صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

to do it cleverly. In short, the whole external evidence would make one believe these fragments (for so he calls them, though nothing can be more entire) counterfeit; but the internal is so strong on the other side, that I am resolved to believe them genuine, spite of the Devil and the Kirk. It is impossible to convince me that they were invented by the same man that writes me these letters. On the other hand it is almost as hard to suppose, if they are original, that he should be able to translate them so admirably. What can one do? Since Stonehewer went, I have received another of a very different and inferior kind (being merely descriptive), - much more modern than the former, he says, yet very old too; this too in its way is extremely fine. In short this man is the very Dæmon of poetry, or he has lighted on a treasure hid for ages. .

• ·


Feb. 25, 1768.

To your friendly accusation I am glad I can plead not guilty with a safe conscience. Dodsley told me in the spring that the plates from Mr. Bentley's designs1 were worn out, and he wanted to have them copied and reduced to a smaller scale for a new edition. I dissuaded him from so silly an expense, and desired he would put in no ornaments at all. The "Long Story"

was to be totally omitted, as its only use that of explaining the prints -was gone; but to supply the place of it in bulk, lest my "works" should be mistaken for the works of a flea or a pismire, I promised to send him an equal weight of poetry or prose. So, since my return hither, I put up about two ounces of stuff, viz. the "Fatal Sisters," the "Descent of Odin " (of both which you have copies), a bit of something from the Welsh, and certain little notes, partly from justice to acknowledge the debt where I had borrowed anything, partly from ill temper, just to tell the gentle reader that Edward I was not Oliver Cromwell, nor Queen Elizabeth the Witch of Endor. This is literally all; and with all this, I shall be but a shrimp of an author. I gave leave also to print the same thing at Glasgow, but I doubt my packet has miscarried, for I hear nothing of its arrival as yet. To what you say to me so civilly, that I ought to

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1 One of Gray's volumes (1753) had been published under the title Designs by Mr. R. Bentley for Six Poems by Mr. T. Gray.

write more, I reply in your own words (like the pamphleteer, who is going to confute you out of your own mouth), What has one to do, when "turned of fifty," but really to think of finishing? However, I will be candid, for you seem to be so with me, and avow to you that till fourscore-and-ten, whenever the humor takes me, I will write, because I like it; and because I like myself much better when I do so. If I do not write much, it is because I cannot.

Mr. Boswell's book' I was going to recommend to you, when I received your letter; it has pleased and moved me strangely, - all, I mean, that relates to Paoli. He is a man born two thousand years after his time! The pamphlet proves what I have always maintained, that any fool may write a most valuable book by chance, if he will only tell us what he heard and saw with veracity. Of Mr. Boswell's truth I have not the least suspicion, because I am sure he could invent nothing of this kind. The true title of this part of his work is, A Dialogue between a Green-Goose and a Hero.

1 An Account of Corsica . . . and Memoirs of Pascal Paoli.




[The date above given is that of the first edition of the Observations, but the extracts are reprinted from the enlarged edition of 1762; they include portions of Sections I and x, and of the Postscript. This book was the first critical work dealing with an English author to follow the methods characteristic of modern scholarship. Its appreciation of certain aspects of Spenser's poetry also gives it an important place in the history of the socalled "romantic movement."]

. . It is absurd to think of judging either Ariosto or Spenser by precepts which they did not attend to. We who live in the days of writing by rule, are apt to try every composition by those laws which we have been taught to think the sole criterion of excellence. Critical taste is universally diffused, and we require the same order and design which every modern performance is expected to have, in poems where they never were regarded or intended. Spenser, and the same may be said of Ariosto, did not live in an age of planning. His poetry is the careless exuberance of a warm imagination and a strong sensibility. It was his business to engage the fancy, and to interest the attention, by bold and striking images, in the formation and the disposition of which little labor or art was applied. The various and the marvelous were the chief sources of delight. Hence we find our author ransacking alike the regions of reality and romance, of truth and fiction, to find the proper decorations and furniture for his fairy structure. Born in such an age, Spenser wrote rapidly from his own feelings, which at the same time were naturally noble. Exactness in his poem would have been like the cornice which a painter introduced in the grotto of Calypso. Spenser's beauties are like the flowers in Paradise,

which not nice art

In beds and curious knots, but Nature boon
Pour'd forth profuse, on hill and dale and plain,
Both where the morning sun first warmly smote
The open field, or where the unpierc'd shade
Imbrown'd the noontide bowers.

