IN the article on Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, and Ford, in the February number of this magazine, we closed our remarks on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth. In the present paper we propose to treat of Spenser, with some introductory observations on the miscellaneous poets who preceded him. And it is necessary to bear in mind that, In the age of which we treat, as in all ages, the versifiers far exceeded the seers, and the poetasters the poets. It has been common to exercise a charity towards the early English poets which we refuse to extend to those of later times ; but mediocrity has identical characteristics in all periods, and there was no charm in the circumstances of the Elizabethan age to convert a rhymer into a genius. Indeed, leaving out the dramatists, the poetry produced in the reigns of Elizabeth and James can hardly compare in originality, richness, and variety with the English poetry of the nineteenth century. Spenser is a great name ; but he is the only undramatic poet of his time who could be placed above, or on a level with, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, or Tennyson. There is a list, somewhere, of two hundred names of poets who belonged to the Elizabethan age, — mostly mere nebulous appearances, which require a telescope of the greatest power to separate into individual stars. Few of them can be made to shine with as steady a lustre as the ordinary versemen who contribute to our magazines. Take “England’s Helicon ” and the “ Paradise of Dainty Devices,” — two collections of the miscellaneous poetry written during the last forty or fifty years of the seventeenth century, — and, if we except a few pieces by Raleigh, Sidney, Marlowe, Greene, Lodge, Breton, Watson, Nash, and Hunnis, these collections have little to dazzle us into admiration or afflict us with a sense of inferiority. Reading them is a task, in which an occasional elegance of thought, or quaintness of fancy, or sweetness of sentiment does not compensate for the languor induced by tiresome repetitions of moral commonplaces, varied by repetitions, as tiresome, of amatory commonplaces. In the great body of the poetry of the time there is more that is bad than tolerable, more that is tolerable than readable, and more that is readable than excellent.

One person, however, stands out from this mob of versifiers the most noticeable elevation in English poetry from Chaucer to Spenser, namely, Thomas Sackville, afterwards Lord Buckhurst, and Earl of Dorset. Born in 1536, and educated at both universities, his poetic genius was but one phase of his general ability. In 1561 his tragedy of Gorbodoc was acted with great applause before the Queen. Previously to this, in 1559, at the age of twenty-three, he had joined two dreary poetasters—Baldwyne and Ferrers — in the production of a work called “The Mirrour for Magistrates,” the design of which was to exhibit, in a series of metrical narratives and soliloquies, the calamities of men prominent in the history of England. The work passed to a third edition in 1571, and received such constant additions from other writers, in the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions, that its bulk finally became enormous. Its poetical value is altogether in the Comparatively meagre contributions of Sackville, consisting of the “ Induction,” and the complaint of the Duke of Buckingham. The “ Induction,” especially, is a masterpiece of meditative imagination, working under the impulse of sternly serious sentiment. Misery and sorrow seem the dark inspires of Sackville’s Muse ; and his allegoric pictures of Revenge, Remorse, Old Age, Dread, Care, Sleep, Famine, Strife, War, and Death exhibit such a combination of reflective and analytic with imaginative power, of melody of verse with compact, massive strength, and certainty of verbal expression, that our wonder is awakened that a man with such a conscious mastery of the resources of thought and language should have written so little. If political ambition — the ambition that puts thoughts into facts instead of putting them into words — was the cause of his withdrawal from the Muse, if Burleigh tempted him from Dante, it must be admitted that his choice, in a worldly sense, was justified by the event, for he became an eminent statesman, and in 1598 was made Lord High Treasurer of England. He held that great office at the time of his death, in 1608. But it is probable that Sackville ceased to cultivate poetry because he failed to reap its internal rewards. His genius had no joy in it; and its exercise probably gave him little poetic delight. With great force of imagination, his was still a somewhat dogged force. He could discern clearly, and shape truly, but no sudden ecstasy of emotion gave a “precious seeing” to his eye or unexpected felicity to his hand. There is something bleak in his noblest verse. The poet, we must ever remember, is paid, not by external praise, or fortune, or fame, but by the deep bliss of those inward moods from which his creations spring. The pleasure they give to others is as nothing compared with the rapture they give to him.

