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English as many passages in this Epistle ?

1 It was at Penshurst that he wrote the only specimen that has
come down to us, and bad enough it is. I have said that some of
Sidney's are pleasing.



SPENSER 303

done much to vocalize it, as I have tried to show
elsewhere, 1 but Spenser was to prove

" That no tongue hath the muse's utterance heired
For verse, and that sweet music to the ear
Struck out of rhyme, so naturally as this."

The " Shepherd's Calendar " contains perhaps the
most picturesquely imaginative verse which Spen
ser has written. It is in the eclogue for February,
where he tells us of the

"Faded oak

Whose body is sere, whose branches broke,
Whose naked arms stretch unto the fire."

It is one of those verses that Joseph Warton would
have liked in secret, that Dr. Johnson would have
proved to be untranslatable into reasonable prose,
and which the imagination welcomes at once with
out caring whether it be exactly conformable to
barbara or celarent. Another pretty verse in the
same eclogue,

" But gently took that ungeutly came,"

pleased Coleridge so greatly that he thought it was
his own. But in general it is not so much the sen
timents and images that are new as the modula
tion of the verses in which they float. The cold
obstruction of two centuries thaws, and the stream
of speech once more let loose, seeks out its old
windings, or overflows musically in unpractised
channels. The service which Spenser did to our
literature by this exquisite sense of harmony is in
calculable. His fine ear, abhorrent of barbarous
dissonance, his dainty tongue that loves to prolong
1 See Literary Essays, iii. 338 seqq.



804 SPENSER

the relish of a musical phrase, made possible the
transition from the cast-iron stiffness of " Ferrex
and Porrex " to the Damascus pliancy of Fletcher
and Shakespeare. It was he that

. " Taught the dumb on high to sing,

And heavy ignorance aloft to fly :
That added feathers to the learned's wing 1 ,
And gave to grace a double majesty."

I do not mean that in the " Shepherd's Calen
dar " he had already achieved that transmutation
of language and metre by which he was afterwards
to endow English verse with the most varied and
majestic of stanzas, in which the droning old
alexandrine, awakened for the first time to a feel
ing of the poetry that was in him, was to wonder,
like M. Jourdain, that he had been talking prose
all his life, but already he gave clear indications
of the tendency and premonitions of the power
which were to carry it forward to ultimate perfec
tion. A harmony and alacrity of language like
this were unexampled in English verse :

" Ye dainty nymphs, that in this blessed brook

Do bathe your breast,
Forsake your watery bowers and hither look

At my request. . . .

And eke you virgins that on Parnass dwell,
Whence floweth Helicon, the learned well,

Help me to blaze

Her worthy praise,
Which in her sex doth all excel. "

Here we have the natural gait of the measure, some
what formal and slow, as befits an invocation , and
now mark how the same feet shall be made to
quicken their pace at the bidding of the tune :



SPENSER 305

" Bring here the pink and purple columbine,

With gilliflowers ;
Bring coronations and sops in wine,

Worne of paramours ;

Strow me the ground with daffadowndillies,
And cowslips and king-cups and loved lilies ;

The pretty paunce

And the chevisance
Shall match with the fair flowerdelice." l

The argument prefixed by E. K. to the tenth
Eclogue has a special interest for us as showing
how high a conception Spenser had of poetry and
the poet's office. By Cuddy he evidently means
himself, though choosing out of modesty another

1 Of course ditties and lilies must be read with a slight accen
tuation of the last syllable (permissible then), in order to chime
with delice. In the first line I have put here instead of hether,
which (like other words where th comes between two vowels) was
then very often a monosyllable, in order to throw the accent back
more strongly on bring, where it belongs. Spenser's innovation
lies in making his verses by ear instead of on the finger-tips, and
in valuing the stave more than any of the single verses that
compose it. This is the secret of his easy superiority to all others
in the stanza which he composed, and which bears his name. Mil
ton (who got more of his schooling in these matters from Spenser
than anywhere else) gave this principle a greater range, and ap
plied it with more various mastery. I have little doubt that the
tune of the last stanza cited above was clinging in Shakespeare's
ear when he wrote those exquisite verses in Midsummer Night's
Dream (" I know a bank "), where our grave pentameter is in
like manner surprised into a lyrical movement. See also the
pretty song in the eclogue for August. Ben Jonson, too, evi
dently caught some cadences from Spenser for his lyrics. I need
hardly say that in those eclogues (May, for example) where Spen
ser thought he was imitating what wiseacres used to call the rid
ing-rhyme of Chaucer, he fails most lamentably. He had evidently
learned to scan his master's verses better when he wrote hig Mother
Hubberd's Tale.



