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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;
Like to a discolor'd snake, whose hidden snares
Through the green grass his long bright burnish'd back declares.
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 amusement 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
the spectator's amount of comprehension. The great privilege of the poet is, that, using the medium of speech, he can make his readers poets; can make them aware and possessed of what he intends, enlarging their comprehension by his details, or enlightening it by a word. A painter might have the same feeling as Shakspeare respecting the moonlight "sleeping" on a bank; but how is he to evince it? He may go through a train of the profoundest thoughts in his own mind; but into what voluminous fairy circle is he to compress them? Poetry can paint whole galleries in a page, while her sister art requires heaps of canvass to render a few of her poems visible.
This, however, is what everybody knows. Not so, that Spenser emulated the Raphaels and Titians in a profusion of pictures, many of which are here taken from their walls. They give the Poet's Poet a claim to a new title,—that of Poet of the Painters. The reader has seen what Mr. Hazlitt says of him in connection with Rubens; but the passage adds, what I have delayed quoting till now, that "none but Rubens could have painted the fancy of Spenser;" adding further, that Rubens "could not have painted the sentiment, the airy dream that hovers over it." I venture to think that this fine critic on the two sister arts wrote the first of these sentences hastily; and that the truth of the second would have shown him, on reflection, with what painters, greater than Rubens, the poet ought to have been compared. The great Fleming was a man of a genius as fine and liberal as his nature; yet who that looks for a moment at the pictures which ensue, shall say that he would have been justified in putting his name to them? Sentiments and airy dreams hover over them all,—say rather, abide and brood over many,—with such thoughtfulness as the Italian aspect can only match. More surprising is Mr. Coleridge's assertion, that Spenser's descriptions are "not, in the true sense of the word, picturesque; but composed of a wondrous series of images, as in dreams." Lectures (ut sup.), vol. i., p. 93. If, by true sense of the word, he means the acquired sense of piquancy of contrast, or a certain departure from the smoothness of beauty in order to enhance it, Spenser certainly is not in the habit of putting many thorns in his roses. His bowers of bliss, he thought,
did not demand it. The gentle beast that Una rode, would not have cut a very piquant figure in the forest scenery of Mr. Gilpin. But if Coleridge means picturesque in the sense of fitness for picture, and very striking fitness, then the recollections of the masks, or the particular comparison of Prince Arthur's crest with the almond tree (which is the proof he adduces) made him forget the innumerable instances in which the pictorial power is exhibited. Nor was Spenser unaware, nay, he was deeply sensible of the other feelings of the picturesque, as may be seen in his sea-gods' beards (when Proteus kisses Amoret), his "rank grassy fens," his "weeds of glorious feature," his oaks "half dead," his satyrs, gloomy lights, beautiful but unlucky grounds, &c., &c., &c. (for in this sense of the word, there are feelings of the invisible corresponding with the stronger forms of the picturesque). He has himself noticed the theory in his Bower of Bliss, and thus anticipated the modern taste in landscape gardening, the idea of which is supposed to have originated with Milton:
One would have thought (so cunningly the rude
But the reader will judge for himself.
I have attached to each of the pictures in this Spenser Gallery the name of the painter, of whose genius it reminded me; and I think the connoisseur will allow, that the assignment was easy, and that the painter-poet's range of art is equally wide and wonderful.
CHARISSA; OR, CHARITY.
Character, Spiritual Love; Painter for it, Raphael.
She was a woman in her freshest age,
A multitude of babes about her hung
And on her head she wore a tire of gold
24" And by her side," &c. This last couplet brings at once before us all the dispassionate graces and unsuperfluous treatmen of Raphael's allegorical females.
*Owches wondrous fair. Owches are carcanets or ranges of jewels. Uneath. Scarcely, with difficulty.
Character, Sweetness without Devotedness; Painter, Correggio,
With him went Hope in rank, a handsome maid,
And her fair locks were woven up in gold.25
25" And her fair locks," &c. What a lovely line is that! and with a beauty how simple and sweet is the sentiment portrayed in the next three words,-" She alway smil'd!" But almost every line of the stanza is lovely, including the felicitous Catholic image of the
Holy-water sprinkle dipp'd in dew.
Correggio is in every color and expression of the picture.
CUPID USURPING THE THRONE OF JUPITER.
Character, Potency in Weakness; Painter, the same.
In Satyr's shape, Antiope he snatch'd
While thus on earth great Jove these pageants play'd,
And take me for their Jove, whilst Jove to earth is gone."