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Among the various works left by Xenophon, (the beauty of whose style procured for him the flattering title of the Attic Bee,) is one, entitled Oixovousxo's, which particularly attracted the attention and commanded the praise of the ancients. It was the Vade Mecum of Scipio Africanus—was freely imitated by Virgil, and was translated by M. T. Cicero. These circumstances will recommend it to the general scholar; and there are others that cannot fail to make it acceptable to the country gentleman, since it presents, at once, the oldest treatise written on economy, and the best, on Grecian agriculture, that has come down to the present times.
We propose therefore to give a copy of the Greek text, from the edition of Zeunius, with an English translation and critical notes, so soon as a number of subscribers, sufficient merely for defraying the expense, shall have been found. Subscription papers will accordingly be left at the office of the Literary and Scientific Repository, and at the principal stores.
December 1, 1820.
* Authors, publishers, and artists, who may have works in the press, American or foreign, will oblige the conductor of The LITERARY AND SCIENTIFIC REPOSITORY by sending information of their titles, number of pages, size, and such other things as may be thought proper; and notices thereof shall be given to the public.
Art. I.-- The Faerie Queene. By EDMUNDE SPENSER. Imprinted at London, for Matthew Lownes—folio, 1612–17.
It is refreshing, in this age of exaggeration, to turn from the morbid melancholy or impious merriment of Byron, the palling lusciousness of Moore, the sickly affectation of Wordsworth, and the delirious dreams of Coleridge-to the simplicity, the solidity, and genuine poetry of Spenser.
To the present race of poets and celebrated men, England has an undisputed and exclusive right-but to Shakspeare, Spenser, and the rest of that splendid groupe, whose glory will descend to farthest ages, we assert an equal claim. They were the delight of our forefathers, and we will reverence them they have adorned the language we speak, and we will look to them as our models. Indeed, Milton and Shakspeare come as readily to our lips as the names of Washington and Franklin; and why should they not? Though we have separated from the country we so long called mother-have adopted another name, and different interests, yet, England is the land of our fathers' sepulchres, and the English language is spoken in its purity, by millions who bow not to English authority.
We do not intend to speak of “thoughts which lie too deep for tears,” “ heaven-drawn impulses,” &c. but to say a few words, in plain English, of an old English poet. A poet, who, in his command of language, felicity of expression, 'and exuberance of fancy, has seldom been excelled. The accusations which have been Vol. II.
brought, by critics, against Spenser, of having coined new words; and even, when it suited his rhymes, of changing the orthography of established ones, cannot be denied, though it must be regretted. This much, however, may be urged in his defence: That, which now would be justly considered a presumptuous innovation, an act of high treason against the laws of literature, was, at that period, the common and allowed practice of every author. Feeling little dread of criticism, which had not attained the full-grown and absolute authority. which it now seems too fond of wielding; and being, as it were, the discoverers of new worlds, the ancient authors thought themselves entitled to express their new-born ideas in the language they preferred.
Chaucer, the father of English poetry, and the first who gave permanency to our fluctuating language, still retains many uncouth expressions, whose mixture of French and Italian have a tawdry appearance amidst his sturdy English. Wilson, in his “Art of Rhetoric,” observes, that “some seek so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mother tongue. And, I dare swear this, if some of their mothers were alive, they would not be able to tell what they say: and yet, these fine English clerks will say they speak in their mother tongue, if a man should charge them with counterfeiting the king's English.” “ He that cometh lately out of France, will talk French-English, and never blush at the matter. Another chops in with English Italianated.... The fine courtier will talk nothing but Chaucer. The mystical wise men and poetical clerks will speak nothing but quaint proverbs and blind allegories: some use over much repetition of one letter, as, pitiful poverty prayeth for a penny, but puffed presumption passeth not a point-pampering his paunch with pestilent pleasure-procuring his pass-port to post it to hellpit, there to be punished with pains perpetual.”
In this absurd taste, or fashion, we find the source of many of Spenser's errors, his alliterations, his fondness of blind allegory, and his antiquated style. Even the powerful influence of fashion affords but a poor excuse for the absurd allegory, with which he has so pertipaciously deformed his poem. It is wonderful, that the mind which could conceive so many beautiful visions, and pure images, whose simplicity was nature in unequalled loveliness, should not have rejected such unprofitable labour, and disdained to sacrifice its correct ideas at the shrine of such a taste. He had another fault, but we will touch it lightly-for it was his vocation as a courtier : his cloying and incessant adulation to Elizabeth, and the powerful nobles of her court, stain the beauty of his verse, and the independence of his character.
