1735
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[On Merlin's Cave.]

The Country Journal: or, the Craftsman (15 November 1735).

Henry Fielding


Writing in the Craftsman, an opposition newspaper, "P. O." interprets the wax figures in Queen Caroline's grotto. The grotto attracted considerable attention, including an engraving with verses from Spenser that appeared as the frontispiece of the fifth volume of the Gentleman's Magazine (1735). The essay refers to an earlier discussion of Merlin in the Craftsman, No. 440 (13 September 1735) and No. 483 (4 October 1735). The Merlin passage had been quoted in another Opposition attack in The Weekly Register of 4 October. Martin Battestin tentatively speculates that the author may be Henry Fielding on the basis of the Spenser allusion; see New Essays by Henry Fielding (1989) 397.

The Faerie Queene was used in a similar way during other moments of constitutional crisis; compare The Faerie Leveller; or, King Charles his Leveller descried and deciphered in Queene Elizabeths Dayes (1648), Samuel Croxall's An Original Canto of Spenser (1713) and Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe's The Vision of Liberty. Written in the Manner of Spencer (1801).

D. S. : "As to the Figures represented to be consulting Merlin, in the Royal Gardens, the Craftsman has rightly mention'd Britomartis and Glauce, but is mistaken in what he says of Queen Elizabeth, and her Maids of Honour. The two other Female Figures being Bradamants, a Martial Lady, and Melissa, the Prophetess, who met her in Merlin's Cave, as related in Orlando Furioso, B. III." Gentleman's Magazine 5 (1735) 671.

William Warburton: "The queen thought Duck's poetry excellent, and sent the manuscript to Mr. Pope for his judgment, having first required his word of honour that he would not unstitch the first two leaves, which she had sewn down to conceal the name of the author. He soon discovered the condition of the poet by the quality of the poetry, and told the lady who brought it to him, that he supposed most villages could supply verses of the same force. But being told who the writer was, and receiving a fair character of his modesty and innocence, he generously did all he could to establish him at court, and had the condescension and humility frequently to call on him at Richmond" in Pope, Correspondence, ed. Elwin (1871) 2:443-44n.

Christine Gerrard: "The Merlin figure inspired more ingenious readings. The Craftsman reapplied itself to The Faerie Queene. On 15 November 1735 it devoted an entire essay to Book III, citing several stanzas including Spenser's description of Merlin's Globe. It pointedly remarked how useful such a prophetic looking-glass might have proved to the current generation: all the miseries of Walpole's administration might have been avoided. Spenser's description of the 'Brazen Wall' built by Merlin around Cairmardan offered an apt analogy for a later 'Brazen Wall' — Robert Walpole. Walpole's reputation for 'screening' or corruption had prompted his popular nickname — the 'wall' or 'screen' of brass" The Patriot Opposition to Walpole (1994) 175.




Mr. DANVERS,

There having been much Discourse of late about MERLIN and his CAVE, I fancy many of your Readers will be pleas'd to see Spenser's Account of that old British Prophet and Magician.

In his Legend of Britomartis, or Chastity, He gives us the following Relation of her Passion for Arthegal.

By strange Occasion she did him behold,
And much more strangely 'gan to love his Sight,
As it in Books hath written been of old.
In Debeubarth, that now South Wales is hight,
What Time King Ryence reign'd, and dealed right,
The great Magician, Merlin, had devis'd,
By his deep Science, and Hell-dreaded Might,
A Looking-Glass, right wond'rously aguis'd,
Whose vertues through the wide World soon were solemniz'd.

It Vertue had to shew, in perfect Sight,
Whatever Thing was in the World contain'd,
Betwixt the lowest Earth and Heaven's Height,
So that it to the Looker appertain'd.
Whatever Foe had wrought, or Friend had feign'd,
Therein discovered was, ne aught mote pass,
Ne ought in Secret from the same remain'd;
For-thy it round and hollow shaped was,
Like to the World itself, and seem'd a World of Glass.

Who wonders not, that reads so wond'rous Work?
But who does wonder, that hath read the Tower,
Wherein th' Aegyptian Phao long did lurk,
From all Men's View, that none might Her discover,
Yet she might all Men view out of her Bower?
Great Ptolomy it, for his Leman's Sake,
Ybuilded all of Glass, by magick Power,
And also it impregnable did make;
Yet when his Love was false, He with a Peaze it break.

