1905 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Chamberlayne

George Saintsbury, "Introduction to William Chamberlayne" Minor Poets of the Caroline Period (1905-21) 1:3-13.



The extreme scantiness of our biographical knowledge of the author of Pharonnida has not, even in recent or comparatively recent years, been compensated by any fullness of critical or general acquaintance with his works. He was even more unfortunate than Herrick as regards the time at which he came and his chances of popularity: and his kind of work was a great deal less likely to recommend itself to future generations. That the original edition is very rare indeed, and that Singer's reprint eighty years ago was published in no very great numbers, and is now far from common or cheap, are facts which no doubt have had a good deal to do with the general neglect: but criticism is not quite blameless in the matter. That Langbaine should have seen nothing in Pharonnida is indeed itself nothing; if there ever has been anything which may possibly have ruffled the smoothness of Shakespeare's brow since his death, it must have been Langbaine's admiration. That the eighteenth century should have left our poet not contemptuously but utterly alone is not wonderful for his system of versification is simply anathema to the orthodoxy of which Bysshe was the lawgiver and which Johnson did not disdain to profess.

Southey, who read Pharonnida early and might have been expected to like it, has indeed left a pleasant tribute. But the author of an elaborate and useful argument, with extracts, in the Retrospective Review, which no doubt served as shoehorn to draw on Singer's reprint, gives very little criticism, and that little by turns extravagant and grudging. I have myself a very great admiration for Chamberlayne, but I fear I could not, except as regards the inequality, say that "his main story is carried on with deep and varied interest and developed with great but unequal power," or grant "individuality" to "the character of Alnianzor." On the other hand, to speak of the "involved and inharmonious" diction, and still more of "the poverty and insignificance of the rhyme," is as excessive in the other direction, though it may not be utterly untrue: and the remark about the rhyme in particular shows that the critic had not grasped Chamberlayne's system. We can come together again on "richness of imagery," "impassioned and delightful poetry," &c.

The first person to do some real justice to Pharonnida was Campbell in his Specimens, which again give not much criticism and chiefly praise the story — the weakest part — but provide admirable selections, the perusal of which stirred Jeffrey himself to admiration and desire for more. Of late years things have been better, but even yet the poem is far too little known, and the hope of extending the knowledge of it was one of my main motives in suggesting and planning this edition.

The points of interest from which Pharonnida can be regarded are neither few nor unimportant. In the first place it is, with Davenant's much better known but far inferior Gondibert, the chief English example of that curious kind the "Heroic poem" — the romanticized epic which, after the deliberations of the Italian critics and the example of Tasso, spread itself over Europe in the late sixteenth century and held the field for the greater part of the seventeenth. With something of the late romance of the Amadis type in it, this poem had a good deal of intended reference to the Aeneid; but perhaps linked itself most of all to the prose Aethiopica of Heliodorus, which attracted great attention from the Renaissance and had been pronounced by Scaliger himself the model of a prose epic. The resemblance, indeed, between Pharonnida and the type of the Greek romance generally is very strong — in the prominence and persistent persecutions of the heroine, in the constant voyages and travels, alarums and excursions, ambushes and abductions, and, it may be added, in the very subordinate position of Character. Indeed Chariclea and some of her sisters are much less open to Pope's libel than the good Pharonnida and the bad Amphibia of our poem.

