Spenser - (English Men of Letters Series)
by R. W. Church
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Transcriber's Note: Variations in spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the original. Some typographical and punctuation errors have been corrected. A complete list follows the text. Words in Greek in the original are transliterated and placed between equal signs. Words italicized in the original are surrounded by underscores. Words in bold in the original are surrounded by plus signs. Characters inside {braces} are superscripted in the original. In quoted material, a row of asterisks represents an ellipsis. Ellipses match the original.





London: MACMILLAN AND CO. 1879

The Right of Translation and Reproduction is Reserved.


As the plan of these volumes does not encourage footnotes, I wish to say that, besides the biographies prefixed to the various editions of Spenser, there are two series of publications, which have been very useful to me. One is the series of Calendars of State Papers, especially the State Papers on Ireland and the Carew MSS. at Lambeth, with the prefaces of Mr. Hans Claude Hamilton and the late Professor Brewer. The other is Mr. E. Arber's series of reprints of old English books, and his Transcript of the Stationers' Registers, a work, I suppose, without parallel in its information about the early literature of a country, and edited by him with admirable care and public spirit. I wish also to say that I am much indebted to Mr. Craik's excellent little book on Spenser and his Poetry.

R. W. C.

March, 1879.

















Spenser marks a beginning in English literature. He is the first Englishman who, in that great division of our history which dates from the Reformation, attempted and achieved a poetical work of the highest order. Born about the same time as Hooker (1552-1554), in the middle of that eventful century which began with Henry VIII., and ended with Elizabeth, he was the earliest of our great modern writers in poetry, as Hooker was the earliest of our great modern writers in prose. In that reviving English literature, which, after Chaucer's wonderful promise, had been arrested in its progress, first by the Wars of the Roses, and then by the religious troubles of the Reformation, these two were the writers who first realized to Englishmen the ideas of a high literary perfection. These ideas vaguely filled many minds; but no one had yet shown the genius and the strength to grasp and exhibit them in a way to challenge comparison with what had been accomplished by the poetry and prose of Greece, Rome, and Italy. There had been poets in England since Chaucer, and prose writers since Wycliffe had translated the Bible. Surrey and Wyatt have deserved to live, while a crowd of poets, as ambitious as they, and not incapable of occasional force and sweetness, have been forgotten. Sir Thomas More, Roger Ascham, Tyndale, the translator of the New Testament, Bishop Latimer, the writers of many state documents, and the framers, either by translation or composition, of the offices of the English Prayer Book, showed that they understood the power of the English language over many of the subtleties and difficulties of thought, and were alive to the music of its cadences. Some of these works, consecrated by the highest of all possible associations, have remained, permanent monuments and standards of the most majestic and most affecting English speech. But the verse of Surrey, Wyatt, and Sackville, and the prose of More and Ascham were but noble and promising efforts. Perhaps the language was not ripe for their success; perhaps the craftsmen's strength and experience were not equal to the novelty of their attempt. But no one can compare the English styles of the first half of the sixteenth century with the contemporary styles of Italy, with Ariosto, Machiavelli, Guicciardini, without feeling the immense gap in point of culture, practice, and skill—the immense distance at which the Italians were ahead, in the finish and reach of their instruments, in their power to handle them, in command over their resources, and facility and ease in using them. The Italians were more than a century older; the English could not yet, like the Italians, say what they would; the strength of English was, doubtless, there in germ, but it had still to reach its full growth and development. Even the French prose of Rabelais and Montaigne was more mature. But in Spenser, as in Hooker, all these tentative essays of vigorous but unpractised minds have led up to great and lasting works. We have forgotten all these preliminary attempts, crude and imperfect, to speak with force and truth, or to sing with measure and grace. There is no reason why they should be remembered, except by professed inquirers into the antiquities of our literature; they were usually clumsy and awkward, sometimes grotesque, often affected, always hopelessly wanting in the finish, breadth, moderation, and order which alone can give permanence to writing. They were the necessary exercises by which Englishmen were recovering the suspended art of Chaucer, and learning to write; and exercises, though indispensably necessary, are not ordinarily in themselves interesting and admirable. But when the exercises had been duly gone through, then arose the original and powerful minds, to take full advantage of what had been gained by all the practising, and to concentrate and bring to a focus all the hints and lessons of art which had been gradually accumulating. Then the sustained strength and richness of the Faery Queen became possible; contemporary with it, the grandeur and force of English prose began in Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity; and then, in the splendid Elizabethan Drama, that form of art which has nowhere a rival, the highest powers of poetic imagination became wedded, as they had never been before in England or in the world, to the real facts of human life, and to its deepest thoughts and passions.

More is known about the circumstances of Spenser's life than about the lives of many men of letters of that time; yet our knowledge is often imperfect and inaccurate. The year 1552 is now generally accepted as the year of his birth. The date is inferred from a passage in one of his Sonnets,[4:1] and this probably is near the truth. That is to say that Spenser was born in one of the last two years of Edward VI.; that his infancy was passed during the dark days of Mary; and that he was about six years old when Elizabeth came to the throne. About the same time were born Ralegh, and, a year or two later (1554), Hooker and Philip Sidney. Bacon (1561), and Shakespere (1564), belong to the next decade of the century.

He was certainly a Londoner by birth, and early training. This also we learn from himself, in the latest poem published in his life-time. It is a bridal ode (Prothalamion), to celebrate the marriage of two daughters of the Earl of Worcester, written late in 1596. It was a time in his life of disappointment and trouble, when he was only a rare visitor to London. In the poem he imagines himself on the banks of London's great river, and the bridal procession arriving at Lord Essex's house; and he takes occasion to record the affection with which he still regarded "the most kindly nurse" of his boyhood.

Calm was the day, and through the trembling air Sweet-breathing Zephyrus did softly play, A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay Hot Titan's beams, which then did glister fair: When I, (whom sullen care, Through discontent of my long fruitless stay In Princes Court, and expectation vain Of idle hopes, which still do fly away, Like empty shadows, did afflict my brain,) Walkt forth to ease my pain Along the shore of silver-streaming Thames; Whose rutty bank, the which his river hems, Was painted all with variable flowers, And all the meads adorned with dainty gems Fit to deck maidens' bowers, And crown their paramours Against the bridal day, which is not long: Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song.

* * * * *

At length they all to merry London came, To merry London, my most kindly nurse, That to me gave this life's first native source, Though from another place I take my name, A house of ancient fame. There, when they came, whereas those bricky towers The which on Thames broad aged back do ride, Where now the studious lawyers have their bowers, There whilome wont the Templar Knights to bide, Till they decayed through pride: Next whereunto there stands a stately place, Where oft I gained gifts and goodly grace[5:2] Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell; Whose want too well now feels my friendless case; But ah! here fits not well Old woes, but joys, to tell Against the bridal day, which is not long: Sweet Thames! run softly, till I end my song: Yet therein now doth lodge a noble peer,[5:3] Great England's glory and the wide world's wonder, Whose dreadful name late through all Spain did thunder, And Hercules two pillars, standing near, Did make to quake and fear. Fair branch of honour, flower of chivalry! That fillest England with thy triumph's fame, Joy have thou of thy noble victory,[5:4] And endless happiness of thine own name That promiseth the same. That through thy prowess, and victorious arms, Thy country may be freed from foreign harms; And great Elisa's glorious name may ring Through all the world, filled with thy wide alarms.

Who his father was, and what was his employment we know not. From one of the poems of his later years we learn that his mother bore the famous name of Elizabeth, which was also the cherished one of Spenser's wife.

My love, my life's best ornament, By whom my spirit out of dust was raised.[6:5]

But his family, whatever was his father's condition, certainly claimed kindred, though there was a difference in the spelling of the name, with a house then rising into fame and importance, the Spencers of Althorpe, the ancestors of the Spencers and Churchills of modern days. Sir John Spencer had several daughters, three of whom made great marriages. Elizabeth was the wife of Sir George Carey, afterwards the second Lord Hunsdon, the son of Elizabeth's cousin and Counsellor. Anne, first, Lady Compton, afterwards married Thomas Sackville, the son of the poet, Lord Buckhurst, and then Earl of Dorset. Alice, the youngest, whose first husband, Lord Strange, became Earl of Derby, after his death married Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper, Baron Ellesmere, and then Viscount Brackley. These three sisters are celebrated by him in a gallery of the noble ladies of the Court,[6:6] under poetical names—"Phyllis, the flower of rare perfection," "Charillis, the pride and primrose of the rest," and "Sweet Amaryllis, the youngest but the highest in degree." Alice, Lady Strange, Lady Derby, Lady Ellesmere and Brackley, and then again Dowager Lady Derby, the "Sweet Amaryllis" of the poet, had the rare fortune to be a personal link between Spenser and Milton. She was among the last whom Spenser honoured with his homage: and she was the first whom Milton honoured; for he composed his Arcades to be acted before her by her grandchildren, and the Masque of Comus for her son-in-law, Lord Bridgewater, and his daughter, another Lady Alice. With these illustrious sisters Spenser claimed kindred. To each of these he dedicated one of his minor poems; to Lady Strange, the Tears of the Muses; to Lady Compton, the Apologue of the Fox and the Ape, Mother Hubberd's Tale; to Lady Carey, the Fable of the Butterfly and the Spider, Muiopotmos. And in each dedication he assumed on their part the recognition of his claim.

The sisters three, The honour of the noble family, Of which I meanest boast myself to be.

Whatever his degree of relationship to them, he could hardly even in the days of his fame have ventured thus publicly to challenge it, unless there had been some acknowledged ground for it. There are obscure indications, which antiquarian diligence may perhaps make clear, which point to East Lancashire as the home of the particular family of Spensers to which Edmund Spenser's father belonged. Probably he was, however, in humble circumstances.

Edmund Spenser was a Londoner by education as well as birth. A recent discovery by Mr. R. B. Knowles, further illustrated by Dr. Grosart,[7:7] has made us acquainted with Spenser's school. He was a pupil, probably one of the earliest ones, of the grammar school, then recently (1560) established by the Merchant Taylors' Company, under a famous teacher, Dr. Mulcaster. Among the manuscripts at Townley Hall are preserved the account books of the executors of a bountiful London citizen, Robert Nowell, the brother of Dr. Alexander Nowell, who was Dean of St. Paul's during Elizabeth's reign, and was a leading person in the ecclesiastical affairs of the time. In these books, in a crowd of unknown names of needy relations and dependents, distressed foreigners, and parish paupers, who shared from time to time the liberality of Mr. Robert Nowell's representatives, there appear among the numerous "poor scholars" whom his wealth assisted, the names of Richard Hooker, and Lancelot Andrewes. And there, also, in the roll of the expenditure at Mr. Nowell's pompous funeral at St. Paul's in February, 1568/9, among long lists of unknown men and women, high and low, who had mourning given them, among bills for fees to officials, for undertakers' charges, for heraldic pageantry and ornamentation, for abundant supplies for the sumptuous funeral banquet, are put down lists of boys, from the chief London schools, St. Paul's, Westminster, and others, to whom two yards of cloth were to be given to make their gowns: and at the head of the six scholars named from Merchant Taylors' is the name of Edmund Spenser.

He was then, probably, the senior boy of the school, and in the following May he went to Cambridge. The Nowells still helped him: we read in their account books under April 28, 1569, "to Edmond Spensore, scholler of the m'chante tayler scholl, at his gowinge to penbrocke hall in chambridge, x{s}." On the 20th of May, he was admitted sizar, or serving clerk at Pembroke Hall; and on more than one occasion afterwards, like Hooker and like Lancelot Andrewes, also a Merchant Taylors' boy, two or three years Spenser's junior, and a member of the same college, Spenser had a share in the benefactions, small in themselves, but very numerous, with which the Nowells after the fine fashion of the time, were accustomed to assist poor scholars at the Universities. In the visitations of Merchant Taylors' School, at which Grindal, Bishop of London, was frequently present,[9:8] it is not unlikely that his interest was attracted, in the appositions or examinations, to the promising senior boy of the school. At any rate Spenser, who afterwards celebrated Grindal's qualities as a bishop, was admitted to a place, one which befitted a scholar in humble circumstances, in Grindal's old college. It is perhaps worth noticing that all Spenser's early friends, Grindal, the Nowells, Dr. Mulcaster, his master, were north country men.

Spenser was sixteen or seventeen when he left school for the university, and he entered Cambridge at the time when the struggle which was to occupy the reign of Elizabeth was just opening. At the end of the year 1569, the first distinct blow was struck against the queen and the new settlement of religion, by the Rising of the North. In the first ten years of Elizabeth's reign, Spenser's school time at Merchant Taylors', the great quarrel had slumbered. Events abroad occupied men's minds; the religious wars in France, the death of the Duke of Guise (1563), the loss of Havre, and expulsion of the English garrisons, the close of the Council of Trent (1563), the French peace, the accession of Pius V. (1565/6). Nearer home, there was the marriage of Mary of Scotland with Henry Darnley (1565), and all the tragedy which followed, Kirk of Field (1567), Lochleven, Langside, Carlisle, the imprisonment of the pretender to the English Crown (1568). In England, the authority of Elizabeth had established itself, and the internal organization of the Reformed Church was going on, in an uncertain and tentative way, but steadily. There was a struggle between Genevan exiles, who were for going too fast, and bishops and politicians who were for going too slow; between authority and individual judgment, between home-born state traditions and foreign revolutionary zeal. But outwardly, at least, England had been peaceful. Now however a great change was at hand. In 1566, the Dominican Inquisitor, Michael Ghislieri, was elected Pope, under the title of Pius V.

In Pius (1566-72), were embodied the new spirit and policy of the Roman Church, as they had been created and moulded by the great Jesuit order, and by reforming bishops like Ghiberti of Verona, and Carlo Borromeo of Milan. Devout and self-denying as a saint, fierce and inflexible against abuses as a puritan, resolute and uncompromising as a Jacobin idealist or an Asiatic despot, ruthless and inexorable as an executioner, his soul was bent on re-establishing, not only by preaching and martyrdom, but by the sword and by the stake, the unity of Christendom and of its belief. Eastwards and westwards, he beheld two formidable foes and two serious dangers; and he saw before him the task of his life in the heroic work of crushing English heresy and beating back Turkish misbelief. He broke through the temporizing caution of his predecessors by the Bull of Deposition against Elizabeth in 1570. He was the soul of the confederacy which won the day of Lepanto against the Ottomans in 1571. And though dead, his spirit was paramount in the slaughter of St. Bartholomew in 1572.

In the year 1569, while Spenser was passing from school to college, his emissaries were already in England, spreading abroad that Elizabeth was a bastard and an apostate, incapable of filling a Christian throne, which belonged by right to the captive Mary. The seed they sowed bore fruit. In the end of the year, southern England was alarmed by the news of the rebellion of the two great Earls in the north, Percy of Northumberland and Neville of Westmoreland. Durham was sacked and the mass restored by an insurgent host, before which an "aged gentleman," Richard Norton with his sons, bore the banner of the Five Wounds of Christ. The rebellion was easily put down, and the revenge was stern. To the men who had risen at the instigation of the Pope and in the cause of Mary, Elizabeth gave, as she had sworn "such a breakfast as never was in the North before." The hangman finished the work on those who had escaped the sword. Poetry, early and late, has recorded the dreary fate of those brave victims of a mistaken cause, in the ballad of the Rising of the North, and in the White Doe of Rylstone. It was the signal given for the internecine war which was to follow between Rome and Elizabeth. And it was the first great public event which Spenser would hear of in all men's mouths, as he entered on manhood, the prelude and augury of fierce and dangerous years to come. The nation awoke to the certainty—one which so profoundly affects sentiment and character both in a nation and in an individual—that among the habitual and fixed conditions of life is that of having a serious and implacable enemy ever to reckon with.

And in this year, apparently in the transition time between school and college, Spenser's literary ventures began. The evidence is curious, but it seems to be clear. In 1569, a refugee Flemish physician from Antwerp, who had fled to England from the "abominations of the Roman Antichrist" and the persecutions of the Duke of Alva, John Vander Noodt, published one of those odd miscellanies, fashionable at the time, half moral and poetical, half fiercely polemical, which he called a "Theatre, wherein be represented as well the Miseries and Calamities which follow the voluptuous Worldlings, as also the great Joys and Pleasures which the Faithful do enjoy—an argument both profitable and delectable to all that sincerely love the word of God." This "little treatise," was a mixture of verse and prose, setting forth in general, the vanity of the world, and, in particular, predictions of the ruin of Rome and Antichrist: and it enforced its lessons by illustrative woodcuts. In this strange jumble are preserved, we can scarcely doubt, the first compositions which we know of Spenser's. Among the pieces are some Sonnets of Petrarch, and some Visions of the French poet Joachim du Bellay, whose poems were published in 1568. In the collection itself, these pieces are said by the compiler to have been translated by him "out of the Brabants speech," and "out of Dutch into English." But in a volume of "poems of the world's vanity," and published years afterwards in 1591, ascribed to Spenser, and put together, apparently with his consent, by his publisher, are found these very pieces from Petrarch and Du Bellay. The translations from Petrarch are almost literally the same, and are said to have been "formerly translated." In the Visions of Du Bellay there is this difference, that the earlier translations are in blank verse, and the later ones are rimed as sonnets; but the change does not destroy the manifest identity of the two translations. So that unless Spenser's publisher, to whom the poet had certainly given some of his genuine pieces for the volume, is not to be trusted,—which, of course, is possible, but not probable—or unless,—what is in the last degree inconceivable,—Spenser had afterwards been willing to take the trouble of turning the blank verse of Du Bellay's unknown translator into rime, the Dutchman who dates his Theatre of Worldlings on the 25th May, 1569, must have employed the promising and fluent school boy, to furnish him with an English versified form, of which he himself took the credit, for compositions which he professes to have known only in the Brabants or Dutch translations. The sonnets from Petrarch are translated with much command of language; there occurs in them, what was afterwards a favourite thought of Spenser's:—

—The Nymphs, That sweetly in accord did tune their voice To the soft sounding of the waters' fall.[13:9]

It is scarcely credible that the translator of the sonnets could have caught so much as he has done of the spirit of Petrarch without having been able to read the Italian original; and if Spenser was the translator, it is a curious illustration of the fashionableness of Italian literature in the days of Elizabeth, that a school-boy just leaving Merchant Taylors' should have been so much interested in it. Dr. Mulcaster, his master, is said by Warton to have given special attention to the teaching of the English language.

If these translations were Spenser's, he must have gone to Cambridge with a faculty of verse, which for his time may be compared to that with which winners of prize poems go to the universities now. But there was this difference, that the school-boy versifiers of our days are rich with the accumulated experience and practice of the most varied and magnificent poetical literature in the world; while Spenser had but one really great English model behind him; and Chaucer, honoured as he was, had become in Elizabeth's time, if not obsolete, yet in his diction, very far removed from the living language of the day. Even Milton, in his boyish compositions, wrote after Spenser and Shakespeare, with their contemporaries, had created modern English poetry. Whatever there was in Spenser's early verses of grace and music was of his own finding: no one of his own time, except in occasional and fitful snatches, like stanzas of Sackville's, had shown him the way. Thus equipped, he entered the student world, then full of pedantic and ill-applied learning, of the disputations of Calvinistic theology, and of the beginnings of those highly speculative puritanical controversies, which were the echo at the University of the great political struggles of the day, and were soon to become so seriously practical. The University was represented to the authorities in London as being in a state of dangerous excitement, troublesome and mutinous. Whitgift, afterwards Elizabeth's favourite archbishop, Master, first of Pembroke, and then of Trinity, was Vice-Chancellor of the University; but as the guardian of established order, he found it difficult to keep in check the violent and revolutionary spirit of the theological schools. Calvin was beginning to be set up there as the infallible doctor of Protestant theology. Cartwright from the Margaret Professor's chair was teaching the exclusive and divine claims of the Geneva platform of discipline, and in defiance of the bishops and the government was denouncing the received Church polity and ritual as Popish and anti-Christian. Cartwright, an extreme and uncompromising man, was deprived in 1570; but the course which things were taking under the influence of Rome and Spain gave force to his lessons and warnings, and strengthened his party. In this turmoil of opinions, amid these hard and technical debates, these fierce conflicts between the highest authorities, and this unsparing violence and bitterness of party recriminations, Spenser, with the tastes and faculties of a poet, and the love not only of what was beautiful, but of what was meditative and dreamy, began his university life.

It was not a favourable atmosphere for the nurture of a great poet. But it suited one side of Spenser's mind, as it suited that of all but the most independent Englishmen of the time, Shakespere, Bacon, Ralegh. Little is known of Spenser's Cambridge career. It is probable, from the persons with whom he was connected, that he would not be indifferent to the debates around him, and that his religious prepossessions were then, as afterwards, in favour of the conforming puritanism in the Church, as opposed to the extreme and thorough-going puritanism of Cartwright. Of the conforming puritans, who would have been glad of a greater approximation to the Swiss model, but who, whatever their private wishes or dislikes, thought it best, for good reasons or bad, to submit to the strong determination of the government against it, and to accept what the government approved and imposed, Grindal, who held successively the great sees of London, York, and Canterbury, and Nowell, Dean of St. Paul's, Spenser's benefactor, were representative types. Grindal, a waverer like many others in opinion, had also a noble and manly side to his character, in his hatred of practical abuses, and in the courageous and obstinate resistance which he could offer to power, when his sense of right was outraged. Grindal, as has been said, was perhaps instrumental in getting Spenser into his own old college, Pembroke Hall, with the intention, it may be, as was the fashion of bishops of that time, of becoming his patron. But certainly after his disgrace in 1577, and when it was not quite safe to praise a great man under the displeasure of the Court, Grindal is the person whom Spenser first singled out for his warmest and heartiest praise. He is introduced under a thin disguise, "Algrind," in Spenser's earliest work after he left Cambridge, the Shepherd's Calendar, as the pattern of the true and faithful Christian pastor. And if Pembroke Hall retained at all the tone and tendencies of such masters as Ridley, Grindal, and Whitgift, the school in which Spenser grew up was one of their mitigated puritanism. But his puritanism was political and national, rather than religious. He went heartily with the puritan party in their intense hatred of Rome and Roman partisans; he went with them also in their denunciations of the scandals and abuses of the ecclesiastical government at home. But in temper of mind and intellectual bias he had little in common with the puritans. For the stern austerities of Calvinism, its fierce and eager scholasticism, its isolation from human history, human enjoyment, and all the manifold play and variety of human character, there could not be much sympathy in a man like Spenser, with his easy and flexible nature, keenly alive to all beauty, an admirer even when he was not a lover of the alluring pleasures of which the world is full, with a perpetual struggle going on in him, between his strong instincts of purity and right, and his passionate appreciation of every charm and grace. He shows no signs of agreement with the internal characteristics of the puritans, their distinguishing theology, their peculiarities of thought and habits, their protests, right or wrong, against the fashions and amusements of the world. If not a man of pleasure, he yet threw himself without scruple into the tastes, the language, the pursuits, of the gay and gallant society in which they saw so much evil: and from their narrow view of life, and the contempt, dislike, and fear, with which they regarded the whole field of human interest, he certainly was parted by the widest gulf. Indeed, he had not the sternness and concentration of purpose, which made Milton the great puritan poet.

Spenser took his Master's degree in 1576, and then left Cambridge. He gained no Fellowship, and there is nothing to show how he employed himself. His classical learning, whether acquired there or elsewhere, was copious, but curiously inaccurate; and the only specimen remaining of his Latin composition in verse is contemptible in its mediaeval clumsiness. We know nothing of his Cambridge life except the friendships which he formed there. An intimacy began at Cambridge of the closest and most affectionate kind, which lasted long into after-life, between him and two men of his college, one older in standing than himself, the other younger; Gabriel Harvey, first a fellow of Pembroke, and then a student or teacher of civil law at Trinity Hall, and Edward Kirke, like Spenser, a sizar at Pembroke, recently identified with the E. K., who was the editor and commentator of Spenser's earliest work, the anonymous Shepherd's Calendar. Of the younger friend this is the most that is known. That he was deeply in Spenser's confidence as a literary coadjutor, and possibly in other ways, is shown in the work which he did. But Gabriel Harvey was a man who had influence on Spenser's ideas and purposes, and on the direction of his efforts. He was a classical scholar of much distinction in his day, well read in the Italian authors then so fashionable, and regarded as a high authority on questions of criticism and taste. Except to students of Elizabethan literary history, he has become an utterly obscure personage; and he has not usually been spoken of with much respect. He had the misfortune, later in life, to plunge violently into the scurrilous quarrels of the day, and as he was matched with wittier and more popular antagonists, he has come down to us as a foolish pretender, or at least as a dull and stupid scholar who knew little of the real value of the books he was always ready to quote, like the pedant of the comedies, or Shakespere's schoolmaster Holofernes. Further, he was one who, with his classical learning, had little belief in the resources of his mother tongue, and he was one of the earliest and most confident supporters of a plan then fashionable, for reforming English verse, by casting away its natural habits and rhythms, and imposing on it the laws of the classical metres. In this he was not singular. The professed treatises of this time on poetry, of which there were several, assume the same theory, as the mode of "reforming" and duly elevating English verse. It was eagerly accepted by Philip Sidney and his Areopagus of wits at court, who busied themselves in devising rules of their own—improvements as they thought on those of the university men—for English hexameters and sapphics, or as they called it, artificial versifying. They regarded the comparative value of the native English rhythms and the classical metres, much as our ancestors of Addison's day regarded the comparison between Gothic and Palladian architecture. One, even if it sometimes had a certain romantic interest, was rude and coarse; the other was the perfection of polite art and good taste. Certainly in what remains of Gabriel Harvey's writing, there is much that seems to us vain and ridiculous enough; and it has been naturally surmised that he must have been a dangerous friend and counsellor to Spenser. But probably we are hard upon him. His writings, after all, are not much more affected and absurd in their outward fashion than most of the literary composition of the time; his verses are no worse than those of most of his neighbours; he was not above, but he was not below, the false taste and clumsiness of his age; and the rage for "artificial versifying" was for the moment in the air. And it must be said, that though his enthusiasm for English hexameters is of a piece with the puritan use of scripture texts in divinity and morals, yet there is no want of hard-headed shrewdness in his remarks; indeed, in his rules for the adaptation of English words and accents to classical metres, he shows clearness and good sense in apprehending the conditions of the problem, while Sidney and Spenser still appear confused and uncertain. But in spite of his pedantry, and though he had not, as we shall see, the eye to discern at first the genius of the Faery Queen, he has to us the interest of having been Spenser's first, and as far as we can see, to the last, dearest friend. By both of his younger fellow-students at Cambridge, he was looked up to with the deepest reverence, and the most confiding affection. Their language is extravagant, but there is no reason to think that it was not genuine. E. Kirke, the editor of Spenser's first venture, the Shepherd's Calendar, commends the "new poet" to his patronage, and to the protection of his "mighty rhetoric," and exhorts Harvey himself to seize the poetical "garland which to him alone is due." Spenser speaks in the same terms; "veruntamen te sequor solum; nunquam vero assequar." Portions of the early correspondence between Harvey and Spenser have been preserved to us, possibly by Gabriel Harvey's self-satisfaction in regard to his own compositions. But with the pedagogue's jocoseness, and a playfulness which is like that of an elephant, it shows on both sides easy frankness, sincerity, and warmth, and not a little of the early character of the younger man. In Spenser's earliest poetry, his pastorals, Harvey appears among the imaginary rustics, as the poet's "special and most familiar friend," under the name of Hobbinol,—

"Good Hobbinol, that was so true."

To him Spenser addresses his confidences, under the name of Colin Clout, a name borrowed from Skelton, a satirical poet of Henry VIII.'s time, which Spenser kept throughout his poetical career. Harvey reappears in one of Spenser's latest writings, a return to the early pastoral, Colin Clout's come home again, a picture drawn in distant Ireland, of the brilliant but disappointing court of Elizabeth. And from Ireland in 1586, was addressed to Harvey by "his devoted friend during life," the following fine sonnet, which, whatever may have been the merit of Harvey's criticisms and his literary quarrels with Greene and Nash, shows at least Spenser's unabated honour for him.


HARVEY, the happy above happiest men I read; that, sitting like a looker on Of this world's stage, dost note with critic pen The sharp dislikes of each condition; And, as one careless of suspicion, Ne fawnest for the favour of the great; Ne fearest foolish reprehension Of faulty men, which danger to thee threat; But freely dost, of what thee list, entreat, Like a great lord of peerless liberty; Lifting the good up to high honour's seat, And the evil damning over more to die; For life and death is in thy doomful writing; So thy renown lives ever by enditing.

Dublin, this xviii. of July, 1586. Your devoted friend, during life, EDMUND SPENSER.

Between Cambridge and Spenser's appearance in London, there is a short but obscure interval. What is certain is, that he spent part of it in the North of England; that he was busy with various poetical works, one of which was soon to make him known as a new star in the poetical heaven; and lastly, that in the effect on him of a deep but unrequited passion, he then received what seems to have been a strong and determining influence on his character and life. It seems likely that his sojourn in the north, which perhaps first introduced the London-bred scholar, the "Southern Shepherd's Boy," to the novel and rougher country life of distant Lancashire, also gave form and local character to his first considerable work. But we do not know for certain where his abode was in the north; of his literary activity, which must have been considerable, we only partially know the fruit; and of the lady whom he made so famous, that her name became a consecrated word in the poetry of the time, of Rosalind, the "Widow's Daughter of the Glen," whose refusal of his suit, and preference for another, he lamented so bitterly, yet would allow no one else to blame, we know absolutely nothing. She would not be his wife; but apparently, he never ceased to love her through all the chances and temptations, and possibly errors of his life, even apparently in the midst of his passionate admiration of the lady whom, long afterwards, he did marry. To her kindred and condition, various clues have been suggested, only to provoke and disappoint us. Whatever her condition, she was able to measure Spenser's powers: Gabriel Harvey has preserved one of her compliments—"Gentle Mistress Rosalind once reported him to have all the intelligences at commandment; and at another, christened him her Signior Pegaso." But the unknown Rosalind had given an impulse to the young poet's powers, and a colour to his thoughts, and had enrolled Spenser in that band and order of poets,—with one exception, not the greatest order,—to whom the wonderful passion of love, in its heights and its depths, is the element on which their imagination works, and out of which it moulds its most beautiful and characteristic creations.

But in October, 1579, he emerges from obscurity. If we may trust the correspondence between Gabriel Harvey and Spenser, which was published at the time, Spenser was then in London.[22:1] It was the time of the crisis of the Alencon courtship, while the Queen was playing fast and loose with her Valois lover, whom she playfully called her frog; when all about her, Burghley, Leicester, Sidney, and Walsingham, were dismayed, both at the plan itself, and at her vacillations; and just when the Puritan pamphleteer, who had given expression to the popular disgust at a French marriage, especially at a connexion with the family which had on its hands the blood of St. Bartholomew, was sentenced to lose his right hand as a seditious libeller. Spenser had become acquainted with Philip Sidney, and Sidney's literary and courtly friends. He had been received into the household of Sidney's uncle, Lord Leicester, and dates one of his letters from Leicester House. Among his employments he had written, "Stemmata Dudleiana." He is doubting whether or not to publish, "to utter," some of his poetical compositions: he is doubting, and asks Harvey's advice, whether or not to dedicate them to His Excellent Lordship, "lest by our much cloying their noble ears he should gather contempt of myself, or else seem rather for gain and commodity to do it, and some sweetness that I have already tasted." Yet, he thinks, that when occasion is so fairly offered of estimation and preferment, it may be well to use it: "while the iron is hot, it is good striking; and minds of nobles vary, as their estates." And he was on the eve of starting across the sea to be employed in Leicester's service, on some permanent mission in France, perhaps in connexion with the Alencon intrigues. He was thus launched into what was looked upon as the road of preferment; in his case, as it turned out, a very subordinate form of public employment, which was to continue almost for his lifetime. Sidney had recognized his unusual power, if not yet his genius. He brought him forward; perhaps he accepted him as a friend. Tradition makes him Sidney's companion at Penshurst; in his early poems, Kent is the county with which he seems most familiar. But Sidney certainly made him known to the queen; he probably recommended him as a promising servant to Leicester: and he impressed his own noble and beautiful character deeply on Spenser's mind. Spenser saw and learned in him what was then the highest type of the finished gentleman. He led Spenser astray. Sidney was not without his full share of that affectation, which was then thought refinement. Like Gabriel Harvey, he induced Spenser to waste his time on the artificial versifying which was in vogue. But such faults and mistakes of fashion, and in one shape or another they are inevitable in all ages, were as nothing, compared to the influence on a highly receptive nature, of a character so elevated and pure, so genial, so brave and true. It was not in vain that Spenser was thus brought so near to his "Astrophel."

These letters tell us all that we know of Spenser's life at this time. During these anxious eighteen months, and connected with persons like Sidney and Leicester, Spenser only writes to Harvey on literary subjects. He is discreet, and will not indulge Harvey's "desire to hear of my late being with her Majesty." According to a literary fashion of the time, he writes and is addressed as M. Immerito, and the great business which occupies him and fills the letters is the scheme devised in Sidney's Areopagus for the "general surceasing and silence of bald Rymers, and also of the very best of them too; and for prescribing certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse." Spenser "is more in love with his English versifying than with ryming,"—"which," he says to Harvey, "I should have done long since, if I would then have followed your counsel." Harvey, of course, is delighted; he thanks the good angel which puts it into the heads of Sidney and Edward Dyer, "the two very diamonds of her Majesty's court," "our very Castor and Pollux," to "help forward our new famous enterprise for the exchanging of barbarous rymes for artificial verses;" and the whole subject is discussed at great length between the two friends; "Mr. Drant's" rules are compared with those of "Mr. Sidney," revised by "Mr. Immerito;" and examples, highly illustrative of the character of the "famous enterprise" are copiously given. In one of Harvey's letters we have a curious account of changes of fashion in studies and ideas at Cambridge. They seem to have changed since Spenser's time.

I beseech you all this while, what news at Cambridge? Tully and Demosthenes nothing so much studied as they were wont: Livy and Sallust perhaps more, rather than less: Lucian never so much: Aristotle much named but little read: Xenophon and Plato reckoned amongst discoursers, and conceited superficial fellows; much verbal and sophistical jangling; little subtle and effectual disputing. Machiavel a great man: Castilio, of no small repute: Petrarch and Boccace in every man's mouth: Galateo and Guazzo never so happy: but some acquainted with Unico Aretino: the French and Italian highly regarded: the Latin and Greek but lightly. The Queen Mother at the beginning or end of every conference: all inquisitive after news: new books, new fashions, new laws, new officers, and some after new elements, some after new heavens and hells too. Turkish affairs familiarly known: castles built in the air: much ado, and little help: in no age so little so much made of; every one highly in his own favour. Something made of nothing, in spight of Nature: numbers made of cyphers, in spight of Art. Oxen and asses, notwithstanding the absurdity it seemed to Plautus, drawing in the same yoke: the Gospel taught, not learnt; Charity cold; nothing good, but by imputation; the Ceremonial Law in word abrogated, the Judicial in effect disannull'd, the Moral abandon'd; the Light, the Light in every man's lips, but mark their eyes, and you will say they are rather like owls than eagles. As of old books, so of ancient virtue, honesty, fidelity, equity, new abridgments; every day spawns new opinions: heresy in divinity, in philosophy, in humanity, in manners, grounded upon hearsay; doctors contemn'd; the devil not so hated as the pope; many invectives, but no amendment. No more ado about caps and surplices; Mr. Cartwright quite forgotten.

* * * * *

David, Ulysses, and Solon, feign'd themselves fools and madmen; our fools and madmen feign themselves Davids, Ulysses's, and Solons. It is pity fair weather should do any hurt; but I know what peace and quietness hath done with some melancholy pickstraws.

The letters preserve a good many touches of character which are interesting. This, for instance, which shows Spenser's feeling about Sidney. "New books," writes Spenser, "I hear of none, but only of one, that writing a certain book called The School of Abuse, [Stephen Gosson's Invective against poets, pipers, players, &c.] and dedicating to M. Sidney, was for his labour scorned: if at least it be in the goodness of that nature to scorn." As regards Spenser himself, it is clear from the letters that Harvey was not without uneasiness lest his friend, from his gay and pleasure-loving nature, and the temptations round him, should be carried away into the vices of an age, which, though very brilliant and high-tempered, was also a very dissolute one. He couches his counsels mainly in Latin; but they point to real danger; and he adds in English,—"Credit me, I will never lin [= cease] baiting at you, till I have rid you quite of this yonkerly and womanly humour." But in the second pair of letters of April, 1580, a lady appears. Whether Spenser was her husband or her lover, we know not; but she is his "sweetheart." The two friends write of her in Latin. Spenser sends in Latin the saucy messages of his sweetheart, "meum corculum," to Harvey; Harvey, with academic gallantry, sends her in Latin as many thanks for her charming letter as she has hairs, "half golden, half silver, half jewelled, in her little head;"—she is a second little Rosalind—"altera Rosalindula," whom he salutes as "Domina Immerito, mea bellissima Colina Clouta." But whether wife or mistress, we hear of her no more. Further, the letters contain notices of various early works of Spenser. The "new" Shepherd's Calendar, of which more will be said, had just been published. And in this correspondence of April, 1580, we have the first mention of the Faery Queen. The compositions here mentioned have been either lost, or worked into his later poetry; his Dreams, Epithalamion Thamesis, apparently in the "reformed verse," his Dying Pelican, his Slumber, his Stemmata Dudleiana, his Comedies. They show at least the activity and eagerness of the writer in his absorbing pursuit. But he was still in bondage to the belief that English poetry ought to try to put on a classical dress. It is strange that the man who had written some of the poetry in the Shepherd's Calendar should have found either satisfaction or promise in the following attempt at Trimeter Iambics.

And nowe requite I you with the like, not with the verye beste, but with the verye shortest, namely, with a few Iambickes: I dare warrant they be precisely perfect for the feete (as you can easily judge), and varie not one inch from the Rule. I will imparte yours to Maister Sidney and Maister Dyer at my nexte going to the Courte. I praye you, keepe mine close to your selfe, or your verie entire friends, Maister Preston, Maister Still, and the reste.

Iambicum Trimetrum.

Unhappie Verse, the witnesse of my unhappie state, Make thy selfe fluttring wings of thy fast flying Thought, and fly forth unto my Love wheresoever she be:

Whether lying reastlesse in heavy bedde, or else Sitting so cheerlesse at the cheerfull boorde, or else Playing alone carelesse on hir heavenlie Virginals.

If in Bed, tell hir, that my eyes can take no reste: If at Boorde, tell hir that my mouth can eate no meate: If at hir Virginals, tell hir, I can heare no mirth.

Asked why? say: Waking Love suffereth no sleepe: Say, that raging Love dothe appall the weake stomacke: Say, that lamenting Love marreth the Musicall.

Tell hir, that hir pleasures were wonte to lull me asleepe: Tell hir, that hir beautie was wonte to feede mine eyes: Tell hir, that hir sweete Tongue was wonte to make me mirth.

Nowe doe I nightly waste, wanting my kindely reste: Nowe doe I dayly starve, wanting my lively foode: Nowe doe I alwayes dye, wanting thy timely mirth.

And if I waste, who will bewaile my heavy chaunce? And if I starve, who will record my cursed end? And if I dye, who will saye: this was Immerito?



——Since the winged god his planet clear Began in me to move, one year is spent: The which doth longer unto me appear Than all those forty which my life outwent.

Sonnet LX., probably written in 1593 or 1594.

[5:2] Leicester House, then Essex House, in the Strand.

[5:3] Earl of Essex.

[5:4] At Cadiz, June 21, 1596.

[6:5] Sonnet LXXIV.

[6:6] Colin Clout's come Home again, l. 536. Craik, Spenser, i. 9. 10.

[7:7] See The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell, 1568-1580: from the MSS. at Towneley Hall. Edited by Rev. A. B. Grosart, 1877.

[9:8] H. B. Wilson, Hist. of Merchant Taylors' School, p. 23.

[13:9] Comp. Sheph. Cal. April l. 36. June l. 8. F. Q. 6. 10. 7.

[22:1] Published in June, 1580. Reprinted incompletely in Haslewood, Ancient Critical Essays (1815), ii. 255. Extracts given in editions of Spenser by Hughes, Todd, and Morris. The letters are of April, 1579, and October, 1580.




It is clear that when Spenser appeared in London, he had found out his powers and vocation as a poet. He came from Cambridge, fully conscious of the powerful attraction of the imaginative faculties, conscious of an extraordinary command over the resources of language, and with a singular gift of sensitiveness to the grace and majesty and suggestiveness of sound and rhythm, such as makes a musician. And whether he knew it or not, his mind was in reality made up, as to what his English poetry was to be. In spite of opinions and fashions round him, in spite of university pedantry and the affectations of the court, in spite of Harvey's classical enthusiasm, and Sidney's Areopagus, and in spite of half-fancying himself converted to their views, his own powers and impulses showed him the truth, and made him understand better than his theories what a poet could and ought to do with English speech in its free play and genuine melodies. When we first come upon him, we find that at the age of twenty-seven, he had not only realized an idea of English poetry far in advance of anything which his age had yet conceived or seen; but that, besides what he had executed or planned, he had already in his mind the outlines of the Faery Queen, and, in some form or other, though perhaps not yet as we have it, had written some portion of it.

In attempting to revive for his own age Chaucer's suspended art, Spenser had the tendencies of the time with him. The age was looking out for some one to do for England what had been grandly done for Italy. The time in truth was full of poetry. The nation was just in that condition which is most favourable to an outburst of poetical life or art. It was highly excited; but it was also in a state of comparative peace and freedom from external disturbance. "An over-faint quietness," writes Sidney in 1581, lamenting that there were so few good poets, "should seem to strew the house for poets." After the first ten years of Elizabeth's reign, and the establishment of her authority, the country had begun to breathe freely, and fall into natural and regular ways. During the first half of the century, it had had before it the most astonishing changes which the world had seen for centuries. These changes seemed definitely to have run their course; with the convulsions which accompanied them, their uprootings and terrors, they were gone; and the world had become accustomed to their results. The nation still had before it great events, great issues, great perils, great and indefinite prospects of adventure and achievement. The old quarrels and animosities of Europe had altered in character: from being wars between princes, and disputes of personal ambition, they had attracted into them all that interests and divides mankind, from high to low. Their animating principle was a high and a sacred cause: they had become wars of liberty, and wars of religion. The world had settled down to the fixed antipathies and steady rivalries of centuries to come. But the mere shock of transition was over. Yet the remembrance of the great break-up was still fresh. For fifty years the English people had had before its eyes the great vicissitudes which make tragedy. They had seen the most unforeseen and most unexpected revolutions in what had for ages been held certain and immovable; the overthrow of the strongest institutions, and most venerable authorities; the violent shifting of feelings from faith to passionate rejection, from reverence to scorn and a hate which could not be satisfied. They had seen the strangest turns of fortune, the most wonderful elevations to power, the most terrible visitations of disgrace. They had seen the mightiest ruined, the brightest and most admired brought down to shame and death, men struck down with all the forms of law, whom the age honoured as its noblest ornaments. They had seen the flames of martyr or heretic, heads which had worn a crown laid one after another on the block, controversies, not merely between rivals for power, but between the deepest principles and the most rooted creeds, settled on the scaffold. Such a time of surprise,—of hope and anxiety, of horror and anguish to-day, of relief and exultation to-morrow,—had hardly been to England as the first half of the sixteenth century. All that could stir men's souls, all that could inflame their hearts, or that could wring them, had happened.

And yet, compared with previous centuries, and with what was going on abroad, the time now was a time of peace, and men lived securely. Wealth was increasing. The Wars of the Roses had left the crown powerful to enforce order, and protect industry and trade. The nation was beginning to grow rich. When the day's work was done, men's leisure was not disturbed by the events of neighbouring war. They had time to open their imaginations to the great spectacle which had been unrolled before them, to reflect upon it, to put into shape their thoughts about it. The intellectual movement of the time had reached England, and its strong impulse to mental efforts in new and untried directions was acting powerfully upon Englishmen. But though there was order and present peace at home, there was much to keep men's minds on the stretch. There was quite enough danger and uncertainty to wind up their feelings to a high pitch. But danger was not so pressing as to prevent them from giving full place to the impressions of the strange and eventful scene round them, with its grandeur, its sadness, its promises. In such a state of things there is everything to tempt poetry. There are its materials and its stimulus, and there is the leisure to use its materials.

But the poet had not yet been found; and everything connected with poetry was in the disorder of ignorance and uncertainty. Between the counsels of a pedantic scholarship, and the rude and hesitating, but true instincts of the natural English ear, every one was at sea. Yet it seemed as if every one was trying his hand at verse. Popular writing took that shape. The curious and unique record of literature preserved in the registers of the Stationers' Company, shows that the greater proportion of what was published, or at least entered for publication, was in the shape of ballads. The ballad vied with the sermon in doing what the modern newspaper does, in satisfying the public craving for information, amusement, or guidance. It related the last great novelty, the last great battle or crime, a storm or monstrous birth. It told some pathetic or burlesque story, or it moralized on the humours or follies of classes and professions, of young and old, of men and of women. It sang the lover's hopes or sorrows, or the adventures of some hero of history or romance. It might be a fable, a satire, a libel, a squib, a sacred song or paraphrase, a homily. But about all that it treated it sought to throw more or less the colour of imagination. It appealed to the reader's feelings, or sympathy, or passion. It attempted to raise its subject above the level of mere matter of fact. It sought for choice and expressive words; it called in the help of measure and rhythm. It aimed at a rude form of art. Presently the critical faculty came into play. Scholars, acquainted with classical models and classical rules, began to exercise their judgment on their own poetry, to construct theories, to review the performances before them, to suggest plans for the improvement of the poetic art. Their essays are curious, as the beginnings of that great critical literature, which in England, in spite of much infelicity, has only been second to the poetry which it judged. But in themselves they are crude, meagre, and helpless; interesting mainly, as showing how much craving there was for poetry, and how little good poetry to satisfy it, and what inconceivable doggrel could be recommended by reasonable men, as fit to be admired and imitated. There is fire and eloquence in Philip Sidney's Apologie for Poetrie (1581); but his ideas about poetry were floating, loose, and ill defined, and he had not much to point to as of first-rate excellence in recent writers. Webbe's Discourse of English Poetrie (1586), and the more elaborate work ascribed to George Puttenham (1589), works of tame and artificial learning without Sidney's fire, reveal equally the poverty, as a whole, of what had been as yet produced in England as poetry, in spite of the widespread passion for poetry. The specimens which they quote and praise are mostly grotesque to the last degree. Webbe improves some gracefully flowing lines of Spenser's into the most portentous Sapphics; and Puttenham squeezes compositions into the shapes of triangles, eggs, and pilasters. Gabriel Harvey is accused by his tormentor, Nash, of doing the same, "of having writ verse in all kinds, as in form of a pair of gloves, a dozen of points, a pair of spectacles, a two-hand sword, a poynado, a colossus, a pyramid, a painter's easel, a market cross, a trumpet, an anchor, a pair of pot-hooks." Puttenham's Art of Poetry, with its books, one on Proportion, the other on Ornament, might be compared to an Art of War, of which one book treated of barrack drill, and the other of busbies, sabretasches, and different forms of epaulettes and feathers. These writers do not want good sense or the power to make a good remark. But the stuff and material for good criticism, the strong and deep poetry, which makes such criticisms as theirs seem so absurd, had not yet appeared.

A change was at hand; and the suddenness of it is one of the most astonishing things in literary history. The ten years from 1580 to 1590 present a set of critical essays, giving a picture of English poetry of which, though there are gleams of a better hope, and praise is specially bestowed on a "new poet," the general character is feebleness, fantastic absurdity, affectation and bad taste. Force, and passion, and simple truth, and powerful thoughts of the world and man, are rare; and poetical reformers appear maundering about miserable attempts at English hexameters and sapphics. What was to be looked for from all that? Who could suppose what was preparing under it all? But the dawn was come. The next ten years, from 1590 to 1600, not only saw the Faery Queen, but they were the years of the birth of the English Drama. Compare the idea which we get of English poetry from Philip Sidney's Defense in 1581, and Puttenham's treatise in 1589, I do not say with Shakespere, but with Lamb's selections from the Dramatic Poets, many of them unknown names to the majority of modern readers; and we see at once what a bound English poetry has made; we see that a new spring time of power and purpose in poetical thought has opened; new and original forms have sprung to life of poetical grandeur, seriousness, and magnificence. From the poor and rude play-houses, with their troops of actors most of them profligate and disreputable, their coarse excitements, their buffoonery, license, and taste for the monstrous and horrible,—denounced not without reason as corruptors of public morals, preached against at Paul's Cross, expelled the city by the Corporation, classed by the law with rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars, and patronized by the great and unscrupulous nobles in defiance of it—there burst forth suddenly a new poetry, which with its reality, depth, sweetness and nobleness took the world captive. The poetical ideas and aspirations of the Englishmen of the time had found at last adequate interpreters, and their own national and unrivalled expression.

And in this great movement Spenser was the harbinger and announcing sign. But he was only the harbinger. What he did was to reveal to English ears as it never had been revealed before, at least, since the days of Chaucer, the sweet music, the refined grace, the inexhaustible versatility of the English tongue. But his own efforts were in a different direction from that profound and insatiable seeking after the real, in thought and character, in representation and expression, which made Shakespere so great, and his brethren great in proportion as they approached him. Spenser's genius continued to the end under the influences which were so powerful when it first unfolded itself. To the last it allied itself, in form, at least, with the artificial. To the last it moved in a world which was not real, which never had existed, which, any how, was only a world of memory and sentiment. He never threw himself frankly on human life as it is; he always viewed it through a veil of mist which greatly altered its true colours, and often distorted its proportions. And thus while more than any one he prepared the instruments and the path for the great triumph, he himself missed the true field for the highest exercise of poetic power; he missed the highest honours of that in which he led the way.

Yet, curiously enough, it seems as if, early in his career, he was affected by the strong stream which drew Shakespere. Among the compositions of his first period, besides The Shepherd's Calendar, are Nine Comedies,—clearly real plays, which his friend Gabriel Harvey praised with enthusiasm. As early as 1579 Spenser had laid before Gabriel Harvey for his judgement and advice, a portion of the Fairy Queen in some shape or another, and these nine comedies. He was standing at the parting of the ways. The allegory, with all its tempting associations and machinery, with its ingenuities and pictures, and boundless license to vagueness and to fancy, was on one side; and on the other, the drama, with its prima facie and superficially prosaic aspects, and its kinship to what was customary and commonplace and unromantic in human life. Of the nine comedies, composed on the model of those of Ariosto and Machiavelli and other Italians, every trace has perished. But this was Gabriel Harvey's opinion of the respective value of the two specimens of work submitted to him, and this was his counsel to their author. In April, 1580, he thus writes to Spenser.

In good faith I had once again nigh forgotten your Faerie Queene; howbeit, by good chance, I have now sent her home at the last neither in better or worse case than I found her. And must you of necessity have my judgement of her indeed? To be plain, I am void of all judgement, if your Nine Comedies, whereunto in imitation of Herodotus, you give the names of the Nine Muses (and in one man's fancy not unworthily), come not nearer Ariosto's comedies, either for the fineness of plausible elocution, or the rareness of poetical invention, than that Elvish Queen doth to his Orlando Furioso, which notwithstanding you will needs seem to emulate, and hope to overgo, as you flatly professed yourself in one of your last letters.

Besides that you know, it hath been the usual practice of the most exquisite and odd wits in all nations, and specially in Italy rather to show, and advance themselves that way than any other: as, namely, those three notorious discoursing heads, Bibiena, Machiavel, and Aretino did (to let Bembo and Ariosto pass) with the great admiration and wonderment of the whole country: being indeed reputed matchable in all points, both for conceit of wit and eloquent deciphering of matters, either with Aristophanes and Menander in Greek, or with Plautus and Terence in Latin, or with any other in any other tongue. But I will not stand greatly with you in your own matters. If so be the Faery Queene be fairer in your eye than the Nine Muses, and Hobgoblin run away with the garland from Apollo: mark what I say, and yet I will not say that I thought, but there is an end for this once, and fare you well, till God or some good angel put you in a better mind.

It is plain on which side Spenser's own judgement inclined. He had probably written the comedies, as he had written English hexameters, out of deference to others, or to try his hand. But the current of his own secret thoughts, those thoughts, with their ideals and aims, which tell a man what he is made for, and where his power lies, set another way. The Fairy Queen was 'fairer in his eye than the Nine Muses, and Hobgoblin did run away with the garland from Apollo.' What Gabriel Harvey prayed for as the 'better mind' did not come. And we cannot repine at a decision which gave us, in the shape which it took at last, the allegory of the Fairy Queen.

