Page images

long an extract becanse, though much of this ridicule is equally applicable to the love tale of any age, it represents the fiction of the Elizabethan, with the precision of a general formula for praetice; and will be found to have a peenlíar though much refined and purified application to the Fairy Queen.

In a period when the scope of literature was confined and its style unfinished and unfixed; the classical writers of antiquity, then but recently revived, and having the fresh charm of novelty added to their simple unapproachable excellence, were seized upon with avidity and eager enthusiasm. They furnished a range of ideas which mingled with the Gothie associations of ancient English literature, and gave

rise to those strange and monstrous mixtures of Christian and mythological personages so frequently to be met in the Fairy Queen, as well as other poems of the age.* An amusing example of this may be found, Book 1. Cant. IV., where Pluto's daughter is described on a party of pleasure :

“ And after all upon the wagon bean

Rode Satan with a smarting whip in hand." Still more deeply infused into the spirit of the age, were the superstitions of every various kind, whether from the corruptions of religion, or the popular notions of magic, witchcraft, judicial astrology, and alchemy. These absurdities were beginning to be displaced by the growing philosophy of a period of transition, and as they were less entertained as realities, they became more the elementary spirit of the poet. They had not yet evaporated into mere inanity before the full daylight of reason and religious truth, and had just enough of superstitious charm to give them form to the imagination.

The same might be repeated of the magnificent and gorgeous pomp and circumstance” of chivalry: its feelings and aspirations yet mingled in the upper air of social life. It gave the law to pride and sentimentit yet continued to elevate and inspire the hero's and the lover's breast; and could not fail to be vitally blended with poetry.

Not to exhaust a topic which would carry us too far for our immedinto purpose, such are the characteristic elements of Spenser's great poem. For something he was indebted, (if it can be so termed,) to iho poetry of his great patron Sydney, whose strange intermixture of Italian pastoral and Gothic romance, produced a powerful impression on the age. From these materials, was combined the lengthened tissue of romantic tales of adventure, in which religion and superstitionromance and pastoral-knights, witches, sorcerers, tourneys and enchantments, mingle in pretty equal proportions--all blended together into that medium of allegory which was the palpable poetry of the age. While we may look for the high and solemn strain of moral sentiment which is diffused throughout, to the character of the poet's own mind,

• It is curious to notice the misnpplication of general facts, as well as rules, by those whose minds range within a narrow scope. The fault here noticed is little kuown to the generality of readers, because the writers who have committed them are not generally rend But the impression that some such thing has been found fault with, has given rise to a common charge against Milton, who has combined with singular effect and propriety the heathen and scriptural mythologies, by seizing on the real principle of relation bet vreen then,


This por

and the general colouring of the descriptions to the scenery of Irish woods; the wild wood path of adventure—which leads or misleads the errant knight or the forlorn lady, till they light on the shepherd's hut, the robber's castle, or the wizard's cell-could nowhere else be found in such living representation.

We shall conclude these remarks with some description of the the materials of which we have endeavoured to enumerate. tion of our undertaking is done to our hand by the author himself, in a letter to Raleigh :To the right noble and valourous, Sir Walter Raleigh, knight, Lord

Warden of the Stanneries, and her Majesty's lieutenant of the county of Cornwall.

"Sir,-Knowing how doubtfully all allegories may be construed, and this book of mine, which I have entitled the Fairy Queen, being a continued allegory, or dark conceit; I have thought good, as well for avoiding of zealous opinions 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 general end therefore of all the book, is to fashion a gentleman or noble person,

in vertuous and gentle discipline ;-which for that I conceived should be most plausible and pleasing, being coloured with an historical fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for variety of matter, than for profit of the ensample : I chose the history of king Arthur as most fit for the excellency of his person; being made famous by many men's former works, and also furthest from the danger of envy and suspicion of present time: and in which I have followed all the antique poets historical. First, Homer, who in the persons of Agamemnon and Ulysses hath ensampled a good governor and a vertuous manthe one in his Iliad the other in his Odysseis; then Virgil, whose like intention was to do in the person of Æneas; after him, Ariosto comprised them both in his Orlando; and lately Tasso dissevered them again, and formed both parts in two persons ; namely, that part which they, in philosophy call ethice, or vertues of a private man, coloured in his Rinaldo; the other named politice, in his Godfredo. By ensample of which excellent poets they labour to pourtraict in Arthur, before he was king, the image of a brave knight perfected in the twelve private moral virtues, as Aristotle hath devised; the which is the purpose of these twelve books: which if I find to be well excepted, I may be, perhaps encouraged to frame the other part of politick vertues in his person, after that he came to be king.

