« FöregåendeFortsätt »
of common rubbish, “like two grains of wheat in a bushel of chaff.” The true poet illustrates for ornament or use: the fan. tastic pretender only because he is not easy till he can translate everything out of itself into something else. Imagination con. sists in enriching one idea by another, which has the same feel. ing or set of associations belonging to it in a higher or more striking degree; the quaint or scholastic style consists in com. paring one thing to another by the mere process of abstraction, and the more forced and naked the comparison, the less of har. mony or congruity there is in it, the more wire-drawn and am. biguous the link of generalization by which objects are brought together, the greater is the triumph of the false and fanciful style. There was a marked instance of the difference in some lines from Ben Jonson, which I have above quoted, and which, as they are alternate examples of the extremes of both in the same author, and in the same short poem, there can be nothing invidious in giving. In conveying an idea of female softness and sweetness, he asks
" Have you felt the wool of the beaver,
Now “the swan's down” is a striking and beautiful image of the most delicate and yielding softness; but we have no associations of a pleasing sort with the wool of the beaver.
The comparison is dry, hard, and barren of effect. It may establish the matter of fact, but detracts from and impairs the sentiment. The smell of the “bud of the briar” is a double-distilled essence of sweetness : besides, there are all the other concomitant ideas of youth, beauty, and blushing modesty, which blend with and heighten the immediate feeling: but the poetical reader was not bound to know even what nard is (it is merely a learned sub. stance, a nonentity to the imagination), nor whether it has a fra. grant or disagreeable scent when thrown into the fire, till Ben Jonson went out of his way to give him this pedantic piece of information. It is a mere matter of fact or of experiment; and while the experiment is making in reality or fancy, the sentiment
stands still; or even taking it for granted in the literal and scientific sense, we are where we were; it does not enhance the passion to be expressed: we have no love for the smell of nard in the fire, but we have an old, a long cherished one from infancy, for the bud of the briar. Sentiment, as Mr. Burke said of nobility, is a thing of inveterate prejudice ; and cannot be created, as some people (learned and unlearned) are inclined to suppose, out of fancy or out of anything by the wit of man. The artifi. cial and natural style do not alternate in this way in the " Arca. dia 'the one is but the Helot, the eyeless drudge of the other. Thus even in the above passage, which is comparatively beautiful and simple in its general structure, we have "the bleating oratory” of lambs, as if anything could be more unlike oratory than the bleating of lambs. We have a young shepherdess knitting, whose hands keep time not to her voice, but to her “voice. music,” which introduces a foreign and questionable distinction merely to perplex the subject; we have meadows enamelled with all the sorts of "eye-pleasing flowers," as if it were necessary to inform the reader that flowers pleased the eye, or as if they did not please any other sense : we have valleys refreshed " with silver streams,” an epithet that has nothing to do with the re. freshment here spoken of: we have " an accompaniable solitari. ness and a civil wildness," which are a pair of very laboured antitheses; in fine, we have “ want of store, and store of want."
Again, the passage describing the shipwreck of Pyrochles has been much and deservedly admired: yet it is not free from the same inherent faults.
"But a little way off they saw the mast (of the vessel) whose proud height now lay along, like a widow having lost her mate, of whom she held her honour.” (This needed explanation.] “But upon the mast they saw a young man (at least if it were a man) bearing show of about eighteen years of age, who sat (as on horseback) having nothing upon him but his shirt, which being wrought with blue silk and gold, had a kind of resemblance to the sea," (this is a sort of alliteration in natural history,) " on which the sun (then near his western home) did shoot some of his beams. His hair (which the young men of Greece used to wear very long] was stirred up and down with the wind, which seemed to have a sport to play with it, as the sea had to kiss his feet; himself full of admirable beauty, set forth by the strangeness both of his seat and gesture ; for, holding his head up full of unmoved majesty, he held a sword aloft with his fair arm, which often he waved about his crown, as though he would threaten the world in that extremity.”
If the original sin of alliteration, antithesis, and metaphysical conceit could be weeded out of this passage, there is hardly a more heroic one to be found in prose or poetry.
Here is one more passage marred in the making. A shepherd is supposed to say of his mistress,
"Certainly, as her eyelids are more pleasant to behold than two white kids climbing up a fajr tree and browsing on its tenderest branches, and yet are nothing compared to the day-shining stars contained in them; and as her breath is more sweet than a gentle south-west wind, which comes creeping over flowery fields and shadowed waters in the extreme heat of summer; and yet is nothing compared to the honey-flowing speech that breath doth carry; no more all that our eyes can see of her (though when they have seen her, what else they shall ever see is but dry stubble after clover grass), is to be matched with the flock of unspeakable virtues laid up delightfully in that best builded fold."
