Slike strani

poet of the age. He was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey, near the tomb of Chaucer.

$ 5. Spenser's greatest work, The Faery Queen, is a poem whose subject is chivalric, narrative, and descriptive, but, above everything else, allegorical. Its execution is derived "The Faery in a great degree from Boiardo and Ariosto, and, in Queen." point of chronology, it comes very soon after the Gerusalemme Liberata of Tasso. It was originally planned to consist of twelve books or moral adventures, each typifying the triumph of a Virtue, and couched under the form of an exploit of knight-errantry. The hero of the whole was to be the mythical Prince Arthur, the type, in Spenser, of perfect virtue, just as he is the ideal hero of a vast collection of medieval legends. This fabulous personage is supposed to fall in love with the Faëry Queen, who appears to him in a dream; and, arriving at the court in the land of Faery, he finds her holding her annual twelve days' festival. Upon these twelve days arise the occasions of the adventures which were to be related in the twelve books of the poem, each of them being undertaken by some knight of the court of Gloriana, Queen of the land of Faery. The First Book relates the expedition of the Red-cross Knight, the allegorical type of Holiness, to rescue the ancestral realm of his mistress Una, the representative of Religion, from the foul dragon of Heresy. The Second Book tells the adventures of Sir Guyon, or Temperance; and the Third, those of Britomartis, or Chastity. It must be remarked that each of these books is subdivided into twelve cantos, and that the poem, even in the imperfect form under which we possess it, is consequently very voluminous.

These first three books were published, we have said, in 1590, and dedicated to Elizabeth. The three following books, which appeared in 1596, contain the following legends: in the Fourth we find the Legend of Cambell and Triamond, an allegory of Friendship; in the Fifth, the Legend of Artegall, or of Justice; and in the Sixth, the Legend of Sir Calidore, or of Courtesy. Thus half of the original design was executed. What progress Spenser made in the six remaining books it is now impossible to ascertain. There are traditions which assert that this latter portion was completed, but that the manuscript was lost at sea; while the more probable theory is that Spenser had no time to complete his extensive plan, but that the dreadful misfortunes amid which his life ended prevented him from bringing it to perfection. The extant fragment, consisting of two cantos and two stanzas of a third upon the theme of Mutability was to have been inserted, according to tradition, in the legend of Constancy, one of the books projected. The vigour, invention, and splendour of expression that flow so brightly in the first three books manifestly decline in the fourth, fifth, and sixth; and we need not, perhaps, regret that the poet never completed so vast a


Its defects.

design, whose very nature necessitated a monotony that not all the fertility of genius could have obviated. We may apply to The Faery Queen the paradox of Hesiod, the half is more than the whole." In this poem three different Composition of the poem. elements are united which at first sight would appear almost irreconcilable. The skeleton or framework of the action is derived from the feudal or chivalric legends; the ethical or moral sentiment from the lofty ideal philosophy of Plato, which is harmonised, in a manner agreeing with the general tone of contemporary education at Cambridge, with the most elevated Christian purity; while the form and colour of the language and versification is saturated in the flowing grace and sensuous elegance of the great Italian poets of the Renaissance. The principal defects of The Faery Queen, as a whole, arise from two causes apparently opposed, yet conveying a similar impression to the reader. The first is a want of unity, which involves a loss of interest in the story; for we altogether forget Arthur, the nominal hero of the whole, as we follow each separate adventure of the subordinate knights. Each book is therefore intrinsically a separate poem, and excites a separate interest. The other defect is the monotony of character inseparable from a series of adventures which, although varied with an inexhaustible fertility, are all, from their chivalric nature, fundamentally similar, being either combats between one knight and another, or between the hero of the moment and some supernatural being a monster, a dragon, or a wicked enchanter. these contests, however brilliantly painted, we feel little or no suspense, for we are beforehand nearly certain of the victory of the hero; and, even were this otherwise, the knowledge that the valiant champion is himself nothing but the impersonation of some abstract quality or virtue would be fatal to that interest with which we follow the vicissitudes of human fortune. Hardly any degree of genius or invention can long sustain the interest of an allegory; and where Bunyan's intense realism has only partially succeeded, the unreal phantasmagoria of Spenser's imagination, brilliant as it was, could not do other than fail. The strongest proof of the justice of these remarks will be found in the fact that those who read Spenser with the greatest delight are precisely those who, entirely neglecting the moral lessons typified in his allegory, endeavour to follow his heroes' adventures as they would follow those of human beings, voluntarily surrendering themselves to the mighty magic of his unequalled imagination. Another result to be deduced from the above considerations is, that Spenser, although extremely monotonous and tiresome to the ordinary reader who determines to plod doggedly through two or three successive books of The Fairy Queen, is the most enchanting of poets to him who, endowed with a lively fancy, confines his attention to one or two at a time of his delightful episodes, descriptions, or impersona



