« VorigeDoorgaan »
hood and delusion, emblemed in Duessa, by whom he is lured to the House of Pride, the great metropolis of sin in its most exasperated form, that of a spiritual revolt. He next becomes the thrall of Orgoglio, the giant son of Earth, or pride in its vulgarer form of a vainglorious and animal strength.
themselves to a philosopher in an age when much which had lasted a thousand years was passing away. In the remotest parts of Europe omens of change were heard, like those vague murmurs in the polar regions which announce the breaking up of the ice; and in Ireland unfriendly echoes of those voices muttered near and nearer around that ruined mansion, one of old Desmond's hundred castles, within whose halls some strange fortune had harbored the gentlest of England's singers. The "temple-haunting" bird had indeed selected a "coigne of vantage," and hung there his "pendent bed and procreant cradle;" but he had been no "guest of
breath smelt wooingly by his loved mansionry." It was from a securer abode, in the heart of the Rydalian laurels, that musings as solemn, though less sad, prompted the dirge of the modern poet as he looked upon England's ruined abbeys:
In the latter legend the vices which make up the life of pride, in the former those which make up the life of lawless sense, are exhibited with a keen insight and deep moral logic. In those two forms of evil life the three pagan champions, Sans foy, Sans-loy, and Sans-joy, have a part corresponding with that which the Christian virtues, Fidelia, Speranza, summer," nor at any time had "heaven's and Charissa, sustain in the spiritual life. | A certain symmetry, perhaps undesigned, always makes its way into Spenser's poetry. The philosophic poet's mind is, indeed, by nothing more marked than by this unintended and often unconscious congruity in its conceptions, and the entire coherency of part with part in its descriptions. Thence proceeds the harmony constantly found in Spenser's poetry, as long as he resists his unhappy tendency to allude covertly to the persons and events of his day, and deals in simplicity with the great ethical theme with which his genius had deliberately measured itself. Such harmony is the most conclusive proof that a poet does not write at random, but has "a vision of his own," and a vocation
to set it forth.
We have hitherto confined our remarks to Spenser's philosophy of human life, first in its social and political relations, and secondly in those of a domestic or individual character. Occasionally however, his philosophy made excursions into regions more remote, and dealt with subjects more recondite than these his favorite themes. To do justice to his genius we must note the two most remarkable of these excursions. Ten years after Spenser's death the first six books of "The Faery Queen" were republished with a fragment of the lost second part, consisting of "two cantos of Mutabilitie." In this fragment there is a simple largeness of conception, and a stern grandeur of expression, which suggests the thought that the latter half of his work would probably have surpassed the earlier in mature greatness. It belongs essentially to Spenser's philosophic vein, and embodies a train of dark and minatory thoughts, though they issue gradually into light, on the instability of all things human - thoughts such as might naturally have presented
From low to high doth dissolution climb,
The poet of Faery Land sees a prophet's vision ascending out of the cloud that rests on the pagan days. A portent, not a god, but more powerful than the gods, and boasting a lineage more ancient, a child of Titan race, one more warlike than Bellona and more terrible than Hecate, both of them her sisters, claims a throne higher than that of those later Olympians who had cast down an earlier hierarchy of gods. Her name is Mutability. She had witnessed their victory; she had given it to them; why should they not acknowl edge her as their suzeraine? On earth she had established her reign in completeness, and not over men alone. The seas had left dry their beds at her command, continents had sunk beneath the waves, mountains had fleeted like clouds, rivers had filled their mouths with desert sands, kingdoms had risen and fallen, and the languages which recorded their triumphs had died:
That all which Nature had establist first
as on earth not in the majesty of a divine law, but in lawlessness become omnipotent. This portent scales the heavens, making way at once to the most changeful of its luminaries, Cynthia's sphere.
