1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Fletcher

Edmund Gosse, in "Essay on Pastoral Poetry" Complete Works of Spenser, ed. Grosart (1882-84) 3:xxxi-ii.



The Faithful Shepherdess was the first pastoral play in our language, for the dramas of Lyly and Day scarcely come under this category, and it has remained the best. Its rich flow of blank verse, its larklike bursts of rhymed octosyllabics, rising from the body of the play as airs in an opera do from the recitative, the exact touches of natural description which startle us with their happy realism, the enthralling sweetness of this Arcadian paradise, all combine to give this poem that fascination that has been felt by all critics worthy of the name. It is most unfortunate that the ethical faults of the piece are as marked as are the literary merits of its style. A nerveless resignation of the soul to the body, an indolent and voluptuous spirit, powerless against the riot of the pulses, a sort of melting and intoxicating fervour, pervade this beautiful poem, and render it really dangerous for those who may pass unscathed over all the rough places of Elizabethan literature. And, as in an atmosphere overladen with dissolving sweetness and the vapours of "the gum i' the fire," the physical nature will sicken and revolt, so at last the panting irresolution of these pretty little Cloes and Amarillides begins to irritate and disgust the reader, who finds at last that the poor Satyr is the only one individual who can return his sympathy.