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There was a holy chapel edified, I
Thereby a crystal stream did gently play |
Mark the variety of pauses, of the accentuation of the sylla. bles and of the intonation of the vowels; all closing in that ex. quisite last line, as soft and continuous as the water it describes. The repetition of the words little and holy add to the sacred snugness of the abode. We are to fancy the little tenement on the skirts of a forest, that is to say, within, but not deeply within, the trees; the chapel is near it, but not close to it, more embowered ; and the rivulet may be supposed to circuit both chapel and hermitage, running partly under the trees between mossy and flowery banks, for hermits were great cullers of simples; and though Archimago was a false hermit, we are to suppose him living in a true hermitage. It is one of those pictures which remain for ever in the memory ; and the succeeding stanza is worth of it.
2 Arrived there the little house they fill.
Not literally the house, but the apartment as a specimen of the house ; for we see by what follows that the hermitage must have contained at least four rooms; one in which the knight and the lady were introduced, two more for their bed-chambers, and a fourth for the magician's study.
3 Nor look for entertainment where none was.
“ Entertainment” is here used in the restricted sense of treatment as regards food and accommodation ; according to the old inscription over inn-doors—" Entertainment for man and horse.”
4 The noblest mind the best contentment has.
This is one of Spenser's many noble sentiments expressed in as noble single lines, as if made to be recorded in the copy-books of full-grown memories. As, for example, one which he is fond of repeating :
No service loathsome to a gentle kind.
And that fine Alexandrine,
Weak body well is chang’d for mind's redoubled force. And another, which Milton has imitated in Comus
Virtue gives herself light in darkness for to wade. 5“ Let none them read.”—As if we could! And yet while we smile at the impossibility, we delight in this solemn injunction of the Poet's, so child-like, and full of the imaginative sense of the truth of what he is saying.
6 A bold bad man that dared to call by name
This is the ineffable personage, whom Milton, with a propriety equally classical and poetical, designates as
The dreaded name
Par. Lost, Book ii., v. 965.
Ancient believers apprehended such dreadful consequences from the mention of him, that his worst and most potent invokers are represented as fearful of it; nor am I aware that any poet, Greek or Latin, has done it, though learned commentators on Spenser imply otherwise. In the passages they allude to, in Lucąn and Statius, there is no name uttered. The adjuration is always made by a periphrasis. This circumstance is noticed by Boccaccio, who has given by far the best, and indeed, I be. lieve, the only account of this very rare god, except what is abridged from his pages in a modern Italian mythology, and fur. nished by his own authorities, Lactantius and Theodontus, the latter an author now lost. Ben Jonson calls him “Boccaccio's Demogorgon." The passage is in the first book of his Genealogia Deorum, a work of prodigious erudition for that age, and full of the gusto of a man of genius. According to Boccaccio, Demogorgon (Spirit Earthworker) was the great deity of the rustical Arcadians, and the creator of all things out of brute matter. He describes him as a pale and sordid-looking wretch, inhabiting the centre of the earth, all over moss and dirt, squal. idly wet, and emitting an earthy smell; and he laughs at the credulity of the ancients in thinking to make a god of such a fel. low. He is very glad, however, to talk about him; and doubtless had a lurking respect for him, inasmuch as mud and dirt are among the elements of things material, and therefore par. take of a certain mystery and divineness.
7 Legions of sprites, the which like little flies.
Flies are old embodiments of evil spirits ;-Anacreon forbids us to call them incarnations, in reminding us that insects are fleshless and bloodless, avatuodaqxa. Beelzebub signifies the Lord of Flies.
8 The world of waters wide and deep.
How complete a sense of the ocean under one of its aspects ! Spenser had often been at sea, and his pictures of it, or in connexion with it, are frequent and fine accordingly, superior perhaps to those of any other English poet, Milton certainly, except in that one famous imaginative passage in which he describes a fleet at a distance as seeming to “hang in the clouds." And Shakspeare throws himself wonderfully into a storm at sea, as if he had been in the thick of it; though it is not known that he ever quitted the land. But nobody talks so much about the sea, or its inhabitants, or its voyagers, as Spenser. He was well acquainted with the Irish Channel. Coleridge observes, (ut sup.) that “one of Spenser's arts is that of alliteration, which he uses with great effect in doubling the impression of an image.” The verse above noticed is a beautiful example.
9 To Morpheus' house doth hastily repair, &c Spenser's earth is not the Homeric earth, a circular flat, or disc, studded with mountains, and encompassed with the “ocean stream.” Neither is it in all cases a globe. We must take his cosmography as we find, and as he wants it ; that is to say, poetically, and according to the feeling required by the matter in hand. In the present instance, we are to suppose a precipi. tous country striking gloomily and far downwards to a cav. ernous sea-shore, in which the bed of Morpheus is placed, the ends of its curtains dipping and fluctuating in the water, which reaches it from underground. The door is towards a flat on the land-side, with dogs lying “far before it ;" and the moonbeams reach it, though the sun never does. The passage is imitated from Ovid (Lib. ii., ver. 592), but with wonderful concentration, and superior home appeal to the imagination. Ovid will have no dogs, nor any sound at all but that of Lethe rippling over its pebbles. Spenser has dogs, but afar off, and a lulling sound overhead of wind and rain. These are the sounds that men delight to hear in the intervals of their own sleep.
10 Wrapt in eternal silence, far from enemies.
The modulation of this most beautiful stanza (perfect, except for the word tumbling) is equal to that of the one describing the hermitage, and not the less so for being less varied both in pauses and in vowels, the subject demanding a greater monotony. A poetical reader need hardly be told, that he should humor such verses with a corresponding tone in the recital. Indeed it is difficult to read them without lowering or deepening the voice, as though we were going to bed ourselves, or thinking of the rainy night that lulled us. A long rest at the happy pause in the last line, and then a strong accent on the word far, put us in possession of all the remoteness of the scene ;-and it is improved, if we make a similar pause at heard :
No other noise, or people's troublous cries,
Upton, one of Spenser's commentators, in reference to the
trickling stream, has quoted in his note on this passage some fine lines from Chaucer, in which, describing the “dark valley” of Sleep, the poet says there was nothing whatsoever in the place, save that,
A few wells
Sowne (in the old spelling) is also Spenser's word. In the text of the present volume it is written soun', to show that it is the same as the word sound without the d ;-like the French and Italian, son, suono.
“ 'Tis hardly possible,” says Upton, “ for a more picturesque description to come from a poet or a painter than this whole magical scene."-See Todd's Variorum Spenser, vol. ii., p. 38.
Meantime, the magician has been moulding a shape of air to represent the virtuous mistress of the knight ; and when the dream arrives, he sends them both to deceive him, the one sitting by his head and abusing “the organs of his fancy” (as Milton says of the devil with Eve), and the other behaving in a manner very unlike her prototype. The delusion succeeds for a time.
11 A fit false dream that can delude the sleeper's sent. Scent, sensation, perception. Skinner says that sent, which we falsely write scent, is derived a sentiendo. The word is thus frequently spelt by Spenser.—Todd.
21 “ A diverse dream.”—“A dream,” says Upton, “that would occasion diversity or distraction; or a frightful, hideous dream, from the Italian, sogno diverso.”—Dante, Inferno, canto vi.
Cerbero, fiera crudele e diversa.
Inferno, Orlando Innamorato, Lib. i., canto 4, stanza 66.
Un grido orribile e diverso.
See Todd's Edition, as above, p. 42.