1694
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmund Spenser.

De Re Poetica: or, Remarks upon Poetry with Characters and Censures of the most considerable Poets, whether Ancient or Modern. Extracted out of the best and choicest Criticks. By Sir Thomas Pope Blount.

Sir Thomas Pope Blount


Sir Thomas Pope Blount's De Re Poetica is organized as a commonplace book, collecting and digesting critical remarks on ancient and modern writers. Spenser's archaisms are discussed under Milton, Theocritus, and Waller. The Spenser entry excerpts Edward Phillips, Camden, Fuller, Temple, Rymer, and Dryden.

William Beloe: "In 1694 appeared Remarks on Poetry, with characters and censures of the most considerable poets. It contains a chapter on English Poetry, and characters of several English poets" Anecdotes of Literature 1 (1807) 239.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "Sir Thomas Pope Blount, 1640-1697, eldest son of Sir Henry, and brother of Charles Blount, sat in Parliament as member from St. Alban's and Herefordshire; he was also for the last thirty years of his life commissioner of accounts, to which post he was elected by the House of Commons.... The works of this excellent author are now rarely to be found, and a republication, by one of the enterprising publishers of the day, the Bohns, Knights, Murrays, Longmans, et id genus omne, (we do not use the phrase in the Horatian sense,) would be of great advantage to the Republic of Letters' Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:210.

Herbert E. Cory: "In 1694 Sir Thomas Pope Blount brought out a collection of remarks on poets and poetry called De Re Poetica, an important document to determine the standing of critics of that period and the ideas of an author apparently held by the reading public. Spenser fares excellently. The eulogies of Edward Phillips, Camden, and Fuller are quoted together with the high praise, with its rational qualifications, of Temple, Rymer, and Dryden (Essay on Satire). In these days English poetry was at its lowest ebb and Spenser's influence at its faintest was coincident with this drab age" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 126.

George Saintsbury: "His 'Remarks upon Poetry,' no less than the 'Characters and Censures' which make up the other part of his work, are the purest compilation: and though we are certainly not without compilers in these days (what indeed can a Historian of Criticism do but compile to a great extent?), there are very few of us who are at once honest enough and artless enough to follow the method of Blount. Whether he is arguing that good humour is essentially necessary to a poet (how about the 'genus irritabile'?) or that a poet should not be addicted to flattery, or discussing the 'Eglogue, Bucholic [sic,], or Pastoral,' whether he is following Phillips and Winstanley and borrowing from both, in compiling a dictionary of poets, he simply empties out his common-place book.... These things are infinitely pleasant to read, and give one a positive affection for Sir Thomas Pope Blount as one turns them in the big black print of his handy quarto; yet perhaps it would be excessive to call him a great critic. What he does, besides providing this 'gazophylacium' for the connoisseur, is to show how wide the interest in criticism was" History of English Criticism (1911) 145-46.




A Famous English Poet, born in the City of London, and brought up in Pembroke-Hall in Cambridge; He flourish'd in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. His great Friend was Sir Philip Sidney, by whose means he was preferr'd to be Secretary to his Brother Sir Henry Sidney, who was sent Deputy into Ireland, where he is said to have written his Fairy-Queen; but upon the return of Sir Henry, his Employment ceasing, he also return'd into England, and having lost his great Friend Sir Philip, fell into Poverty; whereupon he addrest himself to Queen Elizabeth, presenting her with a Poem, with which she was so well pleas'd, that he had order'd him £500 for his support, which nevertheless was abridg'd to One Hundred Pounds by the Lord Treasurer Cecil, who hearing of it, and owing him a grudge for some Reflections in Mother Hubbard's Tale, cry'd out to the Queen, What all this for a Song? This he is said to have taken so much to Heart, that he contracted a deep Melancholy, which soon after brought his life to a Period, Anno Dom. 1598.

Edward Phillips, in his Theatrum Poetarum, says, That Spenser was the first of our English Poets that brought Heroick Poesie to any perfection; his Fairy-Queen being for great Invention and Poetick Heighth, judg'd little Inferiour, if not Equal to the Chief of the Ancient Greeks and Latins, or Modern Italians; But the first Poem that brought him into Esteem, was his Shepherds Kalendar. This Piece was highly admir'd by Sir Philip Sidney.

Cambden, in his History of Queen Elizabeth, says, That Edmund Spencer was a Londoner by Birth, and a Scholar also of the University of Cambridge, born under so favourable an Aspect of the Muses, that be surpass'd all the English Poets of former Times, not excepting Chaucer himself, his Fellow-Citizen. But by a Fate which still follows Poets, he always wrestled with Poverty.

