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cording to individual temperament. That of Winthrop and Higginson had a mellowness of which Endicott and Standish were incapable. The gradual change of Milton's opinions was similar to that which I suppose in Spenser. The passage in Mother Hubberd may have been aimed at the Protestant clergy of Ireland (for he says much the same thing in his View of the State of Ireland), but it is general in its terms. There is an iconoclastic relish in his account of Sir Guyon's demolishing the Bower of Bliss that makes us think he would not have regretted the plundered abbeys as perhaps Shakespeare did when he speaks of the winter woods as bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang: But all those pleasant bowers and palace brave Guyon broke down with rigor pitiless, Ne ought their goodly workmanship might save Them from the tempest of his wrathfulness, But that their bliss he turned to balefulness; Their groves he felled, their gardens did deface, Their arbors spoil, their cabinets
least freely and simply, twining the bare stem of old tradition with graceful sentiment and lively natural sympathies. I find a few sweet and flowing verses in Dunbar's Merle and Nightingale,—indeed one whole stanza that has always seemed exquisite to me. It is this:— Ne'er sweeter noise was heard by living man Than made there is none, For both are lost,—the time and the travail Of every love but upon God alone. But except this lucky poem, I find little else in the serious verses of Dunbar that does not seem to me tedious and pedantic. I dare say a few more lines might be found scattered here and there, but I hold it a sheer waste of time to hunt award diviner air, and not in the grovelling fashion of the potato. Any verse that makes you and me foreigners is not only not great poetry, but no poetry at all. Dunbar's works were disinterred and edited some thirty years ago by Mr. Laing, and whoso is national enough to like thistles may browse there to his heart's content. I <
Pietro Di Dante (search for this): chapter 2
onomy, the small politics of a provincial city of the Middle Ages, mix in at will Grecian, Roman, and Christian mythology, and tell me what chance there is to make an immortal poem of such an incongruous mixture. Can these dry bones live? Yes, Dante can create such a soul under these ribs of death that one hundred and fifty editions of his poem shall be called for in these last sixty years, the first half of the sixth century since his death. Accordingly I am apt to believe that the complaiyle of which I have been speaking seems to be as glad to get a pack of impertinences on its shoulders as Christian in the Pilgrim's Progress was to be rid of his. One strong verse that can hold itself upright (as the French critic Rivarol said of Dante) with the bare help of the substantive and verb, is worth acres of this dead cord-wood piled stick on stick, a boundless continuity of dryness. I would rather have written that half-stanza of Longfellow's, in the Wreck of the Hesperus, of the bi
Gawain Douglas (search for this): chapter 2
there to his heart's content. I am inclined for other pasture, having long ago satisfied myself by a good deal of dogged reading that every generation is sure of its own share of bores without borrowing from the past. A little later came Gawain Douglas, whose translation of the Aeneid is linguistically valuable, and whose introductions to the seventh and twelfth books—the one describing winter and the other May——have been safely praised, they are so hard to read. There is certainly some pof this dead cord-wood piled stick on stick, a boundless continuity of dryness. I would rather have written that half-stanza of Longfellow's, in the Wreck of the Hesperus, of the billow that swept her crew like icicles from her deck, than all Gawain Douglas's tedious enumeration of meteorological phenomena put together. A real landscape is never tiresome; it never presents itself to us as a disjointed succession of isolated particulars; we take it in with one sweep of the eye,—its light, its s
when we meet them again; the episodes hinder the advance of the action instead of relieving it with variety of incident or novelty of situation; the plot, if plot it may be called, That shape has none Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb, recalls drearily our ancient enemy, the Metrical Romance; while the fighting, which, in those old poems, was tediously sincere, is between shadow and shadow, where we know that neither can harm the other, though we are tempted to wish he might. Hazlitt bids us not mind the allegory, and says that it won't bite us nor meddle with us if we do not meddle with it. But how if it bore us, which after all is the fatal question? The truth is that it is too often forced upon us against our will, as people were formerly driven to church till they began to look on a day of rest as a penal institution, and to transfer to the Scriptures that suspicion of defective inspiration which was awakened in them by the preaching. The true type of the allegory
