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one thing more than another, compared with those who undervalue him, it is on that power of undervaluing nobody, and no attainments different from his own, which is given him by the very faculty of imagination they despise. The greater includes the less. They do not see that their inability to comprehend him argues the smaller capacity. No man recognizes the worth of utility more than the poet : he only desires that the meaning of the term may not come short of its greatness, and exclude the noblest necessities of his fellow-creatures. He is quite as much pleased, for instance, with the facilities for rapid conveyance afforded him by the railroad, as the dullest confiner of its advantages to that single idea, or as the greatest two-idead man who varies that single idea with hugging himself on his “ buttons” or his good dinner. But he sees also the beauty of the country through which he passes, of the towns, of the heavens, of the steam-engine itself, thundering and fuming along like a magic horse, of the affections that are carrying, perhaps, half the passengers on their journey, nay, of those of the great two-idead man; and, beyond all this, he discerns the incalculable amount of good, and knowledge, and refinement, and mutual consideration, which this wonderful invention is fitted to circulate over the globe, perhaps to the displacement of war itself, and certainly to the diffusion of millions of enjoyments.
AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION WHAT IS POETRY?
“ And a button-maker, after all, invented it !" cries our friend.
Pardon me-- it was a nobleman. A buttonmaker may be a very excellent, and a very poetical man too, and yet not have been the first man visited by a sense of the gigantic powers of the combination of water and fire. It was a nobleman who first thought of this most poetical bit of science. It was a nobleman who first thought of it,-a captain who first tried it,—and a button-maker who perfected it. And he who put the nobleman on such thoughts, was the great philosopher, Bacon, who said that poetry had “something divine in it,” and was necessary to the satisfaction of the human mind.
BORN, PROBABLY ABOUT THE YEAR 1553 --
THREE things must be conceded to the objectors against this divine poet; first, that he wrote a good deal of allegory; second, that he has a great many superfluous words; third, that he was very fond of alliteration. He is accused also (by little boys) of obsolete words and spelling; and it must be added, that he often forces his rhymes ; nay, spells them in an arbitrary manner on purpose to make them fit. In short, he has a variety of faults, real or supposed, that would be intolerable in writers in general. This is true. The answer is, that his genius not only makes amends for all, but overlays them, and makes them beautiful, with “ riches fineless.” When acquaintance with him is once begun, he repels none but the anti-poetical. Others may not be able to read him continuously ; but more or less, and as an enchanted stream “ to dip into,” they will read him always.
In Spenser's time, orthography was unsettled. Pronunciation is always so. The great poet, therefore, sometimes spells his words, whether rhymed or otherwise, in a manner apparently arbitrary, for the purpose of inducing the reader to give them the sound fittest for the sense. Alliteration, which, as a ground of melody, had been a principle in AngloSaxon verse, continued such a favourite with old English poets whom Spenser loved, that, as late as the reign of Edward the Third, it stood in the place of rhyme itself. Our author turns it to beautiful account. Superfluousness, though eschewed with a fine instinct by Chaucer in some of his latest works, where the narrative was fullest of action and character, abounded in his others; and, in spite of the classics, it had not been recognized as a fault in Spenser's time, when books were still rare, and a writer thought himself bound to pour out all he felt and knew. It accorded also with his genius; and in him is not an excess of weakness, but of will and luxury. And as to allegory, it was not only the taste of the day, originating in gorgeous pageants of church and state, but in Spenser's hands it became such an embodiment of poetry itself, that its objectors really deserve no better answer than has been given them by Mr. Hazlitt, who asks, if they thought the allegory would “ bite them.” The passage will be found a little further on.
Spenser's great characteristic is poetic luxury. If you go to him for a story, you will be disappointed ; if for a style, classical or concise, the point against him is conceded ; if for pathos, you must weep for personages half-real and too beautiful ; if for mirth, you must laugh out of good breeding, and because it pleaseth the great, sequestered man, to be facetious But if you love poetry well enough to enjoy it for its own sake, let no evil reports of his “ allegory” deter you from his acquaintance, for great will be your loss. His allegory itself is but one part allegory, and nine parts beauty and enjoyment; sometimes an excess of flesh and blood. His forced rhymes, and his sentences written to fill up, which in a less poet would be intolerable, are accompanied with such endless grace and dreaming pleasure, fit to
Make heaven drowsy with the harmony,
that although it is to be no more expected of any body to read him through at once, than to wander days and nights in a forest, thinking of nothing else, yet any true lover of poetry, when he comes to know him, would as soon quarrel with repose on the summer grass. You may get up and go away, but will return next day at noon to listen to his waterfalls, and to see, “ with half-shut eye,” his visions of knights and nymphs, his gods and goddesses, whom he brought down again to earth in immortal beauty.