Dr. Fuller, in his Worthies of England, affirms, That Edmund Spencer was an Excellent Linguist, Antiquary, Philosopher, and Mathematician; yet so poor (as being a Poet) that he was thought Famem no Famae scribere.

Sir William Temple, in his Essay on Poetry, pag. 46, 47. remarks, That the Religion of the Gentiles, had been woven into the Contexture of all the Ancient Poetry, with a very agreeable Mixture; which made the Moderns affect, to give that of Christianity a place also in their Poems. But the true Religion, was not found to become Fiction so well, as a False had done, and all their Attempts of this Kind, seem'd rather to debase Religion, than to heighten Poetry. Spencer, says Temple, endeavour'd to supply this with Morality, and to make Instruction, instead of Story, the Subject of an Epick Poem. His Execution was Excellent, and his Flights of Fancy very Noble and High, but his Design was poor, and his Moral lay so bare, that it lost the Effect; 'tis true, says Temple, the Pill was Gilded, but so thin, that the Colour and the Taste were too easily discover'd.

Rimer, in the Preface to his Translation of Rapin's Reflexions on Aristotle of Poesie, tells us, That in his Judgment, Spencer may be reckon'd the first of our Heroick Poets; He had a large Spirit, a sharp Judgment, and a Genius for Heroick Poesie, perhaps above any that ever writ since Virgil. But our Misfortune is, says Rimer, he wanted a true Idea; and lost himself, by following an unfaithful Guide. Though besides Homer and Virgil he had read Tasso, yet he rather suffer'd himself to be misled by Ariosto; with whom blindly rambling on marvellous Adventures, he makes no Conscience of Probability. All is Fanciful and Chimerical, without any Uniformity, or without any foundation in Truth; in a Word, his Poem (says Rimer) is perfect Fairy-Land.

Dryden, in his Dedication to the Earl of Dorset before the Translation of Juvenal, pag. viii. says, That the English have only to boast of Spencer and Milton, in Heroick Poetry; who neither of them wanted either Genius, or Learning, to have been perfect Poets; and yet both of them are liable to many Censures. For there is no Uniformity in the Design of Spencer: He aims at the Accomplishment of no one Action: He raises up a Hero for every one of his Adventures; and endows each of them with some particular Moral Vertue, which renders them all equal, without Subordination or Preference. Every one is most valiant in his own Legend; only (says Dryden) we must do him that justice, to observe, that Magnaminity, which is the Character of Prince Arthur, shines throughout the whole Poem; and Succours the rest, when they are in distress. The Original of every Knight, was then living in the Court of Queen Elizabeth: And he attributed to each of them that Virtue, which he thought was most conspicuous in them: An Ingenious piece of flattery, tho' in turn'd not much to his Account. Had he liv'd to finish his Poem, in the six remaining Legends, it had certainly been more of a piece; but cou'd not have been perfect, because the Model was not true. But Prince Arthur, or his chief Patron, Sir Philip Sidney, whom he intended to make happy, by the Marriage of his Gloriana, dying before him, depriv'd by the Poet, both of Means and Spirit, to accomplish his Design: For the rest, his Obsolete Language, and the ill Choice of his Stanza, are faults but of the Second Magnitude: For notwithstanding the first he is still Intelligible, at least, after a little practice; And for the last, he is the more to be admir'd; that labouring under such a difficulty, his Verses are so Numerous, so Various, and so Harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he has profestly imitated, has surpass'd him, among the Romans; And only Mr. Waller among the English, says Dryden.

The Expence of his Funeral and Monument was defray'd at the sole charge of Robert, first of that Name, Earl of Essex. He lies buried in Westminster-Abbey, near Chaucer, with this Epitaph:

Edmundus Spencer, Londinensis, Anglicorum Poetarum nostri seculi fuit Principes, quod ejus Poemata, faventibus Musis, & victuro genio conscripta comprobant. Obiit immatura morte, Anno Salutis, 1598. & prope Galfredum Chaucerum conditur, qui foelicissime Poesin Anglicis literis primus illustravit. In quem haec Scripta sunt Epitaphia.

Hic prope Chaucerum situs est Spenserius, illi
Proximus Ingenio, proximus ut Tumulo.
Hic prope Chaucerum Spensere poeta poetam
Conderis. & versu! quam tumulo proprior.
Anglica te vivo vixit, plausitque Poesis;
Nunc moritura timet, te moriente, mori.

[pp. 213-16]