1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Joseph Spence

John Wilson, in "Spenser" Blackwood's Magazine 36 (1834) 418-19.



Old Polymetis, who, though a respectable scholar, was but a booby of the lowest form in scholarship to Spenser, blames all the beautiful intermeddling with the Greek mythology which the poet makes in the fulness of knowledge and the spirit of love. He rates him for introducing a company of Satyrs to save a lady from rape, "though their distinguishing character," quoth Poly, "was lust." Oh! blindness beyond bat or mole not to see the beauty of the power of chastity in changing the brutal nature of the most salvage of beasts! Then Spenser has absolutely made Sylvanus the god or governor of the Satyrs! — a dignity of which there is no mention in the ancients; and he has — without authority — put an ivy-girdle round his waist! 'Twas right that the old governor should be decent as well as dignified; in ancient days he never saw the face of Una. Spence re-rates Spenser for having unclassically given the Day or Morning purple hair; yet he himself wore a wig illustrious with that light of love. The poet, too, is charged with making the Sirens half-fish — which Horace seems to have done before him, and Flaxman after; — "Desinit in piscem mulier formosa superne," being, we hope, not applicable to ladies not absolutely Sirens. But all these violations of the respect due to the Greek mythology are trifles to the three that follow. The author of the Faerie Queen has wantonly, and in the face of the Herald's-office, married Clio to Apollo, thereby throwing a slur on the other Muses, who must be looked on in the light of mistresses; more audacious still, he has asserted that Cupid is brother to the Graces, who are thus made the natural daughters of Venus, which we verily believe they were; and he reaches the climax of iniquity, by not only bringing Neptune to the marriage of the Thames and Medway — (surely nobody who has tasted the water between Sheerness and Chatham can doubt that it is salt) — but by greatly increasing the sea-god's court, and adding several deities as his attendants, which were never regarded as such by any of the ancients. What an advantage to a critic to be well read in the classics!