Robert Southey, writing anonymously, discusses the considerable advances Henry John Todd made in Spenser biography, cocks an eyebrow at the adaptations of Spenser listed in Todd's bibliographies, and ridicules some of the pedantry applied to annotating Spenser.
While there is little substantive criticism of Spenser's writings (no discussion of allegory, archaisms, or design), Robert Southey's remarks indicate something about how he read Spenser, which was more as a poet than as a critic. Spenser's prosody gets particular attention, and Southey devotes several paragraphs to the matter of English hexameters, which he would later use to remarkable effect in his Vision of Judgment (1821). Todd is chided for trying to regularize Spenser's numbers and Southey comments that Spenser "possessed the finest ear of all our poets without exception" p. 555.
Robert Southey to John Rickman: "Arthur Aikin writes me, that 1200 of the Annual Review have sold of 2000 that were printed, and that the demand continues unabated. He is in high spirits at its success, and wishes me to come to London, — looking upon me, I suppose, as one of his staff-officers — as, in fact, William Taylor and I constitute his main strength. It is clear enough that if I regarded pen-and-inkmanship solely as a trade, I might soon give an income of double the present amount; but I am looking forward to something better, and will not be tempted from the pursuit in which I have so long and so steadily persevered" 20 January 1804; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:250.
Robert Southey to William Taylor of Norwich: "I love Spenser above all other poets, and have him in my heart of hearts" 2 September 1805; in Robberds, Memoir of William Taylor (1843) 2:95.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "How delightful it is to read his poetical criticisms; and what a loss has literature sustained in his once promised History of English Poetry.... With more than Warton's learning, he possesses and eloquence and refinement of imagination to which that amiable writer has no pretensions. His style, like some noble river, glides softy on at 'its own sweet will,' — deep and clear. His fancy, always warms and cheers without oppressing" 1833; in Robert Aris Willmott, "S. T. Coleridge at Trinity" in Conversations at Cambridge (1836) 28-29.
Thomas Rees: "Another literary speculation of considerable importance, undertaken in 1803, was the Annual Review, intended to comprise, in one large volume, an account of the entire English literature of each year. The editorship was committed to Arthur Aikin, whose scientific and literary attainments eminently fitted him for such an office. He was ably assisted by the distinguished members of his own family, and by many persons of note in the literary world: among whom may be mentioned, in theology, the Rev. Chas. Wellbeloved, of York; in natural history, the late Rev. William Wood, of Leeds, and in general literature, Robert Southey, and William Taylor, or Norwich. I must add, besides many others, your own name; for to you the editor was indebted for some valuable articles on topography and antiquity. The work was conducted by Mr. Aikin for six years, when, in consequence of new arrangements in the management of the literary concern of the house, I undertook to prepare the seventh volume. In this arduous task I was materially aided by most of the gentlemen who had lent their services to my esteemed predecessor, and I had the gratification of receiving a valuable contribution from Walter Scott, on a subject, for the treatment of which he was perhaps the fittest writer of the age; — viz., Ancient Romance. With the seventh volume the work ceased" in John Britton, Autobiography (1850) 1:212-13.
George Saintsbury: "It may seem at first sight curious, and will perhaps always remain a little so, that we have no collected examples, nor many uncollected but singly substantive pieces, of the most industrious of the whole literary group of 1800-1830 in England — from a man who, for eleven years at least, wrote reviews almost wherever he could place them without hurting his conscience, and who for another five-and-twenty years was a pillar of one of the greatest of critical periodicals. But Southey's earlier reviewing is for the most part not merely whelmed in the dust-bins of old magazines, but, as his son and biographer complains, extremely difficult to trace even there; and his later was, by choice or by chance (more I think by the former than the latter), mainly devoted to subjects not purely literary. If that great Bibliotheca Britannica (which so nearly existed, and which is a thing lacking in English to this present day, a hundred years later) had come actually into existence, it would hardly have been necessary to look beyond that: as it is, one has the pleasing but rather laborious and lengthy duty of fishing out and piecing together critical expressions from The Doctor and other books to some extent, and from the two parallel collections of the Life and Correspondence and the Letters to a still greater. The process is necessary for a historian of criticism, and the results, if hardly new to him, are interesting enough; but they cannot claim any exhibition at all correspondent to the time taken in arriving at them. Nor will any such historian, if he be wise, complain, for Southey is always delightful, except when he is in his most desperately didactic moods: and the Goddess of Dulness only knows how even the most egregious of her children, unless from pure ignorance, has managed to fix on him the title of 'dull'" History of English Criticism (1911) 343.
It was well remarked in the best of our magazines, when a new general collection of British poets was announced, that such collections were not desirable; that to the good writers, there should be more comment, and the indifferent ones less text; that the great poets ought to be edited with accuracy, labour, and learning, and the little ones cut down into anthologies. English literature is greatly indebted to Mr. Todd for his learned, laborious, and accurate edition of Milton, and not less so for the present work.
If there be any truth in physiognomy, the portrait prefixed to this edition is not the portrait of Edmund Spenser. It is the face of a short-sighted man wrinkling up his under eye-lids because he sees dimly; neither feeling nor genius, nor strong intellect, nor moral purity, are discoverable in any of its features; and that Spenser should have been without the outward and visible signs of any or all of these qualities, with which heaven had so richly endowed him, is not to be believed. What is the history of the original picture? the name may have been affixed to give a value to the portrait of some forgotten person; or it may have been another Spenser, like the whole-length portrait of some Chaucer given at the end of Mr. Godwin's work, which certainly is not the likeness of old Geoffrey. If in this case it cannot be incontestably authenticated, we hope it will not be copied in any future edition; it is a libel upon the most delightful of all poets.
The present edition is in many respects the best which has ever appeared; it is the first to which the illustrations of various commentators have been subjoined, and what is of greater importance, the text has been carefully collated with the editions published during the author's lifetime. The original spelling is retained: on this subject we shall copy what the editor says.
