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But, if that thou be such as I thee see, Of grace I pray thee give to eat and drink to me!"
“Nay, nay, thou greedy Tantalus,” quoth he; “ Abide the fortune of thy present fate; And unto all that live in high degree, Example be of mind intemperate, To teach them how to use their present state." Then 'gan the cursed wretch aloud to cry, Accusing highest Jove and gods ingrate :
And eke blaspheming Heaven bitterly, As author of injustice, there to let him die.
He look'd a little further, and espied
But rather fouler seemed to the eye ;
The knight him calling, asked who he was :
The whilst my hands I wash'd in purity;
Infinite more tormented in like pain
Nor sittest down on that same silver stool, "To rest thy weary person in the shady cool !"
All which he did to do him deadly fall
That dreadful fiend, which did behind him wait,
Nor suffered lust his safety to betray :
And now he has so long remained there,
Therefore great Mammon fairly he besought
The god, though loth, yet was constrain'd ť obey,
The life did flit away out of her nest,
Hazlitt, with his fine poetical taste, speaking of the two stan. zas here following, and the previous one beginning, And over all, fc., says, that they are unrivalled for the “portentous mas. siveness of the forms, the splendid chiaroscuro and shadowy horror,"_" Lectures on the English Poets,” third edition, p. 77. It is extraordinary that in the new “ Elegant Extracts,” published under his name, seven lines of the first stanza, beginning at the words, “ from whose rough vault,” are left out. Their exceeding weight, the contrast of the dirt and squalor with the gold, and the spider's webs dusking over all, compose chief part of the grandeur of the description (as indeed he has just said). Hogarth, by the way, has hit upon the same thought of a spider's web for his poor's-box, in the wedding-scene in Mary-le-bone church. So do tragedy and comedy meet.
15 “ Not such as earth,” &c.-Upton thinks it not unlikely that Spenser imagined the direful deadly and black fruits which this infernal garden bears, from a like garden which Dante describes, Inferno, canto xiii., v. 4.
Non frondi verdi, ma di color fosco,
(No leaves of green were theirs, but dusky sad;
Dante's garden, however, has no flowers. It is a human grove ; that is to say, made of trees that were once human beings,—an aggravation (according to his customary improve. ment upon horrors) of a like solitary instance in Virgil, which Spenser has also imitated in his story of Fradubio, book i., canto 2, st. 30.
16 There mournful cypress grew in greatest store, &c.
Among the trees and flowers here mentioned, heben, is ebony; coloquintida, the bitter gourd or apple; tetra, the tetrum solanum, or deadly night-shade; samnitis, Upton takes to be the Sabine, or savine-tree; and cicuta is the hemlock, which Socrates drank when he poured out to his friends his “last philosophy.” How beautifully said is that! But the commentators have shown that it was a slip of memory in the poet to make Critias their representative on the occasion,--that apostate from his philoso. phy not having been present. Belamy is bel ami, fair friend, a phrase answering to good friend, in the old French writers.
17 The garden of Prosèrpina this hight. The idea of a garden and a golden tree for Proserpina is in Claudian, De Raptu Proserpina, lib. ii., v. 290. But Spenser has made the flowers funereal, and added the “ silver seat," a strong yet still delicate contrast to the black flowers, and in cold sympathy with them. It has also a certain fair and ladylike fitness to the possessor of the arbor. May I venture, with all reverence to Spenser, to express a wish that he had made a
like fitnespathy with thate contrast
compromise with the flowers of Claudian, and retained them by the side of the others? Proserpine was an unwilling bride, though she became a reconciled wife. She deserved to enjoy her Sicilian flowers ; and besides, in possessing a nature supe. rior to her position, she would not be without innocent and cheerful thoughts. Perhaps, however, our “ sage and serious Spenser” would have answered, that she could see into what was good in these evil flowers, and so get a contentment from objects which appeared only melancholy to others. It is cer. tainly a high instance of modern imagination, this venturing to make a pleasure-garden out of the flowers of pain.
18 “ But they from hence were sold.”_Upton proposes that “with a little variation,” this word sold should be read stold ; " that is,” says he,“ procured by stealth :”—he does not like to say stolen. “ The wise convey it call.” Spenser certainly would have no objection to spell the word in any way most convenient; and I confess I wish, with Upton, that he had exercised his licence in this instance; though he might have argued, that the infernal powers are not in the habit of letting people have their goods for nothing. In how few of the instances that follow did the pos- session of the golden apples turn out well! Are we sure that it prospered in any ? For Acontius succeeded with his apple by a trick; and after all, as the same commentator observes, it was not with a golden apple, but common mortal-looking fruit, though gathered in the garden of Venus. He wrote a promise upon it to marry him, and so his mistress read, and betrothed herself. The story is in Ovid: Heroides, Epist. xx., xxi.
19 For which the Idæan ladies disagreed.
“ He calls the three goddesses that contended for the prize of beauty, boldly but elegantly enough, Idæan Ladies.”—JORTIN. “He calls the Muses and the Graces likewise, Ladies." CHURCH. “ The ladies may be further gratified by Milton's adaptation of their title to the celebrated daughters of Hesperus, whom he calls Ladies of the Hesperides.”—TODD. The ladies of the present day, in which so much good poetry and reading have revived, will smile at the vindication of a word again become common, and so frequent in the old poets and romancers.
20 Which overhanging, they themselves did steep
In a black flood, which flowed about it round, &c.
The tree, observe, grew in the middle of “this great garden," and yet overhung its utmost bounds, and steeped itself in the black river by which it was encircled. We are to imagine the branches with their fruit stretching over the garden like one enormous arbor or trellice, and mixing a certain lustrous light with the gloom and the funereal flowers. You walk in the shadow of a golden death. What an excessive and gorgeous luxury beside the blackness of hell!
21 And looking down saw many damnèd wights
In those sad waves which direful deadly stank,
Virgil appears to have been the first who ventured to find sublimity in a loathsome odor. I say “ appears,” because many Greek writers have perished whom he copied, and it is probable the invention was theirs. A greater genius, Dante, followed him in this, as in other respects; and, probably, would have set the example had it not been given him. Sackville fol. lowed both ; and the very excess of Spenser's sense of the beautiful and attractive would render him fully aware of the capabilities of this intensity of the repulsive. Burke notices the subject in his treatise on the Sublime and Beautiful. The following is the conclusion of his remarks :-“It is one of the tests by which the sublimity of an image is to be tried, not whether it becomes mean when associated with mean ideas, but whether, when united with images of an allowed grandeur, the whole composition is supported with dignity. Things which are terrible are always great; but when things possess disagreeable qualities, or such as have indeed some degree of danger, but of a danger easily overcome, they are merely odious, as toads and spiders.”—Part the Second, Section the Twenty-first. Both points