1820
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Artegal and Elidure.

The River Duddon, a Series of Sonnets: Vaudracour and Julia: and other Poems.

William Wordsworth


30 irregular Spenserians (ababccdD — with a three-foot sixth line). "Artegal and Elidure," first published in 1820, is tale of legendary Britain taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth: "There too we read of Spenser's fairy themes, | And those that Milton lov'd in youthful years; | The sage enchanter Merlin's subtle schemes; | The feats of Arthur and his knightly peers" p. 141.

Wordsworth relates the story even more sparingly than Geoffrey: Artegal and Elidure are sons of good king Gorbonian; Artegal ascends to the throne, only to be driven out when he renders himself obnoxious to the Britons. Unable to secure allies abroad, he lives impoverished in the forest, where one day he is discovered by his brother, who to Artegal's astonishment, offers both forgiveness and the crown. An older and a wiser man, Artegal enjoys a long and happy reign.

Spenser tells the story more briefly yet in the Elfin history read by Guyon: "First Gorboman a man of vertuous life; | Next Archigald, who for his proud disdaine, | Deposed was from Princedome soueraine, | And pitteous Elidure put in his sted; | Who shortly it to him restord againe, | Till by his death he it recouered: | But Peridure and Vigent him disthronized" 2:10.44. The story is related by Geoffrey of Monmouth, ed. Griscom and Jones (1929) 295-98.

Wordsworth's headnote: "See the chronicle of Geoffry of Monmouth, and Milton's History of England" p. 138.

Blackwood's Magazine: "The deep breath of simple unconscious grace diffused over the whole of this poem will, if we may judge from ourselves, to the mind of every reader 'Call up him that left half told | The story of Cambuscan bold.' Indeed the effect of the whole of the extracts we have made, will, we nothing doubt, be quite sufficient to convince every one who has made the character of English poetry his study, that so far from deserving to be held up to derision as a fanciful and conceited innovator, Mr. Wordsworth (judged by the genuine spirit of his writings) is entitled to be classed with the very highest names among his predecessors, as a pure and reverent worshipper of the true majesty of the English Muse" 7 (May 1820) 211.

Literary Chronicle: "There are very few poets of the present day respecting whom so much diversity of opinion exists as Mr. Wordsworth. One party laud him to the skies as the poet of nature, while others think he carries his affectation of simplicity to a ridiculous extent. We are of opinion, that 'in medio tutissimus ibis': and having, on a former occasion remarked on the style of Mr. Wordsworth, and on the Lake School generally, we shall only observe that the present volume possesses all the beauties and very few of the defects of this writer. We think it by far his best production. The subjects are more appropriate, — the images more natural, — the landscape richer in variety, and the pathos deeper and more genuine and affecting" 2 (1 July 1820) 421.

Gentleman's Magazine: "The Poems in this Volume are marked by the same apparent ease and elegant simplicity which characterize the productions of Mr. Wordsworth" 90 (October 1820) 344.

William Hazlitt: "He takes a subject or a story merely as pegs or loops to hang thought and feeling on; the incidents are trifling, in proportion to his contempt for imposing appearances; the reflections are profound, according to the gravity and the aspiring pretensions of his mind" Spirit of the Age (1825) 233.

David Macbeth Moir: "No really great poet resembles Wordsworth in tedious prolixity, save Spenser. In their happier moods, they each flash upon us with the crimson light of setting suns, or with 'the innocent brightness of the new-born day;' but withal — and with reverence for their manifold excellencies be it spoken — they are not unfrequently garrulous, spin long yarns, and consequently must submit to be often read only in extract by the less enthusiastic" Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 71.

W. J. B. Owen: "'Spenser's fairy themes' appear in Artegal and Elidure (1815) 49, but the narrative is based on Milton's History of Britain, with only occasional references (lines 16, 33-40) to the chronicle matter of FQ II x" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 735.



Where be the Temples which, in Britain's Isle,
For his paternal Gods, the Trojan raised?
Gone like a morning dream, or like a pile
Of clouds — that in cerulean ether blazed!
Ere Julius landed on her white-cliff'd shore,
They sank, delivered o'er
To fatal dissolution; and, I ween,
No vestige then was left that such had ever been.

Nathless, a British record (long concealed
In old Armorica, whose secret springs
No Gothic conqueror ever drank) revealed
The wond'rous current of forgotten things;
How Brutus came, by oracles impell'd,
And Albion's giants quell'd,—
A brood whom no civility could melt,
"Who never tasted grace, and goodness ne'er had felt."

