This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Eheu! serenum quae nebulae tegunt
Repente caelum! quis sonus imbrium! Surgamus–heu semper fugaci
Gaudia praeteritura passu!


The solemn-breathing air is ended–
Cease, O Lyre! thy kindred lay!
From the poplar branch suspended,
Glitter to the eye of day!

On thy wires, hov’ring, dying,
Softly sighs the summer wind:
I will slumber, careless lying,
By yon waterfall reclin’d.

In the forest hollow-roaring,
Hark! I hear a deep’ning sound–
Clouds rise thick with heavy low’ring! See! th’ horizon blackens round!

Parent of the soothing measure,
Let me seize thy wetted string!
Swiftly flies the flatterer, pleasure, Headlong, ever on the wing!

[Footnote 1: The Odes of Casimire translated by G.H. [G. Hils.] London, 1646. 12mo. Ed.]

[Footnote 2: Had Casimir any better authority for this quantity than Tertullian’s line,–

Immemor ille Dei temere committere tale–?

In the classic poets the last syllable is, I believe, uniformly cut off. Ed.]



Dim Hour! that sleep’st on pillowing clouds afar, O rise, and yoke the turtles to thy car! Bend o’er the traces, blame each lingering dove, And give me to the bosom of my love!
My gentle love! caressing and carest, With heaving heart shall cradle me to rest; Shed the warm tear-drop from her smiling eyes, Lull with fond woe, and med’cine me with sighs; While finely-flushing float her kisses meek, Like melted rubies, o’er my pallid cheek.

Chill’d by the night, the drooping rose of May Mourns the long absence of the lovely day: Young Day returning at her promised hour, Weeps o’er the sorrows of the fav’rite flower,– Weeps the soft dew, the balmy gale she sighs, And darts a trembling lustre from her eyes. New life and joy th’ expanding flow’ret feels: His pitying mistress mourns, and mourning heals!


In my calmer moments I have the firmest faith that all things work together for good. But, alas! it seems a long and a dark process:–


The early year’s fast-flying vapours stray In shadowing trains across the orb of day; And we, poor insects of a few short hours, Deem it a world of gloom.
Were it not better hope, a nobler doom, Proud to believe, that with more active powers On rapid many-colour’d wing,
We thro’ one bright perpetual spring Shall hover round the fruits and flowers, Screen’d by those clouds, and cherish’d by those showers!



These, Virtue, are thy triumphs, that adorn Fitliest our nature, and bespeak us born For loftiest action;–not to gaze and run From clime to clime; or batten in the sun, Dragging a drony flight from flower to flower, Like summer insects in a gaudy hour;
Nor yet o’er lovesick tales with fancy range, And cry, ”Tis pitiful,’tis passing strange!’ But on life’s varied views to look around, And raise expiring sorrow from the ground:– And he–who thus hath borne his part assign’d In the sad fellowship of human kind,
Or for a moment soothed the bitter pain Of a poor brother–has not lived in vain.




Tho’ Miss—-‘s match is a subject of mirth She consider’d the matter full well,
And wisely preferr’d leading one ape on earth To perhaps a whole dozen in hell.



From Rufa’s eye sly Cupid shot his dart, And left it sticking in Sangrado’s heart. No quiet from that moment has he known, And peaceful sleep has from his eyelids flown; And opium’s force, and what is more, alack! His own orations cannot bring it back.
In short, unless she pities his afflictions, Despair will make him take his own prescriptions.



There comes from old Avaro’s grave
A deadly stench;–why, sure, they have Immured his soul within his grave!



Last Monday all the papers said
That Mr.—- was dead;
Why, then, what said the city?
The tenth part sadly shook their head, And shaking sigh’d, and sighing said,
“Pity, indeed, ’tis pity!”

But when the said report was found
A rumour wholly without ground,
Why, then, what said the city?
The other nine parts shook their head, Repeating what the tenth had said,
“Pity, indeed, ’tis pity!”




–nitens, et roboris expers Turget et insolida est: at spe delectat. (Ovid).

Thy smiles I note, sweet early flower, That peeping from thy rustic bower,
The festive news to earth dost bring, A fragrant messenger of spring!

But tender blossom, why so pale?
Dost hear stern winter in the gale? And didst them tempt th’ ungentle sky
To catch one vernal glance and die?

Such the wan lustre sickness wears,
When health’s first feeble beam appears; So languid are the smiles that seek
To settle on the care-worn cheek,

When timorous hope the head uprears, Still drooping and still moist with tears, If, through dispersing grief, be seen
Of bliss the heavenly spark serene.



This day among the faithful placed,
And fed with fontal manna,
O with maternal title graced
Dear Anna’s dearest Anna!–

While others wish thee wise and fair, A maid of spotless fame,
I’ll breathe this more compendious prayer– May’st thou deserve thy name!

Thy mother’s name–a potent spell,
That bids the virtues hie
From mystic grove and living cell
Confess’d to fancy’s eye;–

Meek quietness without offence;
Content in homespun kirtle;
True love; and true love’s innocence, White blossom of the myrtle!

Associates of thy name, sweet child!
These virtues may’st thou win;
With face as eloquently mild
To say, they lodge within.

So, when her tale of days all flown,
Thy mother shall be mist here;
When Heaven at length shall claim its own, And angels snatch their sister;

Some hoary-headed friend, perchance,
May gaze with stifled breath;
And oft, in momentary trance,
Forget the waste of death.

Ev’n thus a lovely rose I view’d,
In summer-swelling pride;
Nor mark’d the bud, that green and rude Peep’d at the rose’s side.

It chanced, I pass’d again that way
In autumn’s latest hour,
And wond’ring saw the selfsame spray Rich with the selfsame flower.

Ah, fond deceit! the rude green bud
Alike in shape, place, name,
Had bloom’d, where bloom’d its parent stud, Another and the same!



Hoarse Maevius reads his hobbling verse To all, and at all times;
And finds them both divinely smooth, His voice, as well as rhymes.

Yet folks say–“Maevius is no ass:”– But Maevius makes it clear,
That he’s a monster of an ass,
An ass without an ear.




Laetus abi! mundi strepitu curisque remotus; Laetus abi! caeli qua vocat alma quies. Ipsa Fides loquitur, lacrymamque incusat inanem, Quae cadit in vestros, care pater, cineres. Heu! tantum liceat meritos hos solvere ritus, Et longum tremula dicere voce, Vale!


Depart in joy from this world’s noise and strife To the deep quiet of celestial life!
Depart!–Affection’s self reproves the tear Which falls, O honour’d Parent! on thy bier;– Yet Nature will be heard, the heart will swell, And the voice tremble with a last Farewell!


The following poem is intended as the introduction to a somewhat longer one. The use of the old ballad word ‘Ladie’ for Lady, is the only piece of obsoleteness in it; and as it is professedly a tale of ancient times, I trust that the affectionate lovers of venerable antiquity, as Camden says, will grant me their pardon, and perhaps may be induced to admit a force and propriety in it. A heavier objection may be adduced against the author, that in these times of fear and expectation, when novelties explode around us in all directions, he should presume to offer to the public a silly tale of old-fashioned love: and five years ago, I own I should have allowed and felt the force of this objection. But alas! explosion has succeeded explosion so rapidly, that novelty itself ceases to appear new; and it is possible that now, even a simple story, wholly uninspired with politics or personality, may find some attention amid the hubbub of revolutions, as to those who have remained a long time by the falls of Niagara, the lowest whispering becomes distinctly audible. 1799.

O leave the lily on its stem;
O leave the rose upon the spray;
O leave the elder-bloom, fair maids! And listen to my lay.

A cypress and a myrtle-bough
This morn around my harp you twin’d, Because it fashion’d mournfully
Its murmurs in the wind.

And now a tale of love and woe,
A woful tale of love I sing;
Hark, gentle maidens, hark! it sighs And trembles on the string.

But most, my own dear Genevieve,
It sighs and trembles most for thee! O come and hear the cruel wrongs
Befell the Dark Ladie! [1]

And now once more a tale of woe,
A woful tale of love I sing;
For thee, my Genevieve! it sighs,
And trembles on the string.

When last I sang the cruel scorn
That craz’d this bold and lovely knight, And how he roam’d the mountain-woods,
Nor rested day or night;

I promised thee a sister tale
Of man’s perfidious cruelty;
Come, then, and hear what cruel wrong Befell the Dark Ladie.

