« EelmineJätka »
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 sublimity in a loathsome odor. I say "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 postilential 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.
A GALLERY OF PICTURES FROM SPENSER.
SPENSEI CONSIDERED AS THE POET OF THE PAINTERS.
It has been a whim of late years with some transcendental critics, in the excess of the reaction of what may be called spiritual poetry against material, to deny utterly the old family relationship between poe:ry and painting. They seem to think that because Darwin absurdly pronounced nothing to be poetry which could not be painted, they had only to avail themselves of the spiritual superiority of the art of the poet, and assert the contrary extreme. Now, it is granted that the subtlest creations of poetry are neither effected by a painter-like process, nor limited to his powers of suggestion. The finest idea the poet gives you of anything is by what may be called sleight of mind, striking it without particular description on the mind of the reader, feeling and all, moral as well as physical, as a face is struck on a mirror. But to say, nevertheless, that the poet does not include the painter in his more visible creations, is to deprive him of half his privileges, nay, of half his very poems. Thousands of images start out of the canvass of his pages to laugh at the assertion. Where did the great Italian painters get half of the most bodily details of their subjects but out of the poets? and what becomes of a thousand landscapes, portraits, colors, lights and shades, groupings, effects, intentional and artistical pictures, in the writings of all the poets inclusive, the greatest especially?
I have taken opportunity of this manifest truth to introduce under one head a variety of the most beautiful passages in Spenser, many of which might otherwise have seemed too small for separate exhibition; and I am sure that the more poetical the reader, the more will he be delighted to see these manifestations of the pictorial side of poetry. He will not
find them destitute of that subtler spirit of the art, which picture cannot express.
"After reading," said Pope, "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 old age as it did in one's youth. I read the Faërie Queene, when I was about twelve, with infinite delight; and I think it gave me as much, when I read it over about a year or two ago."Spence's Anecdotes.
The canto that Pope here speaks of was probably one of the most allegorical sort, very likely that containing the Mask of Cupid. In the one preceding it, there is a professed gallery of pictures, supposed to be painted on tapestry. But Spenser's allegorical pictures are only his most obvious ones: he has a profusion of others, many of them still more exquisitely painted. I think that if he had not been a great poet, he would have been a great painter; and in that case there is ground for believing that England would have possessed, and in the person of one man, her Claude, her Annibal Caracci, her Correggio, her Titian, her Rembrandt, perhaps even her Raphael. I suspect that if Spenser's history were better known, we should find that he was a passionate student of pictures, a haunter of the collections of his friends Essex and Leicester. The tapestry just alluded to, he criticises with all the gusto of a connoisseur, perhaps with an eye to pictures in those very collections. In speaking of a Leda, he says, bursting into an admiration of the imaginary painter,
O, wondrous skill and sweet wit of the man,
And then he proceeds with a description full of life and beauty, but more proper to be read with the context than brought forward separately. The coloring implied in these lines is in the very core of the secret of that branch of the art; and the un
painted part of the tapestry is described with hardly less beauty.
For, round about, the walls y clothed were
As feigning to be hid from envious eye;
Yet here, and there, and everywhere, unwares
It show'd itself, and shone unwillingly;
Like to a discolor'd snake, whose hidden snares
Spenser should have a new set of commentators,—the painters themselves. They might do for him in their own art, what Warton did in his,-trace him among his brethren. Certainly no works would "illustrate" better than Spenser's with engravings from the old masters (I should like no better amusemen than to hunt him through the print-shops!), and from none might a better gallery be painted by new ones. I once wrote an article on the subject in a magazine; and the late Mr. Hilton (I do not know whether he saw it) projected such a gallery, among his other meritorious endeavors. It did not answer to the originals, either in strength or sweetness; but a very creditable and pleasing specimen may be seen in the National Gallery,—Serena rescued from the Savages by Sir Calepine.
In corroboration of the delight which Spenser took in this more visible kind of poetry, it is observable that he is never more free from his superfluousness than when painting a picture. When he gets into a moral, or intellectual, or narrative vein, we might often spare him a good deal of the flow of it; but on occasions of sheer poetry and painting, he is too happy to wander so much from his point. If he is tempted to expatiate, every word is to the purpose. Poetry and painting indeed would in Spenser be identical, if they could be so; and they are more so, too, than it has latterly been the fashion to allow; for painting does not deal in the purely visible. It deals also in the suggestive and the allusive, therefore in thoughts beyond the visible proof of the canvass; in intimations of sound; in references to the past and future. Still the medium is a visible one, and is at the mercy of