« AnteriorContinuar »
tone than for its intensity of meaning. Like all masters of speech, he is fond of toying with it a little. Sometimes his alliteration is tempted to excess; as, —
*Eftsoones her shallow ship away did slide,
More swift than swallow shears the liquid sky.' Generally, however, the initial assonances are scattered at adroit intervals, rarely obtrusive, but responsive to the idea. For instance:
'In woods, in waves, in wars, she wonts to dwell;
And will be found with peril and with pain.' Or,
A world of waters,
Horrible, hideous, roaring with hoarse cry.' Or,
All the day, before the sunny rays,
He used to slug or sleep, in slothful shade.' Rank. There had been much poetry, and not a little poetical power, since Chaucer; but the Fairy Queen was the first production that might challenge comparison with the Canterbury Tales. It was received with a burst of general welcome. The 'new poet' became almost the recognized title of its author. It portrayed, indeed, the wonder and mystery of the new life, the incongruous life of the Renaissance, moulding into harmonious form its warring ideals and contrasted impulses. All the past, with its imagery, its illusion, its glory,— and the present, with its rough romantic beauties and gorgeous pageantry,--descended upon the Fairy of Spenser, and, in the mellow light of his imagination, lost the passion of conflict, the grossness of lust, and the tarnish of physical contact.
His invention was extraordinary, and its mode unique. Shape after shape, scene after scene, monstrous and anomalous, or impossible and beautiful, rose from the unfathomable depths, to embody some shade of emotion or an idea; while, in the midst of the rising and commingling visions, he was unperturbed and serene, never hurrying, rarely if ever passionate. Next to Dante among the Italians, next to Virgil among the ancients, Milton surpasses him in the severity of his greatness, Shakespeare in the sweep and condensation of his power. Daring elevations, when they occur, indicate the strength of his genius rather than the habit of his mind. He lacked executive efficiency,- the coordinating, centralizing quality of the highest
order of imagination. But grandeur, intensity, and reflection aside, he is the most purely poetical of our writers. In the union of musical expression, fanciful conception of thought, and the exquisite sense of beauty, he excels them all. Eminent in wisdom, like every other greatest poet, he is also the finest dreamer that ever lived, and, as such, is the inheritance of all future generations. He repels none but the anti-poetical. His better parts' will ever interest the lovers of the beautiful, unchangeable amid the changes of taste, as long as riches are sought in the regions of the unknown.
Character.- Magnificently imaginative. Captivated with beauty; above all, with beauty of soul, which is the source of all outward charms,
• For of the soul the body form doth take;
For soul is form, and doth the body make. The true glory of all material things is in the immortal idea which irradiates them; and they are lovable only as they are rendered thus nobly luminous:
For that same goodly hue of white and red,
Being a parcel of the purest sky.' The seen is but the semblance; the unseen is the reality, ever fairer as you ascend the graduated scale. Ineffably fair is the spirit's dim but still enraptured vision of the absolute BeautyGod, who, in the objects of sense,
Daily doth display
That are unable else to see His face." This is eminently Platonic. The bent of his mind was ever thus toward a supermundane sphere, in whose untrammelled ether it
might expatiate freely, joyously. To this sublime summit he carried everything, and thus subtleized everything at a touch. Where most men see only the perishable form and color of the thing, he saw the joy of it, the soul of eternal youth that is in it. Yet, with a purity like that of driven snow, he had no lack of warmth. He is, of all our poets, the most truly sensuous; but so chaste and ardent, that when he painted sentiment and passion, or material loveliness, he could not but make them ‘of glorious feature.'
Such a one does not wait to get into the next stage of existence to begin to enter it. He sees that the Infinite Life is the world of essence; that it is the meaning which glows through all matter; that out of it flows all goodness, all truth, all enduring happiness on this side of the grave:
"And is there care in Heaven? and is there love
That blessed angels He sends to and fro,
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
And all for love and nothing for reward;
Thus it is that, while he himself was outwardly vexed with discontent, fretted with neglect, his poetry breathes the very soul of contentment and cheer. It is not the gladness of mirth, but the deep satisfaction of the seer; for to such as have gained the point of changeless being, beyond the changing and phenomenal,
“Their joy, their comfort, their desire, their gain,
All other sights but fained shadows be.' Sensitive, tender, grateful, devout, learned, wise, and introspective, with the vision and the faculty divine,' his own words are applicable to him:
"The noble heart that harbors virtuous thought
The eternal brood of glory excellent.' Influence. He threw into English verse the soul of harmony, and made it more expansive, more richly descriptive, than it ever was before. More than any other, by his ideal method of treatment, and the splendor of his fancy, he contributed to the transformation of style and language. One so largely and so ardently admired, must have had many imitators. Browne and the two Fletchers were his professed disciples. Cowley said that he became “irrevocably a poet' by reading him when a boy. Gray was accustomed to open him when he would frame
* Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.' Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Keats show traces of him. Thomson wrote the most delightful of his own poems in his stanza. Dryden claimed him for a master. Milton called him 'our sage and serious poet, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas.' How so? Because he revealed, in lowly aspect, the ideal point of view; gave to souls a consciousness of their wings; sowed in them the seeds of a noble discontent with prosaic views of life; fastened the attention upon necessary uncreated natures — Ideas, into whose divine atmosphere no man can be listed, without becoming, in some degree, himself divine. This is the inestimable value of such a character, - that he forms a standing protest against the tyranny of commonplace, against the limitary tone of English thought, enslaved to the five mechanic powers.
He and his culture are needed to withstand the encroachments of artificial manners, to counteract the materializing tendencies of physical science, to sway and purify the energies that are too much confined to gain and pleasure and show. The end of a moral being is, not food or raiment or estate, but soul-expansion; and the parent of all noblest improvement is love - the outflow of desire toward the true, beautiful, and good, which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. Whoever acts admirably upon the imagination, administers to this effect. Whoever gives the world a pictorial air, contributes to our emancipation. Whoever makes us more intensely and comprehensively imaginative, exalts us into the possession of incorruptible goods. In vain will philosophy
and fashion and utilitarianism oppose such a one. They fare as
'So all the world by thee at first was made,
Mother of laughter, and welspring of blisse,
Mellifluous Sbakespeare. - Heywood.
His thoughts, passions, feelings, strains of fancy, all are of this day as they were of his own; and his genius may be contemporary with the mind of every generation for a thousand years to come - Prof. Wilson.
Biography.-Born in Stratford, in 1564; removed from school at an early age by the reverses of his father, once a prosperous tradesman and official, now on the verge of ruin; applied himself, in a desultory manner, to business; to keep up the reputation of his little town, took part in scrapes and frolics; at eighteen, married a farmer's daughter, Anne Ilathaway, aged twenty-six, to whom he was to bequeath only his second best bed with furniture’; quit home for London, fell into theatrical society, and became an actor and a playwright, serving an apprenticeship in the revision of dramas; six years later, was applauded by the gifted and the noble; added to the trades of player and author those of manager and director of a theatre; acquired shares in the Blackfriars and the Globe; invested in land, farmed tithes, bought the finest house in Stratford, where his wife and three children continued to live; finally retired to his native village,