Edmund Spenser: A Critical Study

By Herbert Ellsworth Cory; Charles M. Gayley et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV

AMORETTI AND EPITHALAMION

The vast star-dust of sonnets that swarmed and glittered in the wake of Petrarch has served little to justify the flaunting vanity of the poetasters or the arrogance of many true singers who believed with Gabriel Harvey that "it is no dishonour for the daintiest and divinest muse" to follow the lover of Laura and who assured lover and patron of an eternity outlasting brass and gold and marble. After a few hundred years of dubious popularity not untarnished by the irreverent lasciviousness of an Aretino, the mockery of a Berni, and the grotesque legal jargon of the "gulling sonnets" of a Sir John Davies, the Petrarchan love-sonnets found little more than oblivion in England until they were reread with the unquenchable enthusiasm of the nineteenth-century idolaters of Elizabethan poetry and, shortly after, were subjected to the more thorough researches of the colder scholar of our own hour. Petrarch's repentance for his own beautiful sonnets, "Nugellas meas vulgares ... juveniles ineptias," found in modern times a harsh Saxon approval from Lord Macaulay that has hardly brought denial from the lips of our weary and cynical investigators. Except for a few mellow humanists who can read Petrarch with learning enriched by the scientific method yet free from the esthetic paralysis that often comes with science, practically all of the minority of us who turn to the beauty and amorousness of the sonnets to Laura, sit grimly down in search of mere facts and devour scores of "sugared sonnets" with the automatic zeal of a person who, in the face of the first warnings of dyspepsia, tries to persuade himself that he has the appetite of a cow-boy. Now it is certain that the Petrarchists should be interpreted to our alien century by a man who is a scholar but who also can indulge the wholesome and capricious and luxurious tasting habit of the alert dilettante. Yet so great is the dyspepsia and paralysis that have

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