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PLAN OF “THE FAERIE QUEENE.”
and lost by a careless servant, or during the poet's voyage to Eng. land, is very improbable. Spenser had only time between 1596 and his death to write two cantos and a fragment of a third. Hallam justly says, “The short interval before the death of this great poet was filled up by calamities sufficient to wither the fertility of
mind.” Prince Arthur, who is chosen as the hero of the poem, falls in love with the Faerie Queene, and, armed by Merlin, sets out to seek her in Faery Land. She is supposed to hold her annual feast for twelve days, during which twelve adventures are achieved by twelve knights, who represent, allegorically, certain virtues.
The Red-Crosse Knight, or Holiness, achieves the adventure of the first and finest book. In spite of the plots of the wizard Archimago (Hypocrisy) and the wiles of the witch Duessa (Falsehood), he slays the dragon that ravaged the kingdom of Una's father, and thus wins the hand of that fair princess, (Truth.) Sir Guyon, or Temperance, is the hero of the second adventure; Britomartis, or Chastity-a Lady-Knight-of the third ; Cambel and Triamond, typifying Friendship, of the fourth; Artegall, or Justice, of the fifth; Sir Calidore, or Courtesy, of the sixth. The six books form a descending scale of merit. The first two have the fresh bloom of genius upon them; the third contains some exquisite pictures of womanhood, coloured with the light of poetic fancy; but in the last three the divine fire is seen only in fitful and uncertain flashes. It was not that the poet had written himself out, but he had been tempted to aim at achieving too much. Not content with giving us the most exquisite pictures of chivalrous life that have ever been limned in English words, and at the same time enforcing with some success lessons of true morality and virtue, he attempted to interweave with his bright allegories the history of his own day. Thus Gloriana the Faerie Queene, and Belphoebe the huntress, represent Elizabeth; Artegall is Lord Grey; Envy is intended for poor Mary Stuart. Spenser's flattery of Queen Bess, whose red wig becomes in his melodious verse “yellow locks, crisped like golden wire,” is outrageous. It was a fashion of the day, to be sure ; and, after all, poets are only human.
TIIE LANGUAGE AND STANZA OF SPENSER.
It is almost needless to say that the politics dull and warp the beauty of the poetry,-a fact nowhere more manifest than in the fifth book, whose real hero is Lord Grey of Wilton.
The language of Spenser was purposely cast in an antique mould, of which one example is the frequent use of y before the past participle. The expletives do and did occur in his pages to a ridiculous extent. The stanza in which this great poem is written, and which bears the poet's name, is the Italian ottava rima, with a ninth line—an Alexandrine—added to close the cadence. It may well be compared to the swelling wave of a summer sea, which sweeps on—a green transparent wall-until it breaks
upon the pebbly shore in long and measured flow. Thomson, Campbell, and Byron have proved the power of the grand Spenserian stanza.
In his Pastorals—the “Shepheard's Calender” and “Colin Clout” -Spenser cast aside much of the stereotyped classic form. Instead of Tityrus and Corydon breathing their joys and sorrows in highly polished strains, we find Hobbinoll and Diggon, Cuddie and Piers, chatting away in good old-fashioned English about the Church and its pastors, poets and their woes, and similar themes. The Calender contains twelve eclogues--one for every month in the year.
That Spenser could write capital prose, as well as exquisite verse, is clearly proved by his “ View of the State of Ireland,” a dialogue in which that land and the habits of its natives are finely described. The views of Spenser as to the government of the Irish people seem to have harmonized with those of relentless Strafford, whose plan was aptly named “Thorough," from its sweeping cruelty. This prose work of Spenser, though presented to Elizabeth in 1596, was not printed until 1633.
THE OPENING STANZAS OF TIIE FIRST CANTO OF "THE
A gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
THE FAERIE QUEENE."
Yet armes till that time did he never wield:
Full iolly knight he seemed, and faire did sitt,
And on his brest a bloodie crosse he bore,
But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
Upon a great adventure he was bond,
Upon his fue, and his new force to learne;
A lovely Ladie rode him faire beside,
Seemned in heart some hidden care she had ;
So pure and innocent, as that same lambe,
Forwasted all their land, and them expeld;
THE FAERIE QUEENE."
Behind her farre away a Dwarfe did lag,
That everie wight to shrowd it did constrain;
Enforst to seeke some covert nigh at hand,
With footing worne, and leading inward farr :
And foorth they passe, with pleasure forward led,
The builder oake, sole king of forrests all ;
The laurell, meed of mightie conquerours
The fruitfull olive; and the platane round;
Led with delight, they thus beguile the way,
THE FAERIE QUEENE."
That makes them doubt their wits be not their owne:
So many pathes, so many turnings seene,
At last resolving forward still to fare,
Eftsoones dismounted from his courser brave,