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listener to music, awake to harmonies of sound but careless of more than these. Men of active mind, insensitive to verbal melody, are never numbered among his adherents. They grow impatient for the progress of the idea while the poet is busy with its embellishment, they ask for advance in meaning while he dreamily repeats himself, adding honey-sweet word to word. One has a suspicion that had Spenser presented himself for admission to Plato's Republic his high and clear intentions might not have sufficed to secure an entrance, although this fairyland typifies the country of the spirit and the pursuit of glory the pursuit of righteousness. A certain discrepancy, a certain contradiction between the creed and the manner of stating it might have alarmed the rulers. Yet if, as Plato argued, "absence of grace and inharmonious movement and discord are nearly allied to ill words and ill nature, as grace and harmony are the sisters of goodness and virtue and bear their likeness, it is demonstrable that The Faerie Queene was written by a saint, who was also
With Spenser it is not so much the word that tells, as with Milton-" The helmèd Cherubim And sworded Seraphim," crystal battlements," "the throne of Chaos," "the marble air," "Twilight's sober livery," " the angelic guards," "the Attic bird," the golden Chersonese ". -nor so much the phrase, as with Shakespeare, "I am dying, Egypt, dying," "Behold divineness, No elder than a boy," "For her own person, It beggar'd all description," ""The queen of curds and cream,' "" He has no children ". nor so much the line, as with Chaucer
"His studie was but litel on the Bible."
"The wrasteling of this world asketh a fall."
O paleys empty and disconsolat!"
"His seven wyves walking by his syde."
With Spenser it is the stanza or the page; time and space are necessary to him for the development of his world of beauty
"The walls were round about appareled
With costly cloths of Arras and of Tour;
The fair Adonis, turned to a flower;
A work of rare device and wondrous wit.
First did it show the bitter baleful stowre,
When first her tender heart was with his beauty smit.
Then with what sleights and sweet allurements she
Now making girlands of each flower that grew,
From his beauperes, and from bright heaven's view,
And, whilst he slept, she over him would spread
And fragrant violets, and pansies trim;
"The general end" of The Faerie Queene was, declared the author, "to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline." Such noble persons distinguished the circle of his intimate friends. Raleigh, "the shepherd of the ocean," the first reader of the poem, like himself for some years an unwilling exile in Ireland, and Sidney, in whom survived all the graces of chivalry, in whom died the last of the knights, were men not unworthy of the age to which Spenser looked back with wistful and idealising gaze. Elizabeth's world in a poet's enhancing eyes could hardly have appeared a less spacious field for heroic endeavour than any in the recorded past, while than Ireland, where, in the dark Kilcolman tower, begirt with gloomy woods and surrounded by savage and despoiled outlaws eager for vengeance on the usurpers, The Faerie Queene was written, no more fitting ground for armed and romantic adventure could well have been imagined. "To read," wrote Dean Church, "of Raleigh's adventures with the Irish chieftains, his challenges and single combats, his escapes at fords and woods, is like reading bits of The Faerie Queene in prose. As Spenser chose to write of knight-errantry, his picture of it has doubtless gained 1 The Faerie Queene, Bk. III. Canto 1.
in truth and strength by his very practical experience of what such life as he describes must be. The Faerie Queene might almost be called the Epic of the English Wars in Ireland under Elizabeth, as much as the Epic of English virtue and valour at the same period."
