1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Headley

Alexander B. Grosart, in "Memorial Introduction" Giles Fletcher, Complete Poems (1876) 73-75.



HEADLEY — who has been, as a critic, ignorantly overpraised — having quoted the above [author's note: Christ's Victorie on Earth, St. 23-28], has the audacity to say of it, "the most material features of this description, are taken from SPENSER'S Fairy Queen lib. i., canto 9, stanzas, 33, 36" and adds "This is a curious instance of plagiarism, and seems to show us how little ceremony the poets of that day laboured under in pilfering from each other." The criticism is a more "curious instance of pert presuming on the ignorance of general readers: and I do not marvel that even the gentle WILLMOTT in his Lives [of the Sacred Poets] is roused to retort "if GILES FLETCHER had been living, he would probably have thought the critics of this day laboured under very little ceremony in accusing the 'poets of that day' of thefts, without sufficiently examining their extent."

Any one on turning to the two stanzas alleged from SPENSER will see that from the former, two lines are taken verbatim, viz

Darke, dolefull, dreary, like a greedy grave,
That still for carrion carkasses doth crave

and therefore intentionally, as a quotation from his "dear Master" and only by oversight of the Printer probably, forgotten to be marked as such — as similarly, lines from Spenser's Ruines of Time in The Purple Island are inadvertently unmarked. And what of the "material features remain" to be designated "plagiarism?" Only the "ragged clouts" and the "thorns" that fastened them. Who but a man with nose for plagiarism as eager nostrilled as that of your orthodox hunter after heresy, will deem these of any moment? It is to be remembered also that SPENSER owes a great deal more than trifles like these to Sackville and Ariosto and Amadis de Gaul: also that our Singer was dead before a second edition of his Poem was published, and so such petty oversights might readily be left uncorrected.

I take this opportunity of observing, that whoever compares thoughtfully and penetratively the after-conceptions and delineations of GILES FLETCHER will readily distinguish the "influence" of the Master on his reverent scholar from any vulgar charge of "plagiarism" and discern those ineffable touches of light and shadow that reveal an original mind working on existent materials, precisely as each new, genuine Poet, looks on the same old ever-new world of Nature, and transfigures it with his own mystic insight, through his own open-lidded eyes. I say more on this in relation to PHINEAS FLETCHER and The Purple Island.