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bethans in time, in the nature of his genius and in the character of his work he stands among his great contemporaries almost alone.
Life. Edmund Spenser was born in London in 1552, six years before the opening of the reign of Elizabeth. He belonged to a respectable Lancashire family. His father is believed to have been a journeyman clothmaker, who came up to London shortly before the poet's birth. Whatever his ancestry may have been, Spenser's family had apparently but little means, and he was forced to make his own way in the world. He attended the Merchant Taylors' School, then just opened in London, as a poor scholar." In 1569 he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, as a sizar, or one who is relieved of certain payments. While at college, Spenser studied Aristotle and Plato, the Greek and Latin poets, and parts at least of the literatures of France and Italy. There he became acquainted with Edmund Kirke, who afterwards wrote an introduction to The Shepherd's Calendar, and with Gabriel Harvey, who figures in the literary history of the time as a learned if somewhat formal and narrow-minded critic, deeply interested in the development of English poetry. Spenser left Cambridge, after taking his master's degree, in 1576, and spent two years in the north, probably with his kinsfolk in Lancashire.
London. The Shepherd's Calendar. About 1579 Spenser settled in London, where he became acquainted with Sir Philip Sidney, the mirror and pattern of the English gentleman of the time. In 1579 Spenser published his Shepherd's Calendar, which he dedicated to Sidney, and which, tradition says, was written during a stay at Penshurst, Sidney's country-place. The poem. received immediate recognition as a work which marked
the coming of a new and original poet. It is a pastoral poem in twelve books, one for each month of the year. Spenser hoped to push his fortunes at court, it seems, and to remain in England. He had Sidney's friendship, and he had won the patronage of the Earl of Leicester. It was probably through the influence of these powerful patrons that Spenser was appointed secretary to the new deputy sent by the Queen to govern Ireland. However this may be, in 1580 the young poet left the brilliant England of Elizabeth, with its gathering intellectual forces, for the barbarous and rebellious colony of Ireland. This event determined the course of Spenser's life, and largely, too, the nature of his work. In that lawless and miserable country he spent the rest of his days, except for brief visits to England; "banished," as he bitterly writes, "like wight forlorn, into that waste where [he] was quite forgot."
Ireland. For eight years Spenser remained in Dublin, first in the capacity of secretary, and afterward as clerk in the Chancery Court. In 1588 he removed to the southwestern part of Ireland, within the present limits of County Cork, where, as a reward for his services, he had been given three thousand acres of the forfeited estates of the Earl of Desmond, with the old castle of Kilcolman. There, on the north shore of a lake, in the midst of a plain watered by the winding rivers Mulla and Bregog, and surrounded by hills and mountains, the poet lived his life of the imagination and wrote his masterpiece, The Faërie Queene. There Sir Walter Raleigh visited him,
"Amongst the coolly shade
Of the green alders of the Mulla's shore,"
and heard from the poet's own lips the first three books of the work. Raleigh, a poet himself, was filled with
admiration. He prevailed upon Spenser to go with him to court and bring his poem to the attention of the Queen. There was more than one reason why Elizabeth should look with favor upon the work. It was glorious poetry, and in one respect was perhaps the most elaborate compliment ever presented by a poet to his sovereign. It was dedicated to "The most high, mighty, and magnificent Empress," Elizabeth, "to live with the eternity of her fame;" it was a stupendous monument of flattery. The Faerie Queene herself was both the type of Glory and the special revelation of it in the person of the poet's "most excellent and glorious Sovereign." Moved by the merits of the poetry, or by the extravagance of the praise, Elizabeth rewarded Spenser with a pension of fifty pounds a year (which he is said to have found difficulty in collecting), and the first instalment of the Faërie Queene was published in 1590. Suitor at Court. Spenser remained in London about a year, learning the miseries of a suitor for princes' favors, and then returned in bitter indignation to his provincial seclusion. His keen sense of disappointment and neglect found utterance in a passage in Mother Hubbard's Tale (1591), which brings us very near to the inner life of the poet himself.
"Full little knowest thou, that hast not tride,
To loose good dayes, that might be better spent;
To spend, to give, to want, to be undonne.
It is not often that we are permitted to get so close to Spenser as in these words. They give us a glimpse into the true meaning of his experience. We see how he hated his exile in Ireland when we see what trouble he took to end it; and we can estimate more justly the effect of that dreary banishment on Spenser and his work. Shut out from all the excitement and rush of life that crowded Shakespeare's London, he turned from the repulsive coarseness and violence about him, to delight his soul in the languor and beauty of the Italy of the Renaissance. He withdrew into himself and into the world of fair imaginings, and he wove his gorgeous fancies into the Faerie Queene.
Spenser returned to Ireland in 1591, and wrote his Colin Clout's Come Home Again. In 1594 he married Elizabeth Boyer, " an Irish country lass," and paid her a poet's tribute in his Amoretti, or love sonnets, and in the splendid Epithalamion, or marriage hymn, a poem filled with a rich and noble music. Here also he wrote three more books of the twelve that were to make up the first part of the Faerie Queene. These Spenser took to London and published them in 1596. But Ireland seems to have been Spenser's doom. In 1598 he returned again to that misgoverned and perilous country which necessity had made his home. Shortly after, the miserable natives again rose in rebellion, and hordes of desperate men ravaged Munster. Spenser's castle was sacked and burnt. He and his wife managed to escape, and Spenser soon afterward went to London as bearer of despatches. Here he died (1599) in a lodging-house, a ruined and broken-hearted man.
As Poet. One of the greatest poets of a great age, Spenser has little in common with his fellows but their love of beauty and their mastery of poetic expression. He lived in a time of great deeds and stirring events, when the brilliant and crowded procession of Elizabethan life, one would think, would have compelled the attention of every mind. But from this world of action Spenser was far removed. Not only the circumstances of his life, but his genius, led him into an unreal world of the imagination, an Arcadia where figures are shadowy and unsubstantial, the figments of a poet's brain. Chaucer, whom Spenser called master, had, with the shrewdest of eyes, studied and painted to the life real men and women of fourteenth-century England. His Knight in the Canterbury Tales rode a good horse and wore a short cassock that had been soiled by his armor; the Prioress "wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous;" the Plowman "wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve." Shakespeare, too, with all his poetry, kept ever close to reality; his characters are nothing if they are not human. But Spenser leads us into a world of shining knights and distressed damsels, of dragons, fairies, and enchanters. In his work he follows many of the conventions of the old poets and the old romancers, and seems to look at life through art rather than at life itself. A great poet standing at the threshold of the modern world, Spenser turned to medieval allegory with its abstract figures, and to medieval romance with its endless adventures, when all about him his greatest contemporaries were giving their reading of life in the concrete forms and close-knit action of the drama.
The Faërie Queene. This limitation is the more noticeable because in his great masterpiece, the Faërie Queene, Spenser aimed to be a teacher. He proposed