“ To some, I know this method will seem to be displeasant; which had rather have good discipline plainly in way of precepts, or sermoned at large, as they use, than thus cloudly enwrapped in allegorical de

ces. But such me seem, should be satisfied with th use of these days, seeing all things accounted by their shows, and nothing esteemed of, that is not delightful and pleasing to common sense, for this cause is Xenophon preferred before Plato; for that the one, in the exquisite depth of his judgment formed a commonwealth, such as it should be; but the other in the person of Syrus and the Persians fashioned a government, such as might best be; so have I laboured to do in the person of Arthur; whom I conceive, after his long education by Timon (to whom he was by Merlin, delivered to be brought up, so soon as he was born of the lady Igrane,) to have seen in a dream or vision, the fairy queen with whose excellent beauty ravished, he awaking, resolved to seek her out ; and so being by Merlin armed, and by Timon thoroughly instructed he went to seek her forth in fairy. In that fairy queen, I mean glory in my general intention; but in my particular, I conceive, the most excellent and glorious person of our sovereign, the queen and her kingdom in fairy-land. And yet in some places else I do otherwise shadow her. For considering she beareth two persons, the one of a most royal queen or empress, the other of a most virtuous and beautiful lady; this latter part, in some places, I do express in Belphebe: fashioning her name according to your own excellent conceit of Cynthia; Phoebe and Cynthia being both names of Diana. So in the person of prince Arthur, I set forth magnificence in particular: which vertue, for that (according to Aristotle and the rest) it is the perfection of all the rest, and containeth in it them all; therefore in the whole course, I mention the deeds of Arthur applicable to that vertue, which I write of in that book. But of the twelve other vertues, I make twelve other knights the patrons, for the more variety of the history: of which these three books contain three. The first, of the knights of the red cross, in whom I express holiness; the second, of Sir Gugon, in whom I set forth temperance ; the third of Britomantis, a lady knight, in whom I picture chastity. But because the beginning of the whole work seemeth abrupt, and as depending upon other antecedents, it needs that ye know the occasion of these three knights' several adventures. For the method of a poet historical, is not such of an historiographer ; for an historiographer discourseth of affairs orderly as they are done, accounting as well the times as the actions: but a poet thrusteth into the middest, even where it most concerneth him ; and there recoursing to the things forepast, and devining of things to come, maketh a pleasing analysis of all. The beginning therefore of my history, if it were to be told by an historiographer, should be the twelfth book, which is the last; where I devise, that the Fairy Queen kept her annual feast twelve days; upon which twelve several days the occasions of the twelve several adventurers happened, which being undertaken by twelve several knights, are in these twelve books severally handled and discoursed.

“ The first was this. In the beginning of the feast there presented himself a tall clownish young man ; who falling before the queen

of the fairies, desired a boon (as the manner then was) which during the feast, she might not refuse: which was, that he might have the atchievment of any adventure which, during that feast should happen. That being granted, he rested himself on the floor, unfit, through his rusticity, for a better place. Soon after entred a fair lady in mourning weeds, riding on a white ass with a dwarf behind her leading a warlike steed, that bore the armour of a knight, and his spear in the dwarf's hand, she falling before the queen of the fairies, complained that her father and mother, an ancient king and queen, had been by an huge dragon, many years shut up in a brazen castle ; who thence suffred them not to issue ; and therefore besought the fairy queen to assign her some one of her knights to take on him the exploit. Presently that clownish person upstarting, desired that adventure: whereat the queen much wondering, and the lady much gainsaying, yet he earnestly importuned his desire. In the end, the lady told him, unless that armour which she brought, would serve him, (that is the armour of a Christian man specified by St Paul, Ephes. v.) that he could not succeed in that enterprise; which being forth with put upon him, with due furnitures thereunto, he seemed the goodliest man in all that company, and was well liked of the lady. And eftsoons taking on him knighthood, and mounting on that strange courser, he went forth with her on that adventure; where beginneth the first book, viz:

