1615 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Purple Island. Canto II.

The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man: Together with Piscatorie Eclogs and other Poeticall Miscellanies. By P. F.

Rev. Phineas Fletcher


Canto II describes the topography of the Isle of Man — divided into the regions of "Belly," "Brest," and "Head" — and gives an anatomy of the Belly. Much of the allegory is explicated in marginal glosses.

Henry Headley was the first critic to compile a list of parallels with Spenser's Faerie Queene: "let the reader compare Fletcher's Gluttonie. Can. vii. Stan. 80. with Spenser's B. I. Can. iv. St. 21 and 22.; compare Fletcher's Atimus. Cant. viii. St. 42. &c. with Spenser's Idleness. B. I. Cant. iv. St. 18.; compare Fletcher's Thumos. Can. vii. St. 55. with Spenser's Wrath. B. I. Can. iv. St. 33.; compare Fletcher's Aselges. Can. vii. St. 23. with Spenser's Lechery. B. I. Can. iv. St. 24.; compare Fletcher's Pleconectes. Can. viii. Stan. 24. with Spenser's Avarice. B. I. Can. iv. St. 27.; compare Fletcher's Envie. Can. vii. St. 66. with Spenser's Envy. B. I. Can. iv. St. 30. likewise with another description. B. 5. Can. xii. St. 31." Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787; 1810) 2:152.

George Macdonald: "Both brothers were injured, not by their worship of Spenser, but ty the form that worship took — imitation. They seem more pleased to produce a line or stanza that shall recall a line or stanza of Spenser, than to produced a fine original of their own. They even copy lines almost word for word from their great master. This is pure homage: it was their delight that such adaptations should be recognized — just as it was Spenser's hope, when he inserted translated stanzas from Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered in The Fairy Queen, to gain the honour of a true reproduction. Yet, strange fate for imitators! both, but Giles especially, were imitated by a greater than their worship — even by Milton. They make Spenser's worse: Milton makes theirs better. They imitate Spenser, faults and all: Milton glorifies their beauties" The Brothers Fletcher" in England's Antiphon (1868; 1890) 156.

Alexander B. Grosart: "Starting with Headley, and reaching to Campbell in his Specimens ... it is vulgarly imagined that Phineas Fletcher is a simple imitator of Spenser. Never was there more ignorant and egregious representation. Like Giles he has a splendid faculty of Impersonation, and by the requirements of the ground-idea of his Purple Island these play a frequent and controlling part in his great Poem: but unless you are to make Spenser the inventor of Impersonation and Allegory, and ignore his translating into English of the classic mythology and of Ariosto and of other predecessors, you must allow that the selection of Impersonation and Allegory by our Fletchers, as the vehicle for the expression of their thick-coming thoughts and fancies, in nowise involves Spenserian or other 'imitation'" Poems of Fletcher (1869) 1:ccxxvi.

George Saintsbury: "Phineas follows Spenser's manner, or rather his mannerisms, very closely indeed, and in detached passages not unsuccessfully.... Where both [Fletchers] fail is first in the adjustment of the harmony of the individual stanza as a verse paragraph, and secondly in the management of the fable. Spenser has everywhere a certain romance-interest both of story and character which carries off in its steady current, where carrying off is needed, both his allegorising and his long descriptions. The Fletchers, unable to impart this interest, or unconscious of the necessity of imparting it, lose themselves in shallow overflowings like a stream that overruns its bank. But Giles was a master of gorgeous colouring in phrase and rhythm, while in The Purple Island there are detached passages not quite unworthy of Spenser, when he is not at his very best — that is to say, worthy of almost any English poet" History of Elizabethan Literature (1887; 1909) 297-98.

Edmund Gosse: "In canto two, we read of the foundation of the Purple Island, its rescue from decay, the marble congelation of its bones, the azure river-system of its veins and arteries, the rose-white wall of its skin, and all the quaint devices by which the poet idealizes its digestive system" The Jacobean Poets (1894) 147.

Abram Barnett Langdale: "Firing critical broadsides, Henry Headley and George Macdonald sailed into action against The Purple Island, condeming the author as 'a vulgar imitator.' Alexander Grosart rallied to the defense with more gallantry than judgment, for he strove to deny the evidences of influence brought forward by Macdonald and Headley; and, where denial was possible, he argued that Fletcher had 'improved' Spenser. Grosart was foolish to allow himself to be stung by the catcalls of plagiarism, because, whatever may be the relation of Fletcher and Spenser, it is not plagiaristic" Phineas Fletcher (1937) 131.



