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contrived to be wise and lively at the same time, a combination so
incomprehensible by the Teutonic races that they have labelled it
levity. It puts them out as Nature did Fuseli.

1 Taste must be partially excepted. It is remarkable how little
eating and drinking there is in the Faery Queen. The only time
he fairly sets a table is in the house of Malbecco, where it is



318 SPENSER

In Ms great poem he had two objects in view :
first, the ephemeral one of pleasing the court, and
then that of recommending himself to the perma
nent approval of his own and following ages as a
poet, and especially as a moral poet. To meet the
first demand, he lays the scene of his poem in con
temporary England, and brings in all the leading
personages of the day under the thin disguise of
his knights and their squires and lady-loves. He
says this expressly in the prologue to the second
book :

" Of Faery Land yet if he more inquire,
By certain signs, here set in sundry place,
He may it find ; . . .
And thou, O fairest princess under sky,
In this fair mirror mayst behold thy face
And thine own realms in land of Faery."

Many of his personages we can still identify, and
all of them were once as easily recognizable as
those of Mademoiselle de Scudery. This, no doubt,
added greatly to the immediate piquancy of the
allusions. The interest they would excite may be
inferred from the fact that King James, in 1596,
wished to have the author prosecuted and punished

necessary to the conduct of the story. Yet taste is not wholly

forgotten :

" In her left hand a cup of gold she held,
And with her right the riper fruit did reach,
Whose sappy liquor, that with fulness sweld,
Into her cup she scruzed with dainty breach
Of her fine fingers without foul impeach,
That so fair wine-press made the wine more sweet."
(B. II. c. xii. 56.)

Taste can hardly complain of unhandsome treatment !



SPENSER 319

for his indecent handling of his mother, Mary
Queen of Scots, under the name of Duessa. 1 To
suit the wider application of his plan's other and
more important half, Spenser made all his charac
ters double their parts, and appear in his allegory
as the impersonations of abstract moral qualities.
When the cardinal and theological virtues tell
Dante,

" Noi siam qui ninfe e in ciel sianio stelle,"

the sweetness of the verse enables the fancy, by a
slight gulp, to swallow without solution the prob
lem of being in two places at the same time. But
there is something fairly ludicrous in such a dual
ity as that of Prince Arthur and the Earl of
Leicester, Arthegall and Lord Grey, and Belphcebe
and Elizabeth.

" In this same interlude it doth befall
That I, one Snout by name, present a wall."

The reality seems to heighten the improbability,
already hard enough to manage. But Spenser
had fortunately almost as little sense of humor as

1 Had the poet lived longer, he might perhaps have verified his
friend Raleigh's saying, that " whosoever in writing modern his
tory shall follow truth too near the heels, it may haply strike out
his teeth." The passage is one of the very few disgusting ones in
the Faery Queen. Spenser was copying Ariosto ; but the Ital
ian poet, with the discreeter taste of his race, keeps to generali
ties. Spenser goes into particulars which can only be called nasty.
He did this, no doubt, to pleasure his mistress, Mary's rival ; and
this gives us a measure of the brutal coarseness of contemporary
manners. It becomes only the more marvellous that the fine
flower of his genius could have transmuted the juices of such a
soil into the purity and sweetness which are its own peculiar prop
erties.



320 SPENSER

Wordsworth, 1 or he could never have carried his
poem on with enthusiastic good faith so far as he
did. It is evident that to him the Land of Faery
was an unreal world of picture and illusion,

" The world's sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil,"

in which he could shut himself up from the actual,
with its shortcomings and failures.

" The ways through which my weary steps I guide

In this delightful land of Faery
Are so exceeding spacious and wide,
And sprinkled with such sweet variety
Of all that pleasant is to ear and eye,
That I, nigh ravisht with rare thoughts' delight,

My tedious travail do forget thereby,
And, when I 'gin to feel decay of might,
It strength to me supplies, and cheers my dulled spright."

Spenser seems here to confess a little weariness ;
but the alacrity of his mind is so great that, even
where his invention fails a little, we do not share
his feeling nor suspect it, charmed as we are by
the variety and sweep of his measure, the beauty
or vigor of his similes, the musical felicity of his
diction, and the mellow versatility of his pictures.
In this last quality Ariosto, whose emulous pupil he
was, is as Bologna to Venice in the comparison.
That, when the personal allusions have lost their
meaning and the allegory has become a burden, the

1 There is a gleam of humor in one of the couplets of Mother
Hubberd's Tale, where the Fox, persuading the Ape that they
should disguise themselves as discharged soldiers in order to beg
the more successfully, says,

" Be you the soldier, for you likest are
For manly semblance and small skill in war."