But Sackville was to be succeeded by a man who, though he did not exhibit at so early an age equal power of shaping imagination, had that perception of the loveliness of things, and that joy in the perception, which make continuous poetic creation a necessity of existence. In the meagre memorials of the external career of this man, Edmund Spenser, there is little that stands in intelligible connection with the wondrous inner life embodied in the enchantments of “ The Faery Queene.” He was born in London in 1552, and was the son of parents who, though in humble circumstances, were of gentle birth. We first hear of him, at the age of seventeen, as a sizar, or charity student, in Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. While there be made acquaintance, and formed a lasting friendship with Gabriel Harvey,—a man of large acquirements, irritable temper, and pedantic taste, who rendered himself the object of the sarcastic invectives of the wits of the time, and to be associated with whom was to run the risk of sharing the ridicule he provoked. One of the most beautiful traits of Spenser’s character was his constancy to his friends ; to their persons when alive, to their memory when dead. It is difficult to discover what intellectual benefits Spenser derived from Harvey’s companionship, though we know what the world has gained by his refusal to follow his advice. It was Harvey who tried to persuade Spenser into writing hexameter verse, and dissuade him from writing the Faery Oueene. After seven years’ residence at the University, Spenser took his degree, and went to reside with some friends of his family in the North of England. Here he fell in love with a beautiful girl, whose real name he has concealed under the anagrammatic one of Rosalind, and who, after having tempted and balked the curiosity of English critics, has, by an American writer,1 who has raised guessing into a science, been satisfactorily proved to be Rose Daniel, a sister of the poet Daniel. It is mortifying to record that she rejected the great exalter of her sex, —the creator of some of the most exquisite embodiments of female excellence, — the man who had the high honor of saying of women,—

“ For demigods they be, and first did spring
From heaven, though graft in frailness feminine,”—

she rejected him, we say, for a ridiculous and irascible pedant, John Florio, and one so prominent in his folly that Shakespeare condescended to lampoon him in “ Love’s Labor Lost.”

But the graces of soul and person which had no effect on the heart of Rosalind were not lost on the mind of Sir Philip Sidney. Introduced to Spenser, — it is supposed by Gabriel Harvey,— Sidney recognized his genius, and warmly recommended him to his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, who, in 1579, took him into his service. In December of that year he published his Shepherd’s Calendar, a series of twelve pastorals, — one for every month. In these, avoiding the affectation of refinement, he falls into the opposite affectation of rusticity; and, by a profusion of obsolete and uncouth expressions, hinders the free movement of his fancy. It may be wrong for shepherds to talk in the style of courtiers, as they do in many pastoral poets ; but it is also wrong to give them the sentiments and ideas of priests and philosophers. Campbell, who is a sceptic in regard to all English pastorals, is especially severe on the Shepherd’s Calendar. Spenser’s shepherds, he says, “ are parsons in disguise, who converse about heathen divinities and points of Christian theology. Palinode defends the luxuries of the Catholic clergy, and Piers extols the purity of Archbishop Grindal, concluding with the story of a fox who came to the house of a goat in the character of a pedler, and obtained admittance by pretending to be a sheep. This may be burlesquing Æsop ; but certainly it is not imitating Theocritus.” These eclogues are, however, important, considered in reference to their position in the history of English poetry, and to their connection with the history of the poet’s heart. No descriptions of external nature since Chaucer’s equalled those in the Shepherd’s Calendar, in the combination of various excellences, though the excellences were still second rate, exhibiting the beautiful genius of the author struggling with the pedantries and affectations of his time, and the pedantries and affectations which overlaid his own mind. Even in his prime, it was difficult for him to grasp a thing in itself, after the manner of the greatest poets, and flash its form and spirit upon the mind in a few vivid words, vital with suggestive meaning. In the Shepherd’s Calendar this defect is especially prominent, his imagination playing round objects, illustrating and adorning them, rather than penetrating at once to their essence. Even in those portions where, as Colin Clout, he celebrates the beauty and bewails the coldness of Rosalind, we have a conventional discourse about love, rather than the direct utterance of the passion.