Declining Phoebus, as he larger grows,
(Taxing proud folly) gentler waxeth still;
Never lesse fierce, then when he greatest shows;
When Thirsil on a gentle rising hill
(Where all his flock he round might feeding view)
Sits down, and circled with a lovely crue
Of Nymphs and shepherd-boyes, thus 'gan his song renew:

Now was this Isle pull'd from that horrid main,
Which bears the fearfull looks and name of death;
And setled new with bloud and dreadfull pain,
By him who twice had giv'n (once forfeit) breath:
A baser state then what was first assign'd;
Wherein (to curb the too aspiring minde)
The better things were lost, the worst were left behinde.

That glorious image of himself was raz'd;
Ah! scarce the place of that best part we finde:
And that bright Sun-like knowledge much defac'd,
Onely some twinkling starres remain behinde:
Then mortall made; yet as one fainting dies,
Two other in its place succeeding rise;
And drooping stock with branches fresh immortalize.

So that 'lone bird in fruitfull Arabie,
When now her strength and waning life decaies,
Upon some airie rock, or mountain high,
In spiced bed (fir'd by neare Phoebus rayes)
Her self and all her crooked age consumes:
Straight from the ashes and those rich perfumes
A new-born Phoenix flies, and widow'd place resumes.

It grounded lies upon a sure foundation,
Compact, and hard; whose matter (cold and drie)
To marble turns in strongest congelation;
Fram'd of fat earth, which fires together tie:
Through all the Isle, and every part extent,
To give just form to every regiment;
Imparting to each part due strength and stablishment.

Whose looser ends are glu'd with brother earth,
Of nature like, and of a neare relation;
Of self-same parents both, at self-same birth;
That oft it self stands for a good foundation:
Both these a third doth soulder fast, and binde;
Softer then both, yet of the self-same kinde;
All instruments of motion, in one league combin'd.

Upon this base a curious work is rais'd,
Like undivided brick, entire and one;
Though soft, yet lasting, with just balance pais'd;
Distributed with due proportion:
And that the rougher frame might lurk unseen,
All fair is hung with coverings slight and thinne;
Which partly hide it all, yet all is partly seen:

As when a virgin her snow-circled breast
Displaying hides, and hiding sweet displaies;
The greater segments cover'd, and the rest
The vail transparent willingly betraies;
Thus takes and gives, thus lends and borrows light:
Lest eyes should surfet with too greedy sight,
Transparent lawns withhold, more to increase delight.

Nor is there any part in all this land,
But is a little Isle: for thousand brooks
In azure chanels glide on silver sand;
Their serpent windings, and deceiving crooks
Circling about, and wat'ring all the plain,
Emptie themselves into th' all-drinking main;
And creeping forward slide, but never turn again.

Three diff'ring streams from fountains different,
Neither in nature nor in shape agreeing,
(Yet each with other friendly ever went)
Give to this Isle his fruitfulnesse and being:
The first in single chanels skie-like blue,
With luke-warm waters di'd in porphyr hue,
Sprinkle this crimson Isle with purple-colour'd dew.

The next, though from the same springs first it rise,
Yet passing through another greater fountain,
Doth lose his former name and qualities:
Through many a dale it flows, and many a mountain;
More firie light, and needfull more then all;
And therefore fenced with a double wall,
All froths his yellow streams with many a sudding fall.

The last, in all things diff'ring from the other,
Fall from an hill, and close together go,
Embracing as they runne, each with his brother;
Guarded with double trenches sure they flow:
The coldest spring, yet nature best they have;
And like the lacteall stones which heaven pave,
Slide down to every part with their thick milky wave.

These with a thousand streams through th' Island roving,
Bring tribute in; the first gives nourishment,
Next life, last sense and arbitrarie moving:
For when the Prince hath now his mandate sent,
The nimble poasts quick down the river runne,
And end their journey, though but now begunne;
But now the mandate came, and now the mandate's done.

The whole Isle, parted in three regiments,
By three Metropolies is joyntly sway'd;
Ord'ring in peace and warre their governments
With loving concord, and with mutuall aid:
The lowest hath the worst, but largest See;
The middle lesse, of greater dignitie:
The highest least, but holds the greatest soveraigntie.

Deep in a vale doth that first province lie,
With many a citie grac't, and fairly town'd;
And for a fence from forrain enmitie,
With five strong-builded walls encompast round;
Which my rude pencil will in limming stain;
A work more curious, then which poets feigne
Neptune and Phoebus built, and pulled down again.