SPENSER 321

book should continue to be read with delight, is
proof enough, were any wanting, how full of life
and light and the other-worldliness of poetry it
must be. As a narrative it has, I think, every
fault of which that kind of writing is capable.
The characters are vague, and, even were they not,
they drop out of the story so often and remain out
of it so long, that we have forgotten who they are
when we meet them again ; the episodes hinder the
advance of the action instead of relieving it with
variety of incident or novelty of situation ; the plot,
if plot it may be called,

" That shape has none
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,"

recalls drearily our ancient enemy, the Metrical
Romance ; while the fighting, which in those old
poems was tediously sincere, is between shadow
and shadow, where we know that neither can harm
the other, though we are tempted to wish he might.
Hazlitt bids us not mind the allegory, and says
that it won't bite us nor meddle with us if we do
not meddle with it. But how if it bore us, which
after all is the fatal question ? The truth is that
it is too often forced upon us against our will, as
people were formerly driven to church till they be
gan to look on a day of rest as a penal institution,
and to transfer to the Scriptures that suspicion of
defective inspiration which was awakened in them
by the preaching. The true type of the allegory is
the Odyssey, which we read without suspicion as
pure poem, and then find a new pleasure in divin
ing its double meaning, as if we somehow got a



322 SPENSER

better bargain of our author than he meant to give
us. But this complex feeling must not be so exact
ing as to prevent our lapsing into the old Arabian
Nights simplicity of interest again. The moral of
a poem should be suggested, as when in some medi-
seval church we cast down our eyes to muse over a
fresco of Giotto, and are reminded of the transito-
riness of life by the mortuary tablets under our feet.
The vast superiority of Bunyan over Spenser lies
in the fact that we help make his allegory out of
our own experience. Instead of striving to embody
abstract passions and temptations, he has given us
his own in all their pathetic simplicity. He is the
Ulysses of his own prose-epic. This is the secret
of his power and his charm, that, while the repre
sentation of what may happen to all men comes
home to none of us in particular, the story of
any one man's real experience finds its startling
parallel in that of every one of us. The very
homeliness of Bunyan's names and the everyday-
ness of his scenery, too, put us off our guard, and
we soon find ourselves on as easy a footing with
his allegorical beings as we might be with Adam
or Socrates in a dream. Indeed, he has prepared
us for such incongruities by telling us at setting
out that the story was of a dream. The long
nights of Bedford jail had so intensified his imagi
nation, and made the figures with which it peopled
his solitude so real to him, that the creatures of his
mind become things, as clear to the memory as if
we had seen them. *But Spenser's are too often
mere names, with no bodies to back them, entered



SPENSER 323

on the Muses' muster-roll by the specious trick of
personification. There is, likewise, in Bunyan, a
childlike simplicity and taking-for-granted which
win our confidence. His Giant Despair, 1 for ex
ample, is by no means the Ossianic figure into
which artists who mistake the vague for the sub
lime have misconceived it. He is the ogre of the
fairy-tales, with his malicious wife ; and he comes
forth to us from those regions of early faith and
wonder as something beforehand accepted by the
imagination. These figures of Bunyan's are al
ready familiar inmates of the mind, and, if there
be any sublimity in him, it is the daring frankness
of his verisimilitude. Spenser's giants are those
of the later romances, except that grand figure
with the balances in the second Canto of Book V.,
the most original of all his conceptions, yet no real
giant, but a pure eidolon of the mind. As Bunyan
rises not seldom to a natural poetry, so Spenser
sinks now and then, through the fault of his topics,
to unmistakable prose. Take his description of the
House of Alma, 2 for instance :

" The master cook was cald Concoction,

A careful man, and full of comely guise ;
The kitchen-clerk, that hight Digestion,
Did order all the achates in seemly wise."

And so on through all the organs of the body.
The author of Ecclesiastes understood these mat
ters better in that last pathetic chapter of his, blun-

1 Bunyan probably took the hint of the Giant's suicidal offer
of " knife, halter, or poison," from Spenser's " swords, ropes,
poison," in Faery Queen, B. I. c. ix. 1.

