language, his verse form, his lack of unity and his riot of imagination; but his realistic touches, perhaps because they were so familiar, perhaps because they were so interwoven with other elements, escaped unnoted. The neo-classicists praised his allegory and censured his exuberant imagination unrestrained by "good taste" and "decorum," and finally the romantic attitude is epitomized in Thomas Warton's observation: "If the critic is not satisfied, yet the reader is transported." The romantic critics try to claim him, with apologies, for one of their own; they feel that the imaginative genius must not be bound by the narrow limits of cut and dried form or of reality. The poet must

Ben Jonson did not like his stanza, his rustic vocabulary nor his matter (Conversations, 1619; Discoveries, 1625). "Spenser," he says, "in affecting the ancients wrote no language." Edmund Bolton (Hypercritia, 1618), Henry Peacham (Compleat Gentleman, 1622), William Lisle (Prefatory Remarks to a translation of Du Bartas, 1625), and Dryden criticise him in this light.

'Henry Reynoulds (Mythomectes, 1631), deplores his unrestrained imagination. Sir William Davenant follows Reynoulds in his preface to Gondibert:-"His allegorical story . . . resembling (methinks) a continuation of extraordinary dreams, such as excellent poets and painters, by being over studious may have in the beginnings of feavers." Thomas Rhymer takes the same view in his Preface to the Translation of Rapier's Reflections on Aristotle's Treatis of Poesie," 1674.

Addison, Guardian, Sept. 1713. John Hughes (1715), Edition of the F. Q., Essay on Allegorical Poetry. Pope criticises his rustic language in the Discourse on Pastoral Poetry (1717) and the lack of differentiation between a number of seasonal eclogues of the S. C.. "His judgment," he says, is overborne by the torrent of his imagination..." Goldsmith in the Beauties of English Poesy, 1767, vol. I, Introd., remarks to Shenstone's School Mistress, observes: "The imagination of his reader leaves reason behind."

[ocr errors]

Thomas Warton: Observations on the Faerie Queene (1754). There are other eighteenth century critics who hold somewhat similar views: Richard Hurd in Plan and Conduct of the "Faerie Queene": "The poet has a world of his own where experience has less to do than consistent imagination"; Joseph Warton in his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (1756); Sir Walter Scott in his Essay on Todd's Edition of Spenser, Edin. Review, 1805. Hazlitt remarks that "Spenser's poetry is all fairy land. . . we wander in another world of ideal beings. . . by the sound of softer streams, among greener hills and fairer valleys. He paints nature not as we find it, but as we expected to find it, and fulfills the delightful promise of our youth."


be allowed to have a world fancy-free beyond space and time, and partly because they wished in Spenser to find such a world and only such a world, partly because few of them had the scholarship to separate mediæval literary conventions from Elizabethan realism,10 they saw in Spenser their own image and little else. During the Victorian era, with the growth of interest in Spenser's Rosalind, there arose the question of the realism in the Shepheardes Calender. Practically all the nineteenth-century critics from Aikin (1802) to Grosart (1882) and his followers, speak of Spenser's "personal confessions" in the Shepheardes Calender and in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe.12 Aside from this one aspect, however, practically no mention is made of his realism. until late in the century, when interest arises in his Irish background. His knowledge of the outer world is held, on the whole, to be as superficial as his knowledge of real people. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, there is a conflict of opinions among the critics. Grosart and his followers speak of Spenser's nature painting and realism.13 Gosse refers to his world "out of space, out of time," and is followed by Palgrave and Hubbard.'* Aubrey de Vere and Philpot take a half-way position, and consider Spenser one of the most realistic of his age.15 The more

10 Cf. P. M. L. A. "Were the Gothic Novels' Gothic?" XXXVI, 1921. 11 See Higginson, Spenser's "Shepherd's Calendar," Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1912, Ch. II, for a summary of this debate.