An even greater attraction to some readers is its position at the very end (indeed, in a sort of appendix to the great volume) of Elizabethan verse, in conception, in versification, and in phrase. Like the whole body of this verse, from Spenser downwards, it is of imagination (or at worst of fancy) all compact: the restraints of prose and common sense are utterly alien to it. Its author has passed from the merely "conceited" to the "metaphysical" stage; and if his excursions into the "au dela" do not reach the sublimity or the subtlety of Donne, the flaming fantasy and passion of Crashaw, they leave very little to desire in their fidelity to the Gracianic motto "En Nada Vulgar." The immense length of his verse paragraphs (to be referred to further) is closely connected with this intricacy and excursiveness of thought, and so no doubt, at least according to the present writer's idea, is the "impassioned and delightful" poetry. But so also is the extreme incoherence not merely of the story as a whole, but, and still more, of its component incidents and episodes. It is, of course, impossible not to think of Sordello in reading it: and I should say myself that the poem which has rather absurdly become a proverb for incomprehensibility in the proper sense of the word, is much the more easily comprehensible of the two. Mr. Browning's thought pursues the most astonishing zigzags and whirligigs and shifts, but it is solid: and you can, if you are nimble enough, keep your clutch on it. Chamberlayne's constantly sublimes itself off into a kind of mist before making a fresh start as a solid, at quite a different point from that at which it was last perceived in that condition.

So, too, with the versification. Although it is, of course, quite possible to trace the stopped and stable couplet, not merely in drama but in narrative and miscellaneous poetry, from Spenser and Drayton and Daniel downwards, the general tendency of the Elizabethan distich had been towards an undulating enjambment, and this had grown much stronger, both in octosyllable and decasyllable, with strictly Jacobean poets like Wither and Browne. But Chamberlayne serpentines it to a still greater extent. Indeed, it is impossible not to discern in him something akin to that extraordinary "unscrewing" of blank verse itself which is noticeable in his dramatic contemporaries, and which might have disvertebrated English verse altogether if it had not been for the tonic, in different forms, of Milton and Dryden. The "poverty and insignificance" of rhyme, on which our Retrospective friend is so severe, are of course deliberate. The rhymes are intended, not as a stop-signal at the end of the couplet, but as an accompanying music to the run of the paragraph. Unfortunately the possession of this accompaniment is too likely to dispense a poet from that attention to varied pause, and to careful selection of value in individual words, with which the blank verse paragrapher cannot dispense if he is to do anything distinguished. It would be interesting if one could know whether Milton ever heard of Pharonnida, but I think I do know what he would have said of it. It is not insignificant that his nephew Phillips, while mentioning the unimportant Robert Chamberlain, says nothing about William in a tale of Caroline poets which descends to "Pagan" Fisher and Robert Gomersal. But, for all its dangers and all its actual lapses, it makes a medium frequently delightful even if we had not Endymion, and more, not less, seeing that we have that.

It is in his diction, using that word widely to include composition and grammar, that Chamberlayne's state is least gracious. His ugliest fault he shares with most of his contemporaries, even with Dryden occasionally, and it is so ugly that it constitutes perhaps the most serious drawback to the enjoyment of him by modern readers. Partly owing to that gradual vulgarization of the language which Dryden arrested to some extent, but which it is a redeeming merit of the eighteenth century in prose and verse to have cauterized — but partly also to the prevailing critical error as to the strictly syllabic character of English verse, Pharonnida swarms with things like "in's hand," "t' the coach," "Perform 't." These uglinesses cannot always (as, by the way, they generally can in Dryden) be smoothed away by printing in full and allowing trisyllabic feet; they are too often "in grain." Very much more tolerable, but occasionally unsatisfactory, is his indulgence, generally a repeated indulgence, in such words as "remora," "enthean," "calagrath," "astracism." And disapproval must begin again, not so much in regard to the licentiousness of his syntax — for English grammar, after all, is made by good English writers, and not vice versa — as to the extraordinary haphazardness of syntax, phrase, and composition alike. I do not wish to burden this introduction with extracts of any length, but those who turn to the passage about the governor of the fort in Book II, Canto ii, lines 123-132, will find a capital example of our poet at his very worst. It is perhaps well that this worst should be got over beforehand, so that things like it may not possess the additional disgust of surprise. But it must be admitted that the greatest danger in reading him is lest the reader, by too frequent occurrence of these choke-passages, may be tempted to skip, and that in the lack of "ordonnance" which has been noted, he may find himself hopelessly befogged at the point where he alights from his skipping-pole.

