Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

Christian, who stands for the author himself, and Diffidence starts from the canvas with as much boldness as Evangelist, who was probably a real minister and Bunyan's spiritual father and guide. It has been objected to both these writers that they intermingled personifications with persons.

But let it be remembered that while persons never in their hands, as in others, stiffen into the coldness of personifications, their personifications assume all the force, interest, and vitality of real persons. As the power of these men in vivifying the abstract is so unique and transcendent, what a pity, “what a sullenness against nature," had it not been exercised! Macaulay, in the paper already referred to, classes Shelley with Bunyan in this rare attribute of imagination, and speaks of the glorious life-like forms of Love, Liberty, and other abstractions, which flush his page as if copied from the warm canvas of Murillo; but much as we admire Shelley's genius, we must dissent from this. The woman in the “Revolt of Islam ” described as sitting on the sea-shore," beautiful as morning,” is, indeed, interesting, but the Eagle and the Serpent in the same poem, and the figures of Jupiter, Asia, Panthea, and Prometheus himself, in the “Prometheus Unbound,” are colder and harder than sculpture, and are neither loved, feared, nor felt really to exist. How different with the procession of the Passions in the Third Book of “The Faerie Queene;" or with the Simple, Sloth, Presumption, Formality, Hypocrisy, Ill Will, and Prejudice of the immortal tinker ! In the first of these there is a more gorgeous colouring, and the language in which the figures are painted is stronger and more ornate; but the latter are quite as vividly set forth, and as true to the conceptions of the represented class or quality. Shelley's allegory is certainly, what most critics will readily affirm, "multitudinous," elaborate, and highly ingenious, but wants, we think, the important attribute of life.

The main differences between Spenser and Bunyan are partly. to the advantage of the first, and partly to that of the second of these great poets. Spenser had more learning, more power of passion, more sensuousness of spirit, and more luxuriance of fancy, as well as a vastly more musical tone of mind; phrenologically speaking, he had more tune, colour, wit, amativeness,

and perhaps ideality. Hence the incomparably richer writing and more complicated structure of “The Faerie Queene,” the greater breadth and brilliance of its pictures, and the loftier expansion of its poetic wings. But Bunyan, on the other hand, with inventiveness hardly inferior, had a simpler, more Dantelike power of mind, a directer purpose, a clearer eye, a more earnest and unearthly spirit, less of the dilution of fancy, and more of the concentrated essence of imagination ; his style is generally bare, few golden images sparkle on his page; but his figures are forms, his images are characters, he does not decorate but create, and though seeming, like that prophet of old, to stand in a valley of dry bones, he soon causes them to live and move, an exceeding great army, fresh with colour, strong in sinew, and prepared for the battle. Hence, we venture to assert that now and then he has reached bald and awful crags of imaginative composition-pinnacles of Dantesque power and simplicity, which Spenser has seldom if ever attained. In proof of this, we know of a gifted person, now one of our most eminent poets, who had never read Bunyan in his youth, but who accidentally falling in with the first few sentences of the “Pilgrim's Progress," copied into a religious tract, cried out, without knowing the author, “That is the grandest poem I ever read.” Johnson, too, has compared the same passage to the commencement of the “Inferno." To recur to the terms of phrenology, Bunyan has more wonder, veneration, benevolence, locality, and causality than Spenser; also, we think, more constructiveness, and we add, with some little hesitation, still more combativeness and more destructiveness too. The one could never have written anything approaching the first appearance of Una in the “Wood of Error," the Rich-Strand, or the Bower of Bliss; nor could the other have created the “Den, described the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and the Ascent of the Pilgrims to the Celestial City; or struck out such masculine or terrible figures as Valiantfor-Truth, with the sword cleaving in blood to his hand, and Turnaway led back to hell by seven devils with the inscription upon his back, “Wanton Professor, and Damnable Apostate. ” There was a time when no critic durst liken the Dreamer of Elstowe to the Dreamer of Mulla's Shore; but that time has gone by for ever, and in all our recent literature (with the exception of a paltry sneer in an essay by the gifted, but unhappy and irreligious Edgar Poe), we remember nothing save terms of emulous admiration and reverence for the genius of John Bunyan.

We have a few remarks to offer on the general character and the principal elements of Spenser's genius, as exemplified in the productions he has left behind him.