A gentle knight was pricking on the plain,” &c, “ The second day there came in a palmer, bearing an infant, with bloody hands; whose parents he complained to have been slain by an enchantress, called Acrasia ; and therefore craved of the fairy queen to appoint him some knight to perform that adventure: which being assigned to Sir Guyon, he presently went forth with that same palmer, which is the beginning of the second book, and the whole subject thereof. The third day there came in a groom, who complained before the fairy queen that a vile enchanter, called Busirane, had in hand a most fair lady, called Amoretta ; whom he kept in most griev. ous torment, because she would not yield him the pleasure of her body. Whereupon Sir Scudamour, the lover of that lady, presently took on him that adventure, But being unable to perform it by reason of the bard enchantments, after long sorrow, in the end met with Britomantis, who succoured him, and rescued his love.

“ But by occasion hereof, many other adventures are intermeddled, but rather as accidents, than intendments; as the love of Britomart, the overthrow of Marinell, the misery of Florimell, the virtuousness of Belphæbe, the lasciviousness of Hellenora, and many the like.

“This much, sir, I have briefly over-run, to direct your understanding to the well-head of the history; that from thence gathering the whole intention of the conceit, ye may as in a handful gripe all the discourse: whích otherwise may haply seem tedious and confused. So bumbly craving the continuance of your favour towards me, and the eternal establishment of your happiness, I humbly take leave,

“Your most humbly affectionate,

6 EDMUND SPENSER. “23d January, 1589."

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

The father of Stanihurst was a lawyer, and the recorder of Dublin. He was also speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and died in 1573, aged 51.

Richard received the first rudiments of education in Dublin, from whence he was sent to Oxford, where he was admitted in 1563, in University college. Having graduated, he entered as a student, first at Furnival's Inn, and then at Lincoln's. He next appears to have returned to Ireland, where he married a daughter of Sir Charles Barnwall, knight, with whom he returned to resume his studies in London; here his wife died in childbirth, at Knightsbridge, 1579. Having changed his religion, he left England, and went to live at Leyden, where his course is not very distinctly traceable, though it is certain that he acquired great reputation among the learned, for his scholarship and his writings. He was uncle to the celebrated Primate Usher, who was the son of his sister, and took great pains to convert his nephew to his own faith. Having entered into holy orders, he became chaplain to the archduke of Austria, and died in the Netherlands in 1618. He left one son who became a Jesuit, and died 166

Stanihurst is now chiefly known by his “Descriptio Hiberniæ," a work in the hands of every student of Irish history and antiquity. It is described by Bishop Nicholson as “highly commendable,” with the exception of some tedious and frivolous digressions. He translated four books of Virgil, in a style which has entitled him to be distinguished by critics and commentators, with unusual, but not undeserved severity. He seems to have been utterly devoid of all perception of the essential distinction between burlesque and serious poetry.

A distinguished modern poet and critic, sums up all that can be said in these words, “ As Chaucer has been called the well of English undefiled, 80 might Stanihurst be called the common sewer of the language. It seems impossible that a man could have written in such a style, without intending to burlesque what he was about, and yet it is certain that Stanihurst intended to write heroic poetry. His version is exceeding rare, and deserves to be reprinted for its incomparable oddity.' To our apprehension, the burlesque of Stanihurst, represents but the extreme of the defects to which there is a universal tendency among the poets of his time; the most free from burlesque, the loftiest in conception, and most harmonious in metre, seem every now and then to have a narrow escape. Stanihurst would have been burlesque at any time; he was no poet, and wrote when the distinction between different departments of literature were little understood; à person having the name of a scholar, wrote English verse for the same reasons that such persons now write Latin verse. But it must be also said, that the sense of the age was very obtuse on the subject of burlesque. More than half their representations of the solemn, terrific, or sublime, were undoubtedly burlesque. But it must be remembered, that nothing is laughable but by association. We give the following, examples from Warton. “He calls Chorebus, one of the Trojan chiefs, a Bedlamite ; he says that old Priam girded on his sword Morglay, the name of a sword in the Gothic romances; that Dido would have have been glad to have been brought to bed even of a cockney, a Dandiprate Hopthumb; and that Jupiter, in kissing his daughter, bussed his

[ocr errors]

* Southey.

« PreviousContinue »