Humanist Method and the Prophetic Office of English Poetry in the Works of Edmund Spenser and John Milton by Matthew Evans-Cockle B.A., Simon Fraser University, 2001 M.A., University of Paris I, 2004 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (English) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) December 2016 © Matthew Evans-Cockle, 2016 ii Abstract Erasmus’s Renaissance humanist grammatical hermeneutics changed the way theology was conceived and practiced. The literary critical resources Erasmus brought to theology from the study of the classical poets, however, were not only powerful agents of change within Reformation theology. They were also retrieved for poetry by early modern authors. Key Erasmian concepts and perspectives relating to both bonae litterae and sacrae litterae as well as to secular pedagogy and rhetorical theology were assimilated by English culture and provided important foundational elements within the early modern prophetic poetics of Edmund Spenser and John Milton. Careful consideration of the manner in which these Erasmian concepts and perspectives were integrated into Spenser and Milton’s understandings of both poetry and the poetic vocation provides important insight into the complex theological dimensions of these poets’ work—particularly into the workings and significance of a number of Spenser and Milton’s most challenging religious figures and into the prophetic claims related to their mimetic production. iii Preface This dissertation is the original, unpublished and independent work of the author, Matthew Evans-Cockle. iv Table of Contents Abstract ........................................................................................................................................... ii Preface............................................................................................................................................ iii Table of Contents ........................................................................................................................... iv Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................................ vi Dedication .................................................................................................................................... viii General Introduction ....................................................................................................................... 1 The Christian Humanist Contribution to Early Modern Prophetic Poetics .................................... 1 Chapter 1 ......................................................................................................................................... 9 Participatory Poetics and the Grammar of Christ: From Erasmus through Sidney ........................ 9 The Erasmian Legacy ................................................................................................................. 9 Rhetorical Theology .................................................................................................................. 15 Grammatical Hermeneutics ...................................................................................................... 19 Importance of Bonae Litterae ................................................................................................... 26 Participatory Method ................................................................................................................ 33 Poetic Exegesis ......................................................................................................................... 36 Right Use of Poetry ................................................................................................................... 39 The Sidney Psalter .................................................................................................................... 50 Chapter 2 ....................................................................................................................................... 59 The New Poet’s New Poetry: Edmund Spenser’s Humanist Reform of the English Poetic Office ................................................................................................................................ 59 Introducing the New Poet ......................................................................................................... 59 Donning Tradition ..................................................................................................................... 61 Figuring Virtue .......................................................................................................................... 69 Intra-Textual Inspiration ........................................................................................................... 74 “Of Muses… I Conne No skill”: An Uncouth Lover’s Lament ............................................... 79 Love and Stately Service .......................................................................................................... 87 Chapter 3 ....................................................................................................................................... 98 Spenser’s The Fowre Hymnes ....................................................................................................... 98 Classicizing Exegetical Poetry .................................................................................................. 98 Heralding “Retractation” ........................................................................................................ 102 Corrective Illumination ........................................................................................................... 109 Conversion of Spoils ............................................................................................................... 121 v Song of Sapience ..................................................................................................................... 133 Reciting Wisdom’s Lines ........................................................................................................ 136 Eros Above .............................................................................................................................. 141 “[F]air is loved” ...................................................................................................................... 147 Imitating Heavenly Ravishment ............................................................................................. 158 Chapter 4 ..................................................................................................................................... 161 Milton’s Prophetic Office of English Poetry: The Faithful Bard as Theodidaktos..................... 161 Introducing the True Poet ....................................................................................................... 161 Prophetic Mimesis .................................................................................................................. 166 The Poet’s Purview ................................................................................................................. 180 Honey and Gall ....................................................................................................................... 187 “To Aim at Perfection” ........................................................................................................... 194 Mimetic Fidelity ...................................................................................................................... 202 Chapter 5 ..................................................................................................................................... 212 “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” the Priestly Bard’s First Offering in the 1645 Poems .............................................................................................................................. 212 Prophetic Song ........................................................................................................................ 212 A Davidic Tether ..................................................................................................................... 221 Spenserian Tribute .................................................................................................................. 226 Myth of Origins ....................................................................................................................... 232 Chapter 6 ..................................................................................................................................... 236 Milton’s Invocatory Proems to Paradise Lost ............................................................................ 236 Heavenly Song ........................................................................................................................ 236 Prophetic Equivocation: Heav’nly Muse and Spirit ............................................................... 247 Prophetic Equivocation: Heavenly Muse and Holy Light ...................................................... 253 Wisdom(s) ............................................................................................................................... 262 Chapter 7 ..................................................................................................................................... 271 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................. 271 Spenser .................................................................................................................................... 272 Milton ..................................................................................................................................... 276 Bibliography ............................................................................................................................... 281 Primary texts ........................................................................................................................... 281 Secondary texts ....................................................................................................................... 287 vi Acknowledgements “It all stumbles forward kid… so don’t get too attached to happiness,” he said, with the lightsome dark we know and fondly own. The thoughtful and laborious pursuit of this dissertation, in its too often Quixotic errancies, has spanned a greying decade and seen me shattered in interesting ways. I am grateful for the opportunities it has provided me, in the context of almost incalculable cultural privilege, to take stock of my limitations and fragility. I am deeply indebted to both the English Department at the University of British Columbia and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for accommodating and generously funding my desire to taste and understand something of the beautiful worlds of art and thinking that underwrite my own sense of self as I go about, for this flickering instant, walking upon the earth. Two supervisory committees have guided me as I have stumbled my way through the long decade of this final stage of tutored academic apprenticeship. In the first phase, when the center would not hold, and my project was mired by Carrollian rabbit-holes, Mark Vessey’s always powerfully insightful and painstakingly generous direction kept my head above ground. Harry Maier’s classes on early Church history were an inspiring example of teaching at its finest. Stephen Guy-Bray’s grim brilliance was drily delightful whenever I had the pleasure of our conversation. vii The second phase of my thesis was launched, in large part, through the salutary offices of Sandra Tomc whose care-full assistance I had no reason to anticipate and to whom I am profoundly grateful. Elizabeth Hodgson’s calm assurance has graced me with new hope and confidence, and helped me to recuperate the sober joy in my labours which I had, in a moment of faltering courage, haplessly misplaced. Her eminently cogent feedback has been an immeasurable help in this almost “intolerable wrestle with words and meanings.” Dennis Danielson’s stern (yet entirely welcome and much needed) support has thankfully reminded me, viz. my penchant for tiresome prolixity, of my duty of care towards my readers. Robert Rouse’s willingness to come on board, donating his time (that rarest of academic commodities) to help see me through to the end of this dissertation process, has kept me in the game. I do not believe that any graduate students of the UBC English Department could complete their programs without the constant academic, professional, and personal assistance of Louise Soga. I want to thank her for her enormous competency and for her unfailing generousity towards me. Finally, I wish to thank my first academic mentor, Jerry Zaslove, whose classes, in the backward and abysm, I attended as an undergraduate. It’s been full twenty years, and after all this time, Jerry continues to exemplify for me the beauty of empathic understanding. “Why is the world not enough?” you asked me. I still do not know. viii Dedication For my mother, Whose care And travailing example Have staid me well Through all these works and days. 1 General Introduction The Christian Humanist Contribution to Early Modern Prophetic Poetics In Renaissance and Reformation era England, towards the end of the sixteenth and on into the latter half of the seventeenth century, there appear a significant number of extra-ecclesial yet biblicizing poetic works of a markedly prophetic cast.1 Exemplary among these, not only in terms of poetic achievement but also in terms of prophetic ambition, are Edmund Spenser’s The Fowre Hymnes and John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The poetic works of Spenser (1552/3-1599) and Milton (1608-1674) and their near contemporaries were the products of an English Reformation culture suffused with the influence of Christian Humanism. Consistent with this influence, the markedly prophetic poetic works of Spenser and Milton share a number of significant features with the rhetorical theology exemplified, most particularly for English reading audiences, by the writings of the Dutch Humanist theologian Desiderius Erasmus. While Erasmus’s contribution to the English Renaissance and Reformation period was enormous—through his edition of classical auctores as well as early Fathers of the Church; through his Greek edition of the New Testament, with its Latin translation and its Annotations; and through his biblical Paraphrases, his classical Adages and his composition of school texts: in universities, grammar schools, and parish churches—he did not supply English authors with a brief on poetry. Erasmus appears to have had no intention of fostering anything like a prophetic poetic movement. Nevertheless, both the grammatical hermeneutics and the prophetic oratorical 1 This thesis is specifically concerned with the prophetic dimensions of works by Edmund Spenser and John Milton. Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney’s psalm translations in the Sidney Psalter, George Herbert’s The Temple and John Donne’s Holy Sonnets are other notable late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century examples of English biblicizing poetic works in which the author effects a merging of poetic and prophetic utterance. 2 evangelism integral to his rhetorical theology may be largely described in terms of a Hieronymian ars poetica (poetic art).2 The extent to which scriptural art and poetic art converge in Erasmus’s rhetorical theology as well as in the rhetorical theology of Christian Humanism more generally, made it particularly suitable for appropriation by poets of powerfully theological inclination.3 Philip Sidney supplied the lacuna left by Erasmus. Book-ending a century of English Reformation culture thoroughly imbued with Erasmian influence, a coherent English poetics is given theoretical form in Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy (pub. 1595).4 The central category of poet with which Sidney is concerned is the more or less secular “right poet”who partially resembles the Erasmian rhetorical theologian/preacher as the purveyor of an affective and morally transformative instruction that both edifies and moves towards right action.5 Of secondary concern in Sidney’s Defence is the prophetic category of Davidic poet. Sidney’s Davidic poet more fully resembles the Erasmian preacher as theodidaktos (one taught by God).6 In Sidney’s Defence the Davidic poets are the revered pagan and Christian figures “chief, in both antiquity and excellency, [who] …did imitate the inconceivable excellencies of God” (86). With his Defence, Sidney provides the English Renaissance and Reformation period with a brief on poetry that appears to cultivate parallels between poetry (both secular and sacred) and 2 By “Hieronymian ars poetica” I am referring to the exegetical practice of the early church Father Jerome (347-420), which was a “scriptural art” in self-conscious imitation of the “poetic art” of Horace. I return to this topic in the latter part of this general introduction. 3 As this general introduction will show, this convergence of poetic and scriptural art in Erasmus’s theological method is not a bit of cultural esoterica but was a widely recognized phenomenon—and one for which Erasmus was continuously and fiercely censured—in Erasmus’s own day. 4 Completed sometime around 1579 and enjoying wide circulation in manuscript form, Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy was published post-humously in 1595 through the offices of Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke. 5 The term “preacher” is both accurate and misleading. Erasmus certainly operated as a “preacher” but he did so from a pulpit of letters 6 In many respects the right poet’s gifts, functions, and province shade noticeably into those of the Davidic poet (see Anne Lake Prescott, “King David as a ‘Right Poet’: Sidney and the Psalmist”). 3 Christian Humanist rhetorical theology. Yet Sidney neither conceives of nor endorses a generation of English Davidic poets operating outside of the ecclesiastically sanctioned generic precincts of biblical translation and sermon.7 For all its technical virtuousity, the Sidneys’ psalter—Philip Sidney and his sister Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke’s translations of the psalms8—remains a nominally scriptural and thus ecclesially circumscribed work. The Defence limits its prophetic poetic exemplars to the divines of antiquity and Sidney confines his own prophetic poetic activity to the ecclesially sanctioned and dependent genres of biblical translation and paraphrase. In other words, both Sidney’s poetic theory and practice tend towards grounding the contemporary production of English poetry within the secular horizon. In the successive works of Spenser and Milton, however, a fully fledged English prophetic poetics has slipped the ecclesial tether and taken independent flight.9 This thesis grew out of my examinations of a pair of similarly enigmatic religious and poetic figures—Spenser’s Sapience in The Fowre Hymnes and Milton’s Wisdom and Urania in Paradise Lost. Spenser’s Sapience and Milton’s Wisdom and Urania are suggestive in many ways of elements found in the philosophy of the early church fathers, and this patristic detailing has not gone unnoticed.10 Less attention, however, has been given to the manner in which these figures may be seen as illustrative of the principles of grammatical hermeneutics proper to 7 Sidney does wish for English right poets to sing the praises of God but such song does not appear to involve the type of divine participation that distinguishes either the Sidneian Davidic (prophetic) poet or the Erasmian preacher as theodidaktos. 8 While I concentrate upon the work and persona of Philip Sidney in this introduction, I recognize Mary Sidney Herbert’s determining role not only in her masterful completion of the work of psalm translation left half-unfinished at her brother’s death but also in publishing Philip’s work and thereby largely constructing and ensuring the posterity of his poetic persona. 9 On the avian associations of Spenser’s poetic persona, and Spenser’s “careeric” and generic progress towards a prophetic and Christian voice in The Fowre Hymnes, see Patrick Gerard Cheney’s Spenser’s Famous Flight: A Renaissance Idea of a Literary Career. 10 See most particularly the decades-long exchange of essays between Maurice Kelley and William B. Hunter. 4 Christian Humanist rhetorical theology. Considerable controversy has surrounded the orthodoxy or unorthodoxy of Spenser’s Sapience and Milton’s pre-existent sisters Wisdom and Urania in relation to either Patristic or Reformation era doctrines. This thesis, however, will seek to explain their fashioning, in relative isolation from doctrinal considerations, as something akin to the figural paraphrase of anomalous and/or marginalized aspects of biblical texts.11 Spenser’s Sapience and Milton’s pre-existent sisters are emblematic of Spenser and Milton’s own extra-ecclesial, prophetic poetics. At the same time, these feminine figures are figural elaborations of grammatical exegeses that embody the type of interpretative insights which were part and parcel of the radical revision of theology effected by Christian Humanist rhetorical theologians like Erasmus.12 The approach that I have taken in the present study is that of a classical historicism inflected with the reconstructive and empathic strategies of something like reader response theory. I operate under the historicist’s assumption that the “general meaning of the world may 11 My contention, that Spenser’s Sapience and Milton’s Wisdom and Urania may be understood “in relative isolation from doctrinal considerations,” may seem particularly strange, given the abundance of research that has gone into reconciling Spenser’s figure of Sapience and Milton’s figure of the pre-existent sisters Wisdom and Urania with contemporary Christian cosmology (Reformation era) or cosmology borrowed from the early patristic period. While I am taking an entirely different approach, I still believe that the cosmology and speculative philosophy of the ante-Nicene church fathers is an important source of ideas and influence for the works of both Spenser and Milton. The surest guide through this domain—and one commonly turned to by Milton scholars in attempts to explain the Christology on display in Paradise Lost—is Harry Austryn Wolfson’s The Philosophy of the Church Fathers. 12 In this general introduction I concentrate exclusively upon the Christian Humanist rhetorical theology of Erasmus. This should not be taken to suggest that Erasmus was alone among Humanists exerting significant influence upon English culture in general or upon Spenser and Milton in particular. Rather, I take Erasmus as an important figure representative of a larger Humanist community and movement. As John N. Wall has written, “Instead of thinking of an ‘Erasmian’ party, we might instead want to envision a community of men with shared educational backgrounds, shared goals, and shared methodology, for which Erasmus loomed as the most articulate spokesman” (Wall, “Godly and Fruitful Lessons” qtd. in Dodds 8). Perhaps the most famous example of a grammatical insight with significant theological implications is Erasmus’s recognition that St. Jerome’s “Verbum,” which appears in the latter’s Latin translation of the Bible, was less apt than “Sermo” in rendering the original Greek term “Logos.” The controversy sparked by “Sermo” in Erasmus’s New Testament was of enormous consequence for the future course of exegesis. See Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle, “Sermo: Reopening the Conversation on Translating John 1.1” and chapter 1 (“Sermo”) of Erasmus on Language and Method in Theology. 5 be discovered by historians… [and that] ascertaining the general proceeds by scrutinizing the individual” (Howard 13). At the same time, I negotiate my interpretations in terms of an awareness “that all ideas and values are historically conditioned and subject to change” (Howard 13).13 As the “world” that I am interested in discovering is primarily a textual world, I not only investigate texts, but through their investigation attempt to determine, enunciate and—to the extent that such determination and enunciation must include a historically approximative and subjective element—to participate in the reading habits they imply. In the reconstructive and participatory aspects of my approach I am following the examples of Elizabeth Biemann (in her Plato Baptized: Towards the Interpretation of Spenser’s Mimetic Fictions) and Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle (in her Christening Pagan Mysteries: Erasmus in Pursuit of Wisdom), and to a lesser extent Stanley Fish (in his Self Consuming Artifacts, Surprised by Sin and How Milton Works). Some manner of reconstructive participation is a necessary supplement to a classical historicist method not only because of the lack of constants within historically conditioned cultural contexts but also, and more particularly, because, as Elizabeth Biemann writes, my “field of speculation… embraces meaningful experiences generated by the activity of interpretation” (4).14 My aim is, as Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle writes, “not merely to convey and analyse information but also to induce an empathic experience of … [my authors’] intellectual 13 In the introduction to Religion and the Rise of Historicism, Thomas Albert Howard provides the above working definition of classical historicism. The awareness of the temporal relativity of the meaning constructed through the historicist project Howard identifies with the “crisis historicism” of Ernst Troeltsch who holds that as a consequence of the vast historical knowledge at our disposal “all thinking is obliged to become in some measure historical… The consequence of this is, of course, a certain relativism, a mental complexity” (qtd. in Religion and the Rise of Historicism 13 n 50). 14 The term “reconstructive,” as I follow Biemann in using it here, refers to Dilthey’s concept of “reconstruction” or “Nachbildung” which he “described… as a sharing between writer and reader of a ‘coherence experienced from within’” (Biemann 250 n 18). Biemann is citing Pattern and Meaning in History, ed. H.P. Rickman, p. 39. 6 life” (Christening xii). Anticipating those scholars who might imagine that empathic understanding implies the uncritical agreement characteristic of ‘fan fiction’, Boyle cautions that proper critique can only follow upon careful determination of the sense and potential for sense of a given text (Christening xii). The generative “activity of interpretation” within which and for which Renaissance poets like Spenser and Milton were writing—contrary, for instance, to the logic- and dialectic-based interpretative practices of Scholastic theologians—aimed at sapiential understanding.15 As Biemann writes: “The Renaissance poets were scholars, of course, but the fruits of their poetic labours invite us primarily to taste and see. We may hope to taste more sensitively, and see more comprehensively, when we choose for a time to share vicariously in the tradition they embraced as a living whole” (8). Sapientia, sapience, or sapiential understanding connotes both knowledge and taste. Sapiential understanding is an embodied form of knowledge that is not merely intellective but affective as well and indivisible from the human life of feeling. It is an essential Renaissance concept which I first broach in my discussion of Erasmus within this general introduction and to which I return time and again in the course of my subsequent discussions of Spenser and Milton. The scholar’s main guides to the historically conditioned sense and potential for sense of a given “interpretive/discourse” community’s authors and texts are inevitably the authors and texts themselves.16 Thus, the reconstructive and participatory 15 The Scholastics or Schoolmen receive short-shrift in this thesis as it is not they themselves, their methods, or their considerable accomplishments, but rather the perception and characterization of these by their Humanist adversaries that is of greatest significance to my arguments concerning early-modern English prophetic poetics. Thus, while the Scholastics do receive considerable attention within this general introduction, the descriptions offered of Scholasticism reflect the latter’s partial and negative description within the perspectives of Christian Humanism. In the most general and neutral terms, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “scholasticism” as, “The doctrines of the Schoolmen; the predominant theological and philosophical teaching of the period A.D. 1000–1500, based upon the authority of the Christian Fathers and of Aristotle and his commentators.” 16 “Interpretive” (which elsewhere in this thesis I spell interpretative), is set alongside “discourse” to acknowledge the formulation of the same (or highly similar) concept in Fish’s essay “Literature in the Reader” which is appended in full to Self-Consuming Artifacts. 7 interpretative approach employed in this thesis not only follows the examples of Boyle and Biemann, but, in doing so, also seeks correspondence with and accommodation of the claims to sapiential sense of the texts under study.17 I am thus interested, with Boyle, Biemann and Fish, in the meaningful reading or “potential and probable response” that early modern authors could possibly have intended and that early modern readers could possibly have experienced (Fish, Artifacts 406-7). As a consequence of this interest in the potential and probable response of an English Renaissance readership, I am responsible for being, as Fish holds, an informed reader and therein for approximating (for myself and the readers of this thesis) the conceptual history that makes such reading possible. It is in this spirit that my general introduction fleshes out an account of both Erasmian rhetorical theology and its potential implications for theologically inclined early-modern poetics. This introduction “is devoted to supplying a new thread to lead us through the maze of [Spenser’s and Milton’s] texts by weaving strands of evidence that have not [yet] been brought together in just this way” (Biemann 5). By reconstructing the activity of interpretation proper to Erasmus’s theology, as it offers itself to those concerned with poetic production, I bring the prophetic poetic horizon strangely shimmering upon the adiaphoric frontier of Reformation theology into clearer focus.18 The 17. I refer to my authors’ “intention” to generate sapiential meaning only so far as abundant contemporary witness has established that such sense was then considered a distinguishing feature of poetic and/or rhetorical discourse. In my investigation of Spenser and Milton, however, I am specifically interested in prophetic poetic strategies that subvert established dogmas pertaining to complex yet adiaphoric passages of scripture in the interests of a theologically sophisticated poetic exegesis. Biemann’s approach with respect to Spenser’s “metaphoric and equivocal strategies” (12) is similar to that of Stanley Fish with respect to Milton’s “progressive decertaintizing” (Artifacts 384). [T]he value of such a procedure is predicated on the idea of meaning as an event” (Arifacts 387-89; original emphasis). 