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writ with the greatest strength and delicacy, may give the reader an idea, more than any thing I can fay, of the perfection to which this kind of writing is capable of being raised. We have likewise, in the second volume of the Guardian, a very good example, given us by the same hand, of an Allegory in the particular manner of Spenser. HUGHES.
ON THE FAERIE QUEEN E.
BY what has been offered in the foregoing Difcourse on Allegorical Poetry, we may be able not only to discover many beauties in the Faerie Queene, but likewise to excuse fome of its irregularities. The chief merit of this Poem consists in that furprising vein of fabulous invention which runs through it, and enriches it every where with imagery and descriptions more than we meet with in any other modern poem. The Author seems to be poffeffed of a kind of poetical magick; and the figures he calls up to our view rise fo thick upon us, that we are at once pleased and distracted by the exhaustless variety of them, so that his faults may, in a manner, be imputed to his excellencies: his abundance betrays him into excess, and his judgement is overborne by the torrent of his imagination.
That which seems the moft liable to exception in this work is the model of it, and the choice the Author has made of fo romantick a story. The several Books appear rather like so many several poems than one entire fable: each of them has its peculiar knight, and is independent of the rest ; and though some of the persons make their appearance in different Books, yet this has very little effect in connecting them. Prince Arthur is, indeed, the principal person, and has therefore a share given him in every Legend; but his part is not considerable enough in any one of them: he appears and vanishes again like a spirit; and we lose sight of him too soon to consider him as the hero of the Poem.
These are the most obvious defects in the Fable of the Faerie Queene. The want of unity in the story makes it difficult for the reader to carry it in his mind, and distracts too much his attention to the several parts of it; and indeed the whole frame of it would appear monstrous, if it were to be examined by the rules of epick poetry, as they have been drawn from the practice of Homer and Virgil: but as it is plain the Author never designed it by those rules, I think it ought rather to be considered
as a poem of a particular kind, describing, in a series of Allegorical adventures or episodes, the most noted virtues and vices. To compare it, therefore, with the models of Antiquity, would be like drawing a parallel between the Roman and the Gothick architecture. In the first there is, doubtless, a more natural grandeur and simplicity; in the latter we find great mixtures of beauty and barbarism, yet affifted by the invention of a variety of inferiour ornaments; and, though the former is more majestick in the whole, the latter may be very furprifing and agreeable in its parts.
It may seem strange, indeed, since Spenser appears to have been well acquainted with the best writers of Antiquity, that he has not imitated them in the . as a poem of a particular kind, &c.] Dr. Hurd has judi
ciously criticised it under the idea of a Gothick, not a claffical, poem. See his REMARKS in the present volume, TODD.
structure of his story. Two reasons may be given for this: the first is, that, at the time when he wrote, the Italian poets, whom he has chiefly imitated, and who were the first revivers of this art among the Moderns, were in the highest vogue, and were universally read and admired: but the chief reason was, probably, that he chose to frame his Fable after a model which might give the greatest scope to that range of fancy which was fo remarkably his talent. There is a bent in nature which is apt to determine men that particular way in which they are most capable of excelling; and, though it is certain he might have formed a better plan, it is to be questioned whether he could have executed any other so well.
It is probably for the same reason that, among the Italian poets, he rather followed Ariosto, whom he found more agreeable to his genius than Taflo, who had formed a better plan, and from whom he has only borrowed fome particular ornaments ; yet it is but justice to say, that his plan is much more regular than that of Ariosto. In the Orlando Furiofo. we every where meet with an exuberant invention, joined with great liveliness and facility of defcription, yet debased by frequent mixtures of the comick genius, as well as many shocking indecorums. Besides, in the huddle and distraction of the adventures, we are for the most part only amused with extravagant stories, without being instructed in any moral. . On the other hand, Spenser's Fable, though often wild, is, as I have observed, always emblematical; and this may very much excute likewise that air of romance in which he has followed the Italian author. The perpetual stories of knights, giants, castles, and enchantments, and all that train of legendary adventures, would indeed appear very trifling, if Spenser had not found a way to turn them all into Allegory, or if a less masterly hand had filled up his draught; but it is surprifing to obferve how much the strength of the painting is fuperiour to the design. It ought to be considered, too, that, at the time when our Author wrote, the remains of the old Gothick chivalry were not quite abolished: it was not many years before that the famous Earl of Surry, remarkable for his wit and poetry in the reign of King Henry VIII., took a romantick journey to Florence, the place of his mistress's birth, and published there a challenge against all nations in defence of her beauty. Jufts and turnaments were held in England in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Sir Philip Sidney tilted at one of these entertainments, which was made for the French Ambassador, when the treaty of marriage was on foot with the Duke of Anjou : and some of our historians have given us a very particular and formal account of preparations, by marking out lifts, and appointing judges, for a trial by combat, in the same reign, which was to have decided the title to a considerable estate, and in which the whole ceremony was perfectly agreeable to the fabulous descriptions in books of Knighterrantry. This might render his story more familiar to his first readers; though knights in armour, and ladies-errant, are as antiquated figures to us, as the court of that time would appear, if we could see them now in their ruffs and fardingales.
There are two other objections to the plan of the Faerie Queene which, I confefs, I am more at a loss to anfwer. I need not, I think, be fcrupulous in mentioning freely the defects of a Poem which, though it was never supposed to be perfect, has always been allowed to be adınirable.
The first is, that the scene is laid in Fairy Land, and the chief actors are Fairies. The reader may see their imaginary race and history in Book II. at the end of Canto X.; but, if he is not prepared be
forehand, he may expect to find them acting agree-: ably to the common stories and traditions about tuch fancied beings. Thus Shakspeare, who has introduced them in his Midsummer-Night's Dream, has made them speak and act in a manner perfe&tly adapted to their supposed characters; but the Fairies in this Poem are not distinguished from other persons. There is this misfortune, likewise, attends the choice of such actors, that, 'having been accustomed to conceive of them in a diminutive way, we find it difficult to raise our ideas, and to imagine a Fairy encountering with a monster or a giant. Homer has pursued a contrary method, and represented his heroes above the size and strength of ordinary men; and it is certain that the actions of the Iliad would have appeared but ill proportioned to the characters, if we were to have imagined them all performed by pigmies..
But, as the actors our Author has chosen are only fancied beings, he might poffibly think himself at liberty to give them what stature, customs, and manners, he plealed. I will not say he was in the right in this, but it is plain that by the literal sense of Fairy Land he only designed an Utopia, an imaginary place ; and by his Fairies, persons of whom he might invent any action proper to humankind, without being restrained, as he must have been if he had chosen a real scene and historical characters. As for the mystical sense, it appears both by the Work itself, and by the Author's explanation of it", that his Fairy Land is England, and his Fairy Queen queen Elizabeth, at whose command the
i having been accustomed to conceive of them in a diminutive way,] 'Mr. Warton has shown, in his differtation on Spenser's Imitations from old Romances, that “ littleness is not always implied in Fairy," TODD.
* Vid. Letter to Sir Walter Raleigh. HUGHES,