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And those sweet rosie leaves, so fairly spred
That golden wire, those sparkling stars so bright,
But that fair lamp, from whose celestial ray
For it is heavenly born, and cannot die,
In speaking of the imagination of the lover, which " sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt," the poet remarks,—
"In which, how many wonders do they read
Now of her smiles, with, which their souls they feed,
But when her words' embassade forth she sends,
Sometimes upon her forehead they behold
The two hymns of Heavenly Love and Beauty are by no means of an inspired kind.
The same year (1596) he produced his Prothalumion, in honour of the double marriage of Lady Elizabeth and Lady Catherine Somerset. This piece, though defective as a poem, contains a good deal of poetical imagery, but it is chiefly distinguished for the peculiar melody of its stanzas, an example of which we subjoin.
"There in a meadow, by the river's side,
All lovely daughters of the flood thereby,
And each one had a little wicker basket,
In which they gather'd flowers to fill their flasket;
Of every sort, which in that meadow grew,
To deck their bridegrooms' posies,
Against the bridale day, which was not long:
We believe, the foregoing extracts include nearly the whole of what is really admirable in the minor poems of Spenser. That they are not more spirited, more poetical, and more natural, is owing to the indolent turn of his mind, which rather inclined him to follow than to lead others. There was a voluptuous repose about him which prevented him from leaving the beaten track, which induced him to rest satisfied with the subjects on which poetical talent was ordinarily exercised, and with the forms of composition in which they were invented, models on which natural sentiment, and the simple language of passion, were sacrificed to absurd fictions and cold ingenuity. His smaller pieces are, in consequence, very far from being attractive; they are, in fact, for the most part, actually dull. The Faerie Queene is of a different stamp. It was written at a more mature age, and was the great foundation on which he was to build his fame; his spirit was sharpened, and his energy more excited. The Faerie Queene is occasionally languid, but very seldom, if ever, dull: we have not the same sense of weariness in reading it, that we feel in the perusal of the greater part of the pieces we have been discussing. Another reason for this difference is, that The Faerie Queene is a narrative, embracing a series of adventures which constantly keep the poet alive; he never has to stop or hunt for subjects to descant upon; but being once embarked in the stream, he is carried vigorously down it. Almost all his minor poems, on the contrary, may be called mere voluntaries, in the composition of which the poet does not manifest any thing like earnestness or enthusiasm; and yet he has extended some of them to a
very considerable length. Two or three of those pieces, however, are either wholly, or in part, of a narrative kind, and in these Spenser appears to be animated with an additional degree of vigour, as, for instance, in Mother Hubberd's Tale, the Fate of the Butterfly, and the fables of the Oak and the Brier, and the Kid and the Fox, in the Shepherd's Calendar, undoubtedly the best of his minor pieces. We now take our leave of the Minor Poems of Spenser, which we have treated with great freedom, but, at the same time, with impartiality; in dismissing them in this way, however, we cannot help recommend-. ing to those who delight in the world of fiction, to devote a few spare hours to the perusal of the Faerie Queene, which has not met the attention which it really deserves.
ART. IX.-The Life of Mr. Thomas Firmin, late Citizen of London. Written by one of his most intimate Acquaintance. With a Sermon on Luke x. 36, 37, preached on the Occasion of his Death. Together with an Account of his Religion, and of the present State of the Unitarian Controversy. London: Printed and sold by A. Baldwin, in Warwick Lane. 1698.
This very interesting little volume exhibits the portrait of one of the worthiest men, that ever existed; and is otherwise important, as shewing how the virtues of integrity, benevolence, and perseverance, may exalt an individual above the artificial distinctions of rank, and neutralize the prejudices against humble station, mean occupation, and religious dissent.
The ideas of nobleness, generosity, influence, and authority, do not very readily associate with our notions of a shopkeeper; and yet Mr. Firmin, a shopkeeper, of Leadenhall-street, was one of the finest examples of these united attributes. His virtues did not raise him out of his line of life, but they made him admirable in the discharge of its duties; and serve to prove a most flattering truth, that there is nothing in the practice of the lower branches of commerce which unfits a man for the discharge of the highest functions of a citizen and social being, which unfits him for the companionship of the great and the good-which unfits him from the pursuit and investigation of truths of the most important and the most useful kind.
The progress of education will still further shew, that there is not the slightest necessity for a tradesman to be either ignorant, vulgar, or coarse; though, in the present state of things,
it would be very difficult to convince a person of fashion that bad English and bad manners do not necessarily go along with the counter, and the yard-wand, and the scales. Mr. Firmin, however, joined the strictest attention to his business with the most benevolent and enlightened projects for the benefit of his fellow-citizens. He never neglected his customers, and yet he enjoyed the society and engaged the friendship of some of the greatest men of his time. A more useful, a more active, a more happy, and a more respectable life, was, probably, never led by any other human being, than by Thomas Firmin.
