« ElőzőTovább »
Her neck like to an ivory shining tower,
Her paps are like fair apples in the prime,
I can well believe that things had no more beauty then than now; but I am sure that men found them more beautiful.
When the power of embellishment is so great, it is natural that they should paint the sentiment which unites all joys, whither all dreams converge, ideal love, and in particular, artless and happy love. Of all sentiments, there is none for which we have more sympathy. It is of all the most simple and sweet. It is the first motion of the heart, and the first word of nature. It is made up of innocence and self-abandonment. It is clear of reflections and effort. It extricates us from complicated passion, contempt, regret, hate, violent desires. It penetrates us, and we breathe it as the fresh breath of the morning wind, which has swept over flowery meads. They inhaled it, and were enraptured, the knights of this perilous court, and so rested in the contrast from their actions and their dangers. The most severe and tragic of their poets turned aside to meet it, Shakspeare among the evergreen oaks of the forest of Arden,Ben Jonson in the woods of Sherwood, amid the wide shady glades, the shining leaves and moist flowers, trembling on the margin of lonely springs. Marlowe himself, the terrible painter of the agony of Edward 11., the impressive and powerful poet, who wrote Faustus, Tamerlane, and the Jew of Malta, leaves his sanguinary dramas, his high-sounding verse, his images of fury, and nothing can be more musical and sweet than his song. A shepherd, to gain his lady-love, says to her :
Come live with me and be my Love,
i Greene's Poems, ed. R. Bell, Menaphon's Eclogue, p. 41. 3 Ibid. Melicertus' Eclogue, p. 43. 8 As you like it. · The Sad Shepherd. See also Beaumont and Fletcher, The Faithful Shepherdess.
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Then live with me and be my Love.'ı The unpolished gentlemen of the period, returning from a falcon hunt, were more than once arrested by such a rustic picture; such as they were, that is to say, imaginative and not very citizen-like, they had dreamed of figuring in them on their own account. But while entering into, they reconstructed them; in their parks, prepared for the queen's entrance, with a profusion of costumes and devices, not troubling themselves to copy rough nature exactly. Improbability did not disturb them; they were not minute imitators, students of manners: they created; the country for them was but a setting, and the complete picture came from their fancies and their hearts. Romantic it may have been, even impossible, but it was on this account the more charming. Is there a greater charm than putting on one side this actual world which fetters or oppresses us, to float vaguely and easily in the azure and the light, on the summit of the land of fairies and clouds, to arrange things according to the pleasure of the moment, no longer feeling the oppressive laws, the harsh and resisting framework of life, adorning and varying everything after the caprice and the refinements of fancy? That is what is done in these little poems. Usually the events are such as happen nowhere, or happen in the land where kings turn shepherds and marry shepherdesses. The beautiful Argentile is detained at her uncle's court, who wishes to deprive her of her kingdom,
This poem was, and still is, frequently attributed to Shakspeare. It appears as his in Knight's edition, published a few years ago. Isaac Walton, however, writing about fifty years after Marlowe's death, attributes it to him. In Pal. grave's Golden Treasury it is also ascribed to the same author. As a confirmation, let us state that Ithamore, in Marlowe's Jew of Malta, says to the courtesan (Act iv. Sc. 4): Thou in those groves, by Dis above,
Shalt live with me, and be my love.'-Tr.. ? Chalmers' English Poets, William Warner, Fourth Book of Albion's England, ch. xx. p. 551.
and commands her to marry Curan, a boor in his service; she flees, and Curan in despair goes and lives two years among the shepherds. One day he meets a beautiful country-woman, and loves her; while speaking to her he thinks of Argentile, and weeps; he describes her sweet face, her lithe figure, her blue-veined delicate wrists, and suddenly sees that the peasant girl is weeping. She falls into his arms, and says, 'I am Argentile. Now Curan was a king's son, who had disguised himself thus for love of Argentile. He resumes his armour, and defeats the wicked king. There was never a braver knight; and they both reigned long in Northumberland. From a hundred such tales, tales of the spring-time, the reader will perhaps bear with me while I pick out one more, gay and simple as a May morning. The Princess Dowsabel came down one morning into her father's garden: she gathers honeysuckles, primroses, violets, and daisies; then, behind a hedge, she heard a shepherd singing, and that so finely that she loved him at once. He promises to be faithful, and asks for a kiss. Her cheeks became as crimson as a rose:
• With that she bent her snow-white knee,
And him she sweetly kiss'd.
That ever was so blest."!! Nothing more; is it not enough? It is but a moment's fancy; but they had such fancies every moment. Think what poetry was likely to spring from them, how superior to common events, how free from literal imitation, how smitten with ideal beauty, how capable of creating a world beyond our sad world. In fact, among all these poems there is one truly divine, so divine that the reasoners of succeeding ages have found it wearisome, that even now but few understand it, Spenser's Faërie Queene.
