In the dedication John Dryden makes several scattered references to Spenser, and the claim that Jonathan Swift would ridicule in Battle of the Books: "I must acknowledge that Virgil in Latine, and Spencer in English, have been my Masters. Spencer has also given me the boldness to make use sometimes of his Alexandrin Line, which we call, though improperly, the Pindarick; because Mr. Cowley has often employ'd it in his Odes" p. 237. The title is given as "To the most honourable John, Lord Marquis of Normandy, Earl of Musgrave, &c. and Knight of the most noble Order of the Garter."
In common with all seventeenth-century writers who comment on the subject, Dryden finds fault with the design of the Faerie Queene: "Spencer wanted only to have read the Rules of Bossu: for no Man was ever Born with a greater Genius, or had more Knowledge to support it" p. 238. Not until the advent of historicist criticism and the fashion for irregularity in the middle eighteenth century would the romance epic find defenders, and even then Spenser's narrative complexity was condemned by appealing to the experience of common readers.
John Upton, claiming that the classical unities are observed in the Faerie Queene, took umbrage at Dryden's criticisms of Spenser's design: "How readily has every one acquiesced in Dryden's opinion? That the action of this poem is not one — that there is no uniformity of design; and that he aims at the accomplishment of no action. It might have been expected that Hughes, who printed Spenser's works, should not have joined so freely in the same censure: and yet he tells us 'that the several books appear rather like so many several poems, than one entire fable: each of them having its peculiar knight, and being independent of the rest.' Just in the same manner did the critics and commentators formerly abuse old Homer; his Iliad, they said, was nothing else, but a parcel of loose songs and rhapsodies concerning the Trojan war, which he sung at festivals; and these loose ballads were first collected, and stitched, as it were, together by Pisistratus; being parts without any coherence, or relation to a whole, and unity of design" Preface to the Faerie Queene (1758) 1:xx.
Samuel Johnson: "In 1697 he published his version of the works of Virgil, and, that no opportunity of profit might be lost, dedicated the Pastorals to lord Clifford, the Georgicks to the earl of Chesterfield, and the Eneid to the earl of Mulgrave. This oeconomy of flattery, at once lavish and discreet, did not pass unnoticed" "Life of Dryden" in Lives of the English Poets (1779-81); ed. Hill (1905) 1:387.
Henry Francis Cary: "Finished Dryden's translation of the Aeneid, with Jane. Though there are many coarsenesses in this version, which are very unlike the original, yet they are less disgusting than the refinements of Pope in his translation of the Iliad. The numbers have more variety and are less cloying than those of Pope. The poem itself has but little interest, as a whole, when compared with either of the two poems of Homer, but their are passages more highly and beautifully wrought than in almost any other poet" Literary Journal for 13 July 1800; in Memoir of Henry Francis Cary (1847) 1:201.
Herbert E. Cory: "In his Discourse on Epick Poetry (1697) Dryden wrote: 'I must acknowledge that Virgil in Latin and Spencer in English, have been my masters.' Again: 'If the design be good and the draught be true, the colouring is the first beauty that strikes the eye. Spencer and Milton are the nearest, in English, to Virgil and Horace in Latin; and I have endeavoured to form my style by imitating their masters.' The association of Virgil and Spenser is very significant because it throws a clear light on an aspect of neo-classicism completely misunderstood. The Augustans did not, as has been so constantly averred, forget or despise Spenser. They found him, on the whole, sufficiently reconcilable with their ideals and appreciated sides of his poetry to which the romanticists, to our own day, have remained blind. Dryden taught the Augustans to accept Virgil and Spenser as common models" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 116.
