1739
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[Allegory of the Dunces; West's Canto of Spenser.]

The Champion 1 (13 December 1739) 87-97.

Henry Fielding


Writing anonymously, Henry Fielding refers to Edmund Spenser as "that happy Genius, whom I never yet read but with Love and Admiration" p. 94. The paper is devoted to allegory, consisting of a satire on poetry and politics, a puff for Gilbert West's Spenserian burlesque A Canto of the Fairie Queen [On the Abuse of Travelling] (1739), and a concluding swipe at the Walpole administration. In the allegory Alexander Pope amuses himself with the Muses as Colley Cibber and a variety of other candidates attempt to ascend Parnassus. They are opposed by the bard of Leonidas (Richard Glover) and his friend George Lyttelton. The man offering to "pay for self and company" is Sir Robert Walpole.

Fielding recommends West's poem as "a Piece that may be almost called a new Species of Satire, especially free from Pedantry and Licence, where the Simplicity of Truth is ornamented with the Pomp of Fable; where good Nature, and good Breeding, interchangeably sweeten Reproof, and afford us both Instruction and Entertainment" p. 93. Were it not for its greater degree of correctness, Fielding comments, it might pass for the work of Spenser himself, "whom I never yet read but with Love and Admiration." Fielding then quotes five stanzas as a specimen (and as a slap at the Walpole administration) before filling out his essay with a parallel passage from Philip Massinger. Fielding had been a schoolmate of West's at Eton.

Isaac D'Israeli: "The Champion, by Henry Fielding. — A great portion of it is employed on the follies, vices, amusements, and literature of the age; and the remainder is occupied by political wit and discussion. To every paper is annexed what is termed 'an index to the times,' consisting of news, miscellaneous and political, frequently charges with the most sarcastic irony.' In the critical department are to be found many ingenious dissertations on literary subjects" in Review of Nathan Drake, Essays ... illustrative of the Rambler; Quarterly Review 1 (May 1809) 404.

C. H. Timperley: "The greater part of this work was written by the celebrated Henry Fielding, and was published thrice a week, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The last number appeared June 19, 1740, making ninety-four numbers, or two volumes, 12mo. The work has undergone three editions" Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:664.

Fielding owned a copy of the 1750 reprint of Hughes's Spenser; see A. N. L. Munby, Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons (1971-75) 7:150.




MR. CHAMPION.

I am surprized that you have been now a whole Month in the World, without having been once asleep, or, at least, without acquainting your Readers with it. You cannot be ignorant that your Predecessors used both to sleep and dream, and diverted the Town as much this Way as when they were awake. You will be pleased, perhaps to hear, that I myself have dreamt in the Spectator in my Youth, and that I have continued to dream occasionally ever since; but, for want of a proper Vehicle to make those visionary Scenes public, have been obliged to nod over them by myself. It was no small Pleasure to me, therefore, to hear of the Champion, which, not being totally devoted to Politics, allows Room, now and then, for such Miscellaneous Pieces, as may arise in such a Twilight Imagination as mine, of which, if you think proper, be pleased to entertain your Readers with the following Specimen.