His ruling faculty unquestionably was imagination. Of the fertility, the beauty, the glowing warmth, the soft, rich autumnal colouring, which distinguish his pictures, little requires to be said. With the single.exception of Shakspeare, the imagination of Spenser was the most unbounded in its range that ever wrought. Its resources are absolutely endless, and, like Shakspeare's, too, his command over them is complete. Never once do you find him spurring a jaded steed, pumping at a half-exhausted well—his Pegasus is ever in training, and his fountain unfailing in its flow. He has, indeed, few of those touches of power, given as with the little finger of a giant—those sudden flashes of lightning-insight, which stun and startle you in Shakspeare's plays; but, taking his poems as a whole, they discover an imaginative wealth almost equal, and whatever difference exists is made up by the great superiority of Spenser in acquired learning. Diffusion is at once the power and the weakness of Spenser's style. His riches consist of goldleaf, not of guineas nor of bullion ; but then the gold-leaf he possesses is immense in quantity, and is always spread out in graceful forms. From this diffusion, however, there springs an occasional languor of style and heaviness of general effect. His flowers of speech often droop their heads, and slumber under the still, sultry fervour of his tropical imagination. In reading Shakspeare, you can never sleep for a moment–in reading Spenser, you feel often drowsy; but it is the sleep of fulness, not of starvation—it is the slumber of the Enchanted Ground, and it is always starred with dreams. He has been accused of wanting passion and strength; but he has both, justly remarks Hazlitt, “in an immense degree. But his pathos is not that of immediate action or suffering, it is that of sentiment and romance -that which belongs to distant and imaginary distress.” How full of passion-of the very soul of deep and gloomy pathos—is the speech of Despair, which threatens to make one in love with death, and to desire exceedingly to find the grave! His strength, again, is sometimes concealed under the luxuriance of his fancy, even as massive columns are often hid under ivy or cobwebs, and great trunks are drowned in the stream of their own leafage; but the strength is there behind its screen, and is enormous. At other times, particularly in his account of battles, which are truly Homeric in spirit, you see his energy exhibited in its naked gladiatorial nerve-sometimes, as in the fight between the Knight and the Dragon, in the First Book, with a truth and minuteness of anatomy which disgust you. Indeed, the coarseness of Spenser is as remarkable as his delicacy and refinement. As if to prove himself no mere dreaming child, but a stalwart man, he becomes naked, and is not ashamed. His descriptions are sometimes gross and grotesque in the extreme. He luxuriates downwards as well as upwards; and while the topmost branches of the tree are towering to heaven, the lower are mixed in the mire of the ways, and covered with incrustations of the veriest mud. Yet his coarseness never becomes corruption, and the imaginations of his readers are filled, without being contaminated, by his sensuous pictures. Parts of “ The Faerie Queene ” may be condemned by the purists, but the general effect and purpose of the poem is purity. Even as the face of Una

“Made a sunshine in the shady place," so the darkest depths of sin, which are here and there sounded, seem sanctified by the pervading spirit of the holy song. And yet Spenser's great power lies in his command over the beautiful. Truly has it been said that “the love of beauty, not of truth, is the moving spring and the guiding principle of his mind and imagination.” His poem, indeed, has a high moral purpose, but it is not very steadily pursued: he diverges from it in every direction where the picturesque opens up a path, or beauty sheds a bewitching and bewildering smile. His passion for form, colour, the new, the fair, the pictorial, amounts almost to a disease. As a painter, his principal peculiarity is gusto. You not only see, but can feel and handle, the objects of his imagination. His Gluttony, clad in “green vine leaves;” his Lechery, with “whally eyes;” his Envy

“ Chawing Between his cankerd teeth a venomous toad ;”. and his Wrath,

“Upon a lion loath for to be led,
And in his hand a burning brand he hath,

THE WHICH HE BRANDISHETH ABOUT HIS HEAD," are picturesque to painfulness; and not merely touch, but load the imagination. Perhaps a portion of the fatigue felt by many of Spenser's readers springs from this. The poet describes all things with such fulness and minute detail, and gives them such form and pressure, that you by and by stagger under his stanzas as under a burden. That such fatigue is generally felt, cannot be denied. Southey, it is true, tells us that he read “The Faerie Queene" fifty times through, while he could not read Pope once; but his was a peculiarly constituted mind, and he had extraordinary sympathies with him whom he calls

High-priest of all the Muses' mysteries.” The majority of readers are not so patient.“ Very few,” says Macaulay, " and very weary, are those who are in at the death of the Blatant Beast." Many, who revel in parts and passages, cannot read the book as a whole. The best way for the reader is to peruse him by single cantos at a time-to cut out his galaxy into its several constellations before gazing at it--to drink his rich essence in successive cups.

To the learning of Spenser we have already referred. It is, for his time, or for any time, marvellous in its extent and variety, and is always ready to do the behests, and corroborate the intuitions, of his imagination. His classical allusions are numberless, and have required from us a glossary to themselves. Not always accurate, they are generally culled from the loveliest and most poetical portion of the pagan Mythus, or from the more romantic incidents in ancient story. In no poem, except the “Paradise Lost,” do we find such exuberance of classical allusion, although Spenser has exposed himself thus to the same objection with Milton. That supreme poet has been accused of mixing up classical fables with Scripture truth. To this our reply has

« ПредишнаНапред »