Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirke, Edward

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KIRKE, EDWARD (1553–1613), friend of the poet Spenser, matriculated as a sizar of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, in November 1571, but soon removing to Caius College, graduated there B.A. in 1574–5, and M.A. in 1578. Spenser had been admitted a sizar of Pembroke Hall in 1569, and Gabriel Harvey became fellow a year later. Kirke formed a warm friendship with these members of his college.

In the spring of 1579 was issued anonymously ‘The Shepheardes Calender,’ Spenser's earliest publication. On the title-page the work is inscribed to Sir Philip Sidney, but the volume opens with a long preface addressed, by a writer calling himself ‘E. K.,’ to ‘his verie special and singular good friend,’ Gabriel Harvey. ‘E. K.’ commends ‘the new poet’ to Harvey's patronage, anticipates that the poet's worthiness ‘shall soon be sounded by the trump of Fame,’ defends his employment of archaic words and turns of speech, and praises his wit, pithiness, ‘pastoral rudnes,’ ‘morall wisenesse,’ ‘due observing of decorum,’ ‘strongly knit sentences,’ and his modesty in concealing himself in the verses under the name of Colin. ‘Hereunto,’ ‘E. K.’ continues, ‘haue I added a certaine glosse or scholia for the exposition of olde words and harder phrases: by means of some familiar acquaintance I was made priuie to his counsaile and secret meaning in them, as also in sundrie other workes of his.’ In a postscript ‘E. K.’ entreats Harvey to publish his own English poems. He dates his preface ‘from my lodgings at London thys 10 of April 1579.’ In accordance with his promise he supplies an argument and a verbal commentary, with illustrations from classical and Italian poetry, to each of the twelve eclogues of the ‘Calender.’ In his notes in the ninth eclogue ‘E. K.’ announces that he owes one of his comments in part to the author.

The suggestion that ‘E. K.’ was Edward Kirke may be safely adopted, despite the attempts recently made to identify the commentator with Spenser himself. If Spenser were the author of ‘E. K.'s’ preface and notes, he would be exposed to a charge of repulsive immodesty in lavishing praise upon himself; but it is incredible that the poet, who disguised himself in his early works under the pseudonym of ‘Immerito,’ should be guilty of that offence. Nor does the tone of the preface, with its author's repeated expression of friendship for both Spenser and Harvey, make it capable of any but the obvious interpretation. Few of the arguments in favour of the theory of ‘E. K.'s’ identification with Spenser are worthy of attention. The chief lies in the fact that ‘E. K.’ introduces into his commentary on the eclogue for May an English rendering of two Latin hexameters, which appears almost word for word in a letter from Spenser to Harvey dated a year later (10 April 1580), and is there claimed by Spenser as his own ‘extempore’ effort. No literary interest attaches to the lines. It is quite possible that ‘E. K.’ had heard Spenser repeat them at some earlier time, and had appropriated them when he ‘was made priuie’ to the poet's ‘counsaile.’ Elsewhere (in the April eclogue) ‘E. K.’ quotes verses from Petrarch, which Harvey also quotes in a letter to Spenser; but that circumstance only illustrates the similarity of the literary sympathies of ‘E. K.’ and Harvey. ‘E. K.'s’ continued intimacy with his two college friends is further proved by Spenser's message to Harvey, writing from Leycester House, London, 16 Oct. 1579: ‘Maister E. K. hartily desireth to be commended unto your worshippe, of whome what accompte he maketh, your selfe shall hereafter perceive by hys paynefull and dutiful verses of your selfe.’ The verses referred to are not known to be extant. It is clear, moreover, that ‘E. K.’ edited another of Spenser's works in the same fashion as he treated the ‘Calender.’ ‘I take beste,’ the poet wrote to Harvey, ‘my Dreames should come forth alone, being growen by meanes of the Glosse (running continually in maner of paraphrase) full as great as my Calender. Therein be some things excellently, and many things wittily discussed of E. K.’ These ‘Dreames’ have been identified with Spenser's ‘Muiotaphia,’ and his ‘Visions of Du Bellay;’ but it is more probable that they are to be numbered among his lost poems. Spenser also mentions in his correspondence with Harvey one ‘Mistress Kerke,’ to whose care his letters appear to have been addressed. But there is nothing to show her relationship to Kirke. It is conjectured that she was Kirke's mother, and that the poet lived while in London in 1579–80 in her house.

Kirke subsequently took holy orders, and on 26 May 1580 he was presented by the patron, Sir Thomas Kytson, to the rectory of Risby, Suffolk. The neighbouring rectory of Lackford was added to his preferment on 21 Aug. 1587. He died at Risby on 10 Nov. 1613, aged 60. His widow, Helen, was the executrix of his will, in which mention is made of a son-in-law, Richard Buckle, and of a godson, John Kirke, who may be identical with the dramatist noticed below. His property included a house at Bury St. Edmunds.

[Spenser's Works, ed. Grosart, vol. i. passim, iii. cviii–xiv (where Kirke's will is printed); Spenser's Shepheardes Calender, ed. by H. Oskar Sommer, Ph.D. (London, 1890), where are collected the arguments against the theory of ‘E. K.'s’ identification with Kirke, and the impossible solution is proposed that ‘E. K.’ was Spenser himself; Gabriel Harvey's Letters, 1580, reprinted in Harvey's and Spenser's Works in Dr. Grosart's editions; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 244.]

S. L.