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LIFE OF SPENSER.
EDMUND SPENSER, descended from the ancient and honourable family of Spencer, was born in London in East Smithfield by the Tower, probably about the year 1553. In what school he received the first part of his education, it has not been recorded. But we find that he was admitted, as a sizer, of Pembroke-Hall in Cambridge, on May 20. 1569; that he proceeded to the degree of Batchelor of Arts, Jan. 16. 1572-3; and to that of Master of Arts, June 26. 1576.
That Spenser cultivated, with successful attention, what is useful as well as elegant in academical learning; is evident by the abundance of classical allusions in his works, and by the accustomed moral of his song. At Cambridge he formed an "intimacy with Gabriel Harvey, first of Christ's College, afterwards of Trinity Hall ; who became Doctor of Laws in 1585, and survived his friend more than thirty years. The correspondence between Spenser and Harvey will present to the reader several interesting particulars respecting both. That Spenser was an unsuccessful candidate for a fellowship in Pembroke-Hall, in competition with Andrews, afterwards the well-kitown prelate ; the best-informed biographers of the poet have long since e disproved. The rival of Andrews was Thomas Dove, afterwards Bishop of Peterborough. That some disappointment, however, had occurred, in regard to Spenser's academical views ; and that some disagreement had taken place between him and the master or tutor of the society; is rendered highly probable by the following passage in Harvey's Letter to him, at the close of his short but sharpe and learned iudgement of Earthquakes, dated April 7. 1580, and printed in the same year, p. 29. “And wil you needes have my testimoniall of youre old Controllers new behaviour? A busy and dizy heade; a brazen forehead; a ledden braine ; a woodden
* See his Colin Clouts come home again, ver. 538 ; his Dedication of Muiopotmos to lady Carew; and the circumstance more fully noticed in the remarks, offered in this account of Spenser's Life, on that Dedication.
b Oldys's manuscript additions to Winstanley's Lives of the most famous English poets, copied by Isaac Reed Esqr.
e Prefixed by Dr. Farmer, in his own hand-writing, to the first volume of Hughes's second edition of Spenser, in the possession of Isaac Reed Esqr. See also Chalmers's Suppl. 4pology &c. p. 23.
d See a long account of Harvey in Wood's Athena Oxon. Vol. 1. Fasti. col. 128. And a list of his writings in Tanner's Bibliotheca Brit-Hib. p. 362. See also the remark of E. K. the commentator on the Shepheard's Calender, in the ninth Eclogue, p. 388.– Webbe, in his Discourse of English Poetrie, 1586, asserts that Harvey was the “most special friende" of Spenser. Nash, however, the avowed enemy of Harvey, repeatedly ridicules Harvey's boast of his friendship with Spenser; and, notwithstanding his animadversions on Harvey's railing, rails with equal if not greater flippancy and petulance himself. He may ridicule Harvey's hexameters, as much as he pleases ; of which kind of verses in English, Harvey indeed pompously announces himself as the inventor. But he cannot detract from the general merit of Harvey both as a poet and a scholar. His beautiful poem, prefixed to the Faerie Queene, and signed Hobbinol, bespeaks an elegant and well-turned mind. Among his works are several productions of great ingenuity and profound research.
e See the Life of Spenser prefixed to the edition of the Faerie Queene, in 1751 ; the Biographia Britannica, vol. 6. Art. Spenser, &c.
wit; a copper face ; fa stony breast; a factious and elvish hearte ; a founder of novelties ; a confounder of his owne and his friends good gifts ; a morning bookeworm; an afternoone maltworm ; a right juggler, as ful of his sleights, wyles, fetches, casts of Legerdemaine, toyes to mocke apes withal, odde shiftes, and knavish practizes, as his skin can holde :" He then proceeds to reprobate the circumstance of many pupils, jackemates and hayle-fellowes-wel-met with their tutors ; and, by your leave, some too, because forsooth they be gentlemen or grea: heires or a little neater and gayer than their fellowes, (shall I say it for shame! beleeve me, tis too true,) their very own tutors ! ” To the notice of this abuse in academical instruction he subjoins a copious list of Latin reflections, full of indignation at its existence; one of which seems to point at the disagreement already mentioned : “Cætera ferè, ut olim: Bellum inter capita et membra continuatum.” After having taken his last degree in Arts, therefore, we must suppose Spenser to have retired immediately from Cambridge ; having no fortune to support an independent residence there, and apparently no prospect of furtherance in the society to which he belonged. It is remarkable, however, that he makes no mention of Pembroke-Hall either in his Letters or his poetry. The University he has repeatedly celebrated with filial regard.
