To start with, there are two varieties. The more common, since the nineteenth century at least, is wandering the streets of towns and cities during the hours of darkness. Nowadays this barely counts as nightwalking because of the high luminescence that immerses the walker. Pervasive street lighting renders cities as plain at night as during the day. Though of course there will always be ill-lit lanes, alleys and ginnels where darker things lurk and darker deeds are done. This is the land of the urban gothic, of film noir, of nighthawks and midnight ramblers, vampires, and, yes, harlots.
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The chief merit of this poem, no doubt, consists in that surprising vein of fabulous invention, which runs through it, and enriches it every where with imagery and descriptions, more than we meet with in any other modern poem. The author seems to be possessed of a kind of poetical magic, and the figures he calls up to our view rise so thick upon us, that we are at once pleased and distracted with the exhaustless variety of them; so that his faults may in a manner be imputed to his excellencies. His abundance betrays him into excess, and his judgment is overborn, by the torrent of his imagination. That which seems the most liable to exception in this work is the model of it, and the choice the author has made of so romantic a story. The several books rather appear like so many several poems, than one entire fable. Each of them has its peculiar knight, and is independent of the rest; and tho' some of the persons make their appearance in different books, yet this has very little effect [Page 106] in concealing them. Prince Arthur is indeed the principal person, and has therefore a share given him in every legend; but his part is not considerable enough in any one of them. He appears and vanishes again like a spirit, and we lose sight of him too soon to consider him as the hero of the poem. These are the most obvious defects in the fable of the Fairy Queen. The want of unity in the story makes it difficult for the reader to carry it in his mind, and distracts too much his attention to the several parts of it; and indeed the whole frame of it would appear monstrous, were it to be examined by the rules of epic poetry, as they have been drawn from the practice of Homer and Virgil; but as it is plain, the author never designed it by these rules, I think it ought rather to be called a poem of a particular kind, describing in a series of allegorical adventures, or episodes, the most noted virtues and vices. To compare it therefore with the models of antiquity, would be like drawing a parallel between the Roman and Gothic architecture. In the first, there is doubtless a more natural grandeur and simplicity; in the latter, we find great mixtures of beauty and barbarism, yet assisted by the invention of a variety of inferior ornaments; and tho' the former is more majestic in the whole, the latter may be very surprizing and agreeable in its parts. 2b1af7f3a8