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with whom he returned to London in 1589, to be introduced to the Queen, and to receive a royal pension; that he married upon reaching the ripe age of forty; that he wrote a book on the state of Ireland, and became Sheriff for Cork; that his house was burnt in Tyrone's rebellion, one of his children perishing in the flames; and that he died at a lodging-house in King Street, Westminster, on the 16th of January, 1598-9, and was buried near the tomb of Chaucer in Westminster Abbey. This brief biography is to be gathered from Spenser's contemporaries, and in the main they may be correct; but what matters it if they are not? We know vastly more of our poet Spenser than these dry details can tell us. What man, save one whose nature was essentially noble and chivalric, could have painted such a series of pictures, as those which still preserve all the freshness of their first colouring in the pages of the "Faerie Queene?" What spirit, save one that was intensely imbued with Christian feeling and animated by Christian hopes, could ever have sung in a strain so pure, so unworldly, so free from defilement, so free even from the natural coarseness of the age? And how exultant the poet is! He has no humour, no wit, scarcely any mirth; but, assuredly, while exercising his great gift he was a happy man. Sorrowful, indeed, he might be at times; for who that thinks deeply, and feels keenly, can forget that he carries about with him the "noble burden of humanity." But, nevertheless, his verse is steeped in joy-his song reminds us of the music which ascends from the cathedral organ, rich in compass, varied in tone, sometimes soft and gentle, sometimes full-voiced like a mountain river, but ever sending forth a pæan of praise and thanksgiving.
TALBOT. To praise Spenser is to praise poetry. It is a theme on which any poetry-lover might become garrulous. Spenser is great in so many ways, and his poem may be applied to so many noble uses, that it is difficult to praise him without falling into his own fault of diffuseness. No critic-not even Wilson in his marvellous papers, has rendered full justice to Spenser's wonderful powers. Call him the most musical of poets,-you must also own that he is the most imaginative, the most fertile, the most exhaustless in images of beauty. Call him the tenderest and gentlest of poets, one who delights the most in what is pure and lovely, tranquil and dependent, you feel at the same time how capable he is of dealing with sterner stuff, and that he is as much at home in the Den of Mammon or the Cave of Despair, as he is when portraying that fairest picture of female loveliness, "the heavenly Una with her milk-white lamb." If I were asked by a literary neophyte to point out some method by which he might improve his style, so as to give it more flexibility and rotundity, more harmony and rhythm, I would say— "Read the Faerie Queen' carefully, and read it aloud. Shout out, if you will, the finest stanzas until the swell of the verse fairly carries you along with it. Study Spenser, not only as a mighty poet, but as a master of rhythmical language; and if, after that, you have any worthy thoughts to express, you are not likely to give them utterance, in a bald, disjointed, and inharmonious style."
HARTLEY. Thanks for your advice, Talbot. I have tested its wisdom by my own experience, and know well that an hour with Spenser is the best possible preparative for writing an essay, or an article, even on the most prosaic
subject. Some of our statesmen would do well to follow the Earl of Chatham's example; if they read the "Faerie Queene" occasionally, they would not have to trust to the reporters to make their jagged utterances smooth and continuous. Good John Wesley had many foolish fancies respecting education, and therefore one is all the better pleased to find him, with his shrewd, practical sagacity, recommending this great allegory to his divinity students.
STANLEY. Not even for the sake of an argument dare I say one word derogatory to the genius of Spenser; so it seems we are all agreed to love and honour this noble poet. In this hasty, restless age his great poem does not meet with half the praise it merits. Every long poem is considered tedious; every imaginative work that requires earnest study, in order that it may be understood and appreciated, is consigned at once to the oblivion of our uppermost shelves. We expect our authors to be brilliant, epigrammatic, laconic, and that they should amuse and instruct us without any fatigue or trouble to ourselves in the process. We possess, doubtless, more varied knowledge than our forefathers were able to gain; but the wisdom that is to be won from a thoughtful, brooding sympathy with minds of highest power, and from a searching quest into our own heart's secrets, is seldom acquired, and very rarely appreciated. Look at some of the most popular religious literature of the present day. How barren it is in thought, how loaded with interjections and ejaculations, with slang phrases and stereotyped expressions.
HARTLEY. This is scarcely just, Stanley. Remember
that the blessings of Christianity are offered to the poor, the ignorant, the weak-minded.
STANLEY. And what then?
HARTLEY. You should not despise a literature which answers to the wants of the half-ignorant or wholly uninformed, even though it prove of no service to a mind that is carefully cultivated, and richly endowed.
STANLEY. You mistake me altogether. God forbid that I should speak slightingly of the most humble effort to spread a knowledge of His truth. I am alluding only to what I cannot but regard as nothing less than pretentious clap-trap, or at best a sky-blue exposition of certain dogmas which the author has always ready at hand, cut and dried, on the shelf of his brain; dogmas which have been accepted without thought, and almost without reason. One feels certain that by writers of this stamp, and by the readers who patronise them, Spenser's great poem, instead of being regarded as a deeply religious work, will be either slighted as frivolous, or condemned as improper.
HARTLEY. Certes, the "Faerie Queene "Faerie Queene" was not framed for popularity, and never can be popular; but, if it does not reach the bulk of the reading public, it has had more influence over our greatest minds, than any other imaginative work in the language.
TALBOT. What really great poem ever does "reach the bulk of the reading public?" A true poem may sometimes be vastly popular, but never, I take it, for its intrinsic poetic worth. Have you seen Mr. Craik's small volumes on Spenser and his poetry?
STANLEY. I have just dipped into them, but no more.
The work seemed to me a clever attempt to achieve an impossibility. "Luxuriant, remote Spenser-immortal child in poetry's most poetic solitudes," how can such exquisite dreams as thine ever be revealed in all their loveliness to the popular mind; or how, by retaining only so much of thy verse as may seem "most worthy of note," can the true idea of thy work in all its varied perfection be in any wise presented to the mind?
TALBOT. Your glance at Craik's book has not given you a fair notion of its purport. It is certain that a poem containing about 35,000 lines, is likely to lose a great many readers (capable, up to a certain point, of appreciating it), solely on account of its length. Is it not better, then, that these readers should learn something of the poem in a compendium, than remain ignorant of it altogether? Mr. Craik has done his work admirably, and shows by his discriminative criticism that he has attempted it in no irreverent spirit. "The student of poetry," he says, will of course keep to the work as Spenser wrote it; and our compendium will assuredly withdraw no readers from the original, but may send some to it. Let it be regarded as like an engraved copy on a reduced scale of a great painting; or as only an introduction to the study of the 'Fairy Queen'-a porch to that magnificent temple; still it has its use.
I should like to read you one or two extracts from Mr. Craik's work. He does not indulge in criticism at any length, but what he does say is pointed and appreciative. Take the following for example :—
Spenser is surely one of the greatest painters in words; diffuse and florid, no doubt, rather than energetic and expres