The first of these is that round spreading fence,
Which like a sea girts th' Isle in every part;
Of fairest building, quick and nimble sense,
Of common matter fram'd with speciall art;
Of middle temper, outwardest of all,
To warn of every chance that may befall:
The same a fence, and spie; a watchman, and a wall.

His native beautie is a lilie white,
Which still some other colour'd stream infecteth;
Least like it self, with divers stainings dight,
The inward disposition detecteth:
If white, it argues wet; if purple, fire;
If black, a heavie cheer, and fixt desire;
Youthfull and blithe, if suited in a rosie tire.

It cover'd stands with silken flourishing,
Which as it oft decaies, renews again,
The others sense and beautie perfecting;
Which els would feel, but with unusuall pain:
Whose pleasing sweetnesse, and resplendent shine,
Softning the wanton touch, and wandring ey'n,
Doth oft the Prince himself with witch'ries undermine.

The second rampier of a softer matter,
Cast up by th' purple rivers overflowing:
Whose airy wave, and swelling waters, fatter
For want of heat congeal'd, and thicker growing,
The wandring heat (which quiet ne're subsisteth)
Sends back again to what confine it listeth;
And outward enemies by yeelding most resisteth.

The third more inward, firmer then the best,
May seem at first but thinly built, and slight;
But yet of more defence then all the rest;
Of thick and stubborn substance, strongly dight.
These three (three common fences) round impile
This regiment, and all the other Isle;
And saving inward friends, their outward foes beguile.

Beside these three, two more appropriate guards
With constant watch compasse this government:
The first eight companies in severall wards,
(To each his station in this regiment)
On each side foure, continuall watch observe,
And under one great Captain joyntly serve;
Two fore-right stand, two crosse, and foure obliquely swerve.

The other fram'd of common matter, all
This lower region girts with strong defence;
More long then round, with double-builded wall,
Though single often seems to slighter sense;
With many gates, whose strangest properties
Protect this coast from all conspiracies;
Admitting welcome friends, excluding enemies.

Between this fences double-walled sides,
Foure slender brooks run creeping o're the lea;
The first is call'd the Nurse, and rising slides
From this low regions Metropolie:
Two from th' Heart-citie bend their silent pace;
The last from Urine-lake with waters base
In th' Allantoid sea empties his flowing race.

Down in a vale, where these two parted walls
Differ from each with wide distending space,
Into a lake the Urine-river falls,
Which at the Nephros hill beginnes his race:
Crooking his banks he often runs astray,
Lest his ill streams might backward finde a way:
Thereto, some say, was built a curious framed bay.

The Urine-lake drinking his colour'd brook,
By little swells, and fills his stretching sides:
But when the stream the brink 'gins over-look,
A sturdy groom empties the swelling tides;
Sphincter some call; who if he loosed be,
Or stiffe with cold, out flows the senselesse sea,
And rushing unawares covers the drowned lea.

From thence with blinder passage, (flying name)
These noysome streams a secret pipe conveys;
Which though we tearm the hidden parts of shame,
Yet for the skill deserve no lesser praise
Then they, to which we honour'd names impart.
Oh powerfull Wisdome, with what wondrous art
Mad'st thou the best, who thus hast fram'd the vilest part!

Six goodly Cities, built with suburbs round,
Do fair adorn this lower region:
The first Koilia, whose extreamest bound
On this side border'd by the Splenion,
On that by soveraigne Hepars large commands:
The merry Diazome above it stands,
To both these joyn'd in league and never failing bands.

The form (as when with breath our bag-pipes rise,
And swell) round-wise, and long, yet long-wise more;
Fram'd to the most capacious figures guise:
For 'tis the Islands garner; here its store
Lies treasur'd up, which well prepar'd it sends
By secret path that to th' Arch-citie bends;
Which making it more fit, to all the Isle dispends.

Farre hence at foot of rocky Cephals hills
This Cities Steward dwells in vaulted stone;
And twice a day Koilia's store-house fills
With certain rent, and due provision:
Aloft he fitly dwells in arched cave;
Which to describe I better time shall have,
When that fair mount I sing, and his white curdy wave.

At that caves mouth twice sixteen Porters stand,
Receivers of the customarie rent;
Of each side foure, (the formost of the band)
Whose office to divide what in is sent:
Straight other foure break it in peices small;
And at each hand twice five, which grinding all,
Fit it for convoy, and this cities Arsenall.

From thence a Groom with wondrous volubilitie
Delivers all unto neare officers,
Of nature like himself, and like agilitie;
At each side foure, that are the governours
To see the vict'als shipt at fittest tide;
Which straight from thence with prosp'rous chanel slide,
And in Koilia's port with nimble oars glide.