But the Fairy Queen, though already planned and perhaps begun, belongs to the last ten years of the century, to the season of fulfilment not of promise, to the blossoming, not to the opening bud. The new hopes for poetry which Spenser brought were given in a work, which the Fairy Queen has eclipsed and almost obscured, as the sun puts out the morning star. Yet that which marked a turning-point in the history of our poetry, was the book which came out, timidly and anonymously, in the end of 1579, or the beginning of 1580, under the borrowed title of the Shepherd's Calendar, a name familiar in those days as that of an early medley of astrology and homely receipts from time to time reprinted, which was the Moore's or Zadkiel's almanac of the time. It was not published ostensibly by Spenser himself, though it is inscribed to Philip Sidney in a copy of verses signed with Spenser's masking name of Immerito. The avowed responsibility for it might have been inconvenient for a young man pushing his fortune among the cross currents of Elizabeth's court. But it was given to the world by a friend of the author's, signing himself E. K., now identified with Spenser's fellow-student at Pembroke, Edward Kirke, who dedicates it in a long, critical epistle of some interest to the author's friend, Gabriel Harvey, and after the fashion of some of the Italian books of poetry, accompanies it with a gloss, explaining words, and to a certain extent, allusions. Two things are remarkable in Kirke's epistle. One is the confidence with which he announces the yet unrecognized excellence of "this one new poet," whom he is not afraid to put side by side with "that good old poet," Chaucer, the "loadstar of our language." The other point is the absolute reliance which he places on the powers of the English language, handled by one who has discerned its genius, and is not afraid to use its wealth. "In my opinion, it is one praise of many, that are due to this poet, that he hath laboured to restore, as to their rightful heritage, such good and natural English words, as have been long time out of use, or almost clean disherited, which is the only cause, that our mother tongue, which truly of itself is both full enough for prose, and stately enough for verse, hath long time been counted most bare and barren of both." The friends, Kirke and Harvey, were not wrong in their estimate of the importance of Spenser's work. The "new poet," as he came to be customarily called, had really made one of those distinct steps in his art, which answer to discoveries and inventions in other spheres of human interest—steps which make all behind them seem obsolete and mistaken. There was much in the new poetry which was immature and imperfect, not a little that was fantastic and affected. But it was the first adequate effort of reviving English poetry.

The Shepherd's Calendar consists of twelve compositions, with no other internal connexion than that they are assigned respectively to the twelve months of the year. They are all different in subject, metre, character, and excellence. They are called AEglogues, according to the whimsical derivation adopted from the Italians of the word which the classical writers called Eclogues: "AEglogai, as it were aigon or aigonomon logoi, that is, Goatherd's Tales." The book is in its form an imitation of that highly artificial kind of poetry which the later Italians of the Renaissance had copied from Virgil, as Virgil had copied it from the Sicilian and Alexandrian Greeks, and to which had been given the name of Bucolic or Pastoral. Petrarch, in imitation of Virgil, had written Latin Bucolics, as he had written a Latin Epic, his Africa. He was followed in the next century by Baptista Mantuanus (1448-1516), the "old Mantuan," of Holofernes in Love's Labour's Lost, whose Latin "Eglogues" became a favourite school-book in England, and who was imitated by a writer who passed for a poet in the time of Henry VIII., Alexander Barclay. In the hands of the Sicilians, pastoral poetry may have been an attempt at idealizing country life almost as genuine as some of Wordsworth's poems; but it soon ceased to be that, and in Alexandrian hands it took its place among the recognized departments of classic and literary copying, in which Virgil found and used it. But a further step had been made since Virgil had adopted it as an instrument of his genius. In the hands of Mantuan and Barclay it was a vehicle for general moralizing, and in particular for severe satire on women and the clergy. And Virgil, though he may himself speak under the the names of Tityrus and Menalcas, and lament Julius Caesar as Daphnis, did not conceive of the Roman world as peopled by flocks and sheep-cotes, or its emperors and chiefs, its poets, senators, and ladies, as shepherds and shepherdesses, of higher or lower degree. But in Spenser's time, partly through undue deference to what was supposed to be Italian taste, partly owing to the tardiness of national culture, and because the poetic impulses had not yet gained power to force their way through the embarrassment and awkwardness which accompany reviving art,—the world was turned for the purposes of the poetry of civil life, into a pastoral scene. Poetical invention was held to consist in imagining an environment, a set of outward circumstances, as unlike as possible to the familiar realities of actual life and employment, in which the primary affections and passions had their play. A fantastic basis, varying according to the conventions of the fashion, was held essential for the representation of the ideal. Masquerade and hyperbole were the stage and scenery on which the poet's sweetness, or tenderness, or strength was to be put forth. The masquerade, when his subject belonged to peace, was one of shepherds: when it was one of war and adventure, it was a masquerade of knight errantry. But a masquerade was necessary, if he was to raise his composition above the vulgarities and trivialities of the street, the fire-side, the camp, or even the court; if he was to give it the dignity, the ornament, the unexpected results, the brightness, and colour, which belong to poetry. The fashion had the sanction of the brilliant author of the Arcadia, the "Courtier, Soldier, Scholar," who was the "mould of form," and whose judgment was law to all men of letters in the middle years of Elizabeth, the all-accomplished Philip Sidney. Spenser submitted to this fashion from first to last. When first he ventured on a considerable poetical enterprise, he spoke his thoughts, not in his own name, nor as his contemporaries ten years later did, through the mouth of characters in a tragic or comic drama, but through imaginary rustics, to whom every one else in the world was a rustic, and lived among the sheep-folds, with a background of downs or vales or fields, and the open sky above. His shepherds and goatherds bear the homely names of native English clowns, Diggon Davie, Willye, and Piers; Colin Clout, adopted from Skelton, stands for Spenser himself; Hobbinol, for Gabriel Harvey; Cuddie, perhaps for Edward Kirke; names revived by Ambrose Phillips, and laughed at by Pope, when pastorals again came into vogue with the wits of Queen Anne.[42:1] With them are mingled classical ones like Menalcas, French ones from Marot, anagrams like Algrind for Grindal, significant ones like Palinode, plain ones like Lettice, and romantic ones like Rosalind; and no incongruity seems to be found in matching a beautiful shepherdess named Dido with a Great Shepherd called Lobbin, or when the verse requires it, Lobb. And not merely the speakers in the dialogue are shepherds; every one is in their view a shepherd. Chaucer is the "god of shepherds," and Orpheus is a—

"Shepherd that did fetch his dame From Plutoe's baleful bower withouten leave."

The "fair Elisa," is the Queen of shepherds all; her great father is Pan, the shepherds' god, and Anne Boleyn is Syrinx. It is not unnatural that when the clergy are spoken of, as they are in three of the poems, the figure should be kept up. But it is curious to find that the shepherd's god, the great Pan, who stands in one connexion for Henry VIII., should in another represent in sober earnest the Redeemer and Judge of the world.[42:2]

The poems framed in this grotesque setting, are on many themes, and of various merit, and probably of different dates. Some are simply amatory effusions of an ordinary character, full of a lover's despair and complaint. Three or four are translations or imitations; translations from Marot, imitations from Theocritus, Bion, or Virgil. Two of them contain fables told with great force and humour. The story of the Oak and the Briar, related as his friendly commentator, Kirke, says, "so lively and so feelingly, as if the thing were set forth in some picture before our eyes," for the warning of "disdainful younkers," is a first fruit, and promise of Spenser's skill in vivid narrative. The fable of the Fox and the Kid, a curious illustration of the popular discontent at the negligence of the clergy, and the popular suspicions about the arts of Roman intriguers, is told with great spirit, and with mingled humour and pathos. There is of course a poem in honour of the great queen, who was the goddess of their idolatry to all the wits and all the learned of England, the "faire Eliza," and a compliment is paid to Leicester,

The worthy whom she loveth best,— That first the White Bear to the stake did bring.

Two of them are avowedly burlesque imitations of rustic dialect and banter, carried on with much spirit. One composition is a funeral tribute to some unknown lady; another is a complaint of the neglect of poets by the great. In three of the AEglogues he comes on a more serious theme; they are vigorous satires on the loose living and greediness of clergy forgetful of their charge, with strong invectives against foreign corruption and against the wiles of the wolves and foxes of Rome, with frequent allusions to passing incidents in the guerilla war with the seminary priests, and with a warm eulogy on the faithfulness and wisdom of Archbishop Grindal; whose name is disguised as old Algrind, and with whom in his disgrace the poet is not afraid to confess deep sympathy. They are, in a poetical form, part of that manifold and varied system of Puritan aggression on the established ecclesiastical order of England, which went through the whole scale from the "Admonition to Parliament," and the lectures of Cartwright and Travers, to the libels of Martin Mar-prelate: a system of attack which with all its injustice and violence, and with all its mischievous purposes, found but too much justification in the inefficiency and corruption of many both of the bishops and clergy, and in the rapacious and selfish policy of the government, forced to starve and cripple the public service, while great men and favourites built up their fortunes out of the prodigal indulgence of the Queen.

The collection of poems is thus a very miscellaneous one, and cannot be said to be in its subjects inviting. The poet's system of composition, also, has the disadvantage of being to a great degree unreal, forced and unnatural. Departing from the precedent of Virgil and the Italians, but perhaps copying the artificial Doric of the Alexandrians, he professes to make his language and style suitable to the "ragged and rustical" rudeness of the shepherds whom he brings on the scene, by making it both archaic and provincial. He found in Chaucer a store of forms and words sufficiently well known to be with a little help intelligible, and sufficiently out of common use to give the character of antiquity to a poetry which employed them. And from his sojourn in the North he is said to have imported a certain number of local peculiarities which would seem unfamiliar and harsh in the South. His editor's apology for this use of "ancient solemn words," as both proper and as ornamental, is worth quoting; it is an early instance of what is supposed to be not yet common, a sense of pleasure in that wildness which we call picturesque.

