« PreviousContinue »
sible and pleasing, being coloured with an historical fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for variety of matter then for profite of the ensample, I chose the Historye of King Arthure, as most fitte for the excellency of his person, being made famous by many mens former workes, and also furthest from the daunger of envy, and suspition of present time. In which I have followed all the antique poets historicall; first Homere, who in the persons of Agamemnon and Ulysses hath ensampled a good governour and a vertuous man, the one in his Ilias, the other in his Odysseis; then Virgil, whose like intention was to doe in the person of Æneas; after him Ariosto comprised them both in his Orlando; and lately Tasso dissevered them again, and formed both parts in two persons, namely that part which they in philosophy call Ethice, or vertues of a private man, coloured in his Rinaldo; the other named Politice in his Godfredo. By ensample of which excellente poets, I labour to pourtraict in Arthure, before he was king, the image of a brave Knight, perfected in the twelve private Morall Vertues, as Aristotle hath devised; the which is the purpose of these first twelve bookes: which if I finde to be well accepted, I may be perhaps encoraged to frame the other part of Polliticke Vertues in his person, after that hee came to be king. To some I know this methode will seem displeasaunt, which had rather have good discipline delivered plainly in way of precepts, or sermoned at large, as they use, then thus clowdily enwrapped in allegorical devises. But such, me seeme, should be satisfide with the use of these days, seeing all things accounted by their showes, and nothing esteemed of, that is not delightfull and pleasing to commune sence. For this cause is Xenophon preferred before Plato, for that the one, in the exquisite depth of his iudgement, formed a communewelth, such as it should be;
but the other in the person of Cyrus, and the Persians, fashioned a government, such as might best be; so much more profitable and gratious is doctrine by ensample, then by rule. So have I laboured to do in the person of Arthure: whom I conceive, after his long education by Timon, to whom he was by Merlin delivered to be brought up, so soone as he was borne of the Lady Igrayne, to have seene in a dream or vision the Faery Queene, with whose excellent beauty ravished, he awaking resolved to seeke her out; and so being by Merlin armed, and by Timon throughly instructed, he went to seeke her forth in Faerye land. In that Faery Queene I meane Glory in my generall intention, but in my particular I conceive the most excellent and glorious person of our soveraine the Queene, and her kingdom in Faery Land. And yet, in some places els, I do otherwise shadow her. For considering she beareth two persons, the one of a most royal Queene or Empress, the other of a most vertuous and beautifull Lady, this latter part in some places I doe express in Belphoebe, fashioning her name according to your owne excellent conceipt of Cynthia : Phoebe and Cynthia being both names of Diana. So in the person of Prince Arthure I sette forth Magnificence in particular; which Vertue, for that (according to Aristotle and the rest) it is the perfection of all the rest, and conteineth in it them all, therefore in the whole course I mention the deeds of Arthure applyable to that Vertue, which I write of in that Booke. But of the xii. other Vertues, I make xii. other Knights the patrones, for the more variety of the history Of which these three Bookes contayn three.
The first of the Knight of the Redcrosse, in whom I expresse Holynes: The seconde of Sir Guyon, in whome I sette forth Temperaunce: The third of Britomartis a Lady Knight, in whome I picture Chastity. But, because the be
ginning of the whole worke seemeth abrupte and as depending upon other antecedents, it needs that ye know the occasion of these three Knights severall Adventures. For the methode of a poet historical is not such, as of an historiographer. For an historiographer discourseth of affayres orderly as they were donne, accounting as well the times as the actions; but a poet thrusteth into the middest, even where it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to the thinges forepaste, and divining of thinges to come, maketh a pleasing analysis of all.
The beginning therefore of my History, if it were to be told by an historiographer, should be the twelfth Booke, which is the last; where I devise that the Faery Queene kept her annual feaste xii. days; uppon which xii. severall dayes, the occasions of the xii. severall Adventures hapned, which, being undertaken by xii. severall Knights, are in these xii. Bookes severally handled and discoursed. The first was this. In the beginning of the feast, there presented himselfe a tall clownishe younge man, who falling before the Queene of Faeries desired a boone (as the manner then was) which during that feast she might not refuse; which was that hee might have the atchievement of any Adventure, which during that feaste should happen. That being graunted, he rested him on the floore, unfitte through his rusticity for a better place. Soone after entred a faire Ladye in mourning weedes, riding on a white asse, with a Dwarfe behind her leading a warlike steed, that bore the arms of a Knight, and his speare in the Dwarfes hand. Shee, falling before the Queene of Faeries, complaynd that her father and mother, an ancient King and Queene, had bene by an huge Dragon many years shut up in a brasen Castle, who thence suffred them not to yssew: and therefore besought the Faerie Queene to assygne her some one
of her Knights to take on him that exployt. Presently that clownish person, upstarting, desired that Adventure: whereat the Queene much wondering, and the Lady much gainesaying, yet he earnestly importuned his desire. In the end the Lady told him, that unlesse that armour which she brought, would serve him (that is, the armour of a Christian man specified by St. Paul, vi. Ephes.) that he could not succeed in that enterprise: which being forthwith put upon him with dew furnitures thereunto, he seemed the goodliest man in al that company, and was well liked of the Lady. And eftesoones1 taking on him knighthood, and mounting on that straunge courser, he went forth with her on that Adventure: where beginneth the first Booke, viz.
A gentle Knight was pricking on the playne, &c.
The second day there came in a Palmer bearing an Infant with bloody hands, whose parents he complained to have bene slayn by an Enchantresse called Acrasia: and therefore craved of the Faery Queene, to appoint him some Knight to performe that Adventure; which being assigned to Sir Guyon, he presently went forth with that same Palmer which is the beginning of the second Booke, and the whole subiect thereof. The third day there came in a Groome, who complained before the Faery Queene, that a vile Enchaunter, called Busirane, had in hand a most faire Lady, called Amoretta, whom he kept in most grievous torment, because she would not yield him the pleasure of her body. Whereupon Sir Scudamour, the lover of that Lady, presently tooke on him that Adventure. But being unable to performe it by reason of the hard enchauntments, after long sorrow, in the end met with Britomartis, who succoured him, and reskewed his Love.
1 Eftesoones, immediately.
But, by occasion hereof, many other Adventures are intermedled; but rather as accidents then intendments: as the Love of Britomart, the Overthrow of Marinell, the Misery of Florimell, the Vertuousnes of Belphœbe, the Lasciviousnes of Hellenora; and many the like.
Thus much, Sir, I have briefly overronne to direct your understanding to the wel-head of the History; that, from thence gathering the whole intention of the conceit, ye may as in a handful gripe al the discourse, which otherwise may happily seem tedious and confused. So, humbly craving the continuance of your honourable favour towards me, and th' eternall establishment of your happines, I humbly take leave.
23. Ianuary 1589.
Yours most humbly affectionate,