[Footnote 1: Here followed the stanzas, afterwards published separately under the title “Love.” (Poet. Works, vol. i. p. 145. Pickering, 1834.) and after them came the other three stanzas printed above; the whole forming the introduction to the intended Dark Ladie, of which all that exists is to be found ibid. p. 150. Ed.]



We ask and urge–(here ends the story!) All Christian Papishes to pray
That this unhappy Conjuror may,
Instead of Hell, be but in Purgatory,– For then there’s hope;–Long live the Pope!



The butterfly the ancient Grecians made The soul’s fair emblem, and its only name– But of the soul, escap’d the slavish trade Of mortal life!–For in this earthly frame Ours is the reptile’s lot, much toil, much blame, Manifold motions making little speed,
And to deform and kill the things whereon we feed.



How seldom, Friend! a good great man inherits Honour or wealth, with all his worth and pains! It sounds like stories from the land of spirits, If any man obtain that which he merits, Or any merit that which he obtains.


For shame, dear Friend! renounce this canting strain! What would’st thou have a good great man obtain? Place–titles–salary–a gilded chain– Or throne of corses which his sword hath slain?– Greatness and goodness are not means, but ends! Hath he not always treasures, always friends, The good great man?–three treasures, love and light, And calm thoughts, regular as infants’ breath;– And three firm friends, more sure than day and night– Himself, his Maker, and the angel Death.



Composed Before Day-Light on the Morning Appointed for the Departure of a Very Worthy, But Not Very Pleasant Visitor, Whom It Was Feared The Rain Might Detain.

I know it is dark; and though I have lain Awake, as I guess, an hour or twain,
I have not once open’d the lids of my eyes, But I lie in the dark, as a blind man lies. O Rain! that I lie listening to,
You’re but a doleful sound at best: I owe you little thanks, ’tis true,
For breaking thus my needful rest! Yet if, as soon as it is light,
O Rain! you will but take your flight, I’ll neither rail, nor malice keep,
Though sick and sore for want of sleep.

But only now, for this one day,
Do go, dear Rain! do go away!
O Rain! with your dull two-fold sound, The clash hard by, and the murmur all round! You know, if you know aught, that we,
Both night and day, but ill agree:
For days, and months, and almost years, Have limped on through this vale of tears, Since body of mine, and rainy weather,
Have lived on easy terms together.
Yet if, as soon as it is light,
O Rain! you will but take your flight, Though you should come again to-morrow,
And bring with you both pain and sorrow; Though stomach should sicken, and knees should swell– I’ll nothing speak of you but well.
But only now for this one day,
Do go, dear Rain! do go away!

Dear Rain! I ne’er refused to say
You’re a good creature in your way. Nay, I could write a book myself,
Would fit a parson’s lower shelf,
Showing, how very good you are.–
What then? sometimes it must be fair! And if sometimes, why not to-day?
Do go, dear Rain! do go away!

Dear Rain! if I’ve been cold and shy, Take no offence! I’ll tell you why.
A dear old Friend e’en now is here, And with him came my sister dear;
After long absence now first met,
Long months by pain and grief beset– With three dear friends! in truth, we groan Impatiently to be alone.
We three, you mark! and not one more! The strong wish makes my spirit sore.
We have so much to talk about,
So many sad things to let out;
So many tears in our eye-corners,
Sitting like little Jacky Horners– In short, as soon as it is day,
Do go, dear Rain! do go away.

And this I’ll swear to you, dear Rain! Whenever you shall come again,
Be you as dull as e’er you could;
(And by the bye ’tis understood,
You’re not so pleasant, as you’re good;) Yet, knowing well your worth and place,
I’ll welcome you with cheerful face; And though you stay’d a week or more,
Were ten times duller than before;
Yet with kind heart, and right good will, I’ll sit and listen to you still;
Nor should you go away, dear Rain!
Uninvited to remain.
But only now, for this one day,
Do go, dear Rain! do go away.



Of a Passage in Ottfried’s Metrical Paraphrase of the Gospels.

“This Paraphrase, written about the time of Charlemagne, is by no means deficient in occasional passages of considerable poetic merit. There is a flow, and a tender enthusiasm in the following lines (at the conclusion of Chapter V.), which even in the translation will not, I flatter myself, fail to interest the reader. Ottfried is describing the circumstances immediately following the birth of our Lord.”–‘Biog. Lit.’ vol. i. p. 203.

She gave with joy her virgin breast;
She hid it not, she bared the breast, Which suckled that divinest babe!
Blessed, blessed were the breasts
Which the Saviour infant kiss’d;
And blessed, blessed was the mother Who wrapp’d his limbs in swaddling clothes, Singing placed him on her lap,
Hung o’er him with her looks of love, And soothed him with a lulling motion.

Blessed! for she shelter’d him
From the damp and chilling air;–
Blessed, blessed! for she lay
With such a babe in one blest bed, Close as babes and mothers lie!
Blessed, blessed evermore,
With her virgin lips she kiss’d,
With her arms, and to her breast,
She embraced the babe divine,
Her babe divine the virgin mother! There lives not on this ring of earth
A mortal that can sing her praise. Mighty mother, virgin pure,
In the darkness and the night
For us she bore the heavenly Lord.


“Most interesting is it to consider the effect, when the feelings are wrought above the natural pitch by the belief of something mysterious, while all the images are purely natural: then it is that religion and poetry strike deepest.”–‘Biog. Lit.’ vol. i. p. 204.



Mourn, Israel! Sons of Israel, mourn! Give utterance to the inward throe,
As wails of her first love forlorn The virgin clad in robes of woe!

Mourn the young mother snatch’d away From light and life’s ascending sun!
Mourn for the babe, death’s voiceless prey, Earn’d by long pangs, and lost ere won!

Mourn the bright rose that bloom’d and went, Ere half disclosed its vernal hue!
Mourn the green bud, so rudely rent, It brake the stem on which it grew!

Mourn for the universal woe,
With solemn dirge and falt’ring tongue; For England’s Lady is laid low,
So dear, so lovely, and so young!

The blossoms on her tree of life
Shone with the dews of recent bliss;– Translated in that deadly strife
She plucks its fruit in Paradise.

Mourn for the prince, who rose at morn To seek and bless the firstling bud
Of his own rose, and found the thorn, Its point bedew’d with tears of blood.

Mourn for Britannia’s hopes decay’d;– Her daughters wail their dear defence,
Their fair example, prostrate laid, Chaste love, and fervid innocence!

O Thou! who mark’st the monarch’s path, To sad Jeshurun’s sons attend!
Amid the lightnings of thy wrath
The showers of consolation send!

Jehovah frowns!–The Islands bow,
And prince and people kiss the rod! Their dread chastising judge wert Thou– Be Thou their comforter, O God!



The rose that blushes like the morn
Bedecks the valleys low;
And so dost thou, sweet infant corn, My Angelina’s toe.

But on the rose there grows a thorn
That breeds disastrous woe;
And so dost thou, remorseless corn, On Angelina’s toe.



This way or that, ye Powers above me! I of my grief were rid–
Did Enna either really love me,
Or cease to think she did.



We pledged our hearts, my love and I,– I in my arms the maiden clasping;
I could not tell the reason why,
But, oh! I trembled like an aspen.

Her father’s love she bade me gain;
I went, and shook like any reed!
I strove to act the man–in vain!
We had exchanged our hearts indeed.



Resembles life what once was deem’d of light, Too ample in itself for human sight?
An absolute self–an element ungrounded– All that we see, all colours of all shade By encroach of darkness made?–
Is very life by consciousness unbounded? And all the thoughts, pains, joys of mortal breath, A war-embrace of wrestling life and death?



Now! It is gone.–Our brief hours travel post, Each with its thought or deed, its Why or How:– But know, each parting hour gives up a ghost To dwell within thee–an eternal Now!



Quae linquam, aut nihil, aut nihili, aut vix sunt mea;– Do Morti;–reddo caetera, Christe! tibi. [sordes.]