Spenser’s ambition was to obtain some office which, by placing him above want, would enable him to follow his true vocation of poet, and he seems to have looked to Leicester as a magnificent patron through whom his wish could be realized. The great design of the Faery Queene had already dawned upon his mind ; he

“ By that vision splendid
Was on his way attended ” ;

and he ached for leisure and competence to enable him to embody his gorgeous and noble dreams. All that Leicester did for him was to get him appointed secretary to Lord Grey of Wilton, who, in 1580, went over to Ireland as lord deputy. Here he passed the largest remaining portion of his life ; and though moaning over the hard fortune which banished him from England, he appears to have exhibited sufficient talent for affairs, and to have performed services of sufficient note, to deserve the attention of the government. In 1586 he received a grant of three thousand and twenty-eight acres of land, — a portion of the confiscated estates of the Earl of Desmond. The manor and the castle of Kilcolman, situated amidst the most beautiful scenery, constituted a portion of this grant. In 1589 the restless and chivalrous Raleigh, transiently out of favor with the haughty coquette who ruled England, came over to Ireland for the purpose of looking after his own immense estates in that country, wrung, like Spenser’s, from the native proprietors. He visited the lone poet at Kilcolman ; and to him,

“ Amongst the coolly shade
Of the green alders by the Mullaes shore,”

Spenser read the first three books of The Faery Oueene. Campbell, finely says: “ When we conceive Spenser reciting his compositions to Raleigh in a scene so beautifully appropriate, the mind casts pleasing retrospect over that influence which the enterprise of the discoverer of Virginia and the genius of the author of The Faery Queene have respectively produced in the fortune and language of England. The fancy might easily be pardoned for a momentary superstition, that the genius of their country hovered, unseen, over their meeting, casting her first look of regard on the poet that was destined to inspire her future Milton, and the other on her maritime hero, who paved the way for colonizing distant regions of the earth, where the language of England was to be spoken, and the poetry of Spenser to be admired.”

Raleigh, his imagination kindled by the enchantments of Spenser’s verse, and feeling that he had discovered in an Irish wilderness the greatest of living poets, prevailed on the toohappy author to accompany him to England. Spenser was graciously received by Elizabeth, and was smitten with a courtier’s hopes in receiving a poet’s welcome.

In the early part of 1590 the first three books of The Faery Queene were published. Who that has read it can ever forget the thrill that went through him as he completed the first stanza ?

“ Lo, I the man whose Muse whilom did mask,
As Time her taught, in lowly shepherd’s weeds,
Am now enforced, — a far unfitter task, —
For trumpets stern to change my oaten reeds;
And sing of knights’ and ladies’ gentle deeds,
Whose praises, having slept in silence long,
Me, all too mean, the sacred Muse areeds,
To blazon broad amongst her learned throng :
Fierce wars and faithful loves shall moralize my song.”

“ The admiration,” says Hallam, “of this great poem was unanimous and enthusiastic. No academy had been trained to carp at his genius with minute cavilling ; no recent popularity, no traditional fame, interfered with the immediate recognition of his supremacy. The Faery Queene became at once the delight of every accomplished gentleman, the model of every poet, the solace of every scholar.”

But if the aspirations of the poet were thus gratified, those of the courtier and politician were cruelly disappointed. Burleigh, the lord treasurer, to whom Spenser was merely a successful maker of ballads, and one pushed forward by the faction which was constantly intriguing for his lordship’s overthrow, contrived to intercept, delay, or divert the favor which the queen was willing to bestow on her melodious flatterer. The irritated bard, in a few memorable couplets, has recorded, for the warning of all office-seekers and supplicants for the patronage of the great, his wretched experience during the year and a half he danced attendance on the court. Rage is a great condenser; and even the most diffuse of poets became the most concentrated when wrath brooded over the memory of wrong. this was the harsh experience of the laurelled minstrel, fresh from the glories of fairy-land. But it is only charitable to allow for the different points of view from which different minds survey the poet. To Burleigh, Spenser was a rhyming suitor, clamorous for the queen’s favor, and meditating designs on her treasury. To a .Mr. Beeston. according to Aubrey, “ he was a little man, who wore short hair, little band, and little cuffs.” Did not the sullen Burleigh have a more profound appreciation of Spenser than the great world of commonplace gossips, represented by friend Beeston? At last, in February, 1591, Spenser succeeded in obtaining a pension of fifty pounds, and returned, but half satisfied, to Ireland. In a graceful poem, called “ Colin Clout’s come Home again,” full of gratitude to Raleigh and adulation of Elizabeth, he described the glories and the vanities he had witnessed at the English court.

