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had wanted subjects and materials; but the translations from the Italian authors, supplied the place which had formerly been occupied by legends and chronicles. The old historical songs of the minstrels contained, indeed, much bold adventure, heroic enterprise, and strong touches of rude delineation ; but they were defective in that multiplication and disposition of circumstances, and in that de scription of characters and events, approaching nearer to truth and reality, which a more curious and discerning age began to demand. By this sort of reading, the rugged, features of the original Gothic romance were foftened ; and the Italian pastoral, with some mixture of the kind of incidents described in Heliodorus's Ethiopic History, was engrafted on the feudal manners in Sidney's Arcadia.
One thing which deserves to be remembered is, that the reformation had not yet dispelled every delusion, nor dirinchanted all the strong holds of superstition. In the mouldering creed of tradition a few dim characters were yet apparent; nor was it indeed to be expected that the first glimmerings of the morning of science Tould cause every goblin of ignorance to vanish. Reason permitted a few demons still to linger, which she chofe to retain in her service under the direction of poetry. It was still the belief of men, or at least they were willing to believe, thac spirits were hovering around, who brought with them si Airs from heaven or blasts from hell;" that the ghost was duly released from his prison of torment at the sound of the corfue ; and that fairies imprinted mysterious circles on the turf by moonlight. Even the pretenders to science and profound speculation continued to be infected with much of this credulity. Most of these fabulous notions had undoubtedly been credited and entertained, in a far higher degree, in the preceding periods. But the poets of those times were too little skilled in the arts of compofi, tion, to manage the fictions of the age with
address and judgment. In Elizabeth's reign we were arrived at that point, when the national credulity, chastened by reafon, had produced a kind of civilised superstition, and left a ser of traditions, which were sufficiens for poetic decora
tion, and yet"not too violent and chimerical for common fenfé. Even the scientific Hobbes gave his fanction to an extravagance of fancy in the productions of poetry.
. Although the Gothic romance had been somewhat shaken by the classical fictions, and the tales of Boccace and Bindello, it still maintained its ground; and the daring machineries of giants, dragons, and enchanted castles, borrowed from the magic store-house of Boiardo, Ariosto, and Taffo, began to be employed by the epic muse." Servile critics have censured these ornaments, as abounding in whimsical absurditres, and as unwarrantable deviations from the practice of 'Homer and Virgil. Homer and Virgil, however, are not free from absurdities, if such they are to be styled. On the principles of the critics in question, genuine poetry, especially in the highest species of it, would be destroyed.
From the religious dramas, allegory had been adopted into our civit spectacles. Not only were the masques and pageantries of the age of Elizabeth furģished with heathen divinities, but the virtues and vices were impersonated, lig nificantly decorated, accurately diftinguished by their proper types, and represented by living actors. The ancient fymbolical Thews of this fort began to assume a degree of poetical elegance and precision and it was not merely in the conformation of particular figures that much fancy was fiewo, but in the contexture of some of the fables or devices presented by groupes of ideal personages. Creative invention was quickened by these exhibitions, which refeded back upon poetry, what poetry had given. In consequence of their familiarity and public nature, a na tional taste for allegory was formed; so that the allegorical poets now wrote to the understanding and feelings of the people.'' Even romance was turned to this channel; and in the Fairy Queen, allegory is built upon chivalry.
? It added to the freedom, we may say to the boldness, of the poetry of this period, that our writers were not ham, pered by the strictness of rules. Very few critical treatises kad been produced, and only
one art of poetry, Canons of composition had not absolutely determined concerning sentiments and images; nor was genius awed by the ap1791.
prehension of a future and final arraigament at the tribunal
end of queen Elizabeth's reign, chat fatires, properly so called, were produced, and chele were very few in number. Readets who loved to range in the regions of artificial manners and narratives were not attached to pictures at farge of the vices of the times. The poetry of this period was too solemn and reserved to ftoop to common life, Satire is never carried to perfection, or universally admired, excepting in an age that is highly por lished.
