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Yet his own face was dreadfull, ne did need
Next him was Fear, all arm'd from top to toe,
With him went Hope, in rank a handsome maid, Of chearfull look and lovely to behold; In silken samite she was light array'd, And her fair locks were woven up in gold; She always smil'd, and in her hand did hold An holy-water sprinkled dipt in dew, With which she sprinkled favours manifold On whom she list, and did great liking shew, Great liking unto many, but true love to few.
Next after them, the winged God himself
Of which full proud, himself uprearing high, He looked round about with stern disdain, And did survey his goodly company: And, marshalling the evil-ordered train, With that the darts which his right hand did strain, Full dreadfully he shook, that all did quake, And clapt on high his colour'd winges twain, That all his many it afraid did make: Tho' blinding him again, he his way forth did take.”
The description of Hope, in this series of historical portraits, is
“That house's form within was rude and strong,
Her cunning web, and spread her subtle net,
Both roof and floor, and walls were all of gold,
The Cave of Despair is described with equal gloominess and power of fancy; and the fine moral declamation of the owner of it, on the evils of life, almost makes one in love with death. In the story of Malbecco, who is hunted by Jealousy, and in vain strives to run away from his own thoughts—
“High over hill and over dale he flies”—
the truth of human passion and the preternatural ending are equally striking—It is not fair to compare Spenser with Shakspeare, in point of interest. A fairer comparison would be with Comus; and the result would not be unfavourable to Spenser. There is only one work of the same allegorical kind, which has more interest than Spenser (with scarcely less imagination :) and that is the Pilgrim's Progress. The three first books of the Faery Queen are very superior to the three last. One
* “That all with one consent praise new-born gauds,
would think that Pope, who used to ask if any one had ever read the Faery Queen through, had only dipped into these last. The only things in them equal to the former are the account of Talus, the Iron Man, and the delightful episode of Pastorella. The language of Spenser is full, and copious, to overflowing: it is less pure and idiomatic than Chaucer's, and is enriched and adorned with phrases borrowed from the different languages of Europe, both ancient and modern. He was, probably, seduced into a certain license of expression by the difficulty of filling up the moulds of his complicated rhymed stanza form the limited resources of his native language. This stanza with alternate and repeatedly recurring rhymes, is borrowe from the Italians. It was peculiarly fitted to their langauge, which abounds in similar vowel terminations, and is as little adapted to ours, from the stubborn, unaccommodating resistance which the consonant endings of the northern languages make to this sort of endless sing-song.—Not that I would on that account part with the stanza of Spencer. We are, perhaps, indebted to this very necessity of finding out new forms of expression, and to the occasional faults to which it led, for a poetical language, rich and varied and magnificent beyond all former, and almost all later, example. His versification is, at once, the most smooth and the most sounding in the language. It is a labyrinth of sweet sounds, “in many a winding bout of linked sweetness long drawn out,”—that would cloy by their very sweetness, but that the ear is constantly relieved and enchanted by their continued variety of modulation—dwelling on the pauses of the action, or flowing on in a fuller tide of harmony with the movement of the sentiment. It has not the bold dramatic transitions of Shakspeare's blank verse, nor the highraised tone of Milton's; but it is the perfection of melting harmony, dissolving the soul in pleasure, or holding it captive in the chains of suspense. Spenser was the poet of our waking dreams; and he has invented not only a language, but a music of his own for them. The undulations are infinite, like those of the waves of the sea; but the effect is still the same, lulling the senses into a deep oblivion of the jarring noises of the world, from which we have no wish to be ever recalled.
ON SHAKSPEARE AND MILTON.
In looking back to the great works of genius in former times, we are sometimes disposed to wonder at the little progress which has since been made in poetry, and in the arts of imitation in general. But this is perhaps a foolish wonder. Nothing can be more contrary to the fact, than the supposition that in what we understand by the fine arts, as painting, and poetry, relative perfection is only the result of repeated efforts in successive periods, and that what has been once well done, constantly leads to something better. What is mechanical, reducible to rule, or capable of demonstration, is progressive, and admits of gradual improvement: what is not mechanical, or definite, but depends on feeling, taste, and genius, very soon becomes stationary, or retrograde, and loses more than it gains by transfusion. The contrary opinion is a vulgar error, which has grown up, like many others, from transferring an analogy of one kind to something quite distinct, without taking into the account the difference in the nature of the things, or attending to the difference of the results. For most persons, finding what wonderful advances have been made in biblical criticism, in chemistry, in mechanics, in geometry, astronomy, &c., i. e. in things depending on mere enquiry and experiment, or on absolute demonstration, have been led hastily to conclude that there was a general tendency in the efforts of the human intellect to improve by repetition, and, in all other arts and institutions, to grow perfect and mature by time. We look back upon the theological creed of our ancestors, and their discoveries in natural philosophy, with a smile of pity: science, and the arts connected with it, have all had their infancy, their youth, and manhood, and seem to contain in them no principle