"'It is sufficient,' if I may apply to this circumstance the just observation of Dr. Johnson respecting the distinction of Shakespeare, 'that the words are Spenser's. If phraseology is to be changed as words grow uncouth by disuse, or gross by vulgarity, the history of every language will be lost; we shall no longer have the words of any author; and, as these alterations will be often unskillfully made, we shall in time have very little of his meaning.' And indeed if the text of Spenser, in the progress of English literature, had been constantly examined; I may be permitted, I hope, respectfully to observe that, in the invaluable dictionary of Johnson himself, some words could not have been admitted as the words of Spenser; that, in the remarks of Dr. Jortin, some conjunctures would have been found needless; and that, in the observations even of Warton, a censure or two would never have appeared."
"I have added," says the editor, "a very humble account of the life of Spenser, drawn from authentic records; the curiosity and importance of which will, I trust, be admitted by the liberal and the candid, as an apology for the want of biographical evidence." Mr. Todd need not have apologized; he has diligently collected many facts which had escaped former biographers; and as for the custom of sitting in judgment upon their author, which modern editors have introduced, and telling the reader what he is to admire, and what he is not; it is a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
Spenser was born in London, in East Smithfield, by the Tower, about the year 1553: he was descended from the ancient and honourable family of Spenser, as his writings satisfactorily prove; and is himself the greatest honour of which that family can boast. "The nobility of the Spensers," says Gibbon, "has been illustrated and enriched by the trophies of Marlborough; but I exhort them to consider the Faerie Queen as the most precious jewel of their coronet." The circumstances of his parents must however have been humble, since he was admitted at Pembroke-hall, Cambridge, as a sizer. There is no truth in the story that he contended unsuccessfully against Andrews, afterwards the bishop, for a fellowship; but there seems to be no doubt that some disagreement took place between him and the master of the hall. The fault is not likely to have been on Spenser's side, if there be one spark of truth in the character which his friend Harvey has given of Dr. Perne.
"And wil you needes have my testimoniall of youre old controllers new behaviour? A busy and dizy heade; a brazen forehead; a ledden braine; a woodden wit; a copper face; a stony breast; a factious and elvish hearte; a founder of novelties; a confounder of his owne and his friends good gifts; a morning bookeworm; an afternoone maltworm; a right juggler, as ful of his sleights, wyles, fetches, casts of legerdemaine, toyes to mocke apes withal, odde shiftes, and knavish practizes, as his skin can holde." He then proceeds to reprobate the circumstance of "many pupils, jackemates and hayle-fellowes-wel-met with their tutors; and, by your leave, some too, because forsooth they be gentlemen or great heires or a little neater and gayer than their fellowes, (shall I say it for shame? beleeve me, tis too true,) their very own tutors!" To the notice of this abuse in academical instruction he subjoins a copious list of Latin reflections, full of indignation at its existence; one of which seems to point at the disagreement already mentioned: "Caetera fere ut olim: bellum inter cupita et membra continuatum."
There is reason to suppose that some of Spenser's verses were published so early as 1569, the year in which he entered at Cambridge. Mr. Todd has discovered in a little volume, entitled, a Theatre for Worldlings, &c. six of the visions of Petrarch, differing only in a few corrections from those which are printed among his works. In the same volume also there are eleven of the visions of Bellay, in blank verse, yet according so nearly with the rhymed versions which Spenser afterwards published, as to shew that his versions were made from them, many whole lines being the same. Mr. Todd on these grounds, and on a passage in one of Harvey's letters, in which he praises his Dreames, thinks that these early translations are his. We were at the first inclined to the same opinion, but on re-examination find reason to doubt, or to disbelieve. In the Theatre, the visions of Petrarch are said to be translated out of the Brabants speech, and those of Bellay out of Dutch. It is not likely that Spenser ever understood Dutch, and very unlikely that he should have understood it at the age of sixteen, which must have been his age within a year or two when the Theatre was published. Harvey's letter strengthens us in this opinion. "I dare saye," he says, "you wyll hold your selfe reasonably wel satisfied, if your Dreames be but as well esteemed of in England as Petraches Visions in Italy." This would hardly have been said if Petrarch's Visions were the very poems alluded to. These visions are said, in the edition which the bookseller published when Spenser was in Ireland, to have formerly translated, it is not stated by whom. But it is more likely that Spenser or the bookseller added them to complete the subject and fill the volume, than that he should have translated from the Dutch at the age of sixteen. There remains then a charge of plagiarism with respect to the Visions of Bellay, but it is of no very serious nature. He needed not, as Mr. Todd observes, to borrow such petty aids to fame. They may have been originally written by one of his friends who gave them to him to remodel.
After having taken his last degree in arts, Spenser, as it is supposed, left Cambridge, and went to reside with some relatives in the north of England; in 1578 he ventured, by Harvey's advice, to London. He had before this time written his Dreams, which are probably the other translations from Bellay; the Legends and Court of Cupid, which seem to have been interwoven into the Faerie Queen; his Slomber, his Dying Pellicane and his Stemata Dudleiana, of which nothing is known; his Epithalamion Thamesis, also in the Faerie Queen; and a discourse under the title of the English Poet, which he purposed then to publish, but fulfilled not his intention.
In a singular and excellent book entitled, France painted to the Life, of which the second edition was printed in 1657, a poem of Spenser's is mentioned, which is not now to be found among his works. The passage is as follows: the writer is describing his fellow-travellers in the coach from Orleans to Paris: "—and so I am come to the old woman, which was the last of our goodly companions; a woman so old, that I am not at this day fully resolved whether she were ever young or no: it was well I had read the scriptures, otherwise I might have been prone to have thought her one of the first pieces of the creation, and that by some mischance she had escaped the Flood: her face was for all the world like unto that of Sybilla Erythraea in some old print, or that of one of Solomon's two harlots in the painted cloth; you would not but have imagined her one of the relikes of the first age after the building of Babel, for her very complexion was a confusion more dreadfull than that of languages: as yet I am uncertain whether the poem of our arch-poet Spenser entitled — was not purposely intended on her; sure I am it is very applicable in the title." p. 309. In the book before us a blank is unluckily left where the name of the poem should have been; whether it be the same in other copies we know not; but we have noticed the page that Mr. Todd may examine, if he should think there is any hope of recovering the poem by this clue.
