of it, and that the poet almost always needs to have his fancy set agoing by the hint of some predecessor, must not lead us to overlook his manifest claim to originality.
It is not what a poet takes, but what he makes out of what he has taken, that shows what native force is in him. Above all, did his mind dwell complacently in those forms and fashions which in their very birth are already obsolescent, or was it instinctively drawn to those qualities which are permanent in language and whatever is wrought in it?
There is much in Spenser
that is contemporary and evanescent; but the substance of him is durable, and his work was the deliberate result of intelligent purpose and ample culture.
The publication of his ‘Shepherd
's Calendar’ in 1579 (though the poem itself be of little interest) is one of the epochs in our literature.
had at least the originality to see clearly and to feel keenly that it was essential to bring poetry back again to some kind of understanding with nature.
His immediate predecessors seem to have conceived of it as a kind of bird of paradise, born to float somewhere between heaven and earth, with no very well defined relation to either.
It is true that the nearest approach they were able to make to this airy ideal was a shuttlecock, winged with a bright plume or so from Italy
, but, after all, nothing but cork and feathers, which they bandied back and forth from one stanza to another, with the useful ambition of keeping it up
as long as they could.
To my mind the old comedy of ‘Gammer Gurton's Needle’ is worth the whole of them.
It may be coarse, earthy, but in reading it one feels that he is at least a man among men, and not a humbug among humbugs.
The form of Spenser
's Calendar,’ it is true, is artificial, absurdly so if you look at it merely from the outside,—not, perhaps, the wisest way to