18 Adiaphora—a term of considerable importance in Reformation culture—names those biblical topics of consideration that are indifferent to salvation and thus both unconstrained by dogmatic fiat and open to interpretation. 8 notion that divine inspiration and feigning artifice could be combined by early-modern poets without contradiction is not, in itself, new.19 The novelty of my contribution lies in the explanatory value of key Christian Humanist concepts that, having become part of the common cultural discourse, make possible a powerful exchange of ideas and authority between early-modern poetry and theology. It is my contention in this thesis that a reading of Erasmus—one that adopts the interested stance of the English Renaissance poet exemplified, in the first instance, by the poetic, theological and theoretical production of Philip Sidney—opens up highly significant avenues of interpretation within the subsequent reading of Spenser and Milton’s poetic works. 19 Elizabeth Biemann’s Plato Baptized: Towards the Interpretation of Spenser’s Mimetic Fictions, John Guillory’s Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton, and Literary History, and Barbara Kiefer Lewalksi’s “Paradise Lost”and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms (among others) offer interpretations of the integral importance of both belief and artistry within early-modern authorship. 9 Chapter 1 Participatory Poetics and the Grammar of Christ: From Erasmus through Sidney The Erasmian Legacy According to Gregory Dodds, whose Exploiting Erasmus is a recent and thorough-going examination of the Erasmian legacy in early-modern England, Erasmus “was arguably the most widely read author in early-sixteenth century Europe” (xi). Erasmus’s influence was a general European phenomenon but, in spite of the relatively short period of time he actually spent on English soil, it was especially significant within England. Erasmus resided in England on two separate occasions—the first from 1499-1500 and the second from 1509-1514. As Cornelis Augustijn writes: His first visit to England brought Erasmus the recognition [as a gifted Christian Humanist scholar] he ardently desired. He had gone there as tutor of William Blount, Lord Mountjoy… later a tutor of Prince Henry, [who] proved to have connections in the highest circles. Erasmus made the acquaintance of Thomas More… he met the future king … [and] also came to know John Colet. … Erasmus’ second stay in England… was no less important… [H]e gradually won fame, much more than ten years before… [as well as additional patrons, among whom Erasmus praises William Warham, archbishop of Canterbury, as] “my incomparable Maecenas.” (32-35) The welcome reception of Erasmus was also the welcome reception of his works. The important connections made in the course of his English residency assisted considerably in the wide dissemination of Erasmus’s extensive and eclectic oeuvre. As Margo Todd has noted, in Oxford and Cambridge book inventories between 1558 and 1603, 84% of the Oxford lists and 66% of 10 the Cambridge lists contained one or more Erasmian work, making Erasmus the most highly represented author in the inventories (67).20 In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England it was impossible to overlook Erasmus’s influence as both biblical scholar and humanist educator. To the new generation of philologically oriented humanist scholars that he helped to produce, Erasmus left a vast collection of Greek adages; his Greek edition, Latin translation and paraphrases on the New Testament; and extensive Latin translations of Greek classical and patristic authors. As Augustijn notes, Erasmus’s patristic production alone included “editions of Cyprian, Arnobius, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine (in ten volumes), editions and translations of Chrysostom and Irenaeus, [and] translations of Origen” (100). Erasmus’s Greek edition of the New Testament served as the basis for English New Testament translations from Tyndale onward through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Furthermore, as John Craig writes, “with Edward VI’s royal injunctions of July 1547 … at a stroke, the Crown had made compulsory the purchase of the English translation of Erasmus’s Paraphrases by every parish in the realm, by almost every cleric and probably, albeit rather more obliquely, by every cathedral” (317-18). As Todd’s study of Oxford and Cambridge inventories has shown, Erasmus exerted considerable influence among scholars and theologians through his biblical and patristic scholarship in the universities. Through the physical presence of his Paraphrases in the churches and their use in church-services, Erasmus exerted a similarly considerable influence among the general and less learned population.21 He also had a hand in molding the minds and investing the 20 Todd’s inventories, as indicators of wide dissemination and thus likely exposure to the works of Erasmus, cover the period of Spenser’s education. On Milton’s “wide knowledge of Erasmus,” see The Milton Encyclopedia Vol. 3, “Erasmus, Desiderius,” pp.65-68. 21 Dodds cites a 1551 Dutch Travel journal to the effect that “the regular [English] church service usually consists of a chapter or two from the English Bible and the Paraphrase of Erasmus in English translation” (14-15). 11 talents of English youth. Erasmus’s friend and patron John Colet institutionalized a Christian Humanist educational paradigm in the founding statutes of St. Paul’s Grammar School where an ideal of Christian eloquence was taught and pursued through the imitation of wise, virtuous and linguistically refined classical and Christian models in accordance with school texts composed by Erasmus himself. In the English grammar school as in the English university and the English parish church, Erasmus was one of the most recognized and often employed authorities within English Reformation culture. As the central and coherent core of his copious oeuvre, Erasmus employed and propounded a rhetorical theology. The exegetical approach at the heart of this rhetorical theology was the grammarian’s practice of textual criticism involving the “consistent application of the philological method used by the humanists in the study of texts from classical antiquity to biblical scholarship and the study of the Fathers of the church” (Augustijn 191). The theological revolution Erasmus effected was primarily one of method. Erasmus did not intend—in the manner of Luther and Calvin and other Church-founding reformers—to replace the old with a new and purified dogma. On the contrary, as Robert Coogan writes, Erasmus “steadfastly tries to dissolve the dogmatic accretions of the centuries that prejudice and restrict exegesis” (115-116). Contra the dogmatists, in Erasmus’s estimation, many passages of the Bible manifest a divine intention to prevent clear understanding and the drive to translate such passages into fixed doctrine is therefore counter to the will of God. In his dedicatory letter to Charles V that served as preface to the paraphrase of the gospel of Matthew, for instance, Erasmus draws attention to passages in which “Jesus so mixes and adapts what he has to say that he seems to me to have wished to remain obscure not only to the apostles but to us” (Paraphrase on Matthew 4). Such passages, Erasmus holds, certainly merit contemplative study but they comprise adiaphora, that 12 is, things indifferent to salvation. According to Gary Remer’s epitome, even while “various degrees of consensus may form on some doctrinal adiaphora… [Erasmus] still allows the learned to debate the matter among themselves, [holding that where] there is no universal consensus… scholars should not be prevented from exploring, reconsidering, and possibly abandoning widely accepted doctrines, so long as they are not fundamental to the faith” (97).22 This position—that “Christians should maintain an adiaphoric flexibility in most areas of belief” (Dodds 34)—was championed with considerable success by Erasmus as well as by other later English Humanists and served to legitimate a considerable degree of personal freedom with respect to biblical interpretation while curtailing the authority of powerful religious factions.23 Erasmus’s exegetical method could be employed to undermine the authority of received dogma and to open an adiaphoric scriptural horizon to the possibility of continuous interpretative renewal. It could also confer exegetical authority upon the individual practitioner. As the practicability of Erasmus’s method was not determined by confessional doctrine, neither was the authority it might confer necessarily tied either to the particulars of confessional identity or ecclesial station.24 Indeed, with respect to the potential authorizing of extra-ecclesial exegesis, the Dutch theologian Maarten van Dorp accused Erasmus of taking the side of the poets against the theologians. In Dorp’s view, Erasmus’s writings effectively authorized “the grammarians… 22 As Dominic Baker-Smith notes, Erasmus did not imagine a community of simple believers engaged in the personal interpretation of Scripture without any manner of exegetical guidance. On the contrary, he imagined a spiritual bishop whose “first duty is meditative study of the Bible… The bishop must, like Idythun, have risen above human desires, and be able to sing prophetically ‘expounding faithfully the mystical sense of Scripture’… This would be Idythun, the Davidic type of the bishop” (lviii-lix). Idythun appears in Psalm 38 where he is chosen by David to make music for the Lord (lviii). 23 This is most obviously seen in the case of the Latitudinarian movement of the seventeenth century that grew up around Benjamin Whichcote, Henry More, Ralph Cudworth and the other Cambridge Platonists. It is also manifest in the largely politically motivated establishment of the “via media” within early Anglicanism. 24 As Dodds writes: “Erasmus’ theological methodology was neither Catholic nor Protestant, but part of a position that had first emerged in a pre-confessional era prior to the divisions and fears sparked by Luther’s popularity” (37). 13 [to] sit on the throne and act as censors of all the other disciplines” (Letters 298-445 160).25 As Dorp well recognized, Erasmus’s theological method had the potential to undermine the authority of traditional theologians and canonical church-authorities while conferring exegetical authority upon the individual and the individual instance of a creative, if grammatically learned, exegesis. Erasmus’s readership, however, was in no way limited to the disgruntled theologians whose indignation Dorp attempted to impress upon Erasmus. In England, not only were all parish churches under royal injunction to display and make use of the English translation of Erasmus’s Paraphrases on the New Testament, but according to Dodds, “English readers read Erasmus carefully and understood his religious vision, theological methodology, and rhetorical style” (xiii).26 Widely read and often disputed, as Cornelis Augustijn points out, Erasmus’s influential works had clear confessional limitations: “no church developed from [Erasmus’s] ideas, as was the case with Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. There, the structures formed a framework through which the founders’ continued influence over the centuries was guaranteed to a greater or lesser extent. This was not the case with Erasmus” (195-96). As a Catholic who imagined a unified church bound together by the commonly held values and goodwill naturally attendant upon his Humanist ideal of a universal Christian Latinity, Erasmus could not be fully 25 The letter is n.347, “Dorp to His Friend Erasmus” (1515). 26 Dodds writes: “In 1548 Erasmus became an official part of the English Reformation when, in a royal injunction, Edward VI ordered the English translation of Erasmus’ Paraphrases on the New Testament [together with the Great Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Homilies] placed in every church throughout the kingdom. The royal injunction also stated that clergy under the degree of B.D. were to ‘diligently study’ the Paraphrases” both in English and in Latin (xii). As Dodds further adds, “the injunctions were renewed seven times by Elizabeth 1 between 1569 and 1599” (269 n 6) and, under Elizabeth, “[t]he visitation articles also stipulated that all clergy below the degree of Masters of Arts had to acquire a personal copy of the Paraphrases” (12-13). Cf. Frere and Kennedy, Visitation articles and injunctions, Vol. 3, pp. 8-29, and John Craig “Forming a Protestant Consciousness? Erasmus’ Paraphrases in English Parishes, 1547-1666.” 14 assimilated to English Protestant causes.27 Nor could English (or continental) Catholics claim Erasmus for their own: his theological method was increasingly seen, by factions on both sides of the confessional debate, as undermining faith in the sanctity of Church tradition.28 In other words, Erasmus was a slippery fish whose flip-flopping influence had to be handled carefully within Reformation battles over confessional identity. For all their unarguable influence and power, the works and method of Erasmus seemed, ultimately, to threaten the authority of all who might claim it—all, that is, save the grammarian’s clan of school-masters and poets. While I am interested in Erasmus’s theology and its influence, I am not primarily concerned with its impact upon confessional disputes and what might be termed official religious culture. Instead, in this general introduction, as in the greater thesis’s examination of prophetic poetics in Edmund Spenser and John Milton, I seek to contribute to and substantiate scholarly appraisals, like the following by Gregory Dodds, to the effect that the “Paraphrases of Erasmus heralded a new era of biblical interpretation and literary production” (5; my emphasis).29 Indeed, not only Erasmus’s Paraphrases but his rhetorical theology as a whole, with its potential to exalt the grammarian above the theologian in scriptural matters, was especially well-suited to adoption by poets and to the fostering and authorizing of an exegetically sophisticated theological poetics. 27 Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle describes this Erasmian vision as follows: “Just as Christ, oratory incarnate, had divinely reconciled man to God, so the Christian orator might through similar persuasion reconcile man to man. … Erasmus’ programme to restore creation through oratory, in imitation of Christ who had restored it as oration, was not implemented by heroic gesture, but by scholarly attention to detail in the service of uncommon eloquence. Grammar was to foster this germination and maturation of humanity reborn” (Language and Method 46-48). 28 In 1559, under the authority of Pope Paul IV, all of Erasmus’s works were included within the Index of Prohibited Books. As Cornelis Augustijn writes of Erasmus’ exegetical method: “he undermined the authority of the great exegetical compendiums of the Middle Ages, the Glossa Ordinaria and the Postillae of Nicholas of Lyra… In Erasmus’ exegesis the tradition which had accumulated around the text of the Bible through the centuries was not respected and added to, but rejected in favour of a new beginning” (191). 29 The reception and influence of Erasmus’s Paraphrases on the New Testament has been explored in the collection of essays co-edited by Hilmar Pabel and Mark Vessey, Holy Scripture Speaks: The Production and Reception of Erasmus’ Paraphrases on the New Testament. 15 I am concerned in the present study with the part Erasmus’s theology may have played in, and the extent to which Erasmus’s theology may be used to illuminate, prophetic developments within early-modern English poetics. Rhetorical Theology For Erasmus, the message of Christ was rhetorical and the goal of exegesis was to facilitate the fundamental transformation that would result from scriptural persuasion. Erasmus, among other Christian Humanists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, employed a grammatical hermeneutic, anchored primarily in rhetoric and philology rather than in logic and creedal dogma, to radically transform the practice of theology. Where Scholastic theology developed a technical Latin adapted to the rigours of Aristotelian logic, Erasmian rhetorical theology followed Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) in striving to restore Christian eloquentia as exemplified by the Latin of Jerome and adapted to the practical goal of moral persuasion. In this section I provide a summary overview of Erasmus’s rhetorical theology. I then proceed through discrete discussions of five integral aspects of this rhetorical theology and their relevance to poetics.30 Erasmus’ Christian Humanist rhetoric-based practice of theology was diametrically opposed to the logic-based practice of the Scholastic philosophers whose work and interpretative method had dominated late medieval theology and continued to maintain a dominant place within university curricula in Erasmus’s own time.31 Imagining the conceptual truth of a God 30 These five integral aspects are Erasmus’s opposition to Scholasticism, his cultivation of a grammatical hermeneutics, his near sacralising of bonae litterae, his participatory and sapiential conception of theological learning, and his favouring of enarratio as persuasive exegesis. 31 Medieval theology was dominated by the highly conceptual and disputative exegetical method of the Scholastics’ quaestio and summa: “The quaestio, ‘question’ or ‘query,’ proceeded from a theological question that was illuminated, as in a conversation, in dispute, by pros and cons from all sides and led to a conclusion, while the counter-arguments were then answered from the solution reached” (Augustijn 16). Scholasticism treated passages of 16 who appealed primarily to the ratiocinative reason of a philosophical symposium of the elect, the Scholastics sought to discover and abstract the principles of the faith buried in biblical narrative. In terms of Scholastic method, it was only through abstraction that the biblical message could be clarified and effectively understood. Imagining, contrary to the Scholastics, the copious discourse of a God who appealed primarily to the affective sense of common human colloquy, Erasmus sought to clarify not the ideas within but the language of biblical narrative itself. In terms of Erasmian method, it was essential to remain within the original language of biblical narrative for therein “the doctrine of Christ is more common and accessible than the sun” (Language and Method 95).32 In privileging the affective over the ratiocinative content of Scripture, Erasmus was actually sharing the position of a number of late-medieval Scholastic theologians such as Giles of Rome, Alexander of Hales, and St. Bonaventure. Though similarly repudiated by Erasmus, these theologians differed markedly from other Scholastic theologians (like Thomas Aquinas) in considering the biblical message primarily in moral and affective terms.33 They had further anticipated Erasmus in employing the grammarians’ tools—tools traditionally employed in the interpretation of the classical poets—to interpret the various generic modes within Scripture.34 Scripture through the medium of its own technical language thereby both ignoring and effacing the original affective and persuasive features of the scriptural passages in favour of their conceptual content. 32 Regarding the consequences of Erasmus’s revolutionary theological method, Augustijn writes: “the domination of systematic theology [would be] broken, and exegesis would be elevated to the place of honour. In other words, dialectic, the path to principles as it was called, would have to yield place to rhetoric. Theology would no longer be practised in accordance with the laws of strict logic. The whole scholastic method was in danger” (192). In the Ratio, Erasmus writes “the theological profession rests more on affections than on clever arguments” (qtd. in Hoffman 204). 33 For these theologians’ understanding of the affective nature of the scriptural message see Alastair Minnis’s Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages, 121-127. As Istvan Bejczy points out, however, Erasmus appears to have dismissed Alexander of Hales as roundly as he did that of the other Scholastics. The fact remains, that Erasmus’s affective and rhetorical approach to Scripture was not without antecedent, even among the Scholastics. 34 See Alastair Minnis’s discussion of the biblical forma tractandi or modus agendi (modes of proceeding) according to Giles, Hales, and Bonaventure in Medieval Theory of Authorship pp. 119-130. 17 One of the most significant monuments of Erasmus’s oecumenical grammatical hermeneutics was his Novum Instrumentum, a Greek edition of the New Testament with a parallel Latin translation. In its challenging of the dominant form of Scholastic exegesis, this work went far beyond that of the prior champions of affective theology. With his edition of the New Testament, Erasmus sought both to question and improve upon the Vulgate, the time-honoured Latin translation commonly attributed to Jerome. Erasmian exegesis, as demonstrated in both the Novum Instrumentum and its accompanying Annotationes, sought a basic clarification of the language of the scriptural text that would provide an adequate foundation for hermeneutic engagement at all levels—from the work of biblical scholars for limited circles of learned readers, to public sermons, to individual Christians’ personal and private readings.35 Yet for Erasmus, Scripture was not the only horizon of Christian revelation. For Erasmus the work of the ancient poets and auctores comprised a dispensation of Christian providence.36 Consequently, the continuous hermeneutic engagement Erasmus imagined as the responsibility of every Christian involved not only scriptural exegesis but also the processing of bonae litterae, that is, good letters or classical literature. Through a grammarian’s philological interpretation of Scripture, the repudiation of medieval scholastic tradition, and an extensive archeology of the rich theological and rhetorical sources of antiquity, Erasmus sought to define a new type of theology and mould a new type of theologian. In the Ratio verae theologiae (the Method of a True Theology), which appeared in 1518 as preface to the second edition of Erasmus’s New Testament as well as in a separately 35 Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle observes that although Erasmus’s position wavered when he fell under heavy censure, in the Paraclesis (prefatory to the Novum Instrumentum of 1516) he expressed the wish “that his New Testament be available to commoners so that ‘all can be theologians’” (Language and Method 7). 36 This topic has been explored in Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle’s brilliant book, Christening Pagan Mysteries: Erasmus in Pursuit of Wisdom (xi). 18 published edition, Erasmus proposes for the novice a “brief method for arriving at true theology.”37 Erasmus’s “method” is both assimilative and participatory in conception. That is, he imagines a conversion and purification of the heart through the assimilation of Scripture. When the heart becomes a “library of Christ” participating in the Logos, it also becomes an instrument of the divine charity of providence. The heart is not only filled with the prophetic word, message, conversation, or sermon of Christ, but becomes capable of its further creative and personal expression. In its didactic and pastoral expression, represented most distinctly by his gospel Paraphrases, Erasmus’s theological method centers upon the grammatical genre of “enarratio”—that is, exegesis as persuasive and elaborative paraphrase. Erasmus’s Paraphrases are a curious phenomenon. On the one hand, they are an example of ecclesially sanctioned intra-biblical story-telling within which scriptural fidelity is the highest good. On the other hand, they involve the insertion of a fictional first-person narrator into the scriptural text itself as well as considerable poetic license in rendering and intensifying the affective sense of scriptural passages. Indeed, as an elaborative and affectively intensified retelling of Scripture they are a (radically anti-scholastic) form of interpretation which enacts the pretense of non-interpretative transparency. 37 This phrase simply (and roughly) translates the full title of Erasmus’s work: Ratio seu methodus compendio perveniendi ad veram theologiam. The Ratio remains a difficult text to get hold of in English. Manfred Hoffman has provided a useful overview of the Ratio in Rhetoric and Theology: The Hermeneutic of Erasmus pp. 32-39 with discussion throughout. Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle’s discussion in chapter three, “Ratio,” of Erasmus on Language and Method in Theology is particularly illuminating. Passages cited here are from a PhD thesis by Donald Morrison Conroy: The Ecumenical Theology of Erasmus of Rotterdam: A Study of the Ratio Verae Theologiae, Translated into English and Annotated, with a Brief Account of his Ecumenical Writings and Activities within His Lifetime. The Ratio was a much expanded version of the Methodus (1516), which in turn was the third and final preface to the first edition of Erasmus’s New Testament. 19 Erasmus’s Christian Humanist vision and theological program were thus quite radical. First, the grammarian—a scholarly representative of the tribe of poets and orators—appeared as classicizing schoolmaster to the benighted Scholastic theologians promising (or threatening) the affective and eloquent correction of their intellective and barbaric errancy. Erasmus extolled the grammarian’s expertise in rhetoric and the philological study of classical languages and literature as not only appropriate but essential to both biblical exegesis and translation. He further contended that the store of bonae litterae or classical literature—the extent of the grammarian’s traditional purview—was itself a providential dispensation of Christ. Finally, Erasmus made an oratorical and poetic approach to scriptural exposition a central pastoral feature of “true theology.”38 Grammatical Hermeneutics Working as a grammarian, Erasmus pursued the elucidation of biblical language itself, rather than the concepts to which it might refer, as the means to discover the persuasive, affectively intelligible truths Scripture intends. As Cornelis Augustijn writes, “Erasmus wanted to put philological methods developed in humanism at the service of biblical scholarship and of theology in general. Opponents represented him scornfully as no more than a teacher of grammar, and Erasmus adopted the name” (105). Equipped with the critical apparatus of humanist philology and classical rhetoric, Erasmus championed the legitimacy, and demonstrated the power, of an interpretative method that conceived of the Bible as “divinas 38 As Dodds writes: “the Paraphrases were hardly simplistic narratives of the New Testament and, in a literary sense, combined elements of biblical translation, commentary, and fiction” (6). 20 litteras” (divine letters or literature) and approached biblical exegesis as it would the interpretation of any other “literary” text. The study of bonae litterae was the domain of the grammarian. Late medieval teachers of grammar were responsible not only for instruction in the noble classical languages but also, therein, for moral instruction through the correct interpretation of the classical poets. As Minnis writes, the poets were considered to “direct themselves towards ethics” which is to say that their works pertained to “moral science, a branch of practical philosophy” (MLTC 14). Concerned with ethical persuasion and thus with interpretation as a guide to action, grammar “was an art of living as well as an art of language, and the single method of instruction was the explication of the poets” (MLTC 14). Theology, on the other hand, at least in terms of the dominant late-medieval, Thomistic Scholastic tradition, largely eschewed the study of Greek and Hebrew.39 Jerome’s time-honoured Latin translation served as the Scholastics’ primary text and their exegetical method, anchored in logic, was practiced in a highly technical, non-classical Latin that largely negated the persuasive effects of biblical texts. Thus, the championing of an affective theology by Hales and others notwithstanding, the dominant practice of theology lay outside of the grammarian’s linguistic and ethical purview. Erasmus echoed the affective emphases of grammatically-minded Scholastic forerunners but he presented a new and potent challenge to the way theology was practiced by insisting upon the primacy not only of the original biblical languages but of the grammarian’s philological expertise over the cumulative weight of tradition. In a private letter to Antoon Van Bergen, Erasmus wrote: 39 An important exception to this rule, in terms of Scholasticism as a whole, is the Franciscan Hebraist Nicholas of Lyra (1270-1349). 21 I can see what utter madness it is even to put a finger on that part of theology which is specially concerned with the mysteries of the faith unless one is furnished with the equipment of Greek as well, since the translators of Scripture, in their scrupulous manner of construing the text, offer such literal versions of Greek idioms that no one ignorant of that language could grasp even the primary, or, as our own theologians call it, literal, meaning. (Letters 142-297 25)40 Erasmus’s extensive knowledge of Greek and Greek literature bore abundant fruit in his Novum Instrumentum and Annotationes. The Novum Instrumentum comprised a new Latin translation in parallel with Erasmus’s edition of the Greek New Testament. The Annotationes lay out the principles and considerations in accordance with which Erasmus effected his translation.41 As Robert Coogan notes, Erasmus’s New Testament “requires [and demonstrates] a mastery not only of the Greek and Latin codices and the exegesis of the Greek and Latin Fathers but also an expert knowledge of secular Greek and Latin classical literature” (15). A triumph of the biblical humanist method, Erasmus’s New Testament was key to enabling subsequent Protestant translations of the Bible into the European vernaculars.42 That the works of Erasmus carried significant authority within English Reformation culture is indisputable. The nature of this authority, however, remains something of an enigma. On the one hand, conservative Catholic theologians vociferously objected to Erasmus’s presumption in correcting the Vulgate. This objection proceeded from the recognition that Erasmus’s biblical humanism—his insistence upon the interpretative primacy of the original languages of Scripture—posed a near immeasurable threat to the cumulative authority of 40 The letter is n.149, “To Antoon Van Bergen” (1501). 