Gabriel Harvey (search for this): chapter 2
introduction of which was claimed by his friend Gabriel Harvey, who thereby assured to himself an immortality d there is a gleam of mischief in what he writes to Harvey: I like your late English hexameter so exceedingly glish Rabelais, thus at once describes and parodies Harvey's hexameters in prose, that drunken, staggering kinThis has been inferred from a passage in one of Gabriel Harvey's letters to him. But it would seem more natural, from the many allusions in Harvey's pamphlets against Nash, that it was his own wrongs which he had in mindt Spenser sympathized with him in all his grudges. Harvey is a remarkable instance of the refining influence s Spenser himself, with occasional interjections of Harvey. Who else could have written such English as many I have said that some of Sidney's are pleasing. and Harvey, tried his hand at English hexameters. But his grewered to all. Spenser, in one of his letters to Harvey, had said, Why, a God's name, may not we, as else t
y retouched it. The verses quoted show a firmer hand than is generally seen in it, and we are safe in assuming that they were added after his visit to England. Dr. Johnson epigrammatized Spenser's indictment into There mark what ills the scholar's life assail, Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the jail, but I think it loses in Whose body is sere, whose branches broke, Whose naked arms stretch unto the fire. It is one of those verses that Joseph Warton would have liked in secret, that Dr. Johnson would have proved to be untranslatable into reasonable prose, and which the imagination welcomes at once without caring whether it be exactly conformable to barnever have had the varied majesty of Milton's blank-verse. But Dr. Warton should have remembered (what he too often forgets in his own verses) that, in spite of Dr. Johnson's dictum, poetry is not prose, and that verse only loses its advantage over the latter by invading its province. As where Dr. Warton himself says:— How near
excellent Lord Hailes went into raptures, is wanting in everything but coarseness; and if his invention dance at all, it is like a galley—slave in chains under the lash. It would be well for us if the sins themselves were indeed such wretched bugaboos as he has painted for us. What he means for humor is but the dullest vulgarity; his satire would be Billingsgate if it could, and, failing, becomes a mere offence in the nostrils, for it takes a great deal of salt to keep scurrility sweet. Mr. Sibbald, in his Chronicle of Scottish Poetry, has admiringly preserved more than enough of it, and seems to find a sort of national savor therein, such as delights his countrymen in a haggis, or the German in his sauer-kraut. The uninitiated foreigner puts his handkerchief to his nose, wonders, and gets out of the way as soon as he civilly can. Barbour's Brus, if not precisely a poem, has passages whose simple tenderness raises them to that level. That on Freedom is familiar. Though always m
408. In the Epithalamion there is an epithet which has been much admired for its felicitous tenderness:— Behold, whiles she before the altar stands, Hearing the holy priest that to her speakes And blesseth her with his two happy hands. But the purely impersonal passion of the artist had already guided him to this lucky phrase. It is addressed by Holiness—a dame surely as far abstracted from the enthusiasms of love as we can readily conceive of—to Una, who, like the visionary Helen of Dr. Faustus, has every charm of womanhood, except that of being alive as Juliet and Beatrice are. O happy earth, Whereon thy innocent feet do ever tread! Faery Queen, B. I. c. x. 9. Can we conceive of Una, the fall of whose foot would be as soft as that of a rose-leaf upon its mates already fallen,—can we conceive of her treading anything so sordid? No; it is only on some unsubstantial floor of dream that she walks securely, herself a dream. And it is only when Spenser has escaped thither, onl
which it seems to ripple and crinkle, catching and casting back the sunshine like a stream blown on by clear western winds. But Skelton was an exceptional blossom of autumn. A long and dreary winter follows. Surrey, who brought back with him from Italy the blank-verse not long before introduced by Trissino, is to some extent another exception. He had the sentiment of nature and unhackneyed feeling, but he has no mastery of verse, nor any elegance of diction. We have Gascoyne, Surrey, Wyatt, stiff, pedantic, artificial, systematic as a country cemetery, and, worst of all, the whole time desperately in love. Every verse is as flat, thin, and regular as a lath, and their poems are nothing more than bundles of such tied trimly together. They are said to have refined our language. Let us devoutly hope they did, for it would be pleasant to be grateful to them for something. But I fear it was not so, for only genius can do that; and Sternhold and Hopkins are inspired men in compa
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