« PreviousContinue »
logia Deorum, a work of prodigious erudition for that age, and full of the gusto of a man of genius. According to Boccaccio, Demogorgon (Spirit Earthworker) was the great deity of the rustical Arcadians, and the creator of all things out of brute matter. He describes him as a pale and sordid-looking wretch, inhabiting the centre of the earth, all over moss and dirt, squalidly wet, and emitting an earthy smell; and he laughs at the credulity of the ancients in thinking to make a god of such a fellow. He is very glad, however, to talk about him; and doubtless had a lurking respect for him, inasmuch as mud and dirt are among the elements of things material, and therefore partake of a certain mystery and divineness.
7 Legions of sprites, the which like little flies.
Flies are old embodiments of evil spirits ;—Anacreon forbids us to call them incarnations, in reminding us that insects are fleshless and bloodless, avaiμoσagna. Beelzebub signifies the Lord of Flies.
8 The world of waters wide and deep.
How complete a sense of the ocean under one of its aspects! Spenser had often been at sea, and his pictures of it, or in connexion with it, are frequent and fine accordingly, superior perhaps to those of any other English poet, Milton certainly, except in that one famous imaginative passage in which he describes a fleet at a distance as seeming to " hang in the clouds." And Shakspeare throws himself wonderfully into a storm at sea, as if he had been in the thick of it; though it is not known that he ever quitted the land. But nobody talks so much about the sea, or its inhabitants, or its voyagers, as Spenser. He was well acquainted with the Irish Channel. Coleridge observes, (ut sup.) that "one of Spenser's arts is that of alliteration, which he uses with great effect in doubling the impression of an image." The verse above noticed is a beautiful example.
9 To Morpheus' house doth hastily repair, &c Spenser's earth is not the Homeric earth, a circular flat, or disc,
studded with mountains, and encompassed with the "ocean Neither is it in all cases a globe. We must take his cosmography as we find, and as he wants it; that is to say, poetically, and according to the feeling required by the matter in hand. In the present instance, we are to suppose a precipitous country striking gloomily and far downwards to a cavernous sea-shore, in which the bed of Morpheus is placed, the ends of its curtains dipping and fluctuating in the water, which reaches it from underground. The door is towards a flat on the land-side, with dogs lying "far before it ;" and the moonbeams reach it, though the sun never does. The passage is imitated from Ovid (Lib. ii., ver. 592), but with wonderful concentration, and superior home appeal to the imagination. Ovid will have no dogs, nor any sound at all but that of Lethe rippling over its pebbles. Spenser has dogs, but afar off, and a lulling sound overhead of wind and rain. These are the sounds that men delight to hear in the intervals of their own sleep.
10 Wrapt in eternal silence, far from enemies.
The modulation of this most beautiful stanza (perfect, except for the word tumbling) is equal to that of the one describing the hermitage, and not the less so for being less varied both in pauses and in vowels, the subject demanding a greater monotony. A poetical reader need hardly be told, that he should humor such verses with a corresponding tone in the recital. Indeed it is difficult to read them without lowering or deepening the voice, as though we were going to bed ourselves, or thinking of the rainy night that lulled us. A long rest at the happy pause in the last line, and then a strong accent on the word far, put us in possession of all the remoteness of the scene ;—and it is improved, if we make a similar pause at heard:
No other noise, or people's troublous cries,
Might there be heard ;-but careless quiet lies,
Upton, one of Spenser's commentators, in reference to the
trickling stream, has quoted in his note on this passage some fine lines from Chaucer, in which, describing the "dark valley" of Sleep, the poet says there was nothing whatsoever in the place, save that,
A few wells
Came running fro the clyffes adowne,
Sowne (in the old spelling) is also Spenser's word. In the text of the present volume it is written soun', to show that it is the same as the word sound without the d-like the French and Italian, son, suono.
""Tis hardly possible," says Upton, "for a more picturesque description to come from a poet or a painter than this whole magical scene."-See Todd's Variorum Spenser, vol. ii., p. 38.
Meantime, the magician has been moulding a shape of air to represent the virtuous mistress of the knight; and when the dream arrives, he sends them both to deceive him, the one sitting by his head and abusing "the organs of his fancy" (as Milton says of the devil with Eve), and the other behaving in a manner very unlike her prototype. The delusion succeeds for a time.
11 A fit false dream that can delude the sleeper's sent.
Scent, sensation, perception. Skinner says that sent, which we falsely write scent, is derived a sentiendo. The word is thus frequently spelt by Spenser.-TODD.
21A diverse dream." -"A dream," says Upton, "that would occasion diversity or distraction; or a frightful, hideous dream, from the Italian, sogno diverso."-Dante, Inferno, canto vi.
Cerbero, fiera crudele e diversa.
(Cerberus, the fierce beast, cruel and diverse.)
Inferno, Orlando Innamorato, Lib. i., canto 4, stanza 66.
Un grido orribile e diverso.
(There rose a cry, horrible and diverse), &c.
See Todd's Edition, as above, p. 42.
The obvious sense, however, as in the case of Dante's Cerberus, I take to be monstrously varied,—inconsistent with itself. The dream is to make the knight's mistress contradict her natural character.
THE CAVE OF MAMMON
GARDEN OF PROSERPINE.
Sir Guyon, crossing a desert, finds Mammon sitting amidst his gold in a gloomy valley. Mammon, taking him down into his. cave, tempts him with the treasures there, and also with those in the Garden of Proserpine
"Spenser's strength," says Hazlitt, "is not strength of will or action, of bone and muscle, nor is it coarse and palpable; but it assumes a character of vastness and sublimity seen through the same visionary medium" (he has just been alluding to one), and blended with the appalling associations of preternatural agency. We need only turn in proof of this to the Cave of Despair, or the Cave of Mammon, or to the account of the change of Malbecco into Jealousy."-Lectures, p. 77.
THAT house's form within was rude and strong, 13
From whose rough vault the ragged branches hung
Her cunning web, and spread her subtle net,
Both roof and floor, and walls were all of gold,
But a faint shadow of uncertain light;
Such as a lamp, whose life does fade away;
Does show to him that walks in fear and sad affright.
In all that room was nothing to be seen,
But huge great iron chests and coffers strong,
All barr'd with double bands, that none could ween
Them to enforce by violence or wrong;
On every side they placed were along;
But all the ground with skulls was scattered,
And dead men's bones, which round about were flung, Whose lives (it seemed) whilome there were shed, And their vile carcases now left unburièd.
They forward pass, nor Guyon yet spake word,
Nor ever could within one place be found,
The charge thereof unto a covetous sprite
Then Mammon turning to that warrior, said: "Lo here the worldè's bliss! lo here the end, To which all men do aim, rich to be made! Such grace now to be happy is before thee laid."
"Certes" (said he) "I n'ill thine offered grace,14
To them that list, these base regards I lend;
14 N'ill, ne-will, will not.