By brave Corineus aided, he subdued
And rooted out the intolerable kind;
And this too-long-polluted land imbued
With goodly arts and usages refined;
Whence golden harvests, cities, warlike towers,
And Pleasure's sumptuous bowers;
Whence all the fix'd delights of house and home,
Friendships that will not break, and love that cannot roam.

O, happy Britain! region all too fair
For self-delighting fancy to endure
That silence only should inhabit there,
Wild beasts, or uncouth savages impure!
But, intermingled with the generous seed,
Grew many a poisonous weed;
Thus fares it still with all that takes its birth
From human care, or grows upon the breast of earth.

Hence, and how soon! that war of vengeance wag'd
By Guendolen against her faithless lord;
Till she, in jealous fury unassuag'd,
Had slain his Paramour with ruthless sword:
Then, into Severn hideously defiled,
She flung her blameless child,
Sabrina, — vowing that the stream should bear
That name through every age, her hatred to declare.

So speaks the Chronicle, and tells of Lear
By his ungrateful daughters turn'd adrift.
Ye lightnings, hear his voice! — they cannot hear
Nor can the winds restore his simple gift.
But one there is, a child of nature meek,
Who comes her sire to seek;
And he, recovering sense, upon her breast
Leans smilingly, and sinks into a perfect rest.

There too we read of Spenser's fairy themes,
And those that Milton lov'd in youthful years;
The sage enchanter Merlin's subtle schemes;
The feats of Arthur and his knightly peers;
Of Arthur, — who, to upper light restored
With that terrific sword
Which yet he wields in subterranean war,
Shall lift his country's fame above the polar star!

What wonder, then, if in such ample field
Of old tradition, one particular flower
Doth seemingly in vain its fragrance yield,
And bloom unnoticed even to this late hour.
Now, gentle Muses, your assistance grant,
While I this flower transplant
Into a garden stor'd with Poesy;
Where flowers and herbs unite, and haply some weeds be,
That, wanting not wild grace, are from all mischief free!

A king more worthy of respect and love
Than wise Gorbonian, ruled not in his day;
And grateful Britain prospered far above
All neighbouring countries through his righteous sway;
He poured rewards and honours on the good;
The Oppressor he withstood;
And, while he served the gods with reverence due,
Fields smiled, and temples rose, and towns and cities grew.

He died, whom Artegal succeeds — his son;
But how unworthy of such sire was he!
A hopeful reign, auspiciously begun,
Was darkened soon by foul iniquity.
From crime to crime he mounted, till at length
The nobles leagued their strength
With a vexed people, and the tyrant chased;
And, on the vacant throne, his worthier brother placed.

From realm to realm the humbled Exile went,
Suppliant for aid his kingdom to regain;
In many a court, and many a warrior's tent,
He urged his persevering suit in vain.
Him, in whose wretched heart ambition failed,
Dire poverty assailed;
And, tired with slights which he no more could brook,
Towards his native soil he cast a longing look.

Fair blew the wish'd-for wind — the voyage sped;
He landed; and, by many dangers scared,
"Poorly provided, poorly followed,"
To Calaterium's forest he repaired.
How changed from him who, born to highest place,
Had swayed the royal mace,
Flattered and feared, despised yet deified,
In Troynovant, his seat by silver Thames's side!

From that wild region where the crownless king
Lay in concealment with his scanty train,
Supporting life by water from the spring,
And such chance food as outlaws can obtain,
Unto the few whom he esteems his friends
A messenger he sends;
And from their secret loyalty requires
Shelter and daily bread, — the amount of his desires.

While he the issue waits, at early morn
Wandering by stealth abroad, he chanced to hear
A startling outcry made by hound and horn,
From which the tusky boar hath fled in fear;
And, scouring tow'rds him o'er the grassy plain,
Behold the hunter train!
He bids his little company advance
With seeming unconcern and steady countenance.

The royal Elidure, who leads the chace,
Hath checked his foaming courser — Can it be!
Methinks that I should recognise that face,
Though much disguised by long adversity!
He gazed, rejoicing, and again he gazed,
Confounded and amazed—
"It is the king, my brother!" and, by sound
Of his own voice confirmed, he leaps upon the ground.

Long, strict, and tender, was the embrace he gave,
Feebly returned by daunted Artegal;
Whose natural affection doubts enslave,
And apprehensions dark and criminal.
Loth to restrain the moving interview,
The attendant lords withdrew;
And, while they stood upon the plain apart,
Thus Elidure, by words, relieved his struggling heart.

