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of diction amounting to diffuseness at times, the diffuseness of a fragrant, beautiful, flowering vine. We may say of the poets that employ this manner that they are worshippers of beauty rather than students of beauty's laws; ornate in their expression of the type, dwelling on detail in thought and image lovingly elaborated and sweetly prolonged. To such artists it is no matter if a play have five acts or twenty-five, if an epic ever come to an end, or if consistency of parts exist; rapt in the joy of gentle onward motion, in the elevation of pure poetic thought, even the subject ceases to be of much import, if it but furnish the channel in which the bright, limpid liquid continues musically to flow.
Besides his pastorals, Drayton Spenserized the enormous Polyolbion. The Fletchers followed with subjects theological and anatomical also allegorized after the manner of Spenser. But the poetry of none of these need concern us here: not even the beautiful later pastorals of Wither and Browne. For, Drayton aside, the last two poets are the only followers of Spenser who have achieved the unity and repression of a successful lyric; and by the accession of King Charles, Browne had ceased to write, and Wither had already straggled off into his innumerable devotional pamphlets, verse and prose, in which were much fibre and many tendrils, but little bloom. In the period with which this book is concerned the direct influence of Spenser is chiefly to be found in the earlier poetry of Milton, which, despite its remarkable originality and the traces of other influences than this, exhibits in the main the distinctive "notes " of Spenserianism, restrained by a chaster taste and by a spirit profoundly imbued with the classics.
As Milton is chief amongst the poets included in this book, it cannot be wide of our purpose to stop in our discussion to consider these Spenserian "notes" in his earlier poetry. Take the following:
Genius. Stay, gentle swains, for, though in this disguise,
I know this quest of yours and free intent
This is early work of Milton and exhibits nearly every one of the "notes" mentioned above, sweetness, melody, naturalness, continuousness in metre and sense, personification : "What shallow-searching Fame hath left untold"; classical allusion Arcady, Alpheus, Arethusa, "Fair silver-buskined Nymphs." A use of nature for decorative effect pervades the whole passage. For pictorial vividness, in which however Milton never surpassed his master, we must look to other passages. A more striking example of some of these qualities of Milton's earlier poetry will be found in the famous song from Comus, Sabrina fair (p. 38, below, vv.9–32), wherein we have almost a complete list of the ancient deities of the sea from "great Oceanus to "fair Ligea's golden comb.” Some of the allusions of this song (e.g., "the Carpathian wizard's hook")1 we may suspect were not altogether luminous to the casual reader of Milton's own day, despite his "greater
1 See note on this passage, p. 243, below.
wont" in the classics. Milton's evident delight in passages such as this is made up of two elements: first, a sensuous love of musical sound, the mingled charm of sonorous classical words and their unusual effect in the contrast of their English setting; and, secondly, the scholar's satisfactionpedantic in a lesser man in lavishing his learning on his verse for Milton possessed to the full the scholar's consciousness in the practice of his art. In view of the rhetorical finish of Milton's poetry, and the high sense of constructiveness which informs his work in even its apparently most unpremeditated flights, especially in view of the carefully wrought and subtly varied cadences of his blank verse, I do not feel certain that the customary classification of Milton with the poets of the past age, rather than with his actual contemporaries, is a classification wholly to be justified.
If now we turn to the poetry of Ben Jonson, more especially to his lyrical verse, the first thing that we note is a sense of form, not merely in detail and transition like the "links... bright and even of The Faery Queen, but a sense of the entire poem in its relation to its parts. This sense involves brevity and condensity of expression, a feeling on the part of the poet that the effect may be spoiled by a word too much a feeling which no true Spenserian ever knew. There is about this poetry a sense of finish rather than of elaboration; it is less continuous than complete; more concentrated, less diffuse; chaste rather than florid; controlled, and yet not always less spontaneous; reserved, and yet not always less natural. There are other things to note in the Jonsonian manner. It retained classical allusion less for the sake of embellishment than as an atmosphere to borrow a term from the nomenclature of art. Its drafts upon ancient mythology become allusive, and the effects produced by Horace, Catullus, or Anacreon are essayed in reproduction under
English conditions. Not less eager in the pursuit of beauty than the Spenserian, the manner of Jonson seeks to realize her perfections by means of constructive excellence, not by entranced passion. It concerns itself with choiceness in diction, selectiveness in style, with the repression of wandering ideas and loosely conceived figures in a word, the manner of Jonson involves classicality.
Into the nature of the poetry of Donne I need not enter at length here. It is sufficient for our purposes to remember that the tokens of the presence of Donne consist in an excessive subjectivity that involves at times all but a total oblivion to the forms of the outward, visible world; a disregard of the tried and conventional imagery and classical reference of the day, and the substitution for it of images of abstraction derived from contemporary philosophy and science; an habitual transmutation of emotion into terms of the intellect; and an analytic presentation and handling of theme, involving great rhetorical, and at times dialectic skill. To these qualities must be added a successful inventive ingenuity in the device of metrical effects, which despised tradition; and, most important of all, a power in dealing with the abstract relations of things which raises Donne, in his possession of the rare quality, poetic insight, at times to a poet of the first order.
Thus we find Spenser and Jonson standing as exponents, respectively, of the expansive or romantic movement and the repressive or classical spirit. In a different line of distinction Donne is equally in contrast with Spenser, as the intensive or subjective artist. Both are romanticists, in that each seeks to produce the effect demanded of art by means of an appeal to the sense of novelty; but Spenser's romanticism is that of selection, which chooses from the outer world the fitting and the pleasing and constructs it into a permanent artistic joy; Donne's is the romanticism of insight, which,
looking inward, descries the subtle relations of things and transfigures them with a sudden and unexpected flood of light. Between Jonson and Donne there is the kinship of intellectuality; between Spenser and Donne the kinship of romanticism; between Spenser and Jonson the kinship of the poet's joy in beauty. Spenser is the most objective, and therefore allegorical and at times mystical; Jonson is the most artistic, and therefore the most logical; Donne is the most subjective and the most spiritual.
In the year 1625 many traces of the poetry of the last century remained, especially in the lyric. The impetus which had been given by Lyly and Shakespeare to the writing of lyrical verse to be set to music in the incidental songs of the drama continued in the dramatists Dekker, Fletcher, Massinger, and Jonson himself. All carried on their own earlier practice, Ford and Shirley following. These last two poets have left lyrics scarcely less beautiful than the best of the earlier age; whilst not a few of the minor playwrights, Thomas May, Thomas Goffe, Richard Brome, Thomas Randolph, even Aurelian Townsend, have reached distinction in individual instances. The popularity of song books continued throughout the century, but we have no work in this field approaching the poetry of Campion. The general character of collections such as his, which offered original words with original music, was maintained in the various works of Wilson, Henry and William Lawes, Lanier, Playford, D'Urfey, and many others. The poetical miscellany held its popularity in collections of very mixed quality, from sacred or secular lyrical poetry to the satirical broadside or book of jests and coarse epigrams. Some of these books contain gleanings from the best poets of the day, but the general