On his arrival in London Harvey introduced him to sir Philip Sidney. It has been of late years the fashion to depreciate the genius of this most admirable man; and Mr. Todd, who, in matters of taste, exercises more faith than reason, joins in the common censure. Horace Walpole, we believe, was the first person who hazarded this opinion, and we all know how opinions are taken ready-made upon such authority. Much of the praise which Sidney received during his life may have been paid to his rank; it may have been flattery as to its motive, but in its matter it was no more than the praise to which he was entitled. Nobody, it has been said, reads the Arcadia. We have known very many persons who have read it, men, women, and children, and never knew one who read it without deep interest, and an admiration at the genius of the writer, great in proportion as they were capable of appreciating it. The verses are very bad, not that he was a bad poet, (on the contrary, much of his poetry is of high merit,) but because he was then versifying upon an impracticable system. Let the reader pass over all the eclogues, as dull interludes unconnected with the drama, and if he do not delight in the story itself, in the skill with which the incidents are woven together and unravelled, and in the Shakspearian power and character of language with which they are painted; let him be assured the fault is in himself and not in the book.
Biography, like history, has been too often made up of falsehoods; the first thing which he discovers, who conscientiously sets about to write either, is, that they who have gone before him have either been deficient in research, or in veracity, or in both. Scarcely any of the anecdotes which have been related of Spenser are true. His introduction to Sidney was not by means of the stanzas describing despair; it is not true that he sent to the queen the lines about rhyme and reason, complaining that her intended bounty was withheld from him; it is not true that his merit was neglected and unrewarded; it is not true that he perished in the streets of Dublin. Mr. Todd says he was probably employed at Penshurst in some literary service; and at least assisted, we may suppose, the Platonic and chivalrous studies of the gallant and learned youth, who had so kindly noticed him. This is conjecture only; but whether he acted as tutor or not, the conversation of such a man must have been of infinite advantage to Sidney; and there is proof enough that Spenser on his part was a learner also. He became a convert to the scheme of introducing the classical metres. On this subject he thus expresses himself in his letters to Harvey.
"As for the twoo worthy gentlemen, maister Sidney, and master Dyer, they have me, I thanke them, in some use of familiarity: of whom, and to whome, what speache passeth for young credite and estimation, I leave your selfe to conceive, having alwayes so well conceived of my unfained affection, and zeale towardes you. And nowe they have proclaimed in their [Greek characters: Areopagus] a general surceasing and silence of balde rymers, and also of the verie beste to: in steade whereof, they have, by authoritie of their whole senate, prescribed certaine lawes and rules of quantities of English sillables, for English verse: having had thereof already great practise, and drawen mee to their faction. Newe bookes I heare of none, but only of one that writing a certaine booke, called The Schoole of Abuse, and dedicating it to maister Sidney, was for his labor scorned; if at leaste it be in the goodnesse of that nature to scorne. Such follie is it, not to regarde aforehande the inclincation and qualitie of him, to whome wee dedicate our bookes. Such mighte I happily incurre, entituling My Slomber, and the other pamphlets, unto his honor. I meant them rather to maister Dyer. But I am, of late, more in love wyth my Englishe versifying, than with ryming: whyche I should have done long since, if I would then have followed your councell Sed te so un iam tum suspicabar cum Aschamo supere; nunc Auglam video egregios alere Poetas Anglicos."
"Trust me, your verses I like passingly well, and envye your hidden paines in this kinde, or rather maligne and grudge at your selfe, that woulde not once imparte so muche to me. But, once or twice, you make a breache in maister Drant's rules: quod tamen condonabiums tanta Poetae, tuaeq ipsius maximae in his rebus autoritati. You shall see, when we meete in London, (whiche, when it shall be, certifye us) how fast I have followed after you in that course: beware, leaste in time I overtake you. Verumtamen te solium sequar, (ut saepenumero sum professus,) nunquam sane assequar, dum vivum."
The specimen of iambics in this letter is surely misprinted: "thought" should end the second line, instead of beginning the third.
This scheme of versification, however once, says Mr. Todd, the favourite employment of our poets in the age of Elizabeth, will be alwayes too repulsive to gain many admirers or imitators; requiring, as it generally requires, a pronunciation most dismal, most unmusical, or most ridiculous; and in a note he quotes the following passage from Nash, which as applied to that scheme of hexameter, has both truth and humour. "The hexamiter verse I graunt to be a gentleman of an auncient house, (so is many an English beggar,) yet this clyme of ours hee cannot thrive in; our speech is too craggy for him to set his plough in; hee goes twitching and hopping in our language like a man running upon quagmiers, up the hill in one syllable, and down the dale in another; retaining no part of that stately smooth gate, which he vaunts himselfe with amongst the Greeks and Latins." Mr. Todd has added also a quotation from bishop Hall's Satires; but he is not aware that the satire there is particular and not general; it applies to Stanihurst's four first books of the Aeneid, than which certainly nothing can be more extraordinary nor more ridiculous.
The attempt failed, because it could not have succeeded unless the pronunciation of the language had been altered. If they had written by accent instead of quantity, they might have been successful. Spenser felt the inconvenience, as appears by a subsequent letter to his friend.
"I like your late Englishe Hexameters so exceedingly well, that I also enure my penne sometime in that kinde: whyche I fynd indeede, as I have heard you often defeade in worde, neither so harde nor so harshe, that it will easily and fairely yeelde it self to oure moother tongue. For the onely, or chiefest hardnesse, whyche seemeth, is in the accente; whyche sometime gapeth, and as it were yawneth ilfavouredly; comming shorte of that it should, and sometime exceeding the measure of the number: as in Carpenter, the middle sillable being used shorte in speache, when it shall be read long in verse, seemeth like a lame gosling, that draweth one legge after hir: and Heaven, being used shorte as one sillable when it is in verse, stretched out with a diastole, is like a lame dogge that holdes up one legge. But it is to be wonne with custome, and rough words must be subdued with use. For, why a God's name may not we, as else the Greekes, have the kingdome of our owne lnaguage, and measure our accentes by the sounde, reserving the quantitie to the verse? — Loe here I let you see my olde use of toying in rymes, turned into your artificial straightnesse of verse by this tetrasticon. I beseech you tell me your fancie, without parcialitie.
See yee the blindefoulded pretie god, that feathered archer,
Of lovers miseries which maketh his bloodie game?
Wote ye why, his mother with a veale hath covered his face?
Truste me, leaste he my loove happely chaunce to beholde."
If Spenser, as he felt the inconvenience, had perceived the remedy as well, he would have naturalized as well, he would have naturalized the hexameter in our language, and naturalized sooner or later it will be here as in Germany. Goldsmith says that Sidney's "miscarriage was not more than that of failing in an attempt to introduce a new fashion." The failure was not owing to any defect or imperfection in the scheme, but to the want of taste, to the irresolution and ignorance of the public. Goldsmith had probably never looked at Sir Philip's metres, or he could not have been so egregiously mistaken. What he says of the metres themselves is better founded, and a poet's opinion upon such a subject should have the same weight as that of one of judges in law. "It is generally supposed, says he, that the genius of the English language will not admit of Greek or Latin mesure; but this, we apprehend, is a mistake owing to the prejudice of education. It is impossible that the same measure, composed of the same tunes, should have a good effect upon the ear in one language, and bad effect in another. The truth is, we have been accustomed from our infancy to the numbers of English poetry, and the very sound and signification of the words disposes the ear to receive them in a certain manner; so that its disappointment must be attended with a disagreeable sensation. In imbibing the first rudiments of education, we acquire, as it were, another ear for the numbers of the Greek and Latin poetry; and this being reserved entirely for the sounds and significations of the words that constitute those dead languages, will not easily accommodate itself to the sounds of our vernacular tongue, though conveyed in the same time and measure. In a word, Latin and Greek have annexed to them the ideas of the ancient measure from which they are not easily disjoined. But will venture to say, this difficulty might be surmounted by an effort of attention and a little practice; and in that case we should, in time, be as well pleased with English as with Latin hexameters. We have seen several late specimens of English hexameters and sapphics, so happily composed, that by attaching them to the idea of ancient measure, we found them in all respects as melodious and agreeable to the ear, as the works of Virgil and Anacreon, or Horace."
It was not possible that Spenser, the most harmonious of all our poets, could long continue to write verses upon the rules of Latin prosody. He now began his Faerie Queen, and had written his nine comedies, which were certainly dramas, not Teares of the Muses, as has been supposed, for Harvey compares them to the comedies of Ariosto, to which he says they "came neerer for the fitness of plausible elocution, and the rareness of poetical invention, than that elvish queen doth to his Orlando Furioso; which, notwithstanding, you will needes seeme to emulate, and hope to overgo, as you flatly professed yourself in one of your last letters." These plays could not have been without great merit, being Spenser's; but Harvey did not understand the genius of his friend, when he dissuaded him from the prosecution of his greater work. "If so be the Faerie Queen be fairer in your eye than the Nine Muses, (after whom the comedies are named) and Hobgoblin runne away with the garland from Apollo; marke what I saye, and yet I will not say that I thought; but there an end for this once, and fare you well till God, or some good angell, putte you in a better minde." This sneering mention of Hobgoblin is in the spirit of the cardinal's famous speech to Ariosto.
Spenser was not long without promotion. Leicester patronized him, and in 1580 he went to Ireland as secretary to Arthur lord Grey, the lord-lieutenant. In an evil hour was his lot assigned in the most barbarous and miserable country in Europe! He obtained a grant in 1586 of above 3000 acres out of the forfeited lands of the earl of Desmond, and a heavy price did he ultimately pay for them. His residence, for he was obliged by the patent to cultivate the land assigned to him, was at Kilcolmen castle, two miles north-west of Doneraile, in the county of Cork.
"The castle is now almost level with the ground. It was situated on the north side of a fine lake, in the midst of a vast plain, terminated to the east by the county of Waterford mountains; Bally-howra hills to the north, or, as Spenser terms them, the mountains of Mole; Nagle mountains to the south; and the mountains of Kerry to the west. It commanded a view of above half of the breadth of Ireland; and must have been, when the adjacent uplands were wooded, a most pleasant and romantic situation; from whence, no doubt, Spenser drew several parts of the scenery of his poem. The river Mulla, which he more than once has introduced in his poems, ran through his grounds. Here indeed the poet has described himself, as keeping his flock under the foot of the mountain Mole, amongst the cooly shades of green alders by the shore of Mulla; and charming his oaten pipe (as his custom was) to his fellow-shepherd swains."
How very much do we wish that some views of the scenery had been given in the present edition!
In Ireland he became acquainted with Ralegh, and encouraged by him, published the three first books of his great poem. With Ralegh he came to England, and was by him introduced at court; Elizabeth soon granting him a pension of fifty pounds a year as laureat, though he is not styled so in the patent. This was but a visit to the mother-country; his destiny was to be Ireland, unhappily for himself and for English literature, and there, in 1594, he married. The epithalamium on his own marriage is one of the very finest poems which was ever written; were but a few parts omitted, it might be pronounced perfect. In 1596 the three remaining books of the Fairy Queen were published, his smaller poems having been published since the former three. He came to England in this year, and presented, as Mr. Todd fairly infers, his View of the State of Ireland to the queen. As this truly admirable performance deserved some high reward, so it is likely that it would have received it, had he lived longer. Mr. Malone has discovered a letter from Elizabeth to the Irish government, dated the last day of September 1598, recommending him to be sheriff of Cork. But in the next month Tyrone's rebellion broke out: Spenser was obliged to fly from the rebels, who burnt his house, his papers, and one of his children; he arrived in England with a broken heart, and died in the January following.
