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Swans on the river, on the lake's blue deep: In the walled garden with the limes arow A swan sits in a corner, half asleep,
A swan that wears a chain upon his limb, Measured the length that he may come and go; And he can reach the urn, and has his keep.
On the free lake, on the free river, The swans go who knows where : Guest of the garden, guest forever, Room in the fountain's bath for him, The chain's full length to take the air,
Swan enchained forever.
One showed a life's long secret, pitying
"Poor swan! 'tis like a tethered soul of
I looked again, and looked in vain, No heart appealed to mine; "Seek not outside," a voice replied, "For hearts to answer thine."
I looked within, and next mine own,
I found the heart — and there it lies;
From The Edinburgh Review. SPENSER AS A PHILOSOPHIC POET.*
IT often happens that some eminent characteristic of a great poet has almost escaped observation owing to the degree in which other characteristics, not higher but more attractive to the many, have also belonged to him. Spenser is an instance of this. If it were asked what chiefly constitutes the merit of his poetry, the answer would commonly be, its descriptive power, or its chivalrous sentiment, or its exquisite sense of beauty; yet the quality which he himself desiderated most for his chief work was one not often found in union with these, viz., sound and true philosophic thought. This is the characteristic which we propose to illustrate at present. It was the characteristic which chiefly won for him the praise of Shake speare:
These poets, however, came later than Spenser, and were not a little indebted to him, while yet they were, in some respects, unlike him. Some of them selected themes so abstract and metaphysical as to be almost beyond the limits of true poetic art. The difficulty was itself an attraction to them, and their ambition was more to instruct than to delight. Spenser loved philosophy as well as they, but was too truly a poet to allow of his following her when she strayed into "a barren and dry land," or of his adopting the didactic method when he illustrated philosophic themes. Truth and beauty are things correlative; and very profound truths can be elucidated in verse without the aid of such technical reasoning processes as those with which Dryden conducted his argument in "The Hind and Panther," and Pope in his essays. Spenser's Spenser to me, whose deep conceit is such imagination never forsook the region of As, passing all conceit, needs no defence; the sympathies; but it had the special and it was doubtless the merit to which he gift of drawing within their charmed circle owed the influence which Milton acknowl- themes which for another poet must have edged that Spenser's poetry had exercised ever remained outside it, and of suffusing over his own. There is more of philos- them at once with the glow of passion ophy in one book of "The Faery Queen" and with the white light of high intellithan in all the cantos of his Italian mod-gence. It is true that he dealt much in els. In Italy the thinkers were generally allegory; but though allegory is commonly astute politicians or recluse theologians; a cold thing- always, indeed, if it be and her later poets, excepting of course mere allegory yet whenever Spenser's Tasso, cared more to amuse a brilliant genius is true to itself, his allegory catches court with song and light tale than to fol- fire, and raises to the heights of song low the steps of Dante along the summits themes which would otherwise have deof serious song. England, on the other scended to the level of ordinary prose. hand, uniting both the practical and the Had Spenser's poetry not included this meditative mind with the imaginative in- philosophic vein, it would not have been stincts of southern lands, had thereby in sympathy with a time which produced strengthened both that mind and those in- a Bacon, whose prose is often the noblest stincts, and thus occupied a position poetry, as well as a Sidney, whose life was neither above nor beneath the region of a poem. At the Merchant Taylors' Gramthoughtful poetry. In the latter part of mar School, Bishop Andrews and, as is the sixteenth and earlier part of the sev- believed, Richard Hooker, were among enteenth century, she possessed a consid- his companions; and when he entered erable number of poets who selected, Cambridge, Pembroke Hall was at least apparently without offence, very grave as much occupied with theological and themes for their poetry. It will suffice to metaphysical discussion as with classical name such writers as Samuel Daniel, literature. John Davies, George Herbert, Dr. Donne, Giles Fletcher, Habington, and, not much later, Dr. Henry More, the Platonist.
• The Works of Edmund Spenser. Edited by the Rev. Dr. GROSART. In 8 vols. London: 1883.