As if all this were not enough, Chamberlayne has multiplied his obstacles of commission by an omission which nearly all of his few critics have noticed, but which none of them has fully followed out. We know from his own words at the end of the Second Book that the poem was thus far written, but broken off, at the second battle of Newbury in October, 1644. And whether its author resumed it at once after the complete disaster of the Royal arms next year, or earlier, or later, it was certainly not published for fifteen years afterwards. This would, in itself, render inconsistencies and gaps likely enough: but it would not account for the extraordinary "incuria" which Chamberlayne constantly displays. One would imagine not merely that he had never read his MS. through, but that he had never taken the trouble to read his proofs: a process which could hardly have failed to reveal to the most careless author some, if not all, of the discrepancies of nomenclature, &c. In the first few pages he calls one of his characters indifferently "Ariamnes" and "Aminander," but here this slip of the pen is so glaring that it hardly misleads. A little later he puts the careful (the careless will not mind) hopelessly out, by transferring the name "Aphron" to one "Andremon," both persons having already appeared and being entirely distinct. He never seems to know whether his main scene of action is in the Morea (where it certainly opens) or in Sicily; and there may, perhaps, be corroborative evidence of some passing intention to change the whole venue from Greece to Italy in his calling the same person at one time an "Epirot" and at another a "Calabrian." Although the exits and the entrances of his characters are very complicated, and sometimes correspond at long intervals, he will (there is an example at I. iv. 109) omit to name them, and describe them in such a roundabout fashion that anybody but a very wary and attentive reader must be, at least for a time, at sea. Finally, as indeed Thackeray and others have done, he will kill and bring alive again with the completest nonchalance. At least, though his phrase is constantly enigmatic, it is hard to understand the lines at IV. i. 192, where, in reference to the wicked Amphibia and her paramour Brumorchus, it is said that the prince refers "Their punishment to death's dire messengers," in any other sense than that both were executed. Yet at V. iii. 360 Amphibia is still alive, still a lady in waiting to Pharonnida, and in case to execute the crowning treason of the story which kills the princess's father and very nearly brings herself to the scaffold as his murderess.

This being the case and the "arguments" prefixed by the author being almost useless, it may be well to present a brief analysis, canto by canto, of a poem which one tolerably practised reader had to read three times before its general subject was at all clearly imprinted on his mind.

Book I, Canto i. Aminander [Ariamnes], a Spartan lord, hunting on the shore of the Gulf of Lepanto, sees a naval combat between Turks and Christians; and when the combatants, wrecked by a squall, are still fighting on the beach, rescues the Christian heroes Argalia and Aphron.

Canto ii. Another lord, Almanzor, the villain of the piece, finds two damsels, Carina and Florenza, in a wood. He offers violence to Florenza, and her lover, Andremon, though coming in time to save her, falls before his sword. But Argalia, who has been sleeping near, is waked by the scuffle, takes her part, and severely wounds Almanzor, despite the succour of his friends. Forces come up, and, appearances being against Argalia, take him into custody.

Canto iii. He is conveyed to the capital, where, according to the custom of the country, it is the duty of the king's daughter, Pharonnida, whose mother is dead, to preside over the tribunal. She falls in love with Argalia at first sight, but he is condemned, receiving three days' respite as an Epirot, a citizen of an allied state, which is confirmed by ambassadors from Epirus then present.

Canto iv. This is however not sufficient to obtain his pardon: and he is about to suffer when Aminander reappears with Florenza herself, who tells the whole story. Argalia is set at liberty and is about to depart with the ambassadors (who have become "Calabrians" and who have told what they know of his origin) when a fresh adventure happens. Molarchus the Morean (now Sicilian) admiral, who has been charged to convoy the envoys, invites the king, princess and court on board his flag-ship and makes sail, having formed a design to carry off Pharonnida. This he does, though there is a fierce fight on board, by throwing her into a prepared boat and making off, while the crew do the same, having previously scuttled the ship. Argalia, however, with the help of his friend Aphron, though at the cost of the latter's life, secures one of the boats, rescues the king, and lands on a desolate island, where they find that Molarchus has conveyed Pharonnida to a fortress. Argalia, always fertile in resource, makes a ladder of the tackling of some stranded boats, scales the walls, slays Molarchus, and rescues the princess.