2 Book IL c. 9.



324 SPENSER

deringly translated as it apparently is. This, I
admit, is the worst failure of Spenser in this kind ;
though, even here, when he gets on to the organs
of the mind, the enchantments of his fancy and
style come to the rescue and put us in good-humor
again, hard as it is to conceive of armed knights
entering the chamber of the mind, and talking with
such visionary damsels as Ambition and Shame-
fastness. Nay, even in the most prosy parts, un
less my partiality deceive me, there is an infantile
confidence in the magical powers of Prosopopreia
which half beguiles us, as of children who play that
everything is something else, and are quite satis
fied with the transformation.

The problem for Spenser was a double one : how
to commend poetry at all to a generation which
thought it effeminate trifling, 1 and how he, Master
Edmund Spenser, of imagination all compact, could
dbmmend his poetry to Master John Bull, the most
practical of mankind in his habitual mood, but at
.that moment in a passion of religious anxiety about
his soul. Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile
dulci was not only an irrefragable axiom because a
Latin poet had said it, but it exactly met the case
in point. He would convince the scorners that
poetry might be seriously useful, and show Master
Bull his new way of making fine words butter pars
nips, in a rhymed moral primer. Allegory, as then
practised, was imagination adapted for beginners,
in words of one syllable and illustrated with cuts,

1 See Sidney's Defence, and Pnttenham's Art of English Poesy,
Book I. c. 8.



SPENSER 325

and would thus serve both his ethical and pictorial
purpose. Such a primer, or a first instalment of it,
he proceeded to put forth ; but he so bordered it
with bright-colored fancies, he so often filled whole
pages and crowded the text hard in others with the
gay frolics of his pencil, that, as in the Grimani mis
sal, the holy function of the book is forgotten in the
ecstasy of its adornment. Worse than all, does not
his brush linger more lovingly along the rosy con
tours of his sirens than on the modest wimples of
the Wise Virgins ? " The general end of the book,"
he tells us in his Dedication to Sir Walter Raleigh,
" is to fashion a gentleman of noble person in virtu
ous and gentle discipline." But a little further on
he evidently has a qualm, as he thinks how gener
ously he had interpreted his promise of cuts : " To
some I know this method will seem displeasant,
which had rather have good discipline delivered
plainly in way of precepts or sermoned at large, 1 as
they use, than thus cloudily enwrapped in allegor
ical devices." Lord Burleigh was of this way of
thinking, undoubtedly, but how could poor Clarion
help it ? Has he not said,

' ' And whatso else of virtue good or ill,

Grew in this garden, fetcht from far away,
Of every one he takes and tastes at will,

And on their pleasures greedily doth prey " ?

One sometimes feels in reading him as if he were
the pure sense of the beautiful incarnated to the
one end that he might interpret it to our duller per-

1 We can fancy how he would have done this by Jeremy Taylor,
who was a kind of Spenser in a cassock.



326 SPENSER

ceptions. So exquisite was his sensibility, 1 that
with him sensation and intellection seem identical,
and we " can almost say his body thought." This
subtle interfusion of sense with spirit it is that
gives his poetry a crystalline purity without lack of
warmth. He is full of feeling, and yet of such a
kind that we can neither say it is mere intellectual
perception of what is fair and good, nor yet asso
ciate it with that throbbing fervor which leads us
to call sensibility by the physical name of heart.

Charles Lamb made the most pithy criticism of
Spenser when he called him the poets' poet. We
may fairly leave the allegory on one side, for per
haps, after all, he adopted it only for the reason
that it was in fashion, and put it on as he did his
ruff, not because it was becoming, but because it
was the only wear. The true use of him is as a
gallery of pictures which we visit as the mood takes
us, and where we spend an hour or two at a time,
long enough to sweeten our perceptions, not so long
as to cloy them. He makes one think always of
Venice ; for not only is his style Venetian, 2 but as

1 Of this he himself gives a striking hint, where speaking in his
own person he suddenly breaks in on his narrative with the pas
sionate cry,

" Ah, dearest God, me grant I dead be not defouled."

(Faery Queen, B. I. c. x. 43.)

a Was not this picture painted by Paul Veronese, for example ?
' ' Arachne figured how Jove did abuse
Europa like a bull, and on his back
Her through the sea did bear : . . .
She seemed still back unto the land to look,
And her playfellows' aid to call, and fear
The dashing of th waves, that up she took



SPENSER 327

the gallery there is housed in the shell of an aban
doned convent, so his in that of a deserted allegory.
And again, as at Venice you swim in a gondola
from Gian Bellini to Titian, and from Titian to
Tintoret, so in him, where other cheer is wanting,
the gentle sway of his measure, like the rhythmical
impulse of the oar, floats you lullingly along from
picture to picture.