If the Fairy Queen be destitute of that arrangement and economy which epic severity requires, yet we scarcely regret the loss of these while their place is so amply supplied by something which more powerfully attracts us; something which engages the affections, the feelings of the heart, rather than the cold approbation of the head. If there be any poem whose graces please because they are situated beyond the reach of art, and where the force and faculties of creative imagination delight, because they are unassisted and unrestrained by those of deliberate judgment, it is this. In reading Spenser if the critic is not satisfied, yet the reader is transported.

In reading the works of a poet who lived in a remote age, it is necessary that we should look back upon the customs and manners which prevailed in that age. We should endeavor to place ourselves in the writer's situation and circumstances. Hence we shall become better enabled to discover how his turn of thinking and manner of composing were influenced by familiar appearances and established objects, which are utterly different from those with which we are at present surrounded. For want of this caution, too many readers view the knights and damsels, the tournaments and enchantments, of Spenser with modern eyes, never considering that the encounters of chivalry subsisted in our author's age; that romances were then most eagerly and universally studied; and that consequently Spenser. from the fashion of the times, was induced to undertake a recital of chivalrous achievements, and to become, in short, a romantic poet.

Spenser in this respect copied real manners no less than Homer. A sensible historian1 observes that "Homer copied true natural manners, which, however rough and uncultivated, will always form an agreeable and interesting picture; but the pencil of the English poet [Spenser] was employed in drawing the affectations and conceits and fopperies of chivalry." This, however, was nothing more than an imitation of real life; as much, at least, as the plain descriptions in Homer, which corresponded to the simplicity of manners then subsisting in Greece. Spenser, in the address of the Shepherd's Calendar to Sir Philip Sidney, couples his patron's learning with his skill in

1 Hume.

chivalry, a topic of panegyric which would sound very odd in a modern dedication, especially before a set of pastorals. "To the noble and virtuous gentleman, most worthy of all titles, both of Learning and Chivalry, Master Philip Sidney," —

Go, little book, thyself present,
As child whose parent is unkent.
To him that is the president
Of nobleness and chivalry.

Nor is it sufficiently considered that a popular practice of Spenser's age contributed, in a considerable degree, to make him an allegorical poet. We should remember that in this age allegory was applied as the subject and foundation of public shows and spectacles, which were exhibited with a magnificence superior to that of former times. The virtues and vices, distinguished by their respective emblematical types, were frequently personified, and represented by living actors. These figures bore a chief part in furnishing what they called pageants, which were then the principal species of entertainment, and were shown not only in private, or upon the stage, but very often in the open streets for solemnizing public occasions, or celebrating any grand event. As a proof of what is here mentioned, I refer the reader to Holinshed's Description of the Show of Manhood and Desert, exhibited at Norwich before Queen Elizabeth, and more particularly to that historian's account of a tourney performed by Fulke Greville, the Lords Arundel and Windsor, and Sir Philip Sidney, who are feigned to be the children of Desire, attempting to win the Fortress of Beauty. In the composition of the last spectacle no small share of poetical invention appears....

After the Fairy Queen, allegory began to decline, and by degrees gave place to a species of poetry whose images were of the metaphysical and abstracted kind. This fashion evidently took its rise from the predominant studies of the times, in which the disquisitions of school divinity, and the perplexed subtilties of philosophic disputation, became the principal pursuits of the learned.

Then Una fair gan drop her princely mien.

James I is contemptuously called a pedantic monarch. But surely nothing could be more serviceable to the interests of

« السابقةمتابعة »