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proves how entirely he had freed himself from these unnatural trammels. His studies, by natural affinity, led him to those sources in which the highest poetry was to be found. He was full of Biblical knowledge and feeling: we can trace the influence of the Hebrew poets, and of the more unconscious poetry of the New Testament, in all he wrote, He knew and understood the Homeric epics; was conversant with the chief Latin poets; studied, and was master of Italian, in order that he might enjoy the free fancy of Ariosto and the more classical and colder muse of the Gierusalemme Liberata. Drawing deep draughts of poetical life from the freshest of English poets, he delighted in all ways to proclaim himself the disciple of the ancient ‘Tityrus,' the father of English poetry, Dan Chaucer himself.
Nor did he neglect stricter studies. Fascinated by Plato, as we see by his ‘Four Hymns on Love and Beauty,' he was no less filled with respect for the great “Master of them that known,” and we see traces of the influence of Aristotle throughout the Faery Queene. But it is Aristotle idealized. We have the Twelve Moral Virtues, with their crowning chief, Magnanimity; but they take the forms of knights and heroes, and Arthur, mysterious type of man's perfection, is their Prince.
Fortunate in his studies, he was not less fortunate in his friends. He moved among the noblest of the youth of England. No wonder that high dreams of gentle life filled his mind. He lived among those who reproduced in England the chivalrous hopes and proud endeavours which had, just half a century before, gilded the last moments of the German Ritterdom—the knightestate, with its dream of a world to be regenerated by the Gospel and the knightly sword. We think of Ulrich von Hütten, and Franz von Sickingen, crushed by the joint weight of lay and ecclesiastical nobility in arms against that revolution, almost as terrible to them as a peasant war, which would have destroyed their grand feudal privilege, and set up in its room a knightly aristocracy and an emancipated people, governed by the Bible
n “Maestro di color che sanno.” Dante, Inf. iv. 131.
and the sense of honour! Spenser's whole character felt the influence of the refinement and nobility of mind which he saw around him: Sidney, Raleigh, and Lord Grey, and at greater distance, Walsingham, Leicester, and Essex, taught him that loyalty and sensitiveness, which marked him in both his life and his writings.
Add to these a pure and deep sense of religion, and an acquaintance with the subtilties of that Calvinism which was the aristocratic form of Protestantism at that time in both France and England, and we shall obtain a fair conception of the elements of that genius which produced the Faery Queene.
The First Book of the Faery Queene is in reality a complete work, taken by itself. Hallam tells us that “it is generally admitted to be the finest of the six. In no other is the allegory so clearly conceived by the poet or so steadily preserved. ... That the Red Cross Knight designates the militant Christian, whom Una, the true Church, loves, whom Duessa, the type of Popery, seduces, who is reduced almost to despair, but rescued by the intervention of Una and the assistance of Faith, Hope, and Charity, is what no one feels any difficulty in acknowledging, but what every one may easily read the poem without perceiving or remembering. In an allegory conducted with such propriety, and concealed or revealed with so much art, there can surely be nothing to repel our taste: and those who read the First Book of the Faery Queene without pleasure, must seek (what others perhaps will be at no loss to discover for them) a different cause for their insensibility than the tediousness or insipidity of allegorical poetry. Every canto of this book teems with the choicest beauties of imagination; he came to it in the freshness of his genius, which shines throughout 0.”
The general bearings of the poem are marked out with sufficient distinctness by the poet himself in his Letter to Sir W. Raleigh, to which we call the reader's attention. It will be found printed as a kind of preface to this little volume. From it we learn
Hallam, Literature of Europe, Part II. ch. ii. $ 80.
that Prince Arthur is the centrepiece of the whole work; that lesser knights will be introduced, Book by Book, endeavouring their best, each for the virtue which he represents; but that the help of Arthur, or Magnificence P, who was “perfected in the twelve private moral virtues,” is always needed to bring each adventure through. So in the First Book, the hero, the Red Cross Knight, after sundry slips and failings, is rescued by Arthur out of the Giant's Castle in which he lies a helpless thrall.
Taking the story as such, and setting allegory aside, we must be struck with the rapid movement of the tale, its completeness of structure, the great variety of scenes, the beauty of the descriptive passages, and the numerous types of character, all distinctly and freely touched off. The whole book is full of graphic power, of pictures bright or dark, vivid personification, marked character; nor do either the moral or the religious sentiments fall below the poetic level. It is the highest poetic fancy combined with most complete truthfulness.
But if we undertake also to interpret the allegorical bearings of the poem-for such we may fairly call this single Book-we shall find ourselves in the presence of another series of phenomena full of real interest.
