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PRINCIPAL Works: The Shepherd's Calendar, 1579, a pastoral poem in twelve eclogues, one for each month of the year.—The Faery Queen, 1590–96, the great romance-epic upon which the title of Spenser to a place in the foremost rank of the poets of all time depends, in six books, dedicated to the Queen (as his first work had been inscribed to his patron and friend Sir Philip Sidney), who was not too obscurely complimented in the character of Gloriana, the Faery Queen, or of Belphebe, a flattering name, which to her well-known personal vanity might be more acceptable than even the other. The Queen of Faery holds high festival for twelve days, on each of which one of her knightly champions undertakes some perilous adventure. Each of these champions is made to represent a moral or religious virtue. The Red Cross Knight (St. George) representing Holiness; Britomart, the lady-knight of the third book, Chastity ; Sir Artegal, of the fifth book, Justice, &c. Of the twelve books (the sacred traditional number of an epic since the Æneis) at first contemplated, six only ever appeared : nor is it much to be regretted, perhaps, that the original design was never completed. Illumined though it is to the end by many beauties, the interest of the poem begins to diminish after the fourth book, and the reader follows the career of Sir Calidore with much less enthusiasm than he did that of Britomart.
A double meaning and purpose may be detected through the whole, of the poem: the apparent superficial one of Romance with its chivalrous achievements such as could not fail to meet with the enthusiastic appreciation of the higher classes of the age ; and an allegorical suggestion of the supposed graces and virtues of that--to use the language of her bishops— bright occidental star,' and of the ultimate triumphant discomfiture of her various malevolent foes.—Colin Ciouts Come Home Again (dedicated to Raleigh), 1595, a pastoral and sort of supplement to the Shepherds Calendar, composed in celebration of his own return to his Irish estate and Kilcolman Castle, in which he recounts his experiences at the court and in the fashionable life of the metropolis, with a celebration of the most eminent poets of the time.-An Epithalamium,
of the same year, termed by his most recent editor 'the finest, the most perfect, of all his poems, the most beautiful of all bridal songs. It celebrates his marriage with the Rosalind of his earlier poems, of whom nothing is known but that her Christian name was Elizabeth.-A Hymn of Heavenly Love, and A Hymn of Heavenly Beauty, with the Prothalamium or A Spousal Verse, in honour of the double marriage of the ladies Elizabeth and Katharine Somerset, were his last productions. Strange as seems, the author of The Faery Queen, the adulator of Elizabeth and the friend of Sidney and Raleigh, died in almost absolute poverty, apparently, in obscure lodgings in London.
Of the personal history of Spenser not very much more is known than of Shakespeare's. It is an ungrateful task to be obliged to record that the little that is known cf his life in Ireland at his far-famed Kilcolman Castle, where the larger part of his great poem was composed, in relation to his tenants, shows bim not in the most amiable light, or in the character we would fain imagine to belong to so charming a genius.
The appearance of The Faery Queen marks an ever-memorable epoch in the history of English poetry. Spenser may be called the second father of English poetry. The Canterbury Tales, “that well, as he himself terms it, of English undefiled,' had appeared two hundred years before; and stands alone and isolated in the age in which it was produced. The influence of Spenser upon his great successors, especially upon Milton, Thomson, Shelley, in different degrees and manner, and indeed upon a considerable proportion of English poetry ever since, it would be difficult to orerestimate. He was the first to adopt the ottava rima of Ariosto and the Italian school, one of the most effective kinds of poetic forms, which he improved by the addition of the Alexandrine, as it is called, the ninth and concluding rerse of the stanza. As to its versification, its peculiar characteristics are a harmony and melody which have seldom been equalled and never surpassed. The Faery Queen is a veritable land of faery, wandering in which the imagination is charmed in being withdrawn from the stern realities, the littlenesses and annoyances, of every-day life into the most delightful and seductive scenes ever conjured up by the magic wand of the poet. Spenser is pre-eminently the poet of beauty, whether in picturing the charms of feminine loveliness, or those of birds and woods and fountains. It is to be regretted that he was tempted by his admiration for Chaucer to adopt his antique diction and phraseology; an unfortunate choice which has doubtless deterred many, unacquainted with early English, from doing him justice by reading him through continuously, For the benefit, however, of such readers, editions have been published of late with a spelling of more modern date. Of his special merits it has been justly said that “ he threw the soul of harmony into our verse, and made it more warmly, tenderly, and magnificently descriptive than it ever was before, or, with a few exceptions, than it has ever been since. It must certainly be owned that in description he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes and robust power which characterise the very greatest poets; but we shall nowhere find more airy and expansive images of visionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, or a finer flush in the colours of language, than in this Rubens of English poetry. His fancy teems exuberantly in minuteness of circumstance, like a fertile soil sending bloom and verdure through the utmost extremities of the foliage which it nourishes. ... The clouds of his allegory may seem to spread into shapeless forms, but they are still the clouds of a glowing atmosphere. Though his story grows desultory, the sweetness and grace of his manner still abide by him. He is like a speaker whose tones continue to be pleasing, though he may speak too long; or like a painter who makes us forget the defect of his design by the magic of his colouring. We always rise from perusing him with melody in the mind's ear, and with pictures of romantic beauty impressed on the imagination.'-(Campbell's Specimens.)
THE DUNGEON OF PRIDE.
“The porcelain clay of human-kind.'
In a dungeon deep huge numbers lay Of caitiff wretched thralls, that wailed night and day.
A rueful sight as could be seen with eye,
Condemned to that dungeon merciless,
There was that great proud king of Babylon,
yore. There also was King Creesus, that enhanced His heart too high through his great riches' store;
And proud Antiochus, the which advanced His cursed hand 'gainst God, and on His altars danced.
And them longtime before, great Nimrod was,
And would as Ammon's son be magnified,
All these together in one heap were thrown,
Ambitious Sulla, and stern Marius;