A Heroick Poem, truly such, is undoubtedly the greatest Work which the Soul of Man is capable to perform. The Design of it, is to form the Mind to Heroick Virtue by Example; 'tis convey'd in Verse, that it may delight, while it instructs: The Action of it is always one, entire, and great. The least and most trivial Episodes, or under-Actions, which are interwoven in it, are parts either necessary, or convenient to carry on the main Design. Either so necessary, that without them the Poem must be Imperfect, or so convenient, that no others can be imagin'd more suitable to the place in which they are. There is nothing to be left void in a firm Building; even the Cavities ought not to be fill'd with Rubbish, which is of a perishable kind, destructive to the strength: But with Brick or Stone, though of less pieces, yet of the same Nature, and fitted to the Cranies. Even the least portions of them must be of the Epick kind; all things must be Grave, Majestical, and Sublime: Nothing of a Foreign Nature, like the trifling Novels, which Ariosto and others have inserted in their Poems. By which the Reader is miss-led into another sort of Pleasure, opposite to that which is design'd in an Epick Poem. One raises the Soul and hardens it to Virtue, the other softens it again and unbends it into Vice. One conduces to the Poet's aim, the compleating of his Work; which he is driving on, labouring and hast'ning in every Line: the other slackens his pace, diverts him from his Way, and locks him up like a Knight Errant in an Enchanted Castle, when he should be pursuing his first Adventure. Statius, as Bossu has well observ'd, was ambitious of trying his strength with his Master Virgil, as Virgil had before try'd his with Homer....
I have detain'd your Lordship longer than I intended in this Dispute of preference betwixt the Epick Poem and the Drama: and yet have not formally answer'd any of the Arguments which are brought by Aristotlean the other side, and set in the fairest light by Dacier. But I suppose, without looking on the Book, I may have touch'd on some of the Objections. For in this Address to your Lordship, I design not a Treatise of Heroick Poetry, but write in a loose Epistolary way, somewhat tending to that Subject, after the Example of Horace, in his First Epistle of the Second Book to Augustus Caesar, and of that to the Piso's, which we call his Art of Poetry. In both of which he observes no Method that I can trace, whatever Scaliger the Father, or Heinsius may have seen, or rather think they had seen. I have taken up, laid down, and resum'd.as often as I pleas'd the same Subject: and this loose proceeding I shalluse thro' all this Prefatory Dedication. Yet all this while I have been Sailing with some side-wind or other toward the Point I propos'd in the beginning; the Greatness and Excellency of an Heroick Poem, with some of the difficulties which attend that work. The Comparison therefore which I made betwixt the Epopee and the Tragedy was not altogether a digression; for 'tis concluded on all hands, that they are both the Master-pieces of Humane Wit.
In the mean time I may be bold to draw this Corollary from what has been already said, That the File of Heroick Poets is very short: all are not such who have assum'd that lofty Title in Ancient or Modern Ages, or have been so esteem'd by their partial and ignorant Admirers.
There have been but one great Ilias and one Aeneis in so many Ages. The next, but the next with a long interval betwixt, was the Jerusalem: I mean not so much in distance of time, as in Excellency. After these three are entred, some Lord Chamberlain should be appointed, some Critick of Authority shou'd be set before the door, to keep out a Crowd of little Poets, who press for Admission, and are not of Quality. Maevius wou'd be deafning your Lordship's Ears with his
Fortunam Priami, Cantabo, & Nobile Bellum.
Meer Fustian, as Horace would tell you from behind, without pressing forward, and more smoak than fire. Pulci, Boyardo, and Ariosto, wou'd cry out, make room for the Italian Poets, the descendants of Virgil in a right Line. Father Le Moin with his Saint Louis; and Scudery with his Alaric, for a godly King, and a Gothick Conquerour; and Chapelain wou'd take it ill that his Maid shou'd be refus'd a place with Helen and Lavinia. Spencer has a better plea for his Fairy-Queen, had his action been finish'd, or had been one. And Milton, if the Devil had not been his Heroe instead of Adam, if the Gyant had not foil'd the Knight, and driven him out of his strong hold, to wander through the World with his Lady Errant: and if there had not been more Machining Persons than Humane, in his Poem. After these, the rest of our English Poets shall not be mention'd. I have that Honour for them which I ought to have: but if they are Worthies, they are not to be rank'd amongst the three whom I have nam'd, and who are establish'd in their Reputation....
