not in things, but in the deathless idea which shines through the things:

For that same goodly hew of white and red,
With which the cheekes are sprinckled, shall decay,
And those sweete rosy leaves, so fairly spred
Upon the lips, shall fade and fall away
To that they were, even to corrupted clay:
That golden wyre, those sparckling stars so bright,
Shall turne to dust, and lose their goodly light.
But that faire lampe, from whose celestiall ray
That light proceedes, which kindleth lovers fire,
Shall never be extinguisht nor decay ;
But, when the ritall spirits doe expyre,
Upon her native planet shall retyre ;
For it is heavenly borne, and cannot die,
Being a parcell of the purest skie.'l

In presence of this ideal of beauty, love is transformed:

* For Love is lord of Truth and Loialtie,
Lifting himself out of the lowly dust,
On golden plumes up to the purest skie,
Above the reach of loathly sinfull lust,
Whose base affect through cowardly distrust
Of his weake wings dare not to heaven fly,
But like a moldwarpe in the earth doth ly.'?

Love such as this contains all that is good, and fine, and noble. It is the prime source of life, and of the eternal soul of things. It is this love which, pacifying the primitive discord, has created the harmony of the spheres, and maintains this glorious universe. It dwells in God, and is God Himself, descended in bodily form to regenerate the tottering world and save the human race; around and within animated beings, when our eyes can pierce it, we behold it as a living light, penetrating and embracing every creature. We touch here the sublime sharp summit where the world of mind and the world of senses unite; where man, gathering with both hands the loveliest flowers of either, feels himself at the same time a pagan and a Christian.

So much, as a testimony to his heart. But he was also a poet, that is, pre-eminently a creator and a dreamer, and that most naturally, instinctively, unceasingly. We might go on for ever describing this inward condition of all great artists; there would still remain much to be described. It is a sort of spiritual growth with them ; at every instant a bud shoots forth, and on this another, and still another; each producing, increasing, blooming of itself, so that instantaneously we find first a plant, then a thicket, then a forest. A character appears to them, then an action, then a landscape, then a succession of actions, characters, landscapes, producing, completing, arranging themselves by instinctive development, as when in a dream we behold a train of figures which spread out and group themselves before our eyes. This fount of living and changing forms is inexhaustible in Spenser; he is always imaging; it is his specialty, He has but to close his eyes, and apparitions arise; they abound in him, crowd, overflow; in vain he pours them forth; they continually float up, more copious and more dense. Many times, following the inexhaustible stream, I have thought of the vapours which rise incessantly from the sea, ascend, sparkle, commingle their gold and snowy scrolls, while beneath them new mists arise, and others again beneath, and the splendid procession never grows dim or ceases.

1 A Hymne in Honour of Beautie, v. 92-105. ' A Hymne in Honour of Love, v. 176-182.

But what distinguishes him from all others is the mode of his imagination. Generally with a poet his spirit ferments vehemently and by fits and starts; his ideas gather, jostle each other, suddenly appear in masses and heaps, and burst out in sharp, piercing, concentrative words; it seems that they need these sudden accumulations

reproduce; at least almost all the surrounding poets, Shakspeare at their head, act thus. Spenser remains calm in the fervour of invention. The visions which would be fever to another, leave him at peace. They come and spread before him, easily, entire, uninterrupted, without starts. He is epic, that is, a narrator, and not a singer like an ode-writer, nor a mimic like a play-writer. No modern is more like Homer. Like Homer and the great epic-writers, he presents consecutive and noble, almost classical images, so nearly ideas, that the mind seizes them unaided and unawares. Like Homer, he is always simple and clear: he makes no leap, he omits no argument, he rohs no word of its primitive and ordinary sense, he preserves the natural sequence of ideas. Like Homer again, he is redundant, ingenuous, even childish. He says everything, he puts down reflections which we have made beforehand; he repeats without limit his ornamental epithets. We can see that he beholds objects in a beautiful uniform light, with infinite detail ; that he wishes to show all this detail, never fearing to see his happy dream change or disappear; that he traces its outline with a regular movement, never hurrying or slackening. He is even a little prolix, too unmindful of the public, too ready to lose himself and fall into a dream. His thought expands in vast repeated comparisons, like those of the old Ionic poet. If a wounded giant falls, he finds him

As an aged tree,
High growing on the top of rocky clift,
Whose hart-strings with keene steele nigh hewen be,

The mightie trunck halfe rent with ragred rift,
Doth roll adowne the rocks, and fall with fearefull drift.

Or as a castle, reared high and round,
By subtile engins and malitious slight
Is undermined from the lowest ground,
And her foundation forst, and feebled quight,

Her hastie ruine does more heavie make,
And yields it selfe unto the victours might:
Such was this Gyaunt's fall, that seemd to shake

The stedfast globe of earth, as it for feare did quake. I He develops all the ideas which he handles. He stretches all his phrases into periods. Instead of compressing, he expands. To bear this ample thought and its accompanying train, he requires a long stanza, ever renewed, long recurring lines, reiterated rhymes, whose uniformity and fulness recall majestic sounds which undulate eternally through the woods and the fields. To expand these epic faculties, and to expand them in the sublime region where his soul is naturally borne, he requires an ideal stage, situated beyond the bounds of reality, with personages who could hardly exist, and in a world which could never be.