Two allegories underlie the tale: one of abstract virtues and religious qualities, the other of the concrete presentations of the
The first is the struggle of the human soul after holiness and purity, under the guidance of 'gospel truth;' the second sets before us the chief personages of Spenser's day, each playing a part, according to the character of each, in this life's drama.'
If we study the more abstract side of the allegory, we shall be aware of the Christian warrior, prototype of Bunyan's Pilgrim (and the resemblance is not merely fortuitous), who, with many failures and some downfalls, wins his heavenward way over the vanquished bodies of sins and temptations. Clad (as the poet says) in the armour spoken of by St. Paul, and guided by snow
enser thus translates that virtue of Magnanimity, which seemed to Aristotle to contain in itself all the moral virtues. It is perhaps hardly necessary to add that Spenser's twelve virtues are not the same as Aristotle's.
white Truth, he goes forth to fight against the Dragon, the old Serpent, who has wrought man's ruin and holds him beleaguered, having blasted the land which ought to be a paradise.
But on his way he meets with abundant 'lets and hindrances.' No sooner is the light of heaven obscured by a passing storm, than the warrior and his guide lose their way in the wood of Error; but at last encountering Error herself, the Knight, with the aid of his heavenly armour, overcomes and destroys her. By this Spenser wished to indicate the doubts and dangers which beset the soul of him who has just embraced the truth of the Gospel—the variations of Protestantism, in fact, and the risks of private judgment. When this danger has been safely passed, we find the Knight a prey to what may be called “a Roman Catholic reaction. Any student of history will know how naturally this risk would suggest itself to a writer's mind at the end of the sixteenth century. Archimago, or Hypocrisy, with his friend and companion, Duessa, double-faced witch, false and frivolous, fair and foul, now encounter him; and he, whom Error could not overcome, falls a victim to flattery and dissimulation. The artifices of the Jesuits, which had met with so great success, and had already stopped the progress of the Reformation in most European countries, were felt in the form of underhand plots and deceits in England; and there can be no doubt that it is at these that Spenser points. Duessa is the Roman Church herself. She is described as dressed in scarlet, riding on the monster of the Apocalypse, which all reformed England regarded as the Rome of the Papacy. The guile of the magician misleads the hero, till he thinks that truth is false, and falsehood true. This is the guiding-line to all his subsequent troubles. He gives way to self-indulgence, falls into pride, and though he overcomes the Paynim Unbelief, he presently grows enervated through the false comrade who has taken Truth's place; he lays aside his sacred armour, is captured by Orgoglio, Antichrist, proud giant, and is wellnigh cast away. At this point Una, who has gone through many troubles (so truth is tried) in the search after her Knight, meets with Prince Arthur, in whom we may recognise that spiritual help which succours man in his worst straits, when he can no longer help himself. Arthur slays the giant, and delivers the Knight from his dungeon. After this spiritual deliverance, he falls into the gloomiest state of despondency, into the “Cave of Despair,” and nearly ends his own life through consciousness of his failure and sinfulness. But Una saves him again, and carries him to the “House of Mercy,” where after due spiritual discipline, all remnants of pride, all earthly tendencies, all stains contracted by his contact with the false one, are washed or burnt away; and after a glimpse of a better world, he comes forth pure and chastened, and restored to his spiritual health, wearing once more the heavenly armour. Thus prepared and equipped, he encounters the grim Dragon, at last destroys the last enemy, and triumphs gloriously. Thus has he overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with his betrothal to Una the book ends.
This is the allegory of the human soul, winning its way by God's help to heaven, and in the power of the Gospel overcoming every spiritual foe. Let us now turn to the lower, or more concrete side of the tale, and we shall find that under the personages of the story Spenser signified certain living men and women, who were to him typical of the characteristics that have been drawn out above.
The Red Cross Knight, St. George, is the pattern Englishman; he cannot be called by any one name; nor is Una more than an abstract quality ; but the Faery Queene is Queen Elizabeth, as Spenser takes no small pains to let us know; Duessa is Mary Queen of Scots, as we learn from a later Book ; by the giant Orgoglio is probably intended Philip II, King of Spain; Prince Arthur is Lord Leicester 4. No doubt other names have their own meanings; but these are all as to which we can feel any certainty, and conjecture is useless. Indeed those characters whose inten
9 Holinshed, iii. p. 1426, describes the following scene, at the reception of Lord Leicester, so as to leave no doubt on this point. “ Over the entrance of the court gate was placed aloft upon a scaffold, as it had beene in a cloud or skie, Arthur of Britaine, whom they compared to the Earle."