Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study

By Charles M. Gayley; H. K. Schilling et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII

CONCLUSION

No age, by its own resources alone, can appreciate the many sides of a supreme poet. How can we then escape from the inevitable narrowness of our times and gain a really large and adequate appreciation of our Titans? We cannot test the poet and our glittering generalities by the superior wisdom of unborn generations. But we can subject our opinions to a most severe examination in the light of the wisdom of a spacious past. Spenser, for instance, will be thoroughly appreciated for the first time when we learn what the men of consequence in his own days and since have thought of him and when we place our own ideas, warped by our times and our personalities, in a proper perspective. I purpose, therefore, to discuss the attitudes of Spenser's contemporaries and of subsequent ages towards the faërie poet, to sketch the opinions of certain of the more important critics and poets who were influenced by him in a particularly significant manner, as an elaborate and most searching test of my own conclusions which I must marshal and reiterate at the close of this chapter. 1

Of the Golden Age of English literature, the Age of Enthusiasm, I need say little further in this book. We all understand it as the age in which Shakespcare could make the splendors of English history move in a vast, heroic pageant across a little wooden stage. It was the age of Spenser-worship because the English worshipped everything English. It has long been a popular superstition among the ignorant and the learned that great poets are not appreciated in their own day. It is true,

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1
For this purpose I combine and condense many passages from a series of monographs which I published in 1910, 1911, and 1912. I have removed most of the catalogue quality and all the minor citations of those dissertations here; I have dovetailed them in a new way; I have revised every passage and added many new ones at all points in the discussion.

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