Canto v tells of a halcyon time at Corinth, where Pharonnida and Argalia, who is captain of her bodyguard, fall more and more deeply in love with one another, till the usual romance-mischance of a proposed betrothal to a foreign prince interrupts it: and the book finishes with this agony further agonized by Argalia's appointment on the very embassy destined to reply favourably to the Epirot suitor.

In Book II, Canto i. we return to Almanzor, who forms a plot to abduct the princess, succeeds at first by turning a masque into a massacre, but is defeated by the rising of the country people, who half ignorantly rescue her. But her ravisher, in

Canto ii, thinking he has gone too far to retreat, sets up a rebellion and garrisons the castle of a city named Alcithius, which the king at first retakes, but which only serves him as a place of refuge when Almanzor has beaten him in the field. He has just time to send to Epirus for help before the place is invested.

Canto iii. It is almost reduced by famine, and the besieged are meditating the forlorn hope of a sally when Zoranza the Epirot prince arrives with a large army, the vanguard of which, commanded by Argalia and supported from the castle, disperses the rebel forces, though not at first completely. After a glowing interview between the lovers the hero has to expel the remnant of the foe from a strange cavern-fastness where he finds a secret treasury with mysterious inscription.

Canto iv. Another interval of war. The unwelcome suitor is called off by troubles at home: and the lovers (Argalia still commanding the princess's guard) enjoy discreet but delightful hours in an island paradise.

Canto v. Episode of two Platonic-Fantastic lovers, Acretius and Philanta, on whom a practical joke is played. Intrigues of Amphibia, who excites the king's jealousy, and induces him to send Argalia at the head of a contingent to Epirus. After pathetic parting scenes, Argalia leaves Pharonnida, and the poet "leaves the Muses to converse with men," that is to say to fight the Roundheads at Newbury.

Book III, Canto i. opens with a semi-episode of the rival loves of Euriolus and Mazara for Florenza, and Mazara's consolation with Carina, Florenza's companion at her original appearance. In

Canto ii. the princess, unwarily reading aloud a letter from Argalia with her door open, is overheard by her father, who is furiously angry and sends letters of Bellerophon to the Prince of Syracuse [Epirus] as to Argalia. Zoranza, nothing loth, makes Argalia captain of the fortress Ardenna, with a secret commission to the actual governor to make away with him. He is saved from death for the moment by a convenient local superstition, and carried off (still prisoner) by an invading fleet, which fails to capture Ardenna. But Pharonnida is strictly imprisoned in the castle of Gerenza. In

Canto ii. Argalia, after a rapid series of adventures at sea and in Rhodes, is captured by the Turkish chief Ammurat and sent to his wife Janusa in Sardinia to be tortured and executed. But Janusa falls in love with him, and this and the next Canto contain the best known and perhaps the most sustained chapter of the poem, Argalia being not merely "Like Paris handsome and like Hector brave," but also like Joseph chaste. The passage having ended happily for him, tragically for Janusa and her husband, he seizes ships, mans them with Christian slaves, rescues the Prince of Cyprus from a new Turkish fleet, returns to the Morea, and after a time resolves, aided by his Cyprian friend, to release Pharonnida. In this, at first, they succeed.

Book IV, Canto i. Episode of Orlinda and the Prince of Cyprus. Pharonnida and Argalia enjoy a new respite in a retired spot, but are attacked by outlaws, who wound Argalia and carry off the princess. Their chief is Almanzor, who in

Canto ii. tries to force Pharonnida to accept him by threats, and immures her in a living tomb from which she is rescued by Euriolus (mentioned before) and Ismander, on whom and Aminda there is fresh episode continued into

Canto iii. by entrances of certain persons named Vanlore, Amarus, and Silvandra, but not concluded. The rest of Canto iii, Canto iv, and

Canto v. contain an account of Argalia's recovery, and long conversations, in which he reveals what he knows of his youth to a friendly hermit.

