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grove ; that is to say, made of trees that were once human beings,-an aggravation (according to his customary improvement 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 nightshade ; 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 philosophy 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 Proserpina this hight. Theidea of a garden and a golden tree for Proserpina is in Claudian, De Raptu Proserpine, lib. 2, 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 lady-like fitness to the possessor of the arbour. May I
venture, with all reverence to Spenser, to express a wish that he had made a 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 superior 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 certainly 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 possession 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 Idean 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 flow'd 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 arbour 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 direfull deadly stank,
That with their piteous cries, &c. Virgil appears to have been the first who ventured to find sublimity in a loathsome odour. 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. Sackvile followed 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 are easily illustrated. Passing by a foul ditch, you are simply disgusted, and turn aside: but imagine yourself crossing a mountain, and coming upon a hot and slimy valley in which a pestilential vapour ascends from a city, the inhabitants of which have died of the plague and been left unburied ; or fancy the great basin of the Caspian Sea deprived of its waters, and the horror which their refuse would send up over the neighbouring regions.
22 He daily died, yet never thoroughly dyën couth. Die could ; he never could thoroughly die. Truly horrible; and, as Swift says of his hanging footman, very satisfactory to the beholders." Yet Spenser's Tantalus, and his Pontius Pilate, and indeed the whole of this latter part of his hell, strike us with but a poor sort of cruelty compared with any like number of pages out of the tremendous volume of Dante. But the far greater part of our extract, the sooty golden cave of Mammon, and the mortal beauty of the garden of Proserpine, with its golden fruit hanging in the twilight; all, in short, in which Spenser combines his usual luxury with grandeur, are as fine as anything of the kind which Dante or any one else ever conceived.
23 “ I Pilate am,” &c.—Let it not be supposed that