I hinted before, that the whole Roman People were oblig'd by Virgil, in deriving them from Troy; an Ancestry which they affected. We, and the French are of the same Humor: They would be thought to descend from a Son, I think, of Hector: And we wou'd have our Britain both nam'd and planted by a descendant of Aeneas. Spencer favours this Opinion, what he can. His Prince Arthur, or whoever he intends by him, is a Trojan. Thus the Heroe of Homer was a Grecian, of Virgil Roman, of Tasso an Italian....
The French Translator thus proceeds: They who accuse Aeneas for want of Courage, either understand not Virgil, or have read him slightly; otherwise they would not raise an Objection so easy to be answer'd. Hereupon he gives so many Instances of the Heroe's Valour, that to repeat them after him, would tire your Lordship, and put me to the unnecessary trouble of Transcribing the greatest part of the three last Aeneids. In short, more could not be expected from Amadis, a Sir Lancelot, or the whole Round Table, than he performs. "Proxima quaeque metit gladio," is the perfect Account of a Knight-Errant. If it be reply'd, continues Segrais, that it was not difficult for him to undertake and atchieve such hardy Enterprizes, because he wore Enchanted Arms; that Accusation, in the first place, must fall on Homer, ere it can reach Virgil. Achilles was as well provided with them as Aeneas, though he was invulnerable without them: And Ariosto, the two Tasso's, Bernardo and Torquato, even our own Spencer; in a word, all Modern Poets have Copied Homer, as well as Virgil; he is neither the first nor the last, but in the midst of them; and therefore is safe, if they are so. Who knows, says Segrais, but that his fated Armour was only an Allegorical Defence, and signifi'd no more, that that he was under the peculiar Protection of the Gods? born, as the Astrologers will tell us out of Virgil, (who was well vers'd in the Chaldaean Mysteries) under the favourable Influence of Jupiter, Venus, and the Sun....
Virgil employ'd Eleven Years upon his Aeneis, yet he left it as he thought himself imperfect. Which when I seriously consider, I wish, that instead of three years which I have spent in the Translation of his Works, I had four years more allow'd me to correct my Errours, that I might make my Version somewhat more tolerable than it is. For a Poet cannot have too great a reverence for his Readers, if he expects his Labours shou'd survive him. Yet I will neither plead my Age nor Sickness in excuse of the faults which I have made: That I wanted time is all I have to say. For some of my Subscribers grew so clamorous, that I cou'd no longer deferr the Publication. I hope from the Candour of your Lordship, and your often experienc'd goodness to me, that if the faults are not too many, you will make allowances with Horace.
Si plura nitent in Carmine, non ego paucis
Offendar maculis, quas aut incuria fudit,
Aut humana parum cavit Natura.
You may please also to observe, that there is not, to the best of my remembrance, one Vowel gaping on another for want of a Caesura in this whole Poem. But where a Vowel ends a word, the next begins either with a Consonant, or what is its equivalent; for our W and H aspirate, and our Diphthongues are plainly such: The greatest latitude I take, is in the Letter Y, when it concludes a word, and the first Syllable of the next begins with a Vowel. Neither need I have call'd this a latitude, which is only an explanation of this general Rule. That no Vowel can be cut off before another, when we cannot sink the Pronunciation of it: As He, She, Me, I, &c. Virgil thinks it sometimes a Beauty, to imitate the License of the Greeks, and leave two Vowels opening on each other, as in that Verse of the Third Pastoral,
Et succus pecori & lac subducitur Agnis.
But nobis non licet, esse tam disertis. At least, if we study to refine our Numbers. I have long had by me the Materials of an English Prosodia, containing all the Mechanical Rules of Versification, wherein I have treated with some exactness of the Feet, the Quantities, and the Pauses. The French and Italians know nothing of the two first; at least their best Poets have not practis'd them. As for the Pauses, Malberb first brought them into France, within this last Century: And we see how they adorn their Alexandrins. But as Virgil propounds a Riddle which he leaves unsolv'd:
Dic quibus in terris, inscripti nomina Regum
Nascantur flores, & Phyllida solus habeto.