Methought I found myself in the most beautiful Plain I ever beheld. The Soil was cover'd with a Verdure scarce to be equalled by Colours, or conceived by Imagination. A vast Quantity of Flowers of different Sorts variegated the Scene, and perfumed the Air with the most delicious Odours. In the midst of this Plain stood a Mountain, not much unlike a Mitre; which was of great Height, but withal so free from all Incumbrances of Trees of Briars, that I could, from the Bottom of the Hill, very plainly discern all such as ascended, or endeavoured to ascend. On one of the Summits of this Hill, sat nine Girls, whose Names I learnt to be Miss Cally, Miss Cly, Miss Raty, Miss Thally, Miss Pomy, Miss Psicky, Miss Terpsy, Miss Polly, Miss Any; they were very indifferently dressed, but so extremely beautiful, that the Rents in their Garments, which discover'd some Parts of their charming Limbs, would have been ill supply'd by the richest Brocade. A little Man who lay in the Lap of one, with his Head in the Bosom of another, playing with his Hands with the Neck of a third, gave me an Idea of a certain Colonel, who formerly used to lie in State in this Town. I could by no means learn the Name of this happy Man, though I asked several, who all returned me indirect Answers. One swore, if he could come at him; he would soon kick him down the Hill; another, that he had no Right to be there; a third (a very grave Man) shook his Head and said, he did not understand Greek. But what surprized me the most, was, that several Persons, instead of telling me his Name, ventured to contradict my Senses, and to assure me I was mistaken, for that the little Gentleman was not, where I saw him: while I stood shocked with the Assurance of this Declaration, I observed a pretty tall Man tumbling down the Hill with great Precipitation; upon applying my Glass, I thought I had seen him somewhere before; and was told, that he had ascended a good Part of the Mountain in Disguise, and had passed several of the Guards (which I now took Notice, watched carefully at equal Distances on the Ascent) under counterfeit Names. My Friend had scarce ended, when the aforesaid Person past by me, and with an Air of Indignation cryed out, "Keep your Helican, and be paxed! A Cup of Sack is a better Thing stap my Vitals! and since those young Ladies will not let me up the Hill, I will never introduce one of them to Court, split me." He then began to hum a Song — I could hear some few Words only, as "Sing" and "Liberty," and "Sing and War" and "Sing and Peace." I remarked, the faster he sung, the faster he walked, or rather ran from the Hill, so that he was soon out of Sight, which he scarce was, when I heard a vast Noise at the Bottom of the Hill; indeed it was so loud, and of so strange a Kind, that I despair of giving my Reader an adequate Idea of it. Nor do I believe he can form a juster, than by imagining a discordant Chorus of all the vociferous Animals in the World; for, besides the human Organs, which were here diversified into all the different Kinds of vocal Music, such as whistling, yawning, hallowing, hooting, groaning, &c. there were several Animals, (not chosen, as it seems, for the Sweetness of thier Pipes) such as Asses, Owls, and Cats conjoined. While I was wondering at this hideous Outcry, one who stood near me, said, "O! they are hunting an Author."