Spenser's age was heroic, heroes his friends. Around his home in the wild Desmond country many a feat of arms was done. He was a man-we read in a dispatch of the Council in 1598—“ not unskilful or without experience in the wars.” In that same year he was himself a fugitive, when his castle of Kilcolman was sacked and burnt, and in his own person experienced the disastrous chances, the moving accidents which as a poet he had imagined and described. Yet in The Faerie Queene one hardly feels the pressure of events, the overflowing energy of the time. Fever and turmoil are banished from it, the voices of human passion stilled, the noises of the tempestuous world, like that of a receding tide," heard, but scarcely heard to flow." In The Castle of Indolence, by his disciple Thomson, there seems more than a suggestion of The Faerie Queene itself
"A pleasing land of drowsy head it was
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
No one as he reads The Faerie Queene thinks of England at war, of anxious statesmen, like Burleigh and Walsingham, or adventurous seamen on the Spanish main, of the great explorers, of Drake and the Invincible Armada. Nor is it probable that while he wrote Spenser had the stirring events of contemporary history in mind. It is far more probable that as he gazed into his magic glass, and watched the visions rise, they became the reality, and the anxious present receded into the world of shadows gladly forgotten. It is far more probable that in his poetry he sought and found forgetfulness, that it had for him the virtues of an anodyne, than that he attempts to embody there his own
experience of life. The Faerie Queene is the fruit of solitude and long stretches of solitude. Dreams like these do not visit the city dweller in the intervals of the street cries, the soldier in camp, nor the adventurous voyager on the seas. The architect of these airy palaces, “pinnacled dim in the intense inane," had not the dramatist's need " to work upon stuff," as Byron phrased it, to feel the throb of existence, to mix with the politicians and soldiers, the lawyers and the burgesses. He needed rather a screen between him and the loud-roaring world—
"And more to lull him in his slumber soft,
A trickling stream from high rock tumbling down,
Mix'd with a murmuring wind, much like the sound
For all that his lot was cast in the fiercer currents of history, Spenser was at heart a reader, a bookman. The invisible is with him the veritable, of which the shows of time are a momentary reflection. And though the defined and stated allegory may without loss, indeed with positive poetic gain, be laid aside, there remains and is diffused throughout his poem a sense that all its scenes, even the combats and pursuits, the sudden encounters of knight with knight, the gardens and palaces, the sculptured groups of graces, nymphs, and fauns have a significance beyond themselves, beyond their beauty and their art, that in these regions from first to last all is of the spirit. The mirror of Spenser's mind gave back not the image of the exterior world that lay around him but of all that he had read and pondered in romance and poetic history. In The Faerie Queene, it may be alleged, we are at a second remove from reality, already transfigured in the books the author knew and followed. Battles have lost their horror and war its ugly side, wounds bring no pain, hate and fear are deprived of their poison, the sting of life is extracted, and the rose itself is without its thorn. Yet not without reason, for it is the idea he pursues.
1 The Faerie Queene, Bk. I. Canto I,
A day-dream, you may call it, but it is a dream only in significance not in texture. The great masters in the arts are aware that men never really outgrow their childhood, that from birth to death they prefer the sensible to the impalpable, and are happiest and most at home with the things they can touch and handle. Spenser knew it, and made a picture-book of the spiritual life. The pictures are sufficient in themselves—such is his art-nor is any reader required to press beyond them. There is no other poem in the world which deals with pure ideas in so concrete a style, which finds so many and such firmly outlined illustrations for an abstract creed. He speaks of invisible things as if he saw them. All the accuracy of line and colour required by the eye are preserved in the philosophic design addressed to the mind. He is a dealer in mysteries who works in daylight, who, like Socrates, speaks of lofty and divine matters in a language cleansed of all pedagogic or metaphysical intention. The difference between Spenser and other didactic poets is that he thinks more of his art than his allegory. To begin with his meaning, his lesson, is wholly to mistake and wrong him. He is not a reformer turned poet--a man important in his generation, it may be, but as transient. From the beginning until the end Spenser is an artist, a passionate lover of beauty. He would have us, no doubt, believe in virtue and loyalty. He is an enthusiast for perfection in the moral world. Nevertheless quite naturally, as one speaking on subjects where there is no dispute, he writes not to convince his readers, rather to make them happy in his company. A Puritan, you may say. Perhaps; but can we call a man a Puritan who never loses his sense of beauty in his zeal for holiness?
Knighthood is his theme. But while his contemporary, Cervantes, "smiled Spain's chivalry away," and noted with melancholy Castilian humour how remote and impossible its ideals had become in a world grown practical and materialistic, while the Italians, like Ariosto, viewed the old order as a man might view the games of children and consent to play them for the amusement of his leisure, Spenser believed the Middle Ages had seized, by a kind of divine instinct, upon a portion of eternal