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DESCENDED from the ancient and honourable family of Spenser, was born in London, in East Smithfield, by the Tower, probably about the year 1553. He studied at the university of | Cambridge, where it appears, from his correspondence, that he formed an intimate friendship | with the learned, but pedantic, Gabriel Harvey*. Spenser, with Sir P. Sydney, was, for a time, a convert to Harvey's Utopian scheme for changing the measures of English poetry into those of the Greeks and Romans.
[Born, 1553. Died, 1598-9.]
Spenser even wrote trimeter iambicst sufficiently bad to counte ance the English hexameters of his friend; but the Muse would not suffer such a votary to be lost in the pursuit after chimeras, and recalled him to her natural strains. From Cambridge Spenser went to reside with some relations in the north of England, and, in this retirement, conceived a passion for a mistress, whom he has celebrated under the name of Rosalind. It appears, however, that she trifled with his affection, and preferred a rival.
Harvey, or Hobinol (by so uncouth a name did the shepherd of hexameter memory, the learned Harvey, deign to be called in Spenser's eclogues), with better judgment than he had shown in poetical matters, advised Spenser to leave his rustic obscurity, and introduced him to Sir Philip Sydney, who recommended him to his uncle, the Earl of Leicester. The poet was invited to the family seat of Sydney at Penshurst, in Kent, where he is supposed to have assisted the Platonic studies of his, gallant and congenial friend. To him he dedicated his "Shepheard's Calendar." Sydney did not bestow unqualified praise on those eclogues; he allowed that they contained much poetry, but condemned the antique rusticity of the language. It was of these eclogues, and not of the Fairy Queen (as has been frequently misstated), that Ben Jonson said, that the author in affecting the ancients had written no language at all. They gained,
* For an account of Harvey the reader may consult Wood's Athen. Oxon. vol. i. Fasti col. 128.
A short example of Spenser's Iambicum Trimetrum will suffice, from a copy of verses in one of his own letters to Harvey.
Unhappy verse the witness of my unhappy state,
Sitting so cheerless at the cheerful board, or else
Playing alone, careless on her heavenly virginals. [Ben Jonson's Works, by Gifford, vol. ix. p. 215.]
however, so many admirers, as to pass through five editions in Spenser's lifetime; and though Dove, a contemporary scholar, who translated them into Latin, speaks of the author being unknown, yet when Abraham Fraunce, in 1583, published his "Lawyer's Logicke," he illustrated his rules by quotations from the Shepheard's Calendar.
Pope, Dryden, and Warton have extolled those eclogues, and Sir William Jones has placed Spenser and Gay as the only genuine descendants of Theocritus and Virgil in pastoral poetry. This decision may be questioned. Favourable as the circumstances of England have been to the development of her genius in all the higher walks of poetry, they have not been propitious to the humbler pastoral muse. Her trades and manufactures, the very blessings of her wealth and industry, threw the indolent shepherd's life to a distance from her cities and capital, where poets, with all their love of the country, are generally found; and impressed on the face of the country, and on its rustic manners, a gladsome, but not romantic appearance.
In Scotland, on the contrary, the scenery, rural economy of the country, and the songs of the peasantry, sung, "at the watching of the fold," presented Ramsay with a much nearer image of pastoral life, and he accordingly painted it with the fresh feeling and enjoyment of nature. Had Sir William Jones understood the dialect of that poet, I am convinced that he would not have awarded the pastoral crown to any other author. Ramsay's shepherds are distinct, intelligible beings, neither vulgar, like the caricatures of Gay, nor fantastic, like those of Fletcher. They afford such a view of a national peasantry as we should wish to acquire by travelling among them; and form a draft entirely devoted to rural manners, which for truth, and beauty, and extent, has no parallel in the richer language of England. Shakspeare's pastoral scenes are only subsidiary to the main interest of the plays where they are introduced. Milton's are rather pageants of fancy, than pictures of real life. The shepherds of Spenser's Calendar are parsons in disguise, who converse about heathen divinities and points of Christian theology. Palinode defends the luxuries of the Catholic clergy, and Piers extols the purity of Archbishop Grindal; concluding with the story of a fox, who came to the house of a goat, in the character of a pedlar, and obtained admittance by pretending to be a
sheep. This may be burlesquing Æsop, but certainly is not imitating Theocritus. There are fine thoughts and images in the Calendar, but, on the whole, the obscurity of those pastorals is rather their covering, than their principal, defect.
In 1580, Arthur Lord Grey, of Wilton, went as lord lieutenant to Ireland, and Spenser accompanied him as his secretary; we may suppose by the recommendation of the Earl of Leicester. Lord Grey was recalled from his Irish government in 1582, and Spenser returned with him to England, where, by the interest of Grey, Leicester, and Sydney, he obtained a grant from Queen Elizabeth of 3028 acres in the county of Cork, out of the forfeited estates of the Earl of Desmond. This was the last act of kindness which Sydney had a share in conferring on him: he died in the same year, furnishing an almost solitary instance of virtue passing through life uncalumniated.
Whether Sydney was meant or not, under the character of Prince Arthur in the Fairy Queen, we cannot conceive the poet, in describing heroic excellence, to have had the image of Sir Philip Sydney long absent from his mind.