Nor can I help mentioning, that the little Gentleman on the Top of the Hill, put on a Kind of Smile, which I thought unbecoming at so brutal an Entertainment. I was diverted from enquiring farther into the Meaning of this Pastime, by a Number of Persons who brushed by me; some of whom I thought I had seen before, and heard them often mention the "Encouragement of Learning," as they past along: I was informed these did not attempt to climb themselves, but only to recommend others, whom I did not observe to ascend: At the same Time, I remarked a very loud Laugh among those who guarded the Avenues; soon after which the said Crowd returned back, among whom I heard it muttered, "It was very hard a Man can't be allowed a little Judgment for his Money." They were just gone, when a fat, well-dressed Man came up, somewhat out of Breath with the Hastiness of his travelling. He was refused to pass, but received a pretty large Sum of Money at the Gate, with which he seem'd to return very well contented. Immediately after him arrived a grave Gentleman in Black, who marched on with a very solemn Pace: I observed he passed the first Gate; soon after which, I heard the hideous Outcry I mention'd above, repeated for a considerable Time; at last, I was pleas'd to find the Black Gentleman has escaped them, whom I saw ascending the Hill, tho' they had torn all the Cloaths off from his Back. My Eyes were no sooner taken from him, than they were accosted by a well-dressed, young Man, with a good deal of Fierceness in his Countenance; the Guards did not open the Gate to him on his producing the first Passport, on which I could plainly read the Word "Dunces"; but on his producing a second, he was immediately admitted into the first Gate, and I could neither see nor here what became of him afterwards. A large Number of People began now to advance, some in very fine, and some in very shabby Dresses; they were all refused, the Guards assuring them, they would let no one pass without telling his Name, if required. As soon as they were departed, I was told, on Enquiry, that they were anonymous Satyrists, most of them very scurrilous, and all very dull. We were no sooner rid of this Company, than a Couple approached, who, tho' their Persons did not much agree, (the one being of the taller Kind, and thin, the other shorter and fatter) yet their Minds seemed to be more of a Piece, they seemed to walk together with great Friendship and Affection: The Gates were instantly opened to them, and they walked on, without any Interruption, to the Top of the Hill; where the little Gentleman, and the nine young Ladies saluted them. They no sooner shewed themselves there, than a Parcel of Asses, who were grazing at the Bottom, set up the most execrable Bray I ever heard: This I was informed, by one of the Guards, was the Nature of the Beasts whenever they beheld any Figure on the Top of the Mountain. Upon my asking who those two Gentlemen were, the same Person replied, "The shorter of them is the excellent Author of Leonidas. He was introduced many Years ago by Milton and Homer; nor is her dearer to those great Poets, than to several Spartan and Roman Heroes. He is thought, by long Intimacy with those two, to have learnt the Majestic Air of Homer, while he dresses himself like Milton, tho' others believe both to be natural to him. As for the other Gentleman, he was very fond of one or two of those Ladies you see yonder in his Youth, and they as warmly returned his Passion; but of late, there has grown a Coldness of his Side; and graver Studies, in which he hath nobly distinguished himself, have made him less frequent in their Embraces." He was proceeding, when several Persons came up, the first of which had, I observed, a great Club in his Hand. The Gate was immediately opened to them; and as soon as they had entered, the Guard whispered in my Ear, "They are the Family of the Vinegars; he at the Head is the great Captain Hercules." If you will give me Leave, Captain, your Club seemed to strike such a Terror, that I am in some Doubt, whether you did not owe your Admission to it: I no sooner turned about, than I observed a huge over grown Fellow, with a large Rabble at his Heels, who huzza'd him all along as he went. He had a Smile, or rather a Sneer in his Countenance, and shook most People by the Hand as he past; on each Side of him walked three Persons, with Cloths and Brushes in their Hands, who were continually employed in rubbing off Mire from him; and really he travelled through such a Quantity of Dirt, that it was as much as they could possibly do to keep him from being covered. I was informed, that a certain Person, calling himself a Hyp-Doctor, walked after him, but he was invisible to me. As soon as he came to the Gate, he whispered to the Guard, and then shook him by the Hand; upon which the Gate was opened, but as the Guard was going to shut it on the rest, the huge Man turned about, and cryed, "Sir, I pay for self and Company"; upon which it was flung wide open, and the whole Crew entered in, and marched on without the least Interruption through the several Passes; the huge Man shaking all those who "should have kept them" by the Hand. You will not wonder at my Curiosity in asking, who, or what this Man was; I was answered, "That he was a great Magician, and with a gentle Squeeze by the Hand, could bring any Person whatever to think, and speak, and do what he himself desired, and that it was very difficult to avoid his Touch; for if you came but in his Reach, he infallibly had you by the Fist; and there was only one Way to be secure against him, and that was by keeping your Hand shut, for then his Touch had no Power;" but indeed, this Method of Security I did not perceive any one to put in Practice. The Company, with their Leader, were now advanced a considerable Way up the Hill, when the Ladies applied to the little Gentleman to defend them; but he, to the great Surprize of every Body, crept under one of their Petticoats; upon which I heard one behind me cry out, "Ay, ay, he hath been touched before I warrant you." The two Gentlemen, whom I mentioned to walk up the Hill together, advanced bravely to the Brow, and put themselves in a Posture of Defence, with a seeming Resolution to oppose the whole Posse. And now every one was in full Expectation of the Issue; when (eagerly pressing too forward) I came within the Reach of the huge Man, who gave me such a Squeeze by the Hand, that it put an End to my Dream, and instead of those flowry Landskips which I painted in the Beginning of my Letter, I found myself three Pair of Stairs in the Inner-Temple.

If you find any Thing in this worth your Notice, the next time I dream at all to the Purpose, you shall her from me again, I am,

Sir,

Your humble Servant

C.

Inner-Temple,

Dec. 7th.

———*———*———*———*———*———

Perhaps there was never such a Dearth of Vice, or Folly, that Satire was in Danger of starving for Want of Food: The Severe are of Opinion 'tis at present, glutted with too great a Variety. This is certain, we have often seen her set down with a very keen Appetite, and lay about her, as if she meant to clear the Board. But then she fed so indelicately, not to say coarsely, that it might be said, she turn'd our Stomachs, while she gratify'd her own.

Some Instances indeed, there are, of her entertaining quite like a Person of Quality: And one in particular, where her Bill of Fare is exquisite, the Order incomparable, the Garniture full of Fancy, the Desert magnificent, and the Honours of her Table, worthy the high Character she then assum'd.

To quit the Metaphor, I have my Eye on a Poem, called A Canto of the Fairy Queen, in the manner of Spencer; a Piece that may be almost called a new Species of Satire, equally free from Pedantry and Licence, where the Simplicity of Truth is ornamented with the Pomp of Fable; where good Nature, and good Breeding, interchangeably sweeten Reproof, and afford us both Instruction and Entertainment . . . The Author's assuming the Person of Spencer, is beside, a happy Expedient to take off that almost universal Displeasure which we feel, when another affects to be wiser than ourselves: And how well it becomes him let the Quotation annex'd witness. . . so well indeed, that, were it not for the superior Harmony of his Versification, (together with a few modern Images) and the Correctness of his Language, I could, without Difficulty, persuade myself, 'twas really a Fragment of that happy Genius, who I never yet read but with Love and Admiration.

