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Campbell, who has appreciated the beauties of Spenser's poetry with more delicacy of taste, or described them with greater elegance of diction, than Hazlitt in his " Lectures on the English Poets." He characterizes the language and versification of the “Faerie Queene" as “full and copious to overflowing; it is less pure and idiomatic than Chaucer's, and is enriched and adorned with phrases borrowed from the different languages of Europe, both ancient and modern. His versification is, at once, the most smooth and the most sounding in the language. It is a labyrinth of sweet sounds that would cloy by their very sweetness, but that the ear is constantly relieved and enchanted by their continued variety of modulation,-dwelling on the pauses of the action, or flowing on in a fuller tide of harmony with the movement of the sentiment. It has not the bold dramatic transitions of Shakspeare's blank verse, nor the high-raised tones of Milton's, but it is the perfection of melting harmony, dissolving the soul in pleasure, or holding it captive in the chains of surprise. Spenser was the poet of our waking dreams; and he has invented not only a language, but a music of his own for them. The undulations are infinite, like those of the waves of the sea, but the effect is still the same, lulling the senses into a deep oblivion of the jarring noises of the world, from which we have no wish to be ever recalled.”
One of the most charming essays on the poetry of Spenser, recently published, will be found in Leigh Hunt's “Imagination and Fancy, or Selections from the Poets," a work that must always be a special favourite with the lovers of genuine poetry and exquisite criticism. We extract a sparkling passage: “Spenser's great characteristic is poetic luxury. If you go to him for a story, you will be disappointed; if for a style, classical or concise, the point against him is conceded; if for pathos, you must weep for personages balf-real and too beautiful ; if for mirth, you must laugh out of good breeding, and because it pleaseth the great and sequestered man to be facetious. But if you love poetry well enough to enjoy it for its own sake, let no evil reports of his allegory deter you from his
acquaintance, for great will be your loss. His forced rhymes, and his sentences written to fill up, which in a less part would be intolerable, are accompanied with such endless grace and charming pleasure, that although it is to be no more expected of anybody to read him through at once, than to wander days and nights in a forest, thinking of nothing else, yet any true lover of poetry, when he comes to know him, would as soon quarrel with repose on the summer grass. You may get up and go away, but will return next day at noon to listen to his waterfalls, and to see, 'with half-shut eye,' his visions of knights and nymphs, his gods and goddesses, whom he brought down again to earth in immortal beauty.”
We cannot close these critical notices of Spenser more appropriately than by enriching our pages with a beautiful" encomium on his poetical merits from the pen of Campbell, extracted from his introductory Essay to the "Specimens of the British Poets:"_"Much of Spenser's expression is now become antiquated; though it is beautiful in its antiquity, and like the moss and ivy on some majestic building, covers the fabric of his language with romantic and venerable associations. His command of imagery is wide, easy, and luxuriant. He threw the soul of harmony into our verse, and made it more warmly, tenderly, and magnificently descriptive, than it ever was before, or, with a few exceptions, than it has ever been since. It must certainly be owned, that in description he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes and robust power which characterize the very greatest poets; but we shall nowhere find more airy and expansive images of visionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, or a finer flush in the colours of language, than in this Rubens of English poetry. His fancy teems exuberantly in minuteness of circumstance, like a fertile soil sending bloom and verdure through the utmost extremities of the foliage which it nourishes. On a comprehensive view of the whole work, we certainly miss the charm of strength, symmetry, and rapid or interesting progress; for, though the plan which the poet designed is not com
pleted, it is easy to see that no additional cantos could bave rendered it less perplexed. But still there is a richness in bis materials, even where their coherence is loose, and their disposition confused. The clouds of his allegory may seem to spread into shapeless forms, but they are still the clouds of a glowing atmosphere. Though his story grows desultory, the sweetness and grace of his manner still abide by him. We always rise from perusing him with melody in our mind's ear, and with pictures of romantic beauty impressed on the imagination."