41 Erika Rummel singles out the Annotations as the most “impressive monument to [Erasmus’s] biblical scholarship” (ix). She describes their content as “predominantly a philological commentary, recording and discussing variant readings and commenting on passages in the Vulgate… [and evolving, with subsequent editions, into] a mixture of textual and literary criticism, theological exegesis, spiritual counsel, and polemical asides” (vii). 42 According to Augustijn: “The Greek text of the New Testament that Erasmus presented set the tone for the following centuries… We know that Zwingli transcribed the Epistles of Paul in Greek from Erasmus’ New Testament, and that it was only in this way that he acquired a reasonable knowledge of Greek. There must have been many more like Zwingli” (94). 22 accepted Church tradition. As Coogan writes, “Erasmus insists that linguistic skills open the grammatical sense of the passage and that one discovers the spiritual sense neither by its traditional context in dogma nor—equally important—by allegorical conjecture until one has first established its philological coherence” (15). To accept the premises of Erasmus’s exegetical method not only involved the questioning of time-honoured practices, doctrines and even conciliar decisions but implied the principled rejection of the exegetical method and theological authority of Scholasticism as a whole.43 On the other hand, the English theologians who penned the introductions to the Englished Paraphrases of Erasmus were well aware that these same Paraphrases, which appeared by royal injunction in all English parish churches, “interpret[ed] key doctrines, such as predestination, in a manner that was inconsistent with Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers’ understanding of such key soteriological issues as grace, justification, atonement, and salvation” (Dodds 21).44 While Erasmus’s English editors invested considerable effort in their introductions to either reconcile Erasmus’s theology with or subordinate it to their visions of English Protestantism, the fact remained that “[t]he Paraphrases themselves presented distinctive Erasmian theological doctrines and rhetorical methodologies that were at odds with parts of the Protestant Reformation, in general, and with English Calvinism, in particular” (Dodds 59). Erasmus’s textual presence thus constituted a ubiquitous yet strangely unassimilable authority: for theologians on both sides of the Reformation’s confessional disputes he was both unavoidable and, to varying degrees, unacceptable. 43 Practices, doctrines, and conciliar decisions questioned by Erasmus include, among many others, the practice of confession, the doctrine of original sin, and the decrees of the African church councils. These examples are cited within a larger selection by Coogan, p.19. See also Erica Rummel, Erasmus and His Catholic Critics. 44 On first Nicholas Udall and then Miles Coverdale and John Olde’s successive strategies in framing and re-framing the Paraphrases, in smoothing over their interpretative discontinuities with reformation doctrine, and in outrightly subverting their arguments, see Dodds’ “Framing of the Paraphrases” in Exploiting Erasmus (15-26). 23 Neither Catholic nor Protestant theologians were comfortable aligning themselves with Erasmus’s theology. That said, the objections levied by Maarten van Dorp against Erasmus’s prises de position in his Moria (Praise of Folly), and his anticipated editions of Jerome and the New Testament, do suggest one identifiable (if somewhat amorphous) group whose interests were consistently advanced by Erasmus: “the whole tribe of school-masters, poets, authors, and all the professed followers of the humanities” (Letters 298-445 156).45 Significantly, this group’s alignment is disciplinary rather than confessional. Dorp accuses Erasmus not only of bitterly attacking the faculty of theology through his “wretched Folly,” but of composing his edition of Jerome exclusively “for people interested in grammar… the grammarians… the schoolmasters” (Letters 298-445 19; 160).46 Dorp’s letters are especially suggestive because in pitting Erasmus against the theologians they so clearly and so fully identify his position with that of the poets and scholars of poetry. 47 Dorp’s identification of Erasmus’s poetic “tribe” might seem, at first, not to warrant special notice. That Erasmus openly identified his exegetical approach as that of a grammarian is well known. The implications of this identification, however, and the cultural resonance it might have had for a Reformation era audience, merit consideration. Dorp asks: “If the theologians are pestilent characters because they have not been initiated into the sacred rites of poesy, what about … the pope himself, the cardinals, the bishops, and the abbots, why do they not lay it down that no one shall be promoted to their order without a recommendation from the Muses?” (Letters 298-445 158). The question is a rhetorical one and its tone of bitter hyperbole assumes 45 The letter is n.347, “Dorp to His Friend Erasmus” (1515). 46 The citations are from Letters 304 and 347 respectively. 47 Of Erasmus’s early years Augustijn writes: “Erasmus and his friends wrote poems and felt themselves to be poets, with a feeling for language and a sensitivity to the music of words” (23). 24 the ludicrousness of its proposal. Yet Dorp evidently believes this is the very position which underwrites both Erasmus’s biblical and pat ristic scholarship and his dismissal of the learning and labours of Scholastic theologians.48 In addressing Dorp’s objections to his Moria, Erasmus confirms, however jestingly, the proposition that so exasperates his interlocutor. Theology is indeed better advanced through the mediating power of the Muses than through the misguided endeavours of contemporary theologians: So if all this, [the history of Folly’s conception] my dear Dorp, is ill-judged, your culprit owns up, or at least puts up no defence. Within these limits and in an idle moment and to please my friends [I composed Folly, and later allowed its publication, and in doing so] I judged ill, and only once in my whole life. Who can be wise all the time? … What ill-judged things far worse than this I could produce by other men, even by eminent theologians, who think up the most frigid and contentious questions and do battle among themselves over the most worthless trifles as though they fought for hearth and altar! And they act their absurd parts, more farcical than the original Atellanes, without a mask. I was at least more modest, for when I wanted to show how ill-judged I could be, I wore the mask of Folly and… I myself acted my part in disguise. (Letters 298-445 116,117)49 The passage is both well-guarded and cutting. On the one hand, Erasmus claims to excel the “eminent theologians” only in “ill-judged things.” He is not presuming to compare his work on Jerome or his translation and annotation of the New Testament to the greatest positive achievements of the theologians. Instead, he is merely referring to the “ill-judged” productions of both parties. On the one hand, Erasmus attributes to the Moria excellent ill-judgment and near-accidental publication (“from an imperfect as well as corrupt copy”). His Folly has been 48 In “Martin Dorp and Edward Lee,” Cecilia Asso provides a pithy condensation of Dorp’s accusation of Erasmus, in response to both his Praise of Folly and his work on the New Testament: “You have ridiculed the theological profession as a whole, denigrating them and lowering their prestige in the eyes of the people, and now you take on a task which is traditionally theirs. Would that not indicate that you desire to eliminate their raison d’etre?” (171). 49 In this and the following quotation I am citing Letter n. 337, “Erasmus of Rotterdam to Maarten van Dorp, The Distinguished Theologian” (1515). 25 conceived as an amusement, a joke to share with friends, a distraction from physical discomfort, the product of idle moments pending the arrival of his books (Letters 298-445 116). On the other hand, in describing the ill-judged product he ascribes to the “eminent theologians” Erasmus iterates his dismissive appraisal of the Scholastic method as a whole, with its “frigid and contentious questions… over the most worthless trifles.” In other words, Erasmus’s jesting admission of ill-judgement may be read as exalting his Praise of Folly over the “far worse” folly of the most highly respected Scholastic treatises and summas. Even as the corpus of his patristic and biblical publications grew to shocking proportions and this work came to furnish the primary materials for an ever wider field of theological inquiry, Erasmus maintained his identification as a grammarian. This alignment with poets and scholars of poetry had seemed both alarming and obvious to the Dutch theologian Maarten van Dorp already in 1514. It seems highly unlikely that this same alignment would have failed to impress itself upon the succeeding generations of aspiring English poets—and specifically those, like Spenser and Milton, inclined towards biblical and patristic study—whose grammar-school formation followed Erasmian principles, whose university educations were imbued with his writings and whose parish churches exhibited copies of the Paraphrases from which their pastors read during church services. As Cecilia Asso writes, “[i]n his argumentation, Dorp links The Praise of Folly with Erasmus’ philological work on the New Testament and thereby puts his finger on the essence of Erasmus’ religious work: he sought to define a new type of theology and a new type of theologian” (171). But what type of theologian did Erasmus’s theology define? Throughout the sixteenth and on into the seventeenth century, English theologians, continental reformers and Catholics alike were constantly engaged in contesting the confessional orthodoxy of Erasmian positions. Few, if any of these, claimed an Erasmian faith. Erasmus’s influence, 26 however, did not depend upon the adoption of any particular confessional position. It was not Erasmian doctrine but Erasmian method that was of revolutionary importance within the Reformation. It was the method of one capable of besting the “eminent theologians” from behind the mask of a narrative fiction—the method of the poet himself acting his part in disguise.50 Importance of Bonae Litterae One of the ways Erasmus’s Christian Humanism distinguishes itself is in conceiving a Christian responsibility to interpret and assimilate not only Holy Scripture but also classical bonae litterae. The assimilative hermeneutic process that Erasmus imagined mirrors the inaugural movement of Christianity which represented itself as the ongoing fulfillment, through interpretation, of the divine promise in the Scriptural history of the chosen people of Israel. Christianity, from its inception, had represented the value of Hebrew Scripture in terms of an evolving process of revelation. Within this perspective, the message of the Hebrew Scripture was twofold: in the first instance it encoded the Jewish law; in the second instance it contained the prophetic revelation of Christ. The second prophetic message of the Hebrew Scripture, however, required the interpretative labours of those for whom it was intended. Erasmus’s representation of classical culture as a providential dispensation of Christ sanctioned a vast expansion of the Christian’s interpretative labours. Indeed, within the new interpretative horizon that Erasmus imagined, the calling of a true theologian was no longer limited to scriptural exegesis but extended to a broader transfiguring of culture. 50 In his Letter to Maarten van Dorp, Erasmus cites the example of Plato’s Socratic Dialogues as precedent for his narratorial fiction: “when I wanted to show how ill-judged I could be, I wore the mask of Folly and, like Socrates in Plato, who covers his face before reciting an encomium on love, I myself acted my part in disguise” (Letters 298-445 116-7). 27 Erasmus conceived the supreme eloquence of Christ as Logos. For those conservative theologians who insisted upon the rustic simplicity of the gospels this might have made little sense. Erasmus, however, considered classical learning to be a providential dispensation of Christ and defined the Logos as “the total oration of the Father” (Boyle, Language and Method 25; original emphasis).51 The relative plainness of New Testament Greek notwithstanding, there was thus nothing inherently contradictory in Erasmus’s vision of an essentially eloquent Christianity. In Erasmus’s vision, the cultivation of Christian eloquence is not only the process by which one comes most fully to understand the language of Scripture; it is indivisible from transformative theological attainment. Erasmus’s God has chosen to reveal himself as Logos or copious discourse. To know this eloquent God one must assimilate his Scripture and to properly assimilate his Scripture one must first acquire the practical eloquence of linguistic proficiency by assimilating the providential dispensation of classical bonae litterae. As Erasmus conceives it, this process of interpretative assimilation is transformative not merely of the intellect but, via the affectus, of the whole person. Erasmus was favourably inclined towards the pagan wisdom of classical learning in a way that other Humanist theologians and educators—from his most bitter antagonist Martin Luther to one of his most admiring patrons John Colet—were not. His perspective on classical learning effected a radical rapprochement of biblical revelation, on the one hand, and the ancient pagan wisdom preserved by the classical poets and other auctores, on the other. Referring to 51 Boyle connects Erasmus’s translation of Logos by Sermo and the latter’s definition as the total oration of the Father to a prior formulation of Irenaeus: “In his polemic Contra haereses, which Erasmus edited in 1526, Irenaeus teaches that ‘this Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through his word which is his Son, through him reveals and publicises everything which he reveals’” (Language and Method 25). 28 arguments developed within Erasmus’s The Antibarbarians, Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle gives a succinct statement of the distinction at issue: It is one theological idea that Christians may perceive that classical learning, with its profoundest truths about God borrowed from Hebrew Scripture, is their inheritance which they may adopt and convert to the glory of Christ. It is another idea entirely that Christ himself has ordained that pagan learning to his own glory and that Christians must appropriate it if they are to be faithful to the divine economy. (Christening 11) Traditionally, the literate theologian had espoused the first view and tended to consider classical pagan learning as more or less tainted. The Apologists of the early Church bequeathed to future generations a legacy of hesitant integration of pagan learning either as the “spoils of the Egyptians”—which God commanded the people of Israel to carry away with them at Exodus 3:2252—or as wisdom derived from earlier Hebrew sources to be reacquired. For Erasmus, not only had the pagan culture of antiquity achieved the “thing nearest to the highest good, that is, the summit of learning,” but they had done so in accordance with the decree of divine providence (Antibarbarians 60). In other words, while affirming the traditional patristic rationales for assimilating pagan learning, Erasmus moved beyond them to affirm the providential character of the pagan inheritance in and of itself.53 Erasmus promoted the study of bonae litterae as both propaedeutic to and co-extensive with the study and practice of theology. As a prior dispensation of the eternal and divine reason (Logos), pagan wisdom already participated in Christian truth. His words safely conveyed 52 See Origen’s “A Letter from Origen to Gregory” in Ante Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 385. 53 Tracing the evolution of Christian accounts of the value and sources of pagan wisdomfrom the Apologists through to Erasmus, Boyle notes the significant contribution (unacknowledged by Erasmus) of Scholastic philosophy: “It is historically, if ironically, true that because scholastic theologians could argue that reason establishes not only the existence of God but the method by which his attributes can be derived from this esse, Erasmus needed no longer attribute pagan wisdom about God to their reading of Hebrew Scripture” (Christening 16). 29 through the persona of Batt within the dialogue-form treatise The Antibarbarians, Erasmus writes: Everything in the pagan world that was valiantly done, brilliantly said, ingeniously thought, diligently transmitted, had been prepared by Christ for his society. He it was who supplied the intellect, who added the zest for inquiry, and it was through him alone that they found what they sought. Their age produced this harvest of creative work, not so much for them as for us. (60) The ancient dispensation of pagan wisdom was a crop produced for the reaping of later harvesters. Not only was it perfectly in keeping with the nature of a reasonable God that “the best religion should be adorned and supported by the finest studies” (Antibarbarians 60), but as a gift from Christ the wisdom of pagan antiquity could not be lightly dismissed. Erasmus was not merely seeking to elevate the study of bonae litterae and the cultural station of the classical poets. His arguments in The Antibarbarians effectively made the evaluation and integration of pagan learning a requirement of Christian historical consciousness. That Christians owed a debt of responsibility for the assimilation of pagan wisdom was not the only contentious proposal made within The Antibarbarians. Through the remarkably unrestrained arguments advanced within the safe precinct of the latter work’s fictional dialogue, Erasmus imagines a radical revaluation of Christian priorities. If Christian tradition has tended to extol an ideal of ascetic sagacity tending naturally towards either the utmost simplicity of expression or the absolute silence of the martyr’s self-sacrifice, The Antibarbarians argues for the greater worth of charitable learning and eloquence. Of the conservative and linguistically barbaric theologians who like to cite scriptural authority as they proudly declare themselves the enemies of eloquence and learning, Batt asks: Why do they not produce those words of David: “Teach me goodness and judgment and knowledge, O Lord.” Or of the wise Ecclesiasticus: “The wise man will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be occupied with the 30 prophets. He will keep the discourse of men of renown, and will enter in among the subtleties of parables. He will seek out the hidden meaning of proverbs, and be conversant in the dark sayings of parables. (99)54 Batt’s arguments cut unrepentantly and unreservedly against the grain of a long tradition. The mistrust of learning propagated by conservative theologians constitutes a perverse championing of ignorance. Ultimately, those who make a habit of objecting to divine wisdom and eloquence are childish, mad, and hypocritical. Indeed, they are “so far removed from any wisdom, either human or divine, that they need to be tied up like lunatics rather than coaxed by rational argument” (121). In advancing the cultivation of learning and eloquence, Erasmus’s The Antibarbarians had to grapple with well-known scriptural and patristic common-places—in particular, Paul’s distrust of knowledge and Augustine’s rejection of eloquence. Batt offers no apologies as he lays waste to the objections of “born fruit-eater[s]” and hypocritical rustics (100, 102). Paul’s statement that “knowledge puffs people up” must be set against the indisputable fact of the wisdom of Paul, an apostle “most highly instructed in all branches of literature” (Antibarbarians 113). Yes, Paul warns the Corinthians that knowledge without charity is dangerous, but this is not the end of the matter; this is merely a peripheral aside. Paul’s message is naturally consistent with what we know of his person: “knowledge is good, charity is better. If you see that the one is combined with the other, you will achieve a perfect result” (Antibarbarians 73). As for Augustine’s rejection of pagan learning, for the Erasmian interlocutor this is a matter of wilful misinterpretation: it was not pagan learning but merely pagan superstition that Augustine repudiated (Antibarbarians 97). Far from dismissing human learning, “he wrote that those 54 Batt is quoting Psalms 119.66 and Ecclesiasticus 39.1-4. 31 disciplines which were discovered by human minds, like dialectic, rhetoric, natural science, history, and so on, seemed to him marked out with gold and silver, because men themselves did not produce them but dug them out like gold and silver from what might be called the ore of divine providence, which runs through all things” (Antibarbarians 97-98). Learning and its eloquent expression are not contrary to the interests of the Church and Christian tradition. On the contrary, the Church and Christian tradition owe more to the charitable expression of the “very few” scholarly Christian doctors than to the glorious sacrifice of the “plentiful supply” of martyrs. Indeed, Batt goes so far as to suggest that these martyrs “would have shed their blood in vain for the teaching of Christ unless the others had defended it against the heretics by their writings” (Antibarbarians 83). The Antibarbarians extols the contribution to Christianity of the eloquent authors who have defended the teaching of Christ against heretics. Moreover, by its own lights, The Antibarbarians is itself such a defense. It is a defense against those heretics who repudiate the divine dispensation of pagan learning. It is a defense against those heretics who impute to the message of Christ an antipathy to either knowledge or eloquence. But more than a defense, it is a re-consecration. Wisdom belongs to Christ, The Antibarbarians argues, and both the path of learning and the cultivation of eloquence are appropriate to His seekers and celebrants. But who is the champion of Christian wisdom within the pages of Erasmus’s The Antibarbarians? Who so fearlessly lays waste to the heretical promulgators of malignant ignorance and vain-glorious rusticity? Who is it, in this fictional dialogue, whom Erasmus represents as the “frenzied” (101) defender of learning and eloquence? Curiously, the hero of Erasmus’s dialogue is the effusively ranting Batt, clerk of Bergen and, what’s more, that most eloquent of creatures—a poet. 32 The Antibarbarians contains a single, brief exchange concerning the relation of poets and theologians. This exchange occurs between the town doctor Jodocus and Batt at the tail end of the latter’s interpretation of the Pauline message concerning learning and charity: “Why Batt, whoever would have believed that a poetic fellow like you would have so much theology in him? I swear by the favour of your Muses, you seem to me to have explained Paul’s meaning most accurately, and as far as I can see no theological term escapes you; from what I have heard I should think you would make a beautiful preacher…” Batt laughed and said, “…What an impudent fellow you are, to be surprised at theological knowledge in me, a poet… If I were a theologian, that would not mean that I was straying from the domain of the poet. In ancient times poets and theologians were held to be the same people…” (74) In relation to the path (via) of theological learning Erasmus sets out in the Ratio, Boyle notes that it corresponds to the “via antiqua” of the ancient Fathers, “the well-travelled road of antiquity,” in stark contrast to the “via moderna” of the Scholastics (Language and Method 66). When considered in relation to the exchange concerning poets and theologians in The Antibarbarians, it is compelling to read the Ratio as announcing a method for arriving at the theology of ancient times, when “poets and theologians were held to be the same people.” By identifying himself as a grammarian, Erasmus denies being a theologian after the manner of contemporary theologians, those who follow the via moderna, but he does not ultimately deny being a theologian. Erasmus presents himself as a grammarian seeking to re-invest Christianity with the eloquence and wisdom of the early Church supplemented by the providential dispensation of classical learning. He proposes thereby to revivify the message of Christ. This is indeed the calling of a theologian, but a theologian who follows the via antiqua. The destination of Erasmus’s via antiqua is an eloquent and convivial Christendom in which, as they were long before, the poet and the theologian are one and the same. 33 Participatory Method For Erasmus (as for “affective” theologians of the thirteenth century), the “sapiential” character of theology corresponded to the primacy within Scripture of moral meaning, conveyed through persuasive language and addressed to the affectus, or affective faculty connected to the will. Considered as a sapiential science, a scientia ut sapientia, theology sought the cultivation of a wisdom correspondent to the pathos, and the moral questions and responsibilities of embodied experience. This concept of sapiential wisdom was also integral to Erasmus’s conception of transformative Christian eloquence. The Latin term sapientia is derived from the verb sapere, meaning both to “taste” and to “know.” The physiological connotation links the term—commonly translated as wisdom—to corporeal existence and therefore to the embodiment of wisdom in the mystery of the incarnation. As Dominic Baker-Smith notes, Erasmus takes pains to impress the corporeality of this conception of acquired spiritual wisdom upon his readers: “Our stomach is our inner disposition [affectus]; if we love what we have learned and believe it, we have sent food to our stomachs. And if we have begun to practise through acts of charity what we have received, then by vigour and activity we show that the food has become the substance of the spirit” (xxxii). Erasmus’s reader is exhorted to engage in the assimilative incorporation of sacred texts. These texts are invested and possess their readers with a sapiential rather than an intellective wisdom. Sapiential wisdom is participatory wisdom: having tasted, ingested, ruminated the Logos, the spirit itself becomes integral to the copious discourse (Logos) of God. There is thus, in addition to the philological rigour of his grammatical hermeneutic, a quietly mystical and Eucharistic dimension to Erasmus’s conception of scriptural interpretation. The Paraclesis appears as preface to Erasmus’s 1516 Greek and Latin edition of the New 34 Testament. Towards the end of this preface Erasmus makes a remarkable claim: “[T]hese writings bring you the living image of His holy mind and the speaking, healing, dying, rising Christ himself, and thus they render Him so fully present that you would see less if you gazed upon Him with your very eyes” (108).55 In participating in Scripture (via assimilative study) one also participates in “the living image of His holy mind and the speaking, healing, dying, rising Christ himself.” In other words, Erasmus envisions exegesis as a prophetic mimesis of Scripture which is also Eucharistic participation in Christ.56 Part divine grace and part laborious scholarly diligence, this understanding of Scripture is the investiture of the theodidaktos (one taught by God). For Erasmus, revelation is experienced within and not beyond Scripture. Neither conceptual nor reducible to doctrine, it is the affective transformative experience of being persuaded and possessed by what has been diligently tasted, ingested, and ruminated in the process of devout study. This revelation of God within Scripture is not the end of endeavour; it is not a passive beholding of truth as visionary reward for the Christian’s triumphant progress. On the contrary, Erasmus’s understanding of revelation is fundamentally productive. The copious discourse of the Erasmian Logos is that of an ongoing conversational dialogue between God and his faithful: [M]ake your heart itself into a library of Christ…From it, like from the provident householder, you can bring forth “new things and old” as they should be needed. For these things which come forth from your own heart, as it were, practically 55 As Manfred Hoffman writes, it was not in the life of Jesus but rather “in the New Testament writings where Christ assumed the fullness of his stature in terms of God’s final revelation to humankind… [f]or the New Testament has been written after the resurrection and therefore encompasses the complete circle symbolizing the perfect harmony of Christ’s person, teaching, and life” (83). 56 As Michael J. Heath writes, “in his Ecclesiastes Erasmus suggestively refers to Christ, the Word, as enarrator of the mind of God, [LB V 77 2D] so that the accommodation of the divine and the human in the second Person of the Trinity is a model for the work of exegesis” (“Introduction” xvii-xviii in CWE 63). 35 alive, penetrate far more vividly into the souls of your listeners than those things which are gathered from a hodgepodge of other authors. (Ratio 341) The texts thus assimilated diligently and painstakingly through Erasmus’s grammatical hermeneutic are not merely understood—they are made productive. Through their proper assimilation, their reader becomes capable of generating further utterance invested with their original power. From this Erasmian perspective, the prophetic power to participate in revelation and speak the word of God does not arise through Plotinian or Pauline rapture, let alone poetic fury. Instead, it results from the anabolic assimilation of the words of Scripture through the long and diligent practice of a grammatical hermeneutics. Within the perspective of Erasmus’s rhetorical theology, the theologian or preacher strives to fill himself with the eloquence of Scripture in order that he may be made capable of its revitalizing recitation. To utter prophetic speech for the benefit of one’s hearers is to participate in Scripture in such a way that its imitation, as intra-Scriptural utterance, emerges organically from one’s self as something both new and old, but most importantly as something living. This living utterance, as a prophetic act of imitation, is the individual Christian’s participation in the Logos: it is the individual Christian’s participation in the Sermo or conversation through which and as which God has chosen to be revealed.57 The sapiential science of theology, as Erasmus conceives it, is thus an art of imitation. 