Spenser appears in a catalogue of ancient and modern poets. In George Butt's dialogue in the shades, Horace and Addison are made to agree that rules and criticism are over-rated, and that powers of original invention define the true poetic character. The Rev. George Butt was a respected tutor whose critical views, like his poetry, reflect the influence of the Wartons, not least in identifying the character of British poetry with Greece rather than Rome.
After an exchange of compliments, Horace and Addison debate the role of correctness in poetry' Horace retracts his remarks expressed in the Art of Poetry, and defends lyric spontaneity. Homer, Horace notes, gained preeminence without the guidance of critics and rules; because of a reliance on art, his own poems suffer in comparison to those of Alcaeus, Sappho, and Pindar. Addison remarks that for the same reason Homer and Theocritus are preferred to Virgil. Both poets concur in admiring the artless Shakespeare: "Nor deem a school-boy's satchel holds the rules | That point the paces of a Shakspere's soul" 1:73. After the two poets laud Shakespeare at length, Pindar appears, leading a chorus of Elysian bards: Petrarch, Milton, Ariosto, Spenser, Tasso, and Dante.
Thy converse, Horace, in these hallow'd shades,
Perfects Elysium, as on earth thy lyre
Would often warble half my cares away.
Enchanting Bard! Whose eye distinctly saw
Truth, as thy Muse, without one hurrying step,
Would trace all Helicon, its sunny lawns,
Groves, and green dells, aerial cliffs, and streams.
Thence could I rein (still studious of thy laws)
The wild excesses of the Western bard,
And from the rude shell of our sea-beat shore
Draw forth the silver-sounding airs, that prov'd
My fond observance of thy charming Muse.
Hence hath the critic spar'd thy classic toils,
And every polish'd Briton at thy name
Towr's in his pride, and bids the Latins bow.
Be thine the praise — for me thy precepts taught,
Soft on my themes to shed the gracious hues,
And on my flow'rs the gentlest moonlight lay.
Say such a light as on the champaign sleeps
At earliest blush of dawn in cheerful Spring,
When not a cloud athwart the cool air throws
One glooming shade, and all the birds in song,
Beneath the blue expanse of fragrant morn,
Skim the clear air, and celebrate the May.
How pleasing is Elysium! man meets man,
Studious of mutual honour; Kindness here
Reigns, and Desert expands beneath applause.
Yet own, my friend, that if thy genius pour'd
The verse that ever flows correctly sweet;
If thine so blest a temper, that with thee,
E'en in the train of Humour, Wisdom play'd,
Whilst the light fingers of the Graces twin'd
The flow'rs of Fancy for thy placid brow,
And thee their second Socrates proclaim'd—
Still own, my candid friend, that Art in thee
Would check that fire of genius, whose display
Presents those nobler images of things,
That yield the human gaze celestial sights,
And feast the soul of man with that sublime
On which the Gods might banquet on their thrones.
Nine years, O Bard, review your works with care,
Touch and retouch, on earth was your advice—
Wrung from my soul, when Folly's torrent roar'd
Rough o'er my nerves, and jarr'd my trembling frame.
Has Time then taught you to be less austere?
Yes; and to rev'rence more the human pow'rs,
Seen in more various lights; and thence I scorn
The pride that rushes to the Critic's chair,
To point the courses of the self-taught bard.
His track is order'd, yet there are but few
Born to discern what most are born to feel,
And mark the means whose end is their delight.
Then give the Poet way, and let him mount;
Keen is his eye, precipitous his thought,
And vast his view, and when he kens his prey,
He bears upon it with the lightning's speed:
But drudging on, unseconded, unprais'd,
Pinion'd and blinded by the Critic's laws
(Envy's old fraud to hamper heav'n-born wit)—
Mad, to be thus precluded all at once
From all Invention's wonderful domain,
He weeps his useless art — and well may weep
An art that marks him with superior woe.
If, like your British Gray, stung on by Pride,
He smites a few fine numbers from his lyre,
To prove his heav'n-born license, soon he throws
That lyre away, and droops in pensive sloth.
Words sweetlier wed with Truth, when Truth most warms,
And in the gen'rous impulse numbers rise,
Struck out by Nature, such as Art's slow touch,
When pausing o'er the lyre (the Critic near,
And guiding her chill'd fingers), never rais'd.
Invention's children (and without invention
What is the poet?) flourish'd ere the birth
Of Critic, or, regardless of his frown,
Rose on their wing, and reach'd their heav'nly height.
Thus the strong plume of Homer gain'd the brow
Of Glory's arduous steep, where now he stands
Triumphant, and the still progressive shouts
Of all the civilizing nations hears.