806 SPENSER

name instead of the familiar Colin. " In Cuddy
is set forth the perfect pattern of a Poet, which,
finding no maintenance of his state and studies,
complaineth of the contempt of Poetry and the
causes thereof, specially having been in all ages,
and even amongst the most barbarous, always of
singular account and honor, and being indeed so
worthy and commendable an art, or rather no art,
but a divine gift and heavenly instinct not to be
gotten by labor and learning, but adorned with
both, and poured into the wit by a certain Enthou-
siasmos and celestial inspiration, as the author
hereof elsewhere at large discourseth in his book
called THE ENGLISH POET, which book being
lately come into my hands, I mind also by God's
grace, upon further advisement, to publish." E. K.,
whoever he was, never carried out his intention,
and the book is no doubt lost ; a loss to be borne
with less equanimity than that of Cicero's treatise
De Gloria, once possessed by Petrarch. The pas
sage I have italicized is most likely an extract, and
reminds one of the long-breathed periods of Milton.
Drummond of Hawthornden tells us, "he [Ben
Jonson] hath by heart some verses of Spenser's
4 Calendar,' about wine, between Coline and Per-
cye " (Cuddie and Piers). 1 These verses are in
this eclogue, and are worth quoting both as having
the approval of dear old Ben, the best critic of the
day, and because they are a good sample of Spen
ser's earlier verse :

1 Drummond. it will be remarked, speaking from memory, takes
Cuddy to be Colin. In Milton's Lycidas there are reminiscences



SPENSER 307

" Thou kenst not, Percie, how the rhyme should rage ;
O, if my temples were distained with wine,
And girt in garlands of wild ivy-twine,
How I could rear the Muse on stately stage

And teach her tread aloft in buskin fine
With quaint Bellona in her equipage ! "

In this eclogue he gives hints of that spacious
style which was to distinguish him, and which, like
his own Fame,

" With golden wings aloft doth fly
Above the reach of ruinous decay,
And with brave plumes doth beat the azure sky,
Admired of base-born men from far away." *

He was letting his wings grow, as Milton said, and
foreboding the " Faery Queen " :

of this eclogue as well as of that for May. The latter are tihe
more evident, but I think that Spenser's

" Cuddle, the praise is better than the price,"
suggested Milton's

" But not the praise,

Phoebus replied, and touched my trembling ears."
Shakespeare had read and remembered this pastoral. Compare

" But, ah, Maecenas is yclad in clay,
And great Augustus long ago is dead,
And all the worthies liggen wrapt in lead,"
with

" King Pandion, he is dead ;

All thy friends are lapt in lead."

It is odd that Shakespeare, in his " fapt in lead," is more SpeUv
serian than Spenser himself, from whom he caught this ' ' hunting
of the letter."

1 Ruins of Time. It is perhaps not considering too nicely
to remark how often this image of wings recurred to Spenser's
mind. A certain aerial latitude was essential to the large circlings
of his style.



308 SPENSER

" Lift thyself up out of the lowly dust



To 'doubted knights whose woundless armor rusts
And helms unbruise'd waxen daily brown :
There may thy Muse display her fluttering wing,
And stretch herself at large from East to West."

Verses like these, especially the last (which Dry den
would have liked), were such as English ears
had not yet heard, and curiously prophetic of the
maturer man. The language and verse of Spen
ser at his best have an ideal lift in them, and there
is scarce any of our poets who can so hardly help
being poetical.

It was this instantly felt if not easily definable
charm that forthwith won for Spenser his never-
disputed rank as the chief English poet of that
age, and gave him a popularity which, during his
life and in the following generation, was, in its
select quality, without a competitor. It may be
thought that I lay too much stress on this single
attribute of diction. But apart from its impor
tance in his case as showing their way to the poets
who were just then learning the accidence of their
art, and leaving them a material to work in already
mellowed to their hands, it should be remembered
that it is subtle perfection of phrase and that
happy coalescence of music and meaning, where
each reinforces the other, that define a man as poet
and make all ears converts and partisans. Spenser
was an epicure in language. He loved " seld-seen
costly " words perhaps too well, and did not always
distinguish between mere strangeness and that nov
elty which is so agreeable as to cheat us with some



