Edmund Spenser makes an appearance in an eighteenth-century agony column. The first set of verses is from The Picture of Love by Aaron Hill, who is presumably the author of the paper, and possibly also of the two letters sent to Mr. Plain Dealer.
At the conclusion of the essay are some brief but interesting remarks on Spenser: "There are Descriptions in Spencer's Writings, much more bold, and strongly figur'd, than those of almost any other Poet, Antient, or Modern; His Fancy was quick, penetrating, vast! and his Conceptions so clearly possess'd, that he seems to have embodied his Idea's; and, given us, instead of his Thoughts, the very Substance of the Things he thought of" verso. Hill describes how he was haunted by reading Spenser as a boy, having committed the description of Death (Maleger) to memory. He apparently quotes the passage (2.11.21-22) from memory, for it is quite altered.
Nathan Drake: "it is, as a miscellaneous paper, the best that has come under our review since the Free-Thinker; and, though not worthy of re-publication as a whole, contains several essays from which both amusement and instruction may be derived. The preface is a critique on Essay-writing; and No 1, dated March 23d, 1724, is occupied by the discussion of a party assembled to choose a proper name for the paper. As this task, which was a difficulty then, has been rendered still more laborious by the multitude of subsequent publications, it may not be superfluous to present my readers with the proposed list, which includes nine appellations; namely, The Inquisitor; The Truth-Teller; The Secret; The Coquet; The Bagpipe; The Flute; The Good-Fellow; The Sweet-Heart; and The Whirligig. The Plain Dealer was published twice a week, and was concluded on May 7th, 1725, having reached one hundred and seventeen numbers; it was re-printed in 1734, and forms two octavo volumes" in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 1:53-54.
Isaac D'Israeli: "The Plain Dealer was written by Aaron Hill and a Mr. Bond, of whom it is recorded that 'the character of the work was observed regularly to rise in Mr. Hill's papers and fall in Mr. Bond's. Literary partners are subject to mortifications" in Review of Nathan Drake, Essays ... illustrative of the Rambler; Quarterly Review 1 (May 1809) 404.
Richard Alfred Davenport: "An officer of the army having fallen into difficulties, Hill, in 1724, began, in conjunction with [William] Bond, a periodical paper, entitled The Plain Dealer, the emolument from which was employed in providing for the wants of the officer. Bond and Hill each alternately wrote six essays, and the work so regularly rose in merit during Hill's week, and declined during Bond's, that Savage wittily called the two writers 'the contending powers of light and darkness'" Chiswick English Poets (1822) 60:19.
W. J. Courthope: "In the period immediately following the death of Addison, though literature and politics were occasionally blended in Grub Street organs like Mist's Journal, the two streams continued to flow apart; the scheme of the literary essay being developed in The Plain Dealer, while The Craftsman was conducted as a purely political organ" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 6:86.
Plain Dealer No. 72 (27 November 1724) rehearses the anecdote about Spenser, Elizabeth and Burghley; No. 84 (8 January 1725), on Love and Friendship, concludes by quoting two stanzas from Faerie Queene 4.9 ("Hard is the Doubt, and difficult to deem, | When all three kinds of Love together meet").
In the Decision of that Important Question, What is strangest? which we read of, in the Sacred Writings, LOVE, and DEATH, stand out, distinguish'd. And two of my Correspondents have given me an Opportunity of placing both these Invincible Powers in full View, near one another: A Position, which, like the Contrasts, observ'd in the Poetry, or Painting, of Judicious Masters, sets off, and throws forward, every Object, by its OPPOSITE; and rounds, and raises, to the Eye, what (without such artful Disposition) might be lost; and lie too flat, to catch the Notice of a slight Remarker.
I shall introduce the Lover's Letter by a Reflection, concerning the Impossibility of describing Love, and the Benefits, which Society owes this Passion; from a Poetical PICTURE of it, which I have more than once, made mention of, in the Course of these Papers.
The roughest Passions gently learn to move,
And Savage Hearts are humaniz'd, by Love:
Love, in a Chain of Converse, bound Mankind,
And polish'd, and awak'd, the rugged Mind.
Pity, Truth, Justice, Openness of Heart,
Courage, Politeness, Eloquence, and Art;
That generous Fire, with which Ambition flames!
And all th' unsleeping Soul's Divinest Aims:
Touch'd, by a Beam from Love, burn up, more, bright;
Proud of the godlike Power to give Delight!