Thence, in the misty eve of polish'd states,
He marks how many bards force heavily up
Their glimmerings from the cold earth, till anon,
Spark after spark extinct in total night,
Gone is the meteor, the mere pageant clos'd:
Not so this orb of Glory, still he shines,
Firm in his sphere and boundless in his sway,
The blazing leader of the heav'nly lights.
Too much I chain'd my genius to the car
Of Art's slow-stepping pomp, and toil'd to hide
The golden glories of a fire divine
Within the Pedant's damp sepulchral gloom.
Why want mine odes the dread Alcaean fire,
The tender Sapho's flame-created pathos?
But, oh! how far beneath the solar walk
That touches on the threshold of the Gods,
Where Pindar's shaft so sang upon its way,
That all the Nine deign'd to listen, flew my reed!
Just in mid air within poor Caesar's ken,
Whom Virgil and yourself miscall'd a God,
That ye might share his pleasurable bowers,
And trill at ease Ambition's languid lay.
Hence, my lov'd Virgil, thy melodious verse
Enchants us less than Homer's — softly sweet
Warbled thy past'ral reed, yet sweeter far,
In all his rude unlabour'd minstrelsy,
Sicilia's shepherd pour'd his Dorian airs.
By such a flowing grace, Euripides,
Thy fertile fancy, and thy tender soul
Drew from the manly Greek so many tears,
And feasted Wisdom with the finest woe.
And why so many tears, but that the bard
Flow'd unobstructed through his meadowy way,
Where Nature led his free meandering course?
It was the purest stream, and freely flow'd
By Nature's favour, where her fairest scenes
Shone in its mirror with augmented grace.
Not thus; but still great Nature's docile son
Wont Sophocles transcribe her dread decrees,
Teach all-aspiring Athens to repress
Man's daring spirit, by presenting man
The child of woe and dire vicissitude.
Nor deem I that the lofty Aeschylus
Could deign crouch down in penance at the feet
Of lect'ring Art a learner.
—what to learn—
His own dread pow'rs? If Art could teach what Art
Has never, never taught — the pow'r tremendous
By which invading Horror's drear domain
He thence drew forth such forms as nearly shot
Madness into the heart of them who dar'd
The world in arms.
—oh! imitative Rome,
O'er thee how Greece, o'er thee how Britain soars!
For, rising strong on Nature's forest-wing,
Our bird of Avon sprang aloof from earth,
And, with the lark's aerial melody,
Caroll'd at ease, and won the heart of man.
Say rather, Briton, and exulting say,
That on his Pegasus thy British hero
Vaulted all fire, and more triumphant rode
Than on Bucephalus the son of Philip,
When, mounting first before his trembling sire,
He rul'd the steed that would no master bear
But the predestin'd conqu'ror of the world.
Was it not art by which the godlike youth
Rul'd the bold steed?
—if art, the manly art
That checks awhile to heighten Nature's fire,
Nor damps it but to rouse the brighter blaze.
I but proscribe the tyranny of Art—
Allow not man's poor rivalry with Heav'n—
A pedant to direct a comet's force—
An owl to modulate a nightingale—
Nor deem a school-boy's satchel holds the rules
That point the paces of a Shakspere's soul.
Yet we must own some spots had 'scap'd this sun
Which never dimm'd the gorgeous lights of Greece,
Had somewhat more of Art repress'd his fire.
Oh! no, those ages could not thus offend—
The very temper of those ages shed
Grace on the Muses; all was Nature's reign,
In that soft climate where she reigns with joy:
New were her works to pict'ring Fancy, new
The Bard melodious, thence the readiest ear
Rapture bestow'd, and fed his pow'rs with praise;
Thence, underneath the wildest wing of Fame,
And canopied with ever-blooming bays,
Th' Aonian chariot richly gliding on,
Triumphant bore the demi-god of verse,
Homer, and from the judging Greek call'd forth
The thund'rous shout whose echo never dies.
Homer (his rare inheritance a speech,
In which th' Olympian senate might debate)
Was in an age of simple manner born,
Ere Art had twisted language from its course,
And ere this Hydra from her hundred heads
Had pour'd her poisons through the jarring schools:
Pun had not then a royal sanction gain'd,
Nor Bombast strutted in that Pedant's court,
Where Fashion gave the gabbling many law,
And shap'd a multitude of fools by one.
When the hoar vapours o'er the desert hang
(The Bard shall lend an image for himself),
A lion cannot always from his mane
Shake every dew-drop, yet he's still a lion.
Grant time and place beneath his vigorous blow
Unduly crush'd, yet from his strong career,
At Nature's cost, the very whirl bestows
A richer feast on Fancy, and o'er realms
And times he wafts us at his will; agraz'd,
Reason wo'n't check him, so the jaunt delights,
And such his nat'ral converse, such his skill
To point and to explain the passing scenes;
'Tis Fancy's ramp no more, but all is truth,
And the great Master smiles to see his power.
