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is thinking of, and not Temperance or Chastity. The interest, too, which the reader feels, is a warm flesh-and-blood interest, not in the delineation of a virtue, but in the adventures of a knight or lady. It is Una-the trembling, tearful womanfor whom our hearts are moved with pity, and not forsaken Truth. We may fairly doff the allegory aside, and let it pass, and the poem will lose little or nothing of its charm. The grand procession of stately and beautiful forms, the chivalrous glow, the stirring adventures, the noble sentiments, the picturesque descriptions, the delicious poetry, would all be left unimpaired.
Sir Walter Scott, in his review of Todd's Spenser, from which we have before quoted, regrets that more has not been done to explain Spenser's historical allusions, and says that "The ingenuity of a commentator would have been most usefully employed in deciphering what, for avoiding of jealous opinions and misconstructions,' our author did not choose to leave open to the contemporary reader." Still, I cannot but think that the general reader, especially on this side of the water, loses little or nothing by his ignorance of allusions to the forgotten events and obsolete scandal of a by-gone age. The literary antiquarian may amuse himself in ransacking minute chronicles and family histories in this pursuit, but most readers will feel indifferent to the "spoils of time" which may reward his search. Who can have much interest in the solution of the questions whether the rebellion of the O'Neals be imaged in the episode of the babe with bloody hands, in the Second Book? or whether or not Sir Satyrane is a representative of Sir John Perrott? What are Sir John Perrott and the rebellion of the O'Neals to us? "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?" The obvious allusions are not to be mistaken; and the more obscure ones can only rest upon conjecture, which may or may not be correct.
The author of the Life of Spenser prefixed to this edition remarks with truth, that he has been more talked of than read, and less talked of than he really deserves. His has been one of the great names in English literature; but Shakspeare and Milton have had twenty readers where he has had one. He was deficient in some of the qualities essential to a poet of the very first order; but those which he did have, he had in their
highest degree. He had not that variety of power which belonged to Shakspeare so preeminently, and, in an inferior degree, to Chaucer, who, but for his antiquated diction, would rank next to Shakspeare in popularity, as he does in universality. We look in vain in "The Faerie Queene" for flashes of wit and humor, for profound observations on life and manners, for the varied lights and shades of character, or the pungent flavor of satire. Nor has he that vivid energy of passion which concentrates a world of meaning into a few burning words, and penetrates to the heart's core with the quick, irresistible energy of lightning. His poetry is a pure creation of the fancy. He transports us into an ideal world, in which shapes of perfect beauty and grace are contrasted with forms of hideous or loathsome deformity. We walk upon a new earth, and beneath a new heaven, where the light that shines is a "light that never was on sea or land." "The Faerie Queene" is the delight of imaginative youth, and of men who have preserved in manhood the freshness of early feeling, and ceased not "to reverence the dreams of their youth." The petrifying influence to which all men engaged in the struggles and toils of active life are exposed, and to which so many of them yield, destroys all relish for the tranquil and passionless beauty of Spenser's muse. He who, at forty, reads "The Faerie Queene" with as much delight as at twenty, is pretty sure to be a wise and a happy man.
Spenser, in his poetical character, belongs to the same class as Milton and Wordsworth, and not as Shakspeare. He impresses his own image upon the creations of his muse. His poetry is marked with the peculiarities, and tinged with the hues, of his own personal nature. He is not one who looks at things ab extra, and points them out to us exactly as they are. He does not "hold the mirror up to nature," but permits us to see it through the medium of his own mind. The same atmosphere of sensibility and mild melancholy hangs over all that he has written. The heart of the man beats through the lines of the poet. He animates his creations by transfusing his own soul into them; and in "The Faerie Queene" he has unconsciously drawn his own character. Herein we may discern another reason for its limited popularity.
He had evidently a high opinion of his own art, and felt for poetry itself that respect without which no man can be a poet. With him, it was not a pastime, or a relief from graver employments, but was itself the great business of his life. To this he dedicated the entire faculties of his mind, in the prime and vigor of his manhood. He approached the composition of "The Faerie Queene" with a seriousness of resolve not unlike that solemn mood of mind, in which Milton has told us that he himself meditated upon the plan of "Paradise Lost." He brought to his task a native vein of genius, enriched by a life of mingled study and observation, retirement and action; and the subject which he selected, by its very departure from the formal epic model, was peculiarly adapted to the fanciful and romantic character of his mind. Of the creative power, "the vision and the faculty divine," which is so paramount an ingredient in the composition of poetical genius, he had a large share. Borrowing freely from other poets, and drawing abundantly upon the copious stores of both classical and romantic literature, he is yet every where original, and never a servile imitator. Few poems, indeed, have a more undoubted claim to the character of original than "The Faerie Queene." It flows, warm and glowing, from the poet's heart. It is a creation, and not a manufacture. Its great and obvious merits are, luxuriance and splendor of description, and elaborate melody of versification. As a descriptive poet, Spenser has never been excelled. He was himself, evidently, a man of great delicacy of organization, and tremulously sensitive to all impressions of beauty, and endowed, too, with a painter's accuracy of eye and perception of forms. He is sufficiently minute to be picturesque, and yet leaves something for the imagination to do. There is no single term which characterizes his descriptions so exactly as vividness. His wealth of language enabled him to reproduce in poetry the fervid and glowing conceptions of his own mind. His portraits are full of breathing life, and the verdure and bloom of his landscapes call up before the reader's mind the dewy freshness of a morning in June. Upon his more elaborate pictures, as that of the Bower of Bliss, in the Second Book, he lavishes a careless prodigality of power, which shows his own confidence in the boundless extent of his in
tellectual resources. Such passages remind us of the splendors of tropical scenery, where the fertility of the soil manifests itself in the grandest and wildest forms of vegetable life, and where the massiveness of the forest foliage and the hues and odors of unnumbered flowers alike attest the profusion with which the wealth of nature has been poured out.
Spenser's extraordinary power of versification is felt by every one who has ever read even a page of "The Faerie Queene." The stanza which he first made use of, and which is called by his name, is capable of great expression, and may be readily adapted to every form of poetical composition; but it is also one of much difficulty, and not easily managed by an inferior artist. Its fulness and richness, its flowing melody, and the stately cadence with which it closes, commend it to the ear by the varied music of which it is susceptible, and to the mind by the breadth and expansion which can be given to the images and sentiments expressed by it. But it is apt to become languid and monotonous in its mechanical execution, and to dilute the thought or illustration to a wearisome extent, in order to make it reach through the whole nine lines. As Spenser was the first to make use of this stanza, he has also been by far the most successful; and of the many who have been led by his example to adopt it, no one has equalled, and few have approached him. One cannot but wonder at the power with which, to the end of so long a poem, he sustains this difficult form of versification, and pours forth stanza after stanza, without fatigue and apparently without effort. His wings never flag for a moment, and his verse flows with unbroken ease and sweetness to the last. His power of versification is most conspicuous in those level passages, which have no other object than to carry on the story, and where the higher faculties of the poet are not called into play. In these, the stanzas are so flowing and graceful, that we perceive little or no departure from the natural order of the words; no tacit recognitions of the difficulty of the task, appearing in the form of harsh inversions, labored transpositions, and clumsy parentheses. Lord Eldon is said to have amused himself with making the ballad of Chevy Chase the foundation of a bill in equity, and we have no doubt that Spenser could have versified the dullest and driest bill in equity that ever was drafted. The only trophies wrung from him by the difficulties
of his stanza are verbal ones. For the rhyme's sake, he occasionally misspells words, as retrate for retreat, heare for hair, &c.; or coins new ones, as wonderment, habitaunce, &c.; or introduces them from a foreign tongue, as viznomie, mesprise, &c. To this cause, also, many of his Latinisms are to be attributed. With these exceptions, his style is remarkable for its idiomatic purity; and no one can flatter himself that he has mastered the wealth of the English tongue, who has not devoted his days and nights to the poetry of Spenser.
The world has seen so many instances of poetical genius without moral feeling, that we derive peculiar pleasure from seeing them combined, as in Spenser. His poetry has that crowning merit, which flows from the purity and elevation of the moral nature. He was obviously a good man as well as a great poet; a tender husband, an affectionate father, faithful in friendship, of generous sentiments, free from envy and malignity, of a pure life and conversation, and sincerely religious. His mind was deeply imbued with religious principle, and glowed with devotional fervor. He had evidently been a profound student of the Scriptures; and no poet, except Milton, has drawn so largely from their sublime and beautiful imagery. His sensibility and the warmth of his affections are continually manifesting themselves in the most touching forms. His dignity of sentiment is among the most conspicuous of his literary excellences. His noble nature finds its most congenial employment in the contemplation of those qualities which most ennoble and exalt humanity; and no poet has left more inspiriting exhortations to the habitual practice of them. His extravagant admiration of warlike prowess, and the perpetual clash of arms which sounds through "The Faerie Queene," are caught from the spirit of the age in which he lived, which was illumined with the dying glories of chivalry, and in which so many of the most intellectual men, such as Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh, were successful soldiers. The same apology is to be offered for those few passages in which pictures are presented to us over which the decorum of modern times would draw a veil. In these, however, he offends merely against good taste and a refined sense of propriety, and never against good morals. He never panders to a base appetite, or presents an image for the obvious purpose of inflaming. Such passages differ from the