So I will give your Lordship another, and leave the Exposition of it to your acute Judgment. I am sure there are few who make Verses, have observ'd the sweetness of these two Lines in Coopers Hill.
Tho' deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage, without o'reflowing, full.
And there are yet fewer who can find the Reason of that sweetness. I have given it to some of my Friends in Conversation, and they have allow'd the Criticism to be just. But since the evil of false quantities is difficult to be cur'd in any Modern Language; since the French and the Italians as well as we, are yet ignorant what feet are to be us'd in Heroick Poetry; since I have not strictly observ'd those Rules my self, which I can teach others; since I pretend to no Dictatorship among my Fellow-Poets; since if I shou'd instruct some of them to make wellrunning Verses, they want Genius to give them strength as well as sweetness; and above all, since your Lordship has advis'd me not to publish that little which I know, I look on your Counsel as your Command, which I shall observe inviolably, 'till you shall please to revoke it, and leave me at liberty to make my thoughts publick. In the mean time, that I may arrogate nothing to my self, I must acknowledge that Virgil in Latine, and Spencer in English, have been my Masters. Spencer has also given me the boldness to make use sometimes of his Alexandrin Line, which we call, though improperly, the Pindarick; because Mr. Cowley has often employ'd it in his Odes. It adds a certain Majesty to the Verse, when 'tis us'd with judgment, and stops the sense from overflowing into another Line. Formerly the French, like us, and the Italians, had but five Feet, or ten Syllables in their Heroick Verse: but since Ronsard's time, as I suppose, they found their Tongue too weak to support their Epick Poetry, without the addition of another Foot. That indeed has given it somewhat of the run, and measure of a Trimeter; but it runs with more activity than strength: Their Language is not strung with Sinews like our English. It has the nimbleness of a Greyhound, but not the bulk and body of a Mastiff. Our Men and our Verses overbear them by their weight; and "Pondere non Numero," is the British Motto. The French have set up Purity for the Standard of their Language; and a Masculine Vigour is that of ours. Like their Tongue is the Genius of their Poets, light and trifling in comparison of the English; more proper for Sonnets, Madrigals, and Elegies, than Heroick Poetry. The turn on Thoughts and Words is their chief Talent, but the Epick Poem is too stately to receive those little Ornaments. The Painters draw their Nymphs in thin and airy Habits, but the weight of Gold and of Embroideries is reserv'd for Queens and Goddesses. Virgil is never frequent in those Turns, like Ovid, but much more sparing of them in his Aeneis, than in his Pastorals and Georgicks:
Ignoscenda quidem, scirent si ignoscere manes.
That turn is Beautiful indeed; but he employs it in the Story of Orpheus and Eurydice, not in his great Poem. I have us'd that License in his Aeneis sometimes: but I own it as my fault. 'Twas given to those who understand no better. 'Tis like Ovid's
Semivirumque bovem, semibovemque Pirum.
The Poet found it before his Criticks, but it was a darling Sin which he wou'd not be perswaded to reform. The want of Genius, of which I have accus'd the French, is laid to their Charge by one of their own great Authors, though I have forgotten his Name, and where I read it. If Rewards cou'd make good Poets, their great Master has not been wanting on his part in his bountiful Encouragements: For he is wise enough to imitate Augustus, if he had a Maro. The Triumvir and Proscriber had descended to us in a more hideous form than they now appear, if the Emperour had not taken care to make Friends of him and Horace. I confess the Banishment of Ovid was a Blot in his Escutcheon, yet he was only Banish'd, and who knows but his Crime was Capital, and then his Exile was a Favour? Ariosto, who with all his faults, must be acknowledg'd a great Poet, has put these words into the mouth of an Evangelist, but whether they will pass for Gospel now, I cannot tell.
Non fu si santo ni benigno, Augusto,
Come la tuba di Virgilio suona;
L'haver havuto, in poesia buon gusto
La proscrittione, iniqua gli perdona.