SPENSER 309

charm of seeming association. He had not the con
centrated power which can sometimes pack infinite
riches in the little room of a single epithet, for his
genius is rather for dilation than compression. 1
But he was, with the exception of Milton and pos
sibly Gray, the most learned of our poets. His
familiarity with ancient and modern literature was
easy and intimate, and as he perfected himself in
his art, he caught the grand manner and high-bred
ways of the society he frequented. But even to
the last he did not quite shake off the blunt rusti
city of phrase that was habitual with the genera
tion that preceded him. In the fifth book of the
" Faery Queen," where he is describing the passion
of Britomart at the supposed infidelity of Arthe-
gall, he descends to a Teniers-like realism, 2 he

1 Perhaps his most striking single epithet is the ' ' sea-shoulder
ing whales," B. II. 12, xxiii. His ear seems to delight in prolon
gations. For example, he makes such words as glorious, gratious,
joyeous, havior, chapelet dactyls, and that, not at the end of
verses, where it would not have been unusual, but in the first
half of them. Milton contrives a break (a kind of heave, as it
were) in the uniformity of his verse by a practice exactly the op
posite of this. He also shuns a hiatus which does not seem to
have been generally displeasing to Spenser's ear, though perhaps
in the compound epithet bees-alluring he intentionally avoids it by
the plural form.

2 " Like as a wayward child, whose sounder sleep

Is broken with some fearful dream's affright,
With froward will doth set himself to weep
Ne can be stilled for all his nurse's might,
But kicks and squalls and shrieks for fell despight,
Now scratching her and her loose locks misusing,
Now seeking darkness and now seeking light,
Then craving suck, and then the suck refusing."
He would doubtless have justified himself by the familiar



310 SPENSER

whose verses generally remind us of the dancing
Hours of Guido, where we catch but a glimpse of
the real earth and that far away beneath. But
his habitual style is that of gracious loftiness and
refined luxury.

He first shows his mature hand in the " Muiopot-
mos," the most airily fanciful of his poems, a mar
vel for delicate conception and treatment, whose
breezy verse seems to float between a blue sky and
golden earth in imperishable sunshine. No other
English poet has found the variety and compass
which enlivened the octave stanza under his sensi
tive touch. It can hardly be doubted that in Cla
rion the butterfly he has symbolized himself, and
surely never was the poetic temperament so pictur
esquely exemplified :

" Over the fields, in his frank lustiness,
And all the champaign o'er, he soared light,
And all the country wide he did possess,
Feeding npon their pleasures bounteously,
That none gainsaid and none did him envy.

" The woods, the rivers, and the meadows green,
With his air-cutting wings he measured wide,
Nor did he leave the mountains bare unseen,
Nor the rank grassy fens' delights untried ;
But none of these, however sweet they been,
Mote please his fancy, or him cause to abide ;
His choicef ul sense with every change doth flit ;
No common things may please a wavering wit.

example of Homer's comparing Ajax to a donkey in the eleventh
book of the Iliad. So also in the Epithalamion it grates our nerves
to hear,

" Pour not by cups, but by the bellyful,

Pour out to all that wull."

Such examples serve to show how strong a dose of Spenser's au-
rum potabile the language needed.



SPENSER 311

" To the gay gardens his unstaid desire

Him wholly carried, to refresh his sprights ;
There lavish Nature, iii her hest attire,
Pours forth sweet odors and alluring sights,
And Art, with her contending doth aspire,
To excel the natural with made delights ;
And all that fair or pleasant may be found,
In riotous excess doth there abound.

" There he arriving, round about doth flie,
From bed to bed, from one to the other border,
And takes survey with curious busy eye,
Of every flower and herb there set in order,
Now this, now that, he tasteth tenderly,
Yet none of them he rudely doth disorder,
Ne with his feet their silken leaves displace,
But pastures on the pleasures of each place.

" And evermore with most variety
And change of sweetness (for all change is sweet)
He casts his glutton sense to satisfy,
Now sucking of the sap of herbs most meet,
Or of the dew which yet on them doth lie,
Now in the same bathing his tender feet ;
And then he percheth on some branch thereby
To weather him and his moist wings to dry.

" And then again he turneth to his play,
To spoil [plunder] the pleasures of that paradise ;
The wholesome sage, the lavender still gray,
Rank-smelling rue, and cummin good for eyes,
The roses reigning in the pride of May,
Sharp hyssop good for green wounds' remedies,
Fair marigolds, and bees-alluring thyme,
Sweet marjoram and daisies decking prime,

" Cool violets, and orpine growing still,
Embathed balm, and cheerful galingale,
Fresh costmary and breathf ul camomill,
Dull poppy and drink-quickening setuale,
Vein-healing vervain and head-purging dill,



312 SPENSER

Sound savory, and basil hearty-hale,
Fat coleworts and comforting perseline,
Cold lettuce, and refreshing rosemarine. 1

" And whatso else of virtue good or ill,
Grew in this garden, fetched from far away,
Of every one he takes and tastes at will,
And on their pleasures greedily doth prey ;
Then, when he hath both played and fed his fill,
In the warm sun he doth himself embay,
And there him rests in riotous suffisance
Of all his gladfulness and kingly joyance.

" What more felicity can fall to creature
Than to enjoy delight with liberty,
And to be lord of all the works of nature ?
To reign in the air from earth to highest sky,
To feed on flowers and weeds of glorious feature,
To take whatever thing doth please the eye ?
Who rests not pleased with such happiness,
Well worthy he to taste of wretchedness."

The " Muiopotmos " pleases us all the more that
it vibrates in us a string of classical association by
adding an episode to Ovid's story of Arachne.
"Talking the other day with a friend (the late
Mr. Keats) about Dante, he observed that when
ever so great a poet told us anything in addition or
continuation of an ancient story, he had a right to
be regarded as classical authority. For instance,
said he, when he tells us of that characteristic
death of Ulysses, ... we ought to receive the in-

1 I could not bring myself to root out this odorous herb-garden,
though it make my extract too long. It is a pretty reminiscence
of his master Chaucer, but is also very characteristic of Spenser
himself. He could not help planting a flower or two among his
serviceable plants, and after all this abundance he is not satisfied,
but begins the next stanza with "And whatso else."



SPENSER 313

formation as authentic, and be glad that we have
more news of Ulysses than we looked for." l We
can hardly doubt that Ovid would have been glad
to admit this exquisitely fantastic illumination into
his margin.

No German analyzer of aesthetics has given us so
convincing a definition of the artistic nature as
these radiant verses. " To reign in the air " was
certainly Spenser's function. And yet the com
mentators, who seem never willing to let their poet
be a poet pure and simple, though, had he not been
so, they would have lost their only hold upon life,
try to make out from his "Mother Hubberd's
Tale " that he might have been a very sensible
matter-of-fact man if he would. For my own part,
I am quite willing to confess that I like him none
the worse for being tmpractical, and that my read
ing has convinced me that being too poetical is the
rarest fault of poets. Practical men are not so
scarce, one would think, and I am not sure that
the tree was a gainer when the hamadryad flitted
and left it nothing but ship-timber. Such men as
Spenser are not sent into the world to be part of
its motive power. The blind old engine would not
know the difference though we got up its steam
with attar of roses, nor make one revolution more
to the minute for it. What practical man ever left
such an heirloom to his countrymen as the " Faery
Queen " ?

Undoubtedly Spenser wished to be useful and in
the highest vocation of all, that of teacher, and
1 Leigh Hunt's Indicator, XVII.



314 SPENSER

Milton calls him " our sage and serious poet, whom
I dare be known to think a better teacher than
Scotus or Aquinas." And good Dr. Henry More
was of the same mind. I fear he makes his vices
so beautiful now and then that we should not be
very much afraid of them if we chanced to meet
them; for he could not escape from his genius,
which, if it led him as philosopher to the abstract
contemplation of the beautiful, left him as poet open
to every impression of sensuous delight. When he
wrote the " Shepherd's Calendar " he was certainly
a Puritan, and probably so by conviction rather
than from any social influences or thought of per
sonal interests. There is a verse, it is true, in the
second of the two detached cantos of " Mutability,"

" Like that ungracious crew -which feigns demurest grace, "

which is supposed to glance at the straiter religion
ists, and from which it has been inferred that he
drew away from them as he grew older. It is very
likely that years and widened experience of men
may have produced in him their natural result of
tolerant wisdom which revolts at the hasty destruc-
tiveness of inconsiderate zeal. But with the more
generous side of Puritanism I think he sympa
thized to the last. His rebukes of clerical world-
liness are in the Puritan tone, and as severe a one
as any is in " Mother Hubberd's Tale," published
in 1591. 1 There is an iconoclastic relish in his