Her sitting on an ivory throne she found, Drawn of two steeds, th' one black, the other white,
Environed with tenne thousand starres around,
That duly her attended day and night;
And by her side there ran her page, that hight
Vesper, whom we the evening starre intend; That with his torche, still twinkling like twylight,
Her lightened all the way where she would wend,
And joy to weary wandring travailers did lend.
Boldly she bid the goddesse down descend, And let herself into that ivory throne;
For she herself more worthy thereof weend, For Jove alone the portent has no terAnd better able it to guide alone;
Whether to men, whose fall she did bemone, Or unto gods, whose state she did maligne, Or to the infernal powers.*
Cynthia scorns the intruder, and “bending her horned brows did put her back."
The Titaness raises her hand to drag the radiant and inviolate divinity from her seat. The result is narrated in a passage of marvellous sublimity. Dimness falls at once on that glittering throne and the "fire-breathing stars that surround it; and, at the same moment, the eclipse reaches the earth, perplexing its inhabitants with fear of change, and ascends to the seat of the gods. They rush simul taneously to the palace of Jove,
Fearing least Chaos broken had his chaine. The father of the gods reminds them that long since the giant brood of earth had piled mountain upon mountain in vain hope to storm "heaven's eternal towers," and tells them that this anarch is but the
last offspring of that evil blood. While the gods are still in council, the strange visitant is in among them. For a moment she is awed by that great presence; the next, she advances her claim. Jove had dethroned his father, Saturn; her own father, Titan, was Saturn's elder brother. On earth she has hitherto abode an exile, yet there she has conquered all things to herself. She demands at last her birthright, the throne of heaven. An inferior poet would have made this portent hideous as well as terrible. Spen
Two Cantos of Mutability, canto vi., stanzas 5, 6, and 9.
He bids her submit. The Titaness summons Jove to meet her before the tribunal of an impartial arbiter; and by nothing does the poet more subtly impress us with the magic power of this strange claimant, than by the Thunderer's consent to leave his Olympian throne, and stand her co-suitor before an alien potentate. That potentate is one whom our age challenges more often than Spenser's did. Her appeal is to the "God of nature." The place of judgment is
upon the highest heights Of Arlo-hill (who knows not Arlo-hill?) That is the highest head in all men's sights
Of my old father, Mole, whom shepherd's
quill Renounèd hath with hymnes fit for a rural skill.
"Old Mountain Mole," a name as familiar as that of the river Mulla, his daughter, to the readers of Spenser, designates the Galtee range which rises to nearly the height of three thousand feet at the north-east of Kilcoleman. Arlohill is Galtymore, and overhangs the glen of Arlo, now spelt Aherlo. This mountain range is here constituted by him a Parnassus of the north, and he tells us how that glen was long frequented by the gods, and especially by Cynthia, and how it was forsaken by the latter because she had there been betrayed by one of her nymphs, Molanna, while bathing in her favorite brook, to the gaze of "foolish god Faunus."
Since which, those woods and all that goodly
Doth to this day with wolves and thieves abound;
Which too, too true that land's indwellers
since have found.
Those "thieves" were the original dwellers on Desmond's confiscated lands, who had taken refuge in the forests surrounding the Galtees. There is a profound pathos in the last line quoted, one which may possibly have been written but the day before those wild bands issued from the woods of Arlo, and wrapped in flame the castle of its poet, thus grimly closing the four wedded and peaceful years of his Irish life.
On the appointed day the gods assemble on Arlo Hill - the gods of heaven, of the sea, and of the land (for the infernal powers, we are told, might not appear in that sacred precinct), and not the gods alone but all other creatures. In the midst "great dame Nature" makes herself manifest. She is invested with attri butes so mysterious, and tending so much towards the infinite, as to suggest the thought that Spenser, in some of his lonely musings, had occasionally advanced to the borders of a philosophy little guessed of in his own time. Some such philosophy has sometimes set up a claim like that of Spenser's Titaness, and striven to push religion from her throne. According to Spenser's teaching, those pretensions derive no countenance from Nature. Nor was the cause of Mutability that of political revolution alone; it was also that of unbelief, of lawlessness against law, and of endless restlessness against endless peace.
