1720
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Preface. The Song of Troilus.

A New Collection of Original Poems, Never Printed in Any Miscellany. By the Author of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Dr. George Sewell


The "incomparable Spenser," Milton, and Dryden are among the few moderns who have made a study of Chaucer. More notable are George Sewell's thoughts about about imitating vernacular poets for their sense rather than their manner, which is certainly illustrated in the imitations of Chaucer and Spenser published in this volume, including "The Force of Musick, a Fragment after the Manner of Spenser."

George Sewell, a devoted Addisonian, appears to make a point of dismissing the recent imitations of Chaucer by Alexander Pope and John Gay.

Hoxie Neale Fairchild: "Sewell's interest in earlier English literature might, in fact, be worthy of separate treatment, for he studied not only Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakespeare but the Earl of Surrey" Religious Trends in English Poetry (1939) 1:208.




I have often wonder'd that Chaucer, the Father of our English Poetry, generally acknowledged as such, and frequently applauded for his Excellence, should be so little read, as appears from most of our Modern Compositions. His Fame is taken upon Credit, from the Recommendations of others; and they who speak of him, rather pay a blind Veneration to his Antiquity than his intrsinsic Worth, which perhaps may bear a Competition with the Refiners of Poetry in any other Language. They who seem most to have studies him, are our incomparable Spenser, Milton; and Dryden; others have but mimick'd his Garb, without hitting his Air and Mien. An old Word, or Phrase or two, accidentally thrown among twenty modern and fashionable ones, have given an unjust Repute to some Imitations of Chaucer. In the mean time, the Boldness of his Imagery, the natural Beauty of his Similitudes, and the Delicacy of his Thoughts, are generally neglected, though his best Ornaments: They have rubb'd of his Rust for their own Use, and left the Steel in the Possession of the right Owner. Mr. Dryden indeed stands an Exception to this Accusation, he never missing, but improving every noble Hint of this Author; regardless of the Expression, his view is at the Sense, the Spirit, the Figures of his Predecessor. Before ever he undertook to dress him in Modern English, it is plain to me, that he was an early Admirer of him, and transferr'd many of his Beauties into his own Poems; as commendable a Design, as Virgil's in borrowing from Ennius, and Lucretius. I could give many Instances of this; but let one general, and one particular be sufficient. The manner of reasoning in Verse, which Mr. Dryden so artfully introduced into his Heroic Plays, is entirely Chaucer's, as may be seen even by this little Piece following. That he used his Images and Thoughts, be this a Testimony. In the Description of Absolom's Beauty, he summs up all with this Line;

And Paradise was open'd in his Face.

Chaucer in his of Cresseide, says,

That Paradis stood formed in her Eyen.

The Thought in this Song has been used, and diversified a hundered times since Chaucer's Days; and yet he seems to have said more, and that more pathetically than any of his Imitators. It is taken from the First Book of Troilus and Cresseide; and the Reader by a Comparison may see how little Variation there is from the Original, and give his Judgment at Pleasure. I only wish that so excellent a Poet as Chaucer may be no longer admir'd at a Distance, but brought into the Acquaintance of the Polite World; and it is to be hoped that the New Edition of his Works will compleat that Wish.

THE SONG OF TROILUS.

If no Love is — O God what feel I so?
And, if Love is — what Thing, and which is He?
If Love be good, from whence proceeds my Woe?
If it be Ill? How can that Ill agree?
His bitter Potions I the sweetest think,
And ever thirst the more, the more I drink.

If willingly I bear the burning Charm,
Whence are my Wailings, and my deep Complaint?
If Harm is pleasing, why do I grieve the Harm?
Why with the Load unwearied, am I faint?
Sweet Harm, how holds my Heart of thee so much,
But that my Heart consents it should be such?

And if my Heart consent and I agree?
The Folly of Complaint fair Wisdom binds,
Thus like a Boat all steerless in the Sea,
My Heart is toss'd betwixt two jarring Winds.
Alas! what wondrous Woe poor Lovers try?
For Heat of Cold, for Cold of Heat I dye.

[pp. 82-85]