It is said that he now went to reside with some relations in the North of England : not perhaps, as vaguely asserted by most of his biographers, as a mere pensioner on their bounty, but perhaps as a tutor to some young friend. However, he now employed his poetical abilities, no doubt, on various occasions. I conceive it to be very probable that, long before this time, he had given proof of his attachment to the Muses, while at the same time he concealed his name, in several poems which are to be found in the Theatre for Worldlings ; a work published in the year, in which he had become a member of the University. The similarity, almost minutely exact, of these poems to Spenser's Visions ; to his Visions of Petrarch in particular, FORMERLY TRANSLATED, as the title tells us; is otherwise not easily to be explained. Spenser needed not to borrow such petty aids to fame. But my supposition, I think, is strengthened by the following observation, made by Harvey to Spenser in a second letter, edit. 1580. p. 41. “I like your Dreames passingly well ; and the rather, bicause they savour of that singular extraordinarie veine and invention, whiche I ever fancied moste, and in a manner admired onelye in Lucian, Petrarche, Aretine, Pasquill, and all the most delicate and fine-conceited Grecians and Italians ; (for the Romanes to speake of, are but verye ciphars in this kinde ;) whose chiefest endevour and drifte was, to have nothing vulgare ; but in some respecte or other, and especially in lively hyperbolicall amplifications, rare, queint, and odde in every pointe, and, as a man would saye, a degree or two at the leaste above the reache and compasse of a common schollers capacitie. In which respect notwithstanding, as well for the singularitie of the manner as the divinitie of the matter, I hearde once a Divine preferre Saint Iohns Revelation before al the veriest Metaphysical Visions, and iollyest conceited Dreames or Extasies, that ever were devised by one or other, how admirable or superexcellent soever they seemed otherwise to the worlde. And truely I am so confirmed in this opinion, that, when I bethinke me of the verie notablest and moste wonderful propheticall or poeticall Vision that ever I read' or hearde, me seemeth the proportion is so unequall, that there hardly appeareth any semblaunce of comparison ; no more in a manner (specially for poets) than doth betweene the incomprehensible Wisedome of God, and the sensible wit of man. But what needeth this digression betweene you and me? I dare saye you wyll hold your selfe reasonably wel satisfied, if youre Dreamos be but as well esteemed of in Englande as Petrarches Visions be in Italy : which, I assure you, is the very worst I wish you." The author of the Life of Spenser, prefixed to Mr. Church's edition of the Faerie Queene, makes this observation on Spenser's Visions ; that they are little things, done probably when Spenser was young, according to the taste of the times for Emblems. The Theatre for Worldlings, I must
? This quotation certainly exhibits a choice example of Harvey's talent in the language of abuse; and Nash fails not to remind him of his “singular liberalitie and bountie in bestowing this beautifull encomium upon Doctour Perne," in bis Foure Letters confuted, 1592. Sign. E. 2.— The author of the Life of Spenser, in the Biographia Britannica, has suffered a singular error of the press, in this passage of Harvey's Letter, to pass unnoticed ; by which, however, I grant, the severity of Harvey is somewhat softened; viz, “a copper face; a saltin breast, &c." The same ludicrous imistake occurs in the Life of Spenser, which is given in the Supplement to the Universal Magazine, vol. xlix. D. 33, &c.
add, evidently presents a series of Emblems. It may be therefore not unreasonably supposed that the Visions in that book; the Dreams commended by Harvey; and the Visions published by the bookseller while Spenser was in Ireland, which now regularly form a part of his Works ; are originally the same composition, since altered and improved.