There are few families, at present, in the higher and middle classes of English society, in which literary topics and the productions of the Fine Arts, in some one or other of their various forms, do not occasionally take their turn in contributing to the entertainment of the social board, and the amusement of the circle at the fire side. The acquisitions and attainments of the intellect ought, indeed, to hold a very inferior rank in our estimation, opposed to moral worth, or even to professional and specific skill, prudence, and industry. But why should they be opposed, when they may be made subservient merely by being subordinated? It can rarely happen, that a man of social disposition, altogether a stranger to subjects of taste, (almost the only ones on which persons of both sexes can converse with a common interest) should pass through the world without at times feeling dissatisfied with himself. The best proof of this is to be found in the marked anxiety which men, who have succeeded in life without the aid of these accomplishments, shew in securing them to their children. A young man of ingenuous mind will not wilfully deprive himself of any species of respect. He will wish to feel himself on a level with the average of the society in which he lives, though he may be ambitious of distinguishing himself only in his own immediate pursuit or occupation.

Under this conviction, the following Course of Lectures was planned. The several titles will best explain the particular subjects and purposes of each: but the main objects proposed, as the result of all, are the two following.

1. To convey, in a form best fitted to render them impressive at the time, and remembered afterwards, rules and principles of sound judgment, with a kind and degree of connected information, such as the hearers cannot generally be supposed likely to form, collect, and arrange for themselves, by their own unassisted studies. It might be presumption to say, that any important part of these Lectures could not be derived from books; but none, I trust, in supposing, that the same information could not be so surely or conveniently acquired from such books as are of commonest occurrence, or with that quantity of time and attention which can be reasonably expected, or even wisely desired, of men engaged in business and the active duties of the world.

2. Under a strong persuasion that little of real value is derived by persons in general from a wide and various reading; but still more deeply convinced as to the actual mischief of unconnected and promiscuous reading, and that it is sure, in a greater or less degree, to enervate even where it does not likewise inflate; I hope to satisfy many an ingenuous mind, seriously interested in its own development and cultivation, how moderate a number of volumes, if only they be judiciously chosen, will suffice for the attainment of every wise and desirable purpose; that is, in addition to those which he studies for specific and professional purposes. It is saying less than the truth to affirm, that an excellent book (and the remark holds almost equally good of a Raphael as of a Milton) is like a well chosen and well tended fruit tree. Its fruits are not of one season only. With the due and natural intervals, we may recur to it year after year, and it will supply the same nourishment and the same gratification, if only we ourselves return to it with the same healthful appetite.

The subjects of the Lectures are indeed very different, but not (in the strict sense of the term) diverse; they are various, rather than miscellaneous. There is this bond of connexion common to them all,–that the mental pleasure which they are calculated to excite is not dependent on accidents of fashion, place, or age, or the events or the customs of the day; but commensurate with the good sense, taste, and feeling, to the cultivation of which they themselves so largely contribute, as being all in kind, though not all in the same degree, productions of genius.

What it would be arrogant to promise, I may yet be permitted to hope,–that the execution will prove correspondent and adequate to the plan. Assuredly, my best efforts have not been wanting so to select and prepare the materials, that, at the conclusion of the Lectures, an attentive auditor, who should consent to aid his future recollection by a few notes taken either during each Lecture or soon after, would rarely feel himself, for the time to come, excluded, from taking an intelligent interest in any general conversation likely to occur in mixed society.

‘Syllabus of the Course’.

I. January 27, 1818.–On the manners, morals, literature, philosophy, religion, and the state of society in general, in European Christendom, from the eighth to the fifteenth century, (that is from A.D. 700, to A.D. 1400), more particularly in reference to England, France, Italy and Germany; in other words, a portrait of the so called dark ages of Europe.

II. January 30.–On the tales and metrical romances common, for the most part, to England, Germany, and the north of France, and on the English songs and ballads, continued to the reign of Charles I. A few selections will be made from the Swedish, Danish, and German languages, translated for the purpose by the Lecturer.

III. February 3.–Chaucer and Spenser; of Petrarch; of Ariosto, Pulci, and Boiardo.

IV. V. VI. February 6, 10, l3.–On the dramatic works of Shakspeare. In these Lectures will be comprised the substance of Mr. Coleridge’s former courses on the same subject, enlarged and varied by subsequent study and reflection.

VII. February l7.–On Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger; with the probable causes of the cessation of dramatic poetry in England with Shirley and Otway, soon after the restoration of Charles II.

VIII. February 20.–Of the life and all the works of Cervantes, but chiefly of his Don Quixote. The ridicule of knight errantry shewn to have been but a secondary object in the mind of the author, and not the principal cause of the delight which the work continues to give to all nations, and under all the revolutions of manners and opinions.

IX. February 24.–On Rabelais, Swift, and Sterne: on the nature and constituents of genuine Humour, and on the distinctions of the Humorous from the Witty, the Fanciful, the Droll, and the Odd.

X. February 27.–Of Donne, Dante, and Milton.

XI. March 3.–On the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, and on the romantic use of the supernatural in poetry, and in works of fiction not poetical. On the conditions and regulations under which such books may be employed advantageously in the earlier periods of education.

XII. March 6.–On tales of witches, apparitions, &c. as distinguished from the magic and magicians of Asiatic origin. The probable sources of the former, and of the belief in them in certain ages and classes of men. Criteria by which mistaken and exaggerated facts may be distinguished from absolute falsehood and imposture. Lastly, the causes of the terror and interest which stories of ghosts and witches inspire, in early life at least, whether believed or not.

XIII. March 10.–On colour, sound, and form in Nature, as connected with poesy: the word “Poesy” used as the generic or class term, including poetry, music, painting, statuary, and ideal architecture, as its species. The reciprocal relations of poetry and philosophy to each other; and of both to religion, and the moral sense.

XIV. March 13.–On the corruptions of the English language since the reign of Queen Ann, in our style of writing prose. A few easy rules for the attainment of a manly, unaffected and pure language, in our genuine mother tongue, whether for the purpose of writing, oratory, or conversation.



Mr. Coleridge began by treating of the races of mankind as descended from Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and therein of the early condition of man in his antique form. He then dwelt on the pre-eminence of the Greeks in Art and Philosophy, and noticed the suitableness of polytheism to small insulated states, in which patriotism acted as a substitute for religion, in destroying or suspending self. Afterwards, in consequence of the extension of the Roman empire, some universal or common spirit became necessary for the conservation of the vast body, and this common spirit was, in fact, produced in Christianity. The causes of the decline of the Roman empire were in operation long before the time of the actual overthrow; that overthrow had been foreseen by many eminent Romans, especially by Seneca. In fact, there was under the empire an Italian and a German party in Rome, and in the end the latter prevailed.

He then proceeded to describe the generic character of the Northern nations, and defined it as an independence of the whole in the freedom of the individual, noticing their respect for women, and their consequent chivalrous spirit in war; and how evidently the participation in the general council laid the foundation of the representative form of government, the only rational mode of preserving individual liberty in opposition to the licentious democracy of the ancient republics.

He called our attention to the peculiarity of their art, and showed how it entirely depended on a symbolical expression of the infinite,–which is not vastness, nor immensity, nor perfection, but whatever cannot be circumscribed within the limits of actual sensuous being. In the ancient art, on the contrary, every thing was finite and material. Accordingly, sculpture was not attempted by the Gothic races till the ancient specimens were discovered, whilst painting and architecture were of native growth amongst them. In the earliest specimens of the paintings of modern ages, as in those of Giotto and his associates in the cemetery at Pisa, this complexity, variety, and symbolical character are evident, and are more fully developed in the mightier works of Michel Angelo and Raffael. The contemplation of the works of antique art excites a feeling of elevated beauty, and exalted notions of the human self; but the Gothic architecture impresses the beholder with a sense of self-annihilation; he becomes, as it were, a part of the work contemplated. An endless complexity and variety are united into one whole, the plan of which is not distinct from the execution. A Gothic cathedral is the petrefaction of our religion. The only work of truly modern sculpture is the Moses of Michel Angelo.

The Northern nations were prepared by their own previous religion for Christianity; they, for the most part, received it gladly, and it took root as in a native soil. The deference to woman, characteristic of the Gothic races, combined itself with devotion in the idea of the Virgin Mother, and gave rise to many beautiful associations.

Mr. C. remarked how Gothic an instrument in origin and character the organ was.

He also enlarged on the influence of female character on our education, the first impressions of our childhood being derived from women. Amongst oriental nations, he said, the only distinction was between lord and slave. With the antique Greeks, the will of every one conflicting with the will of all, produced licentiousness; with the modern descendants from the northern stocks, both these extremes were shut out, to reappear mixed and condensed into this principle or temper;–submission, but with free choice,–illustrated in chivalrous devotion to women as such, in attachment to the sovereign, &c.

[Footnote 1: From Mr. Green’s note taken at the delivery. Ed.]



