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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

A Spenserian poem in two cantos


It

may be guessed that Johnson and Boswell, in their tour to the Hebrides or Western Islands, saw nothing of the "spectral puppet play" hinted at in this passage--the most imaginative in any of Spenser's school till we get to Keats'

"Magic casements opening on the foam Of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn."

William Julius Mickle, the translator of the "Lusiad," was a more considerable poet than any of the Spenserian imitators thus far reviewed, with the exception of Thomson and the possible exception of Shenstone. He wrote at least two poems that are likely to be remembered. One of these was the ballad of "Cumnor Hall" which suggested Scott's "Kenilworth," and came near giving its name to the novel. The other was the dialect song of "The Mariner's Wife," which Burns admired so greatly:

"Sae true his heart, sae smooth his speech, His breath like caller air, His very foot has music in't, As he comes up the stair, For there's nae luck about the house, There is nae luck at a', There's little pleasure in the house When our gudeman's awa',"[33]

Mickle, like Thomson, was a Scotchman who came to London to push his literary fortunes. He received some encouragement from Lyttelton, but was disappointed in his hopes of any substantial aid from the British Maecenas. His biographer informs us that "about

his thirteenth year, on Spenser's 'Faerie Queene' falling accidentally in his way, he was immediately struck with the picturesque descriptions of that much admired ancient bard and powerfully incited to imitate his style and manner."[34] In 1767 Mickle published "The Concubine," a Spenserian poem in two cantos. In the preface to his second edition, 1778, in which the title was changed to "Syr Martyn," he said that: "The fullness and wantonness of description, the quaint simplicity, and, above all, the ludicrous, of which the antique phraseology and manner of Spenser are so happily and peculiarly susceptible, inclined him to esteem it not solely as the best, but the only mode of composition adapted to his subject."

"Syr Martyn" is a narrative poem not devoid of animation, especially where the author forgets his Spenser. But in the second canto he feels compelled to introduce an absurd allegory, in which the nymph Dissipation and her henchman Self-Imposition conduct the hero to the cave of Discontent. This is how Mickle writes when he is thinking of the "Faerie Queene":

"Eke should he, freed from fous enchanter's spell, Escape his false Duessa's magic charms, And folly quaid, yclept an hydra fell Receive a beauteous lady to his arms; While bards and minstrels chaunt the soft alarms Of gentle love, unlike his former thrall: Eke should I sing, in courtly cunning terms, The gallant feast, served up by seneschal, To knights and ladies gent in painted bower or hall."

And this is how he writes when he drops his pattern:

"Awake, ye west winds, through the lonely dale, And, Fancy, to thy faerie bower betake! Even now, with balmy freshness, breathes the gale, Dimpling with downy wing the stilly lake; Through the pale willows faltering whispers wake, And evening comes with locks bedropt with dew; On Desmond's moldering turrets slowly shake The trembling rye-grass and the harebell blue, And ever and anon fair Mulla's plaints renew."


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