E. K. the commentator on the Shepheards Calender, first published in 1579, informs us, that, beside the Dreams, the & Legends and Court of Cupid were then finished by Spenser, as well as his Translation of Moschus's Idyllion of wandering Lore. He also relates that Spenser had written a Discourse under the title of the h English Poet ; and that he purposed to present it to the publick : but he fulfilled not his intention. Spenser, in his Letter to Gabriel Harvey, dated October 16. 1579, speaks of “ His Slomber, and other pamphlets” intended to be dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, and in his Letter dated April 10. 1580, mentions also that his “Dreames and Dying Pellicane were then fully finished ;” and that he designed soon "to sette forthe a booke, entitled Epithalamion Thanesis.” In the same Letter he also speaks of his Stemmata Dudleiana. These Legends, Court of Cupid, and Epithalamion, appear to be closely connected with circumstances since admitted into the Faerie Queene i.
Sufficient has been said to prove the industry of Spenser, after his retirement from the banks of Cam. But the praise due to his diligence and genius must be highly augmented, when we add his Shepheards Calender to the list of his labours already mentioned ; which was published in 1579. Of this elegant Poem much is devoted to complaints, such as tender and unsuccessful lovers breathe ; and a considerable part to observations that bespeak a pensive and a feeling mind. While resident in the North, he had fallen in love with a mistress, of no ordinary accomplishments, whom he has recorded under the name of \ Rosalind; who, after trifling with his honourable affection, preferred his rival. To subjects of this kind the pipe of pastoral poetry is often tuned ; and thus Spenser soothed his unfortunate passion ; while, in these plaintive strains, he has also interwoven several circumstances relating to his own history and to that of contemporary persons.
Before the publication of the Shepheards Calender, he had been induced, by the advice of his friend Harvey, to quit his obscure abode in the country, and to remove to London. This removal is dated by Mr. Ball, in his Life of Spenser prefixed to his edition of the Calender, in 1578. By Harvey, it is generally allowed, he was introduced to the accomplished Philip Sidney ; who, justly appreciating the talents of Spenser, recommended him to his uncle the Earl of Leicester. The poet was also invited to the family-seat of Sidney at Penshurst in Kent, where he was probably employed in some literary service, and at least assisted, we may suppose, the Platonick and chivalrous studies of the gallant and learned youth who had thus kindly noticed him. We may thus understand the passage, as well the old commentators remark, in the fourth Eclogue, ver. 21.
Colin thou kenst, the southerne shepheards boye :
Him Love hath wounded &c.
“ Seemeth hereby," says E. K.,“ that Colin pertaineth to some Southern nobleman, and perhaps in Surrey, or Kent the rather, because he so often nameth the Kentish downes, and before A8 lithe as lasse of Kent.” In the sixth Eclogue also, where Hobbinol advises Colin to forsake the soil that had bewitched him, and to repair to vales more fruitful, the commentator informs us that this is no poetical fiction, but a true description of the advice to which the poet had wisely listened. In the tenth Eclogue, Spenser celebrates the Earl of Leicester as “the Worthy whom
& See the Epistle prefixed to the Shepheards Calender, and the notes on the third Eclogue, p. 379.
k See what E. K. relates of this hard-hearted fair, in his notes on the first Eclogue, p. 365. The author of the Life of Spenser, prefixed to Church's edition of the Faerie Queene, observes, in consequence of E. K.'s information, that the name being well ordered will betray the VERY NAMB of Spenser's Love and Mistress, “that as Rose is a common Christian name, so in Kent among the Gentry under Henry VI. in Fuller's Worthies, we find in Canterbury the name of John Lynde."-If Rose Lynde be the person designed, she has the honour also to have her poetical name adopted by Dr. Lodge, a contemporary poet with Spenser, who wrote a collection of Sonnets entitled Rosalind ; and by Shakspeare, who has presented us with a very engaging Rosalind, in As you like it.