In my last lecture I stated that the descendants of Japhet and Shem peopled Europe and Asia, fulfilling in their distribution the prophecies of Scripture, while the descendants of Ham passed into Africa, there also actually verifying the interdiction pronounced against them. The Keltic and Teutonic nations occupied that part of Europe, which is now France, Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, &c. They were in general a hardy race, possessing great fortitude, and capable of great endurance. The Romans slowly conquered the more southerly portion of their tribes, and succeeded only by their superior arts, their policy, and better discipline. After a time, when the Goths,–to use the name of the noblest and most historical of the Teutonic tribes,–had acquired some knowledge of these arts from mixing with their conquerors, they invaded the Roman territories. The hardy habits, the steady perseverance, the better faith of the enduring Goth rendered him too formidable an enemy for the corrupt Roman, who was more inclined to purchase the subjection of his enemy, than to go through the suffering necessary to secure it. The conquest of the Romans gave to the Goths the Christian religion as it was then existing in Italy; and the light and graceful building of Grecian, or Roman-Greek order, became singularly combined with the massy architecture of the Goths, as wild and varied as the forest vegetation which it resembled. The Greek art is beautiful. When I enter a Greek church, my eye is charmed, and my mind elated; I feel exalted, and proud that I am a man. But the Gothic art is sublime. On entering a cathedral, I am filled with devotion and with awe; I am lost to the actualities that surround me, and my whole being expands into the infinite; earth and air, nature and art, all swell up into eternity, and the only sensible impression left, is, ‘that I am nothing!’ This religion, while it tended to soften the manners of the Northern tribes, was at the same time highly congenial to their nature. The Goths are free from the stain of hero worship. Gazing on their rugged mountains, surrounded by impassable forests, accustomed to gloomy seasons, they lived in the bosom of nature, and worshipped an invisible and unknown deity. Firm in his faith, domestic in his habits, the life of the Goth was simple and dignified, yet tender and affectionate.

The Greeks were remarkable for complacency and completion; they delighted in whatever pleased the eye; to them it was not enough to have merely the idea of a divinity, they must have it placed before them, shaped in the most perfect symmetry, and presented with the nicest judgment; and if we look upon any Greek production of art, the beauty of its parts, and the harmony of their union, the complete and complacent effect of the whole, are the striking characteristics. It is the same in their poetry. In Homer you have a poem perfect in its form, whether originally so, or from the labour of after critics, I know not; his descriptions are pictures brought vividly before you, and as far as the eye and understanding are concerned, I am indeed gratified. But if I wish my feelings to be affected, if I wish my heart to be touched, if I wish to melt into sentiment and tenderness, I must turn to the heroic songs of the Goths, to the poetry of the middle ages. The worship of statues in Greece had, in a civil sense, its advantage, and disadvantage; advantage, in promoting statuary and the arts; disadvantage, in bringing their gods too much on a level with human beings, and thence depriving them of their dignity, and gradually giving rise to scepticism and ridicule. But no statue, no artificial emblem, could satisfy the Northman’s mind; the dark wild imagery of nature, which surrounded him, and the freedom of his life, gave his mind a tendency to the infinite, so that he found rest in that which presented no end, and derived satisfaction from that which was indistinct.

We have few and uncertain vestiges of Gothic literature till the time of Theodoric, who encouraged his subjects to write, and who made a collection of their poems. These consisted chiefly of heroic songs, sung at the Court; for at that time this was the custom. Charlemagne, in the beginning of the ninth century, greatly encouraged letters, and made a further collection of the poems of his time, among which were several epic poems of great merit; or rather in strictness there was a vast cycle of heroic poems, or minstrelsies, from and out of which separate poems were composed. The form of poetry was, however, for the most part, the metrical romance and heroic tale. Charlemagne’s army, or a large division of it, was utterly destroyed in the Pyrenees, when returning from a successful attack on the Arabs of Navarre and Arragon; yet the name of Roncesvalles became famous in the songs of the Gothic poets. The Greeks and Romans would not have done this; they would not have recorded in heroic verse the death and defeat of their fellow-countrymen. But the Goths, firm in their faith, with a constancy not to be shaken, celebrated those brave men who died for their religion and their country! What, though they had been defeated, they died without fear, as they had lived without reproach; they left no stain on their names, for they fell fighting for their God, their liberty, and their rights; and the song that sang that day’s reverse animated them to future victory and certain vengeance.

I must now turn to our great monarch, Alfred, one of the most august characters that any age has ever produced; and when I picture him after the toils of government and the dangers of battle, seated by a solitary lamp, translating the holy scriptures into the Saxon tongue,–when I reflect on his moderation in success, on his fortitude and perseverance in difficulty and defeat, and on the wisdom and extensive nature of his legislation, I am really at a loss which part of this great man’s character most to admire. Yet above all, I see the grandeur, the freedom, the mildness, the domestic unity, the universal character of the middle ages condensed into Alfred’s glorious institution of the trial by jury. I gaze upon it as the immortal symbol of that age;–an age called indeed dark;–but how could that age be considered dark, which solved the difficult problem of universal liberty, freed man from the shackles of tyranny, and subjected his actions to the decision of twelve of his fellow countrymen? The liberty of the Greeks was a phenomenon, a meteor, which blazed for a short time, and then sank into eternal darkness. It was a combination of most opposite materials, slavery and liberty. Such can neither be happy nor lasting. The Goths on the other hand said, You shall be our Emperor; but we must be Princes on our own estates, and over them you shall have no power! The Vassals said to their Prince, We will serve you in your wars, and defend your castle; but we must have liberty in our own circle, our cottage, our cattle, our proportion of land. The Cities said, We acknowledge you for our Emperor; but we must have our walls and our strong holds, and be governed by our own laws. Thus all combined, yet all were separate; all served, yet all were free. Such a government could not exist in a dark age. Our ancestors may not indeed have been deep in the metaphysics of the schools; they may not have shone in the fine arts; but much knowledge of human nature, much practical wisdom must have existed amongst them, when this admirable constitution was formed; and I believe it is a decided truth, though certainly an awful lesson, that nations are not the most happy at the time when literature and the arts flourish the most among them.

The translations I had promised in my syllabus I shall defer to the end of the course, when I shall give a single lecture of recitations illustrative of the different ages of poetry. There is one Northern tale I will relate, as it is one from which Shakspeare derived that strongly marked and extraordinary scene between Richard III. and the Lady Anne. It may not be equal to that in strength and genius, but it is, undoubtedly, superior in decorum and delicacy.

A Knight had slain a Prince, the lord of a strong castle, in combat. He afterwards contrived to get into the castle, where he obtained an interview with the Princess’s attendant, whose life he had saved in some encounter; he told her of his love for her mistress, and won her to his interest. She then slowly and gradually worked on her mistress’s mind, spoke of the beauty of his person, the fire of his eyes, the sweetness of his voice, his valour in the field, his gentleness in the court; in short, by watching her opportunities, she at last filled the Princess’s soul with this one image; she became restless; sleep forsook her; her curiosity to see this Knight became strong; but her maid still deferred the interview, till at length she confessed she was in love with him;–the Knight is then introduced, and the nuptials are quickly celebrated.

In this age there was a tendency in writers to the droll and the grotesque, and in the little dramas which at that time existed, there were singular instances of these. It was the disease of the age. It is a remarkable fact that Luther and Melancthon, the great religious reformers of that day, should have strongly recommended for the education of children, dramas, which at present would be considered highly indecorous, if not bordering on a deeper sin. From one which they particularly recommended, I will give a few extracts; more I should not think it right to do. The play opens with:

Adam and Eve washing and dressing their children to appear before the Lord, who is coming from heaven to hear them repeat the Lord’s Prayer, Belief, &c. In the next scene the Lord appears seated like a schoolmaster, with the children standing round, when Cain, who is behind hand, and a sad pickle, comes running in with a bloody nose and his hat on. Adam says, “What, with your hat on!” Cain then goes up to shake hands with the Almighty, when Adam says (giving him a cuff), “Ah, would you give your left hand to the Lord?” At length Cain takes his place in the class, and it becomes his turn to say the Lord’s Prayer. At this time the Devil (a constant attendant at that time) makes his appearance, and getting behind Cain, whispers in his ear; instead of the Lord’s Prayer, Cain gives it so changed by the transposition of the words, that the meaning is reversed; yet this is so artfully done by the author, that it is exactly as an obstinate child would answer, who knows his lesson, yet does not choose to say it. In the last scene, horses in rich trappings and carriages covered with gold are introduced, and the good children are to ride in them and be Lord Mayors, Lords, &c.; Cain and the bad ones are to be made cobblers and tinkers, and only to associate with such.