“ To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares :
To cat thy heart through comfortless despairs ;
To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undone,” —

A deeper passion than that which inspired the amorous plaints of the Shepherd’s Calendar, and one destined to a happier end, he now recorded in a series of exquisitely thoughtful and tender sonnets, under the general name of “ Amoretti ” ; and he celebrated its long-deferred consummation in a rapturous “ Epithalamion.” We have no means of judging of Elizabeth, the Irish maiden who prompted these wonderful poems, except from her transfigured image as seen reflected in Spenser’s verse,— verse which has made her perfect and has made her immortal. The “Epithalamion” is the grandest and purest marriage-song in literature. Even Hallam, the least sensitive of critics, and one who too often writes as if judgment consisted, not in the inclusion, but exclusion of sympathy, cannot speak of this poem without an unwonted touch of ecstasy in the words which convey his magisterial decision ; and John Wilson grows wild in its praise. “Joy,” he says, — “Joy, Love, Desire, Passion, Gratitude, Religion, rejoice, in presence of Heaven, to take possession of Affection, Beauty, and Innocence. Faith and Hope are bridesmaids, and holiest incense is burning on the altar.” But the raptures of critics can convey no adequate idea of the deep, thoughtful, satisfying delight that breathes through the “ Epithalamion,” and harmonizes its occasional starts of ecstasy into unity with its pervading spirit of tranquil bliss. How simple and tender, and yet how intensely imaginative, is this exquisite picture of the bride!

“ Behold, whiles she before the altar stands,
Hearing the holy priest that to her speaks
And blesseth her with his two happy hands,
How the red roses flush up in her cheeks,
And the pure snow with goodly vermeil stain
Like crimson dyed in grain :
That even the angels, which continually
About the sacred altar do remain,
Forget their service and about her fly,
Oft peeping in her face, that scorns more fair
The more they on it stare.
But her sad eyes, still fastened on the ground,
Are governed with goodly modesty,
That suffers not one look to glance awry,
Which may let in a little thought unsound.
Why blush ye, Love, to give to me your hand,
The pledge of all our band?
Sing, ye sweet angels, Allelujah sing,
That all the woods may answer, and your echoes
ring ! ”

Nothing can be more subtilely poetic than the line in which the hands of the priest, lifted over her head in the act of benediction, receive a reflected joy from the beauty they bless : —

“ And blesseth her with his two happy hands.”

At the time of his marriage, in 1594, Spenser had completed three more books of The Faery Queene, and in 1595 he visited England for the purpose of publishing them. They appeared in 1596. During this visit he presented to the queen his view of the state of Ireland, — a prose tract, displaying the sagacity of an English statesman, but a spirit towards the poor native Irish as ruthless as Cromwell’s. He felt, in respect to the population of the country in which he was forced to make his home, as a Puritan New-Englander might have felt in regard to the wild Indians who were skulking round his rude cabin, peering for a chance at the scalps of his children. Returning to Ireland, with the queen’s recommendation for the office of Sheriff of Cork, his worldly fortunes seemed now to be assured. But in 1598 the Insurrection of Munster broke out. Spenser, who appears, not unnaturally, to have been especially hated by the Irish, lost everything. His house was assailed, pillaged, and burned ; and in the hurry of his departure from his burning dwelling, it is said that his youngest child was left to perish in the flames. He succeeded, with the remaining portion of his family, in escaping to London, where, in a common inn, overcome by his misfortunes, and broken in heart and brain, on the 16th of January, 1599, he died. The saddest thing of all remains to be recorded. Soon after his death—such is the curt statement — “his widow married one Roger Seckerstone.” Did Edmund Spenser, then, appear after all to Elizabeth as he appeared to Mr. Beeston, — simply as “a little man, who wore short hair, little band, and little cuffs” ? One would suppose that the memory of so much genius and glory and calamity would have been better than the presence of “ one Roger Seckerstone ” ! Among the thousands of millions of men born on the planet, it was her fortune to be the companion of Edmund Spenser, and “ soon after his death she married one Roger Seckerstone ” ! It required two years of assiduous courtship, illustrated by sonnets which have made her name immortal, before the adoring poet could hymn, in a transport of gratitude, her acceptance of his hand ; but fortunate Mr. Seckerstone did not have to wait ! She saw her husband laid in Westminster Abbey, mourned by all that was noble in rank or high in genius, and then, as in the case of another too-celebrated marriage,

“The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables !”