58 If the eloquent, participatory imitation of the Christ-Logos is the ultimate aim of theology it is also the ultimate act of poesis. 57 Cf. Gary Remer’s discussion of Erasmus’s Sermo as the rhetorical genre of “conversation,” and more particularly that of “dialogue” in Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration (26-41). 58 In the Defence of Poesy, Sidney provides the following Aristotelian definition as an accepted premise from which to begin his discussion of poetry: “Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in his word mimesis, that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth—to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture—with this end, to teach and delight” (Defence 86). 36 Poetic Exegesis In his Ecclesiastes, Erasmus’s formulation of the “officia of the [eloquent] preacher are docere, delectare, and flectere,” which is to say, to teach, to delight, and to move to action (Hoffmann 47).59 This formulation echoes the well-known Ciceronian definition of the eloquent orator as adapted in Augustine’s On Christian Teaching: “It has been said by a man of eloquence [i.e. Cicero], and quite rightly, that the eloquent should speak in such a way as to instruct, delight, and move their listeners. … A hearer must be delighted so that he can be gripped and made to listen, and moved so that he can be impelled to action” (117-18). Erasmus’s definition of the preacher was thus consistent with a rhetorical tradition of eloquent teaching that had already been assimilated to Christianity.60 The most significant distinction between the Ciceronian-Augustinian model of the eloquent teacher/preacher and that of Erasmus was the nature of the latter’s pulpit. The advent of printing allowed Erasmus to preach before an audience of unprecedented scope from behind a pulpit of letters.61 Central to Erasmus’s particular vision of Christian teaching is the grammatical genre of enarratio. The primary association of enarratio—which was the classical Latin term for interpretation—was not with scriptural exegesis, but with the interpretation of the poets (enarratio poetarum).62 For his reconfiguring of the theological project in the terms of literary 59 The full title is Ecclesiastes sive de ratione concionandi translated as The Evangelical Preacher in Vol. 67 of the Complete Works of Erasmus. 60 As Hoffman notes, Erasmus exalts eloquent Christian teaching to such height that “if used to persuade, exhort, console, counsel, and admonish, teaching constitutes an ecclesiastical office higher than the administration of the sacraments, prayer, adjudication, and ordination” (224). 61 Vessey characterizes Erasmus’s Paraphrases as “the work of a man who was making the printing press his pulpit and who would always rely on others to give physical voice to the gospel message as he phrased it” (Holy Scripture Speaks 3). 62 For further discussion of the relation between enarratio—“[i]n classical usage… a grammatical genre applied principally to poetic texts”—and the exegetical practice of Jerome, see Mark Vessey, “The Tongue and the Book” in Holy Scripture Speaks. 37 interpretation, Erasmus could cite the authoritative examples of Jerome as well as Augustine. Indeed, Erasmus explicitly enlisted Augustine as precedent through an editorial sleight of hand. As Mark Vessey notes in “The Tongue and the Book: Erasmus’ Paraphrases on the New Testament and the Arts of Scripture,” “[t]he generic title under which we now read the series of Augustine’s (partly) preached discourses on a poetical text of Scripture, the ‘Enarrationes’ in Psalmos, was assigned to it by Erasmus, himself the author of a similarly titled but unpreached series” (51 n 9).63 In the Ratio, Erasmus writes that it is the particular aim of theologians to wisely interpret divine letters/literature (“sapienter enarrare divinas litteras”).64 The phrase is simple, yet heavily laden with connotative significance. In its didactic and pastoral expression, this “sapientially” wise interpretation of Scripture as “divine letters”—an interpretative expression enabled by the tasting, ingesting, and ruminating of Scripture—took the form of enarratio. A story-teller’s retelling of Scripture, Erasmus’s enarratio in his Paraphrases involved the sustaining of a mediating fiction in which the author merges his voice with that of the biblical narrator.65 As Mark Vessey notes: In order to make the apostolic teaching dramatically present and ‘applaudible’ to an otherwise unreceptive audience, Erasmus would ‘play the fool for Christ’ as Paul had done. That meant acting the Apostle, speaking as if with his voice, so that nothing and nobody—no (other) book or expositor—should seem to come between the reader and the Word of God. (“Tongue” 34) As Erasmus conceived it, to be truly effective, the preacher’s enarratio ought to involve the participatory re-production of the copious discourse of Scripture in a new and coherent form. 63 For the “unpreached series” of Erasmus, see the Collected Works of Erasmus, Vols. 63-65. 64 Erasmus’s Ratio appears in Vol. 5. in Omnia Opera Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami. 65 That the Paraphrases may be identified as central to Erasmus’s own theological project is borne out by his declaration “Here I am in my own field” (as cited in Vessey, Lingua Christi 74). 38 This new utterance would lend the power of a living, personal understanding to the essence of the original. Vessey relates Erasmus’s fictional narrative voice in the Paraphrases to that of Folly in The Praise of Folly (the Moria) as well as to the patristic precedent of Jerome’s ventriloquism of “female paraphrasts… a select cast of essentially silent women… who are heard only when he, Jerome, throws their voices in his letters and prefaces, yet who also bespeak his works as a biblical writer” (“Tongue” 33). In the preface to his edition of the letters of Jerome,66 Erasmus stressed the close link between Jerome’s oeuvre and the classical poetic tradition: “There is no class of author anywhere and no kind of literature which he does not use whenever he likes… Like a bee that flies from flower to flower, he collected the best of everything to make the honey stored in his works” (CWE 3 ep.396 261:215-220). Erasmus stresses the importance of both eclectic learning and copious invention time and again in his preface to Jerome’s letters. The preface’s re-iterative focus upon Jerome’s impeccable syntheses of style and substance is tantamount to an authorizing of all poetic strategies—so long as their orchestrator is fit for the task of fitting them to Scripture. Indeed, as Vessey notes, “playing on Horace’s prescriptions for an ars poetica [poetic art],” Jerome had described his “exegetical discipline” as an “ars scripturarum [scriptural art]” (“Tongue” 30). In other words, the rules of Erasmus’s Hieronymizing biblical paraphrase were, in their inception, as much those of a “scriptural rhetoric” as they were of a “scriptural poetics” (“Tongue” 32). 66 This preface is a dedicatory letter to William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, which introduces Erasmus’s contribution to Froben’s complete edition of the works of Jerome. 39 Of all the Fathers it was Jerome in particular who served as Erasmus’s primary model of Christian eloquence. Lisa Jardine sees Erasmus’s own characterization of Jerome as emblematic of the syncretistic ideal of Christian Humanism as a whole: Erasmus’s ‘Jerome’ [the edition of Jerome’s correspondence] is exemplary precisely because it proves impossible to separate secular from sacred letters in his oeuvre. Nor, I suggest, is this choice of Jerome as model Father of the Church other than an extremely careful one. The printed remains which surround the four volumes of Erasmus’s Letters of Jerome amount to a programme for installing Jerome as a vivid and vital figure—scholar-saint/saint-scholar—at the centre of the canvas depicting a spiritual exegesis in which pagan and sacred are fused in the act of textual attention. (Erasmus Man of Letters 63) The Antibarbari, Colloquia, Epicureus, Moria, and Paraphrases all attest to Erasmus’s predilection for both an eclectically assimilative and fictionalizing narrative style in support of the threefold aims of eloquent instruction. According to Boyle, it was in fiction—whose primary association was with secular letters—that Erasmus “excelled as pedagogue and mystagogue. Fiction allows him… to honey the lesson with pleasure, in adherence with his humanist conviction about persuasion by delight” (Christening 72). Erasmus stopped short of offering counsel for the right use of poetry independent of ecclesiastical office. Nonetheless, the general example of his grammarian’s exegetical method and the particular example of his explicitly poetic works like the Moria, together with his trumpeting of Jerome as the ultimate embodiment of Christian learning and eclectic eloquence, established a powerfully influential precedent for adapting the poet’s art to theological teaching. Right Use of Poetry Looking back from the early decades of the sixteenth century to Jerome, the sainted scholar and paragon of Christian eloquence, Erasmus pressed for the inauguration of a new type of poetic 40 theologian. Book-ending the same century, Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy provided an English Renaissance and Reformation poetics with features bearing significant resemblance to those of Erasmus’s rhetorical theology. The distinctly theological aspects of Sidney’s poetics were further exemplified by the Sidneys’ psalter. The following section explores correspondences between the “poetic art” of Erasmian rhetorical theology and the “scriptural art” of Sidneian poetics—correspondences that are consistent with the further development of prophetic dimensions and claims in the works of Edmund Spenser and John Milton.67 Looking back from the latter half of the sixteenth century to David, the prophetic psalmist and imitator of “the inconceivable excellencies of God,” Sidney exhorted his fellow English poets to heavenly employment in the inauguration of a new era of liturgical and celebratory Christian poetry. The terms in which Erasmus’s new type of poetic theologian and Sidney’s new type of theological poet were invoked differed considerably more than the offices of their anticipated employment. In The Defence of Poesy, Sidney trumpets the poet as monarch of all sciences. He claims this distinction for the poet in view of the latter’s unsurpassed ability, in imitation, “to delight and teach” (95) and thereby both “to move men to take that goodness in hand which without delight they would fly as from a stranger, and … to make them know that goodness whereunto they are moved” (87). The seductive didactic poetics theorized in Sidney’s Defence are anticipated by the fictionalizing enarratio of Erasmus’s Hieronymian rhetorical theology. Similarly, the poet whom Sidney describes as monarch of all sciences carries forward the offices and eloquence of the Erasmian preacher.68 67 On Erasmus’s awareness of the links between hieronymizing exegesis and Horatian poetic art see Mark Vessey, “The Tongue and the Book: Erasmus’ Paraphrases on the New Testament and the Arts of Scripture,” p. 30. 68 To iterate, Ersamus’s employment of fiction was not limited to works like the Moria and Antibarbari but was also integral to the intra-scriptural Paraphrases. 41 Sidney’s poet, like Erasmus’s preacher, is one who “doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it” (Defence 95:9-11). This phrase, of course, need not indicate a specifically Erasmian tribute. Sidney is exalting the poet in terms of the rhetorical tradition of eloquent teaching. Because both Erasmus’s preacher and Sidney’s poet are fashioned after a Ciceronian and Augustinian ideal of eloquent instruction,69 however, they are functionally consistent (and to some extent interchangeable) even in the total absence of direct lineal descent. Two things in particular lent Sidney a ready platform for championing the cultivation of a Christian English eloquence and right Christian use of poetry.70 First, the Protestant Reformation had produced a demand for vernacular translations of the Bible. Most particularly, there was a demand for translations of the psalms consistent with the interpretative approaches of Christian Humanist rhetorical theology and with its vision of an essentially eloquent and copiously open-ended Logos.71 Second, the Christian Humanist emphasis upon the role of affective language and poetic strategies in Scripture had made rhetorical and grammatical study (the Horatian ars poetica initially appropriated by Jerome) the sine qua non of scriptural interpretation. This 69 Sidney’s Defence of Poesy seems to apply to poetry the general Augustinian (and ultimately Pauline) ethos of the right use of the world. In the De Doctrina Christiana (Christian Teaching) Augustine differentiates “use” and “enjoyment”: “To enjoy something is to hold fast to it in love for its own sake. To use something is to apply whatever it may be to the purpose of obtaining what you love” (Christian Teaching 9). For Augustine, the right use of the things of the world is to use them to obtain the things of heaven. 70 In spite of the use to which he is often put in apologies for poetry, Augustine himself was not one of poetry’s apologists. On the contrary, he was troubled by his youthful enjoyment of the rhetorical arts in and of themselves, and remained mistrustful even while recognizing eloquence as a natural complement of scriptural truth. 71 The idea that the affective and conversational presentation of Scripture establishes the conversational nature of Christ (Logos as Sermo) is one of the characteristic commonplaces of Erasmian Christian Humanism. Christian Humanist commonplaces gradually acquired the status of received ideas and thereby faded into the woodwork of the general cultural context. Cf. Gary Remer’s discussion of dialogue (as a subset of sermo or conversation) as particularly appropriate for Erasmus’s approach to the indefinite philosophical (moral) questions proper to scriptural understanding in Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration pp.13-41. 42 privileging of the role of “poetic art” within exegesis had also, to some extent, normalized the poetic treatment of scriptural texts and topics.72 Over the course of the Middle Ages, the Psalms had acquired a central importance for Christian education. As Hannibal Hamlin notes, Traditionally the Psalms had been regarded as a microcosm of the whole Bible…. The use of the Psalms in Latin as a first reader for children had been established by the eighth century. Later in the Middle Ages the Primer, in which texts of psalms predominated, came to serve a dual function as a devotional manual and as a school text. (30-31) With the rise of Christian Humanism and its attention to the rhetorical modi agendi of scriptural texts, the importance of the Psalms was only magnified.73 Not only did “[t]he Book of Psalms retain… its traditional function in sixteenth-century curricula,” but subsequent to the Reformation “no biblical book was translated more often or more widely” (Hamlin 138, 1).74 In Sidney’s day, the Psalms were not only seen to represent the paramount ethical and doctrinal teachings of Scripture (as a “microcosm of the whole Bible”) but were also imagined to comprise a Hebrew model of the divine poetic eloquence by which scriptural truth was most effectively communicated. In the Defence, Sidney complains that his fellow English poets miss “the right use of the material point of poesy” and thus fail to cultivate that lyrical kind of songs and sonnets: which, Lord, if He gave us [English poets] so good minds, how well [poetry] might be employed, and with how heavenly fruit, both private and public, in singing the praises of the immortal beauty, the 72 To the extent that exegesis discovers a poetic treatment of topics within Scripture, the further poetic treatment of scriptural topics comes more and more to resemble simple imitation and less and less to risk the charge of impertinence. 73 As mentioned above, a number of late medieval Scholastics—among whom, Giles of Rome, Alexander of Hales, and St. Bonaventure—had also stressed both the affective nature of the scriptural message and the importance of poetic modi agendi in the Bible. 74According to Rivkah Zim, “[m]ore than seventy different, new versions in English were printed during the seventy year period from the publication of [George] Joye’s psalter [in 1530] until the end of the century” (English Metrical Psalms 2). 43 immortal goodness of that God who giveth us hands to write, and wits to conceive; of which we might well want words, but never matter; of which we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we should ever have new budding occasions. (113) Sidney represents such epideictic poetry (poetry of praise) as ideally realized by the prophetic authors of the five “poetic” books of the Old Testament.75 While abundantly represented in Scripture (and above all in the Psalms), Sidney laments that such poetry of divine praise is altogether remote from contemporary English practice. Sidney’s complaint regarding English poets’ poor employment of heavenly gifts bears considerable resemblance, at its hortatory core, to Erasmus’s interpretative paraphrase of the parable of the talents in The Antibarbarians: The prodigal son, who had spent all his substance on harlots, pimps, and cookshops, [the Lord] joyfully welcomed back; but the servant who returned to him even an undiminished talent was bitterly reproached. God, our parent, imparted to us, as seeds of fine skills, intellect, understanding, memory, and other gifts of the mind, which are talents put out to usury, and if we double them by practice and study, our Lord on his return will praise us as industrious servants and give them to us for our inheritance. (84) For Erasmus, the right use of the “seeds of fine skills” that God has imparted to those who wish to know Him lies in making the heart a “library of Christ” from which to bring forth, like “the provident householder,” living utterances that “penetrate… vividly into the souls of… listeners” (Ratio 341). For Sidney, the “right use of the material point of poesy” is in the production of imitations that “strike, pierce, [and] possess the sight of the soul,” infusing it with the grace of a transformative power beyond that of the fallen will (Defence 90). 75 The “quinque libri poëtici,” as they were called in the Tremellius Junius Bible, are Psalms, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Job. 44 The violence of Sidney’s language in describing the right use of poetry at this point in the Defence is consistent with the governing structural parallel he draws, throughout the treatise, between the art of poetry and the martial art of equestrianism. At the same time, however, it may also be indicative of the pervasive influence of Calvinist perspectives in late sixteenth century England. Sidney’s images of a material point that strikes, pierces, and possesses, in contrast with Erasmus’s images of library, householder and penetrative utterance, are suggestive of the emphasis within Calvinist rhetoric upon the moral incapacity of the fallen human condition. Sidney imagines that the right poet’s readers must be overwhelmed. The description of the poet’s special ability to “strike, pierce, [and] possess,” is commensurate with the corrupt state of readers’ “degenerate souls, made worse by their clayey lodgings” (Defence 88). In terms of the Calvinist perspective on fallen humanity that the Defence appears to incorporate, it is not of their own corrupted volition that “degenerate souls” will bear the “heavenly fruit,” of either virtue or divine praise (113). The sight of their souls must be struck, pierced, and possessed, because without such aggressive intervention nothing good may come of human nature. If the degenerate picture the Defence paints of the base-line state of the soul is more or less aligned with then-contemporary English Calvinism, the same cannot be said for Sidney’s picture of the right poet who appears to be exempted from the barrenness of the human will. Indeed, after the manner of the Heavenly Maker, “with the force of a divine breath he bringeth things forth far surpassing [Nature’s] doing” (Defense 86). Kimberley Coles claims that “Protestant theology simply does not admit the ‘divine breath’ that is the source of Sidney’s model of inspiration” (85). The rhetorical theology of Erasmus, on the other hand, had indeed insisted upon an assimilative and participatory process whereby the sapiential interpretation of 45 Scripture led (through tasting, ingesting, and rumination) to the transformation of the interpreter. While Erasmus employs digestive metaphors and Sidney the metaphor of inspiration via divine breath, the processes that distinguish both Erasmian preacher and Sidneian poet from the fallen and spiritually incapacitated individual are functionally analogous. The likeness in which both Sidney’s right poet and his Davidic poet are formed is that of the Creator. Thus, speaking of the true poet as maker, Sidney exhorts his reader to “give right honor to the Heavenly Maker of that maker, who, having made man to His own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second nature” (Defence 86). Similarly, as Dominic Baker-Smith writes, “in his Ecclesiastes Erasmus suggestively refers to Christ, the Word, as enarrator of the mind of God, so that the accommodation of the divine and the human in the second Person of the Trinity is a model for the work of exegesis” (Expositions of the Psalms “Introduction” xvii-xviii in CWE 63). 76 Sidney’s true poet, in his transformative imitation, participates in the power by which God wills Creation. Erasmus’s true theologian, in his transformative imitation, participates in the utterance through which and as which the Logos wills to be known. The poets’ ability to affect and alter their readers’ will, as Sidney well knew, made poetic language especially threatening. The Schoole of Abuse, Stephen Gosson’s polemical anti-poetic tract dedicated to Philip Sidney, characterized the offerings of poets as enchanting but ultimately malignant concoctions: “where honie and gall are mixt, it will be hard to sever the one from the other. … These are the cuppes of Circe, that turne reasonable creatures into brute beastes” (10). A similar sentiment is expressed by Calvin, in his “Letter to the Reader” prefatory to the Geneva 46 Psalter, in relation to the dangerous potency of song: “venom and corruption are distilled to the depth of the heart by the melody” (96). By exhorting his fellow English poets to “sing… the praises of the immortal beauty, the immortal goodness of… God,” however, Sidney recalls Calvin’s further characterization of the particularity of the Psalms as “spurs to incite us to pray and praise God” (Letter 96)..77 In other words, Sidney is encouraging English poets to compose devotional poetry that does not aim at a merely imitative mimesis but rather at an affective participation that will distill heavenly things “to the depth of the heart.” Sidney’s Davidic poet is one who creates in imitation of the divine maker. Yet Christ is both pre-existent divine maker and incarnated human interpreter. As an imitator of the divine maker Sidney’s Davidic poet is one for whom heavenly things have been revealed and revelation is co-extensive with illuminated interpretation. For Sidney’s divine maker as for Erasmus’s divinely instructed preacher, this revelatory process is not primarily the intellective experience of having learned, or deciphered, or abstracted some piece of repeatable doctrine—though intellective application is still required. The illuminative revelation with which Sidney, like Erasmus, is primarily concerned is the affective experience of being transformed by what is heard, or read, in such a way that one becomes capable of further transformative utterance. Addressing himself to the Christian reader who wishes to participate in the prophetic communication of holy Scripture (having first conceded that prophecy “is a gift of the Eternal Spirit”), Erasmus writes: “You should prepare your heart for this gift so that you may also be worthy to be called by the prophetic word theodidaktos [one taught by God]. Simple and dovelike let the eye of faith be that perceives nothing but the things of heaven” (Ratio 76). The 77 Calvin’s Letter to the Reader appears in Elsie Anne McKee’s, John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety, 91–97. See also Zim’s discussion of the same passage in English Metrical Psalms p.151. 47 Erasmian idea of scriptural participation involves a necessary conjunction of, on the one hand, grammatical erudition and moral, affective purification in the reader, and, on the other hand, divine, generative power in the utterance of the original biblical auctor. The Sidneian poet’s prophetic ability to possess the reader’s sight in figuring forth the divine majesty involves a necessary conjunction of, on the one hand, the diligent cultivation of poetic gifts and moral, affective purification,78 and on the other hand, his assimilative contemplation of that “unspeakable and everlasting beauty, [which is] to be seen by the eyes of the mind, only cleared by faith” (Defence 84). As preparation for the prophetic office of the theodidaktos, Erasmus counsels the participatory assimilation of Scripture such that the heart becomes a library of Christ capable of providential dispensation. The sacred texts of Scripture are invested with and transform their readers through an affective power. The proper reception and assimilation of this power (in Erasmus’s paradigm of the assimilative heart as library of Christ), requires the sapiential approach of tasting, ingesting and ruminating on Scripture. The Sidneian Davidic poet is involved in a similar process of discovery. Much like Erasmus’s provident scriptural interpreter, Sidney’s Davidic poet has been struck and pierced (has tasted, ingested and ruminated), and been thereby possessed (transformed) by the Logos. And in being so possessed or transformed the 78 Sidney’s claim that the poet possesses the “force of a divine breath” suggests that the poet is in some way intrinsically special and/or blessed. Sidney also encourages English poets, whom he holds of no account, to adopt a discipline of constant witnessing in singing the praises of God in celebration of “ever… new budding occasions” (Defence 86, 113). This suggestion and the low estimation in which he holds contemporary English poets suggests that Sidney’s poet is o nly as good as the object of his participatory imitation. 48 Davidic poet like the provident interpreter becomes capable of generative mimetic participation in the “unspeakable and everlasting beauty” of God’s utterance.79 Erasmus championed the perception of classical letters and learning as the providential dispensation of Christ prior to the incarnation. This meant that it was possible for the prophetic, participation of the Christian theodidaktos to involve the sapiential assimilation of pagan literature. The theodidaktos possessed the power to generate new utterances that participated in and constituted the copious discourse of the Logos. Similarly, the devotional program that Sidney proposed to English poets in the Defence was not restricted to scriptural translation. Although the lyric mode of praise and prayer does indeed correspond to his own psalm-translations, Sidney suggests a far wider interpretative and generative horizon when he refers both to the genres of “songs and sonnets” and the never ending “budding of occasions” for the celebration of God’s “immortal beauty” and “immortal goodness.” Sidney proposes the poetry of divine praise as a neo-Augustinian “right use” of the “ever… new budding [of] occasions” provided by the phenomenal world upon which the poet’s eyes cannot help but turn.80 He thereby alludes to the Pauline requirement that God’s creatures glorify their Creator in his Creation, “For the inuisible things of him, that is, his eternal power and Godhead, are seene by the creation of the worlde” (Romans 1:20, GNV). By the same token, he suggests the identification of the Sidneian poet’s role with this same Pauline office of witnessing and glorification. The lesson that Augustine had derived from Romans 1:20 is that it is not lawful for the Christian to enjoy the things of the world for themselves, but only for their 79 The Sidneian poet is made by the “Heavenly Maker… to His own likeness” not only as “man” but as “maker.”Within this likeness, a parallelism is implied between the mode (striking and piercing) and effect (possessing the sight of the soul) of the human and the heavenly makers’ utterance. 80 The revelatory nature of the created phenomenal world to which Paul draws his hearers’ attention at Romans 1:20 makes hymnic song both a perpetual possibility and a perpetually renewed responsibility. 49 participation in God. In perfect accord with this precept—and not unlike Jerome’s ability, abundantly praised by Erasmus, to make use of the whole scope of his learning in the service of Scripture—Sidney’s poetic program involves the poet’s exemplary conversion of the things of the world into occasions for the celebration of God’s immortal beauty and goodness. Being both witness to and participant in God’s revelation, the Sidneian poet assumes responsibility for its further representation. This poet, who merits being called theodidaktos in accordance with Erasmus’s definition, produces vivid and vivifying images for a more dimly sighted audience—images that are “practically alive,” as Erasmus writes, with the power, as Sidney writes, to “strike, pierce [and] possess the sight of the soul.” In the prophetic model of the Ratio, and as exemplified in the composition of the Paraphrases, Erasmus’s divinely instructed interpreter engages in the imaginative invention of a mediating and living text. The emphases of Erasmus and Sidney are distinguishable. David the psalmist appeals to Erasmus as a poet who interprets and generates the copious and participatory discourse of God. He appeals to Sidney as a poet whose divine gifts both authorize and demand a right use of poetry. This difference in emphasis notwithstanding, Erasmus’s poetically inclined theologian (as per the Ratio) and Sidney’s theologically inclined poet (as per the Defence) share a common participatory labour which is the assimilative interpretation and celebratory utterance of the copious discourse of God.81 81 This is an extension of Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle’s conclusion regarding Erasmus’s refusal in the Moria and Antibarbari to “allow a division of labour” between the theologian and the poet (Christening 30). 