But Heroick Poetry is not of the growth of France, as it might be of England, if it were Cultivated. Spencer wanted only to have read the Rules of Bossu: for no Man was ever Born with a greater Genius, or had more Knowledge to support it. But the performance of the French is not equal to their Skill; and hitherto we have wanted Skill to perform better. Segrais, whose Preface is so wonderfully good, yet is wholly destitute of Elevation; though his Version is much better than that of the two Brothers, or any of the rest who have attempted Virgil. Hannibal Caro is a great Name amongst the Italians, yet his Translation of the Aeneis is most scandalously mean, though he has taken the advantage of writing in Blank Verse, and freed himself from the shackles of modern Rhime: (if it be modern, for Le Clerc has told us lately, and I believe has made it out, that David's Psalms were written in as errant Rhime as they are Translated.) Now if a Muse cannot run when she is unfetter'd, 'tis a sign she has but little speed. I will not make a digression here, though I am strangely tempted to it; but will only say, that he who can write well in Rhime, may write better in Blank Verse. Rhime is certainly a constraint even to the best Poets, and those who make it with most ease; though perhaps I have as little reason to complain of that hardship as any Man, excepting Quarles, and Withers. What it adds to sweetness, it takes away from sense; and he who loses the least by it, may be call'd a gainer: it often makes us swerve from an Author's meaning. As if a Mark be set up for an Archer at a great distance, let him aim as exactly as he can, the least wind will take his Arrow, and divert it from the White....
What I have said, though it has the face of arrogance, yet is intended for the honour of my Country; and therefore I will boldly own, that this English Translation has more of Virgil's Spirit in it, than either the French, or the Italian. Some of our Country-men have translated Episodes, and other parts of Virgil, with great Success. As particularly your Lordship, whose Version of Orpheus and Eurydice, is eminently good. Amongst the dead Authors, the Silenus of my Lord Roscommon cannot be too much commended. I say nothing of Sir John Denham, Mr. Waller, and Mr. Cowley; 'tis the utmost of my Ambition to be thought their Equal, or not to be much inferiour to them, and some others of the Living. But 'tis one thing to take pains on a Fragment, and Translate it' perfectly; and another thing to have the weight of a whole Author on my shoulders. They who believe the burthen light, let them attempt the Fourth, Sixth or Eighth Pastoral, the First or Fourth Georgick; and amongst the Eneids, the Fourth, the Fifth, the Seventh, the Ninth, the Tenth, the Eleventh, or the Twelfth; for in these I think I have succeeded best.
Long before I undertook this Work, I was no stranger to the Original. I had also studied Virgil's Design, his disposition of it, his Manners, his judicious management of the Figures, the sober retrenchments of his Sense, which always leaves somewhat to gratifie our imagination, on which it may enlarge at pleasure; but above all, the Elegance of his Expressions, and the harmony of his Numbers. For, as I have said in a former Dissertation, the words are in Poetry, what the Colours are in Painting. If the Design be good, and the Draught be true, the Colouring is the first Beauty that strikes the Eye. Spencer and Milton are the nearest in English to Virgil and Horace in the Latine; and I have endeavour'd to form my Stile by imitating their Masters. I will farther own to you, my Lord, that my chief Ambition is to please those Readers, who have discernment enough to prefer Virgil before any other Poet in the Latine Tongue. Such Spirits as he desir'd to please, such wou'd I chuse for my judges, and wou'd stand or fall by them alone....