As the importance of the female character was not com, monly acknowledged, nor woman admitred into the general commerce of society, the intercourse of fexes had not im. parted a coinic air to poetry, or softened the severer tone of our verfification, with the levities of gallantry, and the fami, liarities of compliment. The absence of to material a cife cumstance muft bave influenced the contemporary poetical compositions. Many traces, remain of what was in this refpect the fate of manners among our ancestors. Women, we see, usually make but a small figure in the tragedies and
comedies of Shakespeare. However neceffary the beroines may, on the whole, be to the piece, they are comspionly degraded to the back-ground." As to the ladies in comedy, they are nothing more than "merry wives, plain and cheartu! matrons, If, in the smaller poems, a lover *೨೦ ದಿ
praises his mihrers, the is complimented, without elegance and without affektion, in strains that are neither polite nor paa thetic. She is described not in the real colours, and withi the genuine accomplishments of nature, birt as an eccentric being, that inspired sentimients equally umeaning, hyperi bolical, and unnatural.
All, or most of the circumstances we have mentioned; contributed to give a descriptive, a picturesque, and figuras tive caft to the poetical language of our country'; and event the prose compofitions of Elizabeth's reign took a tincture from the same causes. · In the mean while, general knowledge was widely and rapidly increasing. Books began to be multiplied, and many useful and racional topics had been difcoffed in our own tongue. Science) at the fame time, had not made such great advances as to damp the spirit of invention. On the whole, we were now arrived at a pea riod that was eminently propitious to original and true poetry. It was a period in which genius was rather direated than governed by judgment; and in which taste and learnt ing had so far only disciplined imagination, as to fuffer its excesses to pass without censure or controul, for the fake of the beauties to which they were allied.
brillia * At a time when the objects pointed out by us were calá culared to have such a powerful operation upon the nature and character of our poetry, a genius arose of the first ordet: who was animated with a full portion of the spirit of the age, and capable of painting it in all its energy. We need not fay that this genius was Spenser, and that we refer to the Fairy Qucen. Perhaps it might have been exo pected, from the revival and study of the ancient poets and critic's, that instead of the romantic manner of compofition which had formerly prevailed, a new, and what is commonJy efteemed, a more legitimate taste of writing would have succeeded. But it was very slowly that such a change was effected ; nor was any considerable improvement made in the state of criticisin till a long time after the reftoration of ancient learning. It was not to Homer, or Virgil, or etan to Tasso, that Spenser looked up to for a model , 'bur to Ariosto s and it was consequently his intention to produce
a poem which should consist of altegories, enchantments, and romantic expeditions, conducted by knights, giants, magicians, and fictitious beings, but he was blamable in this reSpezt, the fault is not so much to be imputed to himself as to the times in which he lived. It was natural for him to follow the mode of composition which then was most admired, and to adopt those laws of taste, which Italian critics bad approved : for Italy, not France, was in queen Elizabeth's reign the arbiter of elegance; and in Italy Ariofto was greatly preferred to Taffo. Whether this opinion was just or not, we are not here called upon to determines It is sufficient to our purpose to observe, that it was em: braced by Spenser ; and that upon this principle, the plan of his poem, which is as follows, was framed.
It is supposed by the poet, that the FAERY QUEENE, according to an annual custom, held a magnificent feast, that continued twelve days in the course of which twelve feveral complaints are presented before her. In order, 'therefore, to redress the injuries which occasioned these
complaints, the dispatches, with proper commissions, twelve knights, each of whom, in the adventure allotted to him, proves an example of fome particular virtue ; and has one complete book assigned to hiin, of which he is the bero. Besides these twelve knights, severally exemplifying twelve moral vircues, Spenser has constituted one prins cipal knight or general hero, viz. PRINCE ARTHUR, who represents Magnificence; a virtue which is supposed to be the perfection of all the reft. ARTHUR affifts in every book, and the end of his actions is to discover, and win GLORIANA, or Glory. The character, in short, which the poet professes to pourtray, is "the image of a brave knight perfected in the twelve private moral virtues.".
In establishing one hero, who should exemplify the grand character which the author had in view, be evidently copied the cast and construction of the ancient epic. But while he was sensible of the importance of maintaining the unity of the hero and of his design, he was not sufficiently convinced of the neceflity of preserving that unity of action, without which the former could not be properly accom: miro