Of Faery Land yet if he more inquire,Many of his personages we can still identify, and all of them were once as easily recognizable as those of Mademoiselle de Scudery. This, no doubt, added greatly to the immediate piquancy of the allusions. The interest they would excite may be inferred from the fact that King James, in 1596, wished to have the author prosecuted and punished for his indecent handling of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, under the name of Duessa.2 To
By certain signs, here set in sundry place,
He may it find;....
And thou, O fairest princess under sky,
In this fair mirror mayst behold thy face
And thine own realms in land of Faery.
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1 Taste must be partially excepted. It is remarkable how little eating and drinking there is in the ‘Faery Queen.’ The only time he fairly sets a table is in the house of Malbecco, where it is necessary to the conduct of the story. Yet taste is not wholly forgotten:—
Taste can hardly complain of unhandsome treatment!
In her left hand a cup of gold she held,
And with her right the riper fruit did reach,
Whose sappy liquor, that with fulness sweld,
Into her cup she scruzed with dainty breach
Of her fine fingers without foul impeach,
That so fair wine-press made the wine more sweet.B. II. c. XII 56.
2 Had the poet lived longer, he might perhaps have verified his friend Raleigh's saying, that ‘whosoever in writing modern history shall follow truth too near the heels, it may haply strike out his teeth.’ The passage is one of the very few disgusting ones in the ‘Faery Queen.’ Spenser was copying Ariosto; but the Italian poet, with the discreeter taste of his race, keeps to generalities. Spenser goes into particulars which can only be called nasty. He did this, no doubt, to pleasure his mistress, Mary's rival; and this gives us a measure of the brutal coarseness of contemporary manners. It becomes only the more marvellous that the fine flower of his genius could have transmuted the juices of such a soil into the purity and sweetness which are its own peculiar properties.
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