1748
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Castle of Indolence: Advertisement.

The Castle of Indolence: An Allegorical Poem. Written in imitation of Spenser. By James Thomson.

James Thomson


James Thomson points to the elements of Spenser's style that appear most frequently in Augustan imitations — a diction that was easy to imitate or burlesque and the use of allegory. Thomson's own example, however, led later imitators away from burlesque and into non-allegorical modes of description. An "Explanation of the obsolete Words used in this Poem" was also bound in with The Castle of Indolence.

Thomas Campbell: "The materials of that exquisite poem are derived originally from Tasso; but he was more immediately indebted for them to the Fairy Queen: and in meeting with the paternal spirit of Spenser he seems as if he were admitted more intimately to the home of inspiration. There he redeemed the jejune ambition of his style, and retained all its wealth and luxury without the accompaniment of ostentation. Every stanza of that charming allegory, at least of the whole of the first part of it, gives out a group of images from which the mind is reluctant to part, and a flow of harmony which the ear wishes to hear repeated" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 403.

William Lyon Phelps: "Thomson had perhaps been partially inspired by Shenstone's School-Mistress; for the opening words of his Advertisement remind one of Shenstone's notions.... We can only wish that Thomson had seen fit to give free expression to his love for Spenser, and omitted from his poem all the burlesque element. But the fact that Thomson thought ludicrous touches necessary is a fact too suggestive to be forgotten" Beginnings of the English Romantic Movement (1893) 74.

Edward Payson Morton: "Both Shenstone and Thomson talk about the 'ludicrous' effect of Spenser's diction; and yet both poets wrote perfectly serious, sympathetic poems, and Thomson succeeded better than anyone else, with the possible exceptions of Keats and Tennyson, in equalling Spenser on his own ground. This contradiction between their criticism and their practice seems to me to point inevitably to the conclusion that they were 'unwilling witnesses,' and that their critical vocabulary was already more hopelessly inadequate than they realized" "The Spenserian Stanza in the Eighteenth Century" (1913) 380.

Compare similar statements prefaced to Matthew Prior, An Ode to the Queen (1706), William Shenstone, The School-Mistress (1742), William Thompson, Hymn to May (1746), Cornelius Arnold, The Mirror (1755); William Julius Mickle, The Concubine (1769) and James Beattie, The Minstrel (1771).




This Poem being writ in the Manner of Spenser, the obsolete Words, and a Simplicity of Diction in some of the Lines, which borders on the Ludicrous, were necessary to make the Imitation more perfect. And the Stile of that admirable Poet, as well as the Measure in which he wrote, are as it were appropriated by Custom to all Allegorical Poems writ in our Language; just as in French the Stile of Marot who lived under Francis I has been used in Tales, and familiar Epistles, by the politest Writers of the Age of Louis XIV.


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