Now here are images of singular beauty and of Eastern originality and daring, followed up with enigmatical or unmeaning common-places, because he never knows when to leave off, and thinks he can never be too wise or too dull for his reader. He loads his prose Pegasus like a pack-horse, with all that comes, and with a number of little trifling circumstances, that fall off, and you are obliged to stop to pick them up by the way. He cannot give his imagination a moment's pause, thinks nothing done while any thing remains to do, and exhausts nearly all that can be said upon the subject, whether good, bad, or indifferent. The above passages are taken from the beginning of the Arca. dia,' when the author's style was hardly yet formed. The fol. lowing is a less favourable, but fairer specimen of the work. It is the model of a love-letter, and is only longer than that of Adriano de Armada, in “Love's Labour's Lost.'
"Most blessed paper, which shall kiss that hand, whereto all blessedness is in nature a servant, do not yet disdain to carry with thee the woful words of a miser now despairing: neither be afraid to appear before her, bearing the base title of the sender. For no sooner shall that divine hand touch thee, but that thy baseness shall be turned to most high preferment. Therefore mourn boldly my ink: for while she looks upon you your blackness will shine: cry
out boldly my lamentation, for while she reads you your cries will be music. Say then (O happy messenger of a most unhappy message) that the too soon born and too late dying creature, which dares not speak, no, not look, no not scarcely think (as from his miserable self unto her heavenly highness) only presumes to desire thee (in the time that her eyes and voice do exalt thee) to say, and in this manner to say, not from him, oh, no, that were not fit, but of him, thus much unto her sacred judgment. O you, the only honour to women, to men the admiration, you that being armed by love, defy him that armed you in this high estate wherein you have placed me" [i.e. the letter),
yet let me remember him to whom I am bound for bringing me to your presence: and let me remember him, who (since he is yours, how mean soever he be) it is reason you have an account of him. The wretch (yet your wretch) though with languishing steps runs fast to his grave; and will you suffer a temple (how poorly built soever, but yet a temple of your deity) to be rased ? But he dieth : it is most true, he dieth : and he in whom you live, to obey you, dieth. Whereof though he plain, he doth not complain : for it is a harm, but no wrong, which he hath received. He dies, because in woeful language all his senses tell him, that such is your pleasure: for if you will not that he live, alas, alas, what followeth, what followeth of the most ruined Dorus, but his end ? End, then, evil destined Dorus, end; and end, thou woeful letter, end ; for it sufficeth her wisdom to know, that her heavenly will shall be accomplished.”—Lib. ii., p. 117.
This style relishes neither of the lover nor the poet. Ninetenths of the work are written in this manner.
It is in the very manner of those books of gallantry and chivalry, which, with the labyrinths of their style, and “the reason of their unreasonableness,” turned the fine intellects of the Knight of La Mancha. In a word (and not to speak it profanely), the Arcadia is a riddle, a rebus, an acrostic in folio: it contains about 4,000 far-fetched similes, and 6,000 impracticable dilemmas; about 10,000 reasons for doing nothing at all, and as many more against it; number. less alliterations, puns, questions and commands, and other figures of rhetoric; about a score good passages that one may turn to with pleasure, and the most involved, irksome, improgressive, and heteroclite subject that ever was chosen to exercise the pen or patience of man. It no longer adorns the toilette or lies upon the pillow of Maids of Honour and Peeresses in their own right (the Pamelas and Philocleas of a later age), but remains upon the shelves of the libraries of the curious, in long works and great names, a monument to show that the author was one of the ablest men and worst writers of the
of Elizabeth. His Sonnets, inlaid in the Arcadia, are jejune, far-fetched and
frigid. I shall select only one that has been much commended. It is · To the Highway, where his Mistress had passed,' a strange subject, but not unsuitable to the author's genius.
“ Highway, since you my chief Parnassus be,
The answer of the Highway has not been preserved, but the sincerity of this appeal must no doubt have moved the stocks and stones to rise and sympathize. His · Defence of Poesy' is his most readable performance ; there he is quite at home, in a sort of special pleader's office, where his ingenuity, scholastic subtlety, and tenaciousness in argument stand him in good stead; and he brings off poetry with flying colours; for he was a man of wit, of sense, and learning, though not a poet of true taste or unsophisticated genius.