The work to which Spenser devoted the largest portion of his meditative life was The Faery Queene; and in this poem the whole nature and scope of his genius may be discerned. Its object, as he tells us, “ was to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline ” ; and as doctrine embodied in persons is more efficient than doctrine embodied in maxims, he proposed to do this by means of a historical fiction, in which duty should be infused into the mind by the process of delight, and Virtue, reunited to the Beauty from which she had unwisely been severed, should be presented as an object to be passionately loved as well as reverently obeyed. He chose for his subject the history of Arthur, the fabulous hero and king of England, as familiar to readers of romance then as the heroes of Scott’s novels are to the readers of our time ; and he purposed “ to portray in him, before he was king, the image of a brave knight, perfected in the twelve private moral virtues.” This plan was to be comprised in twelve books ; and then he proposed, in case his plan succeeded, “ to frame the other part of politic virtues in his person, after he came to be king.” As only one half of the first portion of this vast design was completed, as this half makes one of the longest poems in the world, and as all but the poet’s resolute admirers profess their incapacity to read without weariness more than the first three books, it must be admitted that Spenser’s conception of the abstract capabilities of human patience was truly heroic, and that his confidence in his own longevity was founded on a reminiscence of Methuselah rather than from a study of vital statistics.

But the poem was also intended by the author to be “one long-continued allegory or dark conceit.” The story and the characters are symbolic as well as representative. The pictures that please the eye, the melody that charms the ear, the beauty that would seem “its own excuse for being,” cover a latent meaning, not perceptible to the senses they delight, but to be interpreted by the mind. Philosophical ideas, ethical truths, historical events, compliments to contemporaries, satire on contemporaries, are veiled and sometimes hidden in these beautiful forms and heroic incidents. Much of this covert sense is easily detected ; but to explain all would require a commcntator who could not only think from Spenser’s mind, but recall from oblivion all the gossip of Elizabeth’s court. The general intention of the allegorical design is given by the poet himself, in his letter to Raleigh. He supposes Prince Arthur, after his long education by Timon, “to have seen in a dream or vision the Faery Queene, with whose excellent beauty ravished, he, awaking, resolved to seek her out” ; and, armed by the magician Merlin, Arthur went to seek her in fairy-land. Spenser is careful to inform us that by the Faery Queene he means Glory in his general intention, but in his particular, “ the excellent and glorious person of our sovereign the queen, and her kingdom in fairy-land.” And considering that she bears two persons, “ the one of a most royal queen or empress, the other of a virtuous and beautiful lady, the latter part in some places I do express in Belphœbe.” Arthur he intends to be the embodiment of the virtue of Magnificence, or Magnanimity, as this contains all the other virtues, and is the perfection of them all; but of the twelve separate virtues he takes twelve different knights for the patrons, making the adventures of each the subject of a whole book, though the magnificent Arthur appears in all, exercising with ease the special virtue, whether it be temperance, or holiness, or chastity, or courtesy, or justice, which is included in the rounded perfection of his moral being. The explanation of the causes of these several adventures was, in the poem, to be reserved to the twelfth book, of which the rude Irish kerns unwittingly deprived us, in depriving us of the brain in which alone it had existence ; but we know that the poet’s plan was, in that book, to represent the Faery Queene as keeping her annual feast twelve days, “upon which the occasions of the twelve separate adventures happened, which, being undertaken by twelve separate knights,” were in the twelve books of the poem to be severally described. Spenser defends his course in thus putting what might be deemed the beginning at the end, by discriminating between the poet historical and the historiographer. A historiographer, he says, “ discourseth of affairs orderly, as they were done, accounting as well the times as the actions ; but a poet thrusteth into the middest, ever where it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to thing forepast, and divining of things to come, maketh a pleasing analysis of all.”

