes invaded the province of the poet, and delivered their doctrines likewise in allegories or parables : and this, when they did not purposely make them obscure in order to conceal them from the common people, was a plain indication that they thought there was an advantage in such methods of conveying instruction to the mind; and that they served for the more effectual engaging the attention of the hearers, and for leaving deeper impressions on their memories. . .
Plutarch, in one of his discourses, gives a very good reason for the use of fiction in poetry, because * Truth of itself is rigid and austere, and cannot be moulded into such agreeable forms as fiction can. For neither the numbers,” says he; “nor the ranging of the words, nor the elevation and elegance of the style, have fo many graces as the artful contrivance and disposition of the fable.” For this reason, as he relates it after Plato, when the wife Socrates himself was prompted by a particular impulse to the writing of verses, being by his constant employment in the study of truth a stranger to the art of invention, he chofe for his subject the Fables of Æfop, “not thinking,” says Plutarch, “ that any thing could be poetry, which was void of fiétion.” The same author makes use of a comparison, in another place, which I think may be most properly applied to allegorical poetry in particular; that “ as grapes on a vine are covered by the leaves which grow about them, so under the pleasant narrations and fictions of the poets there are couched many useful morals and doctrines.”
It is for this reason, that is to say, in regard to the moral fenre, that allegory has a liberty indulged to it beyond any other fort of writing whatsoever; that it often afsembles things of the most contrary kinds in nature, and supposes even impoffibilities; as that a golden bough should grow among the common branches of a tree, as Virgil has described it in the Sixth Book of his Æneis. Allegory is indeed the Fairy Land of poetry, peopled by imagination; its inhabitants are so many apparitions ; its woods, caves, wild beasts, rivers, mountains, and palaces, are produced by a kind of magical power, and are all vilionary and typical; and it abounds in such licences as would be shocking and monstrous, if the mind did not attend to the mystick sense contained under them. Thus, in the Fables of Æfop, which are some of the most ancient allegories extant, the author gives reason and speech to beasts, infects, and plants; and by that means covertly inftructs mankind in the most important incidents and concerns of their lives.
I am not insensible that the word Allegory has. been sometimes used in a larger sense than that to which I may seem here to have restrained it, and has been applied indifferently to any poem which contains a covered moral, though the story or fable carries nothing in it that appears visionary or romantick. It may be neceffary, therefore, to distinguish Allegory into the two following kinds :
The first is that in which the story is framed of real or hiftorical perfons, and probable or possible actions; by which, however, some other persons and actions are typified or represented. In this sense the whole Æneis of Virgil may be faid to be an Allegory, if we confider Æneas as representing Augustus Cæsar, and his conducting the remains of his countrymen from the ruins of Troy to a new