50 The Sidney Psalter The psalm translations of the Sidney Psalter are the proving ground for the divine participatory poetics laid out in the Defence of Poesy. Consistent with the deep-searching personal meditation that psalm-reading ideally entailed for Reformation Protestants, “the ambiguous ‘I’ of the Psalms leaves a space for the reader [and, by the same token, for the poetic translator] to insert a personal voice” (Hannay, Kinnamon and Brennan 8).82 In addition to this participatory mechanism built into the genre, the mysterious poetic status83 of the psalms made it possible to openly foreground the poetic talents of the translator and to engage in nearly any manner of poetic variation without thereby forfeiting the poem’s intra-scriptural status.84As Hannibal Hamlin writes: English translations of the Psalms held a different status than English translations of either classical literature or vernacular works in other European languages… They were holy Scripture and, as such, had a unique function being used by English Christians every day, or at least every week, of their lives …Because of the central place of the Psalms in English daily life, and their vital functions within the body of English culture, they were thus, in a powerful if peculiar sense, English works. (Psalm Culture and Early Modern English Literature 6) The Sidney Psalter—illuminated by the Sidneian poetics outlined in the Defence—signals a major moment of transition within English Reformation and Renaissance culture. The Sidney 82 Hannay et al. draw attention to Anne Lake Prescott’s observation (in “King David as a ‘Right Poet’: Sidney and the Psalmist”) that within the Psalms “David’s infolded voices express Christ and ourselves as well as his own circumstance” (ELR 19 134 qtd. in The Collected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert Countess of Pembroke 8). In other words, “participation” is essential to the basic modus operandi of the psalms as a poetic genre. 83 Mysterious to the extent that the rules of Hebrew prosody had not yet been apprehended by English scholars and instead of any real and measured insight there was a rather long and wild tradition of speculation as to their nature. 84 In this connection, Hamlin cites two often-repeated commonplaces: Richard Hooker’s question, “What is there for man to know that the Psalmes are not able to teach?” and John Calvin’s definition of the psalms as an “Anatomy of all the partes of the Soule” (qtd. In Psalm Culture in Early Modern English Literature 2). Both of these excerpts belong to a long tradition that appears to go back at least as far as the famous letter from Athanasius to Marcellinus in which the psalms are discussed. For an interesting discussion of the tradition in relation to Sidney, with excerpts from an English version of Athanasius’s letter circulating in Sidney’s day, see Anne Lake Prescott’s “King David as a ‘Right Poet’: Philip Sidney and the Psalmist.” Discussion of Athanasius’s letter appears at pp. 136-9. 51 psalms lie midway between the work of earlier Christian Humanist rhetorical theologians and that of later Christian Humanist prophetic poets. In the moment before the Sidney Psalter one is witness to Erasmus’s production of unequivocally intra-scriptural works enjoying varying degrees of royal/ecclesial sanction. In the moment after the Sidney Psalter one is witness to the ambitious prophetic poetics of equivocally intra-scriptural works claiming for themselves varying degrees of extra-ecclesial prophetic status.85 The Sidney Psalter represented the high-water mark for literary psalm-translation in the English Renaissance. On its poetic importance within English Renaissance culture, Hamlin writes: In the Arte of English Poesie, George Puttenham discusses the “Arte” of what would now be called English accentual-syllabic verse in terms of five types of proportion: the number of lines in a stanza, the number of syllables in the line, the choice of rhymes, the spacing and patterning of rhymes, and the use of lines of different lengths to make visual shapes. The full potential of all of these proportions was explored by Philip and Mary Sidney, countess of Pembroke, in the Sidney Psalter, making it in essence a source-book for English poetic form” (Psalm Culture and Early Modern English Literature 118-9). To a modern audience, the Sidney psalm translations can appear at times to be little more than pretexts for formal poetic experimentation. Their startling level of literary sophistication, however, does not appear to have invited dismissive critique as a trivializing of Scripture.86 Within the then-contemporary cultural context, the copiousness of the Sidneys’ psalm-translations had traditional sanction in “[t]he widespread assumption, based on patristic writings, 85 As the subsequent parts of this thesis will show, both Edmund Spenser’s The Fowre Hymnes and John Milton’s Paradise Lost contain abundant claims to prophetic status. The precise nature of these works’ prophetic status, the contours and objectives of their biblicizing projects, and the character of the Christian eloquentia these works promote, however, are all radically different. 86 The absence of such critique is also, no doubt, a consequence of Mary’s initial confinement of the Psalter’s readership “to her circle of acquaintance” (Sidney Psalter xvi). Such control, however, has limits beyond which it can no longer determine the nature of the work’s general reception: “By the mid-seventeenth century… the Sidney Psalms had passed into wide manuscript circulation” (Sidney Psalter xvi). 52 that the Hebrew Psalter represented a cornucopia of verse forms, lyric genres and modes, and was perhaps even the source of classical prosody” (Hamlin 14). Unlike The Whole Booke of Psalmes (the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter), and other relatively simple metrical translations, the Sidney Psalter did not lend itself to liturgical use.87 The formal sophistication of the Sidneys’ psalms precluded the further metrical arrangement required for them to be sung in public worship. Similarly, the extensive development of self-reflexive narratorial personae within many psalms by both Philip and Mary tended to militate against their adoption by readers for private devotional use.88 To all intents and purposes, in other words, the Sidney Psalter was “an essentially literary work… a book of poems, rather than… a psalter… of liturgical or devotional purpose” (Hamlin 131). Even as “a book of poems,” and a “source book for English poetic form,” however, the Sidney Psalter did not forfeit its prophetic status as holy Scripture. In the Defence, Philip styles himself one of the right poets, a divine maker, yet significantly below the fully prophetic category of Davidic poet in both ambition and expression. Mary, however, by completing and then circulating the Sidney Psalter in concert with her publication of Philip’s Defence, styles her brother a Davidic poet. As Mary’s dedication poem “To the Angel Spirit of the Most Excellent Sir Philip Sidney” that prefaces the Sidney Psalter makes clear, one of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke’s major “works” is the 87 On the status of the Sternhold and Hopkins psalter “as the semi-official singing psalter of the Church” (Hamlin 30) in the latter half of the sixteenth century see Hamlin pp.24-50. 88 As Hamlin writes, “Psalm 73 is a powerful instance of the creation of a persona, of a psychological state, through the development of a particular poetic voice” (123). The principal strategy by which the psalm is individualized, in Hamlin’s account, is the intensification and repetition of elements that contribute to a coherent representation of meditative, internalized and iterative consciousness. “The tone of Pembroke’s translation is unusually colloquial, deliberately aiming at the style of direct, informal speech… Her speaker interrupts and corrects herself, with phrases beginning with “nay,” “Most true,” and “it seems,” as she works the problem out in her mind” (125). 53 posthumous construction of her brother Philip as the exemplary English poet in the Davidic kind—that of the “kingly prophet” (Sidney-Pembroke Psalter 8:14). It is an artifice of the finished Sidney Psalter that Mary writes in the shadow of her brother’s greater muse: To thee, pure sprite, to thee alone’s addressed This coupled work, by double interest thine: First raised by thy blest hand, and what is mine Inspired by thee, thy secret power impressed. So dared my Muse with thine itself combine, As mortal stuff with that which is divine. (8:1-6; my emphasis) In other words, Pembroke confers upon Sidney the authority of a new English Protestant prophetic poetic station which, by the artificial terms of that same conferral—the exclusive particularity of his special blessing, secret power to inspire, and divine Muse—she herself is unable to claim. Mary Sidney’s conferral of prophetic poetic authority upon her brother’s authorship was repeated and magnified by John Donne. In his poem, “Upon the Translation of the Psalms by Sir Philip Sidney, and the Countess of Pembroke, His Sister,” Donne refers to Philip and Mary as “this Moses and this Miriam” (l.46) and praises God for the gift of the Sidney Psalter: …as thy blessed Spirit fell upon These Psalms’ first author in a cloven tongue —For ‘twas a double power by which he sung The highest matter in the noblest form— So thou hast cleft that Spirit, to perform That work again, and shed it here, upon Two, by their bloods, and by Thy Spirit one[.] (ll.8-14) Donne accords the English psalms of the Sidney Psalter the status of divine co-authorship. They are not the Davidic but the “Sidneian Psalms” (l.50), the product of a second divine dispensation from the same Spirit that inspired the original Hebrew psalms. 54 Mary’s construction of her brother Philip Sidney as a non-clerical yet prophetic English Protestant poetic type owes much to humanist hermeneutics, even while pushing beyond what Erasmus had envisaged for the eloquent Christian preacher in such pedagogical works as the Ratio (1518). Philip’s Defence and Mary’s circulation of the Psalter in coordination with her publication of the Defence stressed the continuity of classical and biblical poetic language in the construction of an English poet capable of divine expression. The degree of poetic accomplishment, and the sheer scale of formal innovation in the Sidney Psalter, heralds the end of one phase of an evolutionary process and the beginning of another within English Reformation and Renaissance culture. On the one hand, that such copious ornament, in the tradition of classical eloquentia, was considered to be appropriate to the psalms, and that Mary Sidney considered the psalter a fit monument to the memory of her departed brother, speaks to a general acceptance of classicizing eloquence as the natural complement to scriptural revelation.89 The fact of this general acceptance demonstrates the accomplishment of Erasmus and other Christian Humanists’ project to naturalize eloquentia within the culture of Christ. On the other hand, that such an idiosyncratically brilliant and deeply personal work of poetry was considered acceptably exemplary of intra-scriptural translation speaks to the development of new horizons of poetic expression encroaching upon the traditional domains of theology. The Sidney Psalter, in other words, announces new possibilities for poetic expression in and about the hallowed precincts of Scripture. Truly Feigned Inspiration 89 In the prefatory poem, “To the Angel Spirit of the Most Excellent Sir Philip Sidney,” Mary refers to her departed brother’s “rare works” as being “Immortal monuments of thy fair fame” (The Sidney Psalter 8:68,71). 55 Biblical translation was an essential intra-scriptural point of departure, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for English poets who wished to soar “above the Aonian Mount” of classicizing and secular poetic ambition.90 The self-authorizing prophetic poetics of Edmund Spenser and John Milton share a remarkable host of features with the assimilative hermeneutics and scriptural poetics of Erasmian rhetorical theology. In terms of their intra-scriptural participatory strategies, Spenser and Milton’s prophetic poetics are also anticipated by the enormously popular and pan-confessional practice of psalm-translation culminating in the Sidney Psalter.91 With respect to the founding of an English Protestant office of prophetic poetry, Philip Sidney was almost as innocent of intent as Erasmus. The same cannot be said, however, of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. As Margaret Hannay has shown, the Sidneian legacy is largely owing to the psalm-translations and posthumous editorial efforts of Philip’s sister Mary Sidney which effectively cast Philip in a prophetic light. Nevertheless, the combined precedent of Philip Sidney’s Defence and the Sidney Psalter opened the way for a prophetic poetics in which the English Protestant mind might find proper employment “singing the praises of the immortal beauty, the immortal goodness of that God who giveth us hands to write and wits to conceive” (Defence 113.21-2). Philip Sidney’s posthumous example marks a transitional moment. In the wake of Sidney’s example, via the work of biblical translation and the interpretative strategies of rhetorical theology, theologically ambitious poets like Spenser and 90 The famous phrase is from the opening proem of Paradise Lost, by John Milton (Bk I. 14). 91 Hamlin, Brennan, Hannay and Kinnamon write, “the existence of biblical poetry… provided authoritative justification for writing verse at a time when that was seen by many as both idle and morally suspect: … if David could write poems, then so might others (at least if they struck to the proper subject matter… In fact, the metrical Psalm rivalled the Petrarchan love poem as the popular lyric mode for English poets” (The Sidney Psalter: The Psalms of Sir Philip and Mary Sidney “Introduction” xii). 56 Milton appropriate the eloquent preacher’s authority and claim for their own secular or extra-ecclesial works the power to effect a prophetic renewal of Scripture. There is something new and challenging at work in the conceptions of prophetic poetic utterance that undergird Spenser’s figure of Sapience and Milton’s figure of Wisdom and Urania. Erasmus’s understanding of assimilative participation in the eloquent Logos is particularly conducive to explaining how these poets might have imagined themselves authorized to introduce poetic innovations within the general framework of scriptural narrative. Erasmus’s understanding of the transformative function of Scripture and the affective faculty for which its message is intended allow for what might be paradoxically called an ordinary power and lay office of prophetic utterance. The power is an ability and the office a calling to actively participate in the communication of the Logos as the providentially enabled consequence of diligent, learned, and devoutly practiced sapiential interpretation.92 Previous studies of the prophetic dimensions and claims within the work of early-modern English poets have tended towards a polarization of the issue of prophetic utterance. Thus, John M. Steadman writes, “critics have tended to accept literally the Renaissance poet’s claim to divine inspiration and to underestimate the extent to which this is both a conscious literary fiction and a traditional poetic convention” (Moral Fiction 4). Prior studies have tended to stress either the objectively referential significance of prophetic language as representing “actual” 92 This type of reading and the reader who might effect it were, while newly possible, still inevitably rare. As Mark Vessey notes: “For a scholar of the kind Erasmus had made himself, ‘reading’ and ‘hearing’ the Word of God faithfully in sixteenth-century Europe presupposed the review of an entire tradition of biblical transcription and commentary” (“Introduction” to Holy Scripture Speaks: The Production and Reception of Erasmus’ Paraphrases on the New Testament, 4). 57 religious experience93 or the literary significance of prophetic language as representing genre-specific formulae, traditional topics, and stylistic conventions.94 The distinction between actual religious experience and the conventional representation of religious experience depends in large part upon the underlying assumption that when the poet’s prophetic experience—the vision of Spenser’s Sapience and the nightly visitation of Milton’s Spirit are prime examples—happens in the “real world” it happens outside of the text and is an experience altogether distinct from the interpretative and assimilative activity of reading. This work seeks to make an original contribution to the critical discussion of Spenser and Milton’s prophetic works and prophetic claims by demonstrating how, in the wake of Christian humanist theology, “actual,” visionary religious experience may be conceived as coextensive with texts and reading practices. To the extent that the prophetic experience in these early-modern texts is bound up with culturally specific Christian Humanist reading practices, its representation not only coexists with but quite naturally employs conventionally stylized and even traditionally formulaic aspects of then-contemporary, classicizing, Humanist composition practices.95 Of particular significance in this respect is the fact that, within the rhetorical theology of Erasmus, prophetic experience—even the apprehension of divine presence—happens in the actual world 93 In the introduction to his Moral Fiction in Milton and Spenser, Steadman provides an able overview of the “tension [within modern criticism] between the Renaissance poet’s conscious artistry and his claim to divine inspiration” (6). As Steadman notes, the final section of Mary Ann Radzinowicz’s Towards “Samson Agonistes”: The Growth of Milton’s Mind, also provides a helpful summary of critics’ interpretations/identifications of Milton’s divine sources of inspiration. William J. Grace, William B. Hunter, Maurice Kelley, William Kerrigan, Joseph Anthony Wittreich Jr., and Elizabeth Biemann are a handful of the more notable critics who incline towards lending Spenser and/or Milton’s prophetic claims something more than that signified by the decorum of poetic convention alone. 94 Thus Steadman: “Milton is skillfully recasting himself in the highly traditional image of the bard as seer. There is, I believe, no conclusive evidence… [that] he literally regarded himself as prophetic and visionary” (Moral Fiction 6). 95 Elizabeth Biemann’s Plato Baptized: Towards the Interpretation of Spenser’s Mimetic Fictions, John Guillory’s Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton, and Literary History, and Barbara Kiefer Lewalksi’s “Paradise Lost”and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms offer interpretations of the integral importance of both belief and artistry within early-modern authorship. 58 while remaining within the text. Still further, within the Erasmian-influenced humanist Reformation culture of Spenser and Milton, as within the earlier medieval tradition of meditative reading, a fundamental and reciprocal permeability characterizes the relationship between reader and text, poet and poem, inspiration and utterance. Considering the prophetic poetics of early-modern English poets in terms of the logocentric divinity, grammatical hermeneutics, and assimilative participation of Erasmus’s theology opens up some important new interpretative possibilities for understanding many of these poets’ more bafflingly exalted prophetic claims. Most significantly for the present thesis, by adopting an Erasmian lens, it becomes possible to explain the enigmatically personified divine figures of Spenser’s Sapience and Milton’s Wisdom and Urania in terms of the grammatical hermeneutics vividly signalled by their “fleshing out” of intra-scriptural grammatical anomalies.96 96 By grammatical anomalies, I am referring in the first instance to the gender of Spenser’s Sapience, as well as the number of parent languages attached to Milton’s two pre-existent sisters Wisdom and Urania. 59 Chapter 2 The New Poet’s New Poetry: Edmund Spenser’s Humanist Reform of the English Poetic Office Introducing the New Poet Edmund Spenser’s carefully crafted oeuvre demonstrated to his contemporaries that a sixteenth-century English poet, writing in the vernacular, could achieve both a level of learned eloquence and a level of instructive authority comparable to that of the classical auctores. A number of the self-authorizing and self-fashioning strategies within Spenser’s poetry97 bear considerable, if as yet little studied, resemblance to concepts and mechanisms integral to the grammatical hermeneutics and prophetic or Logos-participating preaching of Erasmian rhetorical theology.98 There are decidedly significant resemblances between Erasmus and Spenser’s conceptions of the cultural authority of bonae litterae and individuals’ interpretative authority in relation to both sacred and profane texts. Spenser received his grammar school education through the Merchant Taylors’ School which was founded according to the same Christian Humanist principles as John Colet’s St. Paul’s. This grammar school education represented the pedagogical ascendancy of Christian 97 Spenser’s self-authorizing and self-fashioning strategies have been the subject of many fine studies, to which the arguments that follow are deeply indebted. Of particular interest for the arguments are those of Elizabeth Biemann, Patrick Cheney, Heather Dubrow, Jane Grogan, John Guillory, Richard Helgerson, Carol Kaske, Richard A. McCabe, Harold Weatherby, and Joseph Anthony Wittreich. 98 Iterating what has already been noted in the general introduction—in this thesis I concentrate exclusively upon the Christian Humanist rhetorical theology of Erasmus. This is not to suggest that Erasmus was alone among Christian Humanists exerting significant influence upon English culture in general or upon Spenser and Milton in particular. Rather, following John N. Wall, I take Erasmus as “the most articulate spokesman” for that influential community (“Godly and Fruitful Lessons” 49). 60 Humanist values and perspectives over those of (a previously hegemonic) Scholasticism.99 Christian Humanist concepts and perspectives pervaded Elizabethan culture.100 Grammar-school children absorbed elements of the moral philosophical outlook conveyed by Erasmus’s Adages together with elements of eloquence conveyed through his Latin composition manual De Copia.101 Divinity-school students absorbed elements of the grammarian’s theological method conveyed by both Erasmus’s Ratio prefacing and Annotationes accompanying his Greek and Latin New Testament. Church goers of all stripes absorbed elements of the exegetical and homiletic principles conveyed by Erasmus’s Englished Paraphrases from which excerpts were frequently read in church-services. In Oxford and Cambridge book inventories between 1558 and 1603, Erasmus is the single most highly represented author.102 In Spenser’s England, Erasmian Christian Humanist concepts and perspectives were cultural common-places ready-to-hand for those who were both inclined and dexterous enough to use them. Like Erasmus, Spenser represents the auctorial tradition of bonae litterae not only as a secular repository of moral instruction but as an obscure dispensation enfolded within Christian providential history. This shared conception of bonae litterae as a dispensation of divine providence helps to account for the curiously permeable relationship between classical and 99 Scholasticism, though in decline, continued to exert enormous authority within the universities and the grammar schools. 100 In the Spenser Encyclopedia O.B. Hardison Jr. writes that “[f]or Spenser, the most important aspect of Erasmian influence was probably in the field of education, specifically, the curriculum and pedagogical methods of Merchant Taylors’ School” (“Humanism” 380). That said, much of Hardison Jr.’s article is taken up with noting the humanist styling of, and pervasive inclusion of humanist elements throughout Spenser’s works. Much like tracing out the contours of Calvinism, it is impossible to see precisely where the Christian Humanist and/or Erasmian influence begins and ends within Elizabethan culture due to the thorough-going nature of its integration. 101 See Donald Lemen Clark’s John Milton at St. Paul’s School: A Study of Ancient Rhetoric in English Renaissance Education; Maurice Kelley’s “Grammar School Latin and John Milton;” Kenneth Charlton’s Education in Renaissance England. 102 See Margo Todd’s Christian Humanism and the Puritan Social Order, (p. 67) cited above, p. 9. 61 Christian culture and specifically between erotic and biblicizing elements in Spenser’s poetry.103 In Erasmus’s rhetorical theology it was the grammarian’s method that accorded and legitimized individuals’ interpretative authority in relation to sacred and profane texts alike. The theological importance of the grammarian’s secular learning and literary critical method sheds considerable light upon Spenser’s characterization of secular poetic authority and divine inspiration as sharing the same domain and even appearing to be, in some way, co-extensive. Finally, the Erasmian Christian Humanist focus upon, and faith in, the actual language of the biblical text (rather than the concepts or doctrines hidden within or beyond it) suggests a hitherto overlooked yet compelling rationale for the arrogation of prophetic poetic authority in Spenser’s works. At its most theologically ambitious—as in the culminating vision of heavenly Sapience in The Fowre Hymnes104—Spenser’s poetry fleshes out in visionary images the type of grammatically precise reading that was both proper to Erasmus’s revolutionary theological method and popularized by his tremendously influential New Testament. Donning Tradition Like his illustrious yet short-lived contemporary and patron Philip Sidney, Spenser represented himself as seeking to cultivate both discerning judgement and exemplary virtue in his 103 My arguments concerning the relationship of erotic and biblicizing elements in Spenser’s poetry share much in common with those of Elizabeth Heale concerning Spenser’s ‘Reformed Poetry of Love’ in her essay “Spenser and Sixteenth-Century Poetics” pp. 596-600. Heale does not, however, pursue possible parallels with Erasmian humanism. My work specifically builds upon that of Heale by considering the manner in which the enfolding of the secular love lyric within the sacred love lyric/hymn parallels the enfolding of secular (metaphorical) inspiration within sacred or biblical (literal) inspiration, as well as the manner in which the latter forms of inspiration involve one and the same anabolic (corporeal/incarnational) process of textual assimilation—a process of becoming text strikingly exemplified in the writing of Erasmus where it is promoted as integral to the true practice of theology. 104 Spenser’s Sapience is discussed at length in my third and final section on Spenser. 62 readership.105 Also like Sidney, Spenser conceived of poetry as possessing natural sovereignty over other domains of learning and the poet as preeminent among teachers.106 The idea of poetry’s pedagogical and cultural pre-eminence in antiquity was entirely commonplace. Indeed, Richard Puttenham’s third and fourth chapters of The Arte of English Poesie were entitled “How poets were the first priests, the first prophets, the first Legislators and polititians in the world;” and “How the Poets were the first Philosophers, the first Astronomers and Historiographers and Oratours and Musitiens of the world” (3, 5). For Puttenham as for Sidney, however, the poet’s cultural pre-eminence was located and restricted to a distant and mythical antiquity unavailable to the trifling poet prodigal writing morally questionable verse in the volgare. Poetry’s abiding linguistic and moral authority was divided between the ancient auctores and the modern humanist schoolmaster or grammarian interpreter. In his bid to restore the cultural pre-eminence of poetry, Spenser sought to arrogate the authority of both of these parties. As Andrew Hadfield writes of Spenser’s career-launching work, the Shepherd’s Calender was “designed to resemble a humanist edition of a work of Latin or Greek literature” (124-5). In other words, Spenser was imitating and vying with not only the classical auctores as a poet-maker, but also the modern humanist schoolmasters and textual editors as a poet-interpreter. As Richard Helgerson has noted, in conceiving a poetic career far in excess of the normative Elizabethan prodigal’s flirtation with letters, the question facing Spenser was “not merely what to write but what to be” (“New Poet” 895). In a culture economically and politically dominated by the royal court—with its intricate networks of allegiance and patronage—the 105 In referring to the cultivation of “discerning judgment” I have in mind both Åke Bergvalle’s discussion of Sidney’s concepts of “wit” and “judgment” in The Enabling of Judgment and Jane Grogan’s discussion of Spenser’s concept of “narrative intelligence” and “exemplarity” in Exemplary Spenser (pp. 52, 53 and 59-68). 106 The theme of the preeminent nobility of poetry and the tragic lack of due reverence shown to it (as discussed later in this section) is developed at length in Spenser’s “Teares of the Muses.” 