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He that was unacquainted with Spenser, and was to form his ideas of the turn and manner of his genius from this piece, would undoubtedly suppose that he abounded in filthy images, and excelled in describing the lower scenes of life. But the characteristics of this sweet and allegorical poet are not only strong and circumstantial imagery, but tender and pathetic feeling, a most melodious flow of versification, and a certain pleasing melancholy in his sentiments, the constant companion of an elegant taste, that casts a delicacy and grace over all his compositions. To imitate Spenser on a subject that does not partake of the pathos, is not giving a true representation of him ; for he seems to be more awake and alive to all the softnesses of nature than almost any writer I can recollect. There is an assemblage of disgusting and disagreeable sounds in the following stanza of Pope, which one is almost tempted to think, if it were possible, had been contrived as a contrast, or rather as a burlesque, of a most exquisite stanza in the Fairy Queen :
“ The snappish cur (the passengers annoy)
And curs, girls, boys, in the deep base are drown'd.” The very turn of these numbers bears the closest resemblance with the following, which are of themselves a complete concert of the most delicious music:
“ The joyous birds shrouded in cheerful shade,
The silver-sounding instruments did meet
Book ïi. cant. 12. s. 71. These images, one would have thought, were peculiarly calculated to have struck the fancy of our young imitator with so much admiration, as not to have suffered him to make a kind of travesty of them.
The next stanza of Pope represents some allegorical figures, of which his original was so fond :
“ Hard by a sty, beneath a roof of thatch,
And vexing ev'ry wight, tears clothes and all to tatters.” But these personages of Obloquy, Slander, Envy, and Malice, are not marked with any distinct attributes; they are not those living figures, whose attitudes and behaviour Spenser has minutely drawn with so much clearness and truth, that we behold them with our eyes as plainly as we do on the ceiling of the banquetting-house. For, in truth, the pencil of Spenser is as powerful as that of Rubens, his brother allegorist; which two artists resembled each other in many respects ; but Spenser had more grace, and was as warm a colourist.
I. In ev'ry Town, where Thamis rolls his Tyde, A narrow Pass there is, with Houses low; Where ever and anon, the Stream is ey'd, And many a Boat soft sliding to and fro. There oft are heard the notes of Infant Woe, 5 The short thick Sob, loud Scream, and shriller Squall: How can ye, Mothers, vex your children so! Some play, some eat, some cack against the wall, And as they crouchen low, for bread and butter call.
And on the broken pavement, here and there, 10
hood I ween.
The whimp’ring girl, and hoarser-screaming boy,
IV. Hard by a Sty, beneath a roof of thatch, Dwelt Obloquy, who in her early days Baskets of fish at Billingsgate did watch, Cod, whiting, oyster, mackrel, sprat, or plaice: There learn'd she speech from tongues that never cease. Slander beside her, like a Magpie, chatters, With envy, (spitting Cat) dread foe to peace Like a curs’d Cur, Malice before her clatters, 35 And vexing ev'ry wight, tears clothes and all to tatters.
V. Her dugs were mark'd by ev'ry Collier's hand, Her mouth was black as bull-dogs at the stall: She scratched, bit, and spar'd ne lace ne band, And bitch and rogue her answer was to all; 40 Nay, e'en the parts of shame by name would call: Yea, when she passes by or lane or nook, Would greet the man who turn'd him to the wall, And by his hand obscene the porter took, Nor ever did askance like modest Virgin look. 45
NOTES. Ver. 30. Baskets of fish] How different from those enchanting imitations of Spenser, The Castle of Indolence and the Minstrel!
Such place hath Deptford, navy-building town,