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Of Spenser Stanza, Versification, and Language.
ALTHOUGH Spenser's favourite Chaucer had made use of the ottava rima*, or stanza of eight lines; yet it seems probable that Spenser was principally induced to adopt it, with the addition of one line, from the practice of Ariosto and Tasso, the most fashionable poets of his age. But Spenser, in chusing this stanza, did not sufficiently consider the genius of the English language, which does not easily fall into a frequent repetition of the same termination; a circum
* Chaucer's stanza is not strictly so.
Betussi, in his Life of Boccace, acquaints us, that Boccace was the inventor of the ottava rima, and that the Theseide of that author was the first poem in which it was ever applied.
stance natural to the Italian, which deals largely in identical cadences.
Besides, it is to be remembered, that Tasso and Ariosto did not embarrass themselves with the necessity of finding out so many similar terminations as Spenser. Their ottava rima has only three similar endings, alternately rhyming. The two last lines formed a distinct rhyme. But in Spenser, the second rhyme is repeated four times, and the third three*.
This constraint led our author into many absurdities; the most striking and obvious of which seem to be the following.
I. It obliged him to dilate the thing to be expressed, however unimportant, with trifling and tedious circumlocutions, viz.
* See examples of the measures of the Provencial poets in Petrarch. Spenser forms a compound of many of these.
ow hath fair Phæbe, with her silver face,
2. 3. 44.
That is, “it is three months since I left her palace.”
II. It necessitated him, when matter failed towards the close of a stanza, to run into a ridiculous redundancy and repetition of words, viz.
In which was nothing pourtrahed nor wrought,
2. 9. 33.
III. It forced him, that he might make out his complement of rhymes, to introduce a puerile or impertinent idea, viz.
Not that proud towre of Troy, though richly gilt.
2. 9. 45.
Being here laid under the compulsion of producing a consonant word to spilt and built, which are preceding rhymes, he has mechanically given us an image at once little and improper.
To the difficulty of a stanza so injudiciously chosen, I think we may properly im. pute the great
number of his ellipses, some of which will be pointed out at large in another place; and it may be easily conceived, how that constraint which occasioned superfluity, should at the same time be the cause of omission.
Notwithstanding these inconveniencies flow from Spenser's measure, it must yet be owned, that some advantages arise from it; and we may venture to affirm, that the fullness and significancy of Spenser's descriptions is often owing to the prolixity of his stanza, and the multitude of his rhymes.
The discerning reader is desired to consider the following stanza, as an instance of what is here advanced. Guyon is binding Furor.
With hundred iron chaines he did him bind
Shakt his long locks colour'd like copper wire,
2. 4. 15.
In the subsequent stanza there are some images, which perhaps were produced by a multiplicity of rhymes.
He all that night, that too long night did passe,
And now the day out of the ocean-maine
3. 5, 26,