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THE FAIRY QUEEN
Of Spenser's Imitations of Himself.
COMMENTATORS of less taste than learning, of less discernment than ostentation, have taken infinite pains to point out, and compare those passages which their respective authors have imitated from others. This disquisition, if executed with a judicious moderation, and extended no further than to those passages which are distinguished with certain induibitable characters, and internal
evidences of transcription or imitation, must prove an instructive and entertaining research. It tends to regulate our ideas of the peculiar merit of any writer, by shewing what degree of genuine invention he possesses, and how far he has improved the materials of another by his own art and manner of application. In the mean time, it naturally gratifies every reader's inquisitive disposition. But where even the most apparent traces of likeness are found, how seldom can we determine with truth and justice, as the most sensible and ingenious of modern critics has finely proved, that an imitation was intended *
* ? How commonly in this case, to use the precise and significant expressions of that delicate writer, do we mistake resemblances for thefts? As this then is a business which does not always proceed on sure principles, often affording the amuse
* See a Discourse on Poetical Imitation, by Mr. Hurd.
ment of conjecture rather than the satisfaction of demonstration, it will be, perhaps, a more useful design to give Spenser's Imitations of Himself, as I have shewn Milton's in the preceding section. This kind of criticism will prove of service in the three following respects. It will discover and ascertain a poet's favourite images : It will teach us how variously he expresses the same thought; and will explain difficult passages and words.
B. i. Introduct. s. 3.
Fair Venus sonne that with thy cruell dart,
Like as Cupido on Idæan hill,
2. 8. 6.
And in the following, speaking of Cupid in the garden of Adonis.
Who when he hath with spoyles and crueltie
Thither resorts, and laying his sad darts
3. 6. 49.
And eke amongst them little Cupid plaid
From his fierce warres, and having from him layd His cruell bowe, wherewith he thousands hath dismayd.
2. 9. 34.
B. i. c. viii. s. xxix.
Prince Arthur enters Orgoglio's castle.
Then gan he loudly through the house to call,
There reign’d a solemne silence over all,
This affecting image of silence and soli