Thus, have I vainly try'd, with Strokes too faint,
Love, in his known, and outward Marks, to paint:
Forgetful, that, of old, they veil'd his Face;
And, wisely, cover'd, what they cou'd not trace.
Lovely Creator of my Soul's soft Pain!
Pity the Pencil, that aspires in vain,
Vers'd in Love's Pangs, and taught his Pow'r, by you,
Skill'd, I presum'd, that what I felt, I drew:
But I have err'd — and, with delirious Aim,
Wou'd picture MOTION, and imprison, FLAME!
He, who can Light'ning's FLASH to Colours bind,
May paint Love's Influence, on the Lover's Mind.
To the PLAIN-DEALER.
Ever since you have obliged the World with your Paper, I have taken a great deal of Pleasure, in reading it; such just Sentiments, and your peculiar Method of Plain Dealing, must charm the Intelligent, and give Satisfaction to every one, who is susceptible of Tenderness, and Good-Nature.
Among the Subjects, which you have cursorily touch'd on, LOVE, that Heavenly Passion, (notwithstanding your grand Climacteric) seems to claim a considerable Share in your Composition; else, how could you so tenderly express your self concerning the Affair of Lucinda? With what Energy did you Discourse! Humanity appear'd in every Word, and I believe it impossible for the most Ardent LOVER, to speak of Love, with greater Emotion, than you did in that Beautiful PLAIN DEALER.
I have for some time been in Love, with a Woman, invested with all the Graces which accomplish the Sex; And, as I am entirely devoted to that Passion, when I read that Paper, of Lucinda, I felt within me something new, That argued still, for Love; something, so natural, so moving! that it was impossible for one, in my Circumstance, to withstand it. The Opinion I had already conceiv'd of my Beautiful Disturber, heighten'd by a growing and virtuous Passion, made me a thousand times delight my self with an Imagination, that my Emilia resembled Lucinda! The Love I bear this most agreeable Woman, has so deeply rooted it self in my Heart, that neither Time, nor Accident, can eradicate it. — All my Thoughts center in her, and when absent from her, I have lost the Soul, that animates my Life, and my Mind is as effectually Dead, as my Body will be, when I am no more, and shall have learnt the Power of forgetting her.
My Passion for this dear Creature has been sometime Dormant: About two Years ago, my Affairs obliged me to go Abroad, when our Acquaintance was but little cultivated; yet, an Infant Passion, even then made me solely her Admirer: Such Beauty, Good Nature, and lively Conversation, as are rarely to be met with in one Person, so captivated me, that I could think of nothing but the dear Emilia. — When I return'd Home, my Passion encreased daily, insomuch, that at this Time I am a Stranger to every thing, in the World, but Love, and Emilia! without her, I shall be the most unhappy Man alive. — I dread the Thoughts of her being unkind, and Heaven grant, they may be groundless — I have declar'd my Passion to her, and, if I don't flatter my self, she appears to have some regard for me; this you will readily conclude gives me Hope; but, alas! I fear too, or I shou'd be no Lover.
Our Circumstances are very different, and we seem in this Case only, to be Diffident in one another; As for my Part, a genteel Employment is the only Fortune I have to trust to, and therefore, according to the laudable Custom of Bargain and Sale, in the Affair of Marriage, I am afraid I have too little Plea that Way; yet, she is entirely at her own Disposal, and can, without asking any Body Leave, make me the happiest Man on Earth. — Dear Mr. Plain Dealer, as you have been an Advocate for Lucinda, I beg a little of your Assistance; What must I do? without her I am inevitably lost, and am afraid it may be so, if you don't intervene with your good Advice; I beg you to publish this, in your next; it may have some Effect on the dear Emilia: I am almost perswaded she does not hate me; And, yet when I reflect on the mercenary Ways of the World, I am plung'd into the utmost Despair.
Sir, as you a Man of Reason, make not light of my Condition, but exert your self to assist me; I am afraid I have exceeded the Bounds of a Letter, pray correct the Mistakes in Sense. I forget every Thing but the dear Emilia. — Angels protect her, and Make her kind! Your Advice, how to proceed, will be very grateful, and your publishing This, save me a great deal of Confusion: For she will know it comes from me, by a Declaration in it, which none else can perceive.