Such was the glassy Globe, that Merlin made,
And gave unto King Ryence for his Guard,
That never Foes his Kingdom might invade,
But He it knew at home, before He heard
Tidings thereof, and so Them still debarr'd.
It was a famous Present for a Prince,
And worthy Work of infinite Reward,
That Treasons could bewray, and Foes convince.
Happy this Realm, had it remained ever since!

Spenser's Observation, in this last Line, is not only beautiful, in a poetical Light, but worthy of an honest Englishman, and shews his great Regard for the Honour and Interest of his country. Such a Looking-Glass was, indeed, a Noble Present, and what the wisest Prince upon Earth need not be ashamed of accepting. For this Reason, I heartily wish, with our Poet, that it had remain'd ever since, or that Merlin would be pleas'd to fabricate another, and bestow it where it is due, by Way of Acknowledgement his new Habitation. Had this Mirrour been preserved, how many fatal Miscarriages in former Reigns would have been prevented? Our Kings would then have been not only able to defeat all the Machinations and Attempts of their Enemies, but likewise to distinguish their real Friends from the common Herd of Sycophants, who swarm about Courts, and are always endeavouring to poison the Ears of their Sovereign. Invasions, Conspiracies, Rebellions, and civil Wars would have been immediately nipt in the Bud. There would have been no Occasion for Riot Acts, septennial Parliaments, Excise Bills, or Votes of Credit; and I make it a Question whether We should ever heard of the Treaties of Hanover, Seville, or Vienna. Nay, I cannot help thinking that even our present able Politicians, not excepting the great Negotiator Himself, would have reap'd some Advantage from it, in adjusting the Ballance of Europe, and securing the Interests of this Kingdom. The Poet then proceeds to acquaint his Readers that Brito-Martis happening to go into her Father, King Ryence's Closet, and looking into this enchanted Glass, saw there the Person of Arthegal, and fell so deeply in Love with Him, that it prey'd upon her Spirits, and depriv'd Her of her Rest. One Night, starting out of her Sleep in great Disorder, her old Nurse, Glauce, who lay with Her, desir'd to know the Occasion of it; and, after much Importunity, found it to be Love; but as it was only the Shadow of a Man, that had given the Wound, They were under great Difficulties how to find out the real Person. At last, Glauce advis'd her young Mistress, that He, who made the Glass, in which she view'd the Face of her strange Lover, would be able to inform Them in what Part of the World He lived. For this Purpose, They made a Journey to Merlin's Cave, the Description of which is so particular, that it deserves a Place in your Paper.

Forthwith Themselves disguising both in straunge
And base Attire, that none might Them bewray,
To Maridunum, that is now by Chaunge Of
Name Cayr-Merdin call'd, They took their Way;
There the wise Merlin whilom wont, They say,
To make his Wonne, low underneath the Ground,
In a deep Delve, far from the View of Day,
That of no living Wight He mote be found
When so He counsel'd, with his Sprights encompast round.

And if Thou ever happen that same Way
To travel, go to see that dreadful Place.
It is an hideous, hollow Cave, They say,
Under a Rock, that lies a little Space
From the swift Barry, tombling down apace,
Emongst the woody Hills of Dyneuowre.
But dare Thou not, I charge, in any Case,
To enter into that same baleful Bower
For fear the cruel Fiends should Thee unwares devour.

But standing high aloft, low lay thine Ear,
And there such ghastly Noise of Iron Chains,
And brazen Caudrons Thou shalt rombling hear,
Which thousand Sprights with long-enduring Pains
Doe toss, that it will stun thy feeble Brains;
And oftentimes great Groans, and grievous Stounds
When too huge Toil and Labour Them constrains,
And oftentimes loud Strokes, and ringing Sounds
From under that deep Rock most horribly rebounds.

The Cause, some say, in this, A little while
Before that Merlin dy'd, He did intend
A Brazen Wall in Compass to compile
About Cairmardin, and did it commend
Unto these Sprights, to bring to perfect End.
During which Work, the Lady of the Lake,
Whom long He lov'd, for Him in Haste did send,
Who thereby forc'd his Workmen to forsake,
Them bound, till his Return, their Labour not to slake.

In the mean Time, through that false Lady's Train,
He was surpriz'd, and buried under Bere,
Ne ever to his Work return'd again.
Nath'less those Fiends may not their Work forbear,
So greatly his Commandement They fear,
But there do toil and travail Day and Night,
Until that brazen Wall They up do rear;
For Merlin had in Magick more Insight,
Than ever Him before, or after, living Wight.