By the terms of the royal grant, Spenser was obliged to return to Ireland, in order to cultivate the lands assigned to him. His residence at Kilcolman, an ancient castle of the Earls of Desmond, is described by one* who had seen its ruins, as situated on the north side of a fine lake, in the midst of a vast plain, which was terminated to the east by the Waterford mountains, on the north by the Ballyhowra hills, and by the Nagle and Kerry mountains on the south and east. It commanded a view of above half the breadth of Ireland, and must have been, when the adjacent uplands were wooded, a most romantic and pleasant situation. The river Mulla, which Spenser has so often celebrated, ran through his grounds. In this retreat he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, at that time a captain in the queen's army. His visit occasioned the first resolution of Spenser to prepare the first books of the Fairy Queen for immediate publication. Spenser has commemorated this interview, and the inspiring influence of Raleigh's praise, under the figurative description of two shepherds tuning their pipes, beneath the alders of the Mulla ;a fiction with which the mind, perhaps, will be much less satisfied, than by recalling the scene as it really existed. When we conceive Spenser reciting his compositions to Raleigh, in a scene so beautifully appropriate, the mind casts a pleasing retrospect over that influence which the enterprise of the discoverer of Virginia, and the genius of the author of the Fairy Queen, have respectively produced on the fortune and language of England. The fancy might even be pardoned for a momentary superstition, that the Genius of their country hovered, unseen, over their meeting,
* Smith's History of Cork, quoted by Todd.
casting her first look of regard on the poet, that was destined to inspire her future Milton, and the other on the maritime hero, who paved the way for colonising distant regions of the earth, where the language of England was to be spoken, and the poetry of Spenser to be admired. Raleigh, whom the poet accompanied to England, introduced him to Queen Elizabeth. Her majesty, in 1590-1, conferred on him a pension of 507. a year. In the patent for his pension he is not styled the laureat, but his contemporaries have frequently addressed him by that title. Mr. Malone's discovery of the patent for this pension refutes the idle story of Burleigh's preventing the royal bounty being bestowed upon the poet, by asking if so much money was to be given for a song; as well as that of Spenser's procuring it at last by the doggrel verses,
I was promised, on a time,
Yet there are passages in the Fairy Queen which unequivocally refer to Burleigh with severity. The coldness of that statesman to Spenser most probably arose from the poet's attachment to Lord Leicester and Lord Essex, who were each successively at the head of a party-opposed to the Lord Chancellor. After the publication of the Fairy Queen, he returned to Ireland, and, during his absence, the fame which he had acquired by that poem (of which the first edition, however, contained only the first three books) induced his publisher to compile and reprint his smaller piecest. He appears to have again visited London about the end of 1591, as his next publication, the Elegy on Douglas Howard, daughter of Henry Lord Howard, is dated January 1591-2. From this period there is a long interval in the history of Spenser, which was probably passed in Ireland, but of which we have no account. He married, it is conjectured, in the year 1594, when he was past forty; and it appears from his Epithalamium, that the nuptials were celebrated at Cork. In 1596, the secon part of the Fairy Queen appeared, acompanied by a new edition of the first. Of the remaining six books, which would have completed the poet's design, only fragments have been brought to light; and there is little reason to presume that they were regularly furnished. Yet Mr. Todd has proved that the contemporaries of Spenser believed much of his valuable poetry to have been lost, in the destruction of his house in Ireland.
In the same year, 1596, he presented to the queen his "View of the State of Ireland," which remained in manuscript, till it was published by Sir James Ware, in 1633. Curiosity turns natu
† Viz. 1. The Ruins of Time.-2. The Tears of the Muses. -3. Virgil's Gnat.-4. Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubbard's Tale.-5. The Ruins of Rome, by Bellay.-6. Muiopotmos, or the Tale of the Butterfly.-7. Visions of the World's Vanitie.-8. Bellay's Visions.-9. Petrarch's Visions.
rally to the prose work of so old and eminent a poet, which exhibits him in the three-fold character of a writer delineating an interesting country from his own observation, of a scholar tracing back its remotest history, and of a politician investigating the causes of its calamities. The antiquities of Ireland have been since more successfully explored; though on that subject Spenser is still a respectable authority. The great value of the book is the authentic and curious picture of national manners and circumstances which it exhibits; and its style is as nervous, as the matter is copious and amusing. A remarkable proposal, in his plan for the management of Ireland, is the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon system of Borseholders. His political views are strongly coercive, and consist of little more than stationing proper garrisons, and abolishing ancient customs: and we find him declaiming bitterly against the Irish minstrels, and seriously dwelling on the loose mantles, and glibs, or long hair, of the vagrant poor, as important causes of moral depravity. But we ought not to try the plans of Spenser by modern circumstances, nor his temper by the liberality of more enlightened times. It was a great point to commence earnest discussion on such a subject. From a note in one of the oldest copies of this treatise, it appears that Spenser was at that time clerk to the council of the province of Ulster. In 1597, our poet
FAIRY QUEEN, BOOK I., CANTO III.
UNA FOLLOWED BY THE LION.