1 Ben Jonson told Drummond " that in that paper Sir W.
Raleigh had of the allegories of his Faery Queen, by the Blatant
Beast the Puritans were understood." But this is certainly wrong
There were very different shades of Puritanism, according to in-



SPENSER 315

account of Sir Guyon's demolishing the Bower of
Bliss that makes us think he would not have re
gretted the plundered abbeys as perhaps Shake
speare did when he speaks of the winter woods
as " bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds
sang " :

" But all those pleasant bowers and palace brave
Guyon broke down with rigor pitiless,
Ne ought their goodly workmanship might save
Them from the tempest of his wrathfulness,
But that their bliss he turned to balef ulness ;
Their groves he felled, their gardens did deface,
Their arbors spoil, their cabinets suppress,
Their banquet-houses burn, their buildings rase,
And of the fairest late now made the foulest place."

But whatever may have been Spenser's religious
opinions (which do not nearly concern us here),
the bent of his mind was toward a Platonic mys
ticism, a supramundane sphere where it could
shape universal forms out of the primal elements
of things, instead of being forced to put up with
their fortuitous combinations in the unwilling ma
terial of mortal clay. He who, when his singing
robes were on, could never be tempted nearer to
the real world than under some subterfuge of pas
toral or allegory, expatiates joyously in this un
trammelled ether :

dividual temperament. That of Winthrop and Higginson had a
mellowness of which Endicott and Standish were incapable. The
gradual change of Milton's opinions was similar to that which I
suppose in Spenser. The passage in Mother Hubberd may have
been aimed at the Protestant clergy of Ireland (for he says much
the same thing in his View of the State of Ireland), but it is gen
eral in its terms.



816 SPENSER

" Lifting himself out of the lowly dust
On golden plumes up to the purest sky."

Nowhere does his genius soar and sing with such
continuous aspiration, nowhere is his phrase so
decorously stately, though rising to an enthusiasm
which reaches intensity while it stops short of vehe
mence, as in his Hymns to Love and Beauty, es
pecially the latter. There is an exulting spurn of
earth in it, as of a soul just loosed from its cage.
I shall make no extracts from it, for it is one of
those intimately coherent and transcendentally log
ical poems that " moveth altogether if it move at
all," the breaking off a fragment from which would
maim it as it would a perfect group of crystals.
Whatever there is of sentiment and passion is for
the most part purely disembodied and without sex,
like that of angels, a kind of poetry which has
of late gone out of fashion, whether to our gain or
not may be questioned. Perhaps one may venture
to hint that the animal instincts are those that
stand in least need of stimulation. Spenser's no
tions of love were so nobly pure, so far from those
of our common ancestor who could hang by his tail,
as not to disqualify him for achieving the quest of
the Holy Grail, and accordingly it is not uninstruc-
tive to remember that he had drunk, among others,
at French sources not yet deboshed with absinthe. 1

1 Two of his eclogues, as I have said, are from Marot, and his
earliest known verses are translations from Bellay, a poet who
was charming whenever he had the courage to play truant from
a had school. We must not suppose that an analysis of the liter
ature of the demi-monde will give us all the elements of the French
character. It has been both grave and profound ; nay, it has even



SPENSER 317

Yet, with a purity like that of thrice-bolted snow,
he had none of its coldness. He is, of all our poets,
the most truly sensuous, using the word as Milton
probably meant it when he said that poetry should
be " simple, sensuous, and passionate." A poet is
innocently sensuous when his mind permeates and
illumines his senses ; when they, on the other hand,
muddy the mind, he becomes sensual. Every one
of Spenser's senses was as exquisitely alive to the
impressions of material, as every organ of his soul
was to those of spiritual beauty. Accordingly, if
he painted the weeds of sensuality at all, he could
not help making them " of glorious feature." It
was this, it may be suspected, rather than his
44 praising love," that made Lord Burleigh shake
his " rugged forehead." Spenser's gamut, indeed,
is a wide one, ranging from a purely corporeal de
light in "precious odors fetched from far away"
upward to such refinement as

" Upon her eyelids many graces sate
Under the shadow of her even brows,"

where the eye shares its pleasure with the mind.
He is court-painter in ordinary to each of the senses
in turn, and idealizes these frail favorites of his
majesty King Lusty Juventus, till they half believe
themselves the innocent shepherdesses into which
he travesties them. 1


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