And first for the words to speak: I grant they be something hard, and of most men unused: yet English, and also used of most excellent Authors and most famous Poets. In whom, when as this our Poet hath been much travelled and throughly read, how could it be, (as that worthy Orator said,) but that 'walking in the sun, although for other cause he walked, yet needs he mought be sun-burnt'; and having the sound of those ancient poets still ringing in his ears, he mought needs, in singing, hit out some of their tunes. But whether he useth them by such casualty and custom, or of set purpose and choice, as thinking them fittest for such rustical rudeness of shepherds, either for that their rough sound would make his rymes more ragged and rustical, or else because such old and obsolete words are most used of country folks, sure I think, and I think not amiss, that they bring great grace, and, as one would say, authority, to the verse. . . . . Yet neither everywhere must old words be stuffed in, nor the common Dialect and manner of speaking so corrupted thereby, that, as in old buildings, it seem disorderly and ruinous. But as in most exquisite pictures they use to blaze and portrait not only the dainty lineaments of beauty, but also round about it to shadow the rude thickets and craggy cliffs, that by the baseness of such parts, more excellency may accrue to the principal—for ofttimes, we find ourselves I know not how, singularly delighted with the show of such natural rudeness, and take great pleasure in that disorderly order:—even so do these rough and harsh terms enlumine, and make more clearly to appear, the brightness of brave and glorious words. So oftentimes a discord in music maketh a comely concordance.

But when allowance is made for an eclectic and sometimes pedantic phraseology, and for mannerisms to which the fashion of the age tempted him, such as the extravagant use of alliteration, or, as they called it, "hunting the letter," the Shepherd's Calendar is, for its time, of great interest.

Spenser's force, and sustained poetical power, and singularly musical ear are conspicuous in this first essay of his genius. In the poets before him of this century, fragments and stanzas, and perhaps single pieces might be found, which might be compared with his work. Fugitive pieces, chiefly amatory, meet us of real sprightliness, or grace, or tenderness. The stanzas which Sackville, afterwards, Lord Buckhurst, contributed to the collection called the Mirror of Magistrates,[46:3] are marked with a pathetic majesty, a genuine sympathy for the precariousness of greatness, which seem a prelude to the Elizabethan drama. But these fragments were mostly felicitous efforts, which soon passed on into the ungainly, the uncouth, the obscure or the grotesque. But in the Shepherd's Calendar we have for the first time in the century, the swing, the command, the varied resources of the real poet, who is not driven by failing language or thought into frigid or tumid absurdities. Spenser is master over himself and his instrument even when he uses it in a way which offends our taste. There are passages in the Shepherd's Calendar of poetical eloquence, of refined vigour, and of musical and imaginative sweetness, such as the English language had never attained to, since the days of him, who was to the age of Spenser, what Shakespere and Milton are to ours, the pattern and fount of poetry, Chaucer. Dryden is not afraid to class Spenser with Theocritus and Virgil, and to write that the Shepherd's Calendar is not to be matched in any language.[46:4] And this was at once recognized. The authorship of it, as has been said, was not formally acknowledged. Indeed, Mr. Collier remarks that seven years after its publication, and after it had gone through three or four separate editions, it was praised by a contemporary poet, George Whetstone, himself a friend of Spenser's, as the "reputed work of Sir Philip Sidney." But if it was officially a secret, it was an open secret, known to every one who cared to be well informed. It is possible that the free language used in it about ecclesiastical abuses was too much in sympathy with the growing fierceness and insolence of Puritan invective to be safely used by a poet who gave his name: and one of the reasons assigned for Burghley's dislike to Spenser is the praise bestowed in the Shepherd's Calendar on Archbishop Grindal, then in deep disgrace for resisting the suppression of the puritan prophesyings. But anonymous as it was, it had been placed under Sidney's protection; and it was at once warmly welcomed. It is not often that in those remote days we get evidence of the immediate effect of a book; but we have this evidence in Spenser's case. In this year, probably, after it was published, we find it spoken of by Philip Sidney, not without discriminating criticism, but as one of the few recent examples of poetry worthy to be named after Chaucer.

I account the Mirror of Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts; and in the Earl of Surrey's Lyrics many things tasting of birth, and worthy of a noble mind. The Shepherd's Calendar hath much poetry in his Eglogues: indeed worthy the reading if I be not deceived. That same framing of his style in an old rustic language I dare not allow, sith neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sanazar in Italian, did affect it. Besides these do I not remember to have seen but few (to speak boldly) printed that have poetical sinews in them.

Sidney's patronage of the writer and general approval of the work doubtless had something to do with making Spenser's name known: but he at once takes a place in contemporary judgment which no one else takes, till the next decade of the century. In 1586, Webbe published his Discourse of English Poetrie. In this, the author of the Shepherd's Calendar is spoken of by the name given him by its Editor, E. K——, as the "new poet," just as earlier in the century, the Orlando Furioso was styled the "nuova poesia;" and his work is copiously used to supply examples and illustrations of the critic's rules and observations. Webbe's review of existing poetry was the most comprehensive yet attempted: but the place which he gives to the new poet, whose name was in men's mouths, though like the author of In Memoriam, he had not placed it on his title-page, was one quite apart.

This place [to wear the Laurel] have I purposely reserved for one, who, if not only, yet in my judgement principally, deserveth the title of the rightest English poet that ever I read: that is, the author of the Shepherd's Calendar, intituled to the worthy Gentleman Master Philip Sidney, whether it was Master Sp. or what rare scholar in Pembroke Hall soever, because himself and his friends, for what respect I know not, would not reveal it, I force not greatly to set down. Sorry I am that I cannot find none other with whom I might couple him in this catalogue in his rare gift of poetry: although one there is, though now long since seriously occupied in graver studies, Master Gabriel Harvey, yet as he was once his most special friend and fellow poet, so because he hath taken such pains not only in his Latin poetry . . . but also to reform our English verse . . . therefore will I adventure to set them together as two of the rarest wits and learnedest masters of poetry in England.

He even ventured to compare him favourably with Virgil.

But now yet at the last hath England hatched up one poet of this sort, in my conscience comparable with the best in any respect: even Master Sp., author of the Shepherd's Calendar, whose travail in that piece of English poetry I think verily is so commendable, as none of equal judgement can yield him less praise for his excellent skill and skilful excellency showed forth in the same than they would to either Theocritus or Virgil, whom in mine opinion, if the coarseness of our speech, (I mean the course of custom which he would not infringe,) had been no more let unto him than their pure native tongues were unto them, he would have, if it might be, surpassed them.

The courtly author of the Arte of English Poesie, 1589, commonly cited as G. Puttenham, classes him with Sidney. And from this time his name occurs in every enumeration of English poetical writers, till he appears, more than justifying this early appreciation of his genius, as Chaucer's not unworthy successor, in the Faery Queen. Afterwards, as other successful poetry was written, and the standards of taste were multiplied, this first enthusiastic reception cooled down. In James the First's time, Spenser's use of "old outworn words" is criticized as being no more "practical English" than Chaucer or Skelton: it is not "courtly" enough.[49:5] The success of the Shepherd's Calendar had also, apparently, substantial results, which some of his friends thought of with envy. They believed that it secured him high patronage, and opened to him a way to fortune. Poor Gabriel Harvey, writing in the year in which the Shepherd's Calendar came out, contrasts his own less favoured lot, and his ill-repaid poetical efforts, with Colin Clout's good luck.

But ever and ever, methinks, your great Catoes, Ecquid erit pretii, and our little Catoes, Res age quae prosunt, make such a buzzing and ringing in my head, that I have little joy to animate and encourage either you or him to go forward, unless ye might make account of some certain ordinary wages, or at the least wise have your meat and drink for your day's works. As for myself, howsoever I have toyed and trifled heretofore, I am now taught, and I trust I shall shortly learn, (no remedy, I must of mere necessity give you over in the plain field) to employ my travail and time wholly or chiefly on those studies and practices that carry, as they say, meat in their mouth, having evermore their eye upon the Title, De pane lucrando, and their hand upon their halfpenny. For I pray now what saith Mr. Cuddie, alias you know who, in the tenth AEglogue of the aforesaid famous new Calendar.

* * * * *

The dapper ditties, that I wont devise To feed youths' fancy and the flocking fry, Delighten much: what I the best for thy? They han the pleasure, I a sclender prize. I beat the bush, the birds to them do fly. What good thereof to Cuddie can arise?

But Master Colin Clout is not everybody, and albeit his old companions, Master Cuddie and Master Hobinoll, be as little beholding to their mistress poetry as ever you wist: yet he, peradventure, by the means of her special favour, and some personal privilege, may haply live by Dying Pelicans, and purchase great lands and lordships with the money which his Calendar and Dreams have, and will afford him.

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