For He by Words could call out of the Sky
Both Sun and Moon, and make them Him obey;
The Land to Sea, and Sea to Main-Land dry,
And darksom Night He eke could turn to Day;
Huge Hosts of Men He could alone dismay,
And Hosts of Men of meanest Things could frame,
When so Him list his Enemies to fray;
That to this Day, for Terror of his Fame,
The Fiends do quake, when any Him to Them does name.

And, sooth, Men say that He was not the Son
Of mortal Sire, or other living Wight,
But wondrously begotten and begun
By false Illusion of a guileful Spright,
On a fair Lady Nun, that whilom hight Matilda,
Daughter to Pubidius,
Who was the Lord of Marthravall by Right.
And Coosen unto King Ambrosius;
Whence He indued was with Skill so marvellous.

This Account of Merlin's Pedegree, in the last Stanza, agrees very well with That, which You have already given us from the Dictionaire de Trevoux; where it is said that He was begotten by a Daemon, call'd Incubus, upon a Maid of Honour.

But how different is his Situation, at present, from what it was in those Times, of which our Author speaks? Instead of a dark, and doleful Cavern upon the Mountains of Wales, inhabited by Fiends, He hath now a fine new Apartment erected for Him, upon one of the most beautiful Spots in England, where He is constantly visited by the Great, the Gay, and the Powerful, of both Sexes. Instead of the rattling of Chains, and the Groans of unhappy Sprights, his Ears are now feasted with the Melody of Birds, and other delightful Musick, both natural and artificial. The Works of the Learned surround Him, and the celebrated Mr. Stephen Duck is both his House-keeper, and his Poet-Laureat.

It is true, indeed, if We may believe Spenser, that He had once Honour of a Visit from a Lady-Errant, and a King's Daughter, in his old Welsh Grotto; but what was That to the Compliments paid Him at present? Queen Elizabeth, attended by her Maids of Honour, is his constant Companion, and a greater Lady of the Lake, in whom He may safely confide, his indulgent Benefactress.

I don't know whether He designs to employ Himself, for the future, in the Arts of Prophecy, or Magick; in arming us against disastrous Events, by foretelling them; or in working Miracles, for our Deliverance. But as We do not seem to stand in any Need of Brazen Walls, or huge Hosts of Men, in our present Situation, I could wish He would turn his Mind a little to his other Art; and the Specimen You have lately given us of it makes me desirous of seeing some more of his Predictions. He would particularly oblige us, at this critical Conjuncture, by letting us know what will be the Issue of the ensuing Congress, if there is to be any, and how it will affect Us a few Years hence.

In the mean Time, give me Leave to make a Remark or two upon one of his Prophecies, which occurs in our History, almost five hundred Years ago.

You know, Mr. D'Anvers, that the Welsh were not intirely subdued to the English Government, till the Reign of Edward the first; though They had agreed to do Homage and pay Tribute to the Crown of England, in the Reign of his Father, Henry the third; but taking Advantage of the Troubles of those Times, They endeavour'd to throw off the Yoke. As soon therefore as Edward was settled in the Throne, He took a Resolution, in the first Place, to chastise Lewellyn, their Prince, who had countenanc'd and assisted the Malecontents, in his Father's Reign. For this Purpose, having march'd into Wales with a formidable Army, Lewellyn was oblig'd to submit, upon very hard Terms, without striking a Blow; but being a Prince of an haughty Spirit, that could not easily brook Subjection, He revolted soon afterwards, and endeavour'd to free Himself from it force of Arms. All our Historians take Notice that one of the Reasons, which determin'd Him to this desperate Enterprize, was an old, traditional Prophecy of MERLIN; that LEOLYN, (or LEWELLYN, according to the Welsh Language) should wear the Crown of BRUTUS; meaning the Crown of Britain, which was supposed to take its Name from that antient King. But the Event shew'd that He misinterpreted the Prophecy; for his Army was not only intirely routed, and Himself kill'd on the Spot, but his Head, crown'd with Ivy, was ignominiously expos'd to View upon the Walls of the Tower of London, and his whole Country was immediately united to the Crown of England.

It is plain therefore that the Prophecy could not be design'd for that unfortunate Prince; and, perhaps, it may not yet be fulfill'd. Why should it not mean, for Instance, that somebody, whose Name is Leo Lyn, or the Lyon of LYN, shall hereafter possess Himself of such absolute Power as to seem a Sovereign, and in Effect wear the Crown? — But I submit this Conjecture, with great Humility, to Persons better skill'd in such Kinds of Learning than my self, and am,

SIR

Your unknown Friend and humble Servant,

P. O.


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