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That dreadful fiend, which did behind him wait,
And now he has so long remained there,
Into the world to guide him back, as he him brought,
The god, though loth, yet was constrain'd t' obey;
13 That house's form within was rude and strong, &c.
Hazlitt, with his fine poetical taste, speaking of the two stanzas here following, and the previous one beginning, And over all, &c., says, that they are unrivalled for the "portentous massiveness of the forms, the splendid chiaroscuro and shadowy horror,"—" Lectures on the English Poets," third edition, p. 77. It is extraordinary that in the new "Elegant Extracts," published under his name, seven lines of the first stanza, beginning at the words," from whose rough vault," are left out. Their exceeding weight, the contrast of the dirt and squalor with the gold, and the spider's webs dusking over all, compose chief part of the grandeur of the description (as indeed he has just said). Hogarth, by the way, has hit upon the same thought of a spider's web for his poor's-box, in the wedding-scene in Mary-le-bone church. So do tragedy and comedy meet.
15"Not such as earth," &c.-Upton thinks it not unlikely that
Spenser imagined the direful deadly and black fruits which this infernal garden bears, from a like garden which Dante describes, Inferno, canto xiii., v. 4.
Non frondi verdi, ma di color fosco,
(No leaves of green were theirs, but dusky sad;
No fair straight boughs, but gnarl'd and tangled all:
Dante's garden, however, has no flowers. It is a human grove; that is to say, made of trees that were once human beings, an aggravation (according to his customary improvement upon horrors) of a like solitary instance in Virgil, which Spenser has also imitated in his story of Fradubio, book i., canto 2, st. 30.
16 There mournful cypress grew in greatest store, &c.
Among the trees and flowers here mentioned, heben, is ebony; coloquintida, the bitter gourd or apple; tetra, the tetrum solanum, or deadly night-shade; samnitis, Upton takes to be the Sabine, or savine-tree; and cicuta is the hemlock, which Socrates drank when he poured out to his friends his "last philosophy." How beautifully said is that! But the commentators have shown that it was a slip of memory in the poet to make Critias their representative on the occasion,—that apostate from his philosophy not having been present. Belamy is bel ami, fair friend,a phrase answering to good friend, in the old French writers.
17 The garden of Proserpina this hight.
The idea of a garden and a golden tree for Proserpina is in Claudian, De Raptu Proserpinæ, lib. ii., v. 290. But Spenser has made the flowers funereal, and added the "silver seat," a strong yet still delicate contrast to the black flowers, and in cold sympathy with them. It has also a certain fair and ladylike fitness to the possessor of the arbor. May I venture, with all reverence to Spenser, to express a wish that he had made a
compromise with the flowers of Claudian, and retained them by the side of the others? Proserpine was an unwilling bride, though she became a reconciled wife. She deserved to enjoy her Sicilian flowers; and besides, in possessing a nature superior to her position, she would not be without innocent and cheerful thoughts. Perhaps, however, our "sage and serious Spenser" would have answered, that she could see into what was good in these evil flowers, and so get a contentment from objects which appeared only melancholy to others. It is certainly a high instance of modern imagination, this venturing to make a pleasure-garden out of the flowers of pain.
18 “But they from hence were sold.”—Upton proposes that “with a little variation," this word sold should be read stold; "that is," says he, “procured by stealth:"--he does not like to say stolen. "The wise convey it call." Spenser certainly would have no objection to spell the word in any way most convenient; and I confess I wish, with Upton, that he had exercised his licence in this instance; though he might have argued, that the infernal powers are not in the habit of letting people have their goods for nothing. In how few of the instances that follow did the possession of the golden apples turn out well! Are we sure that it prospered in any? For Acontius succeeded with his apple by a trick; and after all, as the same commentator observes, it was not with a golden apple, but common mortal-looking fruit, though gathered in the garden of Venus. He wrote a promise upon it to marry him, and so his mistress read, and betrothed herself. The story is in Ovid: Heroides, Epist. xx., xxi.
19 For which the Idaan ladies disagreed.
"He calls the three goddesses that contended for the prize of beauty, boldly but elegantly enough, Idæan Ladies."-JORTIN. "He calls the Muses and the Graces likewise, Ladies."CHURCH. "The ladies may be further gratified by Milton's adaptation of their title to the celebrated daughters of Hesperus, whom he calls Ladies of the Hesperides."-TODD. The ladies of the present day, in which so much good poetry and reading have revived, will smile at the vindication of a word
again become common, and so frequent in the old poets and
20 Which overhanging, they themselves did steep
The tree, observe, grew in the middle of "this great garden,” and yet overhung its utmost bounds, and steeped itself in the black river by which it was encircled. We are to imagine the branches with their fruit stretching over the garden like one enormous arbor or trellice, and mixing a certain lustrous light with the gloom and the funereal flowers. You walk in the shadow of a golden death. What an excessive and gorgeous luxury beside the blackness of hell!
21 And looking down saw many damned wights
Virgil appears to have been the first who ventured to find 66 I say sublimity in a loathsome odor. appears,' because many Greek writers have perished whom he copied, and it is probable the invention was theirs. A greater genius, Dante, followed him in this, as in other respects; and, probably, would have set the example had it not been given him. Sackville followed both; and the very excess of Spenser's sense of the beautiful and attractive would render him fully aware of the capabilities of this intensity of the repulsive. Burke notices the subject in his treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful. The following is the conclusion of his remarks:-" It is one of the tests by which the sublimity of an image is to be tried, not whether it becomes mean when associated with mean ideas, but whether, when united with images of an allowed grandeur, the whole composition is supported with dignity. Things which are terrible are always great; but when things possess disagreeable qualities, or such as have indeed some degree of danger, but of a danger easily overcome, they are merely odious, as toads and spiders."-Part the Second, Section the Twenty-first. Both points
are easily illustrated. Passing by a foul ditch, you are simply disgusted, and turn aside; but imagine yourself crossing a mountain, and coming upon a hot and slimy valley in which a pestilential vapor ascends from a city, the inhabitants of which have died of the plague and been left unburied; or fancy the great basin of the Caspian Sea deprived of its waters, and the horror which their refuse would send up over the neighboring regions.
22 He daily died, yet never thoroughly dyen couth.
Die could; he never could thoroughly die. Truly horrible; and, as Swift says of his hanging footman, "very satisfactory to the beholders." Yet Spenser's Tantalus, and his Pontius Pilate, and indeed the whole of this latter part of his hell, strike us with but a poor sort of cruelty compared with any like number of pages out of the tremendous volume of Dante. But the far greater part of our extract, the sooty golden cave of Mammon, and the mortal beauty of the garden of Proserpine, with its golden fruit hanging in the twilight; all, in short, in which Spenser combines his usual luxury with grandeur, are as fine as anything of the kind which Dante or any one else ever conceived.
23❝I Pilate am," &c. Let it not be supposed that I intend the slightest glance of levity towards the divine name which has become identified with charity. But charity itself will allow us to imagine the astonishment of this Roman Governor of Jerusalem, could he have foreseen the destinies of his name. He doubtless thought, that if another age spoke of him at all, it would treat him as a good-natured man who had to rule over a barbarous people, and make a compromise between his better judgment and their prejudices. No name, except Judas's, has received more execration from posterity. Our good-natured poet has here put him in the "loathly lakes" of Tartarus.