63 question of “what to be” was at once a question of how one was to appear and appeal to one’s potential patrons, and with what authority one might speak. Not only the poetry that was written but the self that wrote it required (re)fashioning. As Helgerson writes: “The first [step] was publicly to abandon all social identity except that conferred by his elected vocation. He ceased to be Master Edmund Spenser of Merchant Taylors’ School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, and became Immerito, Colin Clout, the New Poet” (“New Poet” 896). In the anonymous publication of The Shepheardes Calender Spenser effected his authorial reinvention as the “New Poet” through a strategically self-effacing identification of author and poetic office.107 The Calender opens with a prefatory envoy entitled “To His Booke” which Spenser signs Immerito (the unworthy one), thereby drawing attention to the question of identity, authorship, and textual authority. It is then in the author’s absence in propria persona—made doubly conspicuous through the disingenuous modesty of its envoy—that the Calender’s assortment of more and less proximal authorial personae proceed to demonstrate their author’s comprehensive knowledge of, and vital initiatic participation within, the pastoral poetic tradition. Spenser’s donning of the mask of Immerito in the prefatory envoy “To His Booke,” is not only an act of clearing the textual slate of the self; Immerito is also pre-face to a further palimpsest of Spenserian personae throughout the Calender. In terms of their proximity to Spenser’s authorial self, the central among these personae is Colin Clout. As the running commentary to the Calender (provided by Spenser’s equally anonymous commentator E.K.) points out, the invention of Colin Clout is one of re-discovery. The popular and irreverent character of “Colyn Cloute” is the prior invention of the English poet John Skelton (1463-1529) 107 The seminal discussion of this process is found in Richard Helgerson’s “The New Poet Presents Himself: Spenser and the Idea of a Literary Career,” and in chapter 2 of his Self-Crowned Laureates: Spenser, Jonson, Milton and the Literary System. 64 and “Colin” is also the persona adopted by the French poet Clément Marot (1496-1544). By donning a composite mask integrating Skelton and Marot’s personae, Spenser signals the assimilation of both their poetry and laureate ambition.108 Important though Skelton and Marot are for Spenser’s invention of Colin Clout, there are still other faces under-writing the latter persona. According to E.K. it is under the name of Colin that the Calender’s anonymous “Poete secretly shadoweth himself, as sometime did Virgil under the name of Tityrus” (January gloss 1). E.K.’s statement connects Colin and Tityrus as auctorial personae, thereby drawing attention to the practice of masking ventriloquism itself, which was a common auctorial habit and signifier. Playfully complicating this Colin-to-Spenser as Tityrus-to-Virgil connection, Spenser’s Colin reveals himself to be the inspired disciple of “[t]he God of shepheards Tityrus… Who taught me homely, as I can, to make,” and E.K.’s commentary to the latter passage further assures the reader “[t]hat by Tityrus is meant Chaucer” (June 81-2; gloss 81). Thus, as Richard A. McCabe notes, Spenser “gestures not just towards Virgil but towards Chaucer, a conflation of classical and native traditions intended to produce a vernacular ‘classic’ identical to neither” (464). The New Poet’s playful masking makes conspicuous use of a humanist scholar’s polyglot learning while demonstrating an auctorial poet’s imitative mastery of the traditions from which he is drawing. Spenser’s employment of the multivalent persona of Colin Clout allows him to engage in the type of textual participation by which an author gains access to his predecessors’ auctoritas 108 The particular moral authority which Spenser arrogated through the adoption of the irreverent persona of Colin Clout is considered in section 1.2, “Figuring Virtue.” As Richard A. McCabe points out, John Skelton “was commonly designated ‘poet laureate’” (463). McCabe is echoing J. Griffiths’ “What’s in a Name? The Transmission of “John Skelton, Laureate” in Manuscript and Print.” As Robert Starr Kinsman notes in the Spenser Encyclopedia, Spenser drew from Skelton the popular authority of the latter’s Colyn Cloute, renowned for his satirical critique of ecclesiastical abuses. (660-1) For an interesting discussion of Spenser’s assimilation of Clément Marot, see Annabel Patterson’s “Reopening the Green Cabinet: Clément Marot and Edmund Spenser.” 65 even as he subjects that process to playful parody. As Andrew Hadfield notes in relation to Spenser’s imitation and allusive inclusion of prior authors, in addition to “demonstrating a formidable knowledge of … European, and classical books… [t]he Calender itself covers what was considered to be virtually the whole tradition of English literature as it was then known” (Life 124). 109 In the work with which Spenser inaugurates his poetic career the composite auctorial lineage of his central poetic persona, together with his eclogues’ comprehensive range of mimetic rehearsal, identifies poetic merit not with the name of poet but with the auctorial tradition itself as something to be envisaged and ventriloquized.110 As McCabe rightly insists, “a persona such as “Colin Clout’ … [is] not just ‘another self’ but the self as ‘other’” (464). In employing the persona of Colin Clout, Spenser identifies himself with the poetic “other” of the auctorial tradition. In a process signaled and set in motion by his adoption of the anonymous title “Immerito,” Spenser empties himself at the outset of the Calender in order to become authoritative poetic utterance. In the Calender, Spenser demonstrates his comprehensive assimilation of and organic continuity with the auctorial tradition. The assimilative, participatory nature of this process (together with its clear signalling 109 In The Schoolmaster, Roger Ascham provides an accessible definition of imitation which illustrates the expectations of the educated readership for which Spenser’s Calender was strategically fashioned: “imitation is to follow for learning of tongues and sciences the best authors... This imitatio [involves] dissimilis materei similis tractatio and also similis meterei dissimilis tractatio [“Similar treatment of dissimilar matter and also dissimilar treatment of similar matter.”] (117). In his article on the “Antique World” in the Spenser Encyclopedia, Thomas Green notes that, “There is indeed very little in The Faerie Queene which is not assimilative of something, whether it is ancient or whether it can be located somewhere else in Spenser’s enormous cultural heritage. The basic process of the poem is parodic, if the implication of ridicule is removed from that term, for almost everything in it constitutes a revision or displacement of something else, much of which ultimately has classical roots” (117). 110 Hadfield notes that the “sophisticated balance of poetic text, notes, commentary, letters, with the critical apparatus reading like part of an exchange between equals, indicates that the poems have developed out of an intellectual milieu that looked back to the humanist ideal of the ‘republic of letters’, one the text itself has deliberately constructed” (Life 120). This idea—that the Calender deliberately constructs a “republic of letters”—speaks to the persistent humanist tendency, so pervasive that it is easily overlooked, to conceive the self in terms of textual participation. 66 of the good humanist scholar’s multi-lingual and comprehensive learning) recalls Erasmus’s counsel to the aspiring preacher. In the Ratio, Erasmus writes: [M]ake your heart itself into a library of Christ… [such that] like from the provident householder, you can bring forth “new things and old” as they should be needed. For these things which come forth from your own heart, as it were, practically alive, penetrate far more vividly into the souls of your listeners than those things which are gathered from a hodgepodge of other authors. (341) In Erasmus’s figure, the assimilation of the books of Christ—not only by the intellect but also by the heart, which is to say through the affective will—lends them new life. Having been truly assimilated and not merely “gathered [as unassimilated, fragmentary, excerpts] from a hodgepodge of other authors,” they issue forth in new forms imbued with an affective power of their own capable of effectively penetrating and transforming the souls of listeners.111 At the same time, however, to engage in this participatory assimilation of texts is not only to become a library containing all of the books of Christ but also to be thereby assimilated into the book of Christ—that is, into the scriptural figure and persona of the provident householder. Through its participatory assimilation of the pastoral tradition from the classical to the early-modern period, the Calender becomes a library of auctores. Thus, in speaking through the composite persona of Colin, Spenser acquires countenance112 by assuming the voice of a popular and auctorial recitation.113 At the same time, Spenser becomes a figure within the auctorial tradition he is 111 Erasmus is here encouraging the aspiring preacher to return to and read (and digest) the original texts themselves, rather than resorting to borrowing from any of the proliferating handbooks and encyclopedic collections of (un-digested and, without context, un-digestible) biblical and patristic excerpts. 112 As David L. Miller notes, Spenser uses the term “countenaunce” with reference to “public estimation or repute” (“Spenser’s Vocation, Spenser’s Career” 214). 113 Modern critics rightly question the extent to which Spenser fully assimilated his auctores. Green writes: “Like most [Elizabethan] readers, he [Spenser] apparently tasted many more books than he digested” (113). What is at issue here, however, is Spenser’s conspicuous display of learning as one who has digested his antecedents. 67 reproducing: like the preacher becoming the provident householder of Scripture, Spenser becomes the New Poet written into the text and cast of the tradition of bonae litterae. In “Spenser’s Vocation, Spenser’s Career,” David L. Miller describes the cultural context within which Spenser’s Calender launched his career by looking ahead to a much later Spenserian work, the “Teares of the Muses”: Spenser’s poetic canon opens with an address “To His Booke” in which the unknown father of a bastard text sends it out to find sponsorship before venturing into polite circles. From Terpsichore (in “Teares of the Muses”) we learn why this gesture was necessary: the Muses’ children are dispossessed heirs in the kingdom of modern letters, forced to appear as outsiders whose birth secures no special place. (214) 114 The dispossession of Terpsichore and the other muses signals the unfortunate circumstances of those who speak for “goodly Poësie” when “nor Prince nor Priest doth her mayntayne” who was once “the noursling of Nobilitie” (“Teares” 289-90). Spenser’s authorial persona is here a type of royalist, one who wishes to enable the muses to regain their “royall thrones which lately stood / In th’hearts of men to rule them carefully” (“Teares” 313-14). But he is also the type of royalist who—court jester-like—will insist upon his own learned and inspired authority in recalling his noble readership to their lapsed responsibilities.115 Re-figuring the pretensions to auctorial poetic authority that were expressed in the Calender via Colin Clout, Spenser presents himself, in “Teares of the Muses,” as one so fully imbued with the learning and artistry of the auctorial 114 As William Oram observes, “‘The Teares of the Muses’ is as much about the absence of patrons as it is about the absence of poetry in England” (Introduction, “Teares of the Muses” 264). Given the deaths of both Sidney and Leicester—both formerly patrons—in 1586 and 1588 respectively, Spenser must have felt the need for patronage almost as acutely in the early 1590s (“The Teares of the Muses” appears in the volume Complaints of 1591) as he had a decade earlier when he first sent off his “booke,” The Shepheardes Calender (entered on the Stationer’s register in 1579). 115 Hadfield’s insistence upon Spenser’s willful sleighting of potential patrons and of his monarch is duly noted: “The poem is framed to suggest that Spenser was attempting to sever himself from the world of patronage politics and in doing so was asserting his independence as a poet” (Life 131). For all its pastoral high-jinx, however, the Calender was also framed to impress, and it is certainly not inconceivable that Spenser was subject to competing and irreconcilable impulses with respect to snubbing and pleasing potential patrons. 68 tradition—represented by “[t]he sacred springs of horsefoot Helicon / So oft bedeawed with our learned layes” (“Teares” 279)—that he has become capable of speaking for the muses themselves. In composing his Calender, the New Poet insists upon his authority as a learned culture-bearer in whom and by whom the culture survives. In his reception of the Calender, Sidney agrees with the New Poet’s pretensions, declaring that Spenser’s “Shepherds Calendar hath much poetry in his eclogues, indeed worthy the reading, if I be not deceived” (Defence 110). The redundancy implicit within the phrase “much poetry in his eclogues” suggests that Sidney is singling Spenser out as an author whose work is deserving of the name of poetry precisely because of its comprehensive assimilation of the poetic tradition(s).116 Furthermore, the “Shepherds Calendar” has incorporated this quantity of poetry (this “much poetry”) in such a coherent and integral manner that it comprises “poetical sinews.” The assimilative, corporeal nature of the figure is strengthened by Sidney’s ambivalent use of the personal pronoun “his” in declaring that the “Shepherds Calendar hath much poetry in his eclogues.” 117 In Sidney’s view, the work possesses something of the perfectly integrated fullness of organic unity—that of something born rather than pieced together—and this quality in the work leads Sidney to deem its maker one of those who bear out the old proverb, “orator fit, poeta nascitur” (Defence 109-10).118 What makes this grammatical quibble interesting is the extent to which it complements 116 This is true even if Hadfield is right in surmising that Sidney’s brief comments in the Defence suggest that “he has not really understood the poem and why it was written the way it was” (Life 129). 117 To clarify, poem and poet are potentially conflated by the ambivalent grammar of the phrase, the “Shepherds Calendar [i.e., “it”] hath much poetry in “his” eclogues.”Admittedly, in sixteenth century usage, “his” occasionally means “its,” yet in this instance the possession of “poetical sinews” corporealizes the poem and this corporealizing of the Calender suggests and facilitates a reading that conflates the work with its anonymous author’s textual self. 118 “An orator is made, a poet born.” Translation in Defence 228 n 38-9. Of course, it is also possible that the phrasing of Sidney’s complement is gratuitous. If that is the case, however, the fact remains that Spenser’s principal poetic persona in the Calender (Colin) displays his own and his author’s poetic authority by disclaiming yet 69 the anonymizing envoy “To His Booke.” Sidney’s approving judgement appears to conflate poem and poet thereby suggesting the success with which (and the very manner in which) the Calender, and no prior name or courtier’s standing, has supplied its author’s countenance. Figuring Virtue In Spenser’s day, for poetry’s champions and critics alike, the ability to bring about the participatory identification of the reader with fictional characters or perspectives comprised the work of fiction’s seductive power. For Stephen Gosson, it is by this power that poets threaten to “turne reasonable creatures into brute beastes” (10), while to Sidney—adopting language that echoes the Christian Humanists’ praise of persuasive eloquence—it is by this power that the poet may “strike, pierce, [and] possess the sight of the soul” thereby illuminating all instructive examples “before the imaginative and judging powers” (Defence 90).119 Rather than prescriptively distinguishing between virtue and vice in the abstract, the poet’s narrative involves the reader in the act of judging while the poet’s eloquence moves the reader to feel, within the feigned experience of the narrative fiction, the affective affinity or revulsion natural to their encounter. One of the principal ways Spenser set about legitimating his poetic vocation in the eyes of his readership was by insisting upon poetry’s civic capacity for fostering virtuous action. ironically demonstrating his comprehensive knowledge of and imitative participation within the auctorial poetic tradition. 119 In Erasmus, and the humanist tradition upon which Gosson and Sidney are both drawing, poetic eloquence is the natural and appropriate accompaniment of sacred utterance. Indeed, for Erasmus, the Christic message is inherently eloquent, such that those who have properly assimilated it (in the original Greek language and thus, implicitly and of necessity, with the requisite training in bonae litterae) shall naturally utter things that are “practically alive, [and] penetrate far more vividly into the souls of [their] listeners” (supra). Within the method of Erasmian rhetorical theology, eloquence and understanding are essentially two sides (one expressive, the other receptive) of the same coin. 70 With the persona of Colin Clout in the Shepherds Calender Spenser was capitalizing on the moral currency of Skelton’s prior cognomen Colyn Cloute. Skelton’s Colyn was a popular “jester/trickster figure,” critic of ecclesiastical abuses, and “scourge of the mighty” (Hadfield, Life 278). Through the deployment of Skelton’s persona, Spenser positioned his role as poet in virtuous opposition to a range of popularly decried moral dangers. In Colin Clouts Come Home Againe Spenser capitalizes upon poetry’s ambivalent reputation by adapting the accusatory language regularly leveled against the trifling and immoral production of contemporary poet-prodigals to heap scorn upon the court’s misuse of learning.120 In other words, he attributes to the courtiers the arts of poetry without the concern for truth and virtue that—as any grammar school graduate well knew—is the central and legitimating lesson of good letters: “those wretches… [imbued] with malice and with strife… [employ] deceitfull wit… and fained forgerie … Masked with faire dissembling curtesie… furnisht with tearmes of art, / Nor art of schoole, but Courtiers schoolery” (675-702). By Colin’s report, the agency at court is taken up with counterfeiting—an art of imitation devoid of “single Truth and simple honestie… despys’d of all” (727-8). Rather than providing a defence of poetry, Spenser simply insists upon the “art of schoole” and its traditional poetic prerogative to provide instructive moral critique, while exploiting the terms of anti-poetic sentiment to denounce the degenerate practice of courtly counterfeiting.121 Contra the muse-haters and the courtly establishment, and even 120 For a thorough-going treatment of anti-poetic sentiment in the early-modern period see Peter C. Herman’s Squitter-Wits and Muse-Haters:Spenser, Sidney, Milton, and Renaissance Antipoetic Sentiment. 121 Similarly, as John M. Steadman writes, in The Faerie Queene, “Spenser transfers the accusations that critics had leveled against the fictive images of poetry. The falsehood lies not in the poet’s images of the true virtues of antiquity but in the vicious practices of his contemporaries and their confusion of false semblance with truth” (Moral Fiction 113). 71 whilst slumming it in the low-lying grazing lands of pastoral, the New Poet obstreperously occupies the moral high ground. Implicit within Spenser’s insistence upon the social usefulness of poetry was the humanists’ exalting of affective over intellective understanding (most particularly in relation to faith and morality) as expressed in the Sidneian formulation, “moving is of a higher degree than teaching [by mere prescription]” (Defence 94).Spenser didn’t have to argue that the grammarian and rhetorician’s poetic resources of language and style were the superlative instruments for the fashioning of an active moral-philosophical understanding. By Spenser and Sidney’s time, the ideal poet’s power to fashion heroic virtue—the power of one such as Xenophon, “to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses”—had become proverbial (Defence 85). Moreover, the campaign to establish the essential role of bonae litterae in teaching both language and virtue had already been successfully waged by Erasmus and other Christian Humanists in the name of both their rhetorical theology and their classicizing pedagogy. 122 Perhaps Spenser’s best known claim to the moral authority of the auctorial poet and his grammarian interpreters is to be found in the “Letter to Raleigh” appended to the Faerie Queene: “The generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline” (Faerie Queene 715). As A. Leigh DeNeef writes, private morality becomes public and political when placed within a “historical” narrative, regardless of whether it be the narrative of “a mythical past or an actual present” or, indeed, a mixture of the two (“Letter” 582-3)123 Thus, Spenser’s aim to fashion a gentleman is also “to make, or help to make, 122 The establishing of both St. Paul’s and the Merchant Taylors’ schools on humanist principles and their cultural importance as the preeminent English grammar schools of Spenser’s day is evidence of the Christian Humanists’ success in promoting their classicizing pedagogy. 123 I am here paraphrasing but also simplifying Deneef’s arguments which are largely concerned with the manner in which a historical narrative may be used to weave an intricate web of moral exemplarism that not only displays 72 a country” (583). The fact that Spenser’s Faerie Queene announced itself as moralizing fiction did not imply to its then-contemporary readers, as it might today, either naiveté or simplicity. On the contrary, and most emphatically, it implied a presumption, on the poet’s part, to judge. As John M. Steadman writes, “Spenser’s poem is a mirror… [its] reflections … types and shadows of… Elizabeth’s court [in the] degenerate present” (112). In the “Letter to Raleigh” Spenser insists upon the common knowledge that good letters provide moral instruction, in order to accuse hypocrisy. While the “fashioning” of the gentlemen and gentlewomen for whom and of whom he writes ought to be already accomplished, the “Letter to Raleigh” states baldly that the Faerie Queene intends the further schooling of its courtly readership. Through his fashioning of fictional exemplars within a fictional narrative that mirrors the persons and world of his courtly readers, Spenser openly intends the “reformation of [his] pupil[s] to proper conduct” (Deneef 583). While echoing Sidney’s Defence of Poesy, Spenser’s “Letter to Raleigh” makes no attempt to defend poetry. As in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, the “Letter" simply insists upon the shared cultural heritage of its humanist-educated readership in order to draw attention to the corrective intent and method of The Faerie Queene. Spenser is, as Hadfield writes, “someone with the confidence to tell others how things are and what to do” (Life 253). The clearest indication of this aggressive intent, and of how high it might aim, may be brought out through the contrast between Spenser’s ostensible lauding of Elizabeth throughout The Faerie Queene and his promotion of married sexuality as the ideal form of chastity in Book III. Spenser given virtues but displays them in a dizzying assortment of accidental relations much like “grammatical inflections” (“Letter” 583). Deneef is also concerned to clarify the manner in which the historical narrative functions to translate the private virtues, via narrative entanglement, into public service—“The ‘history,’ the narrative or story of the poem, is conceived as a particular public or political application of general private morality” (“Letter” 582). 73 is at pains in the “Letter to Raleigh” to draw particular attention to the connection between his and Raleigh’s figuring of the queen under the guises of Belphoebe and Cynthia—“Phoebe and Cynthia being both names of [the virgin goddess] Diana” and thus pointed references to Elizabeth’s unmarried status (716). The Reformation ideal of chastity, defined in contradistinction to the perceived hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic doctrine of clerical celibacy, was that of married sexuality. It is true that “in Belphoebe the poet is portraying and even celebrating Elizabeth’s chastity, [just as] in Gloriana [he portrays] her rule” (Steadman 115). But it is also true that in drawing attention to the form of her chastity, as he does in the “Letter to Raleigh,” Spenser as surely draws attention to Elizabeth’s failure to marry. The ramifications of this failure are then suggested by Spenser’s “showing the female knight [Britomart, hero of Bk III and exemplar of the virtue of Chastity] on a quest to find her husband, Artegall, the Knight of Justice, and so secure the future of her dynasty” (Hadfield, Life 261). Spenser, it seems, cherished the Reforming intent that everyone (including the queen) be reminded of the lessons they had learned in school. The “virtuous and gentle discipline” that Spenser sought to instill through The Faerie Queene went hand in hand with the fostering of a public discipline of discernment—not only the worldly ability to produce sound judgment in relation to confusing testimony, but the ability to see and contemn the mighty in their mighty failings.124 The ethico-didactic prerogative of poetry in the grand tradition of the auctores was integral to the humanist education of Spenser’s contemporaries as it was to the cultural understanding of an era and a nascent English empire vying with the imperial achievements of the classical world. By insisting, in his “Letter to 124 As Jane Grogan writes, “Spenser… leaves that responsibility [of moral interpretation] with the reader, amply furnished with affective and potentially corruptive images and examples of vice” (49). 74 Raleigh,” upon the ethico-didactic prerogative of poetry that was part of the English humanist heritage he shared with his readership, Spenser made clear that he intended to have his say on matters of public import, as he continued to do (more or less recklessly yet consistently) throughout his career.125 Intra-Textual Inspiration In addition to insisting upon his poetry’s critical and advisory function in fostering both moral judgment and virtuous action at every level of English society, Spenser depicted his works as incorporating both poetic and prophetic inspiration. In the sixteenth century, the nature of poetic inspiration was a tricky question. Indeed, it was not at all clear to what extent, and in what manner, a then-contemporary poet might claim poetic inspiration and what authority might thereby be arrogated. John Guillory’s study of poetic authority and inspiration in Spenser and Milton develops several arguments that run parallel with my own before diverging radically in looking ahead to modern conceptions of the imagination. The point of divergence in our arguments concerns the actively present or statically memorial nature of divine utterance. Guillory describes the self-authorizing or metaphorically “inspired” auctorial poetic tradition Spenser represents and manipulates as follows: [T]he human word [as opposed to the divine Word] remains its own authority, built up out of past voices that declare their continuity with the present merely by continuing to speak. These words, or the works constituted by them, become canonical in the very process of acknowledgment, as Spenser acknowledges 125 Spenser’s Complaints (1591) reveals him to have been both keenly aware of the power of the printed word within the court of popular opinion and entirely willing to wield this power against extremely powerful opponents such as Lord Burghley (Elizabeth’s chief advisor) at court. The fact that the Complaints was “removed from circulation because the work was judged to be seditious” reveals that the authorities were similarly aware of the power of both popular opinion and of the artfully wrought printed word to sway it (Life 265). 75 Chaucer, who acknowledges Alanus de Insulis. [This is the] survival, the vivam of the text… (Guillory 66). In this account of the mechanics of tradition, authorial continuity is established through acknowledgement and the successive revivals of mimetic recitation. This process, Guillory declares, is “the only ground of authority on this side of the impassable boundary of the sacred” (66). Because he sees the human word of acknowledgment as the poet’s “only ground of authority,” Guillory refers to the concept of poetic inspiration that survives into the Renaissance as exclusively “metaphorical.” Poetic inspiration communicating the speech and/or authority of past auctores is metaphorical because it has no living origin. Guillory’s distinction is eminently sensible—a living origin is required for anything beyond imitative ventriloquism.126 To the extent that early-modern English-Protestant authors and readers are not imagined to believe in the Platonic doctrine of metempsychosis according to which Ennius claimed Homeric inspiration (via incarnation), so contemporary criticism may imagine that these same early-moderns held poetic inspiration to be a metaphorical convention. 127 My own argument diverges with that of Guillory to the extent that I do not read Spenser’s works as necessarily endorsing an “impassable boundary of the sacred” synonymous with “the feeling of the vanished god” (44). For Guillory, the continuity of the human word is the only ground of authority “in the continual absence of a speaking God” (45), “[u]ntil or unless a voice on the other side speaks again” (66). Spenser, however, was not compelled to conceive the “absence of a speaking God.” After all, Christian Humanist theologians had imagined (and 126 The biblical locus classicus for the literal idea of inspiration is God’s breathing of spirit into Adam in Genesis 2:7. 127 In the Faerie Queen Spenser claims the “infusion sweete / Of [Chaucer’s] owne spirit,” thereby imitating Ennius, the iconic father of Latin poetry, who claimed (in a fragment preserved by Lactantius) to have been instructed in dream that he was the Roman incarnation of Homer. 