tions. Independently of the general allegorical meaning of the persons and adventures, it must be remembered that many of these were also intended to contain allusions to Contem- facts and individuals of Spenser's own time, and allusions in particularly to convey compliments to his friends "The Faery and patrons. Thus Gloriana, the Faëry Queen Queen." herself, as well as the beautiful huntress Belphoebe, were intended to allude to Elizabeth; Sir Artegall, the Knight of Justice, is Lord Grey; and the adventures of the Red-cross Knight shadow forth the history of the Anglican Church. In all probability a multitude of such allusions, now become obscure, were clear enough, when the poem first appeared, to those who were familiar with the courtly and political life of the time; but the modern reader will little regret the dimness in which time has plunged these references, for they serve only to the further complication of an allegory which of itself often detracts from the charm and interest of the narrative.

the Second Book of the


§ 6. A rapid analysis of the Second Book, or Legend of Temperance, will give some idea of Spenser's mode of conducting his allegory. In Canto I the wicked enAnalysis of chanter Archimago, meeting Sir Guyon, informs him that a fair lady, supposed by the knight to be Una, but in reality the false Duessa, has been foully outraged by the Red-cross Knight. Guyon, led by Archimago, meets the Red-cross Knight, and is on the point of attacking him, when the two champions recognise each other, and, after courteous conference, part. Sir Guyon then hears the despairing cry of a lady, and finds Amavia, newly stabbed, lying beside the dead body of Sir Mordant, and holding in her lap a babe with his hands stained by his mother's blood. After relating her story the lady dies. Canto II describes Sir Guyon's unsuccessful attempts to wash the babe's bloody hands. He then finds his steed gone, and proceeds on foot to the castle of the lady Medina, or Golden Mean, where dwell also her two sisters, Elissa and Perissa-Too Little and Too Much-with their knights. Canto III contains the adventures of the boaster Braggadocchio, who steals Guyon's steed, and, with his man Trompart, meets Archimago and the fair Belphœbe. Belphœbe herself is described with consummate beauty. In Canto IV Guyon delivers the youth Phedon from the violence of Furor and the malignity of the hag Occasion. In Canto V he fights with Pyrochles, who unbinds Furor, and is then wounded by him; and Atin, Pyrochles' varlet, flies to obtain the aid of Cymochles. Canto VI gives a rich and most exquisite picture of the temptation of Guyon by the Lady of the Idle Lake, and contains the fight with Cymochles. In Canto VII is contained the admirable description of the Cave of Mammon, who tempts Sir Guyon with the sight of his subterranean riches. Canto VIII shows how Guyon, falling into a trance, is disarmed by the sons of Acrates, and delivered

by Arthur. Canto IX describes the House of Temperance, the body, inhabited by Alma, the soul-a beautiful descrip tion, in which each bodily part and mental faculty is typified. Canto X gives a chronicle, from a book found by Guyon in Alma's house, of the ancient British kings down to the reign of Gloriana, or Elizabeth. In Canto XI the Castle of Temperance is besieged, and delivered by Arthur. In the twelfth and last Canto we have Guyon's attack upon the Bower of Bliss, and the ultimate defeat of Acrasia, or Sensual Pleasure. From this very rough and meagre analysis, which is all that the present limits will permit, the reader may in some measure judge of the conduct of the fable in Spenser's great poem.

