Edmund Spenser, the Critical Heritage

By R. M.Cummings | Go to book overview
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Joseph Addison


Joseph Addison (1672-1719) was educated at Charterhouse, where he met Steele, and then at Queen's College, and Magdalen College, Oxford. He became a Fellow of the latter, but his reputation quickly spread to London, where he came to dominate literary society. An Account is little more than a summary of current opinion: Addison had not read Spenser when he wrote it (see Spenser's Observations, Anecdotes…, ed. J.M. Osborn [Oxford, 1966], I. 74). Addison's interest in Spenser's allegory is attested also in the Guardian No. 152.

(a) From An Account of the Greatest English Poets. To Mr H.S. Apr., 1694 in The Annual Miscellany: for the Year 1694. Being the Fourth Part of Miscellany Poems, pp. 318-19; repr. The Miscellaneous works of Joseph Addison, ed. A.C. Guthkelch (1914), I. 31-2:

Old Spencer next, warm'd with Poetick Rage,

In Antick Tales amus'd a Barb'rous Age;

An Age that yet uncultivate and Rude,

Where-e're the Poet's Fancy led, pursu'd

Through pathless Fields, and unfrequented Floods,

To Dens of Dragons, and Enchanted Woods.

But now the Mystick Tale, that pleas'd of Yore,

Can Charm an understanding Age no more;

The long-spun Allegories fulsom grow,

While the dull Moral lyes too plain below.

We view well-pleas'd at distance all the sights

Of arms and Palfries, Cattel's, Fields and Fights,

And Damsels in Distress, and Courteous Knights.

But when we look too near, the Shades decay,

And all the pleasing Lan-skip fades away.


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