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But like fancies weren foolery,
Now stands the Brere like a lord alone,
The story is admirably told, certainly; with wonderful
felicity of expression, as well as with a fancy and invention at once the most just and spirited, and the most easy and copious—altogether so as to betoken a poet such as had not yet arisen in the language since it had settled down into its existing form. This earliest work of Spenser's, however, betrays his study of our elder poetry as imuch by its diction as by the other indications already mentioned: he has thickly sprinkled it with words and phrases which had generally ceased to be used at the time when it was written. This he seems to have done, not so much that the antiquated style might give the dialogue an air of rusticity proper to the speech of shepherds, but rather in the same spirit and design (though he has carried the practice much farther) in which Virgil has done the same thing in his heroic poetry, that his verse might thereby be the more distinguished from common discourse, that it might fall upon the ears of men with something of the impressiveness and authority of a voice from other times, and that it might seem to echo, and, as it were, continue and prolong, the strain of the old national minstrelsy ; thus at once expressing his love and admiration of the preceding poets who had been his examples, and, in part, his instructors and inspirers, and making their compositions reflect additional light and beauty upon his own. This is almost the only advantage which the later poets in any language have over the earlier; and Spenser has availed himself of it more or less in most of his writings, though not in any later work to the same extent as in this first publication. Perhaps also there may be discovered in the Shepherd's Calendar some other traces of his studies in experimental versification at this time (to which his attention may have been awakened by his friend Harvey's lucubrations), besides his attempts to imitate the metre of Chaucer or Piers Ploughman. The work is, at least, remarkable for the variety of measures in which it is composed. The most spirited of its lyric passages is a panegyric upon Elizabeth in the Fourth Æclogue, of which, as the work is not much read, we may transcribe a few verses. It is recited by Hobbinol (Gabriel Harvey), who, on the request of Thenot that he would repeat to him one of his friend Colin's songs, framed before his love for Rosalind had made him break his pipe, replies:—
* At last. w Bruised.
“Contented I; then will I sing his lay
See where she sits upon the grassy green,
* * *x o:
I see Calliope speed to the place
And sing all the way,
Lo, how finely the Graces can it foot
To fill the fourth place,
* Walk. b Sweet. * Given.
And whither rems this bevy of ladies bright,
Ye shepherds' daughters that dwell on the green,
And gird in your waste,
Bring hither the pink and purple cullumbine,
And the chevisance
Now rise up, Eliza, decked as thou art
Executed in a firmer and more matured style, and, though with more regularity of manner, yet also with
“Callcd, named. “Where. Array. s Hither.
more true boldness and freedom, is the admirable ‘ Prosopopoia,’ as it is designated, of the adventures of the Fox and the Ape, or ‘Mother Hubberd's Tale’—notwithstanding that this, too, is stated to have been an early production—“long sithens composed,” says the author in his Dedication of it to the Lady Compton and Monteagle, “in the raw conceit of my youth.” Perhaps, however, this was partly said to avert the offence that might be taken at the audacity of the satire. It has not much the appearance, either in manner or in matter, cf the production of a very young writer, although it may have been written before any part of the Fairy Queen, at least in the matured form of that poem ; for we can hardly believe that the work spoken of under that name as in hand in 1579 was the same the first part of which was not published till eleven years afterwards. We should say that ‘Mother Hubberd's Tale’ represents the middle age of Spenser's genius, if not of his life—the stage in his mental and poetical progress when his relish and power of the energetic had attained perfection, but the higher sense of the beautiful had not yet been fully developed. Such appears to be the natural progress of every mind that is capable of the highest things in both these directions: the feeling of force is first awakened, or at least is first matured ; the feeling of beauty is of later growth. With even poetical minds of a subordinate class, indeed, it may sometimes happen that a perception of the beautiful, and a faculty of embodying it in words, acquire a considerable development without the love and capacity of the energetic having ever shown themselves in any unusual degree: such may be said to have been the case of Petrarch, to quote a remarkable example.