This, with numberless others, was written by Hans Sachs. Our simple ancestors, firm in their faith, and pure in their morals, were only amused by these pleasantries, as they seemed to them, and neither they nor the reformers feared their having any influence hostile to religion. When I was many years back in the north of Germany, there were several innocent superstitions in practice. Among others at Christmas, presents used to be given to the children by the parents, and they were delivered on Christmas day by a person who personated, and was supposed by the children to be, Christ: early on Christmas morning he called, knocking loudly at the door, and (having received his instructions) left presents for the good and a rod for the bad. Those who have since been in Germany have found this custom relinquished; it was considered profane and irrational. Yet they have not found the children better, nor the mothers more careful of their offspring; they have not found their devotion more fervent, their faith more strong, nor their morality more pure. [2]

[Footnote 1: From Mr. William Hammond’s note taken at the delivery. Ed.]

[Footnote 2: See this custom of Knecht Rupert more minutely described in Mr. Coleridge’s own letter from Germany, published in the 2nd vol. of the ‘Friend’, p. 320. Ed.; also in the 1st vol. of the ‘Bibliographia Epistolaris’, currently also available in .txt and .php form, free for (text Ed.)]



The last Lecture was allotted to an investigation into the origin and character of a species of poetry, the least influenced of any by the literature of Greece and Rome,–that in which the portion contributed by the Gothic conquerors, the predilections and general tone or habit of thought and feeling, brought by our remote ancestors with them from the forests of Germany, or the deep dells and rocky mountains of Norway, are the most prominent. In the present Lecture I must introduce you to a species of poetry, which had its birth-place near the centre of Roman glory, and in which, as might be anticipated, the influences of the Greek and Roman muse are far more conspicuous,–as great, indeed, as the efforts of intentional imitation on the part of the poets themselves could render them. But happily for us and for their own fame, the intention of the writers as men is often at complete variance with the genius of the same men as poets. To the force of their intention we owe their mythological ornaments, and the greater definiteness of their imagery; and their passion for the beautiful, the voluptuous, and the artificial, we must in part attribute to the same intention, but in part likewise to their natural dispositions and tastes. For the same climate and many of the same circumstances were acting on them, which had acted on the great classics, whom they were endeavouring to imitate. But the love of the marvellous, the deeper sensibility, the higher reverence for womanhood, the characteristic spirit of sentiment and courtesy,–these were the heir-looms of nature, which still regained the ascendant, whenever the use of the living mother-language enabled the inspired poet to appear instead of the toilsome scholar.

From this same union, in which the soul (if I may dare so express myself) was Gothic, while the outward forms and a majority of the words themselves, were the reliques of the Roman, arose the Romance, or romantic language, in which the Troubadours or Love-singers of Provence sang and wrote, and the different dialects of which have been modified into the modern Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese; while the language of the Trouveurs, Trouveres, or Norman-French poets, forms the intermediate link between the Romance or modified Roman, and the Teutonic, including the Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and the upper and lower German, as being the modified Gothic. And as the northernmost extreme of the Norman-French, or that part of the link in which it formed on the Teutonic, we must take the Norman-English minstrels and metrical romances, from the greater predominance of the Anglo-Saxon Gothic in the derivation of the words. I mean, that the language of the English metrical romance is less romanized, and has fewer words, not originally of a northern origin, than the same romances in the Norman-French; which is the more striking, because the former were for the most part translated from the latter; the authors of which seem to have eminently merited their name of Trouveres, or inventors. Thus then we have a chain with two rings or staples:–at the southern end there is the Roman, or Latin; at the northern end the Keltic, Teutonic, or Gothic; and the links beginning with the southern end, are the Romance, including the Provencal, the Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, with their different dialects, then the Norman-French, and lastly the English.

My object in adverting to the Italian poets, is not so much for their own sakes, in which point of view Dante and Ariosto alone would have required separate Lectures, but for the elucidation of the merits of our countrymen, as to what extent we must consider them as fortunate imitators of their Italian predecessors, and in what points they have the higher claims of original genius. Of Dante, I am to speak elsewhere. Of Boccaccio, who has little interest as a metrical poet in any respect, and none for my present purpose, except, perhaps, as the reputed inventor or introducer of the octave stanza in his ‘Teseide’, it will be sufficient to say, that we owe to him the subjects of numerous poems taken from his famous tales, the happy art of narration, and the still greater merit of a depth and fineness in the workings of the passions, in which last excellence, as likewise in the wild and imaginative character of the situations, his almost neglected romances appear to me greatly to excel his far famed ‘Decameron’. To him, too, we owe the more doubtful merit of having introduced into the Italian prose, and by the authority of his name and the influence of his example, more or less throughout Europe, the long interwoven periods, and architectural structure which arose from the very nature of their language in the Greek writers, but which already in the Latin orators and historians, had betrayed a species of effort, a foreign something, which had been superinduced on the language, instead of growing out of it; and which was far too alien from that individualizing and confederating, yet not blending, character of the North, to become permanent, although its magnificence and stateliness were objects of admiration and occasional imitation. This style diminished the control of the writer over the inner feelings of men, and created too great a charm between the body and the life; and hence especially it was abandoned by Luther.

But lastly, to Boccaccio’s sanction we must trace a large portion of the mythological pedantry and incongruous paganisms, which for so long a period deformed the poetry, even of the truest poets. To such an extravagance did Boccaccio himself carry this folly, that in a romance of chivalry, he has uniformly styled God the Father Jupiter, our Saviour Apollo, and the Evil Being Pluto. But for this there might be some excuse pleaded. I dare make none for the gross and disgusting licentiousness, the daring profaneness, which rendered the ‘Decameron’ of Boccaccio the parent of a hundred worse children, fit to be classed among the enemies of the human race; which poisons ‘Ariosto’–(for that I may not speak oftener than necessary of so odious a subject, I mention it here once for all)–which interposes a painful mixture in the humour of Chaucer, and which has once or twice seduced even our pure-minded Spenser into a grossness, as heterogeneous from the spirit of his great poem, as it was alien to the delicacy of his morals.


Born at Arezzo, 1304.–Died 1374.

Petrarch was the final blossom and perfection of the Troubadours. See Biog. Lit. vol. ii. p.27, &c.





SONNET. 1. Voi, ch’ ascoltate, &c. 7. La gola, e ‘l sonno, &c.
11. Se la mia vita, &c.
12. Quando fra l’altre, &c. 18. Vergognando talor, &c.
25. Quanto piu m’ avvicino, &c. 28. Solo e pensoso, &c.
29. S’ io credessi, &c.

CANZ. 14. Si e debile il filo, &c.


BALL. 1. Lassare il velo, &c.
CANZ. 1. Nel dolce tempo, &c.

This poem was imitated by our old Herbert; [2] it is ridiculous in the thoughts, but simple and sweet in diction.


CANZ. 2. O aspettata in ciel, &c. 9. Gentil mia Donna, &c.

The first half of this ninth canzone is exquisite; and in Canzone 8, the nine lines beginning:
O poggi, o valli, &c.
to ‘cura’, are expressed with vigour and chastity.

CANZ. 9.
Daquel di innanzi a me medesmo piacqui, Empiendo d’un pensier’ alto, e soave
Quel core, “ond’ hanno i begli occhi la chiave.”

Note. O that the Pope would take these eternal keys, which so for ever turn the bolts on the finest passages of true passion!


CANZ. 1. Che debb’ io far? &c.

Very good; but not equal, I think, to Canzone 2,

Amor, se vuoi ch’ i’ torni, &c.

though less faulty. With the omission of half-a-dozen conceits and Petrarchisms of ‘hooks, baits, flames,’ and ‘torches’, this second canzone is a bold and impassioned lyric, and leaves no doubt in my mind of Petrarch’s having possessed a true poetic genius. ‘Utinam deleri possint sequentia’:–

L. 17-19.
–e la soave fiamma
Ch’ ancor, lasso! m’ infiamma
Essendo spenta, or che fea dunque ardendo?

L. 54-56.
–ov’ erano a tutt’ ore
Disposti gli ami ov’ io fui preso, e l’esca Ch’ i’ bramo sempre.

L. 76-79.
–onde l’ accese
Saette uscivan d’ invisibil foco,
E ragion temean poco;
Che contra ‘l ciel non val difesa umana.

