Edmund Spenser, the Critical Heritage

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131.

John Hughes

1715

John Hughes (1677-1720) had an eccentric education and began his literary career early. He contributed a number of papers to the Tatler, the Guardian, and the Spectator but is most famous for his edition of Spenser in 1715-a publication of quite astonishing originality. See also Nos. 159, 178.

(a) An Essay on Allegorical Poetry, in his edition of Spenser's Works (1715), I. xxv-lvii:

It is a Misfortune, as Mr Waller observes, which attends the Writers of English Poetry, that they can hardly expect their Works shou'd last long in a Tongue which is daily changing; that whilst they are new, Envy is apt to prevail against them; and as that wears off, our Language it self fails. Our Poets therefore, he says, shou'd imitate judicious Statuaries, that chuse the most durable Materials, and shou'd carve in Latin or Greek, if they wou'd have their Labours preserv'd for ever.

Notwithstanding the Disadvantage he has mention'd, we have two Antient English Poets, Chaucer and Spenser, who may perhaps be reckon'd as Exceptions to this Remark. These seem to have taken deep Root, like old British Oaks, and to flourish in defiance of all the Injuries of Time and Weather. The former is indeed much more obsolete in his Stile than the latter; but it is owing to an extraordinary native Strength in both, that they have been able thus far to survive amidst the Changes of our Tongue, and seem rather likely, among the Curious at least, to preserve the Knowledg of our Antient Language, than to be in danger of being destroy'd with it, and bury'd under its Ruins.

Tho Spenser's Affection to his Master Chaucer led him in many things to copy after him, yet those who have read both will easily observe that these two Genius's were of a very different kind. Chaucer excell'd in his Characters; Spenser in his Descriptions. The first study'd Humour,

-248-

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