12 Aikin, Ed. 1802. Todd, Ed. 1805. Masterman, Ed. 1825. Craik, The Poetry of Spenser, 1845. Child, Ed. 1855. H. J. Todd, Ed. 1861. Collier, Ed. 1862. Th. Keightly is one of the exceptions. See his Life of Spenser, Frazer's Mag., 1859.

13 Grosart in his 1882 Ed. vol. 3, speaking of Spenser's S. C. says, "If once you be put on the alert in reading the early poetry of England, you come on bits of nature-painting and realism touched by the imagination, all unsuspected. . . It is nonsense to date so modernly the 'seeing of' nature. Wordsworth was heir to all the ages." Dowden holds a somewhat similar view, see Poet and Teacher, Grosart Ed., 1882, vol. 1.

14 Others are: Gosse, Essay on English Pastoral Poetry; Palgrave, Essay on Spenser, Grosart Ed., vol. IV, 1882. Palgrave says, " Spenser sees life ... through more than one veil, always, though varyingly conventional in character... Spenser seems unable to present real life except in the guise of allegory . . . Colin Clouts Come Home Again is the exception, ... from its realism and its richness in the details of contemporary life and literature, it deserves and rewards general study."

15 Aubrey de Vere, Essay on Characteristics of Spenser's Poetry; Phil

recent material, published chiefly in the learned periodicals, appears to emphasise rather the interpretation of the allegories, the sources, and the verse-forms, than his local color and diction.16

The critics, then, have largely neglected realistic elements in Spenser's style, but, if realism be allowed its common definition, as anything which deals with fact at first hand as opposed to the mere following of literary convention, it certainly is not lacking in either the Minor Poems or in the Faerie Queene. There are characterizing epithets that show that Spenser was not blind to the people who surrounded him. There are, indeed, six types of realism in the poetry of Spenser: (1) references to rural nature in generalized expression or to more specific places or things; (2) references to rural life; (3) descriptions relating to people of a personal or psychological nature; (4) touches of realism or spots of local color introduced by means of a couple of words; (5) efforts at realism through colloquialisms of rustic conversation (in the Calender), as opposed to the rather formal conversational language of pastoral verse; (6) realistic descriptions, satiric in tone, of court, clerical, and other walks of life, drawn as it would seem from Spenser's personal experience.17

pot, Essay on Certain Aspects of the "Faerie Queene" and some of the other poetry of Spenser. Philpot remarks that "All is a true picture of life to those who read between the lines. . . The whole is the stuff that dreams are made of, dreams however which give to the body not only of that time, but for all time its form and pressure and which so have in them more reality than most activities can ever have."

10 E. Greenlaw and H. E. Cory hint at realism in Spenser, but do not discuss the matter. E. Greenlaw, Shepherd's Calendar, Pub. of the Mod. Lang. Assoc. of Amer., XXVI, 19 ff. H. E. Cory, Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study: "If the reader will recapture, then, the authentic note of the Shepheardes Calender as of all the poetry of Spenser, he will recover more than the grace the captivating freshness . . the blithe if not confident realism . . . the note of Chaucer . . . which have hitherto hardly been appraised at all. . ." Pp. 47.


17 It is of course very hard to say positively of any given passage in Spenser that it is first-hand realism; a few even of those that seem at first glance to be undoubted examples, prove on further examination to be imitations of passages from other works, or merely literary conventions; the F. Q., 1, 3, 31 would appear at first glance to be first-hand realism, "Much like as when the beaten marinere

That long hath wandred in the ocean wide,
Ofte soust in swelling Tethys saltish teare,

Of the references to rural nature, the first type of realistic images, there are a number that seem to belong to specific localities. In the latter part of the Faerie Queene occur a rather large number of Irish references, some of them so definite as to be unmistakable. According to the authorities on the subject,-those who have visited Ireland for the purpose of studying the landscape from the point of view of Spenser's observations 18-there seems to be little doubt that Spenser's Irish realism originates at first hand. Spenser was of course connected with Ireland in various ways from 1577 on, and lived there almost continuously from 1580 to his death. The reference to the gnats in the Fens of Allan at eventide shows Spenser's first-hand knowledge of the country:As when a swarme of gnats at eventide Out of the fennes of Allan doe arise,

