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ESSAY

ON

ALLEGORICAL POETRY.

IT is a misfortune, as Mr. Waller observes, which attends the writers of English poetry, that they can hardly expect their works should last long in a tongue which is daily changing; that, whilft they are new, envy is apt to prevail against them; and, as that wears off, our language itself fails. Our poets, therefore, he says, should imitate judicious ftatuaries, that choose the most durable materials; and should carve in Latin or Greek, if they would have their labours preserved for ever.

Notwithstanding the disadvantage he has mentioned, we have two ancient English poets, Chaucer and Spenser, who may, perhaps, be reckoned as exceptions to this remark: These seem to have taken deep root, like old British oaks, and to flourish in defiance of all the injuries of time and weather. The former is, indeed, much more obsolete in his style than the latter; but it is owing to an extraordinary native strength in both that they have been able thus far to survive amidst the changes of our tongue, and seem rather likely, among the curious at least, to preserve the knowledge of our ancient language, thạn to be in danger of being destroyed with it, and buried under its ruins.

VOL. II.

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 defcriptions. 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 reason 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 assures us; and that Dryden studied 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 easily be discovered by ordinary readers. I must, 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 resemblance, conveys instruction to the mind by an analogy to the senses, and so amuses the fancy, whilst it informs the understanding. Every allegory has, therefore, two senses, 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 confidering, that as a simile is but a more extended metaphor, fo an allegory is a kind of continued fimile, 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 signify 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 resemblance which has been so often observed 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 ship shattered with storins, and driven into port with broken masts, torn fails, and disabled rigging, and in danger of being forced, by new storms, out to sea again. There is nothing said in the whole Ode but what is literally applicable to a fhip; 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 bis famous work of the Luxemburg gallery, figured the government of France, on Lewis XIII.'s arriving at age, by a galley. The King stands 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 easily 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 Spenser; though the learned Gerard Voffius • is of opinion that it was rather

a De Arte Poetica, cap. 3. §. 16. HUGHES.

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