"The date of Spenser's death, together with some circumstances attending it, has often been mis-stated. The precise day of his death is now asserted, for the first time, on the following authority communicated by the learned and reverend John Brand, secretary of the Society of Antiquaries; which exists in the title page of the second edition of the Faerie Queene, now in his possession, and which appears to have belonged originally to Henry Capell; after whose autograph, the date of 1598 is added. After the name of Ed. Spenser in the title-page, the following invaluable anecdote is preserved: 'Qui obiit apud diversorium in platea regai, apud Westmonasterium iuxta London, 16. die Januarij 1598. Juxtaq: Geffreum Chaucer, in eadem ecclesia supradict. (honoratissima comitis Essexiae impensis) sepelit[ur]' Henry Capell has added apud diversorium in the paler ink with which his own name is written. It appears then that the testimony of Camden, in regard to the place of Spenser's death, is correct: which was in King-street, Westminster, as he relates; and not, as others in opposition to his authority have reported, in King-street Dublin. It appears also that he died at an inn or lodging house, 'apud diversorium,' in which he and his family had probably been fixed from the time of their arrival in England. It is remarkable that Mr. Capell should have omitted to notice a single circumstance of the extreme poverty in which Spenser is said to have died, if the bitterest circumstances of that kind had really attended his death. The burial having been ordered at the charge of the earl of Essex, may surely be considered as a mark of that nobleman's respect for the poet, without proving that the poet was starved. Of the man who had thus perished a remarkable funeral might seem almost mockery; and yet the pall was held up by some of the poets of the time.
"But Camden has said, that Spenser returned to England poor; 'in Angliam inops reversus.' Deprived, by a general calamity, of his property in the province of Munster; he was, if we contrast his situation with better days, undoubtedly poor. Yet was he not without the certainty of at least a decent subsistence; and, I am persuaded, was not without friends. His annual pension of fifty pounds, granted him by the queen, was beyond the reach of the barbarous kerns of Munster; a sum by no means inconsiderable in those days. And we may at least believe, that a plundered servant of the crown would not pass unnoticed by the government, either in regard to a permanent compensation, or to immediate relief if requisite. But the numerous narrators of Spenser's death, both 'in prose and rhyme,' have determined to give an unbounded meaning to Camden's 'inops'; and have accordingly represented the poet as dying in extreme indigence and want of bread."
Some particulars respecting the children and descendants of Spenser have also been discovered by Mr. Todd. They recovered as much of their ancestor's lands after the Restoration as could be proved to be his; but forfeited them by adhering to James II. One branch however followed the better party, and a daughter of that branch is now living. An original portrait of the poet is said to be in her possession; but Mr. Todd has not been successful in his enquiries concerning it. As he mentions another, reported to be at Castle Saffron, in the neighbourhood of Kilcolman, the seat of John Loor, esq. we hope that by one or other of these the present portrait may be disproved.
After the life follow lists of the editions, and imitations, and criticisms on Spenser, as also of the alterations of Spenser. We copy the account of two of these literary curiosities.
"Alterations of Spenser.
"1. Spenser Redivivus, containing the first book of the Fairy Queen; his essential design preserv'd, but his obsolete language and manner of verse totally laid aside. Deliver'd in heroic numbers. By a person of quality. Lond. 1687 8vo. — This person of quality complains that Spenser's style is no less unintelligible than the obsoletest of our English or Saxon dialect, and that to the politely judicious he presents the poet as 'he ought to have been, instead of what is to be found in himself.' I must confess, however, that such an exhibition of Spencer Redivivus, however politely intended, bears no very flattering testimony to the judgment of this reformer. Let him speak for himself. The revived poem thus opens:
A worthy knight was riding on the plain,
In armour clad, which richly did contain
The gallant marks of many battels fought,
Tho' he before no martial habit sought, &c.
Yet with his comely looks appeared sad,
Without the sign of fear or being bad.—
Near to his side an ass, more white than snow,
A lovely lady's weight did undergo!—
On their approach to the cave of Errour, the Dwarf is represented
Begging that instant they'd for safety fly,
Since his soul, tho' in his small bulk, could spy
Vast mischiefs did within that cave abscond,
And must, if sought, best human strength confound.
And this is the dress forsooth in which poor Spenser ought to have appeared!!
"2. Spenser's Fairy Queen attempted in blank verse, with notes, critical and explanatory. Lond. 1783. 8vo. The copy, which I have seen, proceeds no further than to the end of the fourth canto of the first book. And, I believe, no more was published. The introduction relates that 'The following cantos are presented for the approbation of the publick, in which case they will be followed by the remainder of the poem. The first of these cantos was published some years ago, and the transposer has since added some notes from the best writers on the subject, &c. &c. — The whole of this work will be comprised in sixteen numbers, and will be published with all convenient speed, should this first number meet with a moderate share of encouragement. A short account of the life of Spenser will be subjoined to the last number.' The four first lines will be a sufficient specimen of this alteration.
No more my muse her shepherd's weeds shall wear,
But change her oaten pipe for trumpets loud,
And sing of noble deeds which long have slept;
Fierce wars and faithful loves shall grace my song."
The commendatory verses on Spenser might well have been omitted. Where the author himself, according to old custom, has affixed them, they ought to be retained, being then materials for literary history; but there is not end of stringing together passages from modern poets in praise of the great masters of the art, and no use in it.
