Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]

Spenser was ambitious to answer to the call of patriotism and to exalt his England. He makes his allegory, therefore, personal and historical, as well as general and spiritual—Elizabeth is the Fairy Queen, Mary Stuart, Duessa; Lord Leicester, Arthur; Lord Grey of Wilton, Governor of Ireland, delivers Ireland from the rebels, that is, Sir Artegal succours Irena oppressed by Grantorto; Charles, last of the Nevils, Earls of Westmoreland, famous for his many loves, is Paridel, the learned lover," who

many weak hearts had subdued,who wrongs the jealous miser Malbecco by bearing off the faithless Hellenore; Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who was also one of the leaders in the Revolt of the North (1569), is Blandamour, Paridel's friend," " of fickle mind, full of inconstancies,"---a false pair of knights; Sir John Perrot, at that time a prisoner in the tower, is Sir Satyrane; Philip of Spain is the Soldan, who plots against Mercilla, a maiden queen, here Elizabeth, and by his “Swearing and banning most blasphemously" as he advances against Arthurintervening as the grace of God-may be recognised as the ally of the excommunicating Pope; the Emperor, Charles V., monarch of Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands, is Geryon,

of horrible aspect,a three-bodied monster, who had “ the arms and legs of three to succour him in fight; Henry of Navarre is Burbon, "blushing half for shame," who throws away his shield of Protestantism, and thus his “former praise hath blemished sore”; Sidney, Spenser's friend, the mirror of courtesy, is Sir Calidore, and Pastorella-here the Arcadia is glanced atFrances Walsingham, his wife. By these and a host of other references which comment upon contemporary history from the patriotic point of view, by topographical descriptions, such as those in praise of London, as Cleopolis," the fairest city that might be seen," and of Oxford and Cambridge as "the double nursery of Arts,” Spenser essays to make his poem English, and acceptable by the aristocratic England of his day. It was accepted the more delightedly that the themes were love and beauty, matter after the Renaissance heart. The taste of the age is seen in a book of the same year, Sidney's Arcadia, with its wealth of sentiment, its medley of scenes and persons, all

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


fantastic. The Faerie Queene is a pageant such as Elizabeth and her courtiers loved,-philosophy embedded in roses, meanings in masquerades, music joined with painting to produce a delicious intoxication of all the senses. Bold in adventure, fierce in action, determined in policy, these men, when they took their ease, desired to sit at a continual feast, a sugred blisse," where all forms and shapes of beauty promised an eternal spring, and Cupid played among the flowers.

Spenser is inconclusive. Nothing really happens in his poem, nothing is done. The Faerie Queene is like a labyrinthine flower, whose unfolding we can watch, or a liquid evening sky upon which, as we gaze, the magic rose appears, to glow and fade. If this be a national epic it celebrates no national undertaking or achievement. No foundation is laid of city or state, no imperium established, no Ilion besieged, no Jerusalem captured. It would seem as if we had here a poem typical of the inconclusiveness of all romance, beginning nowhere and leading nowhere; it would seem as if the poetry of romance must logically end in a preference for the dream to the act; must, like the youthful Keats when he cried,

· Hence, pageant history, hence, gilded cheat!” look upon events as so far and no farther of interest or importance than as matter for the poet's vision. Then romance is parasitic and the antithesis of epic. For epic values the act, as drama values it, knowing that in the act, and not in the emotion which may accompany it, the prompting of the god appears, that act and feeling may not coincide, that the bravest man may, for example, feel fear, and disregarding it triumph the more, that human reluctance to undertake the great deed detracts nothing from its splendour when done. Dr. Johnson hated labour, but how far is the sympathy of the readers who know it estranged from the results of his labour? Romance contrasted with true epic is not only inconclusive then, it is hazardous. It may neglect the substance for the shadow, it may become a mere fitful play of emotions without justification in the pains and pleasures of living. It moves on the edge of emptiness. In respect of form it engages in a hazardous rivalry with classic