§ 7. The versification of the work is founded upon a peculiar stanza, derived from the ottava rima so universally employed by the romantic and narrative poets of Italy, and made familiar by the masterpieces of Tasso and Spenser's versification. Ariosto. To the eight lines, each of ten syllables, which compose this form of metre, Spenser's exquisite taste and consummate ear for harmony induced him to add a ninth, which, being of twelve syllables, winds up each phrase with a long lingering cadence of the most delicious melody. We have already observed how extensively the forms of Italian versification-as in the various examples of the sonnet and the heroic stanza-had been adopted by the English poets; and we have insisted, particularly in the case of Chaucer, on the skill with which our language, naturally rude, monosyllabic, and unharmonious, had been softened into melody until, in power of musical expression, it was little inferior to the tongues of Southern Europe. None of our poets is more exquisitely and uniformly musical than Spenser. Indeed, the sweetness and fluency of his verse is sometimes carried so far as to become cloying and enervating. The metre he employed was very complicated, and made the frequent recurrence of similar rhymes in each stanza necessary—namely, four of one ending, three of another, and two of a third. Consequently, he was obliged to take considerable liberties with the orthography and accentuation of the English language. In doing this, in giving to our metallic northern speech the flexibility of the liquid Italian, he shows himself as unscrupulous as masterly. By employing an immense number of old Chaucerian words and provincialisms, and even by inventing occasional words himself, he furnishes his verse with an inexhaustible and various vocabulary; but at the same time the reader must remember that much of this was a dialect that never really existed. Its peculiarities have been less permanent than those of almost any other of our great writers.

§ 8. The power of Spenser's genius consists not in any deep analysis of human passion or feeling, nor in any skill in the delineation of character, but in an unequalled richness of ENG. LIT.



description, in the art of representing events and objects with an intensity that makes them visible and tangible. He describes to the eye, and communicates to the airy General char- conceptions of allegory the splendour and vivacity of visible objects. He has the exhaustless fertility of Titian, with something of the same voluptuous richness of colour. Among his other poems, the most important are Mother Hubbard's Tale (in the Complaints of 1591); Minor poems. his famous elegies, Daphnaida and Astrophel, the first on the wife of his friend Arthur Gorges, the second on Sir Philip Sidney; all his sonnets, and, above all, the magnificent Epithalamion, one of the richest and most chaste marriagehymns in all literature, full of warmth, dignity, intense passion, and noble elevation and purity of sentiment. Here, too, as well as in innumerable passages of The Faery Queen, we see the influence of the lofty and abstract philosophical idea of the identity between Beauty and Virtue, which Spenser found in his Platonic studies.


§ 9. The name of SIR PHILIP SIDNEY Occurs so frequently in the literary history of the age, and had so powerful an influence upon the intellectual progress of his time, that SIR PHILIP any notice of the period necessarily demands some (1554-1586). allusion to his life. He was the son of Sir Henry Sidney of Penshurst in Kent, and, on his mother's side, nephew of Robert Dudley, the famous Earl of Leicester. His father held many honourable offices under the Crown, and made his mark in history as Lord Deputy of Ireland Life. from 1565 to 1571 and 1575 to 1578. While he was Lord President of Wales, in 1564, he sent his son to Shrewsbury School. In 1568, the boy passed from Shrewsbury to Christ Church, Oxford. It is hardly necessary to give any detailed account of his career as a courtier and diplomatist, which lasted from 1572 till his death in 1586. He united in his own person almost all the most fascinating qualities, whether natural or acquired-nobility of birth, beauty of person, bravery, generosity, learning, and courtesy, and he has been reckoned ever since as the beau idéal of the courtier, soldier, and scholar. His most abiding intellectual impressions seem to have been derived from his friendship with Hubert Languet, a distinguished Huguenot scholar whom he met at Frankfort in 1573. Although much concerned with politics, his real interest lay in the direction of letters, and his high position at Court gave him the headship of that literary coterie of which both Gabriel Harvey and Spenser were members. Owing partly to a quarrel on a point of etiquette with the Earl of Oxford, who was also at the head of a literary clique, and partly to his openly expressed objections to the Queen's proposed marriage with the Duke of Anjou, afterwards Henry III of France, Sidney vanished from Court in 1580, and retired to Wilton, near Salisbury, the seat of his brother-in-law, Lord Pembroke.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »