Edmund Spenser (1552?1599). The Complete Poetical Works. 1908.
WHEN we read, toward the close of Hesperides,
A wearied pilgrim, I have wandered here
Twice five-and-twenty, bate me but one year,
we are sure that at the time of so writing Robert Herrick was forty-nine years old. If we could put equal trust in the similar record of sonnet LX of the Amoretti, we should know the exact year of the birth of Edmund Spenser, for beyond reasonable doubt that sonnet dates from the closing months of 1593. The record is, that
since the winged god his planet cleare
Began in me to move, one yeare is spent:
The which doth longer unto me appeare,
Then al those fourty which my life outwent.
In prose: it is now a year since I fell in love; that twelvemonth seems longer to me than all the forty of my previous life. To deduct 41 from 1593 is to get 1552, which has accordingly found general acceptance as the poets birth-year, and indeed is not in any respect improbable. One need only note that al those fourty is a phrase somewhat too conveniently round to inspire confidence, that it might serve equally well for thirty-nine or forty-one, and thereby spoil the foregoing calculation.
The place of his birth is recorded in the classic passage of the Prothalamion:
At length they all to mery London came,
To mery London, my most kyndly nurse,
That to me gave this lifes first native sourse;
Though from another place I take my name,
An house of auncient fame.
That is, though he was born, and presumably bred, in the capital, his paternal forbears were not Londoners. What was their native seat he nowhere tells us, but his most assiduous biographer, Dr. Grosart, has collected sufficient evidence to place them in eastern Lancashire, where, among many families of the name, were the Spensers of Hurstwood, lesser gentry of that region. These might well enough stand for the house of auncient fame. It is likely, though, that this phrase includes a more distinguished family, the Spencers of Althorpe, with whom the poet frequently claims kinship. To the three daughters of that house are dedicated The Tears of the Muses, Mother Hubberds Tale, and Muiopotmos, and they are the Phyllis, Charillis, and sweet Amaryllis of Colin Clouts Come Home Again,
the sisters three,
The honor of the noble familie
Of which I meanest boast my selfe to be,
And most that unto them I am so nie.
In any case, it is obvious that Spenser held himself to be of gentle birth. He never felt the need of establishing his gentility after the manner of Shakespeare.
That the name of his mother was Elizabeth1 is all he tells us about either parent. We know, however, that his father most probably belonged to the guild of the Merchant Tailors, and Dr. Grosart seeks to identify him with a John Spenser mentioned in the guild records, October, 1566, as a free journeyman in the arte or mysterie of cloth-makynge. Whoever he may have been, the poets father was not well-to-do, for as late as the early months of 1569, the name of his son is entered among the poore scholers in the scholls about London who were presented with gowns from the estate of Robert Nowell; and in the accounts of the same fund, for the same year, is a second charitable item: 28 Aprill. To Edmond Spensore, scholler of the Mchante Tayler Schoole, at his gowinge to Penbrocke Hall in Chambridge, Xs. At the university, too, in November, 1570, and in April, 1571, we find the poet still receiving aid from this fund.
Narrowness of means, however, did not harm the boys education. The school of the Merchant Tailors, founded in 1560, was taught by Richard Mulcaster, and under his charge was becoming as good as any in London. Mulcaster, indeed, was in every way a remarkable teachera man of system, strict, even harsh, a believer in the educative powers of the rod, master, too, of wide and thorough learning. He certainly could train efficient scholars and men, and if he did not do well by Edmund Spenser, his pupils later achievement does not declare the failure. It was while still under his training, that the youthful poet first appeared in print. The verse translations in Van der Noots Theatre2 cannot claim the dignity of an independent volume of juvenilia; they were quite possibly paid for at the classic rate of a penny a line; they cannot be said to bear witness to even the most ordinary knowledge of French; yet they do make evident that the boys schooling, formal or informal, had brought him a very pretty command of his mother tongue and the faculty of turning out good verse to order.
On May 20, 1569, a short while before the Theatre was put on the market, Spenser matriculated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, as a sizar. There he remained for seven years. In January, 1573, he proceeded B. A., in June, 1576, he commenced M.A.; then, whether that a fellowship was denied him, or that he did not care for one, he left the university for good. His life there cannot have been always pleasant. As a sizar, or poor scholar, his circumstances, if not painfully narrow, were at any rate far from easy. His health, too, was apparently uncertain, for at intervals we find his name on the sick list, once for seven weeks. On one occasion he seems to have been in trouble with the authorities for neglect of curriculum work or other such offence. That, in his own way, he nevertheless studied and read effectively is obvious from the varied learning which he later made manifest.
It was at Cambridge that Spenser first met Gabriel Harvey, the Hobbinol of his pastoral verse. Harvey was older than he by at least a year or two and much his senior in academic rank, for he came to Pembroke as fellow in November, 1570, when Spenser was still very far from his B. A. How early they became friends we cannot tell; it is sufficiently curious that they ever became friends at all. For Harvey was one of those exorbitantly superior people who make enemies right and left without knowing why, and, in spite of all that can be said for him, a ferocious pedant; about the last man, one would think, to win the regard of Spenser. Yet he seems to have been kindly enough at bottom, and perhaps his serene self-conceit was offensive chiefly to the commonplace. As for his pedantry (which is nowadays being denied), one must bear in mind Spensers own predilection for learning, which in those early years, before his genius had humanized his knowledge, may well have been somewhat undiscriminating. The course of their friendship was long. For a period, while Spenser was feeling his way to full self-possession, Harvey played the part of counsellor and guide, a part which found half-jesting, half-serious acceptance. Then, at about the time when their fundamental differences were becoming too seriously apparent, Spenser went to Ireland, and thereafter there could be no occasion for breach.
From Harveys letters of 1573 we learn of a singular war at Pembroke. It was brought on, to his own wondering dismay, by Harvey himself, who, in the normal and unconscious exercise of his self-conceit, had contrived to exasperate some of his colleagues beyond all measure. When the time came for him to commence M. A., these men suddenly broke out, and for three months succeeded in blocking his path; then, having been discomfited, avenged themselves by shabby persecution. Nor did their enmity subside, for when, in 1578, his tenure of the fellowship expired, not even the influence of Leicester could secure its extension for a year. Such open animosities as these can hardly have failed to involve or affect Spenser. They and his supposed conflict with the authorities may serve to explain why, instead of taking a fellowship, the natural goal of such a career as his, he left the university on obtaining his second degree.
In any case, it was apparently not to a regular occupation that he retired, but to a sojourn of several months among his kinsfolk of eastern Lancashire. In that out-of-the-way and unpromising corner of the country there could of course be no settled career for a man of his gifts; there could at best be leisure for infinite verse-making, and, as auxiliary interest, leisure to fall in love. He seems to have found both. Who Rosalind was and what befell him at her hands are topics that belong rather to the history of the Shepherds Calendar than to the concrete life of the poet: at all events, she furnished him matter for verses a plenty. In the end, for speciall occasion of private affayres, says E. K. in the gloss to June, and for his more preferment, removing out of the North-parts, [he] came into the South, as Hobbinoll indeede advised him privately. Hobbinol, that is Harvey, might well think it time that his friend should begin life in earnest.
To do that it was not sufficient that he should compose poems and put them on the market. In those days the reading public was almost ludicrously small; even pamphleteering and playwriting were not yet recognized occupations, and pure poetry, however popular, would not keep a man in bread. All the poets of that day were first men of another calling, then poets. For any impecunious young bard who could claim gentility and whose tastes were aristocratic, the natural course was to attach himself to the service of some nobleman, and to use his poetry, as best he might, for the furthering of his personal claims. To barter it for money was moreover in some degree to discredit his gentility.
When, therefore, Spenser came south again, perhaps in 1577, it was to obtain preferment with the great. We have evidence, not altogether conclusive, that in that year he was with Sir Henry Sidney in Ireland, acting as one of his secretaries; in any case, by 1578 we get a glimpse of him as secretary to Bishop Young of Rochester (the Roffynn of the September eclogue), who, as Master of Pembroke, had known him from the outset of his university days. Then, in the autumn of 1579, when the first of his extant letters is sent to Cambridge, we find him in some use of familiarity with the twoo worthy gentlemen, Philip Sidney and Edward Dyer, admitted to audience with the Queen, and employed as confidential emissary by the Earl of Leicester. There is reference in that letter to a coming mission to France; he is on the point of setting out; and in the Epistle of E. K., prefixed to the Shepherds Calendar and dated in the preceding April, he is said to be for long time furre estraunged, that is, far away from home, or out of the country, and not soon to return. It is evident that he was cultivating aristocratic connections to some purpose.
He was also cultivating the Muse, and with assiduity. These years are the period of his most multifarious poetizing. They are marked not only by the publication of the Shepherds Calendar, but by the beginnings of the Faery Queen, by the first two Hymns, by Virgils Gnat, Mother Hubberds Tale, and the Tears of the Muses (all five not to be published till long years later), and by a notable array of lost works, recorded here and there in the Harvey letters, in the commentary of E. K., and in Ponsonbys preface to Complaints. Many of these last, indeed, presumably belong to other periods of his life, but a number may fairly be set down to the years from 1577 to 1580. Some may possibly have survived under the disguise of other titles; one, at least, the Pageants, of which E. K. quotes a line,3 would seem to have been used for the building up of the Faery Queen.4 Another, Dreams (of which My Slumber5 may be no more than an earlier title), is mentioned in the postscript of the second letter to Harvey as equipped with commentary and illustrations, all ready for the press. Then there are Legends and the Court of Cupid,6 the latter title suggestive of a well-known episode in the Faery Queen,7 and the Dying Pelican.8A Sennights Slumber, The Hell of Lovers, and Purgatory, mentioned by Ponsonby,9 would seem, by evident subject matter, to belong also to this early period; the others on Ponsonbys list, except the Dying Pelican, already noted, may be later. Harvey has not a little to say10 about nine comedies named after the Muses, which he likens, some-what ambiguously, to those of Ariosto. Finally, there are Stemmata Dudleiana,11 which may have been utilized in 1590 for the Ruins of Time, though it was probably composed in neo-classical metre; Epithalamion Thamesis,12 also in that metre, a work projected, but probably cut off by the departure, within a brief space, for Ireland; and a treatise entitled The English Poet,13 which, together with the nine comedies, may be regarded as the most serious loss of all. Even if we attribute most of these works to an earlier period, it is evident that, once embarked upon his career in London, Spenser plied his various faculties with keen enthusiasm.
That with so much poetry on hand he should have given so little to the press, was due apparently to discretion. In the circle to which he was now beginning to be admitted on terms of some familiarity, publication in print would probably be regarded as not quite the thing, if it were made the deliberate means of earning money. A passage in the first letter to Harvey14 is suggestive. The poet hesitates to publish his Calendar because, among other considerations, I was minded for a while to have intermitted the uttering [i. e. giving out] of my writings; leaste, by over-much cloying their [his patrons] noble eares, I should gather a contempt of my self, or else seeme rather for gaine and commoditie to doe it, for some sweetnesse that I have already tasted. The uttering referred to is probably not by means of the press, but by more or less public presentation to the patron; yet if such could by too great frequency win a poor gentleman contempt, much more would the other. Except, then, for the Calendar, Spenser contented himself with seeing his poems circulate in manuscript among the literary coteries at court; even Dreams, reported as ready for the press, was apparently, in the end, withheld.
The letters to and from Harvey, which tell us so much about Spensers literary activities, tell us also of a certain club, founded, it would appear, by Philip Sidney and Edward Dyer, and named the Areopagus. Just what it stood for is not altogether clear; perhaps its founders, inspired by the recent work of the Pléiade in France, aimed at a general reformation of English poetry, then, beyond doubt, in very debatable plight. If so, they soon became involved, to the exclusion of almost all other topics, in the problem of prosody. England had produced but one really eminent poet, Chaucer, and his metres could no longer be perfectly understood; the great bulk of contemporary verse was metrically thin or slipshod. Might it not be true, then, as Roger Ascham had maintained in his School-master a few years before, that English poetry could never hope to rival that of Greece and Rome till it had discarded barbarous rhyme and equipped itself with genuine quantitative measures? These young men were poets, but they had not yet found themselves in poetry. They were also good scholars. To them, therefore, the doctrine of Ascham seemed worth putting to the proof. What should determine English quantities, whether, as Archdeacon Drant maintained, the law of Rome, or, as Harvey would have it, the natural accent of words, was matter for excellent debate. In the mean time experiment in various metres went on apace, the results of which now chiefly survive in the pages of Sidneys Arcadia.
What may have been the membership of the Areopagus we have now small means of determining. Fulke Greville was probably of the number, and almost all accounts of the club reckon in Spenser, too, perhaps with reason. He was certainly much interested in the proceedings, avowed himself a convert to its main doctrine, composed and projected works in the new style, and discussed quantitative standards with Harveyall as if he were considerably more than half in earnest. Yet when he refers to this foundation of Sidney and Dyer he speaks of it as their club;15 and though he writes that they have drawen mee to their faction,16 he apparently means no more than that they have converted him to their views; and the total impression left by the letters is that he was an interested outsider, admitted to a kind of indirect participation in the debates, by favor of the two leaders. They had him, he says, in some use of familiarity. Perhaps, however, in the interval between the first of these epistles and his departure for Ireland, he may have been received into formal membership. It may be, too, that in the same period his relations with Sidney became more intimate, though to speak, as some biographers do, of friendship (in the sense in which Fulke Greville styled himself the friend of Sir Philip Sidney) is surely to exaggerate. Sidney was his especial patron in letters, had possibly been the means of his finding employment with Leicester; but if there had been any substantial friendship between them, Spenser would hardly have waited till 1590 to commemorate that chivalric death which in 1586 so stirred all England.]
At the time of his second letter to Harvey, Spenser might seem, to all appearances, in very prosperous trim. The Shepherds Calendar, recently given out, had been accorded a veritable triumph, and had moreover brought him in enough money to make Harvey almost jealous. He was under the direct patronage of Sidney, in confidential employment by the powerful Earl of Leicester, on good terms at the court, and able, if we are to trust the gallant messages of Harvey, to live only too agreeably in private. Yet in the later passages of the letters there are signs of disquietude, if not disappointment. His project for an Epithalamion Thamesis in neo-classic measures, a worke, beleeve me, of much labour, ends
O Tite, siquid ego,
Ecquid erit pretij?
which might be taken for motto to the melancholy October eclogue of the Calendar; and in Harveys reply the note is unmistakable: I have little joy to animate and encourage you to goe forward, unlesse ye might make account of some certaine ordinarie wages, or at the leastwise have your meate and drinke for your dayes workes. Certaine ordinarie wages were just what Spenser lacked. [His verse had brought him reputation and some money; but he could not expect to live by it, and it was apparently not helping him to preferment in active service, to a really settled career. Work as confidential emissary for Leicester might be very pleasant, but it was precarious, and unless the earl secured for him some regular office, his future would be very doubtful.] When next we hear of him, accordingly, he has left England, as secretary to Arthur Lord Grey of Wilton, the Queens new Deputy to Ireland. Thenceforth his life is one of virtual exile.
It was on August 12, 1580, that Grey, with his numerous viceregal suite, landed at Dublin. The sword of state was in the south, with his predecessor Pelham, who was ravaging Munster in hopes of starving out the great Desmond rebellion; and till Pelhams return there could be no formal investiture. But between them lay the rebel Baltinglas, newly revolted, and Grey was not the man to wait upon a ceremony, when he had the power to act. By virtue of his patent, he at once assumed control, and gathering such forces as were at hand, marched into Wicklow. There in the savage valley of Glendalough, or Glenmalure, he came upon the rebel forces. Against the advice of his oldest captains, he rashly attacked in front. His men, partly raw recruits, were disconcerted by the roughness of the ground and the fire of hidden enemies; in the end, through Gods appointment, they were completely routed. The loss of life was not great, but several distinguished officers fell, shot down in the action or captured and killed in cold blood. Returning to Dublin, he had barely time to be formally installed in office, when news arrived that a body of Spaniards had landed on the coast of Kerry, for the support of the Desmond rebels. Here was a danger far more serious than any temporary check by the Irish. In slow and painful marches, impeded by the autumn floods, he made his way across the island toward the southwest, to find, upon arrival, that the foreigners were blockaded by an English fleet in a little fort on the shores of Smerwick Bay, the so-called Fort del Oro. The sequel was short and stern. Two days of regular siege and bombardment reduced the garrison to extremities. They surrendered at discretion. Their leaders came out and were held for ransom; the remainder, some six hundred in all, mostly Italians (for the expedition had been set afoot by the Pope), were simply massacred. A number of non-combatants, including women, were hanged. Three special victims, a renegade Englishman, an Irishman of some note, and a Catholic friar, before hanging had their arms and legs broken.
From the account which Spenser gives of this affair in his treatise on Ireland, it has been inferred that he was present in person. Since he was not the official secretary, who might be expected to remain chiefly at the capital, but secretary by private appointment, he would be likely enough to follow his patron about. If he did, he must have seen rapid and rough service in most quarters of the island, for Grey went to and fro like a shuttle. The hanging of rebels, the pressing of men to death, the cutting off of the ears of rascally purveyors, the burning of crops in Munster, and the horrible desolation of that region, where those who had escaped the sword were barely able to drag themselves about, for famine,sights like these must have become as familiar to the poet as the dense forest valleys, the bogs, and the innumerable streams of his new home. His picture of the famine in the south is evidently that of an eyewitness: Out of every corner of the woodes and glinnes they came creeping foorthe upon theyr handes, for theyr legges could not beare them; they looked like anatomyes of death; they spake like ghostes crying out of theyr graves; they did eate of the dead carrions; happy were they yf they could finde them; yea, and one another soone after, insoemuch as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of theyr graves; and yf they founde a plotte of water-cresses or sham-rokes, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able long to continue therewithall; that in shorte space there were none allmost left, and a most populous and plentifull countrey suddaynly made voyde of man or beast. At the capital itself he might witness conditions not altogether different, for there the streets were full of Irish poor souls, so famished that once, when a horse was burned in its stable, a crowd of them set upon the half-roasted carcass and devoured it whole. Barnaby Googe, the eclogue writer, who reports this scene in August, 1582, remarks that Dublin is so changed for the worse (since 1574) that he hardly knows it.
This general misery Spenser saw only through the eyes of Grey, whose policy was that there could be no talk of building up before force have planed the ground for the foundation. Years later, when he came to elaborate a scheme of his own for the reformation of the island, he could conceive of no other beginning than the absolute and final putting down of rebellion by the sword and by famine. That done, there would be opportunity to reform with some effect, upon a settled and orderly plan. What the Irish thought of Grey there can be no need to ask. Burghley and the Queen called his severity mere violence and his rule a gulf of consuming treasure,ignorant that, in their day, the gulf was not to be closed, though they sent into it Curtius after Curtius. To the poet, this bloudy man was one whom, who that well knewe, knewe him to be most gentell, affable, loving, and temperate, but that the necessitye of that present state of thinges enforced him to that violence, and allmost chaunged his very naturall disposition. The stern Puritan Deputy, who could not away with the Queens desire to be lenient in matters of religion, he transfigured, years later, into Arthegall, the champion of Justice, the real, though not the titular, hero of the Faery Queen.
When Grey left Ireland in August, 1582, Spenser remained behind. His service had brought him various grants of lands and houses forfeited by rebels, and he had been appointed, in March, 1581, Registrar or Clerk of the Faculties in the Court of Chancery, a position of honor and profit. In Ireland he might now look to a career: if he returned to England, he could have no serious prospects at all. Much, therefore, as he must have regretted his exile, he found resolution to bear with it for at least some years longer. How he might fare for intellectual companionship may be guessed from the account of the gathering at Lodowick Brysketts cottage near Dublin, (probably of this same year,) quoted at length in all the longer biographies. There we see a party of English officers and civilians, among them the poet himself, listening to a three-day discourse on moral philosophy and discussing the same with the zest of amateurs temporarily unoccupied. They are all very respectful to Spenser, who is recognized as a professional. He, one suspects, must have been thinking the while of his former intercourse with Sidney and Dyer. He was, of course, not the only man of letters at the Irish capital, but in that raw and provincial atmosphere he must often have felt himself very much alone. Luckily, he could have the new books sent over to him from London without great difficulty.
Spenser was not dependent altogether upon the proceeds of his office: grants had been made him, as aforesaid, from time to time, out of various forfeited estates of rebels, which he must have had opportunity enough to profit by. Finally, in June, 1586, his name appears among those of the English undertakers who were to colonize the attainted Desmond lands in Munster. Just two years from then, in June, 1588, he resigned his Dublin clerkship, which he had originally obtained by purchase from his friend Lodowick Bryskett, and obtained, again by purchase from the same friend, the office of Clerk of the Council of Munster. It is perhaps from this time that he began to reside regularly upon his new estate, at the castle of Kilcolman.
It was a seignory of a little over three thousand acres. To the north stood the western end of the Ballahoura hills, the Old Father Mole of his verse, from which the river Awbeg, his Mulla, flowed in a great half-circle to the west and south. To the east another stream, the Bregog, ran down from the same hills, to meet the Awbeg, their united waters then flowing off southeast for a few miles to the great river of the district, the Blackwater. Toward the centre of this rough circle of hills and streams stood the castle, on a rise of ground. Thirty miles to the southeast, near Youghal, lay the twelve-thousand-acre seignory of Sir Walter Raleigh, also an undertaker, and beyond him the eleven thousand acres allotted to Sir Christopher Hatton. Twenty-five miles to the south lay the city of Cork, the fairest of those parts; to the north, at an equal distance, the city of Limerick, the capital of the Munster presidency and therefore the place of his official duties as Clerk of the Council. To the west and northeast lay wilder country.
These seignories were held upon a rental proportioned to their size, and upon condition that the land be colonized by English households, also in proportion. Great pains were taken that the mere Irish should not find means to get a fresh foothold. The undertakers were to furnish their quota of armed men to the regular forces, but, in the early years, if need be, they were also to be protected by garrisons. They were to pay no taxes for a time, and were to be allowed, for a time, the free importation of goods from England. Some, of course, like Hatton and Raleigh, were absentees, but the great majority were supposed to be in residence, and perhaps did mainly reside.
The situation of the latter was not altogether pleasant. About them on every side were native gentry who, having come through the storm of the late rebellion without attainder, were disposed to defend as they best might what little power was left them. These men saw land to which they had claims, real or imaginary, absorbed into this seignory or that, and when they protested, were asked by the commissioners for their title deeds, or other proof of ownership, as little to be expected in that country as Irish glibs in England. Hence hard words, jealousies, and fears on both sides. The special antagonist of Spenser was Lord Roche. They were at law more than once. Roche accused the poet of trying to steal land from him by false representations of title, of occupying the said land, of threatening his tenants and taking away their cattle, and of beating the servants and bailiffs who resisted. On his side, the poet filed countercharges: they are interesting. He [Roche] relieved one Kedagh OKelley, his foster brother, a proclaimed traitor; has imprisoned men of Mr. Verdons, Mr. Edmund Spenser, and others. He speaks ill of Her Majestys government and hath uttered words of contempt of Her Majestys laws, calling them unjust. He killed a fat beef of Teig OLynes, because Mr. Spenser lay in his house one night as he came from the sessions at Limerick. He also killed a beef of his smiths for mending Mr. Piers plough iron. He has forbidden his people to have any trade or conference with Mr. Spenser or Mr. Piers or their tenants. To seek for the right and the wrong in such quarrels is to find a hopeless mixture. Roche, no doubt, was a violent man; yet it was surely hard dealing to bring against him as a crime that he had protected his own foster brother. In any case, with feuds like this on their hands, with outlaws in every recess of that thickly forested region, with native discontent and sense of injury awaiting another chance to rebel, the undertakers can hardly have expected a life of settled peace.
It was after a year of this colonizing that, in the summer of 1589, Spenser was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh. The two had probably met before in service under Lord Grey, perhaps at the gloomy Fort del Oro, where Raleigh was one of the two captains put in for the work of general slaughter. A twelvemonth afterward, the brilliant officer had gone to court, where he had quickly made himself the leading favorite of the Queen. Now, being driven from court, as the gossips said, by the new favorite, Essex, he was back for a time in Ireland, on a visit to the estates recently granted him there as undertaker. He found his old acquintance at Kilcolman near by, and his old acquaintance showed him the manuscript of the Faery Queen.
Spenser had begun this poem ten years back, in England; since coming over with Grey he had worked at no other poetry or prose that we know of, except perhaps a casual sonnet or two; yet he had been able to complete only three books of the projected twelve. Probably he had found the early years of his service in Ireland too distracting for sustained poetical effort. Parts of the work he had shown long before this to various friends of his exile, perhaps even to Raleigh, but the three books as a whole Raleigh must now have seen for the first time. Their effect upon his imaginative and sanguine mind can easily be guessed. Here was a poet, once famous, with a new magnificent poem, hidden away in a God-forsaken corner among savages. He must be taken to court, he must present his work to the Queen; she could not fail to find room in her service for the author of Gloriana. In any case, he must make himself known again at the capital, where by this time he and the old fame of his Shepherds Calendar were quite forgot. But Raleighs visit and the sequel are best read between the lines of Colin Clouts Come Home Again.
Spenser and his new friend crossed the seas together in the autumn. On December 1 the Faery Queen was registered with the Stationers Company for publication, and about that time, or earlier, the poet was doubtless being accorded those audiences with Elizabeth of which Colin Clout informs us, audiences for the reading of his poem, which she was graciously pleased to applaud. With her graciousness to cheer him, and with the backing of Raleigh, he is not likely to have missed very much his old patrons, Sidney and Leicester, by this time dead. In their place was the Countess of Pembroke (for whom he now commemorated them in belated panegyric, at the suggestion of friends), and besides her, there were his noble relatives, the three daughters of Sir John Spencer of Althorpeand others. The list of distinguished personages, indeed, whose names appear in his verse, or in the inscriptions of his longer poems and sonnets, makes clear that he was now at the very centre of courtly life. Meanwhile he was working with a will. There was his Faery Queen to see through the press, and he was also revising old poems and composing new, as means of commending himself. He probably hoped for a substantial reward.
What he hoped for chiefly was perhaps some place in the government service at the capital. For this, however, he had to reckon with Burghley, and Burghley did not believe in poets. The great lord treasurer might recollect him, too, as a former protégé of his old enemy, Leicester; possibly he had, ten years earlier, set a precedent for denying him officewhen the poet had been obliged to content himself with a private secretaryship in Ireland. An uncompromising biographer might also note the later complaint of Bacon (himself a disappointed suitor for office) that in the times of the Cecils able men were, of purpose, suppressed. In any case, whatever the cause, there can be no doubt that Burghley showed himself unfavorable to Spenser. An apocryphal story relates that when the Queen ordered the payment of a hundred pounds, in recognition of the poets genius, the treasurer objected to the amount; whereupon she replied, Then give him what is reason; whereupon the treasurer let the matter rest altogether, till the poet, by a rhymed appeal to his sovereign, secured the hundred pounds and a censure for his enemy. The truth, as far as we know it, is, that in February, 1591, some sixteen months after his arrival in London and nearly, if not quite, a year after the appearance of his poem, Spenser received the grant of a pension of £50, and that he received no other substantial recognition of his genius. Fifty pounds a year and the doubtful profits of a small Munster seignory would not support him suitably in London. He was no more inclined than he had been ten years earlier to attempt literature as a profession. If he had hoped to get footing at the capital, therefore, he bore the disappointment as he might, and set out for home. His opinion of Burghley he left behind him in Mother Hubberds Tale.
This poem appeared in the volume entitled Complaints, which was entered upon the Stationers register, as approved by the official censors, December 29, 1590. Since Ponsonby, in his opening address, speaks of the poets departure over sea, and since the volume bears the date of 1591, which would not be given it till the official beginning of the new year on March 25, it may be supposed that Spenser went home in the late winter or early spring, before the volume was ready for sale. On the preceding New Years17 he had signed the dedication of Daphnaïda at London; on the following 27th of December, he signed the dedication of Colin Clouts Come Home Again at Kilcolman. This poetic acknowledgment of Raleighs patronage was presumably sent over to his friend in manuscript at once, though it was not to be published till 1595.
Back at Kilcolman again, Spenser fell into the old round of official duties (executed in part, no doubt, by deputy) and of seignorial cares. By this time he could probably command more leisure, much of which he would give to pushing on with his Faery Queen. But a new adventure now befell him: he met the woman whom he was to marry. She was a certain gentlewoman, Elizabeth Boyle, of kin to that Richard Boyle who later became the first Earl of Cork. Her home seems to have been at Kilcoran, near Youghal, on the coast to the southeast of Spensers domain. If we are to believe the story of the Amoretti, which is altogether consistent, he began his wooing late in 1592; the marriage was of June 11, 1594. These are the bare facts. Those who wish the romance, which rests upon well-documented facts of its own, must turn to the Amoretti and Epithalamion themselves and read with the inward eye.
Before his marriage Spenser had contrived, with commendable foresight, to finish the second three books of his Faery Queen. These he kept by him till he could take them to London himself. The Amoretti and Epithalamion he sent over to Ponsonby without delay, and Ponsonby published them in the spring of 1595. In the same year, or early in 1596 (for according to the old style the computation was from March 25 to March 24), Ponsonby also brought out Colin Clouts Come Home Again and Astrophel. By January 20 (old style 1595, new style 1596) the poet himself was in London, for on that date there was registered with the Stationers Company the second part of the Faery Queen. Since one of the main objects of his coming over would be the publication of this work, it is not likely that he had arrived much earlier.
Another object was undoubtedly the furtherance of his material welfare. Not content with what had been done for him in 1591, he was set upon urging his claims a second time. On that former occasion he had appeared under the patronage of Raleigh, which not only had not helped him to full success, but had prevented his wooing the apparently greater influence of Essex; for the two favorites were bitter rivals. Except, then, for a very flattering sonnet to the young earl, he seems at that time to have paid him no court. Perhaps it is to exaggerate to say that he paid him court now, or that Essex was the patron of his second venture. In the Prothalamion, his first thought concerning Essex House is that it was once the abode of Leicester,
Whose want too well now feeles my freendles case;
and his following panegyric upon Leicesters successor contains no hint of patronage. Yet it was Essex who, a little over two years later, was to pay his funeral expenses. In any case, Spenser gained no further reward. The second part of the Faery Queen did not heighten the wonder of the first, and therefore did not move Elizabeth to fresh bounty. As for her lord treasurer, the poet could hope for nothing from him after Mother Hubberds Tale. The references to his ill humor, set at the beginning and the end of this part, read, in fact, like a challenge.
Spenser was not a lucky courtier. One could wish, indeed, that he had never tried courting, for its influence upon his spirit was malign. Naturally high-minded, he reveals here and there in his verse, under the sting of disappointment, a petulance, somewhat unmanly, that his most radical admirers would fain argue away. Others would fain forget the adulation, sometimes offensive, into which the pursuit of reward too often tempted him. Loitering about the court, in hopes of preferment, was surely no fit business for the poet of the Faery Queen. Happily, his experiences there stirred him less often to petulance or gross flattery than to manly disdain.
The dedication of the Four Hymns is dated from Greenwich (where the court often lay), September 1, 1596; the Prothalamion is probably of the early autumn. Not long afterward Spenser may be thought to have given up his suit and gone home. If he had written less poetry during this second visit than in 1590, one cause may have been that he was busied in prose, for it is probably to 1596 that one must assign his View of the Present State of Ireland.18 This elaborate survey and plan of reform would explain, if further explanation were needed, why the poet was so ill content with his lot. Fifteen years of life in Ireland had not reconciled him in the slightest to Irish manners and customs, or taught him the smallest sympathy with the Irish temperament. Not to speak of his plan for the systematic starving out and strangling of rebellion and for systematic colonizing, he would carry reform even to the point of cutting off the glibs of the natives and taking away their long mantles, because both were convenient to thieves. Even their easy-minded laziness was offence to him. In his general contempt for the Irish and in his advocacy of the sternest measures of repression, he was, of course, not alone among the English of his day; but one judges that he also lacked that faculty of compromise which might have moved him to make the most of disagreeable neighbors.