[ocr errors]

art, for it tends to overlook “ that simplicity without which no human performance can arrive at any great perfection,and “to derive more from the effect than it has put into the cause." Simplicity in design, in composition has no dangers, a hundred wait upon exuberance. The affinity of romance with colour rather than design—and Spenser is surely the greatest colourist among English poets-is hazardous also. Colour is the enemy of all noble art,” said Domenico Neroni, and one sees his meaning. It is the enemy of all precise and perfect form, since where colour exists form can be seen only as juxtaposition of colour." 1 Spenser on his chosen path plainly skirted many and ever-present dangers. It would be idle to assert that he wholly escaped them. But the lovers of poetry, though they have their moods of estrangement, will return to watch him

“ moving through his clouded heaven With the moon's beauty and the moon's soft pace," and allow him to be Castalidum decus sororum--the Muses' pride, and, may we not add, patriae, his country's, also ?


1 Vernon Lee: Renaissance Fancies and Studies, p. 120.



THE Elizabethan age might well have produced an epic on some great national subject. It was confidently looked for. Poets were numerous, not a few of whom belonged to "the upper house of the Muses.If patriotism could have assisted it was not wanting, for at no period in our history was national pride more conscious or more fervid. “ Look on England,” exclaimed Massinger,

“ The Empress of the European isles:
When did she flourish so, as when she was
The mistress of the ocean, her navies
Putting a girdle round about the world?
When the Iberians quaked, her worthies named;
And the fair flower de luce grew pale, set by

The red rose and the white?" 1 Long and spirited poems were written on patriotic subjects by men without any claim to be professional poets. Witness The Most Honorable Tragedy of Sir Richard Grinvile, Knight, by Gervase Markham, a voluminous writer on horsemanship and husbandry, which in about fifteen hundred lines celebrates the last fight of the Revenge. In art and fervour it proclaims the spirit of the age

“For till that fire shall all the world consume,

Shall never name with Grin vil's name presume.” England—the idea was everywhere accepted-needed only the crowning glory of epic to claim entrance into the select society of the most famous nations, to plant “ her roses on the Appenines,"

“And to teach Rheyne, the Loire and Rhodanus,

That they might all admire and honour us. Pride in the present begat pride in the national past. Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland were published in 1577. Interest in early history became intense and universal, as is proved, for example, by the successive editions of Drayton's Heroical Epistles. Librarians like Cotton and Bodley went to work collecting Old English books. Apologists for the English tongue arose, requiring that it should supersede Latin for all purposes. Why not everything in English ?" they demanded. An army of translators busied themselves transferring to their native speech the riches of the world, that England might lack nothing of knowledge or culture. Scholars, like Jonson, jealous for the perfection of their language, compiled grammars and prosodies. Enthusiasm for the older English literature meets us everywhere in the occasional poems and epistles as well as in the more formal works of the time.

1 The Maid of Honour. 2 Daniel: Dedication of The Tragedy of Cleopatra.

And I remember you much pleased were

Of those who lived long ago to hear,
As well as of those of these latter times

Who have enriched our language with their rhymes.” 1 Meres in his Palladis Tamia rejoices to name English poets equal to those of antiquity: Daniel is England's Lucan, Sidney her Xenophon, Warner her Homer, Spenser her Theocritus, Drayton her Virgil, Shakespeare her Plautus. So enamoured is he of the idea that he will even find parallels, when possible, with their ways of life or manner of death. As Archesilaus Prytanoeus perished by wine at a drunken feast, as Hermippus testifieth in Diogenes, so Robert Greene died by a surfeit taken of pickled herrings and Rhenish wine; as witnesseth Thomas Nash, who was at the fatal banquet." "As the poet Lycophron was shot to death by a certain rival of his, so Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death by a baudy serving-man, a rival of his, in his lewd love."

The history, the literature, the language, even the natural beauties of England were claimed to rival or surpass all others, by Drayton, for example, in his Polyolbion, and Browne in his Pastorals

Hail, thou my native soil! thou blessed spot
Whose equal all the world affordeth not.
Show me who can so many crystal rills,
Such sweet-cloth'd valleys or aspiring hills;

1 Drayton's Epistle to Reynolds.

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »