Spenser, Edmund (DNB00)
SPENSER, EDMUND (1552?–1599), poet, was a Londoner by birth. ‘Merry London’ he described as
‘my most kindly nurse
That to me gave this life's first native source,
Though from another place I take my name,
An house of ancient fame’
(Prothalamion). His father migrated to London from the neighbourhood of Burnley in north-east Lancashire, not far from the foot of Pendle Hill. As early as the close of the thirteenth century there was a freehold held by a Spenser at Hurstwood in the township of Worsthorne, some three miles to the south-east of Burnley. This seems to have been the original settlement of the family, and its head in the reign of Elizabeth bore the Christian name of Edmund. This Edmund Spenser died in 1587, having been twice married, and leaving a son John by each wife; both of these John Spensers had sons named Edmund. In course of time Spensers settled in other places in the vicinity. Lawrence (a name which the poet gave one of his sons) resided in the poet's lifetime at Filly Close, where a farm is still known as Spenser's; Robert and John Spenser lived in 1586 at Habergham Eaves, near Townley Hall; one John Spenser was a farmer at the time, at Downham, near Clitheroe. The poet's hereditary connection with the Burnley district is corroborated by his dialect. We find many traces of the north-eastern Lancashire vocabulary and way of speaking in the ‘Shepherd's Calendar’ and other of his early pieces (cf. Grosart, i. 408–21). Spenser's Lancashire kinsmen held their own with the Towneleys, the Nowells, and other old families of the district. Law- rence Spenser of Filly Close married Lettice Nowell of the family of Dean Alexander Nowell [q. v.], and the poet profited by the educational benefactions of the dean's brother, Robert Nowell. The poet, too, claimed some relationship with the Spencers of Althorp. He designated as his cousins Sir John Spencer's three daughters (Elizabeth, lady Carey; Alice, lady Strange; Ann, successively Lady Monteagle, Lady Compton, and Countess of Dorset). To each of these ladies he dedicated a poem [see under Spenser, Robert, first Baron Spencer]. In ‘Colin Clouts come home againe’ he described the ‘sisters three’ as
The honor of the noble family
Of which I meanest boast myself to be.
The poet's father seems to have been John Spenser, ‘a gentleman by birth,’ who was in October 1566 ‘a free journeyman’ in the ‘art and mystery of clothmaking,’ and then in the service of Nicholas Peele, ‘sheerman,’ of Bow Lane, London. The Christian name of the poet's mother was Elizabeth (see Sonnet lxxiv.). The parents, according to a statement of Oldys the antiquary, were living in East Smithfield when Spenser was born—probably in 1552. His date of birth cannot be later than 1552; it may have been a year earlier. In Sonnet lx. (of his ‘Amoretti’) he wrote that the one year during which he had been in love with the lady to whom the sonnet was addressed seemed longer to him ‘than all those forty which’ he had previously lived, and there is reason to believe that he began his wooing in 1592. He was not an only son. His intimate friend, Gabriel Harvey, wrote to him of ‘your good mother's eldist ungracious sonne’ (see Harvey's Letter-Book, ed. Scott, p. 60). He seems to have had a younger brother John, doubtless the John Spenser who entered Merchant Taylors' school on 3 Aug. 1571, and afterwards went, like the poet, to Pembroke Hall. But this brother of the poet is to be distinguished from John Spenser [q. v.], who became president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. A sister of the poet was named Sarah.
Spenser was educated at the newly founded Merchant Taylors' school, and probably entered during 1561, the first year of its existence. Nicholas Spenser, a man of great wealth, was warden of the Taylors' Company at the time. Richard Mulcaster [q. v.] was Spenser's headmaster. Robert Nowell, brother of Alexander Nowell [q. v.], dean of St. Paul's, left on his death, 26 Feb. 1568–9, large sums of money to be bestowed on poor scholars and other deserving persons. The account-books detailing ‘the spending of the money of Robert Nowell’ by the executors are preserved at Towneley Hall, and were printed by Dr. Grosart in 1877 (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. pp. 406–8). There Edmund Spenser is mentioned among thirty-one ‘certyn poor schollers of the scholls aboute London’ (St. Paul's, Merchant Taylors', St. Anthony's, St. Saviour's, and Westminster) as receiving a gown early in 1569. Another entry (dated 28 April 1569) on a later folio, under the heading of ‘Geven to poor schollers of dyvers gramare scholles,’ runs, ‘To Edmond Spensore, scholler of the Mrchante Tayler scholles, at his gowinge to Pembrocke Hall in Chambridge, Xs.’ The poet went up to Pembroke Hall (now College) as a sizar in May 1569. He matriculated on 20 May.
About the time of his leaving school Spenser appeared in print. On 22 July 1569 the well-known printer and publisher, Henry Bynneman, obtained a license to issue an English version by one Theodore Roest of an edifying moral tract, originally written in Flemish prose by an Antwerp physician named John Van der Noodt, who had taken refuge in England from religious persecution. A French translation was issued in London in 1568. The work appeared in its English form next year with the running title ‘A Theatre for Worldlings’ (London, b. l. 8vo); a dedication addressed to the queen and signed by Van der Noodt was dated 25 May. There followed, as a further introduction to the book, twenty-one woodcuts in illustration of some poems by Petrarch and Du Bellay which Van der Noodt had studied when compiling his tract, and opposite each woodcut was placed a translation into English verse of the appropriate Italian or French poem. The six poems assigned to Petrarch, which were in Van der Noodt's volume entitled ‘Epigrams,’ were renderings of the six stanzas of Petrarch's canzone, beginning ‘Standomi un giorno solo a la finestra,’ and each consisted of either fourteen or twelve lines alternately rhymed. The fourteen sonnets or ‘Visions’ of Du Bellay—four of which were described as taken ‘out of the Revelations of St. John’—were unrhymed in the English version. Van der Noodt in his preface writes of these poems as his own work, but there can be little doubt that they were the products of Spenser's youthful pen, and were inserted by the publisher as letterpress for the illustrations. In a collection of verse avowedly by Spenser, and published in 1591 under the title of ‘Complaints,’ these twenty stanzas were reprinted with some revision; Du Bellay's sonnets were supplied with rhymes, and others were substituted for the four ‘out of the Revelations of St. John,’ while Petrarch's poems were renamed ‘Visions,’ and were each made of the uniform length of fourteen lines. The poems were promising performances for an undergraduate.
At the university Spenser read widely and with enthusiasm, and became not only a considerable Latin and Greek scholar, but an expert in French and Italian literature. His Latin verses, if not always exact, show fluency and ease. Lodowick Bryskett, in 1583 or thereabouts, describes him as ‘not onely perfect in the Greek tongue, but also very well read in philosophie both morall and naturall.’ ‘He encouraged me long sithens,’ Bryskett adds, ‘to follow the reading of the Greek tongue, and offered me his helpe to make me understand it’ (A Discovrse of Civill Life, 1606). Of modern writers, besides Du Bellay and Petrarch, he closely studied Marot and Chaucer. While an undergraduate he suffered alike from poverty and ill-health. As a ‘poor scholar’ he was awarded two further sums from the Nowell bequest—6s. on 7 Nov. 1570, and 2s. 6d. on 24 April 1571. Among those to whom ‘allowances’ were made ‘ægrotantibus’ he is mentioned several times, his illnesses lasting two and a half weeks, four weeks, two weeks, seven weeks, six weeks (see Grosart, Spenser's Works, i. 36). But on the whole his university career was beneficial. He was brought into contact with many persons of note, such as John Still (afterwards bishop of Bath and Wells) [q. v.], Thomas Preston (1537–1598) [q. v.], Lancelot Andrewes (afterwards bishop of Winchester) [q. v.], and probably with his fellow-countryman, Dr. William Whitaker [q. v.], while he made firm friends with Dr. John Young (d. 1605) [q. v.], master of his college (afterwards bishop of Rochester), ‘the faithful Roffy’ of the ‘Shepheards Calender.’ But his two most intimate associates at Pembroke Hall were Gabriel Harvey [q. v.], who became a fellow in 1570, and Edward Kirke [q. v.], who was admitted a sizar in 1571. Both shared and encouraged his literary tastes, and recognised his budding genius. Though Spenser is silent in his verse about his college, he pays a fine compliment to Cambridge in the ‘Faerie Queene’ (iv. xi. 34).
Spenser proceeded M.A. in 1576, and in the same year left the university. For a time, according to the statements of his friend Edward Kirke, he sojourned with his kinsfolk at or near Hurstwood. There he fell deeply in love with a damsel on whom he bestowed the name of Rosalind, ‘a feigned name which, being wel ordered, wil bewray the very name of hys love and mistresse whom by that name he coloureth’ (E. K.'s ‘Glosso’ to the Shep. Cal.) She was, Kirke asserts, ‘a gentlewoman of no mean house nor endewed with anye vulgare and common gifts both of nature and manners.’ But she disdained the poet's suit, and his despair is largely recorded in his works—from the ‘Shepheards Calender,’ written about the time and published in 1579, to ‘Colin Clouts come home againe,’ written in 1591, and published (after some revision) in 1595. Several attempts have been made to identify the poet's ‘Rosalind.’ According to Aubrey, who quotes John Dryden as his authority, ‘she was a kinswoman of Sir Erasmus Dryden's lady,’ i.e. of Frances, daughter and coheiress of William Wilkes of Hodnet, Warwickshire. Dryden told Aubrey that Spenser was ‘an acquaintance and frequenter’ of his grandfather, Sir Erasmus Dryden; that a chamber in Sir Erasmus's house at Canon Ashby, Northamptonshire, was still called ‘Mr. Spenser's chamber’ late in the seventeenth century; and that behind the wainscot there was found ‘an abundance of cards with stanzas of the “Faerie Queene” written upon them’ (Aubrey, iii. 542). But, despite the weight to be attached to such testimony, chronology renders it difficult to accept it in all its details. At any rate, in 1579 Sir Erasmus Dryden was a very tender youth. The most plausible theory seems to be that ‘Rosalind’ was one Rose, daughter of a yeoman named Dyneley, who lived near Clitheroe. We have no clue to ‘Menalcas,’ who was the successful suitor, ‘a person unknown and secret,’ says E. K., ‘against whom [the poet] often bitterly invayeth.’
Spenser's passion for ‘Rosalind’ stimulated his poetic impulse, and, while engaged in his ill-fated love suit, he kept his college friends Kirke and Harvey informed of many an ambitious literary project. By the advice of Harvey he soon left the north for London. His disappointment in love and the need of earning a livelihood alike rendered the change desirable. His friend Kirke, in the annotations on the ‘June’ eclogue of the ‘Shepheards Calender,’ remarks on the counsel to ‘forsake the soyle’ which Hobbinol (i.e. Harvey) offers the poet: ‘This is no poetical fiction, but unfeynedly spoken of the Poet selfe, who for speciall occasion of private affayres (as I have bene partly of himselfe informed) and for his more preferment removing out of the Northparts came into the South, as Hobbinoll indeede advised him privately.’ Harvey was in confidential relations with the queen's powerful favourite, the Earl of Leicester, and Harvey recommended Spenser to his patron's notice. Not later than 1578, possibly in the previous year, Spenser became a member of the household at Leicester House (afterwards Essex House) in the Strand. For his patron's amusement he made many essays in poetry, while he read largely on his own account and confirmed his intimacy with Harvey. On 22 Dec. 1578 Spenser presented Harvey, while the latter was on a visit to Leicester in London, with a copy of Copland's now rare edition of the old romance of ‘Howleglas.’ Spenser made it a condition that if Harvey had not read the volume by 1 Jan. following, he should forfeit to the giver an edition of ‘Lucian’ in four volumes. The copy of ‘Howleglas’ presented by Spenser is now in the Bodleian Library, with a note of the bargain in Harvey's handwriting (Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, pp. 122–3).
One of Spenser's chief duties while in Leicester's service was apparently to deliver despatches to Leicester's correspondents in foreign countries. In Spenser's ‘View of the Present State of Ireland,’ one of the interlocutors, Irenæus (who usually utters the sentiments of Spenser), describes what he saw ‘at the execution of a notable traytour at Limmericke, called Murrogh O'Brien.’ The execution took place in July 1577 (see Carew Papers, ii. 104). Perhaps the identification of the poet with Irenæus is not to be pressed too rigorously. But if Spenser was in Ireland in 1577, it was doubtless as a bearer of despatches from Leicester to his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Sidney, the lord-deputy. In April 1579 Spenser's friend Kirke speaks of him as ‘for long time farre estranged,’ i.e. in some distant foreign land (see E. K.'s ‘Epistle to Master Gabriell Harvey,’ prefixed to the Shepheards Calender). In October 1579, in a letter written from Leicester House, Spenser spoke of himself as ‘mox in Gallias navigaturo,’ and of having to seek his fortune
per inhospita Caucasa longe
Perque Pyrenæos montes Babylonaque turpem,
i.e. in Spain and Rome, and even further afield; and he adds in English, ‘I goe thither as sent by him [my lord] and maintained mostwhat of him, and there am to employ my time, my body, my mind, to his Honour's service.’ He was back at ‘Westminster,’ i.e. Leicester House, early in April 1580.
Spenser's association with Leicester brought him the acquaintance of Sir Philip Sidney, Leicester's nephew. This acquaintance rapidly ripened into a deep and tender friendship, of singular and excellent influence, both morally and intellectually [see Sidney, Sir Philip]. With another courtier, Sir Edward Dyer, he also formed a close intimacy. Love of literature was the main bond of union between Spenser and his new friends. With Sidney, Dyer, Drant, and others, he formed a literary club which they styled the Areopagus. Its meetings were apparently held at Leicester House in 1578 and 1579. There they debated on and experimented in the application to English metre of the classical rules of quantity, a scheme which Harvey in and out of season pressed on Spenser's and his London friends' attention. Spenser was for a time attracted by the theory. ‘I am of late,’ he writes to Harvey, 5 Oct. 1579, ‘more in love wyth my English versifying [i.e. on classical lines] than with ryming, whyche I should haue done long since, if I would then haue followed your councell.’ And he gives a specimen of some unimpressive iambic trimeters in English, while he announces his intention of illustrating the uses of the classical metres in an elaborate topographical poem ‘Epithalamion Thamesis.’ But his good sense and his fine ear soon revealed to him the weakness of the pedantic arguments which Harvey urged in behalf of his metrical system, and the delusion that quantity instead of accent was the right principle of English verse passed away.
The letters that passed between Spenser and Harvey in 1579 and 1580 give full details of the former's exuberant literary activity at the period. Of the numerous works to which reference is made in this correspondence, some are not known to be extant, or, if extant, have been incorporated in poems which are now known by other titles than those conferred on them by Spenser and Harvey in 1579–80. Nine English comedies, called after the nine Muses in the manner of Herodotus, cannot be identified with anything from Spenser's pen that survives. ‘Dreames’ (formerly called ‘My Slumber’), a poem which, in Harvey's opinion, rivalled Petrarch's ‘Visions,’ was actually prepared for printing, with a glossary by Kirke and illustrations which Spenser deemed worthy of Michael Angelo. Harvey's appreciative description suggests at a first glance some connection with those ‘Visions’ that had done duty in Van der Noodt's volume or with the extant ‘Ruines of Time,’ which was first published in 1591 in the volume called ‘Complaints.’ But the balance of evidence is against the supposition that ‘Dreames’ escaped destruction. To a like category belong ‘The Dying Pelican,’ another poem ready for the press, and ‘The English Poet,’ apparently a prose tract with which Sidney was possibly familiar before he wrote his ‘Apologie for Poetrie.’ ‘Legends,’ ‘Pageants,’ and the ‘Epithalamion Thamesis’ may have been rough drafts of episodes that found a home later in the ‘Faerie Queene.’ Fragments of the ‘Stemmata Dudleiana,’ in which Spenser apostrophised his patron Leicester, may be embodied in the ‘Ruines of Time’ which was published in ‘Complaints’ in 1591. Almost all the other poems published in that volume were mentioned in the correspondence with Harvey, and were probably composed while Spenser was enjoying Leicester's patronage. Similarly the ‘Hymns in Honour of Love and of Beauty’ (which were first published in 1596) were probably written while the poet was under the thraldom of ‘Rosalind.’
But more interesting is it to note that of the two poems—‘The Shepheards Calender’ and ‘The Faerie Queene’—on which Spenser's fame mainly depends, the former was completed, and the latter well begun, while Spenser was under Leicester's roof in 1579. ‘I wil in hande forthwith with my “Faerie Queene,” whyche I praye you hastily send me with al expedition,’ wrote Spenser on 5 Oct. 1579. Eighteen days later Harvey replied: ‘In good faith I had once again well nigh forgotten your “Faerie Queene;” howbeit by good chance I have now sent her home at the last, neither in better nor worse case than I found her.’ Ten years elapsed before any portion of that work was ready for the press. The ‘Shepheards Calender,’ on the other hand, was sent to press without delay. On 5 Dec. 1579 the publisher, Hugh Singleton, obtained a license for its publication, and it appeared at once in a small quarto volume bearing the title, ‘The Shepheardes Calender, Conteyning tvvelue Æglogues proportionable to the twelve moneths. Entitled to the noble and vertuous Gentleman most worthy of all titles both of learning and cheualrie M. Philip Sidney. At London. Printed by Hugh Singleton, dwelling in Creede Lane neere vnto Ludgate at the signe of the gylden Tunne, and are there to be solde, 1579.’
Under the modest pseudonym of ‘Immerito,’ the author dedicated in a short poem this series of twelve dialogues or eclogues to his friend Sir Philip Sidney. No mention was anywhere made of Spenser's name. An ‘epistle dedicatory’ to Gabriel Harvey, dated 10 April 1579, was signed ‘E. K.,’ who may safely be identified with Spenser's and Harvey's college friend, Edward Kirke. From the same pen proceeded the notes and glossary that were appended to each poem. The design was suggested by the pastoral poetry of Theocritus, Bion, Clement Marot, and the Italian Mantuanus (cf. Anglia, 1880, iii. and 1886, ix.). In imitation of the Doric dialect of the first named, Spenser adopted an archaic vocabulary, which justified Kirke's glossary. Marot's and Mantuanus's influence is apparent throughout, alike in subject-matter and phraseology, and the eleventh and twelfth eclogues are direct paraphrases from the French poet. In the ‘June’ eclogue Spenser introduced a panegyric on Chaucer, ‘who [he says] taught me homely, as I can, to make.’ Love is the leading, but by no means the sole, topic of the poems. The condition of the church and the papal ‘heresy’ are discussed in the spirit of a convinced adherent of the established church. Among the interlocutors of the twelve dialogues Spenser introduces under veiled names not only his friend Harvey (as Hobbinol) and himself (as Colin), but also Grindal, the archbishop of Canterbury (as Algrind).
The work was received with enthusiasm. A second edition—an exact reprint—was issued in 1581 ‘for John Harison the younger.’ A third and a fourth edition appeared respectively in 1586 and in 1591, both by the same publisher, while a fifth, printed by Thomas Creede, was dated 1597. It was translated into Latin by John Dove about 1585, but Dove's rendering remains in manuscript at Caius College, Cambridge. Spenser was at once admitted by critical contemporaries to the first place among English poets. William Webbe, in his ‘Discourse of English Poetrie’ (1586), reserved for the author of the ‘Shepheards Calender,’ of whose name he was uncertain, ‘the title of the rightest English poet that ever he read’ (ed. Arber, p. 35). ‘He may well wear the garland, and step before the best of all English poets that I have seen or heard’ (ib. p. 52). Before 1589 Nash wrote of ‘divine Master Spencer.’ Sir Philip Sidney, while deprecating Spenser's use of ‘an old rustic language,’ credited the eclogues with ‘much poetry indeed worthy of the reading’ (Apology for Poetry). Francis Meres, like Webbe, saw in Spenser the compeer of Theocritus and Virgil. ‘Master Edmund Spenser,’ wrote Drayton, ‘had done enough for the immortality of his name had he only given us his “Shepherd's Calendar,” a masterpiece, if any.’
In 1580 Spenser again appeared in print. In that year Henry Bynneman published two volumes to which Spenser contributed. One was entitled ‘Three proper and wittie familiar Letters; lately passed betweene two Vniversitie men; touching the Earthquake in Aprill last, and our English refourmed Versifying. With the Preface of a well-willer to them both.’ The other volume was called ‘Two other very commendable Letters, of the same mens writing; both touching the foresaid Artificial Versifying, and certain other Particulars: More lately deliuered vnto the Printer.’ These five published epistles were drawn from the recent correspondence of Harvey and Spenser, and mainly dealt with the vexed question of English scansion and Spenser's literary projects. In each volume only one letter was from Spenser. That which opened the first he signed ‘Immerito;’ it is without date. Spenser's second letter prefaced the second volume, and was dated from Leicester House 5 Oct. 1579, and is in most copies signed ‘E. Spenser.’ Both volumes, unique examples of which are in the British Museum, throw valuable light on Elizabethan literary history (cf. Letter-book of Gabriel Harvey, 1573–80, Camden Soc. 1884).
Meanwhile Spenser was hoping for more assured preferment. At last, in July 1580, probably through the influence of Lord Leicester and his nephew, Sir Philip Sidney, he was appointed secretary to Arthur Grey, fourteenth lord Grey de Wilton [q. v.], then going to Ireland as lord deputy. He landed in Dublin with Lord Grey on 12 Aug., and although he twice revisited England in 1589–90 and in 1596, Ireland remained his home until the close of 1598, within a month of his death. For his chief and his policy he always entertained the warmest admiration (see the View, passim, especially p. 655, Spenser's Works, Globe edit., and Faerie Queene, v.; cf. Kingsley, Westward Ho, chaps. ix., xi.). He accompanied Lord Grey on his expedition to Kerry in November 1580, when the Spaniards, who had seized Smerwick, were captured and executed, and he gave a vivid picture in his ‘View of the Present State of Ireland’ of the desolation that followed in the wake of ‘those late warres in Mounster.’ As Lord Grey's secretary he had, when in Dublin, to transcribe and collate official documents, many of which, dated in 1581 and 1582, are extant with verifications in his signature. He was well paid for his services, and in 1582 received for ‘rewards’ as secretary 162l. He found a congenial friend in Lodowick Bryskett [q. v.], another Irish official. On 22 March 1581 he was appointed clerk of the Irish court of chancery. This post was given him ‘free from the seal … in respect he was secretary to the Lord deputy’ (Cal. Fiants, Eliz. No. 3694). Spenser held it for some seven years. But besides official employment he secured much landed property. On 15 July 1581 he received a lease of the abbey and castle and manor of Enniscorthy in Wexford county; but this, on 9 Dec. following, he transferred to one Richard Synot. The sale money he seems to have invested in another abbey in New Ross. In 1582 he received a six years' lease of Lord Baltinglas's house in Dublin, and on 24 Aug. of that year a lease of New Abbey, co. Kildare. During the next two years he was officially described as ‘of New Abbey,’ where he seems to have often resided. On 15 May 1583, and again on 4 July 1584, he acted as a commissioner for musters in county Kildare. That Spenser was highly appreciated by the English society in Dublin is pleasantly shown in Bryskett's ‘Discourse of Civill Life’ (1606). He spent three days apparently in 1583 at Bryskett's little cottage near Dublin, engaged in literary debate with his fellow-guests, Dr. Long, primate of Armagh, Sir Thomas Norris, and many military and civil officers stationed in Ireland. But the country of Ireland was far from congenial to the poet. He regarded the Irish as a ‘savage nation’ with whose ideas and demands he was wholly out of sympathy; and such scenes of blood and horror as he witnessed in Kerry on his arrival permanently depressed him. He was harassed, too, by pecuniary difficulties, and by reminiscences of his disappointment in love. ‘The want of wealth and loss of love,’ wrote a friend in England in 1586, scarce permitted him to ‘breathe’ (A. W. in Davison's Poetical Rhapsody, ed. Bullen, i. 65). His main solace was in literary work. To the continuation of the ‘Faerie Queene,’ of which book i. and part of book ii. were finished before leaving England, he devoted all his leisure. When at Bryskett's cottage about 1583, he described to the company the serious aim of the poem. The earliest references which he made to Ireland in the work appear in canto ix. of book ii. (see stanzas 13, 16, and 24), and that book was probably completed in the early years of his residence in Dublin. At the end of 1586 he doubtless wrote his elegy on ‘Astrophel,’ i.e. Sir Philip Sidney (first published with ‘Colin Clout’ in 1595), and the fine sonnet to his friend Harvey (which the latter appended to his ‘Foure Letters’ in 1592).
On 22 June 1588 Spenser resigned his clerkship of the court of chancery in Dublin, purchasing from Bryskett the post of clerk of the council of Munster, of which one of the party he had met at Bryskett's cottage, Sir Thomas Norris [q. v.], was acting president. He had already obtained some landed estate in the neighbourhood of Cork, where the Munster council held its sessions. In 1586 the property of the earls of Desmond in Munster was declared forfeit, and it was determined to plant it with English colonists. Spenser heartily approved the ‘plantation’ scheme, and shared the accepted belief of Elizabethan officials that the natives might justly and wisely be expropriated, and, as far as possible, exterminated. In the articles for the ‘Undertakers,’ which received the royal assent on 27 June 1586, Spenser was credited with 3028 acres. The final patent, securing his title to this property at an annual rent of 8l. 13s. 9d. for three years, and double that rent subsequently, was passed on 26 Oct. 1591 (see Grosart, i. 150–1). On the property was the old castle of Kilcolman, three miles from Doneraile, co. Cork. A little to the east the Bregoge river flows into the Awbeg (Spenser's ‘Mulla’), and some distance south-east the Awbeg flows into the Blackwater (Spenser's ‘Awniduff,’ see Colin Clouts come home againe; Faerie Queene, IV. xi. 41, and VII. vi. 40).
In Kilcolman Castle Spenser settled in 1588 on taking up his duties as clerk of the Munster council. It is alleged that a sister kept house for him, presumably Sarah Spenser. She afterwards married John Travers of a Lancashire family, who held some office in Munster. In 1589 the poet had six householders settled on his lands. But his relations with at least one of his neighbours, Maurice, viscount Roche of Fermoy, a harsh-tempered landlord, who was hostile to the English rule, involved him in a long and harassing litigation. On 12 Oct. 1589, soon after the poet took up his residence at Kilcolman, Lord Roche accused Spenser, in a petition to the queen, of intruding on his property, and of ill-treating his servants, tenants, and cattle. Roche proclaimed that ‘none of his people should have any trade or conference with Mr. Spenser or Mr. Piers, or any of their tenants being English,’ and caused one Teige O'Lyne to be fined ‘for that he received Mr. Spenser in his house one night as he came from the session at Limerick’ (see Grosart, i. 157). The quarrel dragged on for fully five years. Greater satisfaction Spenser derived from intercourse with another neighbour, a fellow ‘undertaker’ in the Munster plantation, Sir Walter Ralegh, whose acquaintance Spenser had doubtless already made in London or Dublin. In 1589 Ralegh was residing at the manor house of Youghal at the mouth of the Blackwater. Ralegh visited Spenser at Kilcolman, and to him the poet confided the sense of desolation which residence in Ireland engendered. He was still working at the ‘Faerie Queene,’ and he showed his guest a draft of the first three books. Ralegh was enchanted. In Spenser's words (in the subsequently written ‘Colin Clouts come home againe’), Ralegh
'Gan to cast great liking to my lore
And great disliking to my luckless lot
That banisht had myself, like wight forlore,
Into that waste, where I was quite forgot.
The which to leave thenceforth he counselled me,
Unmeet for man in whom was aught regardful,
And wend with him his Cynthia to see,
Whose grace was great, and bounty most rewardful.
Ralegh's ‘Cynthia’ was Queen Elizabeth. Spenser styled his sanguine friend ‘The Shepherd of the Ocean,’ and crossed the St. George's Channel with him in October 1589, resolved to publish his poem and seek the favour of his sovereign.
Arrived in London, doubtless in November 1589, Spenser lost no time in entrusting his manuscript to the publisher, William Ponsonby [q. v.], who, on 1 Dec. 1589, procured a license for the publication of ‘the fayre Queene dysposed into xij bookes’ (Arber, ii. 536). Three of the projected twelve books were alone completed, and these, in which Spenser portrayed the adventures of his knights of Holiness, Temperance, and Chastity, were published in quarto next year. In the fewest possible words Spenser dedicated the volume ‘to the most magnificent empresse Elizabeth.’ A prefatory letter from the author to Ralegh, dated 23 Jan. 1589–90, explained ‘his whole intention in the course of this worke,’ and six friends—Ralegh, Harvey (under the name of Hobynoll), H. B., R[ichard?] S[tapleton?], W. L., and Ignoto—prefixed verses, while the author supplied seventeen prefatory sonnets, addressed to Sir Christopher Hatton, Essex, Lord Grey de Wilton, Ralegh, Burghley, and other great officers of state or court-ladies, with whom his residence in Dublin or at Leicester House had made him acquainted. The success achieved by his ‘Shepheards Calender’ was far more than sustained by the publication of the first three books of the ‘Faerie Queene.’ His right to supremacy among such poets as were yet familiar to the English public was rendered indisputable. Men of letters, with whom he now passed much of his time, were unanimous in their applause. A second edition appeared in 1596.
Although Spenser was welcomed at court, he failed in his efforts to secure more congenial occupation than Ireland could afford. In some of the pithiest and most masculine verses that he penned he had already depicted ‘what hell it is in suing long to bide,’ and these lines soon afterwards appeared in print with invigorated point (cf. Mother Hubberd's Tale). He was still in London on 1 Jan. 1590–1, when he dated thence ‘Daphnaïda,’ an elegy on Lady Douglas, daughter of Viscount Howard of Bindon, and wife of Arthur Gorges [q. v.] Ponsonby published it immediately, and Spenser dedicated it to Helena, marchioness of Northampton. Next month the queen gave proof of her appreciation by bestowing a pension on the poet. According to an anecdote, partly reported by Manningham, the diarist (Diary, p. 43), and told at length by Fuller, Lord Burghley, in his capacity of lord treasurer, protested against the largeness of the sum which the queen first suggested, and was directed by her to give the poet what was reasonable. He received a formal grant of 50l. a year in February 1590–1. But there is no ground for the common assumption that the pension carried with it the formal dignity of poet-laureate.
Spenser soon afterwards resumed residence at Kilcolman, and amid the sorrows of disillusion penned a charming account of his travels and court experiences, which he entitled ‘Colin Clouts come home againe.’ A vivid description, under disguised names, is given of the literary men and women whose sympathy he had won. Allusion is doubtless made to Shakespeare under the name of Aetion. Spenser sent the manuscript with a letter ‘dated from my house of Kilcolman the 27 of December 1591’ to Ralegh, to whom he expressed indebtedness for ‘singular favours and sundrie good turnes shewed’ to him at his ‘late being in England.’ The poem was not printed till 1595.
Meanwhile the success of the ‘Faerie Queene’ led Ponsonby, its publisher, to collect ‘such small poems of the same author as I heard were disperst abroad in sundry hands.’ A license for the publication was obtained on 29 Dec. 1590, and the volume appeared next year with the title ‘Complaints, containing sundrie small poems of the world's vanitie.’ These were nine in number, viz. ‘The Ruines of Time;’ ‘The Teares of the Muses;’ ‘Virgils Gnat’ (a translation of the ‘Culex,’ erroneously ascribed to Virgil); ‘Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberd's Tale;’ ‘The Ruines of Rome, by Bellay;’ ‘Muiopotmos, or the Tale of the Butterflie;’ ‘Visions of the World's Vanitie;’ ‘Bellayes Visions,’ and ‘Petrarches Visions.’ Most of the poems were probably juvenile efforts, which had been in part rewritten. The last two pieces were revised versions of his contributions to Van der Noodt's volume of 1569. The ‘Gnat’ was described as ‘long since dedicated to the most noble and excellent Lord, the Earl of Leicester, late deceased.’ The title of ‘The Teares of the Muses,’ an interesting criticism of contemporary literary effort, in which each muse in turn deplored her waning power, was drawn from that of a Latin poem written by Harvey in 1578. ‘Mother Hubberd's Tale’ was stated to have been ‘long sithens composed in the raw conceipt of my youth.’ The best poem in the volume, ‘Muiopotmos,’ an allegorical account of a proud butterfly who is swept by a gust of wind into a spider's web, is the most airily fanciful of all Spenser's works. But the collection gave by its satiric freedom some offence in high quarters. Shakespeare, in ‘Midsummer Night's Dream’ (v. i. 52–4), described ‘The Teares of the Muses’ as ‘some satire keen and critical.’ ‘The Ruines of Time,’ in Chaucerian stanza (dedicated to Sidney's sister, the Countess of Pembroke), lamented the deaths of Lords Leicester and Warwick, Sidney, and Walsingham, but it incidentally reflected on Lord Burghley, with the result (according to John Weever's ‘Epigrams,’ 1599) that the poem was ‘called in.’ A like fate attended ‘Mother Hubberd's Tale,’ a satire on court vices and follies.
Ponsonby held forth the hope that he might hereafter issue other neglected or lost pieces by Spenser—viz. ‘“Ecclesiastes” and “Canticum Canticorum” translated, “A sennight's Slumber,” the “Hell of Lovers,” “His purgatorie”—being all dedicated to ladies; besides some other pamphlets looselie scattered abroad, as “The dying Pellican” [already noticed as ready for the press in the correspondence with Harvey], “The howers of the Lord,” “The sacrifice of a Sinner,” “The seven Psalms,” &c.’ None of these works were recovered.
In 1592 Spenser fell in love again; in 1593 the lady after some hesitation accepted his suit. In sonnets, called ‘Amoretti,’ he kept a sort of diary of his wooing, and we learn from one of them (No. 74) that the lady's Christian name was Elizabeth. She was probably daughter of one James Boyle, a kinsman of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork [q. v.] Spencer and Elizabeth Boyle were married on 11 June 1594, either in the cathedral of St. Finbarr at Cork, or in St. Mary's Church, Youghal, in the neighbourhood of which town Elizabeth's father had property. Spenser celebrated his marriage in a splendid epithalamion—‘one of the grandest lyrics in English poetry.’
Meanwhile Spenser's neighbour, Lord Roche, was still pursuing him with litigation. In 1593 Roche presented two petitions against him, besides one against a certain Joan Ny Callaghan, whom Spenser, ‘a heavy adversary unto your suppliant,’ supported and maintained. Spenser was charged with detaining sixteen ploughlands which Roche claimed as his own property. At length, by a judgment of the court of chancery in Dublin, Lord Roche was, on 12 Feb. 1594, decreed possession of the lands in debate. Perhaps as a consequence Spenser resigned in the same year his clerkship of the Munster council.
In 1594 Spenser sent to Ponsonby for publication his ‘Amoretti and Epithalamion,’ which was licensed for publication on 19 Nov. 1594, and appeared next year with a dedication by the publisher to Sir Robert Needham, who brought the manuscript to London. In 1595 Ponsonby also issued ‘Colin Clouts come home againe,’ with an appendix of elegies on Spenser's late friend Sir Philip Sidney. Spenser was only author of the opening elegy—the beautiful ‘Astrophel, a pastorall elegie.’ On the eve of his marriage in 1594 he had completed three more books of the ‘Faerie Queene’ (sonnet lxxx.), and at the close of 1595 he himself brought them and some small pieces to London. The ‘second parte of the Faery Queen, containing the 4, 5, and 6 bookes,’ was licensed for publication by Ponsonby on 20 Jan. 1595–6, and appeared soon afterwards, again in quarto. The new instalment illustrated allegorically the characters of Justice, Friendship, and Courtesy respectively. The popularity of the second volume (with which a second edition of the first was often bound up) was as pronounced as that of its forerunner. But a part of its subject-matter exposed it to censure. In the fourth book—on Justice—the poet reflected unsympathetically on the fate of Mary Queen of Scots, whom he portrayed under the name Duessa. James VI of Scotland complained to Robert Bowes, the English ambassador at Edinburgh, of these dishonouring reflections on his mother, and Bowes, in repeating the king's complaint to Burghley, urged that Spenser might be punished (cf. Cal. Scottish State Papers, 1509–1603, pp. 723–4, 747). But friends abounded, especially in court circles. In the autumn he was with the court at Greenwich, still hopeful of preferment. From Greenwich on 1 Sept. 1596 he dated his dedication to two ladies of rank (Margaret, countess of Cumberland, and Mary, countess of Warwick) of his ‘Foure Hymnes made by Edmond Spenser’ (London, by Ponsonby, 1596). Two of the poems—hymns in honour of love and beauty—had been long in circulation in manuscript. The two new poems celebrated ‘heavenly love’ and ‘heavenly beauty,’ and he described them, perhaps not quite literally, as ‘a palinode in regard to the earlier efforts.’ In November Spenser was staying with the Earl of Essex at Essex House, where he had lived in former years while it belonged to Leicester. On 8 Nov. 1596 there were married at Essex House two daughters of Edward Somerset, fifth earl of Worcester [q. v.], and in honour of this double marriage Spenser penned the latest, and one of the most fascinating, of his poems—his ‘Prothalamion’ (London, for William Ponsonby, 1596, 4to).
The most elaborate work that Spenser wrote during this London visit was in prose, and, although licensed for issue on 14 April 1598, was published posthumously. This was his ‘View of the Present State of Ireland, discoursed by way of a Dialogue between Eudoxus and Irenæus,’ a work of very considerable knowledge and shrewdness, the fruit of keen observation and assiduous thought. Spenser wrote of Ireland altogether from the point of view of the Elizabethan Englishman. He allowed no recognition of Irish claims and rights. English laws were to be enforced and Irish nationality to be uprooted by the sword. Sir James Ware, who first printed the tract, deplored Spenser's want of charity, and other Irish writers assert that Spenser's harsh sentiments long rendered his name abhorrent to the native population (cf. Hardiman). But in his ‘View’ the poet acknowledged defects in the existing English rule, and denounced, in anticipation of Swift, the ignorance and degradation of the protestant clergy and the unreadiness of the new settlers to take advantage by right methods of cultivation of the natural wealth of the soil. Spenser contemplated another work on the antiquities of Ireland of which there is no trace.
Very early in 1597 Spenser returned from London to Kilcolman depressed in mind and in failing health. In the ‘Prothalamion’ he wrote of himself as one
whom sullein care,
Through discontent of my long fruitless stay
In Princes court and expectation vayne,
Of idle hopes which still doe fly away
Like empty shaddowes, did afflict my brayne.
On 30 September 1598 he was appointed sheriff of Cork, and was described in the royal letter as ‘a gentleman dwelling in the county of Cork who is well known unto you all for his good and commendable parts, being a man endowed with good knowledge and learning, and not unskilful or without experience in the wars.’ The storm that had long been gathering among the native Irish was then on the point of bursting. On 14 Aug. 1598 Hugh O'Neill, earl of Tyrone [q. v.], the great Irish chieftain, had defeated an English army at the Yellow Ford on the Blackwater. The spirit of discontent which the ‘plantation’ had fomented among the native Irish in Munster at once grew active. In October O'Neill sent a force of his Irish levies into the province, and rebellion broke out. Eight thousand clansmen, under the ‘sugan’ Earl of Desmond, overran county Cork. Panic seized the English officials. Spenser, the newly appointed sheriff, seems to have been taken completely unawares. In October all Munster was in the hands of the insurgents, Kilcolman Castle was burnt over the poet's head, and he fled to Cork with his wife and four children. According to Ben Jonson, whose evidence as that of a contemporary cannot be lightly disregarded, but is on this point controvertible, one of his children perished in the flames. At Cork Spenser drew up a ‘briefe note of Ireland,’ which he inscribed to the queen. In it he entreated Elizabeth to show unto ‘these vile caitiffs’ the terror of her wrath, and to equip ten thousand men with a competent force of cavalry, to exterminate them (Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1598–9, p. 431–3; Grosart, i. 537–55). Among the Irish state papers for 1598–9 is an unpublished manuscript, describing in dialogue form the attack on the English settlers in King's County between the harvest of 1597 and All Saints' day of 1598. It claims to be from the pen of Thomas Wilson, although it is dedicated by ‘H. C.’ to Essex. The interlocutors are named Peregryn and Silvyn (the names of two of Spenser's sons); and the tone of their conversation closely resembles that of Irenæus and Eudoxus in his ‘View of the Present State of Ireland’ (Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1598–9, pp. 505 seq.) It probably embodies expressions of opinion which Spenser had communicated to its author. On 9 Dec. Sir Thomas Norris, the president of Munster, sent Spenser from Cork to London, with a despatch reporting the progress of the rebellion (ib. p. 414). Norris doubtless intended that Spenser should also advise the government in London of the general situation. But his physique was overstrained by the anxieties and hardships he had undergone. He found shelter at an ‘inn’ or lodging in King Street, Westminster, but a month after his arrival—on Saturday, 16 Jan. 1598–9—he died there. John Chamberlain, the letter-writer, wrote next day to his friend Carleton: ‘Spencer, our principall poet, comming lately out of Ireland, died at Westminster on Saturday last’ (Letters temp. Eliz. Camden Soc. p. 41). Ben Jonson asserts that he perished ‘for lack of bread,’ and that the Earl of Essex, learning of his distress in his last hours, sent him ‘20 pieces,’ which the poet refused, saying ‘he was sorrie he had no time to spend them’ (Conversations with Drummond, Shakespeare Soc., pp. 7, 12). But this story cannot be literally accepted. Camden so far corroborates Ben Jonson as to assert that Spenser's life was a long wrestle with poverty, and that he returned to London ‘a poor man.’ John Weever, in an epigram published in the year of Spenser's death, declared:
Spencer is ruined, of our latest time
The fairest ruine, Faeries foulest want.
The author of the ‘Returne from Parnassus’ asserts that in his last hours ‘maintenance’ was denied him by an ungrateful country. Fletcher, in the ‘Purple Island,’ wrote of Spenser:
Poorly, poor man, he lived; poorly, poor man, he died.
Nevertheless, he was, at the period of his death, a pensioner of the crown, and came from Ireland as the bearer of official despatches of moment. It is incredible that his destitution should have proved so complete as to issue in death by starvation. Friends, too, were numerous in London, and they procured for him burial in Westminster Abbey. His grave was at the south end of the south transept, a few yards from Chaucer, the ‘Tityrus’ whom he delighted to acknowledge as his poetic master. Essex, according to abundant contemporary evidence, paid the expenses of his funeral (cf. Camden, Annales, ed. 1688, p. 565; Phineas Fletcher, Purple Island; Fuller, Worthies). According to Camden ‘his hearse’ was ‘attended by poets, and mournful elegies and poems, with the pens that wrote them, were thrown into his tomb.’
A beautiful passage in Browne's ‘Britannia's Pastorals’ (Bk. 2, Song 1, ll. 1005–1025) attests that Elizabeth ordered a monument to Spenser's memory, but that the order was intercepted, and the allotted sum embezzled by an avaricious courtier. A monument of grey marble was finally erected by Nicholas Stone at the cost (40l.) of Ann Clifford, countess of Dorset [q. v.], in 1620. An English inscription (inaccurate as to dates) described Spenser as ‘the Prince of Poets in his tyme, whose Divine Spirrit needs noe othir witnesse then the Works which he left behinde him.’ It is reported that on the original gravestone were inscribed two Latin distichs, of which the first, according to Camden, ran:
Hic prope Chaucerum, Spensere, poeta poetam
Conderis, et versu quam tumulo propior
(Camden, Reges Reginæ, 1600, s. v. ‘In australi parte capellæ regis’). By a subscription raised at Cambridge in 1778 by the poet William Mason [q. v.], the tomb was repaired and the English inscription was recut with corrected dates. No trace then remained of the Latin distichs, and they are now absent from the tomb (Neale and Brayley's Westminster Abbey, ii. 263–4; ‘Chapter Book,’ 13 April 1778, ap. Stanley's Memorials, p. 253).
Aubrey states on the authority of Christopher Beeston, the old actor, that Spenser was ‘a little man, wore short hair, little bands, and little cuffs’ (Lives, iii. 542). Harvey bantered him on the fulness of his beard as a young man in 1579 (cf. Letter-book, p. 64). Four reputed portraits (in oils) are known. One belongs to the Earl of Kinnoull, at Dupplin Castle (half-length); another to the Earl of Carnarvon, at Bretby Park (three-quarter length); a third, a copy by Benjamin Wilson (presented by the poet Mason) from a now lost original belonging to George Onslow, is at Pembroke College, Cambridge; and a fourth, ascribed to the Florentine Alessandro Allori (Bronzino), is the property of the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould. An engraving from Lord Kinnoull's picture, by C. Warren, was published in 1822, and one from Lord Carnarvon's picture (formerly Lord Chesterfield's), by Cook, in 1777. Mr. Baring-Gould's picture was engraved by W. J. Alais in 1880 for Mr. Grosart's edition of Spenser (vol. ii.) A contemporary miniature, belonging to Lord Fitzhardinge, was also engraved by Alais Vertue issued an engraving in 1727, and it has often been reproduced. Another print, by Fougeron, represents the poet seated.
Spenser's widow Elizabeth (Boyle) remarried in 1603 one Richard or Roger Seckerstone, by whom she had a son Richard. On Seckerstone's death she married a third husband, Captain Robert Tynt. The poet's sister Sarah, wife of John Travers, was buried with her husband in the chancel of St. Finbarr's Church, Cork. Their son Robert Travers erected a marble tomb over his parents' grave and received permission from the dean and chapter to be buried beneath it. No trace of it survives (Grosart, i. 423–6).
Spenser had three sons and a daughter. His heir, Sylvanus (1595?–1638), married a Roman catholic, Ellen, eldest daughter of David Nagle or Nangle of Monaning, co. Cork, who died at Dublin, 14 Nov. 1637; by her Sylvanus had two sons—Edmund, who died young and unmarried, and William, born about 1634. The latter succeeded to Kilcolman, but incurred the penalty of transplantation into Connaught as an ‘English papist’ during the Commonwealth; his lands were assigned, 20 May 1654, to Captain Peter Courthope and his troop of the Earl of Orrery's late regiment. William Spenser solicited Cromwell for a dispensation from transplantation and the restoration of his estate, alleging that ‘since his coming to years of discretion he had utterly renounced the popish religion.’ His petition was favourably received by Cromwell out of regard for the good services to the Commonwealth of the poet, his grandfather; but it was only after the Restoration apparently that he recovered possession of Kilcolman. On 31 July 1678 he further obtained a grant of lands in counties Galway and Roscommon to the extent of nearly two thousand acres, including the town of Balinasloe, where an existing house is shown as his residence. (This property was sold on 26 Feb. 1716 to Frederick Trench, ancestor of the Earl of Clancarty.) William proved a warm adherent of William of Orange, and for his loyalty received a grant of the forfeited estate of his cousin Hugoline, including the lands of Rinny, in 1697. He survived till about 1720, and left a son Nathaniel and a daughter Susannah. Nathaniel died in 1734, leaving three sons and one daughter. The eldest son Edmund, styled ‘of Kilcolman,’ had a daughter Rosamond, who married one James Burne. Their daughter, likewise called Rosamond, married Captain Richard Tiddeman, whose grandson, the Rev. Edmund Spenser Tiddeman, rector of West Hanningfield, is the present head of the family. Kilcolman Castle is now an ivied ruin.
The poet's second son, Lawrence, was styled of Bandon; his will was proved in 1654.
The poet's third son, Peregrine, married Dorothy Maurice, on which occasion his brother, Sylvanus, made over to him part of his estate, viz. the lands of Rinny, near Kilcolman. He died before 1656, leaving a son Hugoline, who, taking sides with James II against William, was attainted and outlawed on 11 June 1691, and his property bestowed on his cousin William.
The poet's only daughter, Catherine, is conjectured to have married one William Wiseman of Bandon (information kindly supplied by Robert Dunlop, esq.; Gent. Mag. 1842 ii. 138–143, 1855 ii. 605–9; Grosart, vol. i. app. M. pp. 555–71).
Spenser's main achievement, ‘The Faerie Queene’—the only great poem that had been written in England since Chaucer died—was in design a moral treatise. According to Bryskett's report of the account that the poet gave of his scheme to Bryskett's guests about 1583, Spenser wished ‘to represent all the moral virtues, assigning to every virtue a knight to be the patron and defender of the same; in whose actions and feates of armes and chivalry the operations of that virtue, whereof he is the protector, are to be expressed, and the vices and unruly appetites that oppose themselves against the same to be beaten down and overcome.’ The poet subsequently explained in the prefatory letter to Ralegh that, following what he conceived to be the aims of Homer, Virgil, Ariosto, and Tasso, he laboured to portray ‘the image of a brave knight [under the name of Prince Arthur], perfected in the XII private moral virtues as Aristotle hath devised.’ Twelve books were needed for this purpose, and if the effort were well received, the author looked forward to expounding in another twelve the twelve political virtues that were essential to a perfect ruler of men. In working out his scheme, the poet imagined twelve knights, each the champion of one of ‘the private moral virtues,’ who, under the direction and in honour of the Faerie Queene, should undertake perilous combats with vice in various shapes. Prince Arthur was introduced into the design as a type of the Aristotelian virtue of magnanimity, and was represented in quest of his fated bride, the Faerie Queene, in whom Spenser, with courtier-like complacency, shadowed forth Queen Elizabeth. The prince, moreover, was to fall in with each of the twelve knights, and by his superior virtue to rescue them in turn from destruction. The careers of the Red Cross knight of holiness, and of the knights of temperance, chastity, justice, friendship, and courtesy, were alone completed. Of the rest of the design there only survives a fragment dealing with the knight of constancy (first published in the first folio edition of 1609). But in the unfinished poem Spenser found opportunity to depict allegorically not merely all the moral dangers and difficulties that beset human existence, but all the ideals of manliness and of righteousness in religion and politics that were current in his day. But it is neither as an ethical tractate nor even as an allegory that the poem lives. The fertility of Spenser's invention impelled him to lavish on each of his numerous characters and incidents a luxuriance of pictorial imagery which owed little or nothing to his allegorical or ethical intention. Monotony is inseparable from a scheme which involves an endless recurrence of contests between types of vices and virtues, and there is some justification for the charge of tediousness which was brought against the poem by Landor, and has been frequently repeated. ‘Very few and very weary are those,’ Macaulay wrote, ‘who [having perused the first canto] are in at the death of the Blatant Beast’—an unfortunately inaccurate reference to the last incident of the sixth book, which, as a matter of fact, dismisses the Beast unscathed. Nevertheless, the patient reader is rewarded at every turn by episodes which are informed by a wealth of fancy and of musical diction that gives the ‘Faerie Queene’ a place among English narrative poems not far below the greatest of them—Milton's ‘Paradise Lost.’ ‘The nobility of the Spencers,’ wrote Gibbon in his memoirs, ‘has been illustrated and enriched by the trophies of Marlborough, but I exhort them to consider the “Fairy Queen” as the most precious jewel of their coronet.’
The nine-lined stanza in which the ‘Faerie Queene’ was written was invented by Spenser, and has since been called ‘the Spenserian stanza.’ The rhymes run a b a b b c b c c. The stanza was formed by adding an alexandrine to the ten-syllabled eight-line stanzas known among the French poets as ‘rhyme royal,’ and among the Italians as ‘ottava rima.’ The latter was occasionally employed by Chaucer, while Spenser in his ‘Virgil's Gnat’ and ‘Muiopotmos’ admirably illustrated its capacities. The Spenserian stanza tends, in a far greater degree than the ‘ottava rima,’ to monotony and languor; but Spenser gave it sustained spirit and energy by the variety of his pauses.
Except Milton, and possibly Gray, Spenser was the most learned of English poets, and signs of his multifarious reading in the classics and modern French and Italian literature abound in his writings. Marot inspired his ‘Shepheards Calender.’ The ‘Faerie Queene’ was avowedly written in emulation of Ariosto's ‘Orlando,’ and Sackville's ‘Induction’ to the ‘Mirror for Magistrates’ gave many hints for the general outline (cf. Faerie Queene, prefatory sonnet to Sackville). Throughout the great work Homer and Theocritus, Virgil and Cicero, Petrarch and Tasso, Du Bellay, Chaucer, and many a modern romance writer of Western Europe, are laid under repeated contribution. Spenser's scholarly proclivities moulded, too, his vocabulary, in which archaisms figured with such frequency as to jeopardise his popularity in his own day and later; Daniel wrote of his ‘aged accents and untimely words’ (Delia, 1592, sonnet 46). None but a very zealous scholar would have borne with equanimity the apparatus of notes and glossary with which a friend encumbered his early poems. But Spenser's subtle æsthetic sense permitted him to assimilate nothing that did not enhance the pictorial beauty of his spacious achievement.
Spenser's influence on English poetic literature cannot be readily over-estimated. In his own day he found professed imitators of all degrees of ability, from William Smith, the author of ‘Chloris’ (1595), and Richard Niccols, author of ‘The Beggar's Ape’ (1627), to William Browne, the author of ‘Britannia's Pastorals,’ one of his fittest disciples. Richard Barnfield, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Dekker, Michael Drayton, Joseph Hall, and Sir William Herbert (in ‘Praise of Cadwallader,’ 1604) were whole-hearted panegyrists. Spenser is very largely represented in the many anthologies that were issued within two years of his death. In ‘England's Parnassus’ (1600) he is quoted 225 times, while Shakespeare is quoted only seventy-nine. Ben Jonson, among his literary contemporaries, stands alone in the confession that ‘Spenser's stanzas pleased him not, nor his matter’ (Conversations, p. 2), and even Ben Jonson knew by heart ‘some verses of Spenser's “Calendar” about wine’ (ib. p. 9; cf. ‘Eclogue’ for October ad fin.) Of a later generation, Phineas and Giles Fletcher and Henry More acknowledged Spenser as their master, and in Milton's eyes ‘our sage and serious poet Spenser’ was a sure guide as thinker as well as poet (cf. Milton, Prose Works, ed. St. John, ii. 68, iii. 84). Dr. Johnson was convinced that Bunyan's ‘Pilgrim's Progress’ owed very much to the ‘Faerie Queene.’ A perusal of that poem in youth made Cowley ‘irrecoverably a poet.’ Dryden recognised in Spenser not merely his own master in English, but one who was endowed with greater innate genius, and ‘more knowledge to support it,’ than any other writer of any age or country. Pope derived from his work as much stimulating enjoyment in boyhood as in old age. Dr. Johnson, writing in the ‘Rambler’ in 1751, lamented that ‘the imitation of Spenser’ was still ‘gaining upon the age.’ The ‘Faerie Queene’ was one of the few books that Lord Chatham knew well. Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, and Sir Walter Scott were indefatigable readers. Of poems written during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Spenser's own stanza, and more or less under his inspiration, the long list includes ‘The Castle of Indolence’ by James Thomson; ‘The Schoolmistress’ by Shenstone; ‘The Minstrel’ by Beattie; ‘The Cotter's Saturday Night’ by Burns; ‘Lines in the Manner of Spenser’ by Coleridge (1795?); ‘Gertrude of Wyoming’ by Campbell; ‘The Female Vagrant’ by Wordsworth; ‘The Tale of Paraguay’ by Southey; ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ by Keats; ‘The Revolt of Islam’ by Shelley; and ‘Childe Harold’ by Byron. ‘No other of our poets,’ wrote James Russell Lowell, ‘has given an impulse, and in the right direction also, to so many and so diverse minds.’ Charles Lamb bestowed on Spenser his just title when he described him as ‘the poet's poet.’
Bibliography.—All the editions of Spenser's works published in his lifetime are rare. In the British Museum and the Bodleian Libraries are copies of the original editions of all—‘Shepheards Calender’ (1579), the ‘Faerie Queene’ (both parts, 1590 and 1596), ‘Daphnaïda’ (1591), ‘Complaints,’ ‘Colin Clouts come home againe,’ ‘Amoretti,’ ‘Foure Hymnes,’ and ‘Prothalamion.’ The Rowfant, the Huth, and the Britwell Libraries each lack one work—the ‘Shepheards Calender’ (1579) in the case of Rowfant, and the ‘Daphnaïda’ in those of the Huth and Britwell Libraries. At Chatsworth are ‘Faerie Queene’ (both parts), ‘Complaints,’ ‘Daphnaïda,’ and ‘Prothalamion.’ In the Ashburnham collection (to be sold in 1898) are the ‘Faerie Queene’ (both parts), ‘Colin Clout,’ and ‘Fowre Hymnes.’ The ‘Shepheards Calender’ (1579) and the ‘Faerie Queene’ (both parts) are at Trinity College, Cambridge. A copy of the ‘Amoretti’ is in the Edinburgh University Library.
The second edition of the first volume of the ‘Faerie Queene’ (1596) is the rarest of the works published in the poet's lifetime; the British Museum possesses two copies and the Britwell Library one copy; very few others are known. Of the second and later lifetime editions of the ‘Shepheards Calender’ (1581, 1586, 1591, and 1597) all are at Britwell. The British Museum has those of 1591 and 1597, the Huth Library that of 1581, and the Rowfant those of 1586 and 1597.