The extracts we shall make from this little volume will fully bear us out in all we have said. It is written with great simplicity, and carries evident marks of being composed by a friend who valued the worth which long intimacy had made him well acquainted with.
We will quote the opening of the Memoir, which puts the reader in possession of the facts relative to the early life of Mr. Firmin.
"The long acquaintance and intimate friendship I had with Mr. Firmin are, I confess, warrantable causes that so many do expect from me an account of his memorable life. If some other man would answer the public expectation with more address, as to expression, method, number, and value of observations and reflections; in a word, more ambitiously: yet I will not be wanting in sincerity or truth.
"Thomas Firmin was born at Ipswich, in Suffolk, in the month of June, anno 1632, being the son of Henry Firmin, and of Prudence, his wife. Henry and Prudence, as they did not overflow with wealth of the world, so neither was their condition low or strait. God gave them, the wish of Solomon,-neither poverty nor riches; but that middle estate and rank which containeth all that is valuable and desirable in wealth, without the gaudery, vanity, and temptations, that generally adhere to riches. But these two were very considerable in their degree, or place, both as to esteem and plenty, by means of their sobriety, diligence, and good conduct, the effects of their piety. They were of the number of those who were then called Puritans, by the looser sort of people, who were wont to impute precisiannism, or affected puritanism, to such as were more devout, and, withal, more conscientious and exemplary, than is ordinary, though in the way of the Church of England.
"When he was of capable years for it, they put their son, Thomas Firmin, to an apprenticeship in London, under a master who was, by sect or opinion, an Arminian, a hearer of Mr. John Goodwyn. Our young man, accompanying his master to the elegant and learned sermons of Mr. Goodwyn, soon exchanged the harsh opinions of Calvin, in which he had been educated, for those more honourable to God, and more accountable to the human reason, of Arminius and the Remonstrants. And now it was that he learned, as was the
commendable custom of those times, to write short-hand; at which he was so dexterous, that he would take into a book any sermon that he heard, word for word, as it was spoke by the preacher, if the sermon were not delivered with too much precipitance. Of this he made a double use, both then, and in the very busiest part of his life; for if the sermon was considerable for judicious morality, or weighty arguments, he often read it, in his short-hand notes, for his own further improvement, and then took the pains to write it out, in words at length, for the benefit of his acquaintance. He left behind him a great many little books of that kind; sermons, copied fair from his short-hand notes, which, not seldom, are multum in parvo.
"As to his demeanor in his apprenticeship, he was so nimble in his motions in taking down, opening goods to chapmen, &c., that some gave him the name of Spirit. And in making his bargain, his words and address were so pleasing and respectful, that, after some time, the customers rather chose to deal with Thomas than with the master of the shop; or if a bargain stuck between a customer and his master, he would decide the difference to the liking of both."
We then arrive at his commencement in trade, and get a further insight into the nature of his character and motives.
"So soon as he was made free he began to trade for himself, though his first stock was but about £100. By the opinion he had raised of himself among the merchants and others, and the love he had gained among his master's customers, the neighbourhood, and a great number of incidental acquaintance, he overcame the difficulties of so weak and incompetent a beginning; so that in the year 1660 he married a citizen's daughter with £500 portion.
"From his first setting up (as they speak) for himself, he would be acquainted with all persons that seemed to be worthy; foreigners, as well as English, more especially ministers. He seldom dined without some such at his table; which, though somewhat chargeable to his then slender abilities, was of great use to him afterwards, both in relation to the poor and the public; for out of his large acquaintance and multitude of friends, he engaged the powerful interest of some, and the weighty purses of others, in some of those great designs of charity, or other services to the public, for which I shall hereafter account.
"Now, also, it was that he happened on Mr. Bidle, who much confirmed him in his Arminian tenets, and carried him a great deal further. Mr. Bidle persuaded him, that the unity of God is a unity of person as well as of nature; that the Holy Spirit is, indeed, a person, but not God. He had a great and just esteem of Mr. Bidle's piety, exemplariness, and learning; and is that friend, mentioned in Mr. Bidle's Life, who gave Mr. Bidle his bed and board till he was şent prisoner by Protector Oliver Cromwell to the Isle of Scilly; and when there, Mr. Firmin, with another friend, procured for him a yearly pension of 100 crowns from the Protector, besides what he obtained from other friends, or gave himself.