There have been numerous editions of Spenser's works, with biographical and critical sketches appended to them. Of these, Todd's Life of the poet is the most elaborate. Dr. Aikin’s is tolerably full and interesting. Ellis's “Specimens of the Early Poets,” Warton's “History of Poetry," and Hallam's “Introduction to the Literature of Europe," may be consulted with advantage; also, the Quarterly, Edinburgh, and Retrospective Reviews, and "The Encyclopedia Britannica," under the head poetry.
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY.
BORN, 1554; DIED, 1586.
I will it spend in speaking of thy praise,
By heaven's doom, do end my earthly days;
Thereto do Thou my hunible spirit raise,
Apostrophe to the shaile of Sir Philip Sidney, by Spenser.
They had been taught religion—thence
Ben Jonson on Sir Philip Sidney and his sistor,
the Countess of Pembroke.
TAOSE who have read with attention the interesting reign of Queen Elizabeth, must recollect the brilliant,
gallant, but unfortunate Sir Philip Sidney, one of the brightest ornaments of the Elizabethan age. His life was varied by exciting incidents, distinguished by all that was high-spirited and brave. His untimely fate, at the age of thirty-two, fills the mind with sympathy and regret.
The writer of a splendid article in the second volume of “The Retrospective Review," which has, unhappily, for the cause of our early literature, ceased to exist, says with much feeling, “we remember Sir Philip Sidney as one who communicated to the court of Elizabeth that tincture of romance, which gives to our view, when seen through the dusty distances of antiquity, a mellow and chastened richness, not unlike the variegated and brilliant colouring with which the rays of the departing sun are imbued by the painted windows through which they penetrate, as they
Illume with mellow light the brown-brow'd aisle.
We remember him as the patron and friend of Spenser, the author of that enchanting production, the Faerie Queene;' and lastly, we remember him as the contemporary of Shakspeare, and as one of the kindred spirits of that enchanted circle, of which Shakspeare was the master, magician, and wizard."
It would require many pages to give any thing like a full account of Sir Philip Sidney. A concise statement of a few leading facts in his eventful history, is all that can be here attempted. He was born on the 29th of November, 1554, at Penhurst, in Kent. He was the son of Sir Henry Sidney, a favourite at the court of Edward VI. His mother was Mary, eldest daughter of John, Duke of Northumberland, and sister to Robert Dudley, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth. Young Sidney received his early education at a school in Shrewsbury; and when only twelve years of age, his intelligence and thoughtful turn of mind attracted general notice. After entering Christ Church, Oxford, in 1569, and distinguishing himself there, he proceeded in 1572 to make à tour on the Continent. He visited France, Belgium,
Germany, Hungary, and Italy. He became acquainted, in the course of his travels, with many persons of literary distinction, and returned to his native country in May, 1575. Accomplished in mind, attractive in person, and fascinating in manners, he soon ingratiated himself into the favour of Queen Elizabeth, of whose brilliant court he was one of the most conspicuous ornaments. His society seemed necessary to her happiness, and she thought her splendid circle was deficient without his presence.
Sidney's first literary attempt was a Masque, entitled “Lady of May," which was got up for the gratification of the virgin Queen, and performed before her at Hamstead House, in Essex. From this period he entered upon his distinguished career, and was employed by her Majesty in various important diplomatic services. She sent him in 1576 as Ambassador to the court of Vienna on an important mission. In 1577 a negotiation was in progress for the marriage of Elizabeth with Henry, Duke of Anjou. It was reported that she was at one time not disinclined to favour the project, which so incensed Sidney, that he had the courage to address a memorable letter to her, which he called the “Remonstrance.” This rashness and interference escaped punishment; and, to the surprise of every one, Sidney was continued in favour. He soon afterwards quarrelled with the Earl of Oxford, which occasioned his retirement from court. Until his return to public life, he resided with his brother-in-law, the Earl of Pembroke; and while at his country seat, he composed a part of his heroic romance of “ Arcadia," which was never completed, and not published until after his death.
This work excited a great sensation at the time it first appeared, and had a powerful influence on the national taste as a model in a peculiar style of fiction. Cowley and Waller took great delight in its perusal; .and during the imprisonment of Charles I., it was his constant companion. In 1595 appeared Sidney's most popular compositio 2, his “ Defence of Poesy, which was commenced in 1581, and was a special favourite with the most eminent poetical writers of that