We may go further. It was in a large measure the strength of his human sympathies, which at once forced Spenser to include philosophy among the subjects of his poetry, and prevented that philosophy
from becoming unfit for poetry. As he was eminently a poet of the humanities, so his philosophy was a philosophy of the humanities; he could no more have taken up a physiological theme for a poem, like Phineas Fletcher's "Purple Island," than a geographical one, like Drayton's "Polyolbion." The philosophy which in terested him was that which "comes home to the business and bosoms of men." It was philosophy allied to life - philosophy moral, social, and political. Such philosophy is latent in all great poetry, though it is in some ages only that it becomes patent. It is with his political and social philosophy that we shall begin, proceeding afterwards to his philosophy of
great things" for two centuries after
There they beheld a mighty gyant stand
was admired much of fools, women, and
He sayd that he would all the earth uptake
And all that did within them all containe;
And looke what surplus did of each remaine, He would to his own part restore the same againe.
We know from Spenser's letter to Sir Walter Raleigh that to embody a great scheme of philosophy was the end which he proposed to himself in writing "The Faery Queen." That poem was to consist of twelve books; and the hero of each was to impersonate one of the twelve moral virtues enumerated by Aristotle. This poem he proposed to follow up by a second, the hero of which was to have been King Arthur after he had acceded to the throne, and which was to have illustrated the political virtues. We learn from Todd's "Life of Spenser " that at a party of friends held near Dublin, in the house of Ludowick Bryskett, the poet gave the same account of his poem, then unpublished, but of which a considerable Therefore the vulgar did about him flocke, part had been written. Bryskett, on that And cluster thicke unto his leasings vaine, occasion, spoke of him as "not only per- Like foolish flies about a hony-crocke fect in the Greek tongue, but also very In hope by him great benefit to gain.† well read in philosophy, both moral and The Knight of Justice here breaks in, and natural." affirms that the giant ought before restorUnhappily, only half of the earlier roing everything to its original condition, mance was written, or at least has reached to ascertain exactly "what was the poyse us, and no part of the second; but much of every part of yore." The giant knows which belongs to the subject of the sec that the best mode to meet an unanswerond poem may be found in fragments scat-able reply is by reiteration: tered over the six books of "The Faery Queen." One of these political fragments vindicates the old claim of poets to be prophets; for the great revolutionary dogma expounded in it is one which, though its earlier mutterings may have been heard at the time of the German Anabaptists, did not "open its mouth" and "speak
Therefore I will throw downe these moun
And make them levell with the lowly plaine,
I will thrust down into the deepest maine,
Faery Queen, Book V., canto ii, stanza 30.
And as they were them equalize againe.
And lordlings curbe that commons overaw, And all the wealth of rich men to the poore will draw.
Artegal retorts that what the sea devours of the land in one region it surrenders in another, and that if the field did not augment its stores by drawing decayed matter into its bosom, it could not send up the living harvest the next year. In all this interchange nature but obeys the great Creator.
He places the true and the false in the opposed scales of his balance, but can get no further:
For by no means the False will with the Truth be wayd.
He next puts right and wrong into his scales, but fails once more:
Yet all the wrongs could not a litle right downe-way.
The prophet thus turning out an impostor, Talus scales the rock, scourges him with his iron flail, flings him into the sea, and disperses the multitude.
Spenser, however, does not take one
They live, they die, like as He doth ordaine, sided views of things. He sees a connec-
The hils doe not the lowly dales disdaine,
He takes the giant at his word, and bids
For take thy ballaunce, if thou be so wise, And weigh the winde that under heaven doth blow;
Or weigh the light that in the east doth rise; Or weigh the thought that from man's mind doth flow.
But if the weight of these thou canst not show,
tion between the madness of revolutionary
And daily he his wrongs encreaseth more;
Which pols and pils the poore in piteous
But he himself upon the rich doth tyrannize.* Pollente has a daughter, Munera; to her Weigh but one word which from thy lips he brings his ill-gotten spoils, and with
We have all heard of the English socialist whose triumphant appeal, "Tell me, is not one man as good as another?" was unwittingly confuted by the answer of his Irish boon companion, "To be sure he is, and better!" So far as equality exists at all, it exists not by nature, but through man's law, so bitterly inveighed against by the advocates of equality; for nature, while she is rich in compensations, makes no two things equal. Notwithstanding, the giant accepts Artegal's challenge.
them she has purchased all the country round. Eventually Artegal stays the giant, and Talus, rejecting the bribes of Munera, drags her from under a heap of gold, her hiding-place, cuts off her hands, which are made of gold, and her feet, which are silver, and casts her into the flood.
