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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Golden Age Restored.

The Workes of Benjamin Jonson.

Ben Jonson


Ben Jonson includes Spenser among a list of future British classics: "Chaucer, Gower, Lidgate, Spencer hight, | Put on your better flames, and larger light, | To waite upon the age that shall your names new nourish, | Since vertue prest shall grow, and buried arts shall flourish."

Nathan Drake: "If Jonson failed, as he must be allowed to have done, in communicating pathos and interest to his tragic productions, he has made us ample amends by the unrivalled excellence of his numerous Masques, a species of dramatic poetry, to which he, and he alone, put the seal of perfection. Here his imagination, which, in the peculiar line of comedy he cultivated, had but little scope for expansion, and was, in his tragedies, altogether repressed, by an undeviating adhesion to the letter of history, expatiated as in its native element" Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 613-14.

Thomas Campbell: "In that fanciful region of the drama (the Masque) he stands as pre-eminent as in comedy; or if he can be said to be rivalled, it is only by Milton. And our surprise at the wildness and sweetness of his fancy in one walk of composition is increased by the stern and rigid (sometimes rugged) air of truth which he preserves in the other. In the regular drama he certainly holds up no romantic mirror to nature" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1841) lxiii.

Herbert E. Cory: "Jonson's masque, The Golden Age Restored, introduces Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate, and Spenser as ideal figures of the good old days. When Pallas has driven away Iron Age and her rout of Vices, she summons Astraea and Golden Age with a flourish of her aegis. And for their retinue she calls: 'You far-famed spirits of this happy isle [....]' This readiness to accept Spenser as at least a traditional classic is also apparent in a characteristic fling at the rascal many in the Discoveries. 'There were never wanting those that dare prefer the worst poets. Nay, if it were put to the question of the water-rimers works against Spenser's, I doubt not but they would find more suffrages; because the most favor common vices out of a prerogative the vulgar have to lose their judgements and like that which is nought.' It is not unlikely that Jonson, on the whole, was an admirer of Spenser. And his animadversions are those of a man who probably loved Spenser as he loved Shakespeare — 'on this side idolatry'" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 99.

Frederic Ives Carpenter: "A bold treatment of a person but sixteen years dead. And therefore high evidence of Spenser's poetical canonization" Reference Guide to Edmund Spenser (1923) 242.

James A. Riddell and Stanley Stewart: "Jonson includes Spenser in a quartet of English poets; but he appears, also, to afford Spenser particular honor. We note, for instance, that the presentation of Pallas concludes with a couplet of hexameter lines. Considering Jonson's keen eye and ear for such poetic details, it is hard to believe that he did not intend the added feet as an imitation of the long line which, after hundreds of years, we still associate with Spenser. But, as if he would make the connection unmistakable, Jonson has Pallas respond to the poets' arrival in a sestet of alexandrines" Jonson's Spenser (1995) 39-40.

There is also a brief reference to Spenser in Jonson's Epicoene, Act 2, sc. 2: "So shee may censure poets, and authors, and stiles, and compare 'hem, DANIEL with SPENSER, JONSON with tother youth, and so foorth" Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) 147. Dorothy E. Mason sees a possible allusion to the tobacco passage in the third book of the Faerie Queene in Every Man in his Humor, Wells, Spenser Allusions (1972) 86.



PALLAS.
Welcome to earth and raigne.

ASTRAEA. AGE.
But how without a traine
Shall we our state sustaine?

PALLAS.
Leave that to JOVE: therein you are
No little part of his MINERVAS care.
Expect a while.
You farre-fam'd spirits of this happie Ile,
That, for your sacred songs have gain'd the stile
Of PHOEBUS sons: whose notes they aire aspire
Of th' old Aegyptian, or the Thracian lyre,
That Chaucer, Gower, Lidgate, Spencer hight,
Put on your better flames, and larger light,
To waite upon the age that shall your names new nourish,
Since vertue prest shall grow, and buried arts shall flourish.

POETS DESCEND.
2. We come.
2. We come.
4. Our best of fire
Is that which PALLAS doth inspire.

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