In judging of the plan of the Faery Queene, we must remember that it is a fragment. Spenser only completed six books, of twelve cantos each, and a portion of another. The tradition that three unpublished books were destroyed by the fire which consumed his dwelling has, by the latest and ablest critical editor of his works, Professor F. J. Child, been rejected as unfounded and untenable. But though the poem was never completed, we know the poet’s design ; and much as this design has been censured, it seems to us that the radical defect was not in what Spenser proposed to do, but in the way he did it, — not in the plan of the poem, but in the limitations of the poet. He conceived the separate details, the individual objects, persons, and incidents, imaginatively; but he conceived the whole plan logically. He could give, and did give, elaborate reasons for the conduct of his story, — better reasons perhaps than Homer, or Shakespeare, or Cervantes, or Goethe could have given to justify the designs of their works ; but do you suppose that he could have given reasons for Una, or Florimel, or Amoret ? The truth is, that his design was too large and complicated for his imagination to grasp as a whole. The parts, each organically conceived, are not organically related. The result is a series of organisms connected by a logical bond,— an endless procession of beautiful forms, but no vital combination of them into unity of impression. The cumbrousness and confusion and diffusion which critics have recognized in the poem are to be referred to the fact that the processes of the understanding, coldly contemplating the general plan, are in hopeless antagonism to the processes of the imagination, rapturously beholding and bodying forth the separate parts. The moment the poet abandons himself to his genius, he forgets, and makes us forget, the purpose he had in view at the start ; and he and we are only recalled from the delicious dream in order that he may moralize, and that we may yawn. A dozen lines might be selected from any canto which are of more value than his statement of the idea of the whole poem. In truth, the combining, co-ordinating, centralizing, fusing imagination of the highest order of genius, — an imagination competent to seize and hold such a complex design as our poet contemplated, and to flash in brief and burning words details over which his description lovingly lingers, — this was a power denied to Spenser. He has auroral lights in profusion, but no lightning. It is not that he lacks power. The Cave of Despair, the description of Mammon and of Jealousy, the Binding of Furor, not to mention other examples, are full of power; but it is not condensed into that direct executive efficiency which, in the same instant, irradiates, smites, and is gone, He has not so much of this power as Byron, though he greatly exceeds him in fulness of matter and depth and elevation of thought.

The poem has another defect, which also answers to a limitation of Spenser’s character. His disposition was soft and yielding ; and, to honor a friend or propitiate a patron, he did not hesitate to make his verse a vehicle of flattery as well as of truth. If by Prince Arthur he intended any real person, it was probably Sir Philip Sidney; but in the sixth book he allows himself to associate the name of Arthur with the ignominious campaign of Leicester in the Netherlands, — Leicester, who represented the seven deadly sins rather than the twelve moral virtues. Sir Arthegall, again, stands for Lord Grey of Wilton, the Irish lord deputy, whom Spenser served as secretary ; but Grey was the exponent of ruthlessness rather than of justice. The flattery of Queen Elizabeth is so gross, that the wonder is that she did not behead him for irony instead of pensioning him for panegyric. The queen’s hair was red, or, as some still chivalrously insist, auburn; and Spenser, like the other poets of the day, is too loyal to permit the ideal head of beauty to wear any locks but those which are golden. In the first book, the Red-Cross Knight, who is the personification of Holiness, after being married to Una, who is the personification of Truth or True Religion, leaves her at the end of the twelfth, canto to go to the court of Gloriana, the Faery Queene. Now, if Gloriana means Glory, Holiness very improperly leaves True Religion to seek it; if Gloriana means Queen Elizabeth, it is probable that Holiness never arrived at his destination.

We have thus a poet ungifted with the smiting directness of power, the soaring and darting imagination, of the very highest order of minds ; a man sensitive, tender, grateful, dependent; reverential to the unseen realities of the spiritual world; deferential to the crowned and coroneted celebrities of the world of fact; but we still have not yet touched the peculiarities of his special genius. If we pass into the inner world of the poet’s spirit, where he really lived and brooded, we forget criticism in the loving wonder and admiration evoked by the sight of that “ paradise of devices,” both “dainty” and divine. We are in communion with a nature in which the most delicate, the most voluptuous, sense of beauty is in exquisite harmony with the austerest recognition of the paramount obligations of goodness and rectitude. The beauty of material objects never obscures to him the transcendent beauty of holiness. In his Bowers of Bliss and his Houses of Pride he surprises even voluptuaries by the luxuriousness of his descriptions, and dazzles even the arrogant by the towering bravery of his style ; but his Bowers of Bliss repose on caverns of bale, and the glories of his House of Pride are built over human carcasses.

This great mind ripened late ; for was cumulative before it was creative, and inventiveness brooded over memory. With great subtlety and strength of reason, disciplined, exalted, and connected with imagination by deep study of the philosophy of Plato, his intellect, under the guidance of fixed spiritual ideas, roamed over the field of history and fiction, selecting from every quarter fit nutriment to feed and increase its energies. The mythology of Greece and Rome, the creeds and martyrologies of Christendom, the romance and superstitions of the Middle Ages, the ideals and facts of chivalry, the literatures of every civilized nation, were all received into his hospitable intelligence, and more or less assimilated with its substance. Gradually his imagination, working on these multifarious materials, gave them form and life. Divinities, fairies, magicians, goblins, embodied passions, became real objects to his inward vision. He had sight of

“ Proteus coming from the sea,”
Heard old Triton blow his wreathéd horn.”

