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Arabic, or powdered his hair with hieroglyphics. Authors thus censured may accuse our judgment, or our reading, if they please, but our own hearts will acquit us of envy or ill-nature, since we reprove only with a desire to reform
But we had almost forgot that our translator is to be considered as a critic as well as a poet; and in this department he seems also equally unsuccessful with the former. Criticism at present is different from what it was upon the revival of taste in Europe: all its rules are now well known; the only art at present is, to exhibit them in such lights as contribute to keep the attention alive, and excite a favorable audience. It must borrow graces from eloquence, and please while it aims at instruction: but instead of this, we have a combination of trite observations, delivered in a style in which those who are disposed to make war upon words will find endless opportunities of triumph.
He is sometimes hypercritical Thus, “ Pope, in his excellent Essay on Criticism (as will, in its place, when you come to be lectured upon it, at full be explained), terms this making the sound an echo to the sense. But I apprehend that definition takes in but a part, for the best ancient poets excelled in thus painting to the eye as well as to the ear. Virgil, describing his housewife preparing her wine, exhibits the act of the fire to the eye.
· Aut dulcis musti Vulcano decoquit humorem,
“For the line (if I may be allowed the expression) boils over; and, in order to reduce it to its proper bounds, you must, with her, skim off the redundant syllable.” These are beauties which, doubtless, the reader is displeased he cannot discern.
Sometimes confused: “There is a deal of artful and concealed satire in what Oenone throws out against Helen; and to
speak truth, there was fair scope for it, and it might naturally be expected. Her chief design was to render his new mistress suspected of meretricious arts, and make him apprehensive that she would hereafter be as ready to leave him for some new gallant, as she had before, perfidiously to her lawful husband, followed him.”
Sometimes contradictory: thus, “Style (says he) is used by some writers as synonymous with diction, yet, in my opinion, it has rather a complex sense, including both sentiment and diction.” Oppose to this, page 135. “As to concord, and even style, they are acquirable by most youth in due time, and by many with ease; but the art of thinking properly, and choosing the best sentiments on every subject, is what comes later."
And sometimes he is guilty of false criticism : as when he says, Ovid's chief excellence lies in description. Description was the rock on which he always split: “Nescivit quod bene cessit relinquere," as Seneca says of him: when once he embarks in description, he most commonly tires us before he has done with it. But to tire no longer the reader, or the translator, with extended censure; as a critic, this gentleman seems to have drawn his knowledge from the remarks of others, and not his own reflection; as a translator, he understands the language of Ovid, but not his beauties; and though he may be an excellent schoolmaster, he has, however, no pretensions to taste.
XV.-SPENSER'S FAERIE QUEENE.
[From the Critical Review, 1759. “ The Faerie Queene. By
Edmund Spenser. A new Edition, with Notes, Critical and Explanatory, by Ralph Church, M. A. late Student of Christ
Church, Oxon. In four volumes, 8vo.] 'Tis the remark of Boccalini, that a writer whose works have passed through a number of editions after his decease, would hardly know his own performances again if he were to rise from the dead. Critics mistake his meaning, or are desirous of giving a new one of their own. Dunces interpolate the text, and printers, too, add their faults to swell the account: so that the poet at last, like a river which receives a new tincture from through which it flows, makes a very different appearance from that with which he set out.
Perhaps no writer confirms the truth of this remark more than Spenser; for, in proportion as the number of editions of the Faerie Queene have increased, the text has become more precarious; so that it was absolutely necessary to compare subsequent ones with that published by himself, and thus restore his meaning, where it had deviated from ancient correctness and simplicity. Mr. Church, in the edition in view, has completed this undertaking, and merits all the praise due to an exact and cautious editor. Here we see our old favorite rising once more from his faults, and borrowing all the helps of exact punctuation. We can now tread the regions of fancy without interruption, and expatiate on fairy wilds, such as our great magician has been pleased to represent them. There is a pleasing tranquillity of mind which ever attends the reading of this ancient poet. We leave the ways of the present world, and all the ages of primeval
innocence and happiness rise to our view.* Virgil, and even Homer, seem to be modern, upon the comparison. The imagina. tion of his reader leaves reason behind, pursues the tale, without considering the allegory, and upon the whole, is charmed without instruction.
It is, it must be owned, somewhat surprising, that Spenser, who was so well acquainted with Virgil, should not have adopted the Epeid of the Roman poet, rather than the Romans of the Wises and Jongleurs, his more immediate predecessors. It is true he has endeavored to soften this defect, by forming his work into an allegory; however, the pleasure we receive from this species of composition, though never so finely balanced between truth and fiction, is but of a subordinate nature, as we have always two passions opposing each other; a love of reality, which represses the flights of fancy, and a passion for the marvellous, which would leave reflection behind.
However, with all his faults, no poet enlarges the imagination more than Spenser. Cowley was formed into poetry by reading him; and many of our modern writers, such as Gray, Akenside, and others, seem to have studied his manner with the utmost attention : from him their compounded epithets, and solemn flow of numbers, seem evidently borrowed; and the verses of Spensrr may, perhaps, one day be considered the standard of English poetry.f It were happy indeed, if his beauties were the only
* [“ After reading a canto of Spenser, two or three days ago, to an old lady. between seventy and eighty years of age, she said that I had been showing her a gallery of pictures. I don't know how it is, but she said very right; there is something in Spenser that pleases one as strongly in one's old age as it did in one's youth. I read the Faerie Queene when I was about twelve, with infinite delight; and I think gave me as much when I read it over about a year ago.”—Pope, 1743-44. Spence, p. 297.)
+ [** When I began Childe Harold, I had never tried Spenser's measure;
objects of modern imitation ; but many of his words, justly fallen into disuse among his successors, have been of late revived, and a language, already too copious, has been augmented by an unnecessary reinforcement. Learning and language are ever fuctuating, either rising to perfection or retiring into primeval barbarity: perhaps the point of English perfection is already passed, and every intended improvement may be now only deviation. This at least is certain, that posterity will perceive a strong similitude between the poets of the sixteenth, and those of the latter end of the eighteenth century.
To this edition of Spenser's works, the editor has prefixed some account of his life, gleaned from his own and cotemporary writings. There is a strong similitude between the lives of almost all our English poets. The ordinary of Newgate, we are told, has but one story, which serves for the life of every
hero that happens to come within the circle of his pastoral care; however unworthy the resemblance appears, it may be asserted, that the history of one poet might serve with as little variation for that of any other. Born of creditable parents, who gave him a pious education ; however, in spite of all their endeavors, in spite of all the exhortations of the minister of the parish on Sundays, he turned his mind from following good things, and fell towriting verses ! Spenser, in short, lived poor, was reviled by the
and now I cannot scribble in any other.”—Lord Byron to Lord Holland, Sept. 26, 1812
The stanza of the Faerie Queene is framed with such consummate skill, that all its parts are indivisibly interlaced, and the rhythm proceeds with increasing strength and fulness through the whole, till it is wound up in a harmonious, rich, and perfect close. There is no form of verse in our language in which so many successful poems have been written as in this, notwithstanding its apparent difficulty. The poet who would learn the mysteries of his art, should take Spenser for his master, and drink of his poetry as from a well, —not indeed of English undefiled, but of perpetual harmony, pure thoughts, delightful imagery, and tender feeling."--Quart. Rev., 1814, vol. xii., p. 72.]