Imágenes de páginas

ss the truth, he wrote too much to write with uniform attention and judgment. His plan was vast ; and to fill it up, required great industry as well as invention. He could not afford to be nice in selection; and, like all other composers of very long poems, he was obliged to be contented with such matter as occurred, rather than with such as he would deliberately have approved. Most readers will think he too much abounds in prolix descriptions of single combats, which he found ready drawn to his hand in Bojardo, Ariosto, and Tasso. Indeed, his device of making all the virtues knights errant, necessarily renders their contests with the opposite vices so many battles.

The form of stanza he adopted (to proceed to the subject of versification) favoured redundancy of style ; and that, not merely in words, but in idea. Dryden observes of himself, that a rhyme often helped him to a thought. Spenser's verse, requiring in each stanza four and three similar rhyming terminations, put him upon a perpetual effort to bring in words of a certain sound, however unconnected in their meaning with the current subject. This gave rise to distant associations, which some times

produced images that really enriched the diction; though more frequently it flattened and debased it by impertinent additions. It likewise of: ten compelled the poet to employ expedients, that indicate the cruelty of the yoke to which he had injudiciously subjected himself. Expletives, tautologies, and circumlocutions, occur in almost eve. ry stanza, and gross improprieties of speech are but too frequent. Vulgar and obsolete words are often mixed with those of a higher order; and when all those licenses fail in producing the requisite tale of rhyme, the writer does not scruple to mis-spell words, and to satisfy the eye at the expense of the

Yet the stanza of Spenser, when well executed, has a fullness of melody, and a sonorous majes.


ty, scarcely equalled by any other English measure ; and some later poets, who have bestowed due pains upon their versification, have copied it with great success. The concluding Alexandrine, which Spenser added to the eight-line stanza of the Italians, produces a fine effect when it accords with the subject; but in a long piece such a coincidence must frequently be wanting.

The language of the Faery Queene is cast in a more antique mould than that of the age in which the writer lived. Spenser doubtless thought thereby to throw round his work a venerable air, which suited the sober morality of the design, and the antiquity of the manners represented in its action. Many of the words and phrases, too, which even in his day had become obsolete, possessed a peculiar strength and vigour, which happily coincided with his own very forcible style of description. It may be added that, as we have already hinted, by the free employment of words of different ages, he often found means to extricate himself from the difficulties imposed by his system of rhymes. On the whole, however, it is probably best for a writer to confine himself to the current language of his time, and bend his efforts to give it all the perfections of which it is susceptible. In aiming at an antique diction, he will never do more than make a heterogenous mixture, which is the real language of no one period, and must often appear quaint and affected, rather than simple and nervous. The English of Edward III. was too far distant from that of Elizabeth to admit of an easy combination : and as Spenser could not avoid making the substance of his style of the staple of his own age, the intermingled threads of Chaucer show like spots and stains, rather than agreeable variations. The effects of his system of language has been, that the Faery Queene cannot safely be quoted as authority for the proper use of words; and that while it is

st intelligible to the common reader without a glossary, it affords an uncertain light to the verbal researches of the antiquarian critic.

What has been said may serve as a general introduction to the perusal of this work, which, with all its defects, will ever be considered as one of the capital productions of English poetry, and as conferring high honour on the writer and his country. It will probably not often be read through, nor will many think it worth while to bestow much study on its plan, or on the particular signification of all its mysteries and historical illusions. But detached parts will continue to give pleasure after repeated perusals.





« AnteriorContinuar »