" If all the pens that ever poet held
Had fed the feeling of their master's thoughts,
And every sweetness that inspired their hearts
Their minds and muses on admired themes,
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of poesy,
If these had made one poem's period,
And all combined in beauty's worthiness ;
Yet should there hover in their restless heads
One thought, one grace, one wonder at the best,
Which into words no virtue can digest." l

Spenser at his best, has come as near to expressing
this unattainable something as any other poet. He
is so purely poet that with him the meaning does
not so often modulate the music of the verse as the
music makes great part of the meaning and leads

Her dainty feet, and garments gathered near. . . .
Before the bull she pictured winged Lore,
With his young brother Sport, . . .
And many nymphs about them flocking round,
And many Tritons which their horns did sound. "

(Muiopotmos, 281-296.)

Spenser begins a complimentary sonnet prefixed to the Common
wealth and Government of Venice (1599) with this beautiful verse,
" Fail- Venice, flower of the last world's delight."

Perhaps we should read " lost " ?

1 Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Part I. Act V. 2.



328 SPENSER

the thought along its pleasant paths. No poet is
so splendidly superfluous as he ; none knows so
well that in poetry enough is not only not so good
as a feast, but is a beggarly parsimony. He spends
himself in a careless abundance only to be justified
by incomes of immortal youth.

" Pensier cannto ne molto ne poco
Si pub quivi albergare in alcun cuore ;
Non entra quivi disagio ne inopia,
Ma vi sta ogn'or col corno pien la Copia." 1

This delicious abundance and overrunning lux
ury of Spenser appear in the very structure of his
verse. He found the ottava rima too monoto
nously iterative ; so, by changing the order of his
rhymes, he shifted the couplet from the end of the
stave, where it always seems to put on the brakes
with a jar, to the middle, where it may serve at
will as a brace or a bridge ; he found it not roomy
enough, so first ran it over into another line, and
then ran that added line over into an alexandrine, in
which the melody of one stanza seems forever long
ing and feeling forward after that which is to fol
low. There is no ebb and flow in his metre more
than on the shores of the Adriatic, but wave fol
lows wave with equable gainings and recessions,
the one sliding back in fluent music to be mingled
with and carried forward by the next. In all this
there is soothingness indeed, but no slumberous
monotony ; for Spenser was no mere metrist, but a

1 " Grayheaded Thought, nor much nor little, may
Take up its lodging here in any heart ;
Unease nor Lack can enter at this door ;
But here dwells full-horned Plenty evermore."

(Or/. Fur., c. ri. 73.)



SPENSER 329

great composer. By the variety of his pauses
now at the close of the first or second foot, now of
the third, and again of the fourth he gives spirit
and energy to a measure whose tendency it certainly
is to become languorous. He knew how to make it
rapid and passionate at need, as in such verses as,

" But he, my lion, and my noble lord,
How does he find in cruel heart to hate
Her that him. loved and ever most adored
As the God of my life ? Why hath he me abhorred ? " l

or this,

" Come hither, come hither, O, come hastily ! " 2

Joseph Warton objects to Spenser's stanza, that its
"constraint led him into many absurdities." Of
these he instances three, of which I shall notice
only one, since the two others (which suppose him
at a loss for words and rhymes) will hardly seem
valid to any one who knows the poet. It is that it
" obliged him to dilate the thing to be expressed,
however unimportant, with trifling and tedious cir
cumlocutions, namely, Faery Queen, II. ii. 44 :

' Now hath fair Phoebe with her silver face

Thrice seen the shadows of this nether world,
Sith last I left that honorable place,
In which her royal presence is enrolled.'

That is, it is three months since I left her palace." 3

1 Faery Queen, I. c. iii. 7. Leigh Hunt, one of the most sympa
thetic of critics, has remarked the passionate change from the
third to the first person in the last two verses.