And the lines 86, 87.
Poser’ in dubbio, a cui
Devesse il pregio di piu laude darsi –are rather flatly worded.

[Footnote 1: These notes, by Mr. C., are written in a Petrarch in my possession, and are of some date before 1812. It is hoped that they will not seem ill placed here. Ed.]

[Footnote 2: If George Herbert is meant, I can find nothing like an imitation of this canzone in his poems. Ed.]


Born at Florence, 1431.–Died about 1487.

Pulci was of one of the noblest families in Florence, reported to be one of the Frankish stocks which remained in that city after the departure of Charlemagne:–

Pulcia Gallorum soboles descendit in urbem, Clara quidem bello, sacris nec inhospita Musis.

Verino ‘De illustrat. Cort. Flor.’ III. v. 118.

Members of this family were five times elected to the Priorate, one of the highest honours of the republic. Pulci had two brothers, and one of their wives, Antonia, who were all poets:–

Carminibus patriis notissima Pulcia proles; Quis non hanc urbem Musarum dicat arnicam, Si tres producat fratres domus una poetas?

‘Ib.’ II. v. 241.

Luigi married Lucrezia di Uberto, of the Albizzi family, and was intimate with the great men of his time, but more especially with Angelo Politian, and Lorenzo the Magnificent. His Morgante has been attributed, in part at least,[1] to the assistance of Marsilius Ficinus, and by others the whole has been attributed to Politian. The first conjecture is utterly improbable; the last is possible, indeed, on account of the licentiousness of the poem; but there are no direct grounds for believing it. The ‘Morgante Maggiore’ [2] is the first proper romance; although, perhaps, Pulci had the ‘Teseide’ before him. The story is taken from the fabulous history of Turpin; and if the author had any distinct object, it seems to have been that of making himself merry with the absurdities of the old romancers. The ‘Morgante’ sometimes makes you think of Rabelais. It contains the most remarkable guess or allusion upon the subject of America that can be found in any book published before the discovery. [3] The well known passage in the tragic Seneca is not to be compared with it. The ‘copia verborum’ of the mother Florentine tongue, and the easiness of his style, afterwards brought to perfection by Berni, are the chief merits of Pulci; his chief demerit is his heartless spirit of jest and buffoonery, by which sovereigns and their courtiers were flattered by the degradation of nature, and the ‘impossibilification’ of a pretended virtue.

[Footnote: 1 Meaning the 25th canto. Ed.]

[Footnote 2: The ‘Morgante’ was printed in 1488. Ed.]

[Footnote 3: The reference is, of course, to the following stanzas:–

Disse Astarotte: un error lungo e fioco Per molti secol non ben conosciuto, Fa che si dice d’ Ercol le colonne, E che piu la molti periti sonne. Sappi che questa opinione e vana; Perche piu oltre navicar si puote, Pero che l’ acqua in ogni parte e piana, Benche la terra abbi forma di ruote: Era piu grossa allor la gente humana; Falche potrebbe arrosirne le gote Ercule ancor d’ aver posti que’ segni, Perche piu oltre passeranno i legni. E puossi andar giu ne l’ altro emisperio, Pero che al centro ogni cosa reprime; Si che la terra per divin misterio Sospesa sta fra le stelle sublime, E la giu son citta, castella, e imperio; Ma nol cognobbon quelle genti prime: Vedi che il sol di camminar s’ affretta, Dove io ti dico che la giu s’ aspetta. E come un segno surge in Oriente, Un altro cade con mirabil arte,
Come si vede qua ne l’ Occidente, Pero che il ciel giustamente comparte; Antipodi appellata e quella gente; Adora il sole e Jupiterre e Marte, E piante e animal come voi hanno, E spesso insieme gran battaglie fanno.

C. XXV. st. 228, &c.]


Born in London, 1328.–Died 1400. [1]

Chaucer must be read with an eye to the Norman-French Trouveres, of whom he is the best representative in English. He had great powers of invention. As in Shakspeare, his characters represent classes, but in a different manner; Shakspeare’s characters are the representatives of the interior nature of humanity, in which some element has become so predominant as to destroy the health of the mind; whereas Chaucer’s are rather representatives of classes of manners. He is therefore more led to individualize in a mere personal sense. Observe Chaucer’s love of nature; and how happily the subject of his main work is chosen. When you reflect that the company in the Decameron have retired to a place of safety from the raging of a pestilence, their mirth provokes a sense of their unfeelingness; whereas in Chaucer nothing of this sort occurs, and the scheme of a party on a pilgrimage, with different ends and occupations, aptly allows of the greatest variety of expression in the tales.

[Footnote 1: From Mr. Green’s note. Ed.]


Born in London, 1553.–Died 1599.

There is this difference, among many others, between Shakspeare and Spenser:–Shakspeare is never coloured by the customs of his age; what appears of contemporary character in him is merely negative; it is just not something else. He has none of the fictitious realities of the classics, none of the grotesquenesses of chivalry, none of the allegory of the middle ages; there is no sectarianism either of politics or religion, no miser, no witch,–no common witch,–no astrology–nothing impermanent of however long duration; but he stands like the yew tree in Lorton vale, which has known so many ages that it belongs to none in particular; a living image of endless self-reproduction, like the immortal tree of Malabar. In Spenser the spirit of chivalry is entirely predominant, although with a much greater infusion of the poet’s own individual self into it than is found in any other writer. He has the wit of the southern with the deeper inwardness of the northern genius.

No one can appreciate Spenser without some reflection on the nature of allegorical writing. The mere etymological meaning of the word, allegory,–to talk of one thing and thereby convey another,–is too wide. The true sense is this,–the employment of one set of agents and images to convey in disguise a moral meaning, with a likeness to the imagination, but with a difference to the understanding,–those agents and images being so combined as to form a homogeneous whole. This distinguishes it from metaphor, which is part of an allegory. But allegory is not properly distinguishable from fable, otherwise than as the first includes the second, as a genus its species; for in a fable there must be nothing but what is universally known and acknowledged, but in an allegory there may be that which is new and not previously admitted. The pictures of the great masters, especially of the Italian schools, are genuine allegories. Amongst the classics, the multitude of their gods either precluded allegory altogether, or else made every thing allegory, as in the Hesiodic Theogonia; for you can scarcely distinguish between power and the personification of power. The ‘Cupid and Psyche’ of, or found in, Apuleius, is a phenomenon. It is the Platonic mode of accounting for the fall of man. The ‘Battle of the Soul’ [1] by Prudentius is an early instance of Christian allegory.

Narrative allegory is distinguished from mythology as reality from symbol; it is, in short, the proper intermedium between person and personification. Where it is too strongly individualized, it ceases to be allegory; this is often felt in the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, where the characters are real persons with nick names. Perhaps one of the most curious warnings against another attempt at narrative allegory on a great scale, may be found in Tasso’s account of what he himself intended in and by his ‘Jerusalem Delivered’.

As characteristic of Spenser, I would call your particular attention in the first place to the indescribable sweetness and fluent projection of his verse, very clearly distinguishable from the deeper and more inwoven harmonies of Shakspeare and Milton. This stanza is a good instance of what I mean:–

Yet she, most faithfull ladie, all this while Forsaken, wofull, solitarie mayd,
Far from all peoples preace, as in exile, In wildernesse and wastfull deserts strayd To seeke her knight; who, subtily betrayd Through that late vision which th’ enchaunter wrought, Had her abandond; she, of nought affrayd, Through woods and wastnes wide him daily sought, Yet wished tydinges none of him unto her brought.

F. Qu. B. I. c. 3. st. 3.

2. Combined with this sweetness and fluency, the scientific construction of the metre of the ‘Faery Queene’ is very noticeable. One of Spenser’s arts is that of alliteration, and he uses it with great effect in doubling the impression of an image:–

In _w_ildernesse and _w_astful deserts,– Through _w_oods and _w_astnes _w_ilde,– They passe the bitter _w_aves of Acheron, Where many soules sit _w_ailing _w_oefully, And come to _fi_ery _fl_ood of _Ph_legeton, Whereas the damned ghosts in torments _f_ry, And with _sh_arp _sh_rilling _sh_rieks doth bootlesse cry,–&c.