Forsaken Truth long seeks her love,
And makes the Lion mild;
NOUGHT is there under Heaven's wide hollowness, That moves more dear compassion of mind, Than beauty brought t'unworthy wretchedness, Through envy's snares, or fortune's freaks unkind. I, whether lately through her brightness blind, Or through allegiance and fast feälty, Which I do owe unto all womankind, Feel my heart pierced with so great agony, When such I see, that all for pity I could die.
And now it is impassioned so deep, For fairest Una's sake, of whom I sing, That my frail eyes these lines with tears do steep, To think how she through guileful handelling, Though true as touch, though daughter of a king, Though fair as ever living wight was fair, Though nor in word nor deed ill meriting, Is from her knight divorced in despair, And her due love's derived to that vile witch's
returned to Ireland, and in the following year was destined to an honourable situation, being recommended by her majesty to be chosen sheriff for Cork. But in the subsequent month of that year, Tyrone's rebellion broke out, and occasioned his immediate flight, with his family, from Kilcolman. In the confusion attending this calamitous departure, one of his children was left behind, and perished in the conflagration of his house, when it was destroyed by the Irish insurgents. Spenser returned to England with a heart broken by distress, and died at London on the 16th of January, 1598-9. He was buried, according to his own desire, near the tomb of Chaucer; and the most celebrated poets of the time (Shakspeare was probably of the number,) followed his hearse and threw tributary verses into his grave.
Mr. Todd, the learned editor of his works, has proved it to be highly improbable that he could have died, as has been sometimes said, in absolute want. For he had still his pension and many friends, among whom Essex provided nobly for his funeral. Yet that he died broken-hearted and comparatively poor, is but too much to be feared, from the testimony of his contemporaries, Camden and Jonson. A reverse of fortune might crush his spirit without his being reduced to absolute indigence, especially with the horrible recollection of the manner in which his child had perished.
Yet she, most faithful lady, all this while
Had her abandon'd: she, of nought afraid, Through woods and wasteness wide him daily sought; Yet wished tidings none of him unto her brought.
One day, nigh weary of the irksome way,
It fortuned, out of the thickest wood,
Where grisly Night, with visage deadly sad, That Phoebus' cheerful face durst never view, And in a foul black pitchy mantle clad, She finds forthcoming from her darksome mew, Where she all day did hide her hated hue. Before the door her iron chariot stood, Already harnessed for journey new ; And coal-black steeds, yborn of hellish brood, That on their rusty bits did champ as they were wood".
So well they sped, that they be come at length Unto the place whereas the Paynim lay, Devoid of outward sense and native strength, Cover'd with charmed cloud, from view of day And sight of men, since his late luckless fray. His cruel wounds with cruddy blood congeal'd, They binden up so wisely as they may, And handle softly till they can be heal'd: So lay him in her chari't, close in Night conceal'd.
And all the while she stood upon the ground, The wakeful dogs did never cease to bay, As giving warning of th' unwonted sound, With which her iron wheels did them affray, And her dark grisly look them much dismay; The messenger of death, the ghastly owl, With dreary skrieks did also her bewray; And hungry wolves continually did howl At her abhorred face, so filthy and so foul.
By that same way the direful dames do drive Their mournful chariot, fill'd with rusty blood, And down to Pluto's house are come biliveb; Which passing through, on every side them stood The trembling ghosts, with sad amazed mood, Chattering their iron teeth, and staring wide With stony eyes; and all the hellish brood Of fiends infernal flock'd on every side To gaze on earthly wight, that with the Night durst ride.
BOOK II., CANTO VI.
A HARDER lesson to learn continence In joyous pleasure than in grievous pain; For sweetness doth allure the weaker sense So strongly, that uneathes it can refrain From that which feeble nature covets fain; But grief and wrath, that be her enemies And foes of life, she better can restrain : Yet Virtue vaunts in both her victories, And Guyon in them all shows goodly masteries. Whom bold Cymochles travelling to find, With cruel purpose bent to wreak on him The wrath which Atin kindled in his mind, Came to a river, by whose utmost brim Waiting to pass, he saw whereas did swim Along the shore, as swift as glance of eye, A little gondelay, bedecked trim With boughs and arbours woven cunningly, That like a little forest seemed outwardly; b Quickly.
" And therein sate a lady fresh and fair,
Which when far off, Cymochles heard and saw,
"In this wide inland sea, that hight by name
Soon heark'ned, and her painted boat straightway
She would admit, albe the knight her much did My little boat can safely pass this perilous
Eftsoons her shallow ship away did slide,
And other whiles vain toys she would devise
And all the way the wanton damsel found
For she in pleasant purpose did abound,
And greatly joyed merry tales to feign,
Of which a store-house did with her remain,
For all her words she drown'd with laughter vain,
Her light behaviour and loose dalliance
But to weak wench did yield his martial might:
With one sweet drop of sensual delight;
Of malice in the calm of pleasant womankind.
Diverse discourses in their way they spent ;
Whiles thus she talked, and whiles thus she toy'd,
It was a chosen plot of fertile land,
No tree, whose branches did not bravely spring;
Thus when she had his eyes and senses fed