2 Faery Queen, II. c. viii. 3.

8 Observations on Faery Queen, vol. i. pp. 158, 159. Mr. Hughes
also objects to Spenser's measure, that it is " closed always by a
full-stop, in the same place, by which every stanza is made as it



830 SPENSER

But Dr. Warton should have remembered (what
he too often forgets in his own verses) that, in spite
of Dr. Johnson's dictum, poetry is not prose, and
that verse only loses its advantage over the latter
by invading its province. 1 Verse itself is an ab
surdity except as an expression of some higher
movement of the mind, or as an expedient to lift
other minds to the same ideal level. It is the co
thurnus which gives language an heroic stature. I
have said that one leading characteristic of Spen
ser's style was its spaciousness, that he habitually
dilates rather than compresses. But his way of
measuring time was perfectly natural in an age
when everybody did not carry a dial in his poke as
now. He is the last of the poets, who went (with
out affectation) by the great clock of the firma
ment. Dante, the miser of words, who goes by the
same timepiece, is full of these roundabout ways of
telling us the hour. It had nothing to do with
Spenser's stanza, and I for one should be sorry to

were a distinct paragraph." (Todd's Spenser, II. xli. ) But he
could hardly have read the poem attentively, for there are numer
ous instances to the contrary. Spenser was a consummate master
of versification, and not only did Marlowe and Shakespeare learn
of him, but I have little doubt that, but for the Faery Queen, we
should never have had the varied majesty of Milton's blank
Terse.

1 As where Dr. Warton himself says :
" How nearly had my spirit past,

Till stopt by Metcalf 's skilful hand,
To death's dark regions wide and waste

And the black river's mournful strand,
Or to," etc.,

to the end of the next stanza. That is, I had died but for Dr.
Metcalf 's boluses.



SPENSER 331

lose these stately revolutions of the superne ruote.
Time itself becomes more noble when so measured ;
we never knew before of how precious a commodity
we had the wasting. Who would prefer the plain
time of day to this ?

" Now when Aldebaran was mounted high
Above the starry Cassiopeia's chair ' ' ;

or this?

" By this the northern wagoner had set

His seven-fold team behind the steadfast star

That was in ocean's waves yet never wet,
But firm is fixt and sendeth light from far

To all that in the wide deep wandering are " ;

or this?

" At last the golden oriental gate

Of greatest heaven gan to open fair,
And Phoebus, fresh as bridegroom to bis mate,
Came dancing forth, shaking his dewy hair
And'hurls his glistening beams through dewy air."

The generous indefiniteness, which treats an hour
more or less as of no account, is in keeping with
that sense of endless leisures which it is one chief
merit of the poem to suggest. But Spenser's dila
tation extends to thoughts as well as to phrases
and images. He does not love the concise. Yet
his dilatation is not mere distension, but the expan
sion of natural growth in the rich soil of his own
mind, wherein the merest stick of a verse puts forth
leaves and blossoms. Here is one of his, suggested
by Homer : l

1 Iliad, XVII. 55 seqq. Referred to in Upton's note on Faery
Queen, B. I. c. vii. 32. Into what a breezy couplet trailing off
with an alexandrine has Homer's icvoial iramoiwv avt^w ex-



832 SPENSER

" Upon the top of all his lofty crest
A bunch of hairs discolored diversly,
With sprinkled pearl and gold full richly drest,
Did shake, and seemed to dance for jollity ;
Like to an almond-tree ymounted high
On top of green Selinus all alone
With blossoms brave bedecked daintily,
Whose tender locks do tremble every one

At every little breath that under heaven is blown."

And this is the way he reproduces five pregnant
rerses of Dante :

" Seggendo in pinrna
In fama non si vien, ne sotto coltre,
Senza la qual chi sua vita consuma,
Cotal vestigio in terra di se lascia
Qual fnmo in aere ed in acqua la scliiuma." 1

" Whoso in pomp of proud estate, quoth she,
Does swim, and bathes himself in courtly bliss,
Does waste his days in dark obscurity
And in oblivion ever buried is ;
Where ease abounds it 'a eath to do amiss :
But who his limbs with labors and his mind
Behaves with cares, cannot so easy miss.

panded ! Chapman unfortunately has slurred this passage in his
version, and Pope tittivated it more than usual in his. I have no
other translation at hand. Marlowe was so taken by this passage
in Spenser that he put it bodily into his Tamburlaine.
i Inferno, XXIV. 46-52.

" For sitting upon down,
Or under quilt, one cometh not to fame,
Withonten which whoso his life consumes
Such vestige leaveth of himself on earth
As smoke in air or in the water foam."

(Longfellow.)

It shows how little Dante was read during the last century that
none of the commentators on Spenser notice his most important
obligations to the great Tuscan.



SPENSER 333

Abroad in arms, at home in studious kind,
Who seeks with painful toil shall Honor soonest find.


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