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[162] It may be thought that I lay too much stress on this single attribute of diction. But apart from its importance in his case as showing their way to the poets who were just then learning the accidence of their art, and leaving them a material to work in already mellowed to their hands, it should be remembered that it is subtle perfection of phrase and that happy coalescence of music and meaning, where each reinforces the other, that define a man as poet and make all ears converts and partisans. Spenser was an epicure in language. He loved ‘seldseen costly’ words perhaps too well, and did not always distinguish between mere strangeness and that novelty which is so agreeable as to cheat us with some charm of seeming association. He had not the concentrated power which can sometimes pack infinite riches in the little room of a single epithet, for his genius is rather for dilatation than compression.1 But he was, with the exception of Milton and possibly Gray, the most learned of our poets. His familiarity with ancient and modern literature was easy and intimate, and as he perfected himself in his art, he caught the grand manner and high-bred ways of the society he frequented. But even to the last he did not quite shake off the blunt rusticity of phrase that was habitual with the generation that preceded him. In the fifth book of the ‘Faery Queen,’ where he is describing the passion of Britomart at the supposed infidelity of Arthegall, he descends to a Tenierslike

1 Perhaps his most striking single epithet is the ‘sea-shouldering whales,’ B. II. 12, XXIII. His ear seems to delight in prolongations. For example, he makes such words as glorious, gratious, joyeous, havior, chapelet dactyles, and that, not at the end of verses, where it would not have been unusual, but in the first half of them. Milton contrives a break (a kind of heave, as it were) in the uniformity of his verse by a practice exactly the opposite of this. He also shuns a hiatus which does not seem to have been generally dipleasing to Spenser's ear, though perhaps in the compound epithet bees-alluring he intentionally avoids it by the plural form.

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Edmund Spenser (2)
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