Their murmuring small trompetts sownden wide,
Whiles in the aire their clustring army flies,

That as a cloud doth seeme to dim the skies,

And long time having tand his tawney hide

With blustring breath of heaven, that none can bide,

And scorching flames of fierce Orion's hound

Soone as the port from far he has espide,

His chearfull whistle merily doth sound,

And Nereus crownes with cups; his mates him pledg around." This passage seems to claim as source, however, Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, III, 4, as Köppel has mentioned (Anglia, XI, 346).

18 Th. Keightly, Irish Rivers Named in the "Faerie Queene," Notes and Queries, IV, 4, 1869. Ibid. Life of Edmund Spenser, Frazer's Mag., 1859. P. W. Joyce: Spenser's Irish Rivers, Frazer's Mag., N. S. XVII; Edmund Spenser, Edin. Review, 1905. The author of the first-named article says that Spenser was much indebted to Ireland for the "descriptive realism of his poetry," particularly in the last three books of the F. Q. He says the wild woods of Ireland form the background of the F. Q., that in the first three books the country background is evident, but "There is no detailed description of familiar haunts. . . In the second part of the poem, on the other hand, the scenery and the associations of Kilcolman and the South of Ireland colour the whole texture of his work and the concluding books abound in passages wherein not all the poet's idealism nor the veil of his elaborate allegory can conceal the influence of his actual surroundings, both upon the trend of his fancy and the form in which his fancy found expression." On the whole, he says, the verse written between 1580-90 contains few local allusions, as compared to that written after 1590.

Ne man nor beast may rest, or take repast

For their sharpe wounds and noyous injuries

Till the fierce northerne wind with blustring blast

Doth blow them quite away, and in the ocean cast.1o

A passage, moreover, referring to the Irish Channel gives the same impression:

As when two billowes in the Irish sowndes
Forcibly driven with contrarie tydes,

Do meete together, each abacke rebowndes
With roaring rage: and dashing on all sides,
That filleth all the sea with fome, divydes
The doubtfull current into divers wayes:

So fell these two.20

And again, Spenser on his official visits to Limerick must have noticed the tidal conflict of the sea with the river in the estuary of Shannon :

Like as the tide, that comes from th' ocean mayne,
Flowes up the Shenan with contrarie forse,
And overruling him in his owne rayne,
Drives backe the current of his kindly course,
And makes it seeme to have some other sourse;
But when the cloud is spent, then backe againe
His borrowed waters forst to redisbourse
He sends the sea his owne with double gaine
And tribute eke withall, as to his soveraine.21

Spenser's treatment of the Irish rivers, moreover, emphasizes the accuracy of his observations. The Irish streams are, according to the critics, very accurately drawn from first-hand knowledge,22

19 F. Q., II, 9, 16.

20 F. Q., IV, 1, 42.

21 F. Q., IV, 3, 27. Other real touches of Ireland are according to the Edin. Review article the following: F. Q., II, 9, 13. "A picture of the lawless bandetti, who commonly formed the bodyguard of an Irish chief." Cf. Derriche, Image of Ireland. F. Q., 1, 5, 3. "A reminiscence of an Irish Castle, possibly the Earl of Ormond's at Kilkenny." F. Q., II, 7, 6; IV, 5, 33. "A reminiscence of an Irish cabin." I feel myself that these

references are rather doubtful.

22 The Irish rivers in the F. Q., according to Joyce and Keightly, Spenser must have observed, some near his home at Kilcolman, others from his presence during the attack of Glendaloch of the troops of the Lord Deputy in 1580.

« VorigeDoorgaan »