When Shakspere errs, can witlings err like him?
Gold is his refuse, diamond his dross,
Weigh'd with their finish'd follies, tinsell'd toys.
Had Art repress'd him, had he nurs'd nine years
The hale-born products of his fiery soul,
Their fire had vanish'd.
—wherefore vanish'd mine,
But that the fear of censure check'd my muse,
And chiding Judgment rock'd it into sleep?
Oh! had the fearless Shakspere thus been lull'd,
Where had his fairies, elves, fine spirits been,
His growling Calibans, his goblins damn'd,
Soul-harrowing ghosts, and weird dames of Hell,
His touches true that paint the times renown'd,
The very colour of those caroll'd days
When his lov'd Harry fought at Agincourt?
Had Lear so madden'd, and so wrung your hearts,
When storms assail'd him, daughters worse than storms
Tore him, and tenter'd all his heart-strings through
(That "old kind father whose frank heart gave all"),
Who, 'mid the pelting of the midnight blast,
When all the thund'ring Heav'ns were in a flame,
No shelter found, no hovel for that head
Where once had blaz'd the diadem of kings?
Could Art have taught this Lord of all your passions,
This 'witching Shakspere, so to murder sleep,
To start at shadows, clench at fancied daggers,
As when he bar'd the pangs of guilt before you,
Shiver'd your souls, and made you quake at murder?
Such wisdom and such pathos Art ne'er taught.
Life-hackney'd, hoar Experience here may learn
Maxims of conduct; hence skill'd Courtesy
Borrow new graces, and the choral bard,
The charming Lyrist of accomplish'd Greece
Might in this vasty forest gather flowers,
And note such soft arrangements of delight,
As his encourag'd Fancy never own'd
In all its precincts.
—gen'rous Roman! Tears
Beam sacred beauty down thy throbbing cheeks.
Could Art have open'd Falstaff's mine of wit,
And o'er it such a blaze of Humour spread—
Have lent the keenness and the strength of mind
To people so the mimic stage of life,
And, in the hottest action of his host,
Assign each actor's place, nor let him swerve
(Such was his Caesar's empire, Caesar's eye)
A jot from Duty's post and Nature's walk?
No — had he toil'd to give his fancies birth,
Produc'd 'em palsied from a tedious nursing,
And brought down all his passions till they met
The sympathies of cens'ring mechanism,
The spleen of crampt cold-blooded pedantry—
Perdition — what a loss had Time deplor'd
Through all his ages—
—then the human heart,
That wond'rous labyrinth, had ne'er been trac'd
(This clue withheld), nor Wisdom thence acquir'd
The richest boon which Genius ever gave.
The like neglected Genius gives no more,
But mourns in solitudes his glory fallen.
When Virgil liv'd the thund'ring Theatre
Receiv'd him as it wont the God Augustus
(I heard him roar, I seem e'en now to hear it),
Old Tiber trembled through his vaulted shores,
And Echo early caught his praise from Fame.
But in a cold and hypercritic age,
An age diseas'd by lucrative designs,
By mean ambitions and by mean delights,
Wit nods, and Folly's only rous'd by spleen;
Then Learning's equal radiance, far diffus'd,
Bids many wish to be what few are born.
The fists of Dulness bruise the Muse's shell,
Mechanics mount the Stagyrite's tribunal,
And, sitting at her frame, the prating maid,
Carps at a word, nor heeds the dulcet chime
Which in Elysium charms our purged ears,
Makes soft Proserpine's snowy bosom heave,
And darts a thrill thro' Pluto's iron cheek.
But, hark? th' Orphean lyre, and by the Bard
Maeonides and Maro's raptur'd stand!
The Greek Tragedians hasten from the groves!
And Petrarch hurries from his laurel bower!
Lo! from yon temple Milton's march majestic!
And Shakspere's from yon cliff! he lifts the lyre!
See how the breezes back his ringlets blow,
And play their sweet pranks with his glittering robe!
Mark Ariosto's desultory step—
The tender Spencer pacing by his side!
Tasso comes forward from the vale of palms,
And Dante rises from his gloomy glade!
Ah! Pindar's self has seiz'd his golden lyre,
Sinks all his soul into the sounding chords,
And chants aloud, and joins the Muse's son!
Oh! God of verse, these numbers might bring down
Thee and the Nine from Heaven!
—O God of verse,
Thine edict from the first assign'd the Bard
An energy to fire the sons of men
To highest worth, and give sublimest Truth
The richest robing of persuasive speech,
Where Music, Passion, and Invention spread
Before the wond'ring earth their bright array,
To lift us high above these jarring scenes,
Within the view of that harmonious Grace
Which fills, and forms, and beautifies the Heavens.