Imaginary Conversations and Poems, by Walter Savage Landor

Queen Elizabeth and Cecil

Elizabeth. I advise thee again, churlish Cecil, how that our Edmund Spenser, whom thou callest most uncourteously a whining whelp, hath good and solid reason for his complaint. God’s blood! shall the lady that tieth my garter and shuffles the smock over my head, or the lord that steadieth my chair’s back while I eat, or the other that looketh to my buck-hounds lest they be mangy, be holden by me in higher esteem and estate than he who hath placed me among the bravest of past times, and will as safely and surely set me down among the loveliest in the future?

Cecil. Your Highness must remember he carouseth fully for such deserts: fifty pounds a year of unclipped moneys, and a butt of canary wine; not to mention three thousand acres in Ireland, worth fairly another fifty and another butt, in seasonable and quiet years.

Elizabeth. The moneys are not enough to sustain a pair of grooms and a pair of palfreys, and more wine hath been drunken in my presence at a feast. The moneys are given to such men, that they may not incline nor be obligated to any vile or lowly occupation; and the canary, that they may entertain such promising wits as court their company and converse; and that in such manner there may be alway in our land a succession of these heirs unto fame. He hath written, not indeed with his wonted fancifulness, nor in learned and majestical language, but in homely and rustic wise, some verses which have moved me, and haply the more inasmuch as they demonstrate to me that his genius hath been dampened by his adversities. Read them.

Cecil.

How much is lost when neither heart nor eye

Rosewinged Desire or fabling Hope deceives;

When boyhood with quick throb hath ceased to spy

The dubious apple in the yellow leaves;

When, rising from the turf where youth reposed,

We find but deserts in the far-sought shore;

When the huge book of Faery-land lies closed,

And those strong brazen clasps will yield no more.

Elizabeth. The said Edmund hath also furnished unto the weaver at Arras, John Blanquieres, on my account, a description for some of his cunningest wenches to work at, supplied by mine own self, indeed, as far as the subject-matter goes, but set forth by him with figures and fancies, and daintily enough bedecked. I could have wished he had thereunto joined a fair comparison between Dian — no matter — he might perhaps have fared the better for it; but poets’ wits — God help them! — when did they ever sit close about them? Read the poesy, not over-rich, and concluding very awkwardly and meanly.

Cecil.

Where forms the lotus, with its level leaves

And solid blossoms, many floating isles,

What heavenly radiance swift descending cleaves

The darksome wave! Unwonted beauty smiles

On its pure bosom, on each bright-eyed flower,

On every nymph, and twenty sate around,

Lo! ’twas Diana — from the sultry hour

Hither she fled, nor fear’d she sight or sound.

Unhappy youth, whom thirst and quiver-reeds

Drew to these haunts, whom awe forbade to fly!

Three faithful dogs before him rais’d their heads,

And watched and wonder’d at that fixèd eye.

Forth sprang his favourite — with her arrow-hand

Too late the goddess hid what hand may hide,

Of every nymph and every reed complain’d,

And dashed upon the bank the waters wide.

On the prone head and sandal’d feet they flew —

Lo! slender hoofs and branching horns appear!

The last marr’d voice not e’en the favourite knew,

But bay’d and fasten’d on the upbraiding deer.

Far be, chaste goddess, far from me and mine

The stream that tempts thee in the summer noon!

Alas, that vengeance dwells with charms divine ——

Elizabeth. Pshaw! give me the paper: I forewarned thee how it ended — pitifully, pitifully.

Cecil. I cannot think otherwise than that the undertaker of the aforecited poesy hath chosen your Highness; for I have seen painted — I know not where, but I think no farther off than Putney — the identically same Dian, with full as many nymphs, as he calls them, and more dogs. So small a matter as a page of poesy shall never stir my choler nor twitch my purse-string.

Elizabeth. I have read in Plinius and Mela of a runlet near Dodona, which kindled by approximation an unlighted torch, and extinguished a lighted one. Now, Cecil, I desire no such a jetty to be celebrated as the decoration of my court: in simpler words, which your gravity may more easily understand, I would not from the fountain of honour give lustre to the dull and ignorant, deadening and leaving in its tomb the lamp of literature and genius. I ardently wish my reign to be remembered: if my actions were different from what they are, I should as ardently wish it to be forgotten. Those are the worst of suicides, who voluntarily and propensely stab or suffocate their fame, when God hath commanded them to stand on high for an example. We call him parricide who destroys the author of his existence: tell me, what shall we call him who casts forth to the dogs and birds of prey its most faithful propagator and most firm support? Mark me, I do not speak of that existence which the proudest must close in a ditch — the narrowest, too, of ditches and the soonest filled and fouled, and whereunto a pinch of ratsbane or a poppy-head may bend him; but of that which reposes on our own good deeds, carefully picked up, skilfully put together, and decorously laid out for us by another’s kind understanding: I speak of an existence such as no father is author of, or provides for. The parent gives us few days and sorrowful; the poet, many and glorious: the one (supposing him discreet and kindly) best reproves our faults; the other best remunerates our virtues.

A page of poesy is a little matter: be it so; but of a truth I do tell thee, Cecil, it shall master full many a bold heart that the Spaniard cannot trouble; it shall win to it full many a proud and flighty one that even chivalry and manly comeliness cannot touch. I may shake titles and dignities by the dozen from my breakfast-board; but I may not save those upon whose heads I shake them from rottenness and oblivion. This year they and their sovereign dwell together; next year, they and their beagle. Both have names, but names perishable. The keeper of my privy seal is an earl: what then? the keeper of my poultry-yard is a Caesar. In honest truth, a name given to a man is no better than a skin given to him: what is not natively his own falls off and comes to nothing.

I desire in future to hear no contempt of penmen, unless a depraved use of the pen shall have so cramped them as to incapacitate them for the sword and for the council chamber. If Alexander was the Great, what was Aristoteles who made him so, and taught him every art and science he knew, except three — those of drinking, of blaspheming, and of murdering his bosom friends? Come along: I will bring thee back again nearer home. Thou mightest toss and tumble in thy bed many nights, and never eke out the substance of a stanza; but Edmund, if perchance I should call upon him for his counsel, would give me as wholesome and prudent as any of you. We should indemnify such men for the injustice we do unto them in not calling them about us, and for the mortification they must suffer at seeing their inferiors set before them. Edmund is grave and gentle: he complains of fortune, not of Elizabeth; of courts, not of Cecil. I am resolved — so help me, God! — he shall have no further cause for his repining. Go, convey unto him those twelve silver spoons, with the apostles on them, gloriously gilded; and deliver into his hand these twelve large golden pieces, sufficing for the yearly maintenance of another horse and groom. Beside which, set open before him with due reverence this Bible, wherein he may read the mercies of God toward those who waited in patience for His blessing; and this pair of crimson silk hose, which thou knowest I have worn only thirteen months, taking heed that the heel-piece be put into good and sufficient restoration, at my sole charges, by the Italian woman nigh the pollard elm at Charing Cross.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38