The first publication which bore Spenser's name on the title-page after Spenser's death was a reissue in folio of ‘The Faerie Qveene, Disposed into xii Bookes Fashioning twelue Morall Vertues. At London. Printed by H. L. for Mathew Lownes, 1609.’ To this edition were added, as ‘never before imprinted,’ the ‘Two Cantos of Mutabilitie,’ of which the genuineness has been impugned without warrant. They are doubtless all that survived of a continuation of the great poem, and were intended to form the sixth, seventh, and part of the eighth cantos of the seventh book of the ‘Faerie Queene,’ which was to treat of constancy. Todd credits Gabriel Harvey with the editing of this first folio edition of the ‘Faerie Queene.’ A copy of an edition in 1613 of ‘Prosopopoeia, or Mother Hubberd's Tale,’ is in British Museum, with notes by Warton. ‘Brittain's Ida. Written by that Renowned Poet, Edmond Spencer. London, printed for Thomas Walkley,’ 1628, 8vo, dedicated to Lady Mary Villiers, is certainly not by Spenser, to whom it was fraudulently ascribed. It may be by Phineas Fletcher [q. v.], but the point is not determinable.
Meanwhile, in folio in 1611 (for Matthew Lownes), appeared the first collected edition of Spenser's poetical works. The title-page ran: ‘The Faerie Queen: The Shepheards Calendar. Together with the other works of England's Arch Poët, Edm. Spenser.’ It was reprinted in 1617–18 (folio), and a copy of this edition in the British Museum contains numerous manuscript notes by Thomas Warton. A third folio edition, ‘whereunto is added an account of his life, with other new additions never before in print,’ is dated 1679, and is believed to have been partly edited by Dryden.
The first attempt at an annotated edition of Spenser's poetry was made by John Hughes (1677–1720) [q. v.], who in 1715 brought out ‘The Works of Edmund Spenser … with a glossary explaining the old and obscure words … the life of the author, and an essay on allegorical poetry,’ 6 vols. 12mo; another edition 1750. In 1805 the Rev. Henry John Todd [q. v.] published an edition in eight volumes, ‘with the principal illustrations of various commentators.’ This was long the standard edition; but it was largely superseded by J. P. Collier's edition in 1862, and by Dr. Grosart's elaborate edition in ten volumes, privately printed, 1880–82. A useful reprint of all the works in one volume, edited by Richard Morris, with memoir by Professor J. W. Hales, appeared in 1869 (new edit. 1897).
Other collected editions, of smaller interest and utility, appeared in 1806 (with preface by John Aikin, 6 vols.), 1825 (with life by George Robinson, 5 vols.), 1839 (with life by John Mitford, 5 vols.), 1859 (ed. George Gilfillan, 5 vols. Edinburgh).
The first complete American edition appeared at Boston in 5 vols. in 1839, with notes by George Stillman Hillard, and another edition, by Professor Francis J. Child, appeared at the same place in 1855.
Since 1609 the ‘Faerie Queene’ has been published separately thirteen times, including editions by Thomas Birch [q. v.] (1751, 3 vols. 4to), by Ralph Church (1758, 4 vols. 8vo), and with illustrations by Mr. Walter Crane (1894–7). Numerous editions of single books and selections have been issued of late for educational purposes. Some barbarous attempts to paraphrase the poem include: ‘The Faerie Leveller’ (extracted from bk. v.), 1648, 4to; ‘Spencer Redivivus … his obsolete language and manner of verse totally laid aside, deliver'd in heroic numbers’ (1687, 4to); ‘Spencer's “Fairy Queen” attempted in Blank Verse: a fragment’ (1774, 4to); ‘Prince Arthur, an allegorical Romance’ (2 vols. 1779, 12mo); and ‘The “Fairy Queen,” attempted in Blank Verse’ (1783). Portions of the story have been retold in ‘Knights and Enchanters’ (prose), 1873; Mrs. Towry's ‘Spenser for Children,’ 1878; in ‘The Story of the Red Cross Knight’ (1885); in ‘Tales from Spenser chosen from the “Fairy Queen,”’ by Sophia Maclehose (1889, three editions); and in ‘Stories from the Faerie Queene’ by Miss Macleod, 1897.
Thomas James Mathias [q. v.] published Italian translations of the first book and of the unfinished seventh book of the ‘Faerie Queene’ in ‘Il cavaliero della Croce Rossa, o la legenda della Santità … recato in verso italiano detto ottava rima da T. J. Mathias’ (Naples, 1826, 8vo); and ‘La Mutabilità, poema in due canti’ (Naples, 1827, 8vo). Five cantos appeared in German in ‘Fünf Gesänge der Feenkönigin … in freier metrischer Uebertragung, von G. Schwetschke’ (Halle, 1854, 8vo).
The ‘Shepheards Calender’ was reproduced in facsimile by Mr. Oskar Sommer in 1890, and was re-edited by Professor C. H. Herford in 1895. The text was reprinted by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press in 1896, and with illustrations by Mr. Walter Crane in 1897. A Latin version by Theodore Bathurst [q. v.] appeared in 1653 (new edition 1732).
‘A View of the State of Ireland, written dialogue wise between Eudoxus and Irenæus, by Edmund Spenser, esq. … in 1596,’ was first printed somewhat inaccurately by Sir James Ware [q. v.] as an appendix to his ‘Historie of Ireland’ (1633, folio). Ware, who found the manuscript in Archbishop Ussher's library, complains of Spenser's want of moderation and the vagueness of his historical knowledge (cf. Irish Writers, ii. 327). A separate issue of Ware's version appeared at Dublin (1763, 12mo), and it was included in ‘Ancient Irish Histories’ (1809, 8vo, vol. i.). It appears in Todd's and all later collected editions of Spenser's works. Three manuscripts in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 22022, Harl. MSS. 1932 and 7388) were collated for the text of the ‘View’ in the Globe edition of the collected works.
Eight documents among the Irish State Papers, dating between 1581 and 1589, bear Spenser's signature, and one, his reply to the inquiries of the commissioners appointed in 1589 to report on the plantation of Munster, is a holograph (State Papers, Irish, cxliv. 70; cf. Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1598–9, p. lvii).[Gabriel Harvey's Letter-book (Camden Soc.), 1884, and Harvey's Works, ed. Grosart, with the published Calendars of Irish State Papers, 1580–1599, and of the Carew Papers, are the chief contemporary authorities. Aubrey's Lives supplies some seventeenth-century gossip. Dr. Grosart's copious memoir forms vol. i. of his edition of Spenser's Works (1882–4, privately printed). The best biography is that by Dean Church in the Men of Letters series. Other useful memoirs are prefixed to Todd's edition of the Works (1805) and, by Professor J. W. Hales, to the Globe edition (1869, revised edit. 1897); Craik's somewhat diffuse Spenser and his Times (3 vols. 1845), Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigiensis, and Professor Morley's English Writers (vol. ix. 1892). Collier's Bibliographical Account supplies many useful hints; see also paper by Professor Gollancz, read before British Academy 27 Nov. 1907 (The Times, 28 Nov. 1907). Among separately issued critical essays are John Jortin's Remarks on Spenser (1734); Thomas Warton's Observations on the Faerie Queene (1752 and 1762); William Huggins's comments on Warton in The Observer Observ'd (1756); Mrs. C. M. Kirkland's Spenser and the Fairy Queen (New York, 1847); and J. S. Hart's Essay on the Life and Writings (New York, 1847). A Spenser Society, founded at Manchester in 1866 by James Crossley [q. v.], has, with the object of illustrating Spenser's work, issued reprints of the works of his less-known contemporaries in some thirty-four volumes (1867–82). Of recent contributions to Spenserian criticism (not separately published) the most suggestive are Leigh Hunt's essay in his Imagination and Fancy; John Wilson's seven papers in Blackwood's Magazine, 1834–5; Mr. J. R. Lowell's essay in his volume on The English Poets; the essays by Aubrey de Vere and Professor Dowden in biography by Dr. Grosart; Mr. Ruskin's analysis of the first book of the Faerie Queene in The Stones of Venice; Mr. Roden Noel's preface to Spenser's Works in the Canterbury Poets; and Dean Church's Introduction to a selection from Spenser's poetry in Mr. Humphry Ward's English Poets.]