Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

ANTHOLOGIA ANGLICA.

SPENSER.

1553-1599.

PRINCIPAL WORKS: The Shepherd's Calendar, 1579, a pastoral poem in twelve eclogues, one for each month of the year.The Faery Queen, 1590–96, the great romance-epic upon which the title of Spenser to a place in the foremost rank of the poets of all time depends, in six books, dedicated to the Queen (as his first work had been inscribed to his patron and friend Sir Philip Sidney), who was not too obscurely complimented in the character of Gloriana, the Faery Queen, or of Belphebe, a flattering name, which to her well-known personal vanity might be more acceptable than even the other. The Queen of Faery holds high festival for twelve days, on each of which one of her knightly champions undertakes some perilous adventure. Each of these champions is made to represent a moral or religious virtue. The Red Cross Knight (St. George) representing Holiness; Britomart, the lady-knight of the third book, Chastity; Sir Artegal, of the fifth book, Justice, &c. Of the twelve books (the sacred traditional number of an epic since the Æneis) at first contemplated, six only ever appeared : nor is it much to be regretted, perhaps, that the original design was never completed. Illumined though it is to the end by many beauties, the interest of the poem begins to diminish after the fourth book, and the reader follows the career of Sir Calidore with much less enthusiasm than he did that of Britomart.

A double meaning and purpose may be detected through the whole, of the poem : the apparent superficial one of Romance with its chivalrous achievements such as could not fail to meet with the enthusiastic appreciation of the higher classes of the age ; and an allegorical suggestion of the supposed graces and virtues of that--to use the language of her bishops— bright occidental star,' and of the ultimate triumphant discomfiture of her various malevolent foes.—Colin Ciout's Come Home Again (dedicated to Raleigh), 1595, a pastoral and sort of supplement to the Shepherd's Calendar, composed in celebration of his own return to his Irish estate and Kilcolman Castle, in which he recounts his experiences at the court and in the fashionable life of the metropolis, with a celebration of the most eminent poets of the time.-An Epithalamium,

B

of the same year, termed by his most recent editor 'the finest, the most perfect, of all his poems, the most beautiful of all bridal songs.' It celebrates his marriage with the Rosalind of his earlier poems, of whom nothing is known but that her Christian name was Elizabeth.—A Hymn of Heavenly Love, and A Hymn of Heavenly Beauty, with the Prothalamium or A Spousal Verse, in honour of the double marriage of the ladies Elizabeth and Katharine Somerset, were his last productions. Strange as it seems, the author of The Faery Queen, the adulator of Elizabeth and the friend of Sidney and Raleigh, died in almost absolute poverty, apparently, in obscure lodgings in London,

Of the personal history of Spenser not very much more is known than of Shakespeare's. It is an ungrateful task to be obliged to record that the little that is known of his life in Ireland at his far-famed Kilcolman Castle, where the larger part of his great poem was composed, in relation to his tenants, shows him not in the most amiable light, or in the character we would fain imagine to belong to so charming a genius,

The appearance of The Faery Queen marks an ever-memorable epoch in the history of English poetry. Spenser may be called the second father of English poetry. The Canterbury Tales, that well,' as he himself terms it, of English undefiled,' had appeared two hundred years before ; and stands alone and isolated in the age in which it was produced. The influence of Spenser upon his great succes. sors, especially upon Milton, Thomson, Shelley, in different degrees and manner, and indeed upon a considerable proportion of English poetry ever since, it would be difficult to overestimate. He was the first to adopt the ottava rima of Ariosto and the Italian school, one of the mos effective kinds of poetic forms, which he improved by the addition o the Alexandrine, as it is called, the ninth and concluding verse of thi stanza. As to its versification, its peculiar characteristics are : harmony and melody which have seldom been equalled and neve surpassed. The Faery Queen is a veritable land of faery, wanderin in which the imagination is charmed in being withdrawn from the ster: realities, the littlenesses and annoyances, of every-day life into the mos delightful and seductive scenes ever conjured up by the magic wand o the poet. Spenser is pre-eminently the poet of beauty, whether i picturing the charms of feminine loveliness, or those of birds and wood and fountains. It is to be regretted that he was tempted by his admira tion for Chaucer to adopt his antique diction and phraseology; an unfoi tunate choice which has doubtless deterred many, unacquainted with ear] English, from doing him justice by reading him through continuousl; For the benefit, however, of such readers, editions have been publishe of late with a spelling of more modern date. Of his special merits has been justly said that'he threw the soul of harmony into our vers and made it more warmly, tenderly, and magnificently descriptive thë it ever was before, or, with a few exceptions, than it has ever bee

since. It must certainly be owned that in description he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes and robust power which characterise the very greatest poets; but we shall nowhere find more airy and expansive images of visionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, or a finer flush in the colours of language, than in this Rubens of English poetry. His fancy toems exuberantly in minuteness of circumstance, like a fertile soil sending bloom and verdure through the utmost extremities of the foliage which it nourishes. ... The clouds of his allegory may seem to spread into shapeless forms, but they are still the clouds of a glowing atmosphere. Though his story grows desultory, the sweetness and grace of his manner still abide by him. He is like a speaker whose tones continue to be pleasing, though he may speak too long; or like a painter who makes us forget the defect of his design by the magic of his colouring. We always rise from perusing him with melody in the mind's ear, and with pictures of romantic beauty impressed on the imagination.'—(Campbell's Specimens.)

FAERY QUEEN.

THE DUNGEON OF PRIDE.

• The porcelain clay of human-kind.'

XLV

In a dungeon deep huge numbers lay Of caitiff wretched thralls, that wailed night and day.

XLVI

A rueful sight as could be seen with eye,
Of whom he learned had in secret wise
The hidden cause of their captivity;
How mortgaging their lives to Covetise
Through wasteful Pride and wanton Riotise,
They were by law of that proud Tyranness
Provoked with Wrath and Envy's false surmise,

Condemned to that dungeon merciless,
Where they should live in woe, and die in wretchedness.

XLVII

There was that great proud king of Babylon,
That would compel all nations to adore,
And him as only God to call upon;
Till, through celestial doom thrown out of door,
Into an ox he was transformed of

yore. There also was King Crosus, that enhanced His heart too high through his great riches' store;

And proud Antiochus, the which advanced His cursed hand ’gainst God, and on His altars danced.

XLVIII

And them longtime before, great Nimrod was,
That first the world with sword and fire warray'd ;
And after him old Ninus far did pass
In princely pomp, of all the world obey'd.
There also was that mighty monarch lay'd
Low under all, yet above all in pride,
That name of native sire did foul upbraid,

And would as Ammon's son be magnified,
Till, scorned of God and man, a shameful death he died.

XLIX

All these together in one heap were thrown,
Like carcasses of beasts in butchers' stall,
And in another corner wide were strown
The antique ruins of the Romans' fall :
Great Romulus, the grandsire of them all;
Proud Tarquin and too lordly Lentulus;
Stout Scipio, and stubborn Hannibal;

Ambitious Sulla, and stern Marius;
High Cæsar, great Pompey, and fierce Antonius.

« ForrigeFortsæt »