Book V, Canto i. Meanwhile Pharonnida has retired to a monastery and is about to take the veil (has actually done so after a fashion) when Almanzor attacks the convent and once more carries her off, but surrenders her to her father that he may obtain his own pardon and plot further.

Canto ii. Argalia goes to Aetolia, of which he is the rightful heir, and fights his way to his own.

Canto iii. He is however rejected as suitor and attacked by his rival Zoranza. But Almanzor procures both this prince's murder and that of King Cleander (who is never named till very late in the story). Then Pharonnida in Canto iv. undergoes her last danger, and in Canto v. is finally freed by Argalia as her champion from Almanzor, whom he at last slays, and from all her other ills by marriage with her deliverer.

Now for my part I am entirely unable to pronounce this "one of the most interesting stories ever told in verse." As a whole it is romance "common-form," of by no means a specially good kind, only heightened by the telling in a few passages — the dream, the story of Janusa, the entombment of the heroine, and two or three others. I would, as Blair's typical person of bad taste said of Homer, "as soon read any old romance of knight-errantry," and would a great deal sooner read most of them for the story. If anybody agrees with Pope that "the fable is the soul or immortal part of poetry," Chamberlayne is not the poet for him. But he is, if not the poet, a poet and little less than a great one, for those who enjoy the "poetic moment," the "single-instant pleasure" of image and phrase and musical accompaniment of sound. The extraordinary abundance of these things is the solace of those sins of his in "ordonnance" and versification and diction which have been so frankly and amply acknowledged above.

It is hit or miss with him, no doubt: and equally without doubt, he misses too often — far oftener than a poet of the School of Good Sense would do. But he hits not only much oftener than the poet of good sense would do, but also as the poet of good sense rarely does at all. He is far too careless of what he says, and of its exact meaning, and of the concatenation thereof with other meanings. But he always tries, in the great adverb of the Italian Platonist-critic Patrizzi, to say it "poeticamente," or as Hazlitt (who certainly did not know Patrizzi) unconsciously translates it, "in a poetical way." Chamberlayne's sky and landscape are occasionally very dark — it is difficult to find one's way about under the one and across the other: but both are constantly lighted up by splendid shooting-stars. The road through his story is as badly laid, made, and kept, as road can be: but fountains and wildflower banks are never long wanting by its sides, and it occasionally opens prospects of enchanting beauty.

There is at least not disgrace of incongruity in this eulogy, for Chamberlayne's own style is nothing if not starry and flowery. His metaphors and similes and imagery generally for atmospheric phenomena, and especially for Night and Day, are inexhaustible:

Day's sepulchre, the ebon-arched night
Was raised above the battlements of light,

he writes here; there

And now the spangled squadrons of the night
Encountering beams had lost the field to light.

And again:

The day was on the glittering wings of light
Fled to the western wild, and swarthy night
In her black empire throned.

And again:

Now at the great'st antipathy to-day
The silent earth oppressed with midnight lay,
Vested in clouds black as they had been sent
To be the whole world's mourning monument;—

passages which could be added to almost indefinitely. Nor is his imagination limited, according to Addison's rule, to "ideas furnished by sight": there is more than this in the phrase "Desire, the shady porch of Love," analogues of which will be found in almost every page. In fact Pharonnida is simply a Sinbad's Valley of poetic jewels, though here as there it may be a little difficult to get at them. The practice of filling Introductions with extracts instead of leaving the reader to find them for himself is, I have said, an objectionable one. But I may take the middle course and instance as more than purple patches: — the picture of Argalia at the bar (I. iii. 165 sq.); Pharonnida's dream, already mentioned (I. V. 153 sq.), one of the longest and finest of the bursts; the mystic chamber in the outlaw's cavern (II. iii. 480 sq.); Pharonnida's island (II. iv. 129 sq.); the close of Book III, Canto i. and the beginning of the next Canto where she reads the letter; the valley of Florenza's home, and the lovers' sojourn there. These are but a few, and the reader will find plenty more for himself.

