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3ut the greatest poets have all been complete men, with the sense of beauty, indeed, strong and exquisite, and crowning all their other endowments, which is what makes them the greatest; but also with all other passions and powers correspondingly vigorous and active. Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, Milton, Goethe, were all of them individuals manifestly capable of achieving any degree of success in any other field as well as in poetry. They were not only poetically, but in all other respects, the most gifted intelligences of their times; men of the largest sense, of the most penetrating insight, of the most general research and information; nay, even in the most worldly arts and dexterities, able to cope with the ablest, whenever they chose to throw themselves into that game. They may not any of them have attained the highest degree of what is called worldly success; some of them may have even been crushed by the force of circumstances or evil days; Milton may have died in obscurity, Dante in exile; “the vision and the faculty divine” may have been all the light that cheered, all the estate that sustained, the old age of Homer; but no one can suppose that in any of these cases it was want of the requisite skill or talent that denied a different fortune. As for Spenser, we shall certainly much mistake his character'if we suppose, from the romantic and unworldly strain of much—and that, doubtless, the best and highest— of his poetry, that he was anything resembling a mere dreamer. In the first place, the vast extent of his knowledge, comprehending all the learning of his age, and his voluminous writings, sufficiently prove that his days were not spent in idleness. Then, even in the matter of securing a livelihood and a position in the world, want of activity or eagerness is a fault of which he can hardly be accused. Bred, for whatever reason, to no profession, it may be doubted if he had any other course to take, in that age, upon the whole so little objectionable as the one he adopted. The scheme of life with which he set out seems to have been to endeavour, first of all, to procure for himself, by any honourable means, the leisure necessary to enable him to cultivate and employ his poetical powers. With this view he addressed himself to Sidney, the chief professed patron of letters in that day (when, as yet, letters really depended to a great extent for encouragement and support upon the patronage of the great), hoping, through his interest, to obtain such a provision as he required from the bounty of the crown. In thus seeking to be supported at the public expense, and to withdraw a small portion of a fund, pretty sure to be otherwise wasted upon worse objects, for the modest maintenance of one poet, can we say that Spenser, being what he was, was much, or at all, to blame? Would it have been wiser, or more highminded, or in any sense better, for him to have thrown himself, like Greene and Nash, and the rest of that crew, upon the town, and, like them, wasted his fine genius in pamphleteering and blackguardism? He knew that he would not eat that public bread without returning to his country what she gave him a hundred and a thousand fold; he who must have felt and known well that no man had yet uttered himself in the English tongue so endowed for conferring upon the land, the language, and the people, what all future generations would prize as their best inheritance, and what would contribute more than laws or victories, or any
other glory, to maintain the name of England in honour and renown as long as it should be heard of among men. But he did not immediately succeed in his object. It is probably true, as has been commonly stated, that Burleigh looked with but small regard upon the poet and his claims; however, he at last contrived to overcome this obstacle; and eventually, as we have seen, he obtained from the crown both lands, offices, and a considerable pension. It is not at all likely that, circumstanced as he was at the commencement of his career, Spenser could in any other way have attained so soon to the same comparative affluence that he thus acquired. Probably the only respect in which he felt much dissatisfied or disappointed was in being obliged to take up his residence in Ireland, without which, it may have been, he would have derived little or no benefit from his grant of land. ‘Mother Hubberd's Tale' must be supposed to have been written before he obtained that grant. It is a sharp and shrewd satire upon the common modes of rising in the church and state; not at all passionate or declamatory, on the contrary, pervaded by a spirit of quiet humour, which only occasionally gives place to a tone of greater elevation and solemnity, but assuredly, with all its highminded and even severe morality, evincing in the author anything rather than either ignorance of the world or indifference to the ordinary objects of human ambition. No one will rise from its perusal with the notion that Spenser was a mere rhyming visionary, or singing somnambulist. No; like every other greatest poet, he was an eminently wise man, exercised in every field of thought, and rich in all knowledge—above all, in knowledge of mankind, the proper study of man. In this poem of ‘Mother Hubberd's Tale’ we still find also both his puritanisin and his imitation of Chaucer, two things which disappear altogether from his later poetry. Indeed, he has written nothing else so much in Chaucer's manner and spirit; nor have we nearly so true a reflection, or rather revival, of the Chaucerian narrative style—at once easy and natural, clear and direct, firm and economical, various and always spirited—in any other modern verse. We will pass over the description of the brave and honourable courtier (intended for Sidney), which is probably known to most of our readers, and the still more famous passage in which the miserable state of a suitor for court favour (supposed to be the author's own case at the time) is depicted with such indignant force and bitterness of expression. What a fulness of matter and driving sleet of words there is in the following description of the moral anarchy wrought by the Ape and the Fox after the former had stolen the lion's hide and other royal cmblems, and seated himself on the throne, with his companion and instigator for his chief counsellor and minister!— First, to his gate he 'poisted a strong guard, That none might enter but with issue hard; Then, for the safeguard of his personage, He did appoint a warlike equipage Of foreign beasts, not in the forest bred, But part by land and part by water fed; For tyranny is with strange aid supported: Then unto him all monstrous beasts resorted, Bred of two kinds, as griffons, minotaurs, Crocodiles, dragons, beavers, and centaurs; With those himself he strengthened mightily, That fear he need no force of enemy. Then gan he rule and tyrannize at will, Like as the Fox did guide his graceless skill, And all wild beasts made vassals of his pleasure, And with their spoils enlarged his private treasures.
No care of justice, nor no rule of reason,
* According to his nature. b Warrant.