He is particularly given to an alternate alliteration, which is, perhaps, when well used, a great secret in melody:–

A _r_amping lyon _r_ushed suddenly,– And _s_ad to _s_ee her _s_orrowful constraint,– And on the grasse her _d_aintie _l_imbes _d_id _l_ay,–&c.

You cannot read a page of the Faery Queene, if you read for that purpose, without perceiving the intentional alliterativeness of the words; and yet so skilfully is this managed, that it never strikes any unwarned ear as artificial, or other than the result of the necessary movement of the verse.

3. Spenser displays great skill in harmonizing his descriptions of external nature and actual incidents with the allegorical character and epic activity of the poem. Take these two beautiful passages as illustrations of what I mean:–

By this the northerne wagoner had set His sevenfol teme behind the stedfast starre That was in ocean waves yet never wet,
But firme is fixt, and sendeth light from farre To all that in the wide deepe wandring arre; And chearefull chaunticlere with his note shrill Had warned once, that Phoebus’ fiery carre In hast was climbing up the easterne hill, Full envious that Night so long his roome did fill;

_When_ those accursed messengers of hell, That feigning dreame, and that faire-forged spright Came, &c.

B. I. c. 2. st. 1.

At last, the golden orientall gate
Of greatest Heaven gan to open fayre; And Phoebus, fresh as brydegrome to his mate, Came dauncing forth, shaking his deawie hayre; And hurld his glistring beams through gloomy ayre. Which when the wakeful Elfe perceiv’d, streightway He started up, and did him selfe prepayre In sunbright armes and battailons array; For with that Pagan proud he combat will that day.

Ib. c. 5. st. 2.

Observe also the exceeding vividness of Spenser’s descriptions. They are not, in the true sense of the word, picturesque; but are composed of a wondrous series of images, as in our dreams. Compare the following passage with any thing you may remember ‘in pari materia’ in Milton or Shakspeare:–

His haughtie helmet, horrid all with gold, Both glorious brightnesse and great terrour bredd For all the crest a dragon did enfold
With greedie pawes, and over all did spredd His golden winges; his dreadfull hideous hedd, Close couched on the bever, seemd to throw From flaming mouth bright sparkles fiery redd, That suddeine horrour to faint hartes did show; And scaly tayle was stretcht adowne his back full low.

Upon the top of all his loftie crest A bounch of haires discolourd diversly, With sprinkled pearle and gold full richly drest, Did shake, and seemd to daunce for jollitie; Like to an almond tree ymounted hye
On top of greene Selinis all alone, With blossoms brave bedecked daintily,
Whose tender locks do tremble every one At everie little breath that under heaven is blowne.

Ib. c. 7. st. 31-2.

4. You will take especial note of the marvellous independence and true imaginative absence of all particular space or time in the Faery Queene. It is in the domains neither of history or geography; it is ignorant of all artificial boundary, all material obstacles; it is truly in land of Faery, that is, of mental space. The poet has placed you in a dream, a charmed sleep, and you neither wish, nor have the power, to inquire where you are, or how you got there. It reminds me of some lines of my own:–

Oh! would to Alla!
The raven or the sea-mew were appointed To bring me food!–or rather that my soul Might draw in life from the universal air! It were a lot divine in some small skiff Along some ocean’s boundless solitude
To float for ever with a careless course And think myself the only being alive!

Remorse, Act iv. sc. 3.

Indeed Spenser himself, in the conduct of his great poem, may be represented under the same image, his symbolizing purpose being his mariner’s compass:–

As pilot well expert in perilous wave, That to a stedfast starre his course hath bent, When foggy mistes or cloudy tempests have The faithfull light of that faire lampe yblent, And coverd Heaven with hideous dreriment; Upon his card and compas firmes his eye, The maysters of his long experiment,
And to them does the steddy helme apply, Bidding his winged vessell fairely forward fly.

B. II. c. 7. st. 1.

So the poet through the realms of allegory.

5. You should note the quintessential character of Christian chivalry in all his characters, but more especially in his women. The Greeks, except, perhaps, in Homer, seem to have had no way of making their women interesting, but by unsexing them, as in the instances of the tragic Medea, Electra, &c. Contrast such characters with Spenser’s Una, who exhibits no prominent feature, has no particularization, but produces the same feeling that a statue does, when contemplated at a distance:–

From her fayre head her fillet she undight, And layd her stole aside: her angels face, As the great eye of Heaven, shyned bright, And made a sunshine in the shady place; Did never mortal eye behold such heavenly grace.

B. I. c. 3. st. 4.

6. In Spenser we see the brightest and purest form of that nationality which was so common a characteristic of our elder poets. There is nothing unamiable, nothing contemptuous of others, in it. To glorify their country–to elevate England into a queen, an empress of the heart–this was their passion and object; and how dear and important an object it was or may be, let Spain, in the recollection of her Cid, declare! There is a great magic in national names. What a damper to all interest is a list of native East Indian merchants! Unknown names are non-conductors; they stop all sympathy. No one of our poets has touched this string more exquisitely than Spenser; especially in his chronicle of the British Kings (B. II. c. 10.), and the marriage of the Thames with the Medway (B. IV. c. 11.), in both which passages the mere names constitute half the pleasure we receive. To the same feeling we must in particular attribute Spenser’s sweet reference to Ireland:–

Ne thence the Irishe rivers absent were; Sith no lesse famous than the rest they be, &c.


And Mulla mine, whose waves I whilom taught to weep.


And there is a beautiful passage of the same sort in the Colin Clout’s ‘Come Home Again’:–

“One day,” quoth he, “I sat, as was my trade, Under the foot of Mole,” &c.

Lastly, the great and prevailing character of Spenser’s mind is fancy under the conditions of imagination, as an ever present but not always active power. He has an imaginative fancy, but he has not imagination, in kind or degree, as Shakspeare and Milton have; the boldest effort of his powers in this way is the character of Talus.[2] Add to this a feminine tenderness and almost maidenly purity of feeling, and above all, a deep moral earnestness which produces a believing sympathy and acquiescence in the reader, and you have a tolerably adequate view of Spenser’s intellectual being.

[Footnote 1: ‘Psychomachia’. Ed.]

[Footnote 2: B. 5. ‘Legend of Artegall’. Ed.]



A contemporary is rather an ambiguous term, when applied to authors. It may simply mean that one man lived and wrote while another was yet alive, however deeply the former may have been indebted to the latter as his model. There have been instances in the literary world that might remind a botanist of a singular sort of parasite plant, which rises above ground, independent and unsupported, an apparent original; but trace its roots, and you will find the fibres all terminating in the root of another plant at an unsuspected distance, which, perhaps, from want of sun and genial soil, and the loss of sap, has scarcely been able to peep above the ground.–Or the word may mean those whose compositions were contemporaneous in such a sense as to preclude all likelihood of the one having borrowed from the other. In the latter sense I should call Ben Jonson a contemporary of Shakspeare, though he long survived him; while I should prefer the phrase of immediate successors for Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger, though they too were Shakspeare’s contemporaries in the former sense.

BEN JONSON. [1] Born, 1574.–Died, 1637.

Ben Jonson is original; he is, indeed, the only one of the great dramatists of that day who was not either directly produced, or very greatly modified, by Shakspeare. In truth, he differs from our great master in every thing–in form and in substance–and betrays no tokens of his proximity. He is not original in the same way as Shakspeare is original; but after a fashion of his own, Ben Jonson is most truly original.

The characters in his plays are, in the strictest sense of the term, abstractions. Some very prominent feature is taken from the whole man, and that single feature or humour is made the basis upon which the entire character is built up. Ben Jonson’s ‘dramatis personae’ are almost as fixed as the masks of the ancient actors; you know from the first scene–sometimes from the list of names–exactly what every one of them is to be. He was a very accurately observing man; but he cared only to observe what was external or open to, and likely to impress, the senses. He individualizes, not so much, if at all, by the exhibition of moral or intellectual differences, as by the varieties and contrasts of manners, modes of speech and tricks of temper; as in such characters as Puntarvolo, Bobadill, &c.

I believe there is not one whim or affectation in common life noted in any memoir of that age which may not be found drawn and framed in some corner or other of Ben Jonson’s dramas; and they have this merit, in common with Hogarth’s prints, that not a single circumstance is introduced in them which does not play upon, and help to bring out, the dominant humour or humours of the piece. Indeed I ought very particularly to call your attention to the extraordinary skill shown by Ben Jonson in contriving situations for the display of his characters. In fact, his care and anxiety in this matter led him to do what scarcely any of the dramatists of that age did–that is, invent his plots. It is not a first perusal that suffices for the full perception of the elaborate artifice of the plots of the Alchemist and the Silent Woman;–that of the former is absolute perfection for a necessary entanglement, and an unexpected, yet natural, evolution.

