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“No gate, but like one, being goodly dight
With bowes and braunches, which did broad dilate
Their clasping armes in wanton wreathings intricate: “So fashioned a porch with rare device, Archt over head with an embracing vine, Whose bounches hanging downe seemed to entice All passers-by to taste their lushious wine, And did themselves into their hands incline, As freely offering to be gathered ; Some deepe empurpled as the hyacine, Some as the rubine laughing sweetely red,
Some like faire emeraudes, not yet well ripened. . . “And in the midst of all a fountaine stood, Of richest substance that on carth might bee, So pure and shiny that the silver flood Through every channell running one might see; Most goodly it with curious ymageree Was over-wrought, and shapes of naked boyes, Of which some seemed with lively iollitee To fly about, playing their wanton toyes, Whylest others did themselves embay in liquid ioyes. “And over all of purest gold was spred A trayle of yvie in his native hew; For the rich metall was so coloured, That wight, who did not well avis'd it vew, Would surely deeme it to bee yvie trew; Low his lascivious armes adown did creepe, That themselves dipping in the silver dew Their fleecy flowres they searfully did steepe, Which drops of christall seemd for wantones to weep.
“Infinit streames continually did well
Out of this fountaine, sweet and faire to see,
That seemd the fountaine in that sea did sayle upright. •
The waters fall with difference discreet,
“Upon a bed of roses she was layd,
“Her snowy brest was bare to ready spoyle
Which sparckling on the silent waves, does seeme more bright.” 1 Do we find here nothing but fairy land ? Yes; here are finished pictures true and complete, composed with a painter's feeling, with choice of tints and outlines; our eyes are delighted by them. This reclining Acrasia has the pose of a goddess, or of one of Titian's courtesans.
An Italian artist might copy these gardens, these flowing waters, these sculptured loves, those wreaths of creeping ivy thick with glossy leaves and fleecy flowers. Just before, in the infernal depths, the lights, with their long streaming rays, were fine, half-smothered by the darkness; the lofty throne in the vast hall, between the pillars, in the midst of a swarming multitude, connected all the forms around it by drawing all looks towards one centre. The poet, here and throughout, is a colorist and an architect. However fantastic his world may be, it is not factitious; if it does not exist, it might have been; indeed, it should have been; it is the fault of circumstances if they do not so group themselves as to bring it to pass; taken by itself, it possesses that internal harmony by which a real thing, even a still higher harmony, exists, inasmuch as, without any regard to real things, it is altogether, and in its least detail, constructed with a view to beauty. Art has made its appearance; this is the great
1 The Faërie Queene, ii. c. 12, st. 53-78.
characteristic of the age, which distinguishes the Faërie Queene from all similar tales heaped up by the middle age. Incoherent, mutilated, they lie like rubbish, or rough-hewn stones, which the weak hands of the trouvères could not build into a monument. At last the poets and artists appear, and with them the conception of beauty, to wit, the idea of general effect. They understand proportions, relations, contrasts; they compose. In their hands the blurred vague sketch becomes defined, complete, separate; it assumes color—is made a picture. Every object thus conceived and imaged acquires a definite existence as soon as it assumes a true form; centuries after, it will be acknowledged and admired, and men will be touched by it; and more, they will be touched by its author; for, besides the object which he paints, the poet paints himself. His ruling idea is stamped upon the work which it produces and controls. Spenser is superior to his subject, comprehends it fully, frames it with a view to its end, in order to impress upon
proper mark of his soul and his genius. Each story is modulated with respect to another, and all with respect to a certain effect which is being worked out. Thus a beauty issues from this harmony,—the beauty in the poet's heart, which his whole work strives to express; a noble and yet a cheerful beauty, made up of moral elevation and sensuous seductions, English in sentiment, Italian in externals, chivalric in subject, modern in its perfection, representing a unique and wonderful epoch, the appearance of paganism in a Christian race, and the worship of form by an iinagination of the North.
§ 3. PROSE.