The Scope of this Piece is to dissuade our gay young Gentlemen from travelling, or induce them to make a better Use of it; as likewise to insinuate, that no Country however pleasant, under absolute Dominion can vie with that which has still preserv'd its Liberty.

For the Rest, I refer the Reader to the following excellent Quotation, which is a faithful Specimen of the whole.

There underneath a sumptuous Canopy,
That with bright Ore and Diamonds glitter'd far,
Sate the swoln Form of Royal Surquedry,
And deem'd itself allgates some Creature rare,
While its own haughty State it mote compare
With the base Count'nance of the vassal Fry,
That seem'd to have nor Eye, nor Tongue, nor Ear,
Ne any Sense, ne any Faculty,
That did not to his Throne owe servile Ministry.

Yet wist he not that half that Homage low
Was at a Wizard's Shrine, in private pay'd,
The which conducted all that goodly Show,
And as he list th' Imperial Puppet play'd,
By secret Springs and Wheels right wisely made,
That he the subtle Wires mote not avize,
But deem in sooth that all he did or said,
From his own Motion and free Grace did rise,
And that he justly highte immortal, great, and wise.

And eke each of that same gilded Train,
That meekly round that Lordly Throne did stand,
Was by that Wizard ty'd a Magic Chain,
Whereby their Actions all he mote command,
And rule with hidden Influence the Land,
Yet to his Lord he outwardly did bend,
And those same Magic Chains within his Hand
Did seem to place, albeit by the End
He held them fast, that none of them from his Gripe mote rend.

Behold, says Archimage, the envied Height
Of Human Grandeur to the Gods allied!
Behold yon Sun of Power, whose glorious Light,
O'er this rejoicing Land out-beaming wide,
Calls up those Princely Flowers on every side:
Which like the painted Daughters of the Plain,
Ne toil, ne Spin, ne stain their silken Pride
With Care or Sorrow, sith withouten Pain,
Them in eternal Joy those Heav'nly Beams maintain.

Then morn and evening Joy eternal greets,
And for them thousands and ten thousands moil,
Gathering from Land and Oceans honied Sweets
For them, who in soft Indolence the while
And slumbring Peace, enjoy the luscious Spoil;
And as they view around the careful Bees
Forespent with Labour and incessant Toil,
With the sweet Contrast learn themselves to please,
And heighten by compare the Luxury of Ease.

The following excellent Passage, taken from a Play called the Bondman, writ by Massinger, is recommended to the Attention of all Parties without Distinction.

You have not, as good Patriots should do, study'd
The Public Good, but your particular Ends;
Factious among yourselves, preferring such
To Offices and Honours as ne'er read
The Elements of saving Policy:
But deeply skilled in all the Principles
That usher to Destruction:
Your Senate-House, which used not to admit
A Man, however popular, to stand
At the Helm of Government, whose Youth, was not
Made glorious by Action; whose Experience,
Crown'd with gray Hairs gave Warrant to her Councils,
Heard, and received with Rev'rence, is now fill'd
With green Heads that determine of the State
Over their Cups, or when their sated Lusts
Afford them Leisure; or, supplied by those
Who, rising from base Arts and sordid Thrift,
Are eminent for Wealth, not for their Wisdom:
Which is the Reason, that, to hold a Place
In Council, which was once esteemed an Honour,
And a Reward for Virtue, hath quite lost
Lustre and Reputation, and is made
A MERCENARY PURCHASE.

INDEX TO THE TIMES.

As the Play-House, since some ingenious young Gentlemen have turned it into a Bear-Garden, falls naturally within my Province, I shall think proper to animadvert on such Occurrences there, as occasionally happen: It would be therefore unjust, to take no Notice of a most excellent Device made use of the other Night, where some one observing that Brutus says of Caesar,

The angry Spot doth glow on Caesar's Brow.

Equipp'd the said Caesar with a large painted Spot over his Eye. Such Decorations as these are of great Use to an Author, as they greatly heighten a poetical Image, and at the same Time help the Audience to understand it; for, as Horace says, "Nothing makes so quick an Impression on the Mind, as Que sunt Oculis subjecta fidelibus."

C.


[pp. 87-97]