He made many miscellaneous attempts in sonnets, elegies, pastorals, hymns of love, little sparkling word pictures ;2 they were but essays, incapable for the most part of supporting his genius. Yet already his magnificent imagination appeared in them ; gods, men, landscapes, the world which he sets in motion is a thousand miles from that in which we live. His Shepherd's Calendar 3 is a pensive and tender pastoral, full of delicate loves, noble sorrows, lofty ideas, where no voice is heard but of thinkers and poets. His Visions of Petrarch and Du Bellay are admirable dreams, in which palaces, temples of gold, splendid land

Oriental fairy-tale. If he sings a Prothalamion,' he sees two beautiful swans, white as snow, who glide to the songs of nymphs amid vermeil roses, while the transparent water kisses their silken feathers, and murmurs with joy:

*There, in a meadow, by the river's side,
A flocke of Nymphes I chaunced to espy,
All lovely daughters of the Flood thereby,
With goodly greenish locks, all loose untyde,
As each had bene a bryde ;
And each one had a little wicker basket,
Made of fine twigs, entrayled curiously,
In which they gathered flowers to fill their flasket,

1 The Faërie Queene, i. c. 8, st. 22, 23.

2 The Shepherd's Calendar, Amoretti, Sonnets, Prothalamion, Epithalamion, Muiopotmos, Virgil's Gnat, The Ruines of Time, The Teares of the Muses, etc.

3 Published in 1589 ; dedicated to Philip Sidney.

And with fine fingers cropt full feateously
The tender stalkes on hye.
Of every sort, which in that meadow grew,
They gathered some; the violet, pallid blew,
The little dazie, that at evening closes,
The virgin lillie, and the primrose trew,
With store of vermeil roses,
To deck their bridegroomes posies

Against the brydale-day, which was not long:
Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song.

With that I saw two Swannes of goodly hewe
Come softly swimming downe along the lee;
Two fairer birds I yet did never see;
The snow, which doth the top of Pindus strew,
Did never whiter shew ....
So purely white they were,
That even the gentle stream, the which them bare,
Seem'd foule to them, and bad his billowes spare
To wet their silken feathers, least they might
Soyle their fayre plumes with water not so fayre,
And marre their beauties bright,
That shone as heavens light,

Against their brydale day, which was not long :

Sweet Themmes! runne softly, till I end my song!'? If he bewails the death of Sidney, Sidney becomes a shepherd; he is slain like Adonis; around him gather weeping nymphs :

The gods, which all things see, this same beheld,
And, pittying this paire of lovers trew,
Transformed them there lying on the field,
Into one flowre that is both red and blew :
It first growes red, and then to blew doth fade,
Like Astrophel, which thereinto was made.
And in the midst thereof a star appeares,
As fairly formd as any star in skyes :
Resembling Stella in her freshest yeares,
Forth darting beames of beautie from her eyes ;
And all the day it standeth full of deow,

Which is the teares, that from her eyes did flow."* His most genuine sentiments become thus fairy-like. Magic is the mould of his mind, and impresses its shape on all that he imagines or thinks. Involuntarily he robs objects of their ordinary form. If he looks at a landscape, after an instant he sees it quite differently. He carries it, without knowing it, into an enchanted land; the azure heaven sparkles like a vault of diamonds, meadows are clothed with flowers, a biped population flutters in the sweet air, palaces of jasper

· Prothalamion, v. 19-54.

Astrophel, v. 181-192.

shine among the trees, radiant ladies appear on carved balconies above galleries of emerald. This insensible toil of mind is like the slow crystallisations of nature. A moist twig is cast into the bottom of a mine, and is brought out again a hoop of diamonds.

At last he finds a subject which suits him, the greatest joy permitted to an artist. He removes his epic from the common ground which, in the hands of Homer and Dante, gave expression to a living creed, and depicted national heroes. He leads us to the summit of fairy-land, on that extreme verge where objects vanish and pure idealism begins:

'I have undertaken a work,' he says, 'to represent all the moral vertues, assigning to every vertue a knight to be the patron and defender of the same : in whose actions and feats of armes and chivalry the operations of that vertue, whereof he is the protector, are to be expressed, and the vices and unruly appetites that oppose themselves against the same, to be beaten downe and overcome.'' In fact, he gives us an allegory as the foundation of his poem, not that he dreams of becoming a wit, a preacher of moralities, a propounder of riddles. He does not subordinate image to idea ; he is a seer, not a philosopher. They are living men and actions which he sets in motion; only from time to time, enchanted palaces, a whole train of splendid visiops trembles and divides like a mist, enabling us to catch a glimpse of the thought which raised and arranged it. When in his Garden of Venus we see the countless forms of all living things arranged in due order, in close compass, awaiting life, we conceive with him the birth of universal love, the ceaseless fertility of the great mother, the mysterious swarm of creatures which rise in succession from her far-reaching womb. When we see his Knight of the Cross, combating with a monstrous woman-serpent in defence of his beloved lady Una, we dimly remember that, if we search beyond these two figures, we shall find belind one, Truth, behind the other, Falsehood. We perceive that his characters are not flesh and blood, and that all these brilliant phantoms are phantoms, and nothing more. We take pleasure in their brilliancy, without believing in their substantiality; we are interested in their acts, without troubling ourselves about their misfortunes. We know that their tears and cries are not real. Our emotion is purified and raised. We do not fall into gross illusion; we have that gentle feeling of knowing ourselves to be dreaming. We, like him, are a thousand leagues from actual life, beyond the pangs of painful pity, unmixed terror, urgent and bitter hatred. We entertain only refined sentiments, half defined, arrested at the moment that they were about to affect us with too sharp a stroke. They slightly touch us, and we find ourselves happy in being extricated from a belief which was beginning to be oppressive.

1 Words attributed to him by Lodowick Bryskett, Discourse of Civil Life, ed. 1606, p. 26.

« ElőzőTovább »