The poems are printed in the order of their first publication, except that those which appear between the two parts of the Faery Queene are placed after it. To the Shepheard's Calender, the glosse or scholion of Spenser's friend, E. K., to whom the care of editing it was intrusted, is properly retained. Hughes first omitted it, in which all the subsequent editions have followed him. On Mr. Todd's annotations we shall make such remarks as have occurred in an attentive perusal of this first good edition of our favourite poet.
Vol. I. p. 32. "Perke as a peacocke. Pert or brisk. This word Dr. Johnson observes is obsolete; but I believe it is yet in use among the vulgar. TODD." We have often heard both the adjective and the verb in the west of England. An amusing example may be cited from the translation of Hans Engelbrecht's Visions by Francis Okely, formerly of St. John's, Cambridge, 1780. Hans having been expressly ordered by an angel to write his visions down and get them printed, says, "Now this was my motive for getting up very early this morning at four o'clock to begin; and therefore do I exhort you all ye men in the world who get the reading of this narrative into your hands, to be sure never to suffer your reason to 'perk up,' and be dietating therein; but believe you this simply just as I have written it down."
P. 139. The song of which Mr. Todd says every seventh verse is an echo to the preceding is a regular sextine, a foolish species of trifling, common in Italian and Spanish poetry. Mr. Todd has not understood it. The final words of each line must be the same in every stanza; but the last termination of the first stanza becomes the first of the second, the first second, the second third, and so on, till the six changes have been rung, and the whole is concluded by a tercet of the first stanza. Of the many foolish tricks which have been tried upon versification, there have been few more foolish than this, for it has nothing but its difficulty to recommend it.
"Ver. 53. — checkmate.] The movement on the chess-board, says Dr. Johnson, that kills the opposite men or hinders them from moving. But, according to Mr. Tyrwhitt, chekemate, or simply mate, is a term used at chess, when the king is actually made prisoner, and the game finished. Gloss. to Chaucer. The word is repeatedly used by Chaucer; and by Skelton, in the same sense: see Skelton's Poems, ed. 1735, p. 158.
Set up ye wretche on hye
In a trone triumphantly;
Make him a great estate,
And he wil play check mate
With royall majestie, &c.
In the same poems, we find the participle check-mated, p. 258.
Oure days be datyed,
To be chek matyd
With drawttys of deth, &c. TODD."
It is amusing to see Johnson and Tyrwhitt referred to for the explanation of a term known to every chess-player in the kingdom, and wrongly explained by both! and Skelton quoted for a word every day in use.
The remarks of various critics upon the Shepheard's Calender are misplaced; they should have been after the epilogue, not after the last eclogue.
Much preliminary matter is affixed to the Faery Queen: the remarks of Hughes, Spence, Warton, Upton, and Hurd, with notes and additional remarks by the present editor.
Vol. II. p. civ. Mr. Todd traces the enchanted chamber of Cupid to the eighth book of Amadis of Gaul, or rather the second part of Amadis of Greece. But the procession or mask of Cupid is to be found in the same work, cap. 118. ff. 210. of the original Spanish.
P. cccv. An edition of Bernard's Isle of Man was printed at Bristol three or four years ago. It is dull, because the allegory is "according to the lawes of England." But, as Mr. Todd observes, it very probably occasioned the Pilgrim's Progress. Bunyan's other allegory, the Holy War, is not mentioned in the list. How can Mr. Todd praise Henry More's platonicall Song of the Soul as "often presenting as just an allegory and as sweet a stanza as the original which it professes to follow?" The stanza, if our memory does not deceive us, is the same in structure — but as for any other resemblance, they who seek it will seek it in vain: nothing can be more obscure, inharmonious, unpoetical, and unreadable.
P. clxi. The Alexandrine will be found in the History of Beryn, printed with the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer. Sir Thomas Wiat may perhaps first have used it as a final line.
P. cxcix. The poem signed R. S. cannot be by Robert Southwell. Southwell was a jesuit, and would never have complimented Elizabeth. The "Epistle of Comfort," addressed by this good man to the suffering catholics, is a truly beautiful work. He himself at last was a martyr in the cause.
Mr. Todd has marked in the text all such syllables as he conceives to be accented differently from the present pronunciation: but this is not always done to the advantage of the metre. He seems to proceed upon an assumption that the verse must be iambic; and opinion very prevalent among gentlemen who review modern verses, but which ought not to appear in one who is editing old poetry. The following lines, for instance, read better according to the natural accentuation, than by Mr. Todd's accent.
Soon as that uncouth light upon them shone,
All clean dismayed to see so uncouth sight.
uncouth is one of the very few words in our language which are pure spondees.
Who now is left to keepe the forlorne maid?
If the editor's accent be followed, it makes a molossus at the end of the line. It is needless to multiply instances. The principle upon which he proceeds is wrong. The following note is a glaring instance of the same common error, differently applied.
"Of proud Lucifer', as one of the train:] So the first quarto: the 2d, 'Of Proud Lucifera' as one of the traine. Which is no verse: So too the folios. But Mr. Hughes from his conjuncture, 'of proud Lucifera as one o' th' traine.' That the reading which I have given is Spenser's own, appears not only from the authority of his own edition; but likewise from his usual elision in such like proper names: Thus, in F.Q. I. iv. 2.
Called Fides', and so suppos'd to be.
Again, st. 15.
But to Duess' each one himself did payne.
See also F.Q. I. vi. 2. xii. 21. iii. ii. 32. UPTON."
Mr. Upton, and Mr. Todd after him, have not perceived, that to make this a verse as they have printed it, "as" and "of" must be made long syllables, whereas according to the folios and the second quarto, no other licence is taken than that of accounting two short syllables as one long one, of which instances may be found in every page of every good poet. The examples adduced as authority are not in point: the elision, in both cases, is inevitable, and the lines can no more be read without it, than this can with it.
Vol. II. 85. A humorous example of the notion, that a lion will offer no injury to a true virgin and of royal blood, occurs in the Mad Lover of Beaumont and Fletcher. When the old general Memnon has run mad for the love of the princess, they think to impose upon him by bringing him a whore under her name.
