« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
best, swept within his scheme all lovely forms and fancies from the East and West, rifled, and with deliberation, the poets from Homer and Apollonius Rhodius, through Virgil and Ovid, to Ariosto, Tasso, Chaucer, and laid under contribution the whole book of medieval legend, matter of France, of Britain, and of Rome. His river is fed from a multitude of tributaries, the springs of Parnassus and Helicon, and all the wizard streams of romance. He borrows not from one or two or a hundred sources, but impresses the histories, the fables, the mythologies,
What a world it is, and what does one not meet there? From the first lines, a frontispiece, as it were, to all chivalric literature
"A gentle knight was pricking on the plaine,
The Faerie Queene is a wilderness of fancy, a tropic maze of exuberant and inexhaustible creation, the least describable poem in the world. Each canto-six or seven hundred lines-equals a book of Homer; each book-twelve cantos-is itself an epic; the whole-about thirty-five thousand lines-is hardly shorter than Homer and Virgil combined. Through this enchanted country, uncircumscribed, horizonless, the reader is borne away on the smooth-sliding current of the verse as it flows by two and twenty palaces and the gardens of old romance. By "lowly hermitage " and " ancient house," by woods" not perceable with power of any star," by the Gardens of Proserpina and Adonis flows the charmed stream, by the "wandering islands” and the Bower of Bliss, by the magic strand of Marinel, with its gravel of pearls and golden ore. By temples, palaces, and towers it flows-the Castle of Busirane, with its flaming porch and tapestries of gold and silk, upon which were wrought "all Cupid's wars," the loves of all the gods; the Castle Joyous, thronged with guests, a pleasance of flowers and Lydian harmonies; the Temples of Venus and Isis, the House of Pluto, and Neptune's palace "walled with waves." The poet's inclination is "to surprise by a fine excess," the incidents of his romance shall
be amazing and numberless, the personages unmatchable-the girdle of the snowy Florimel, the mirror of Merlin, the Shield of Love, the wondrous horse Brigadore, the sword Mordure, "wrought in Aetna's flames" and "seven times dipped in Styx,' Talus, the iron man, the herbs of magic power
"whether it divine tobacco were, Or panachoea, or polygony."
And with these a press of knights and "ladies debonair as of some great feudal court, Trevisan and Artegal, Satyrane and Scudamour, Pyrochles and Paridel, Britomart and Belphoebe, upon whom the heavens at her birth" were favourable and free"; Pastorella and Hellenore and Amoret, whose names are a summons to beauty; Argante, the Titaness, Braggadochio and Trompart his thrall; a brood of giants, Cormorant and Orgoglio, Corflambo and Ollyphant; shepherds and sorcerers, maids false and fair, hermits and satyrs, Muses and guardian angels, slavemerchants and river gods, sea-nymphs and Saracens, brigands and dwarfs and deadly sins-a company innumerable. Add to these a flora and fauna from torrid and from temperate zones, symbolic or legendary or real, centaurs and crocodiles, serpents and lions, bears and tigers, dragons and dolphins and dromedaries, the horrible sea-satyr, "huge ziffus, whom mariners eschew," ""sea-shouldering whales,'
Bright scolopendras, arm'd with silver scales,
66 every sort of flower
To which sad lovers were transformed of yore."
the Tree of Life, the flower-de-luce, "Dead creeping poppy and black hellebore," and
Add, too, the Masque of Cupid, the Pageant of the Seasons, the Procession of the rivers of the world-and Spenser's design is apparent, it is an ordered disorder, a calculated confusion, a dream composed of dreams, for admiration and bewilderment and delight.
For the style of Spenser the manifest original was Sackville's Induction to the Mirrour for Magistrates. If any doubt let him read in verses unsurpassed in the English tongue how in the
winter season the older poet met the lady Sorrow, a figure piteous as any in Dante's Inferno
That, in my doom, was never man did see
A wight but half so woe-begone as she whose dreary destiny it is to bemoan
Whom fortune, in this maze of misery,
Their pomp, their power, and that they thought most sure,
Thou mayst soon deem no earthly joy may dure”. and how she guides him to the grisly lake, Avern, “within the porch and jaws of hell," where are Remorse and Dread, Revenge and Famine, with “ body thin and bare as any bone,” Old Age and Malady,
“ her sickness past recure Detesting physick, and all physick's cure.” As Sackville imagined and described, so Spenser. Take these stanzas, and there will be no further need of witnesses-
" By him lay heavy Sleep, the cousin of Death,
Flat on the ground, and still as any stone,
Of high renown; but, as a living death,
So, dead alive, of life he drew the breath.
Without respect, esteeming equally
King Croesus' pomp, and Irus' poverty. ..
The hugy hosts, Darius and his power,
His kings, princes, his peers, and all his flower.
Then saw I Pompey and Caesar clad in arms,
Xerxes, the Persian king, yet saw I there,
In heaps of stones, and Tyrus put to spoil,
In his Laocoon Lessing discusses, but without hesitation rejects, the theory of Count Caylus, that the work of a poet may be tested by the number of subjects it offers to the painter.? Painting, he argues, uses forms and colours in space, poetry articulate sounds in time, the painter can only express visible and stationary action, the poet progressive action. Because
the co-existent elements in a scene are inconsistent with the consecutive elements of language," the best poets, Homer, for example, paint in such a way that the painter finds nothing or but little with which to occupy himself in their descriptions. The art of the pen,” wrote Meredith, “is to rouse the inward vision, instead of labouring with a drop scene brush, as if it were to the eye; because our flying minds cannot contain a protracted description. That is why the poets, who spring imagination with a word or phrase, paint lasting pictures; the Shakesperian, the Dantesque, are in a line, two at most.” 3 If Caylus be right Spenser is supreme, beyond all poets ancient or modern—"velut inter ignes luna minores," a moon among lesser fires. But if it be true that our flying minds cannot contain a protracted description, how of Spenser's method, prolonged, unflagging, unhurried? He who runs counter to nature can achieve no measure of success. Taking our own stand, let us suspend theory which interferes with artistic pleasure. Here is part of a description, "protracted over ten stanzas
“-Eftsoon there stepped forth
The savage beasts in her victorious play,
Diana of the Crossways.
Knit with a golden baldric which forelay
To succour the weak state of sad afflicted Troy.” 1 Whoever be right, Spenser is not wrong. One may properly hesitate to test the poet, as Caylus suggested, by the number of subjects he provides for the artist in colour—other and severer tests may be applied—but, if any argument prove persuasive, it will be The Faerie Queene itself. It is, as has often been said, a long gallery of pictures, easily to be transferred to canvas. Leigh Hunt amused his fancy by a selection from this “ poet of the painters,” naming the artist for each subject. Raphael for “ The Marriage Procession of the Thames and Medway"; Correggio for “Cupid usurping the throne of Juppiter"; Michael Angelo for “ Sir Guyon binding Furor”; Titian for“ Venus, in search of Cupid, meeting Diana”; Guido for “ Aurora and Tithonus”; Salvator Rosa for “The Cave of Despair"; Albano for “The Nymphs and Graces dancing to a shepherd's pipe”; Rembrandt for “ A Knight in armour looking into a Cave.”
A good reader will value Spenser for more than one quality, for his “ visible poetry,” his pageantry of colour, his copia verborum, his moonlight atmosphere. But his Circean charm is perhaps most fully felt in the half unconscious mood of the
1 The Faerie Queene, Bk. II. Canto 3.