"By heavenly Powers conducted, we have met;
—O Brother! to my knowledge lost so long,
But neither lost to love, nor to regret,
Nor to my wishes lost, forgive the wrong,
(Such it may seem) if I thy crown have borne,
Thy royal mantle worn:
I was their natural guardian; and 'tis just
That now I should restore what hath been held in trust."

Awhile the astonish'd Artegal stood mute,
Then thus exclaimed — "To me of titles shorn
And stripp'd of power! me, feeble, destitute,
To me a kingdom! — spare the bitter scorn!
If justice ruled the breast of foreign kings
Then, on the wide-spread wings
Of war, had I returned to claim my right;
This will I here avow, not dreading thy despite."

"I do not blame thee," Elidure replied,
"But, if my looks did with my words agree,
I should at once be trusted, not defied,
And thou from all disquietude be free.
May spotless Dian, Goddess of the chace,
Who to this blessed place
At this blest moment led me, if I speak
With insincere intent, on me her vengeance wreak!

"Were this same spear, which in my hand I grasp,
The British sceptre, here would I to thee
The symbol yield; and would undo this clasp,
If it confined the robe of sovereignty.
Odious to me the pomp of regal court,
And joyless sylvan sport,
While thou art roving wretched and forlorn,
Thy couch the dewy earth, thy roof the forest thorn!"

Then Artegal thus spake — "I only sought,
Within this realm a place of safe retreat;
Beware of rousing an ambitious thought;
Beware of kindling hopes, for me unmeet!
Thou art reputed wise, but in my mind
Art pitiably blind;
Full soon this generous purpose thou may'st rue,
When that which has been done no wishes can undo.

"Who, when a crown is fixed upon his head,
Would balance claim with claim, and right with right?
But thou — I know not how inspired, how led—
Wouldst change the course of things in all men's sight!
And this for one who cannot imitate
Thy virtue, who may hate:
For, if by such strange sacrifice restored,
He reign, thou still must be his king, and sovereign lord.

"Lifted in magnanimity above
Aught that my feeble nature could perform,
Or even conceive; surpassing me in love
Far as in power the eagle doth the worm;
I, Brother! only should be king in name,
And govern to my shame;
A shadow in a hated land while all
Of glad or willing service to thy share would fall."

"Believe it not," said Elidure; "respect
Awaits on virtuous life, and ever most
Attends on goodness with dominion decked,
Which stands the universal empire's boast;
This can thy own experience testify:
Nor shall thy foes deny
That, in the gracious opening of thy reign,
Our Father's spirit seemed in thee to breathe again.

"And what if o'er that bright unbosoming
Clouds of disgrace and envious fortune past!
Have we not seen the glories of the spring
By veil of noontide darkness overcast?
The frith that glitter'd like a warrior's shield,
The sky, the gay green field,
Are vanished; — gladness ceases in the groves,
And trepidation strikes the blackened mountain coves.

"But is that gloom dissolved? how passing clear
Seems the wide world — far brighter than before!
Even so thy latent worth will re-appear,
Gladdening the people's heart from shore to shore,
For youthful faults ripe virtues shall atone;
Re-seated on thy throne,
Proof shalt thou furnish that misfortune, pain,
And sorrow, have confirmed thy native right to reign.

"But, not to overlook what thou may'st know,
Thy enemies are neither weak nor few,
And circumspect must be our course and slow,
Or from my purpose ruin may ensue.
Dismiss thy followers; — let them calmly wait
Such change in thy estate
As I already have in thought devised;
And which, with caution due, may soon be realised."

The Story tells what courses were pursued,
Until King Elidure, with full consent
Of all his Peers, before the multitude,
Rose, — and, to consummate this just intent,
Did place upon his Brother's head the Crown
Relinquished by his own;
Then to his people cried, "Receive your Lord
Gorbonian's first-born Son, your rightful King restored!"

The People answer'd with a loud acclaim:
Yet more; — heart-smitten by the heroic deed,
The reinstated Artegal became
Earth's noblest penitent; from bondage freed
Of vice, — of vice unable to subvert
Or shake his high desert.
Long did he reign; and, when he died, the tear
Of universal grief bedewed his honoured bier.

Thus was a Brother by a Brother saved;
With whom a Crown (temptation that hath set
Discord in hearts of men till they have braved
Their nearest kin with deadly purpose met)
'Gainst duty weighed and faithful love, did seem
A thing of no esteem;
And, from this triumph of affection pure,
He bore the lasting name of "pious Elidure!"

[pp. 138-53]