When I mention'd the Pindarick Line, I should have added, that I take another License in my Verses: For I frequently make use of Triplet Rhymes, and for the same Reason: Because they bound the Sense. And therefore I generally join these two Licenses together: And make the last Verse of the Triplet a Pindarique: For besides the Majesty which it gives, it confines the sense within the barriers of three Lines, which wou'd languish if it were lengthen'd into four. Spencer is my Example for both these priviledges of English Verses. And Chapman has follow'd him in his Translation of Homer. Mr. Cowley has given in to them after both: And all succeeding Writers after him. I regard them now as the Magna Charta of Heroick Poetry; and am too much an English-man to lose what my Ancestors have gain'd for me. Let the French and Italians value themselves on their Regularity: Strength and Elevation are our Standard. I said before, and I repeat it, that the affected purity of the French, has unsinew'd their Heroick Verse. The Language of an Epick Poem is almost wholly figurative: Yet they are so fearful of a Metaphor, that no Example of Virgil can encourage them to be bold with safety. Sure they might warm themselves by that sprightly Blaze, without approaching it so close as to singe their Wings; they may come as near it as their Master. Not that I wou'd discourage that purity of diction, in which he excels all other Poets. But he knows how far to extend his Franchises: And advances to the verge, without venturing a Foot beyond it. On the other side, without being injurious to the Memory of our English Pindar, I will presume to say, that his Metaphors are sometimes too violent, and his Language is not always pure. But at the same time, I must excuse him. For through the Iniquity of the times, he was forc'd to Travel, at an Age, when, instead of Learning Foreign Languages, he shou'd have studied the Beauties of his Mother Tongue: Which like all other Speeches, is to be cultivated early, or we shall never Write it with any kind of Elegance. Thus by gaining abroad he lost at home: Like the Painter in the Arcadia, who going to see a Skirmish, had his Arms lop'd off; and return'd, says Sir Philip Sydney, well instructed how to draw a Battel, but without a Hand to perform his Work.
There is another thing in which I have presum'd to deviate from him and Spencer. They both make Hemysticks (or half Verses) breaking off in the middle of a Line. I confess there are not many such in the Fairy Queen: And even those few might be occasion'd by his unhappy choice of so long a Stanza. Mr. Cowley had found out, that no kind of Staff is proper for an Heroick Poem; as being all too Lyrical: Yet though he wrote in Couplets, where Rhyme is freer from constraint, he frequently affects half Verses: of which we find not one in Homer, and I think not in any of the Greek Poets, or the Latin, excepting only Virgil; and there is no question but he thought, he had Virgil's Authority for that License. But I am confident, our Poet never meant to leave him or any other such a Precedent. And I ground my Opinion on these two Reasons. First, we find no Example of a Hemystick in any of his Pastorals or Georgicks. For he had given the last finishing Strokes to both these Poems: But his Aeneis he left so uncorrect, at least so short of that perfection at which he aim'd, that we know how hard a Sentence He pass'd upon it: And in the second place, I reasonably presume, that he intended to have fill'd up all those Hemysticks, because in one of them we find the sense imperfect: "Quem tibi jam Troja" —Which some foolish Gramarian, has ended for him, with a half Line of Nonsense; "Peperit fumante Creusa." For Ascanius must have been born some Years before the burning of that City; which I need not prove. On the other side we find also, that he himself fill'd up one Line in the sixth Aeneid, the Enthusiasm seizing him, while he was reading to Augustus.
Misenum Aeolidem, quo non praestantior alter
Aere, ciere Viros.—
To which he added in that transport, "Martemque accendere Cantu." And never was any Line more nobly finish'd; for the reasons which I have given in the Book of Painting. On these Considerations I have shun'd Hemysticks: Not being willing to imitate Virgil to a Fault; like Alexander's Courtiers, who affected to hold their Necks awry, because he cou'd not help it: I am confident your Lordship is by this time of my Opinion; and that you will look on those half lines hereafter, as the imperfect products of a hasty Muse: Like the Frogs and Serpents in the Nile; part of them kindled into Life; and part a lump of unform'd unanimated Mudd....
Lay by Virgil, I beseech your Lordship, and all my better sort of Judges, when you take up my Version; and it will appear a passable Beauty, when the Original Muse is absent: But like Spenser's false Florimel made of Snow, it melts and vanishes when the true one comes in sight. I will not excuse but justify my self for one pretended Crime, with which I am liable to be charg'd by false Criticks, not only in this Translation, but in many of my Original Poems; that I Latinize too much. 'Tis true, that when I find an English Word, significant and sounding, I neither borrow from the Latin or any other Language: But when I want at home, I must seek abroad.
[pp. 203, 208-09, 213, 217, 236-40, 243-44, 246]