Another ethical craze of our later time seems to have been anticipated by Spenser- that which claims for women all the civil and political privileges and functions which belong to men, and denounces, as the "subjection of woman," even that domestic obedience of the wife to the husband which is the noblest example of willing submission. That a wife's obedi
Book V., canto ii., stanza 6.
"Now sure," said he, "and by the faith that I
Her masculine claims he regards as an
ence is based neither on servile fear nor | inspiration of pride comes that of spite; abject self-interest, but on that principle and an idle fancy has been followed up by of love which is the characteristic crown an envenomed grudge. Neither is Arteof womanhood, is witnessed to in the ex-gal's resolve to do battle with the Amazon pression, "Thy desire shall be to thy hus-grounded merely on his sympathy with band, and he shall have the rule over the knights thus degraded: thee." The root of that claim to domestic equality which would revolutionize the whole domestic life is patent. Those who sustain it assume that obedience is, even when necessary, still essentially a degradation. This is a "vulgar error." Obedience to a spurious authority, and obedience extorted by mere force, in each of these there exists degradation; but where the obedience is paid willingly, and paid where it is due, there obedience and authority are but two converse forms of excellence, mutually supplemental. This principle of correlative though contrasted forms of excellence was appreciated by the ages of chivalry; children knelt to their parents, and the "faithful servant," who inscribed that name alone on the title-page of his story of the "knight without fear and without reproach," regarded the title "servant" as an honorable one, not less than the title master.
The "Amazon republic" was a Greek conception, and evinced that clearness which belonged to the Greek intelligence alike in its serious and in its sportive moods. The Greek insight perceived at once that, while the equality of the sexes may substantially exist in the way of compensatory advantages and disadvantages, it could not exist in the material form of identical rights and functions. In that form, woman must have either less than equality, or more. The lady who remarked, "I do not want women to take their stand with men on the great stage of life, because unless we sat behind the scenes we could not pull the wires," understood that women possess at present a very real power of their own; and the Athenians said of old, that if Pericles governed Athens, so did his wife, since she governed him, and so did their child, since he governed her. Here is the indirect equality produced by compensation. It is in its complete Amazonian, not its incomplete, form that Spenser deals with this quaint moral problem; and there is a deep sagacity in his mode of solving it. The Knight of Justice hears that a certain Amazon queen Radigund, by way of righting the wrongs of her sex, has established herself in a castle, and that she defies all knights to combat, first binding them to submit to her terms. The Amazon is not actuated by zeal for her sex; next to the
Artegal is victorious at first, and his enemy falls; the knight throws away his sword; the Amazon revives and resumes the fight; Artegal can only step backwards, protecting himself with his shield; she redoubles her blows; and he, by the terms of their battle, becomes her slave. But the battle has not really been fought with equal weapons; and it is owing to her beauty and his weakness that he sits ere long ranged with her other vassals, distaff in hand, and in woman's garb.
The conqueror is punished for her pride. She loses her heart to her captive in spite of her self-scorn, and she fails in her attempt to win his love. Her charm is for him gone. She has lost the power of woman by claiming that which belongs to man; she has snatched at the shadow, and dropped the substance. It is woman that avenges the wrong done to womanhood. Britomart hears that her lover is in distress, and flies to his aid, though she believes that he had forgotten her. The virgin warrioress assails the castle of the Amazon, vanquishes her in single fight, and liberates the captives. Britomart is the loftiest of Spenser's heroines. Another poet would have made her turn in scorn from Artegal when she saw him among the knights plying the distaff. She does not do this. She is not woman unsexed, but woman raised above woman, and therefore woman still. The sacred obedience of love binds her to the better part. When she first saw him amid the servile crew,
She turned her head aside as nothing glad. But she looks on him again, and sees, not what is before her, but what she remembers. She makes him lord of the conquered city; and to it she restores peace and gladness.
Let us turn next to Spenser's philoso phy considered with reference to the joys and duties of life, personal and domestic. That philosophy was a comprehensive