Then forth issewed (great goddess) great dame Nature,
With goodly port and gracious majesty, Being far greater and more tall of stature Than any of the gods or powers on hie; Yet certes by her face and physnomy, Whether she man or woman inly were, That could not any creature well descry, For with a veile that wimpled every where Her head and face was hid, that mote to none appeare.*
Nature, we are told, is terrible, because she devours whatever exists; and yet beautiful, for she is ever teeming with all things fair. So far she resembles the Titaness, but only so far. The glory of her face is such that the face itself is never seen by mortal eye. To each man she is but as a semblance descried in a mirror. The soul of each man is that mirror, and according to what that soul is she seems. Her veil is never withdrawn.
That, some doe say, was so by skill devised,
For that her face did like a lion shew,
That it the sunne a thousand times did pass, Ne could be seen but like an image in a glass. She sits enthroned upon the level summit of the hill, and the earth instantaneously wave above her in adoration their branches sends up a pavilion of mighty trees that laden with bloom and blossom; while the sod bursts into flower at her feet, and old
As if the love of some new nymph late seene Had in him kindled youthful fresh desire. The Titaness draws near to this veneraable being,
This great grandmother of all creatures bred, Great Nature, ever young, yet full of eld, Still moving, yet unmoved from her sted; Unseen of any, yet of all beheld;
and appeals to her against the king of the gods,
Since heaven and earth are both alike to thee;
And gods no more than men thou dost
For even the gods to thee as men to gods do seeme.t
The Titaness impeaches, not Jove only, but all the gods, for having arrogated to
Canto vii., stanza 5. † Canto vii., stanza 6,
themselves, as divinities supernatural, | demands a verdict in terms which surrepwhat belongs to Nature only, and to her- titiously remove the cause from the higher self as Nature's vicegerent. She insists courts of Nature's judicature, and confine that she has conquered to herself all the it to one created by herself. But Nature elements, not the land and the sea only; takes counsel not with eye and ear only, for the fire does not belong to holy Vesta, but with mind and spirit also: nor the air to the queen of the gods, but both alike to her. She summons witnesses, and at the command of Nature her herald, Order, causes them to circle in long procession around the throne. First come the four Seasons, next the twelve Months. Here is one of the pic
Next came fresh April, full of lustihead, And wanton as a kid whose horne new buds; Upon a bull he rode, the same which led Europa floting through the Argolick fluds; His hornes were gilden all with golden studs, And garnished with girlonds goodly dight Of all the fairest flowers and freshest buds Which th' earth brings forth; and wet he seemed in sight
With waves through which he waded for his love's delight.*
The Hours follow, and the pageant is closed by Life and Death.
The Titaness next turns to Nature, and makes, in the name of all who have passed before her, their common confession; it is that all alike live but by change, and are vassals of Mutability. The father of gods and men replies. His answer consists less in the denial of aught that is affirmative in her statement than in the supplying of what that statement had ignored:
Then thus 'gan Jove: "Right true it is that these
And all things else that under heaven dwell Are chaunged of Time, who them doth all disseize
Of being but who is it (to me tell) That Time himselfe doth move and still compell
To keepe his course? Is not that namely
So having ended, silence long ensued;
Meanwhile all creatures looking in her face,
The silence brake, and gave her doom in At length she, looking up with cheerful view, speeches few.
I well consider all that ye have sayd,
But they raigne over Change, and do their states maintaine.
Cease therefore, daughter, further to aspire, And thee content thus to be ruled by me; For thy decay thou seek'st by thy desire; But time shall come that all shall changed bee,
And from thenceforth none no more change shall see.