MEMNON. Come hither once more:
The princess smells like morning's breath, pure amber,
Beyond the courted ladies in her spices.
Still a dead rat by heaven! — thou art a princess.
EUMEN. What a dull whore is this!
MEMN. I'll tell ye presently;
For if she be a princess, as she may be,
And yet stink too and strongly, I shall find her;
Fetch the Numidian lyon I brought over,
If she be sprung from royal blood, the lyon
He'll do ye reverence — else—
Vol. III. 65. Best musicke breeds "delight" in loathing eare. "Dislike" should have been in the text. What Dr. Leyden says in his excellent edition of the Complaynt of Scotland, should be remembered by all editors. "With all his respect for ancient authors, the editor has never ceased to recollect, that no ancient of them all, is so old as common sense; and he is ready to admit, that the preservation of an obvious typographical error, has always appeared to him as flagrant a violation of common sense, as the preservation of an inverted word or letter: a species of inaccuracy which the most rigid antiquary does not hesitate to correct."
P. 90. "Griesie" is rightly restored to the text instead of "grisly," which the delicacy of modern editors has substituted.
"As eagle, fresh out of the ocean wave.] See Psalm ciii. 5. 'Thy youth is renewed like the eagle.' The interpreters tell us, that every ten years the eagle soars into the fiery region, from thence plunges himself into the sea, where, moulting all his old feathers, he acquires new. To this opinion Spenser visibly alludes. UPTON.'
Upon this passage a good commentary is to be found in the old translation of Bartholomeo Glantville's book, De Proprietatibus Rerum, by Stephen Ratman, professor in divinitie, "Austin saith, and Plinie also, that in age the eagle hath darknesse and dimnesse in eien, and hevinesse in wings, and against this disadvantage she is taught by kinde to seeke a well of springing water; and then she flyeth up into the aire as far as she may, till she be full hot by heat of the aire, and by travaile of flight, and so then by heate the pores be opened, and the feathers chafed, and she falleth sodeinglye into the well, and there the feathers be chaunged, and the dimnesse of her eien is wiped away and purged, and she taketh againe her might and strength."
Was it with reference to this poem that Ralegh called one of the rivers which he entered in Guiana, the River of the Red Cross? — "ourselves," he says, "being the first christians that ever came therein."
"Is not enough fowre quarters of a man
Withouten sword or shield, an hoste to quayle?"
There is a fine story in the Edgeworths' Essay on Bulls, which makes us believe that Spenser caught the expression in Ireland.
P. 348. Church's emendation should have been adopted in the text. Spenser never introduces the Alexandrine out of its place in his stanza. Excepting his hemistichs, there is but one instance of irregularity throughout the whole of the poem, which is in the arrangement of a rhyme, and even that is probably an error of the printer.
Vol. IV. p. 8. The verb to 'coure' is by no means obsolete. We have heard it in common use in many parts of the kingdom.
P. 200. Spenser mentions among
"the nation of unfortunate
And fatall birds—
The whistler shrill, that whoso heares doth dy."
What is this? the line requires a note.
"Long time ye both in armes shall beare great sway,
Till thy wombes burden thee from them do call,
And his last fate him from thee take away;
Too rathe cut off by practise criminall
Of secrete foes, that him shall make in secret fall."
The imitation of Ariosto is not noticed here. It is the more remarkable, because there seems to be no reason for leaving so unpleasant a prophecy either upon Britomart or the reader.
P. 416. There is an oversight in this part of the story which all the commentators have overlooked. Florimell's Dwarf Dony says that his mistress left the court upon the rumour of Marinell's being slain; but in the poem, Guyon, and Prince Arthur, and Britomart, are separated by Florimell's flight, the two knights pursue her; the Errant-damsel proceeds on her way, and coming the next day to the sea-shore encounters Marinell, and gives him his dangerous wound.
"More subtle web Arachne cannot spin;
Nor the fine nets, which oft we woven see
Of scorched deaw, do not in ayre more lightly flee."
What then was the gossamer supposed to be?
Vol. V. p. 139. The emendation proposed by Church should have been adopted. So also p. 221, 'quiet age' is nonsense as it stands there, 'quietage,' just such a word as Spenser would have made when he wanted it.
Vol. VI. p. 77.
"And all his face deformed with infamie."
This passage requires a note. Scarifying the face was one of the Gothic punishments, but to what chivalrous custom does this allude?
P. 299. st. 61. In this stanza the irregularity of rhyme occurs. Church proposes the easy alteration of "hire" instead of meed; but Mr. Todd says, the stanza exhibits three triads of rhymes, and no alteration seems requisite. Did he not recollect that it is the only stanza in the poem which has three triads? We may here observe that Upton has mistaken the metre of the arguments; he says that the poet intended they should be metre, but humbled down to the lowest prose; and therefore split his words, as thus:
"the witch creates a snowy La-
dy like to Flormiell."
The fact is, that the two lines were considered as one in metre, and only printed otherwise on account of the length of the line. The common ballad stanza was a couplet; and when written thus has a greater variety of pauses, as in this very instance, than in its modern form.
I know not whether it has been observed that Spenser becomes less alliterative as his poem proceeds.
The notes which Mr. Todd has retained are more numerous than useful. Many, indeed, are utterly worthless. Why should good paper be filled with such word-hunting inanity as in these instances?
"In sunbright armes,] The epithet sun-bright is certainly, as Mr. Upton has observed, is a very happy one. But I doubt whether Spenser may be pronounced the original framer of it. In Greene's Arcadia, 1589, it is thus employed: 'Sunnebright Venus.' Fairfax, Milton, and Henry More, all ardent admirers of Spenser, have adopted this compound. Davies also in his Scourge of Folly, 1611. p. 44, has 'his sun-bright glory.' TODD."
