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ever was, or shall be, or can be, or but a delusion? Spenser's world, real to him, is real enough for us to take a holiday in, and we may well be content with it when the earth we dwell on is so often too real to allow of such vacations. It is the same kind of world that Petrarca's Laura has walked in for five centuries with all ears listening for the music of her footfall.
The land of Spenser is the land of Dream, but it is also the land of Rest. To read him is like dreaming awake, without even the trouble of doing it yourself, but letting it be done for you by the finest dreamer that ever lived, who knows how to color his dreams like life and make them move before you in music. They seem singing to you as the sirens to Guyon, and we linger like him :
“O, thou fair son of gentle Faery
This is the port of rest from troublous toil,
In his big bass, them fitly answerëd, 1 This song recalls that in Dante's Purgatorio (XIX. 19-24), in which the Italian tongue puts forth all its siren allurements. Browne's beautiful verses (“ Turn, hither turn your wingëd pines ") were suggested by these of Spenser. It might almost seem as if Spenser had here, in his usual way, expanded the sweet old verses:
“Merry sungen the monks binnen Ely
And on the rock the waves, breaking aloft,
That he the boatman bade row easily And let him hear some part of their rare melody." Despite Spenser's instinctive tendency to idealize, and his habit of distilling out of the actual an ethereal essence in which very little of the possible seems left, yet his mind, as is generally true of great poets, was founded on a solid basis of good
I do not know where to look for a more cogent and at the same time picturesque confutation of Socialism than in the Second Canto of the Fifth Book. If I apprehend rightly his words and images, there is not only subtle but profound thinking here. The French Revolution is prefigured in the well-meaning but too theoretic giant, and Rousseau's fallacies exposed two centuries in advance. Spenser was a conscious Englishman to his inmost fibre, and did not lack the sound judgment in politics which belongs to his race. He was the more English for living in Ireland, and there is something that moves us deeply in the exile's passionate cry :
“ Dear Country! O how dearly dear
How much to her we owe that all us gave,
“chiefly skill to ride seems a science
Proper to gentle blood," which reminds one of Lord Herbert of Cherbury's saying that the finest sight God looked down on was a fine man on a fine horse.
Wordsworth, in the supplement to his preface, tells us that the “Faery Queen ” “ faded before”
” Sylvester's translation of Du Bartas. But Wordsworth held a brief for himself in this case, and is no exception to the proverb about men who are their own attorneys. His statement is wholly unfounded. Both poems, no doubt, so far as popularity is concerned, yielded to the graver interests of the Civil War. But there is an appreciation much weightier than any that is implied in mere popularity, and the vitality of a poem is to be measured by the kind as well as the amount of influence it exerts. Spenser has coached more poets and more eminent ones than any other writer of English verse. I need say nothing of Milton, nor of professed disciples like Browne, the two Fletchers, and More. Cowley tells us that he became “irrecoverably a poet” by reading the “Faery Queen” when a boy. Dryden, whose case is particularly in point because he confesses having been seduced by Du Bartas, tells us that Spenser had been his master in English. He regrets, indeed, comically enough, that Spenser could not have read the rules of Bossu, but adds that “ no man was ever born with a greater genius or more knowledge to support it.” Pope says, “ There is something in Spenser that pleases one as strongly in one's old age as it
did in one's youth. I read the Faery Queen when I was about twelve with a vast deal of delight; and I think it gave me as much when I read it over about a year or two ago.” Thomson wrote the most delightful of his poems in the measure of Spenser ; Collins, Gray, and Akenside show traces of him; and in our own day his influence reappears
l in Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. Landor is, I believe, the only poet who ever found him tedious. Spenser's mere manner has not had so many imitators as Milton's, but no other of our poets has given an impulse, and in the right direction also, to so many and so diverse minds; above all, no other has given to so many young souls a consciousness of their wings and a delight in the use of them. He is a standing protest against the tyranny of Commonplace, and sows the seeds of a noble discontent with prosaic views of life and the dull uses to which it may be put.
Three of Spenser's own verses best characterize the feeling his poetry gives us :
" Among wide waves set like a little nest,"
“Wrapt in eternal silence far from enemies," "The world's sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil." We are wont to apologize for the grossness of our favorite authors sometimes by saying that their age was to blame and not they; and the excuse is a
r good one, for often it is the frank word that shocks us while we tolerate the thing. Spenser needs no such extenuations. No man can read the “ Faery
Queen” and be anything but the better for it. Through that rude age, when Maids of Honor drank beer for breakfast and Hamlet could say a gross thing to Ophelia, he passes serenely abstracted and high, the Don Quixote of poets. Whoever can endure unmixed delight, whoever can tolerate music and painting and poetry all in one, whoever wishes to be rid of thought and to let the busy anvils of the brain be silent for a time, let him read in the “Faery Queen.” There is the land of
where no ache or sorrow of spirit can enter.