We are, certainly, well contented with the existing state of things, when warlike maidens are out of date, and damsels na
longer seek their lovers on the high roads or in deep forests; when there are no giants, but those reared by wealth, and no enchantresses more dread than fair mortal nymphs. We had rather be righted by the slow, but sure arm of the law, than by the gauntleted hand of any knight that ever pricked upon a plain. We would prefer a soft bed, in a comfortable inn, to the richest moss couch, by the side of purest fount; and, we think milestones a good invention. In short, we would rather be clad in a suit of broad cloth than in a coat of mail. Still, setting aside these and the like objections, there was something ennobling in the chivalrous days, when honour, courage and gallantry were a knight's first virtues, and chastity the brightest gem in a woman's coronet.
It is pleasant to withdraw a while from the beaten road of life, from the plodding of business, the calculations of commerce, and the jarring of politics, to verdant fields and shady groves, where brave knights are reposing from the toil of battle; or to wander with the fair heroines, their mistresses, through fairy gardens, and bowers of bliss. There, (that is, in fairy land,) unlike this nether world, oppression is punished, virtue is righted, true love never goes unrewarded, and constancy is always happy at last. It is in an excursion of this kind that we invite our readers to accompany us; and we shall give ourselves full permission to rove through the many gardens of delight, which, like a skilful magician, Spenser has caused to bloom for ever, and to transfer to our pages some of the rarest blossoms there. We will promise our companions, moreover, to lead them through the pleasantest paths, and never to call on their attention without being enabled to repay it.
There are few particulars of Spenser's life known. He was the friend of Sir Philip Sydney and Sir Walter Raleigh. His Fairy Queen was commenced in 1589, and published in 1590, and procured him the pension, though he did not take the title, of Laureate to the Queen. It would exercise our readers' patience, as well as our own, to attempt to give a regular and minute account of this work. The poet styles it, truly, "a continued allegory, and dark conceit:” and though we cannot assert, as has been stated of Ariosto, that one of his heroes, after having been slain outright, like Falstaff, rises to meet new adventures; yet we confess that amid the jostle of characters, and involutions of the plot, such an occurrence might have escaped our critical eyes. The hero of the poem is. Prince Arthur, of glorious memory-whose characteristic is magnificence or greatness of soul -the crown of virtue. But each book has its particular hero, who represents one of the virtues; and Arthur is introduced as assisting these knights in their most dangerous adventures. The
Prince comes to fairy land in quest of Gloriana, whom he has seen and loved, in a vision; and who, while she is the emblem of Glory, has an especial reference to Queen Elizabeth—whose kingdom is the fairy land. The time of the story commences with the real period of Arthur's history; but the allusion to circumstances in Elizabeth's life, and to many nobles of her court, identifies the fable with her reign, and renders it more perplexing. Nor do we learn the occasion which has scattered the elfin knights, or find a developement of the plan, until the last bookwhere it appears that the Fairy Queen held an annual feast, for twelve days, on each of which, some distressed maiden, or oppressed sufferer, solicits and receives a champion, whose several adventures, and their episodes, each contained in a separate book, comprise the six which remain to us.
While we wander through the dark regions of allegory, where Spenser leads us, we cannot but wonder at the ingenuity and skill with which he gives life and colour to abstract ideas, in making them actors in his pageant. It was impossible for him, however, to avoid falling into the error natural to continued personification, that of confounding the action with the passion, and giving to the creatures of his imagination occupations inconsistent with their aerial natures. By dropping the personification he often mixes real with fictitious objects, and produces an unnatural and displeasing effect; as in the contest of the red cross knight with Error, where the expedient to which Error has recourse when nearly overcome, is not only gross, but a strange medley of narrative with metaphor; and, like Milton's allegory of sin, disgusts by its deformity.
The measure he has chosen allows, we may say requires, exuberance of style. The frequent recurrence of similar rhymes
, compelled him to admit unsuitable words and incongruous ideas it drove him often to tiresome repetitions and useless interjections; and, in so long a poem, exposed him to the commission of glaring faults. But when the thoughts and words flow in unison, there is a graceful majesty and harmony in Spenser's measure, which cannot be excelled.
In the first book we have the picture of Una, the beautiful personificator of truth or pure religion-who is the companion of the red cross knight, “ the patron of true holiness.” The description of the house of Morpheus, where
Tethys his wet bed
Whiles sad Night over him her mantle black doth spred,' has been often quoted; we will, therefore, limit ourselves to two stanzas, descriptive of the luxurious solitude of the drowsy god.