One day Monsieur Jourdain, having turned Mamamouchi? and learned orthography, sent for the most illustrious writers of the age. He settled himself in his arm-chair, pointed with his finger at several folding-stools for them to sit down, and said :
“I have read your little productions, gentlemen. They have afforded me much pleasure. I wish to give you some work to do. I have given some lately to little Lulli,» your fellow-labourer. It was at my command that he introduced the sea-shell at his concerts, -a melodious instrument, which no one knew of before, and which has such a pleasing effect. I insist that you will work out my ideas as he has worked them out, and I give you an order for a poem in prose. What is not prose, you know, is verse; and what is not verse, is prose. When I say, “Nicolle, bring me my slippers and give me my nightcap," I speak prose. Take this sentence as your model. This style is much more pleasing than the jargon of unfinished lines which you call verse. As for the subject, let it be myself. You will describe my flowered dressing-gown which I have put on to receive you in, and this little green velvet undress which I wear underneath, to do my morning exercise in. You will set down that this chintz costs a louis an ell. The description, if well worked out, will furnish some very pretty paragraphs, and will enlighten the public as to the cost of things. I desire also that you should speak of my mirrors, my carpets, my hangings. My tradesmen will let you have their bills; don't fail to put them in. I shall be glad to read in your works, all fully and naturally set forth, about my father's shop, who, like a real gentleman, sold cloth to oblige his friends; my maid Nicolle's kitchen, the genteel behaviour of Brusquet, the little dog of my neighbour M. Dimanche. You might also explain my domestic affairs : there is nothing more interesting to the public than to hear how a million may be scraped together. Tell them also that my daughter Lucile has not married that little rascal Cléonte, but M. Samuel Bernard, who made his fortune as a fermier-général, keeps his carriage, and is going to be a minister of state. For this I will pay you liberally, half a louis for a yard of writing. Come back in a month, and let me see what my ideas have suggested to you.'
i Chalmers' English Poets, M. Drayton's Fourth Eclogue, iv. p. 436.
' Mons. Jourdain is the hero of Molière's comedy, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the type of a vulgar and successful upstart; Mamamouchi is a mock dignity.--TE.
3 Lulli, a celebrated Italian composer of the time of Molière. -TR.
We are the descendants of M. Jourdain, and this is how we have been talking to the men of talent from the beginning of the century, and the men of talent have listened to us. Hence arise our shoppy and realistic novels. I pray the reader to forget them, to forget himself, to become for a while a poet, a gentleman, a man of the sixteenth century. Unless we bury the M. Jourdain who survives in us, we shall never understand Spenser.
VI. Spenser belonged to an ancient family, allied to great houses; was a friend of Sidney and Raleigh, the two most accomplished knights of the age-a knight himself, at least in heart; who had found in his connections, his friendships, his studies, his life, everything calculated to lead him to ideal poetry. We find him at Cambridge, where he imbues himself with the noblest ancient philosophies; in a northern country, where he passes through a deep and unfortunate passion ; at Penshurst, in the castle and in the society where the Arcadia was produced ; with Sidney, in whom survived entire the romantic poetry and heroic generosity of the feudal spirit; at court, where all the splendours of a disciplined and gorgeous chivalry were gathered about the throne ; finally, at Kilcolman, on the borders of a beautiful lake, in a lonely castle, from which the view embraced an amphitheatre of mountains, and the half of Ireland. Poor on the other hand, not fit for court, and though favoured by the queen, unable to obtain from his patrons anything but inferior employment; in the end, tired of solicitations, and banished to dangerous Ireland, whence a revolt expelled him, after his house and child had been burned ; he died three months later, of misery and a broken heart.1 Expectations and rebufls, many sorrows and many dreams, some few joys, and a sudden and frightful calamity, a small fortune and a premature end ; this indeed was a poet's life. But the heart within was the true poetfrom it all proceeded ; circumstances furnished the subject cnly; he transformed them more than they him ; he received less than he gave. Philosophy and landscapes, ceremonies and ornaments, splendours of the country and the court, on all which he painted or thought, he impressed his inward nobleness. Before all, his was a soul captivated by sublime and chaste beauty, eminently platonic; one of these lofty and refined souls most charming of all, who, born in the lap of nature, draw thence their mother's milk, but soar above, enter the regions of mys'icism, and mount instinctively in order to open at the confines of another world. Spenser leads us to Milton, and thence to Puritanism, as Plato to Virgil, and thence to Christianity. Sensuous beauty is perfect in both, but their main worship is for moral beauty. He appeals to the Muses:
• Revele to me the sacred noursery
He encourages his knight when he sees him droop. He is wroth when he sees him attacked. He rejoices in his justice, temperance, courtesy. He introduces in the beginning of a song, stanzas in honour of friendship and justice. He pauses, after relating a lovely instance of chastity, to exhort women to modesty. He pours out the wealth of his respect and tenderness at his heroine's feet. If any coarse man insults them, he calls to their aid nature and the gods. Never does he bring them on his stage without adorning their name with splendid eulogy. He has an adoration for beauty worthy of Dante and Plotinus. And this, because he never considers it a mere harmony of colour and form, but an emanation of unique, heavenly, imperishable beauty, which no mortal eye can see, and which is the prime work of the great Author of the worlds. Bodies only render it sensible; it does not live in the bodies; grace and attraction are
1 'He died for want of bread, in King Street.' Ben Jonson, quoted by Drummond.
Hymns of Love and Beauty; of heavenly Love and Beauty.