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Iambics. Six months later we find him still occupied with the new method. Writing to Harvey again in the beginning of April 1580, he says: “I like your late English hexameters so exceedingly well that I also enure my pen sometime in that kind; which I find, indeed, as I have often heard you defend in word, neither so hard nor so harsh [but] that it will easily and fairly yield itself to our mother tongue.” Yet from what follows it almost looks as if he were all the while making sport of his solemn friend and his preposterous invention. “The only or chiefest hardness which seemeth,” he goes on, “is in the accent; which sometime gapeth, and, as it were, yawneth, ill-favouredly, coming short of that it should, and sometime exceeding the measure of the number; as in Carpenter, the middle syllable being used short in speech, when it shall be read long in verse seemeth like a lame gosling, that draweth one leg after her ; and Heaven, being used short as one syllable, when it is in verse stretched out with a diastole is like a lame dog that holds up one leg.” Nash's ridicule is hardly so unmerciful as this. Spenser, however, adds, by way of consolation, “But it is to be won with custom, and rough words must be subdued with use.” Afterwards he sets down four lines of English Elegiac verse—asking, “Seein they comparable to those two which I translated you extempore in bed the last time we lay together in Westminster ?— That which I eat did I joy, and that which I greedily gorged; As for those many goodly matters left I for others.” This can hardly be said in earnest. “I would heartily wish,” he concludes, “you would either send me the rules
and precepts of art which you observe in quantities, or else follow mine, that M. Philip Sidney gave me, being the very same which M. Drant devised, but enlarged with M. Sidney's own judgment, and augmented with my observations; that we might both agree and accord in one, lest we overthrow one another, and be overthrown of the rest.” From this it would appear that, after all, Drant (whose era was between 1560 and 1570) was, in this matter of English hexameters, before Harvey. But, indeed, long before this Sir Thomas More had amused himself with the same fancy. And the attempt to mould English verse into the form of Latin (which long afterwards exercised the ingenuity of Milton, and which has been revived in our own day) continued to engage some attention down to the close of the sixteenth century. In 1602 was published a small pamphlet entitled ‘Observations on the Art of English Poesy, by Thomas Campion : wherein it is demonstratively proved, and by example confirmed, that the English toong will receive eight several kinds of numbers, proper to itself, which are all in this book set forth, and were never before this time by any man attempted.” Thomas Campion, or Champion, was a poet of some celebrity in his day; his name occurs, along with those of Spenser and Shakspeare (the others are Sidney, John Owen, Daniel, Hugh Holland, Ben Jonson, Drayton, Chapman, and Marston), in Camden's enumeration in his “Remains' (first published in 1604) of the most pregnant poetical wits then flourishing. His tract was answered the next year by his brother poet, Samuel Daniel, in ‘A Defence of Ryme, against a pamphlet entituled “Observations in the Art of English Poesy;” wherein is demonstratively proved that Ryme is the fittest harmony of words that comports with our language.” This reply appears to have terminated the controversy for the present; and, indeed, although Milton in a later day, in addition to imitating, or attempting to imitate, the metres of Horace, also, like Campion, denounced the Gothic barbarism and bondage of rhyme, it never was again seriously proposed, we believe, to reform our poetry by the entire abolition of the natural prosody of the language, and the substitution of the Greek or Latin.
If Harvey had seriously infected Spenser with the madness of his hexameters and pentameters, the reformed versifying might have been brought for a short time into more credit, although Spenser's actual performances in it, as has been remarked, are bad enough to countenance even those of his friend the inventor. But, besides that to change, as this system appears to have required, the entire pronunciation and musical character of a language is as much beyond the power of any writer, or host of writers, as to change the direction of the winds (the two cases being alike governed by laws of nature above human control), Spenser was of all writers the one least likely to be permanently enthralled by the pursuit of such an absurdity. Of all our great poets he is the one whose natural tastes were most opposed to such outlandish innovations upon and harsh perversions of his native tongue—
* Both Campion's “Observations' and Daniel's ‘Defence' are reprinted in the second volume of the “Ancient Critical Essays, edited by Haslewood.
whose genius was essentially the most musical, the most English, and the most reverential of antiquity. Edmund Spenser has been supposed to have come before the world as a poet so early as the year 1569, when some sonnets translated from Petrarch, which long afterwards were reprinted with his name, appeared in Vander Noodt's Theatre of Worldlings; on the 20th of May in that year he was entered a sizer of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge; and in that same year also, an entry in the Books of the Treasurer of the Queen's Chamber records that there was “paid upon a bill signed by Mr. Secretary, dated at Windsor 18° Octobris, to Edmund Spenser, that brought letters to the Queen's Majesty from Sir Henry Norris, Knight, her Majesty's ambassador in France, being at Thouars in the said realm, for his charges the sum of 6l. 13s. 4d., over and besides 91. prested to him by Sir Henry Norris.” There can be little doubt that this entry refers to the poet. The date 1510, given as that of the year of his birth upon his monument in Westminster Abbey, erected long after his death, is out of the question; but the abovementioned facts make it probable that he was born some years before 1553, the date commonly assigned. He has himself commenorated the place of his birth: “At length,” he says in his ‘Prothalamion,’ or poem on the marriages of the two daughters of the Earl of Worcester,
At length they all to merry London came,
* First published in Mr. Cunningham's Introduction .xxx.) to his “Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at urt, printed for the Shakespeare Society, 8vo. Lond. 1842. It is commonly said, on the authority of Oldys, that he was born in East Smithfield by the Tower. It appears from the register of the University that he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1572, and that of Master of Arts in 1576. On leaving Cambridge, he retired for some time to the north of England. Here he appears to have written the greater part of his “Shepherd's Calendar,’ which, having previously come up to London, he published in 1579. And he had already, as we learn from his correspondence with Harvey, finished two works entitled his ‘Dreams' and ‘Dying Pelican,’ of which nothing is now known, unless the former (as has been conjectured) be the same afterwards published under the titles of ‘The Visions of Petrarch,’ ‘The Visions of Bellay,’ and ‘Visions of the World's Vanity;’ and he had begun his ‘Fairy Queen,” as well as at least designed, and perhaps made some progress in, a poem in Harvey's new mode of versifying, to be entitled “Epithalamion Thamesis;’ “which book,” he says, “I dare undertake will be profitable for the knowledge, and new for the invention and manner of handling.” The subject was to be treated in the same manner as it is in the Fourth Book of the Fairy Queen. He also speaks of another work which he calls his ‘Stemmata Dudleiana,' probably a poem in honour of the family of his patron, the Earl of Leicester, uncle of Sir Philip Sidney, of which he says that it must not lightly be sent abroad without more advisement—adding, however, “But trust me, though I never do well, yet in my own fancy I never did better.” And Harvey congratulates him on nine ‘Comedies,” which he had either written, or was engaged with :—“I am void of all judgment if your Nine Comedies, whereunto, in imitation of Herodotus, you give the