Your constant Reader,
and humble Servant,
There is no Spectacle, more profitably terrible, than that of a Man, who lies, expiring his Soul, on his Death Bed. — To see how the Spirits shrink inward, and retire to the Heart; which is beating with convulsive Anguish! while the Hands and Feet, its most remote Dependencies, are first incolden'd to a fashioned Clay, as if Death crept in at the Nails, and wou'd, by Surprize, from both Extreams, make sure of the vital Center.
The Mind would fain utter it self, but the Organs of the Voice are so debilitated, that it cannot. The Eyes now settle to a dim Fixedness; which but a little before, were as swift as the Shoots of Lightning, as nimble as Thought, and as bright as the polish'd Diamond! The Countenance (through which perhaps there shined a lovely Majesty, even to the Captivating of admiring Souls) is altered into frightful Paleness, and the Langour of a ghastly Stillness. — The Tongue is silent, which commanded a Family, nay, perhaps a Kingdom; and kept every Thing in Awe, with the Importance of its Motion. — The Form that was, Yesterday, so graceful, is now become a Thing so full of Horror, that Children are afraid to look upon it; and must, therefore, be transmitted from its Pleasures, and its Passions, — from all the Scenes of its inchanting Blandishments, to a dark and silent Grave.
There is even the Difference of two several Worlds, betwixt a King, enamel'd with his Robes and Jewels, sitting inthron'd in his Imperial State; and his Posture, Figure, and Condition when consign'd to his Six Foot of Royalty, to his Box of everlasting Obscurity. And yet this Change is without any visible, substantial, Diminution: All the Limbs remain perfect, as they were, without Dislocation, or Contradiction. — Where Scaliger defines Death to be but the Cessation of the Soul's Functions: As if it were rather a Restraint, than a Dissolution. What seems wanting, is chiefly Colour, Heat, and Motion; yet, that gross Object, which is left to the Spectator's Eyes, remains now but a Compound of the two ignobler Elements, Water and Earth; while the two purer, Fire and Air, are winged away, as fitter Attendants on the Soul, than on the extinguish'd Body.
When this happens to one, whose Conversation hath indeared him to us, when we see his Eyes put on Death, and hear the tolling Bell give publick Notice of it, what Soul can then lose a Thought on the fugitive joys of Pleasure! What a Bubble, what a Puff, what a Wink of Life is Man! And with what a general, and sure, Success, does Death stand over Humane Nature, always striking, here and there, and exercising an unbounded Triumph!
I have, lately, from such a Sight as This, learnt both Humility, and Elevation: — The One, to lower my Esteem of a Body, which must, one Day, perish in unlovely Rottenness. — The other, to Reverence a Soul, which after having liv'd here but as a Sojourner, reascends, when its House of Flesh is demolish'd, with a Vigour as unrestrain'd, and an Essence as refin'd and glorious, as the un-embodied, and celestial, Angels.
If you think these few foregoing Hints of mine worthy to fill up a Corner of your Paper by incerting them, you will oblige your constant Reader,
the 16th, 1724-25.
There are Descriptions in Spencer's Writings, much more bold, and strongly figur'd, than those of almost any other Poet, Antient, or Modern; His Fancy was quick, penetrating, vast! and his Conceptions so clearly possess'd, that he seems to have embodied his Idea's; and, given us, instead of his Thoughts, the very Substance of the Things he thought of. — There is, in his Works, an Image of DEATH so dreadfully drawn, and painted in such glowing Colours, that (having got it by Heart, when I was a Boy) it made so lively an Impression on me, that I never fail'd for a long time after, to see it, at my Bed's Foot as soon as the Candle was carried out of the Room — and met it, in every Churchyard, I pass'd over, after Sunset.
Death, with a Bow, in his left Hand, was seen,
And his long Arrows, slanting from his Side;
All, naked, dange'rous, and deadly keen:—
With Feathers, in the Blood of Millions died,
Such the fierce Indians in their Quivers, hide!
These he shot, careless; ever, changing Place;
Strait, to what Mark so-e'er he next him spy'd:
Nor was there Power in Art, to shun his Chase,
Or cure th' eternal Wounds, he makes in Human Race.
As pale, and wan, as Ashes, was his Look,
His Body lean, and meagre, as a Rake;
Shrunk was his Skin, like a dry, wither'd Root:
Cold is the Touch; and dreary, as a Snake!
Thin, as the quivering Air, he seem'd to shake!
His Dress was Canvas, strain'd, and girded, tight,
With an uncomely Belt, of twisted Brake,
And, on his Head, he wore a Helmet light,
Made of a Dead Man's Scull, a strange, and ghastly Sight!