He began to believe, with more than the usual faith of the poet, in the beautiful, or terrible, or fantastic shapes with which his fancy was peopled. As they had been modified, re-created, associated with his own sympathies and antipathies, Spenserized, in the imaginative process they had gone through, he felt spiritually at home in their company. Even when they were falsified by actual facts, he knew they were still the appropriate images of essential truths, having a validity independent experience. And it was this wondrous and various troop of ideal shapes, palpable to his own eye, and domesticated in his own heart, that he sent forth, in an endless succession of pictures, through the magical pages of The Faery Queene.

It was the necessary condition of a poem, thus sociably blending Christian and Pagan beliefs, Platonic ideas and barbaric superstitions, that its action should occur in what Coleridge happily calls " mental space.” Truth of scenery, truth of climate, truth of locality, truth of costume, could have no binding authority in the everywhere and nowhere of Fairy-Land. Spenser’s life was too inward to allow his observation of external nature to be close and exact. He had not, of course, the pert pretension of the artist, who said that nature put him out; or of the French abstractionist, who, when told that his theory did not agree with facts, blandly replied, “ So much the worse for the facts ” ; but his fault, if fault it was, arose from a predominance of his reflective and imaginative powers over his powers of observation,— from his instinctive habit of subordinating, in Bacon’s phrase, “the shows of things to the desires of the mind”; and as the scene of his poem is mental and not material space, his lack of local truth is hardly a real defect. It is objected, for example, that, in his enumeration of trees in one of his forests, he associates trees which in nature are dissevered ; but his forest is in Fairy-Land. Again, the following stanza, — one of the most beautiful in the poem, describing the melody which arose from the Bower of Bliss,—has been repeatedly criticised : —

“ The joyous birds, shrouded in cheerful shade,
Their notes unto the voice attempered sweet;
The angelical soft, trembling voices made
To th’ instruments divine respondence meet;
The silver-sounding instruments did meet
With the base murmur of the water’s fall;
The water’s fall, with difference discreet,
Now soft, now loud, unto the wind did call;
The gentle warbling wind low answeréd to all.”

But it is objected, that the result of such a combination of sounds, voices, and instruments would be discord, and not melody. We may be sure it made music to Spenser’s soul, though he admits that it was not the music of earth ; —

“Right hard it was for wight who did it hear
To read what manner music that mote be ;
For all that pleasing is to living ear
Was there consorted in one harmony ;
Birds, voices, instruments, winds, waters, all agree.”

Again, Hallam says that the image conjured up by the description of Una riding

“ Upon a lowly ass more white than snow,
But she much whiter,”

is a hideous image ; but it is evident he does not follow the thought of the poet, who, rapidly passing from snow as a material fact to snow as an emblem of innocence, intends to say that the white purity of Una’s soul, shining in her face and transfiguring its expression, cannot be expressed by the purest material symbol. The image of a woman’s free, ghastly and ghostly white, passed before Hallam’s eye ; we may be sure that no such uncomely image was in Spenser’s mind. The real meaning is so obvious, that its perversion by so distinguished a critic proves that acuteness has no irreconcilable feud with imaginative insensibility, and can be spiritually dull when it prides itself most on being intellectually keen.

To this inwardness,—this ideal and idealizing quality of Spenser’s soul, — we must add its melodiousness. His best thoughts were born in music. The spirit of poetry is not only felt in his sentiments and made visible in his imagery, but it steals out in the recurring chimes of his complicated stanza. Accordingly Spenser, rather than Shakespeare and Milton, who, as Coleridge has remarked, had “ deeper and more inwoven harmonies,” is commonly adduced in support of the accredited dogma, that verse is as much an essential constituent of poetry as passion and imagination. But it seems to us that poetry is not necessarily opposed to prose, but to what is prosaic. It doubtless sometimes finds in verse its happiest and most vital expression ; but sometimes verse is a clog, and its management a mechanical exercise. Much of Spenser’s, especially in the last three books of The Faery Queene, is mere ingenuity in rhythm and rhyme ; and even in the first three books we continually light on passages which are essentially prosaic. Take, for example, the following stanza, descriptive of Immodest Mirth, and it will readily be seen that only the first four lines are poetic : —

“ And therein sat a lady fresh and fair.
Making sweet solace to herself alone :
Sometimes she sang as loud as lark in air,
Sometimes she laughed, that nigh her breath was
gone ;
Yet was there not with her else any one,
That to her might move cause of merriment ;
Matter of mirth enough, though there were none,
She could devise; and thousand ways invent
To feed her foolish humor and vain jolliment.”