"They for us fight, they watch and duly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;] The guardianship of angels is a favourite theme of Spenser and Milton. It is difficult to pronounce which of them has decorated the subject with greater elegance and sensibility. Spenser probably might here remember the following lines of Hesiod, Op. et Dies, ver 121. [Greek quoted.] Italian poetry, I should observe, delights in describing angelic squadrons. See my note on Milton's Par. Lost. b. iv. 977. Milton, indeed, before he had become deeply versed in Italian literature, borrowed from his favourite Spenser, this disposition of the heavenly host into squadrons bright. See his Ode Nativ. v. 21. 'And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright.' We may therefore no longer suppose that Milton could here be much indebted to Sylvester's 'heaven's glorious host in nimble squadrons,' Du Bart. p. 13. See Considerations on Milton's early Reading, 1800, p. 46. The fact is, that Sylvester often plunders Spenser, but often also accommodates the theft to his purpose with little taste or judgment. TODD."
"They courteous conge took.] It may be remarked that this phrase often occurs in romance. Thus, in l'Histoire du Chevalier aux armees doree, 4to. Paris, bl. l. s. d. Sign. G. iii. 'Comme le Chevallier aux armes dore print conge de la bonne dame pour aller poursuyure le roy de Norvegue.' Again, Sign. I., I. 'Le Chevalier print conge du seigneur du chastequ engage lequel luy fist bailler chevaux & armeures.' And, in l'Histoire & plaisant Cronicque du petit Jehan de Saintre, 4to. bl. l. s. d. fol. x. b. 'Et quaint il fut hors de la chambre & eut prins son piteux conge, &c.' Again, fol. xxvii. 'Apres que Saintre eut prins conge des charons, &c.' See also F.Q. ii. iii. 2, ii. xi. 17, &c. TODD."
A most stupid note of Upton's is retained vol. VI. p. 151. A character in the poem is called Dolon, and the sagacious commentator tells us that Dolon is mentioned by Homer, and goes on as if this were the same person! Upton's notes are in general the worst, except indeed a few political ones, which might have been very pretty articles to carry to market ten years ago, but are now somewhat stale. A few of the present editor's, and but few, contain some curious matter. We shall quote the best.
"And many-folded shield] An idea of the many-folded shields, which were formerly in use, may be gathered from a curious writer on the subject. 'Our Saxon ancestors,' says he, 'used shields of skin, among whom for that the artificer put sheep-fells to that purpose, the great Athelstan, king of England, utterly forbad by a lawe such deceit, as in the printed booke of Saxon lawes is extant to bee seene. With this usage of agglewing or fastning hard tanned hides for defense, agrees their etymologie, who derive "scutum," the Latin of a shield, from the Greeke word [Greek characters], a skinne:' — And presently after the writer describes the many-folded shield of the Duke of Lancaster, hung up in old St. Paul's cathedral; 'It is very convex toward the bearer, whether by warping through age, or as made of purpose. It hath in dimension more then three quarters of a yeard of length, and above half a yeard in breadth. Next to the body is a canvas glew'd to a boord; upon that thin boord are broad thin axicles, slices, or plates of horne, naild fast; and againe over them twenty and sixe thicke peeces of the like, meeting or centring about a round plate of the same size as the navell of the shield; and over all is a leather clozed fast to them with glew or other holding stuffe, uppon which his armories were painted, &c.' Bolton's Elements of Armories, 4to. 1610, pp. 55-70. TODD."
"Which by that new rencounter, &c.] Rencounter is an accidental combat or adventure. Fr. Rencontre. It is thus explained, in contradistinction to duelling. Duelling having been formerly prohibited in France, 'no affair of honour was decided but by the way of Rencontre; a word invented to escape the congnizance of the law. By the term Rencontre is meant, that, if a gentleman either covertly or overtly affronts another, the first opportunity, out of the reach of witness, is taken, by either or both, to appoint a street or road in which they are to meet to a moment; and, either on foot, on horseback, or in their carriage, occasion some kind of justling or sudden scuffle, as they should have agreed on beforehand, to be looked upon in the sense of whatever spectators may be accidentally present, as an unforeseen and instantaneous event, and by no means the effect of any former provocation, since which they might have had time to reflect and grow cool.' See M. Coustard de Massi's History of Duelling transl. Lond. 1770. P. ii. Sect. ii. TODD."
The treatise on the state of Ireland, it appears, has not been published without mutilation. "In some MSS." says Mr. Todd, "which I have seen, the severity of Spenser, as well in respect to certain families as to the nation in general, is considerably amplified. But I have not thought it necessary to specify every particular of dormant, and perhaps not justifiable harshness." It would be difficult to conceive any degree of harshness which would not have been justifiable from Spenser in those times, and we cannot but wish this admirable treatise had been printed entire.
The smaller poems have received some valuable additions. The original translations of Bellay are added in a note; and four sonnets by Spenser, collected from the original publications in which they appeared. They are however wrongly placed at the end of his other sonnets, which they might better have preceded, for they interrupt the connection with the epithalamium.
It is singular that Spenser, who possessed the finest ear of all our poets without any exception, should uniformly end his sonnets with a couplet, the worst possible termination for that form of poem.
The editor has not done rightly in retaining Britain's Ida, which is universally acknowledged not to be Spenser's. Its licentiousness would be proof were there no other. Spenser had a perfectly pure mind; in the whole of his works there is but one stanza reprehensible for indecency.
This edition is assuredly a very valuable one, and the public are greatly indebted to Mr. Todd for his fidelity and labour. We wish the book were handsomer; handsome it is as far as regards quality of paper, form of letter, and colour of ink; but every page is deformed by the abominable custom of splitting a verse because the page is too narrow. There are two ways of remedying this offensive unsightliness: by using a smaller type suited to the page, or restoring the foolscap quarto; the size universally preferred for poetry over all Europe two centuries ago, in the best age of printing, and certainly the best adapted for it.