76 published) a God whom it pleased to take the form, in Scripture, of a copious and ever-renewing living discourse.128 Spenser and his early-modern English readership could believe in the living presence of their God in Scripture in a way they could not believe in Ennius’s incarnation of Homer. The Christian Humanist perspective concerning the nature of Scripture and of God’s living voice within Scripture was neither arcane nor even culturally marginal. The conception of a present and speaking God was promoted in vivid terms within Erasmus’s Paraclesis prefacing his culturally central 1516 Greek edition and Latin translation of the New Testament: “[T]hese writings bring you the living image of His holy mind and the speaking, healing, dying, rising Christ himself, and thus they render Him so fully present that you would see less if you gazed upon Him with your very eyes” (Paraclesis 108). Erasmus dissolves the distinction between God as speaking origin and Scripture as textual artifact. Instead of conceiving the divine utterance of Scripture as the textual remnant of an absent God fallen silent, Erasmus conceives Scripture as incarnation and living presence. If divine Author and divine text are conceived to be mutually participating, then the activity of acknowledgment and the successive revivals of mimetic recitation promoted within the poeticizing genre of Erasmian paraphrase establish a continuity and survival of the divine and living Word. It is thus possible, entirely within the realm of early-modern ideas, to conceive the divine Word investing the human author of interpretative intra-biblical fictions not only with literal inspiration but, thereby, with prophetic authority. 128 Erasmus’s defence of his choice to translate the Greek term Logos (of John 1.1) by the Latin term sermo (thus not “In the beginning was the word,” but “In the beginning was the discourse/speech/total oration”), and the enormous controversy this provoked, ensured that the humanist conception of God as copious (and even two-sided and conversational) discourse had entered the popular imagination. See Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle, Erasmus on Language and Method in Theology p. 25. 77 Implicit within Spenser’s works is the single participatory process of textual assimilation that serves as the foundation, within Humanist pedagogy, for both secular and scriptural imitation. This single participatory process of textual assimilation informs two distinct kinds of poetic inspiration in Spenser’s works just as it informs both secular interpretation and biblical exegesis in the works of the Christian Humanist grammarian. Both forms of poetic inspiration encountered in Spenser’s work combine interpretation and utterance.129 The first of these forms of poetic inspiration is an ostensibly metaphorical inspiration consisting in the participatory and productive assimilation of the auctorial poetic tradition. It is ostensibly metaphorical because there is no living source from which the auctorial speech and authority may be communicated. Spenser’s Colin Clout refers to Chaucer/Tityrus as the god of shepherds but for Spenser and his audience Chaucer’s is clearly a metaphorical godhead. The latter’s power to inspire is an intra-textual power that resides not within Chaucer/Tityrus’s literal and living divinity but within the human word. This auctorial poetic inspiration names a potential within the living author for the revivifying recital of the auctorial word. The second of these forms of poetic inspiration is an ostensibly literal inspiration consisting in the participatory, productive assimilation of the biblical text as incarnate Logos. It is ostensibly literal because it was possible for early-modern English Protestants to imagine the source of inspiration as a literal and living divinity. Spenser’s narrator within The Fowre Hymnes describes Sapience as a divine figure participating in the Christian godhead—a godhead that Spenser and the greater part of his contemporary audience take (or profess to take) literally. The power of Sapience to inspire Spenser’s narrator, however, is still intra-textual. The fact of 129 In the following discussion I adopt and adapt Guillory’s terminology. 78 Sapience’s literal divinity does not mean that the poet’s inspiration is extra-textual. On the contrary, in a godhead corresponding to the Christ-Logos there is no distinction between divine Author and divine utterance. In other words, neither Spenser’s Sapience nor the vision of Sapience need be conceived as extra-scriptural. The power to inspire resides within the divine Word which, unlike the memorial utterance represented by Guillory, is conceived as the living presence of the divine origin. As with auctorial poetic inspiration, divine inspiration occurs through the participatory assimilation of texts. The power of prophetic inspiration is still a potential (within the living author) for revivifying recital, but in this instance recital involves or is believed to involve participating in the living divinity of the Word. In view of the distinction between the human and the divine word, Spenser’s work appears to comprise two forms of poetic inspiration—metaphorical with respect to the assimilation of the human word, and literal with respect to the assimilation of the divine Word. Within his dialogue-form treatise The Antibarbarians, however, Erasmus employs the persona of Batt in proposing that, Everything in the pagan world that was valiantly done, brilliantly said, ingeniously thought, diligently transmitted, had been prepared by Christ for his society. He it was who supplied the intellect, who added the zest for inquiry, and it was through him alone that they found what they sought. Their age produced this harvest of creative work, not so much for them as for us. (60) Within the perspective of Erasmian Christian Humanism, the auctorial poetic tradition is considered as a providential dispensation of the living Logos. This enfolding of bonae litterae in the copious utterance of providence is consistent with the related Humanist idea that participatory textual assimilation is the basis of both secular and scriptural imitation and interpretation. Without any recourse to the Platonic idea of metempsychosis, early-modern Christian Humanist ideas thus made it possible for Spenser and his contemporary English 79 readership to imagine metaphorical inspiration (inspiration via the works of pagan auctores) enfolded in literal inspiration (inspiration via the living Logos) as the lesser within the greater vehicle of divine providence.130 “Of Muses… I Conne No skill”: An Uncouth Lover’s Lament Throughout his career Spenser insists that Eros is fit topic for an inspired poet in spite of its poor reputation in the common estimation of his English Reformation readership. For Richard Helgerson, however, it is largely as a result of Spenser’s predilection for amatory verse that the laureate attainment and authority he achieved over the course of his career remained precarious: Spenser’s idea of a poet was finally an unstable but necessary union of two ideas, embodied in two roles—shepherd and knight, Colin and Calidore—neither of which could be renounced in favor of the other. The first gained him a place in the genus poetae as it was understood by his generation. The second defined him as the unique English member of the species of professional national poets. (Self-Crowned Laureates 99-100) In this view, Spenser’s recognition as a poet depended upon the proving ground of pastoral amatory verse in spite of the latter remaining fundamentally irreconcilable with the more noble pursuit of heroic poetry. Unable to abandon the genre of amatory poetry Spenser appears to Helgerson to remain fettered to the normative and self-deprecating role of poet prodigal.131 Yet his career-long engagement in amatory verse does not suggest Spenser’s back-sliding into the 130 Guillory’s distinction between metaphorical and literal inspiration remains essential in distinguishing inspiration via acknowledgement, recitation and imitation from inspiration via metempsychosis (or other process of spirit-based possession or visitation). Metaphorical inspiration requires human industry—both long assimilative study and diligent cultivation of poetic craft. To the extent that this labour comprises participation in a logocentric providence, however, human industry becomes integral to the idea of literal, yet still text-based inspiration. Spenser is constantly enfolding the human word within the divine—rewriting secular narrative into, or rediscovering secular narrative as part of the divine textual horizon. Spenser’s prophetic poetics and its evangelistic aim of integrating bonae litterae within the revelatory horizon of Christian providence will be explored at length in the subsequent discussion of Spenser’s The Fowre Hymnes. 131 Patrick Cheney’s thesis in Spenser’s Famous Flight suggests that Spenser’s career demonstrates an intentional progression through the poetic genres and thereby tends to resolve the tension that Helgerson’s argument maintains. I return to Cheney in the discussion that follows. 80 degenerate set role of the poet prodigal so much as his commitment to transform the common, critical estimation of erotic verse. Both Spenser’s close friend and correspondent Gabriel Harvey and Spenser’s pseudonymous (and often artfully misleading) commentator E.K. suggest that truly inspired poetry and love poetry are mutually exclusive categories.132 According to Helgerson, Harvey “follows the accepted pattern [of the Elizabethan poet-prodigal], promising to abandon poetry for the more serious business of law” (“New Poet” 901) and even requests, in their private correspondence, that Spenser abandon amatory verse as well: “do, I repeat, bid farewell to nonsense and trifling songs of this kind” (qtd. in “New Poet” 910 n 25). In this same connection, Helgerson writes that according to E.K., “in losing his divine inspiration… the ancient Poet had degenerated into the modern amorous “maker” (“New Poet” 899).133 Examining passages within the December and October eclogues, Helgerson demonstrates that the Calender contains a “forceful critique of the conventional poet-lover, revealing that poetry written under such a guise is solipsistic, self-indulgent, and fruitless—that it leads inevitably to its own renunciation” (“New Poet” 899). The Calender does indeed contain a “forceful critique of the conventional poet-lover,” but the latter is staged as an ambivalent component within a larger argument concerning the value of erotic poetry. The bracketing of this critique is signaled by the unreliable testimony of its proponents within the Calender. Additionally, E.K.’s anti-erotic gloss on the 132 The identity of E.K. remains a matter of conjecture. In the introduction to The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, however, Thomas Cain acknowledges that “[t]he suggestion that E.K. is a Spenser persona has at least two bits of evidence in its favor: the translation of Cicero in the Maye gloss on ‘Tho with them’ is the same as in the first of Spenser’s ‘Three Proper Letters to Gabriel Harvey’ (1580); and the obvious mistake of ‘Persephone’ for Tisiphone in the ‘November’ gloss on ‘Furies’ is repeated in ‘Teares of the Muses’” (164). Cain also allows the possibility that “both [Spenser] and Harvey had some role in producing the glosses” (9). 133 E.K.’s gloss may not make as definitive a temporal leap from inspired antiquity to degenerate modernity as Helgerson implies. The temporal shift depends solely upon the term “afterwarde.” See October gloss 21. 81 “lighter matter of Poesie,” which represents the culturally commonplace (and negative) critical estimation of the poet prodigal, is appended to the October eclogue in which it is precisely the status or “weight” of poetry and its relative sources of enthusiasm that are at issue. One of the Calender’s clearest denunciations of love as an unsuitable source of poetic inspiration is made within an exchange between Cuddie and Pires, two characters in the October eclogue. Pires begins by extolling love’s virtue in relation to Colin’s poetry: … love does teach him climbe so hie, And lyftes him up out of the loathsome myre: Such immortall mirrhor, as he doth admire, Would rayse ones mynd above the starry skie.134 (91-94) To this Cuddie responds: “All otherwise the state of Poet stands, / For lordly love is such a Tyranne fell: / That where he rules, all power he doth expell” (97-99). Helgerson represents Cuddie’s response as “swiftly put[ting] down” Pires’s defence of love. Yet Cuddie’s witness against “lordly love” cannot be trusted, for it is immediately followed by a laughably impotent boast and set within a rambling argument that thoroughly undercuts itself. Setting epic over and against pastoral, Cuddie characterizes “vaunted verse” (presumably the high poetic genre of epic) as “compass[ing] weightye prise” and comprising “throndring words of threate” (100, 103, 104). He then goes on to declare that the composition of such verse “a vacant head demaundes” driven by drunkenness—for “when with Wine the braine begins to sweate, / The nombers flowe as fast as spring doth ryse” (100, 107-8). In addition to the ironic derision suggested by Cuddie’s “vacant head,” the theory that “Bacchus fruite is frend to Phoebus wise” (106) is inevitably suspect, particularly with respect to an English Protestant readership. A vacant head, absent of both learning and poetic design, is only what is required if 134 Spenser’s spelling of Piers’s name continually alternates and I have preserved these alternate spellings. 82 poetry literally depends upon the visitation of an inspiring spirit. By designating “Bacchus fruite” (wine) as the particular spirit that might inspire him, however, Cuddie takes the metaphorical idea of (Appolonian) inspiration by metempsychosis and makes it both literal and laughably material. As though to confirm the untrustworthiness of Cuddie’s judgment, the latter goes on first to boast: “Thou kenst not Percie howe the ryme should rage. / O if my temples were distaind with wine, / And girt in girlonds of wild Yuie twine” (109-11), before admitting in the very next stanza, “But ah my corage cooles ere it be warme” (115). The admission of poetic impotence, in the absence of wine and wild ivy, essentially condemns Cuddie’s reliance upon “Bacchus” to the very charge he had laid against “lordly love”: “where he rules, all power he doth expell” (99). The “forceful critique of the conventional poet-lover” is thus thoroughly disarmed by the speech within which it is entangled. Spenser’s Calender stages a critique of the conventional poet-lover represented by Colin only to place this critique on trial by setting up a Bacchic straw-man alternative and finding the latter lacking. The poetic persona of Colin Clout begins in the January eclogue by breaking his “pype” (spurred by erotic frustration) and ends in the December eclogue by growing weary and hanging up his pipe. As Helgerson notes, the return of renunciation at the end of the cycle appears to condemn the endeavours of the poet-lover to a limbo of plaintive futility: “Before he loved, Colin had sung the praises of the shepherds’ god, Pan, and of the queen, Eliza. With love’s fading, his verse once again achieves something like disinterested exaltation in the visionary elegy for Dido. But under love’s influence, he can manage only melodious self-pity” (“New Poet” 899). This reading squares with Colin’s dismal view, in the December eclogue, “of all my harvest hope I have / Nought reaped but a weedye crop of care” (121-2). It also squares with 83 Colin’s complaint to Hobbinol, which appears at the close of the November eclogue, of his loss of poetic ambition following the loss of his faithless love Rosalind. The problem with the concordance between the denunciation of love as unfit matter for anything like the exaltation of “vaunted verse” and Colin’s complaints, however, is that Colin’s testimony appears to be every bit as misleading as that of Cuddie. Colin’s complaint to Hobbinol is disingenuous in the extreme: Of Muses Hobbinol, I conne no skill For they bene daughters of the hyghest Jove, And holden scorne of homely shepheards quill:… I play to please my selfe, all be it ill. Nought weigh I, who my song doth prayse or blame, Ne strive to winne renowne, or passe the rest With shepheard sittes not, followe flying fame: … The God of shepheards Tityrus is dead, Who taught me homely, as I can, to make. He, whilst he lived, was the soveraigne head Of shepheards all, that bene with love ytake: Well couth he wayle hys Woes, and lightly slake The flames, which love within his heart had bredd, … Now dead he is, and lyeth wrapt in lead, … And all hys passing skil with him is fledde, The fame whereof doth dayly greater growe. (June 65-91) This deeply ironic speech of Colin’s points up the errors in the boastful speech made by Cuddie. If Cuddie declares that “vaunted verse” a “vacant head demaundes,” Colin (as a transparent and comic Spenserian persona) displays a head full to overflowing with copious and accurate knowledge of the poetic tradition.135 Colin’s speech proceeds according to a pattern of systematic contradiction. The editors of the Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser gloss 135 This example bears out Guillory’s argument that Spenser conceives the idea of inspiration in the metaphorical sense: the authority of auctorial inspiration is created through acknowledgement/recitation/imitation of auctorial texts which follows upon assimilation and mastery of the material assimilated. 84 “conne no skill” as “know nothing.” Colin claims to know nothing of the muses before proceeding to name them the daughters of Jove (Zeus) and to acknowledge the scorn in which they hold shepherds thereby suggesting his ready and jesting familiarity with the invocation to the Theogony: “And once they [i.e., the muses, daughters of Zeus] taught Hesiod fine singing, as he tended his lambs below holy Helicon” (3). Colin’s claim that the muses holden scorne of homely shepheards quill” is an artful jumbling of the Hesiodic muses’ scorn-filled conferral of poetic inspiration upon “Shepherds that camp in the wild, disgraces, merest bellies” (Hesiod 3). For good measure, Colin also denies having aspired to “Parnasse hill” (June 70), thereby referencing his “ignorance” of an alternative to Hesiod’s tradition of the muses—an alternative tradition found in Ovid and Plutarch among others, in which the muses have their home not on “holy Helicon” but on Mt. Parnassus. Claiming to “play” for his own ears only, Colin denies striving to “winne renowne, or passe the rest,” insisting that it is not proper (“sittes not”) for a shepherd to pursue “flying fame.” The irony here is that in that first shepherd-poet’s other extant work, the Works and Days, is related a story of Hesiod’s participation in a poetry competition at Chalcis in Euboea, “where I may say that I was victorious in poetry and won a tripod with ring handles” (56). Colin is advancing a poetic argument (via ironic example) against the idea that exalted verse—possessing anything like the divine inspiration E.K. attributes to the ancient Poet—might ever be the work of a vacant head. Colin claims ignorance while demonstrating (either his own or Spenser’s) knowledge of the traditions surrounding the muses as daughters of Zeus/Jove and their relation to the renowned and victorious poet-shepherd Hesiod. Then, having first made the claim to give no consideration to the rules of epideictic poetry—“Nought weigh I, who my song doth prayse or 85 blame”—Colin proceeds to praise Chaucer (under the Virgilian persona of Tityrus).136 Helgerson claims that under love’s crippling influence Colin “can manage only melodious self-pity,” yet here he is, in his diminished, love-lorn capacity, praising Chaucer not only as a shepherd in line with those other inspired shepherds of surpassing skill (Hesiod and Virgil/Tityrus) but as the very “God of shepheards” whose Orphic skill so great that “some little drops” thereof would impart to Colin the power to “learne these woods, to wayle my woe, / And teache the trees, their trickling teares to shedde” (June 93, 95-96). Indeed, with such skill, Colin—again giving no thought to “who [his] song doth prayse or blame”—imagines his “plaints” would “Flye to my love, where ever that she bee, / And pierce her heart with poynt of worthy wight” (June 97, 98-99). That is, through the effective affective force proper to epideictic poetry Rosalind would be moved to condemn her own mistreatment of Colin.137 The final and perhaps most significant detail that argues against the reader’s unqualified acceptance of Cuddie and Colin’s rejection of love as an adequately exalted source of poetic material and inspiration138 is the fact that Tityrus is described as “soveraigne head / Of shepheards all, that bene with love ytake” (June 83-84). In other words, Colin has learned his poetic skill from the English God of inspired poet-shepherds whose sovereignty pertains 136 Spenser here makes indirect and ironic reference to the close association of poetry with epideictic rhetoric (the rhetoric of praise and blame). As Alastair Minnis points out, in Averroe’s influential “Middle Commentary on the Poetics” (translated by Hermann the German in 1256), the “very first comment on poetry… is the firm declaration, ‘Aristotle says: Every poem, and all poetic utterance, is either praise or blame’” (282). 137 Even while referring to wished-for literal inspiration by “some little drops” of Chaucer, the god of shepherds’ skill, Spenser demonstrates the assimilative (laboriously text-based) nature of Colin’s and/or Spenser’s (metaphorically) inspired verse. 138 These eclogues make constant sport with the notion of inspiration. Pires’ statement that “love does teach him climbe so hie,” like Cuddie’s use of Bacchus, suggests literal inspiration by an active divinity (whom Cuddie then denounces as a “Tyranne fell.” Spenser’s references, via Colin, to the origins and original writings of the pastoral tradition as well as the inclusion of Chaucer’s works within this tradition (Chaucer being named god of love-lorn Shepherds) make clear that if “love” teaches Colin (or Spenser himself) to climbe, this exalted and exalting teaching (or metaphorical inspiration) comes via the author’s assimilation of the textual tradition. 86 specifically to the domain of the lover’s complaint. However much he protests his ignorance, it is precisely within the divine domain and exalted lineage of Hesiod, Virgil, and Chaucer (styled love-poets) that Colin professes and proves himself to be “pyping lowe in shade of lowly grove” (June 71). Helgerson characterizes Spenser at this stage in his career as “burdened with his poetic gift, unwilling to waste it, not knowing how to use it” (“New Poet” 901). The judgment is likely sound considering Spenser’s middling social and economic status, the poor contemporary estimation of poets and poetry, and the relative scarcity of patrons. What the above analysis suggests, however, is that Spenser knew enough to use his poetic gift to mount an artfully contrary argument for the persistence from antiquity of a tradition of inspired and properly inspiring poetry which extended through Chaucer (in whom it was in no way diminished, but amplified) to himself. Spenser also knew to locate his argument in the lowly valleys beneath Helicon and Parnassus in such a way as to stress the traditionally divine and generically inaugural character of pastoral while insisting upon the nobility, within this pastoral tradition, of amatory verse. By repeating the critique and tracing the commonly imagined contour of poetry’s degenerate contemporary form within the Calender itself, Spenser creates ironic distance between the critique and his own poetry. In staging both a renunciation of poetry and a mock depreciation of amatory verse within the pastoral genre that signaled the beginning of a Virgilian career, Spenser announces his intention to dramatically exceed the limiting contours of contemporary poetry. Spenser situates the contemporary critique of poetry (and poet-prodigals), which the Calender parodies and exploits, beneath his manipulation of the “low” style and subject matter of inspired pastoral in the tradition of Hesiod, Virgil and Chaucer. Through 87 Chaucer’s divinization as the god of love-poet shepherds, Spenser further exalts amatory verse, insisting that the specifically amatory tradition of pastoral is invested with the power of auctorial inspiration. Colin’s inspiration is that of the Calender as a whole: it is of a piece with the humanists’ transformative process of assimilative participation and participatory renewal. Through the ironic protestations of ignorance within his cornucopian song of origins in the October eclogue, Colin bears witness to Spenser’s participation in and renewal of the auctorial and amatory poetic tradition. Love and Stately Service Spenser’s use of enfolding or nesting structures throughout his works allows lower, common, secular, and worldly objects (and even genres) to be assimilated within and/or justified by higher, regal, sacred, and divine objects. At the same time, his Reformation ideal of chaste marriage allows Spenser to use Eros in order to overturn hierarchies of objects, genres and poetic conventions as he playfully arranges them within the transformative web of his epideictic song. In Spenser’s Famous Flight, Patrick Cheney traces the arc of Spenser’s career as follows: “After publishing a pastoral in 1579, three books of an epic in 1590, a volume of love lyrics in 1595, and three more books of an epic in 1596, the New Poet reinvents the Virgilian Wheel a last time by inserting the hymn as the final spoke” (195). As Helgerson notes, it was this Virgilian “model that offered [Spenser] his best hope of escape from the constricting Elizabethan pattern of a poetic career [as amateur prodigal],” particularly given that “for the gentleman, the profession of letters, as a gagne-pain, did not yet exist” (“New Poet” 900-903). The Virgilian Wheel, consisting of the progression from pastoral (Virgil’s Eclogues) to didactic (the Georgics) 88 to epic (the Aeneid),139 was habitually collapsed by Renaissance authors and critics into the basic progression from pastoral to epic and was a career pattern strongly associated with laureate ambition amongst sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English poets.140 In Spenser’s case, the model underwent substantial revision amounting to a type of Christian, and more specifically Augustinian, conversion of the Virgilian career. Cheney identifies two classes of poetic model that exerted significant influence upon Renaissance poets and which Spenser uniquely combined in producing a coherent synthesis of classical and Christian elements that Cheney terms Spenser’s “Orphic idea of a literary career” (Famous Flight 6). On one side of this synthesis are the Virgilian, Ovidian and Augustinian generically exclusive “careeric” models: If the Renaissance Virgilian model displays the poet’s turn from pastoral to epic to complete a courtly career successfully, the Ovidian model presents the poet’s writing of love poetry as a hapless interruption to that career. By contrast, the Augustinian model emphasizes the poet’s need to end such a career by turning from youthful, courtly, erotic poetry to aged, contemplative, divine poetry… [These] models constitute competing choices for the contour of the Renaissance poet’s career, they also ensure the valuation of four genres central to the Renaissance hierarchy of genres: pastoral, epic, love lyric, and divine poem or hymn. (Famous Flight 5-6) In all three models, Virgilian, Ovidian, and Augustinian, the writing of love-poetry is accorded an episodic place within an evolutionary narrative that represents it in negative terms. On the other side of Spenser’s careeric synthesis are the generically inclusive “hierarchical” models originating in treatises by humanist literary critics such as Julius Caesar Scaliger and George 139 While insistently drawing attention to the Virgilian model informing his work, Spenser deviates from it by moving directly from pastoral to epic and leaving out the stage of Georgic or didactic poetry unless, as Richard Neuse has argued in “Milton and Spenser: The Virgilian Triad Revisited,” both the Epithalamium and the first three books of The Faerie Queene constitute a type of Georgic transition. 140 With regards to Spenser’s adoption and adaptation of the Virgilian model, see Helgerson’s Self Crowned Laureates, pp. 21-100. 