One point, uninteresting to some, will be of the very highest interest to others; and that is what may be called the Battle of the Couplets in Pharonnida. It is, as has been said, the last, and in more senses than one the greatest, of poems written in that "enjambed" and paragraphed variety of the heroic, which was driven out and replaced by its rival a very few years afterwards, when that rival had secured the assistance of Dryden. But as everybody ought to know, the stopped dissyllabic couplet itself is of an ancient house, though its supremacy was modern. It made perhaps the very first appearance in the scattered couplets of Hampole and others before Chaucer. It is very much less absent from Chaucer himself than those who call the metre of Endymion Chaucerian appear to imagine; Spenser shows himself a master of it in Mother Hubberd's Tale, and it is abundant not merely in the dramatists but in the non-dramatic Elizabethans. Ben Jonson seems to have thought it the best of all metres; but, above all, the tails of Fairfax's stanzas, from which so many of the later seventeenth-century poets learnt, are full of it. Chamberlayne, who was not much more than ten years older than Dryden, could not miss it unless he had set himself the sternest rules of self-criticism: and, as we have seen, he never criticized himself at all. Even the few examples given in this Introduction will show its presence: but much more remarkable ones, both of the completed couplet and of the Drydenian single line which helps to constitute and clench it, will be easily found by the inquirer just at the beginning such a formation as "From all the warm society of flesh" is unmistakable in its tendency, though it actually forms part of a couplet very much "enjambed." There is no need to draw the moral of

Dropt as their foes' victorious fate flew by
To shew his fortune and their royalty.

or

Rebellion's subtle engineer might sit
To wreck the weakness of a female wit.

or

The vexed Epirots who for comfort saw
Revenge appearing in the form of law.
These are the single spies which forerun the battalions.

I have no desire to expatiate in these Introductions, or to take up room better occupied by the too long neglected texts; and there remains little that it is desirable and less that it is necessary to say. Chamberlayne's other work of substance, his play of Love's Victory, contains many fine passages in the serious blank verse, most of which will be found extracted in the article upon it in the same volume of the Retrospective Review; nor is even the comic part, though it shares the ribaldry and the crudity common in such productions, devoid of some of Chamberlayne's audacious felicities of expression. If that supplementary Dodsley, which has long been wanted, should ever appear, the piece should certainly find a place there: but it is out of our way. His poem to the King at the Restoration may be worth subjoining to Pharonnida.

On the whole he is not quite so much of an "awful example" as even his panegyrists, Campbell and others, used to make him. At his date, and with the idiosyncrasy shown by the fact that he spent at least fifteen years over his poem as it was, it was practically impossible that he should in any case have devoted to it the critical Medea-sorcery which made perfect things of such very imperfect ones as the original Palace of Art and the original Lady of Shalott. He might, of course, not have written it at all, and he might possibly have written it in the other vein of stopped couplet, epigrammatic clench and emphasis, and more suppressed conceit. In either case it would not be what it is. We should have lost (in words of its own) "acquaintance with Pharonnida." And by some that acquaintance would not willingly be relinquished for the possession not merely of one but of a dozen long poems, written in the strictest and most savourless orthodoxy of Le Bossu and La Harpe.

Most of the few accounts of Chamberlayne mention a prose version of Pharonnida, entitled Eromena, or The Noble Stranger, which appeared, four years after his death, in 1683 (London: Norris). One naturally imagines — the present editor certainly did so till he read it — a book of length a la Scudery. The actual work is a tiny pamphlet containing some seventy small pages of large print, but adorned with a fresh Pindaric motto ([Greek characters];) and a dedication to Madam Sarah Monday. The earlier cantos are paraphrased with some fullness; the bulk of the story is altogether omitted. As Pharonnida becomes Eromena, so does Argalia take the alias of Horatio. The thing, which acknowledges no indebtedness, is worthless enough; and only curious because of the admixture of Chamberlayne's own original and highly poetic phrases with the flattest prose.