I. Such an epoch can scarcely last, and the poetic vitality wears itself out by its very efflorescence, so that its expansion leads to its decline. From the beginning of the seventeenth century the subsidence of manners and genius grows apparent:
Enthusiasm and respect decline. The minions and court-fops intrigue and pilfer, amid pedantry, puerility, and show. The court plunders, and the nation murmurs. The Commons begin to show a stern front, and the king, scolding them like a schoolmaster, gives way before them like a little boy. This
monarch (James I.) suffers himself to be bullied by his favorites, writes
to them like a gossip, calls himself a Solomon, airs his literary vanity, and in granting an audience to a courtier, recommends him to become a scholar, and expects to be complimented on his own scholarly attainments. The dignity of the government is weakened, and the people's loyalty is cooled. Royalty declines, and revolution is fostered. At the same time, the noble chivalric paganism degenerates into a base and coarse sensuality. The king, we are told, on one occasion, had got so drunk with his royal brother Christian of Denmark, that they both had to be carried to bed. Sir John Harrington says:
“The ladies abandon their sobriety, and are seen to roll about in intoxication. The Lady who did play the Queen's part (in the Masque of the Queen of Sheba) did carry most precious gists to both their Majesties; but, forgetting the steppes arising to the canopy, overset her caskets into his Danish Majesties lap, and fell at his feet, tho I rather think it was in his face. Much was the hurry and confusion; cloths and napkins were at hand, to make all clean. His Majesty then got up and would dance with the Queen of Sheba; but he fell down and humbled himself before her, and was carried to an inner chamber and laid on a bed of state ; which was not a little defiled with the presents of the Queen which had been bestowed on his garments; such as wine, cream, jelly, beverage, cakes, spices, and other good matters. The entertainment and show went forward, and most of the presenters went backward, or fell down; wine did so occupy their upper chambers. Now did appear, in rich dress, Hope, Faith, and Charity: Hope did assay to speak, but wine rendered her endeavours so feeble that she withdrew, and hoped the king would excuse her brevity: Faith ... left the court in a staggering condition. . They were both sick and spewing in the lower hall. Next came Victory, who ... by a strange medley of versification
... and after much lamentable utterance was led away like a silly captive, and laid to sleep in the outer steps of the anti-chamber. As for Peace, she most rudely made war with her olive branch, and laid on the pates of those who did oppose her coming. I ne’er did see such lack of good order, discretion, and sobriety in our Queen's days.” 1
Observe that these tipsy women were great ladies. The reason is, that the grand ideas which introduce an epoch, end, in their exhaustion, by preserving nothing but their vices; the proud sentiment of natural life becomes a vulgar appeal to the senses.
An entrance, an arch of triumph under James I., often represented obscenities; and later, when the sensual instincts, exasperated by Puritan tyranny, begin to raise their heads once more, we shall find under the Restoration excess reveling in its low vices, and triumphing in its shamelessness.
1 Nugæ Antiquæ, i. 349 et passim.
Meanwhile literature undergoes a change; the powerful breeze which had wafted it on, and which, amidst singularity, refinements, exaggerations, had made it great, slackened and diminished. With Carew, Suckling, and Herrick, prettiness takes the place of the beautiful. That which strikes them is no longer the general features of things; and they no longer try to express the inner character of what they describe. They no longer possess that liberal conception, that instinctive penetration, by which we sympathize with objects, and grow capable of creating them anew. They no longer boast of that overflow of emotions, that excess of ideas and images, which compelled a man to relieve himself by words, to act externally, to represent freely and boldly the interior drama which made his whole body and heart tremble. They are rather wits of the court, cavaliers of fashion, who wish to show off their imagination and style. In their hands love becomes gallantry; they write songs, fugitive pieces, compliments to the ladies. There are no more upwellings from the heart. They write eloquent phrases in order to be applauded, and flattering exaggerations in order to please. The divine faces, the serious or profound looks, the virgin or impassioned expressions which burst forth at every step in the early poets, have disappeared; here we see nothing but agreeable countenančes, painted in agreeable verses. Blackguardism is not far off; we meet with it already in Suckling, and crudity to boot, and prosaic epicurism; their sentiment is expressed before long, in such a phrase
“Let us amuse ourselves, and a fig for the rest.” The only objects they can still paint are little graceful things, a kiss, a May-day festivity, a dewy primrose, a daffodil
, a marriage morning, a bee. Herrick and Suckling especially produce little exquisite poems, delicate, ever pleasant or agreeable, like those
1 “Some asked me where the Rubies grew, “ About the sweet bag of a bee, And nothing I did say;
Two Cupids fell at odds; But with my finger pointed to
And whose the pretty prize shu'd be, The lips of Julia.
They vow'd to ask the Gods. Some ask'd how Pearls did grow, and where; Which Venus hearing, thither came, Then spake I to my girle,
And for their boldness stript them ; To part her lips, and shew me there And taking thence from each his flame, The quarelets of Pearl.
With rods of mirtle whipt them. One ask'd me where the roses grew; Which done, to still their wanton cries, I bade him not go seek;
When quiet grown sh'ad seen them, But forth with bade my Julia show
She kist and wip'd their dove-like eyes, A bud in either cheek.”
And gave the bag between them.” Herrick's Hesperides, ed. Walford, 1359; IIERRICK, Ibid.; The Bag of the Bee, p. 41.
The Rock of Rubies, P. 32.