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On which they feed, and in their fast'ned mind
Ah, then, my hungry soul! which long hast fed
And look at last up to that Soveraine Light,
Upon the general beauties of Spenser's poetry, it will be unnecessary to linger. The most romantic of our poets, lie is also the most melodious; and is at the same time the moralist and the enchanter. Pope, in calling him a master of manners, and the "first tale-teller in the true enlivened natural way," might have been suspected of insensibility to the peculiar excellence of his genius, if he had not subsequently added a more comprehensive eulogy. "After reading," he then remarked, "a canto of Spenser's, 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. She said very right; there is something in Spenser that pleases one as strongly in one's old age, as it did in one's youth. I read the Fairy Queen 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." The observation is preserved by Spence, and presents a clear and accurate estimate of the poet's character. Chaucer, in whose works Spenser found " the wellhead of poesy," might justly contest with him the prize for lively and picturesque narration, but the rivalry could never be carried into the colours of fancy, or the graces of expression.
One of the least known, though certainly not the least deserving, writers of the age of Elizabeth, was Robert Southwell. His poetical compositions do not entitle him to an elevated rank either by their fancy or their power, yet they contain many thoughts that often " lie too deep for tears," and as " a warbler of poetic prose," he will be found to have few rivals.
Southwell was born about the year 1560, at St. Faith's in Norfolk, and having been partially educated at the English College in Douay, he was received into the Society of the Jesuits*. In 1584 he returned to England; but his own country had few charms for the enthusiastic missionary. His father appears to have inclined to the reformed religion, for Southwell upbraids him with dwelling too long in the "tabernacles of sinners," and with having "strayed too far from the fold of God's church." The Epistle he addressed to him soon after his return, is warmed by a strain of energetic eloquence. "With young Tobias," he says, " I have travelled far, and brought home some freight of spiritual good to enrich you, and medicinal receipts against your ghostly maladies. I have, with Esau, after a long toil in pursuing a painful chase, returned with the full prey you were wont to love, desiring thereby to ensure your blessing. I have, in this general famine of all true and Christian food, prepared abundance of the bread of angels for the repast of your soul. And now my desire is, that my drugs may cure you, my prey delight you, and my provision feed you, by whom I have been delighted and fed myself."
• Life prefixed to St. Peter's Complaint,hy J.Walter, 1817; Wood A then. Oion.; and Dod's Church History, b.2, p. 48. Fuller ( Worthies of Suffolk, p. 71) says that Southwell was born in Suffolk, upon the authority of Pitts, who professed to have been intimately acquainted with the poet at Home.
The talents and virtues of Southwell procured for him the friendship of many distinguished individuals, and especially of Anne, countess of Arundel, with whom he resided in the capacity of chaplain until July, 1592*.
In this month he was apprehended on a charge of sedition, at Uxenden in Middlesex, and committed to a dungeon in the Tower. His imprisonment lasted three years, and during that period he is said to have been put to the torture several times. How serenely he endured his afflictions may be learnt from his Epistle of Comfort, which is replete with the warmest piety and the most glowing imagination. At the expiration of three years he wrote to Cecil, the Lord Treasuser, entreating either that a day might be appointed for his trial, or that his relations and friends might be allowed to visit him. Cecil is said to have replied, that if he was in so much haste to be hanged, he should quickly have his desire; and the taunting threat of the minister was speedily fulfilled. On the 20th of February, Southwell was removed from Newgate, and carried to Westminster, where he was tried and condemned to death; and, on the following day, he underwent the infliction of the law at Tyburnt. He died with a calmness and resignation worthy of a purer creed.
The productions of Southwell were very numerous, and obtained an extensive popularity. Eleven editions of his works appeared between 1593 and 1600.
The Triumphs over Death, and St. Peter's Complaint,
* The letters of this unfortunate lady to her children are said to be written with much piety and tenderness; the melancholy death of Lord Arundel weighed heavily upon her spirits.—Lodge's Illustrations, v. 3, P. 357.
t In Stow's Chronicle, Ed. 1631, p. 769, Southwell is said to have suffered on the day after his conviction; but Fuller fixes the date of the execution on the 3rd of March; and in a tract entitled the Rat Trap, or the Jesuits taken in their own net, 1641, the 20th of September is named. —Gent. Mat;. v- lxviii. pt. 2, p. 933. Mr. Walter, who from his acquaintance with Southwell's writings, is an authority worthy of attention, coincides with Stow.
have been reprinted; the first by Sir Egerton Brydges, and the second by Mr. Walter, who speaks of the author with an ardour inspired by a community of belief.
The character of Lady Margaret Sackville, upon whose death the Triumphs were composed, is written with remarkable elegance and purity of language*.
"She was by birth second to none, but unto the first in the realm; yet she measured only greatness by goodness, making nobility but the mirror of virtue, as able to show things worthy to be seen, as apt to draw many eyes to behold it; she suited her behaviour to her birth, and ennobled her birth with her piety, leaving her house more beholden to her for having honoured it with the glory of her virtues, than she was to it for the titles of her degree. She was high-minded but in aspiring to perfection, and in the disdain of vice; in other things covering her grace with humility among her inferiors, and showing it with courtesy among her peers. Of her carriage of herself, and her sober government, it may be sufficient testimony that envy herself was dumb in her dispraise, finding in her much to repine at, but nought to reprove. The clearness of her honour I need not mention, she having always armed it with such modesty as taught the most intemperate tongues to be silent in her presence, and answered their eyes with scorn and contempt that did seem to make her an aim to passion. . . . How mildly she accepted the check of fortune fallen upon her without desert, experience has been a most manifest proof: the temper of her mind being so easy that she found little difficulty in taking down her thoughts to a mean degree, which true honour, not pride, has raised to a former height; her faith
* Lady Margaret Sackville, wife of the Honourable Robert Sackville, son and heir apparent of Thomas, then Lord Buckhurst, whom he succeeded as second Karl of Dorset in 1608. She was the daughter of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.—See Advertisement to the Triumphs over Death, in the Archaica, vol. i., 1814.
fulness and love, where she found true friendship, are written with tears in many eyes.
"Where she owed, she paid piety; where she found, she turned courtesy; wheresoever she was known, she deserved amity; desiring the best, yet disdaining none but ev^l company; she was readier to requite benefits, than revenge wrongs; more grieved than angry with unkindness of friends, when either mistaking or misreport occasioned any breaches. ... In sum, she was an honour to her predecessors, a light to her age, and a pattern to her posterity; neither was her conclusion different from her premises, or her end from her life; she showed no dismay, being warned of her danger, carrying in her conscience the safe-conduct of innocency. But having sent her desires before, with a mild countenance and a most calm mind, in more hope than fear, she expected her own passage. She commended both her duty and good will to all her friends, and cleared her heart from all grudge towards her enemies, wishing true happiness to them both, as best became so soft and gentle a mind, in which anger never stayed but J as an unwelcome stranger."
Of all our early poets, Southwell recalls most freshly the manner of Goldsmith. Not that he ever opened the same vein of pleasantry, or acquired the art of making a history of animals, as amusing as a Persian tale;—the resemblance is to be traced in the naturalness of the sentiment, the propriety of the expression, and the easy harmony of the verse*. If the following stanzas be compared with
* The neatness and condensation of his lines ought to be noticed, lie expresses a just sentiment with a happy brevity:— The angels' eyes, whom veils cannot deceive,
Alight best disclose what best they do discern:
More than they can by sense of reasou learn.
The Christian's Manna.