So was the Titanesse put downe and whist, And Jove confirmed in his imperial See. Then was that whole assembly quite dismist, And Nature's selfe did vanish, whither no man wist.*
According to the philosophy of Spenser it was impossible that Mutability should enjoy a final triumph, because her true function is to minister through change to that which knows no change. Revolution is but a subordinate element in a system which includes a recuperative principle, and tends ever to the stable. To the un
discerning eye things seem to pass away; to the half-discerning they seem to revolve merely in a circle; but the motion is in reality upward as well as circular; as it advances, it ascends in a spiral line; and as it ascends it ever widens. When the creation has reached the utmost amplitude of which it was originally made capable, it must then stand face to face with the Creator, and in that high solstice it must enter into the Sabbath of his endless rest.
* Canto vii. of Mutability, stanza 59.
Thus only could it reflect the divine per- O that great Sabaoth God, grant me that fection after which it was created. To understand this teaching, we must bear in mind its complement in another part of Spenser's philosophy. He held with Plato that all things great and abiding, whether in the material or the moral world, were created after the pattern of certain great ideas existing eternally in the mind of the Creator, inseparable from his essence, and in it alone perfectly realized. Creation is thus a picture of the uncreated; and the cyclical revolutions of time present an image of eternity, not withstanding that the "opposition of matter" renders it impossible that that picture should ever be wholly faithful to its great original. Turning our eyes downward, we trace the same law in the descending grades of being. It is thus that man, himself the mirror of the divine, is mirrored, though with a corresponding inferiority, by the inferior animals which, not only in their chief affections, but in their intellectual processes, and often even in their social polities, rehearse, on a lower stage, parts which man is permitted to enact more nobly on a higher one. But between the creatures thus ranged on the lower and the higher stages of creation there exists one great difference: those only that occupy the highest platform possess the gift of secure progress. That progress is made through striving and pain: the whole life of man here below, whether his individual or his social life, was regarded by Spenser as a noble war. fare destined to end in victory and peace. Through such probation it becomes from age to age a vaster and a purer thing; and its mutations, notwithstanding the confusions and the sufferings they entail, are but the means through which virtue ascends, and knowledge grows wider.
This is the voice of a spirit wearied with the storms of our lower sphere, but one can read the last verse without joining not daunted or weakened by them. No in the gentle poet's prayer.
We cannot close our remarks on Spenser's philosophy without a reference to a very remarkable canto of his "Faery Queen," in which he blends his musings on humanity with others on nature, and on what is higher than nature, and thus crosses the path of the old-world philosophic poet Lucretius, who also discoursed of nature and man's life, leav ing in his philosophy a very little corner for the "immortal gods," who seem, indeed, to have had little business there, and indeed to have been admited but by courtesy. Spenser's philosophic reverie will be found in his Garden of Adonis (Book III., canto vi.). Human life as there described has nothing in common either with that higher, that ordinary, or that depraved form of life illustrated by him elsewhere. It is not an actual but a potential life, the conception of an exist ence neither fallen nor restored, and of an earth with neither benediction nor malediction resting upon it; an earth with one sorrow only, the transience of all things. The garden is the domain of an endless productiveness, decay, and renewal. In it abide perpetually the archetypal forms of living things:
Among the chief ministering spirits through whom this final development of humanity is to be effected, are the twelve great virtues of the ancient philosophy, the illustration of which he had selected as the theme of his song. That change completed, humanity is, as Spenser's philosophy teaches, to gaze open-eyed on divinity, to be changed into its likeness, and to enter into its rest. Wordsworth, in his "Vernal Ode," recognizes also in the cylical revolutions of time an image of eternity; but he does not in that poem, though he does in his "Stanzas on the Power of Sound," affirm that, their work accomplished, there remains for man an endless Sabbath. Spenser ends his legend with an aspiration:
There is the first seminary
The ever-teeming soil is encircled by two
And double gates it had which opened wide,
Old Genius the porter of them was,
Ordained hath, he clothes with sinful mire,
Till they agayn returne, back by the hinder
Their condition is an endless alternation of glad life and painless decay.
Garden of Adonis, Book III., canto vi., stanza 32.