89 Puttenham and providing “an inclusive, encyclopaedically arranged generic map for wide formal experimentation” (Famous Flight 6). The humanist critics might share the dismissive regard of their auctores for amatory verse, but they were nevertheless able to turn the latter (via the rules of epideictic rhetoric) to good effect in teaching virtue through the illumination of blameworthy action and its motivations. Cheney’s conception of Spenser’s Orphic career model is derived primarily from the October eclogue of The Shepheardes Calender (Famous Flight 27). The October eclogue, as we have already seen, presents a dialogue between Piers and Cuddie concerning the historical and contemporary estimation and practice of poetry. In the course of their discussion, Cuddie’s plaintive representations reflect the amateur prodigal’s conception of poetry as a trifling occupation fueled by wine (“Bacchus’ Fruit”) and ultimately committed to indolence: “But ah, my Courage cools ere it be warm, / For-thy content us in this humble Shade: / Where no such troublous Tides han us assaid” (October 115-117). In his intermittent and self-indulgent pursuit of poetry, Cuddie appears both restrained by and complacent in the poor contemporary estimation of “the state of poet.” Piers, for his part, proposes a far more ambitious and “troublous” (in the sense of a dolorous or pains-taking) poetic program. Providing an alternative to Helgerson’s suggestion that, at the time of the Calender’s composition, Spenser was “burdened with his poetic gift, unwilling to waste it, not knowing how to use it,” Cheney reads “Piers’s career program as a projected solution … [to] an actual career problem faced by the New Poet in the late 1570s” (“New Poet” 901; Famous Flight 30). In Cheney’s reading, Piers vocalizes what is essentially a prophetic moment of careeric self-fashioning on Spenser’s part. Cheney provides the following rough outline of the poetic program 90 that Piers suggests to Cuddie and the relation of this program to Spenser’s actual poetic production: Piers follows Virgil in beginning with the pastoral, but he evidently ousts the georgic (in keeping with Renaissance practice…), moves the epic into the second position, adds love poetry, and concludes with the hymn. Remarkably, Piers’s program looks like the actual publication record of the four main works that end up ordering Spenser’s career. The ‘lowly dust’ of pastoral corresponds to the 1579 Calendar; the ‘awful crowne’ of epic, to the 1590-6 Faerie Queene; the ‘love and lustihead’ of lyric to the 1595 volume bridging the two instalments of the epic, Amoretti and Epithalamion; and the ‘heaven[ly]’ flight of hymn, to the 1596 Fowre Hymnes. (Famous Flight 30-31) Cheney’s identification of the general parallels between Piers’s career program and the chronology of Spenser’s major publications suggests the intentional—or, at the very least, self-conscious—nature of Spenser’s deviations from established careeric patterns. In their appropriative rearrangement Spenser appears to treat these genre-structuring career models much like any other element of an auctore’s work subject to Renaissance practices of imitation. In a radical departure from the Virgilian career model—equally departing from the Augustinian and Ovidian models—Spenser advances from pastoral to epic only to interrupt the latter stately service (after publishing the first three books of The Faerie Queene) with the publication in 1595 of Amoretti and Epithalamion. As Cheney notes, Piers draws attention to the renewal or energizing force of the love lyric to uplift the poet in his ultimately heavenward generic ascent. Piers (and Spenser, through Piers) insists upon a clear return to amatory verse after the “stubborne stroke of [the] stronger stounds” of epic. One may question, however, to what extent and in what respect Spenser’s epic itself may be distinguished from amatory verse. As Andrew Hadfield notes, The Faerie Queene is dedicated to a virgin queen, but the thrust of its narrative is towards marriage and reproduction as the desirable goals of life…. The opening line of The Faerie Queene is a stark, even coarse, reminder of sexual desires and 91 needs… (255) The first instalment of the poem ends with… Britomart staring at Scudamore and Amoret, the lovers she has helped to unite, as they combine to create a hermaphroditic form (Life 262) Spenser’s epic, the “stubborne stroke of stronger stounds” notwithstanding, is very much concerned with love and its (most often failed) approach through limited virtues. Furthermore, in Spenser’s Shepherd’s Calender the genre of pastoral is epitomized by Colin’s description of Chaucer: as Chaucer is the god, so pastoral is the poetry “Of shepheards all, that bene with love ytake” (84; my emphasis). As Elizabeth Biemann notes, “Spenser presents himself consistently as the poet of love – even when his topoi are more apparently aesthetic, social and political, or cosmological” (152). Piers significantly claims that Eros may transport the poet heavenward. What Piers is not given to understand (or communicate), however, is that when Spenser turns from the higher genre of epic to the lower genre of love lyric he will also be turning from the topic of love imperfectly attained—by a cast of knights representing partial virtues—to the kindred yet more elevated topic of mutual love fulfilled. When Spenser interrupted the epic Faerie Queene with the publication of the amatory lyric sequences Amoretti and Epithalamion, he was ostensibly turning from “bloody Mars” to “love and lustihead” and following the program suggested by Piers to Cuddie within the October eclogue of the Shepherd’s Calendar. This might well have seemed a significant step down, for a readership versed in the Renaissance hierarchy of genres: from the stately service of epic to morally ambivalent amatory malingering. Indeed, Spenser seems to toy dismissively with this very assumption of generic rank in Sonnet 80 of the Amoretti cycle when he begs rest from his epic endeavour, “After so long a race as I have run / Through Faery land” (648). Spenser proceeds to ask that, until he be again “refreshed,” he be “give[n] leave … in pleasant mew, / to sport my muse and sing my loves sweet praise: / the contemplation of whose heavenly hew, / my 92 spirit to an higher pitch will rayse” (648-9). The “mew,” as Cheney points out, was the cage in which trained hawks were kept while moulting. Thus, the love lyric as mew is that cage in which “[t]emporarily grounded, the hawk can develop wings essential to its high soaring mission” (Famous Flight 152). Cheney rightly argues that Spenser is here representing the love lyric as a space in which he can refresh his energies and develop wings for futher poetic flight. And yet, while Spenser has made it clear that he will be returning to the “strong endevour” (656) of epic, he has not, in fact, likened that endeavour to poetic flight. The way in which Spenser’s verse is threaded into Cheney’s own phrasing concerning the poet’s mission obscures a curious ambivalence in Spenser’s sonnet. Cheney writes that “[b]y perceiving his beloved’s ‘heavenly hew’ in the love lyric, [Spenser] can ‘rayse’ his ‘spirit’ to the ‘higher pitch’ of epic” (Famous Flight 152). The love lyric renews Spenser’s energies for the future “strong endevour and attention dew” to epic, but in fact Spenser does not seem to represent either the “higher pitch” or the poet’s winged flight as belonging to epic. The love lyric as mew prepares the poet for flight, yet the first half of Sonnet 80 describes the poet’s work on the Faerie Queene as the long race he has “run” (648). The metaphor Spenser employs to characterize himself as epic maker is that of a steed, and a steed runs on the ground. The significant contrast of avian and equine metaphors in Sonnet 80 operates a surprising inversion of the traditional hierarchy of love lyric and epic genres. The contrast between earth-bound epic and soaring amatory lyric is unexpected, curious, and begs explanation. But this first hierarchical inversion is followed by another considerably more jarring. In the same sonnet’s closing couplet, Spenser actually draws attention to the preceding lines’ potential to slight both his stately service and his sovereign. With marked disingenuousness, Spenser qualifies his reference to the “heavenly hew” of the “love” for whom he sings—“But let her prayses yet be 93 low and meane, / fit for the handmayd of the Faery Queene” (649). Somewhat incautiously signalling the threat that his sovereign’s jealousy could pose, Spenser requests (of his muse?) that the glory of his own Elizabeth’s “prayses” be lowered, indeed that they be “low and meane.” The reader is left to surmise that such “low and meane” estimation is “fit” for the “handmayd of the Faery Queen,” not as her own fair appraisal but because such poor estimation is pleasing to the Queen herself. The upshot here is that “low and meane” seem rather fitly said of a sovereign who might be jealous of her handmayd’s praise.141 By this reading, the love lyric lifts the poet’s “spirit to an higher pitch” from which he then feels compelled to lower his song out of consideration for the petty jealousy of his patronizing “Faery Queene” (649). Sonnet 85 repeats the idea that envy poses a threat to the poet’s love but it introduces a further development. Beginning with a meditation upon the ignorance of “[t]he world that cannot deeme of worthy things” the poet proceeds into a revelation of the true estimation of his love: “Deepe in the closet of my parts entyre, / her worth is written with a golden quill: / that me with heavenly fury doth inspire, / and my glad mouth with her sweet prayses fill” (651-2). The final couplet of Sonnet 85 then appears to respond to the poet’s earlier and potentially insincere request (in Sonnet 80) that his love’s praise “yet be low and meane,” by positing a future time “when as fame in her shrill trump shal thunder, / let the world chose to envy or to wonder” (652). The fame the poet speaks of is that ensured for his beloved by his own poetic praise anticipated as the “thunder” of fame’s “shrill trump.” Indeed, this praise of his beloved rather than the labours of the Faery Queen, would appear to correspond to the “higher pitch” to which love raises the poet’s spirit in the October eclogue. This is not the “higher pitch” that heralds the 141 The reality of this threat is well attested in the remarkable fall from grace of Sir Walter Raleigh. 94 poet’s return to the land-hugging toilsome race of epic, but the higher pitch that heralds the poet’s soaring flight in Epithalamion when all threats are passed and the day of Spenser and Elizabeth Boyle’s marriage is upon them. When Spenser challenges the contemporary diminishing of amatory verse he also challenges Petrarchan conventions. As Alexander Dunlop notes in his introduction to the Amoretti cycle: “[t]he fundamental Petrarchan tension is ultimately between a God-centered and a self-centered universe. The only resolution is renunciation of one of those centers” (“Amoretti” 586). Seeming to conform to this basic Petrarchan pattern, the opening sonnet of the Epithalamion foregrounds the poet-narrator’s self-centered desires with Spenser asking of the muses (“Ye learned sisters”): Helpe me mine owne loves prayses to resound Ne let the same of any be envide, So Orpheus did for his owne bride, So I unto my selfe alone will sing, The woods shall to me answer and my Eccho ring. (14-18) Spenser here employs the model of Orpheus to describe the manner in which he wishes his “owne loves prayses to resound.” Through its repetition of first person pronouns the sonnet indicates its self-centred focus. There is, however, a certain calculated degree of irony in Spenser’s adoption of Orpheus as his model. On the one hand, Spenser’s interruption of epic is a “powerful Orphic resolution to the Protestant poet’s problem” represented by “the problematic role of the love lyric in a laureate career” (Cheney, Famous Flight 188). Spenser is, after all, using “Orpheus’ song for Eurydice as precedent for his own song for Elizabeth” (Cheney, Famous Flight 188). On the other hand, in “Virgil’s Gnat,” Spenser portrays Orpheus as carrying the blame for Eurydice’s continued Stygian imprisonment: “But cruell Orpheus… / Seeking to 95 kisse her, brok’st the Gods decree, / And thereby mad’st her ever damn’d to be” (470-472). Spenser imitates to overgo, and this applies even to the mythic Orpheus. Spenser is more careful than both his Orphic and Petrarchan models. By singing “unto my selfe alone,” he removes himself from the company of his Eurydice and thereby removes the threat that precipitous love poses to their union in view of God’s decree. Having sung his love in perfected imitation of Orpheus so as to safely convey both himself and his beloved to the gates that will release them into new life together, Spenser is poised to overgo Petrarch as well: Open the temple gates unto my love, Open them wide that she may enter in, … … this Saynt with honour dew, ... Bring her up to th’high altar that she may The sacred cermonies there partake, The which do endlesse matrimony make[.] (204-217) When Spenser sings and celebrates his desire, he takes care that this song participates in the greater music which altogether plays “[t]he praises of the Lord.” Spenser’s Epithalamion thus celebrates an ideal of divinely sanctioned marriage that resolves the Petrarchan tensions between worldly and spiritual good, between self-centred and God-centred experience, and between pagan and Christian poetry. Spenser’s Epithalamion dismantles the traditional opposition between erotic love for something merely mortal142 and faithful devotion to God. Indeed, Spenser insists upon his earthly marriage and also his Epithalamion as themselves constituting a celebration of God: And let the roring Organs loudly play The praises of the Lord in lively notes, The whiles with hollow throates The choristers the joyous Antheme sing, That al the woods may answere and their eccho ring. (218-22) 142 In the final sonnet of the Canzoniere cycle Petrarch laments “those past times / I spent in loving something which was mortal” (see below). 96 The integration and enfolding of Spenser’s marriage within the sacred ceremonies of the Church is paralleled by the integration and enfolding of the sonnet cycle within the liturgical calendar143 and (via corrective imitation) of Orpheus in Christian song. These Spenserian gestures of enfoldment can hardly be called Erasmian strategies. They are, however, consistent with the pronounced inclination of Erasmian Humanism to conserve all that is good and beautiful under the auspices of providence and in doing so to provide a Christological justification for the celebration of their harvest.144 The harvest represented in Spenser’s Epithalamion performs a double office of personal celebration and public instruction. The turn from The Faerie Queene to Amoretti and Epithalamion is not only a turn away from epic to lyric. It is also a turn from one Elizabeth (Crown Regent) to another (Spenser’s betrothed), and from the ground-hugging race of indentured servitude to free soaring and culturally transformative personal celebration. As The Faerie Queene insists upon reminding Queen Elizabeth of her failure to attain the Reformation ideal of married chastity, so Spenser’s celebration of his own achievement of the same serves as further instructive rebuke. In Epithalamion, as Hadfield notes, Spenser goes so far as to depict the queen, in the figure of Cynthia, “looking into his bedroom on his wedding night… staring in 143Alexander Dunlop, Alastair Fowler and Kent Hieatt have traced out numerological connections between the Amoretti and Epithalamion sonnet cycles and the liturgical calendar for 1594, the year of Spenser’s marriage to Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle. The essential anchoring points are Sonnet 22 corresponding to Ash Wednesday (13 February 1594), Sonnet 62 corresponding to New Years day (25 March 1594), and Sonnet 68 corresponding to Easter (31 March 1594). Anne Lake Prescott further notes that “the 89 sonnets of the Amoretti sequence “are equal in number to the 89 readings provided by the Prayer Book for the Sundays and holy days of the ecclesiastical year” (87). 144 This is the inclination exemplified most clearly by Erasmus’s work The Antibarbarians. Erasmus’s conception of the dispensation of Christ’s providence includes not only great works, but the faculties by which they were accomplished and the desire that motivated the pursuit of that accomplishment: “Everything… valiantly done, brilliantly said, ingeniously thought, diligently transmitted… prepared by Christ… who supplied the intellect, [and] zest for inquiry…” (60). 97 jealousy at her subjects” (Life 306). Hadfield’s reading of Spenser’s approach to sexuality in The Faerie Queene—“that Holiness… far from being the apex of Christian virtue, is a first stage only, something that has to be… fleshed out” (Life 260; my emphasis)145—accords well with that of Elizabeth Biemann: Spenser’s poetry of personal love, like the love theory he develops in the hymns, demonstrates his conviction that sexual appetite in the early experience of the developing soul must not be hastily repudiated. That which begins therein, ‘below,’ may ultimately prove through healthy growth the currency of salvation for the whole. (152) Eros properly attained transports the poet heavenward. At the same time, the love lyric—with its lighter notes figuring Spenser’s personal achievement of the “Reformation ideal of marriage”—serves as yet another instructive exemplar for queen and country (Hadfield, Life 261).146 Elizabeth may be Cynthia—the imperial moon of Faery land—watching over and jealously guarding her subjects, but Spenser is the orient star guiding them all towards cultural integration and erotic fulfillment.147 145 I have taken liberty with Hadfield’s phrase, but only so as to tailor it to the larger argument he is making. 146 Hadfield characterizes the lesson given in the following terms: “marriage in relation to Holiness (as) … answer to the question Aristotle poses of how one should live one’s life” (Life 259). Hadfield is referring to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics pp. 4-6. 147 For Cynthia as imperial moon I am again drawing upon Hadfield’s discussion in Edmund Spenser: A Life (306). 98 Chapter 3 Spenser’s The Fowre Hymnes Classicizing Exegetical Poetry The Fowre Hymnes (1596) is one of Spenser’s last published and most ambitious works. In view of the (pseudo-Aristotelian) received wisdom that “all poetic utterance, is either praise or blame” of more and less noble objects, it was possible in Spenser’s day to conceive the nobility of a poetic work according to its contemplative proximity to God as the ultimate object of praise. On such terms, The Fowre Hymnes, with the vision of heavenly Sapience at its zenith, represents the crowning achievement of Spenser’s career. The Shepheard’s Calender had introduced Spenser as the “New Poet” and one meriting his place in auctorial company. The Fowre Hymnes, in its turn, sought to establish Spenser as English poet-divine and one meriting comparison with those poets, as Sidney writes, “chief, both in antiquity and excellency, [who] did imitate the inconceivable excellencies of God.” In composing The Fowre Hymnes, Spenser was not only ensuring that Christianity was “adorned and supported by the finest studies” (Antibarbarians 60), he was fulfilling the mythical office idealized by Erasmus and other Christian Humanists, the office of a poet-theologian like those “[i]n ancient times [when] poets and theologians were held to be the same people…” (Antibarbarians 74). With The Fowre Hymnes Spenser appears to heed the exhortation in Sidney’s Defence, calling for English poets to direct their literary gifts towards the pursuit of divine praise. Whereas Sidney had restricted his divine making to biblical translation, however, Spenser embraces the “inconceivable excellencies of God” and the “mysteries of the faith” as falling within his poet’s purview. In The Fowre Hymnes Spenser is quite literally “singing the praises of the immortal 99 beauty, the immortal goodness of that God who giveth us hands to write, and wits to conceive” while turning his eyes to the providential supply of the classical Eros tradition for the “new budding occasions” of his divine song (Defence 113). Both the practice of converting pagan learning and eloquence to Christian purpose and the legitimation of this practice mounted back at least as far as Augustine and Jerome. The Fowre Hymnes’ uninhibitedly programmatic pursuit of this practice, however, is suggestive of Erasmus’s totalizing pronouncement (via Batt) in The Antibarbarians that “[e]verything in the pagan world that was valiantly done, brilliantly said, ingeniously thought, diligently transmitted, had been prepared by Christ for his society” (60; my emphasis). In conceiving the tradition of bonae litterae as a dispensation of providence, Erasmus and other Christian humanists lent a general Christian validity to pagan culture, the specifics of which simply awaited able interpreters. In addition to conceptually christening pagan literary culture, Erasmus had opened the gates of theology to the poet’s tribe with an exegetical method that accorded definitive authority to the philological and rhetorical learning of the grammarian. In a private letter to Antoon Van Bergen, Erasmus declares it “utter madness… even to put a finger on that part of theology which is specially concerned with the mysteries of the faith unless one is furnished with the equipment of Greek as well since… no one ignorant of that language could grasp even the primary, or, as our theologians call it, literal, meaning”148 (Letters 142-297 25). To begin to understand the mysteries of the New Testament, in Erasmus’s view, exegetes required considerably more than a working knowledge of and proficiency in koine or common Greek. The grammarian’s 148 The letter is n.149, “To Antoon Van Bergen” (1501). 100 interpretative method, which Erasmus both practiced and propounded, involved approaching the Bible as one would any “literary” text. To properly approach the mysteries of the faith, one needed abundant experience of the poetic language and rhetorical strategies that the biblical authors bring to bear on their elevated subject, and for that one needed to be steeped in the ancient poets.149 In exhorting his readers to humanist study, Erasmus proposes that everything of value in antiquity should be considered a providential dispensation of Christ. Similarly, in exhorting English poets to Christian employment, Sidney proposes that all created things provide occasion for divine praise: “we could turn our eyes to nothing, but we should ever have new budding occasions” (Defence 113). The Fowre Hymnes remains conceptually consistent with the tenor and scope of Erasmus and Sidney’s exhortations in its Christian appropriation of classical and pagan material. Spenser, however, does not appear to share either Erasmus or Sidney’s view of poetry’s limited role in relation to Scripture. 150 When Erasmus opened the gates of theology to the poet, he welcomed the latter only as an interpreter. Erasmus’s exegetical method treated the Bible as literature but bonae and sacrae litterae remained clearly distinguished within the act of interpretation, and proper interpretation remained the final goal.151 For Spenser, the capacity for able scriptural interpretation fostered by 149 It might be assumed that beyond the exegete’s necessary knowledge of Koine or common Greek (the Greek represented by the New Testament itself), knowledge of classical Greek would be of little consequence. For Erasmus, however, the language of the New Testament is in tension with that of the classical world from which it draws ideas and idioms and from which even its accidental departures may be significant. 150 Erasmus’s forays into what might be termed divine poetry are almost all limited to the genre of scriptural paraphrase. The one great exception to this rule is Erasmus’s Moriae encomium (The Praise of Folly). The relation of Erasmus’s ventriloquism of Dame Folly to his use of a fictional narrating voice in biblical paraphrase is explored in Mark Vessey’s “The Tongue and the Book: Erasmus’ Paraphrases on the New Testament and the Arts of Scripture.” 151 As an unusual exception to the clear distinction Erasmus maintained between bonae and sacrae litterae, Mark Vessey has described Erasmus’s curious use of a Virgilian intertext in his paraphrase of the Lucan gospel. See Vessey’s “Interpretation in Erasmus’s Annotations on Luke.” 101 a formation in bonae litterae and the classical languages is not only propaedeutic to the higher employment of theology. For Spenser, contrary to Erasmus, this same classically cultivated capacity for scriptural interpretation is propaedeutic to the inspired creative work of a theologically profitable poetry. The Fowre Hymnes presents itself as both a work of Christian Humanist erudition and divinely inspired poetry. In its first pair of hymns to love and beauty, The Fowre Hymnes provides a compendious distillation of the mythologizing poetry of love and beauty through the persona of a benighted pagan narrator. In its second pair of hymns to heavenly love and heavenly beauty, The Fowre Hymnes provides a meditation upon Christian archetypes of love and beauty through the persona of a devout Christian contemplative. The entire work is prefaced by a dedication announcing the author’s intention that the second pair of heavenly (and Christian) hymns act as a retraction of the first pair of worldly (and pagan) hymns. In the artificial rationale of the dedication, the heavenly hymns are later compositions benefitting from the spiritual maturity and wisdom of the poet’s advancing years while the worldly hymns suffer from the blameworthy imperfections of the poet’s earlier youthful ignorance. The artifice of retraction within the dedication of The Fowre Hymnes provides a formal mechanism for binding the work’s two pairs of hymns together as though they were the mirroring productions of one and the same narrator in two phases of life.152 The narrative perspective represented within the second pair of heavenly hymns naturally corrects that of the first. Within this process of correction, however, the heavenly hymns also weave a host of 152 The retraction is artificial by design. No reader is likely to be convinced, or to imagine he or she is meant to be convinced, that Spenser’s youth was shrouded in pagan ignorance. To the extent that any identity may be preserved between the poet-narrator of the worldly hymns and that of the heavenly hymns, it must be as a sort of Humanist’s poet-everyman—an everyman whose history represents the evolutionary development of the species (that of poet) as a whole. 102 significant pagan motifs from the earthly hymns into the scriptural narratives they represent. Indeed, The Fowre Hymnes programmatically develops pagan motifs in ways that suggest hitherto “inconceivable excellencies” and “mysteries of the [Christian] faith” (Defence 86; Letters 142-297 25). This use of pagan motifs in singing the praises of the Christian godhead was challenging but not incomprehensible. The classicizing imagery and eloquence of The Fowre Hymnes’ vision of the Christian godhead was anticipated by the Erasmian conception of the divine Logos as the providentially supplied copious discourse of God. With The Fowre Hymnes Spenser was effecting a radical assimilation and adaptation of both Christian Humanist concepts and theological method. Erasmus had treated the Bible as literature for the purposes of exegesis. Spenser took the humanist idea of interpretative continuity between bonae and sacrae litterae as a pretext for the paired and parallel structure of his pagan and Christian hymns. In The Fowre Hymnes Spenser treated the Bible as literature and proceeded to make classicizing exegesis into poetry. Heralding “Retractation” The Fowre Hymnes opens with a dedication, to “the Ladie Margaret Countesse of Cumberland, and the Ladie Marie [Anne] Countesse of Warwicke,” that announces the corrective intention of the work as a whole. In the dedication, Spenser confesses to having produced a pair of blameworthy erotic hymns to love and to beauty in the “greener times of [his] youth” (infra). He further notes that these hymns may have found favour with such young and carelessly impressionable readers as “do rather sucke out poyson to their strong passion, then hony to their honest delight.” Regret that “many copies thereof were formerly scattered abroad,” together with the reproval of one of his dedicatees, has spurred him to produce a corresponding pair of 103 heavenly hymns “to amend, and by way of retractation to reforme” his earlier creations. Through their joint publication, the second pair of praisewothy hymns to heavenly love and heavenly beauty shall effect the instructive “retractation” and “reforme” of their too worldly counterparts. As Mary I. Oates writes of this dedication, “Spenser sounds as though he has written two religious hymns to atone for two secular hymns so sensual in nature that they actually corrupted the young” (“Retractions” 145). There is general consensus among literary critics today that Spenser’s retractative dedication constitutes a gesture of self-authorizing rhetorical artifice and that it is functionally integral to The Fowre Hymnes as a single unified poetic structure.153 I am in agreement with Anne E. Tanski when she argues that the oppositions between “youth and maturity as well as between passion and wisdom” that the retractative dedication projects upon the binary structure of The Fowre Hymnes are artful contrivances. The first two hymns are less likely to have been written in Spenser’s “youth and passion” and more likely to have been “written to represent youth and passion” as well as, I would add, Neoplatonizing Petrarchan poetic culture (Mount Up Aloft 8, 5). Readers of The Fowre Hymnes could look back upon a longstanding and widely employed auctorial convention of retraction or apology within both secular and ecclesial tradition. As Anita Obermeier notes, In both late antiquity and the Middle-Ages, the old-age topos becomes a conventional structural element for many Christian writers who want to polarize their intra-auctorial careers as a movement from youth—the preferred but still misspent time for secular love poetry—to old age—the time for the true (“verae”) things in life… (Obermeier 34) 153On the conventional opposition of youth/maturity, passion/wisdom in the post-Augustinian tradition of authorial retractation, see also Anita Obermeier’s The History and Anatomy of Auctorial Self-Criticism in the European Middle Ages. 104 Horace (65-8 BCE) was one of the very first to apply the rhetorical, retractative artifice of the ‘wisdom of old age versus foolishness of youth’ trope to the canon of his works. After composing his Ars amatoria (Art of Love), Ovid composed a palinode as retractative companion piece entitled Remedia amoris (Cures for Love). In the final poems of the Canzoniere, Petrarch transitions into repentant apology for his former love of Laura and the vanity of this love’s attendant song. As conclusion to The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer begs his reader to accept his “retracciouns” while claiming that any displeasing faults within this or other earlier works have not been the product of “wyl” or “konnynge” but rather of simple ignorance (“unkonnynge”) (Complete Poetry and Prose 393). Perhaps the most significant precursor of all, for this most singularly theological of Spenser’s poetic works, was Augustine’s Retractationes (427 CE), a lengthy work of intra-auctorial self-criticism and bibliography composed by the author in his early seventies.154 Spenser’s retractative dedication aligns him with an illustrious lineage of secular and ecclesial auctores all of whom employed literary retractions as a means of auctorial self-promotion. It is significant that Horace’s renunciation of the poetic products of youth is already a gesture of rhetorical artifice rather than true repentance. Indeed, subsequent authors appear to have taken pains to prevent their retractions from being understood too literally.155 The opening of Ovid’s retractative Cures for Love includes an address to Cupid: “Sweet boy, I’ve not betrayed you or my talent / And no new muse unweaves work done before” (151). This apology to Cupid guides the reader’s interpretation by reaffirming the value of Ovid’s earlier verse. In the penultimate lyric poem of the Canzoniere cycle, Petrarch addresses the “King of all Heaven”: “I 154 The two books of the Retractations were completed in 427 CE. 155 See Obermeier’s discussion of Horace’s couching retractative statements in the conditional tense, pp. 33, 34 and n.39, 40. 105 go my way regretting those past times / I spent in loving something which was mortal / instead of soaring high, since I had wings / that might have taken me to higher levels” (365 p.77.ll.6,1-4). Petrarch’s apology then issues into a final poem-prayer (song 366) addressed to the Virgin Mary, which serves as palinode to the rest of the collection. The magnitude of the imbalance is significant: more than three hundred and sixty lyric poems sing and soa
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Humanist method and the prophetic office of English poetry in the works of Edmund Spenser and John Milton Evans-Cockle, Matthew 2016
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