Ben Jonson exhibits a sterling English diction, and he has with great skill contrived varieties of construction; but his style is rarely sweet or harmonious, in consequence of his labour at point and strength being so evident. In all his works, in verse or prose, there is an extraordinary opulence of thought; but it is the produce of an amassing power in the author, and not of a growth from within. Indeed a large proportion of Ben Jonson’s thoughts may be traced to classic or obscure modern writers, by those who are learned and curious enough to follow the steps of this robust, surly, and observing dramatist.

[Footnote: 1: From Mr. Green’s note. ‘Ed.’]

Beaumont. Born, 1586.–Died, 1616.

Fletcher. Born, 1576.–Died, 1625.

Mr. Weber, to whose taste, industry, and appropriate erudition we owe, I will not say the best, (for that would be saying little,) but a good, edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, has complimented the Philaster, which he himself describes as inferior to the Maid’s Tragedy by the same writers, as but little below the noblest of Shakspeare’s plays, Lear, Macbeth, Othello, &c. and consequently implying the equality, at least, of the Maid’s Tragedy;–and an eminent living critic,–who in the manly wit, strong sterling sense, and robust style of his original works, had presented the best possible credentials of office as ‘charge d’affaires’ of literature in general,–and who by his edition of Massinger–a work in which there was more for an editor to do, and in which more was actually well done, than in any similar work within my knowledge–has proved an especial right of authority in the appreciation of dramatic poetry, and hath potentially a double voice with the public in his own right and in that of the critical synod, where, as ‘princeps senatus’, he possesses it by his prerogative,–has affirmed that Shakspeare’s superiority to his contemporaries rests on his superior wit alone, while in all the other, and, as I should deem, higher excellencies of the drama, character, pathos, depth of thought, &c. he is equalled by Beaumont and Fletcher, Ben Jonson, and Massinger! [1]

Of wit I am engaged to treat in another Lecture. It is a genus of many species; and at present I shall only say, that the species which is predominant in Shakspeare, is so completely Shakspearian, and in its essence so interwoven with all his other characteristic excellencies, that I am equally incapable of comprehending, both how it can be detached from his other powers, and how, being disparate in kind from the wit of contemporary dramatists, it can be compared with theirs in degree. And again–the detachment and the practicability of the comparison being granted–I should, I confess, be rather inclined to concede the contrary;–and in the most common species of wit, and in the ordinary application of the term, to yield this particular palm to Beaumont and Fletcher, whom here and hereafter I take as one poet with two names,–leaving undivided what a rare love and still rarer congeniality have united. At least, I have never been able to distinguish the presence of Fletcher during the life of Beaumont, nor the absence of Beaumont during the survival of Fletcher.

But waiving, or rather deferring, this question, I protest against the remainder of the position in ‘toto’. And indeed, whilst I can never, I trust, show myself blind to the various merits of Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger, or insensible to the greatness of the merits which they possess in common, or to the specific excellencies which give to each of the three a worth of his own,–I confess, that one main object of this Lecture was to prove that Shakspeare’s eminence is his own, and not that of his age;–even as the pine-apple, the melon, and the gourd may grow on the same bed;–yea, the same circumstances of warmth and soil may be necessary to their full development, yet do not account for the golden hue, the ambrosial flavour, the perfect shape of the pine-apple, or the tufted crown on its head. Would that those, who seek to twist it off, could but promise us in this instance to make it the germ of an equal successor!

What had a grammatical and logical consistency for the ear,–what could be put together and represented to the eye–these poets took from the ear and eye, unchecked by any intuition of an inward impossibility;– just as a man might put together a quarter of an orange, a quarter of an apple, and the like of a lemon and a pomegranate, and make it look like one round diverse-coloured fruit. But nature, which works from within by evolution and assimilation according to a law, cannot do so, nor could Shakspeare; for he too worked in the spirit of nature, by evolving the germ from within by the imaginative power according to an idea. For as the power of seeing is to light, so is an idea in mind to a law in nature. They are correlatives, which suppose each other.

The plays of Beaumont and Fletcher are mere aggregations without unity; in the Shakspearian drama there is a vitality which grows and evolves itself from within,–a key note which guides and controls the harmonies throughout. What is Lear?–It is storm and tempest–the thunder at first grumbling in the far horizon, then gathering around us, and at length bursting in fury over our heads,–succeeded by a breaking of the clouds for a while, a last flash of lightning, the closing in of night, and the single hope of darkness! And Romeo and Juliet?–It is a spring day, gusty and beautiful in the morn, and closing like an April evening with the song of the nightingale;–whilst Macbeth is deep and earthy,–composed to the subterranean music of a troubled conscience, which converts every thing into the wild and fearful!

Doubtless from mere observation, or from the occasional similarity of the writer’s own character, more or less in Beaumont and Fletcher, and other such writers will happen to be in correspondence with nature, and still more in apparent compatibility with it. But yet the false source is always discoverable, first by the gross contradictions to nature in so many other parts, and secondly, by the want of the impression which Shakspeare makes, that the thing said not only might have been said, but that nothing else could be substituted, so as to excite the same sense of its exquisite propriety. I have always thought the conduct and expressions of Othello and Iago in the last scene, when Iago is brought in prisoner, a wonderful instance of Shakspeare’s consummate judgment:–

‘Oth.’ I look down towards his feet;–but that’s a fable. If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.

‘Iago.’ I bleed, Sir; but not kill’d.

‘Oth.’ I am not sorry neither.

Think what a volley of execrations and defiances Beaumont and Fletcher would have poured forth here!

Indeed Massinger and Ben Jonson are both more perfect in their kind than Beaumont and Fletcher; the former in the story and affecting incidents; the latter in the exhibition of manners and peculiarities, whims in language, and vanities of appearance.

There is, however, a diversity of the most dangerous kind here. Shakspeare shaped his characters out of the nature within; but we cannot so safely say, out of his own nature as an individual person. No! this latter is itself but a ‘natura naturata’,–an effect, a product, not a power. It was Shakspeare’s prerogative to have the universal, which is potentially in each particular, opened out to him, the ‘homo generalis’, not as an abstraction from observation of a variety of men, but as the substance capable of endless modifications, of which his own personal existence was but one, and to use this one as the eye that beheld the other, and as the tongue that could convey the discovery. There is no greater or more common vice in dramatic writers than to draw out of themselves. How I–alone and in the self-sufficiency of my study, as all men are apt to be proud in their dreams–should like to be talking ‘king’! Shakspeare, in composing, had no ‘I’, but the ‘I’ representative. In Beaumont and Fletcher you have descriptions of characters by the poet rather than the characters themselves; we are told, and impressively told, of their being; but we rarely or never feel that they actually are.

Beaumont and Fletcher are the most lyrical of our dramatists. I think their comedies the best part of their works, although there are scenes of very deep tragic interest in some of their plays. I particularly recommend Monsieur Thomas for good pure comic humor.

There is, occasionally, considerable license in their dramas; and this opens a subject much needing vindication and sound exposition, but which is beset with such difficulties for a Lecturer, that I must pass it by. Only as far as Shakspeare is concerned, I own, I can with less pain admit a fault in him than beg an excuse for it. I will not, therefore, attempt to palliate the grossness that actually exists in his plays by the customs of his age, or by the far greater coarseness of all his contemporaries, excepting Spenser, who is himself not wholly blameless, though nearly so;–for I place Shakspeare’s merit on being of no age. But I would clear away what is, in my judgment, not his, as that scene of the Porter [2] in Macbeth, and many other such passages, and abstract what is coarse in manners only, and all that which from the frequency of our own vices, we associate with his words. If this were truly done, little that could be justly reprehensible would remain. Compare the vile comments, offensive and defensive, on Pope’s

Lust thro’ some gentle strainers, &c.

with the worst thing in Shakspeare, or even in Beaumont and Fletcher; and then consider how unfair the attack is on our old dramatists; especially because it is an attack that cannot be properly answered in that presence in which an answer would be most desirable, from the painful nature of one part of the position; but this very pain is almost a demonstration of its falsehood!

[Footnote 1: See Mr. Gifford’s introduction to his edition of Massinger.