In 1593, or thereabouts, Spenser had disposed of his clerkship of the Munster Council. On September 30, 1598, not quite two years after his return from England, he was appointed Sheriff of Cork. Within a week the revolt broke out which was to ruin the undertakers of Munster.
The original grants had provided that every undertaker should people his estate with English. A seignory of twelve thousand acres called for the establishment of ninety-two families; smaller seignories, of a number proportionately less. Whether by negligence or sheer inability, however, the undertakers had failed to observe this condition of their tenure. After bringing over a few families, often anything but respectable and sober, they had commonly let their remaining land to natives, just the folk whom the government aimed to supplant, or had allowed it to lie idle. Most of them, perhaps, had not the means of financing their venture properly. They had almost all counted on peace and neglected to make provision against attack. When, therefore, the victory of Tyrone in the north inflamed the Irish of Munster to rebellion, the undertakers, who lived far apart, were helpless. The Lord President, Sir Thomas Norris, might have organized them for defence, but the storm came on so rapidly that he lost heart, they thought of nothing but escape to Cork and Waterford with their families, and the whole province, outside the walled towns, was left open to pillage. Here and there an undertaker defended himself as he best might, but the majority simply ran away, if they could. The Irish tenants whom they had admitted upon their estates commonly joined the rebels in the general work of pillage, burning, mutilation, and murder.
With his wife and four children Spenser escaped to Cork. Whether or not he attempted to defend his castle we do not know; we hear only of a certain Edmund MShee killed by an Englishman at the spoil of Kilcolman. The story told by Ben Jonson, that an infant child of the poet perished in the flames, is probably apocryphal. At Cork he found time and composure to prepare a review of the situation, for the Queen; then he was sent to London with despatches, which he delivered the day before Christmas. On the 16th of the following January (in modern style, 1599) he died at Westminster. The Earl of Essex took charge of his funeral. Poets attended him to his grave in the Abbey, near Chaucer, and threw in elegies, with the pens that had written them. Queen Elizabeth ordered him a monumentwhich was never erected.
Spensers reputation among his contemporaries was of the highest. No other English poet ever won more immediate and abiding recognition than he. The Shepherds Calendar was at once accepted as a masterpiece, and when the Faery Queen appeared, there was no one to dispute his right to the heritage of Chaucer. Between 1590 and his death he was held, by general consent, the supreme poet of his time in England. This unanimity of acceptance was due, perhaps, in some measure, to the fact that he was not of that quarrelsome community which praised him, the turbulent literary world of London, but an exile. He had left England at a time when most of the men now seeking fame for themselves were mere youths, and when he returned to their world, at intervals, with fresh poetry, their feeling was in part enthusiasm for its magic, and in part reverence for their senior, who had no share in their quarrels, and whose art was not of their schools, though it instantly made disciples. To speculate how far his remoteness from the growing world of letters may have been favorable to his originality would be futile: it most certainly was favorable to his immediate fame.
What his fame may be to-day is a topic more engaging, but less tangible, and not to be discussed in extenso here. One aspect of it, however, may be glanced at. There are some who go to him, as they go to Keats, for the life of sensations which they prefer to the life of ideas, who appreciate nothing but his sensuous delightsomeness. Others, who feel also his grave moral charm, are, like Lowell, impatient of his too overt moralizing. Others yet, like Dowden, accept the moralizing and all. In the main, the trend of unofficial contemporary opinion seems to be against that element in Spensers poetry which he himself took for the chief of all. He had run the length of the full university curriculum of his day. If one had talked to him of the cultivation of the sensibilities, he would have stared: he had been feeding his brain. To be able to think in poetry, that, he would have said, was the chief end of the poet; and it would grieve him now in Elysium, could he know what moderns have thought about his thinking. Perhaps these moderns are, after all, wrong. It is well enough to say that his thinking too often protrudes through his art, like ill-covered wire framework,but why then, in Dante, call the same phenomenon a residuum of prose in the depths of his poetry? The failing is all but inevitable to poetic dogmatists. In Spenser, too, as in others, it is merely one manifestation of the faculty that directs his noblest work, that informs the superb energy of the conflict between the Redcross Knight and Despair, and the serenities of the Hymn in Honor of Beauty.