The haven, fram'd with wondrous sense and art,
Opens it self to all that entrance seek;
Yet if ought back would turn, and thence depart,
With thousand wrinkles shuts the ready creek:
But when the rent is slack, it rages rife,
And mutines in it self with civil strife:
Thereto a little groom egges it with sharpest knife.

Below dwells in this Cities market-place
The Islands common Cook, Concoction;
Common to all; therefore in middle space
Is quarter'd fit in just proportion;
Whence never from his labour he retires;
No rest he asks, or better change requires:
Both night and day he works, ne're sleeps, nor sleep desires.

That heat, which in his furnace ever fumeth,
Is nothing like to our hot parching fire;
Which all consuming, self at length consumeth;
But moistning flames a gentle heat inspire,
Which sure some in-born neighbour to him lendeth;
And oft the bord'ring coast fit fuell sendeth,
And oft the rising fume, which down again descendeth.

Like to a pot, where under hovering
Divided flames, the iron sides entwining,
Above is stopt with close-laid covering,
Exhaling fumes to narrow straits confining;
So doubling heat, his dutie doubly speedeth:
Such is the fire Concoctions vessel needeth,
Who daily all the Isle with fit provision feedeth.

There many a groom the busie Cook attends
In under offices, and severall place:
This gathers up the scumme, and thence it sends
To be cast out; another liquours base,
Another garbage, which the kitchin cloyes,
And divers filth, whose sent the place annoyes,
By divers secret waies in under-sinks convoyes.

Therefore a second Port is sidelong fram'd,
To let out what unsavorie there remains:
There sits a needfull groom, the Porter nam'd,
Which soon the full-grown kitchin cleanly drains
By divers pipes, with hundred turnings giring;
Lest that the food too speedily retiring,
Should whet the appetite, still cloy'd, and still desiring.

So Erisicthon once fir'd (as men say)
With hungry rage, fed never, ever feeding;
Ten thousand dishes serv'd in every day,
Yet in ten thousand, thousand dishes needing,
In vain his daughter hundred shapes assum'd:
A whole camps meat he in his gorge inhum'd;
And all consum'd, his hunger yet was unconsum'd.

Such would the state of this whole Island be,
If those pipes windings (passage quick delaying)
Should not refrain too much edacitie,
With longer stay fierce appetite allaying.
These pipes are seven-fold longer then the Isle,
Yet all are folded in a little pile,
Whereof three noble are, and thinne; three thick, and vile.

The first is narrow'st, and down-right doth look,
Lest that his charge discharg'd might back retire;
And by the way takes in a bitter brook,
That when the chanel's stopt with stifeling mire,
Through th' idle pipe with piercing waters soking,
His tender sides with sharpest stream provoking,
Thrusts out the muddy parts, and rids the miry choking.

The second lean and lank, still pill'd, and harri'd
By mighty bord'rers oft his barns invading:
Away his food and new-inn'd store is carri'd;
Therefore an angry colour, never fading,
Purples his cheek: the third for length exceeds,
And down his stream in hundred turnings leads:
These three most noble are, adorn'd with silken threads.

The formost of the base half blinde appeares;
And where his broad way in an Isthmos ends,
There he examines all his passengers,
And those who ought not scape, he backward sends:
The second Aeols court, where tempests raging
Shut close within a cave the windes encaging,
With earthquakes shakes the Island, thunders sad presaging.

The last down-right falls to port Esquiline,
More strait above, beneath still broader growing;
Soon as the gate opes by the Kings assigne,
Empties it self, farre thence the filth out-throwing:
This gate endow'd with many properties,
Yet for his office sight and naming flies;
Therefore between two hills, in darkest valley lies.

To that Arch-citie of this government
The three first pipes the ready feast convoy:
The other three, in baser office spent,
Fling out the dregs, which else the kitchin cloy.
In every one the Hepar keeps his spies;
Who if ought good with evil blended lies,
Thence bring it back again to Hepars treasuries.

Two severall covers fence these twice three pipes:
The first from over-swimming takes his name,
Like cobweb-lawn woven with hundred stripes:
The second, strength'ned with a double frame,
From forein enmitie the pipes maintains:
Close by the Pancreas stands, who ne're complains;
Though prest by all his neighbours, he their state sustains.

Next Hepar, chief of all these lower parts,
One of the three, yet of the three the least.
But see, the Sunne, like to undaunted hearts,
Enlarges in his fall his ample breast:
Now hie we home; the pearled dew ere long
Will wet the mothers, and their tender young:
To morrow with the day we may renew our song.

[Boas (1909) 2:26-36]

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