In Shakespeare’s line,

“ How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon that bank !”

the poetry is in the single epithet “sleeps”; substitute “lies,” and, though the rhythm would be as perfect, the line would be prosaic. The soul of poetry, indeed, is impassioned imagination, using words, but not necessarily verse, in its expression. Bacon wrote verse, and execrable verse it is; but was not Bacon a poet ? Is not Milton a poet in his prose? Are not the prose translations of the Psalms of David poetic ? The poetic faculty, which is vital, cannot be made to depend on a form which, even in undisputed poets, is so apt to be mechanical. Even should we admit that verse is the body of which poetry is the soul, cannot a soul manifest itself in a body which does not in all respects correspond to it? Cannot the essential spirit of poetry transfigure the rudest, unrhythmic expression, as the soul of Socrates glorified his homely face ? It is not, of course, mere imagination which makes a poet; for Aristotle and Newton were men of great imagination, scientifically directed to the discovery of new truth, not to the creation of new beauty. But imagination, directed by poetic sentiment and passion to poetic ends, docs make the poet. And that these conditions are often fulfilled in prose, and a purely poetic impression produced, cannot be denied without resisting the evidence of ordinary experience.

And though there is a delicious charm in Spenser’s sweetest verse, the finest and rarest elements of his genius were independent of music. That celestial light which occasionally touches his page with an ineffable beauty, and which gave to him in his own time the name of the heavenly Spenser, is a more wonderful emanation from his mind than its subtlest melodies. We especially feel this in his ideal delineations of woman, in which he has only been exceeded by Shakespeare. He has been called the poet’s poet; he should also be called the woman’s poet, for the feminine element in his genius is its loftiest, deepest, most angelic element. The tenderness, the ethereal softness and grace, the moral purity, the sentiment untainted by sentimentality, which characterize his impersonations of feminine excellence, show, too, that the poet’s brain had been fed from his heart, and that reverence for woman was the instinct of his sensibility before it was the insight of his imagination.

The inwardness of Spenser’s genius, the constant reference of his creative faculty to internal ideals, rather than objective facts, has given his poem a special character of remoteness. It is often objected to his female characters that they are not sufficiently individualized, and are too far removed from ordinary life to awaken human sympathy. It is to be hoped that the latter part of this charge is not true ; for a person who can have no sympathy with Una, and Belphœbe, and Florimel, and Amoret, can have no sympathy with the woman in women. But it must be conceded, that though Shakespeare, like Spenser, draws his women from ideal regions of existence, he has succeeded better in naturalizing them on the planet. The creations of both are characterized by remoteness ; but Shakespeare’s are direct perceptions of objects ideally remote, and strike us both by their naturalness and thendistance from common nature. Spenser really sees the objects as distant, and sees them through a visionary medium. The strong-winged Shakespeare penetrates to the region of spiritual facts which he embodies ; Spenser surveys them wonderingly from below. Shakespeare goes up; Spenser looks up ; and our poet therefore lacks the great dramatist’s “familiar grasp of things divine.”

It remains to be said, that though Spenser’s outward life was vexed with discontent, and fretted by his resentment of the indifference with which he supposed his claims were treated by the great and powerful, his poetry breathes the very soul of contentment and cheer. This cheer has no connection with mirth, either in the form of wit or humor, but springs from his perception of an ideal of life, which has become a reality to his heart and imagination. The Faery Queene proves that the perception of the Beautiful can make the heart more abidingly glad than the perception of the ludicrous. In the soul of this seer and singer, who shaped the first vague dreams and unquiet aspirations of the youth into beautiful forms to solace the man, there is a serene depth of tender joy, ay, “ a sober certainty of waking bliss ” ; and, as he has not locked up in his own breast this precious delight, but sent it in vital currents through the marvels and moralities of The Faery Queene to refresh the world, let no defects which criticism can discern hinder the reader from participating in the deep satisfaction of that happy spirit, and the visionary glories of that celestialized imagination.

  1. *In the Atlantic Monthly for November, 1858.