« PreviousContinue »
Calender hath much poetrie in his Eclogues worthie the reading, if I be not deceived. That same framing of his stile to an old rusticke language, I dare not allow; since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazarius in Italian, did affect it." Milton, in his Discourse of English Poetry, "can find no blemish existing in it;" and Francis Meres, in his Wit's Treasury, says," that Spenser is honoured for fine poetical invention and most exquisite wit. This poem passed through five editions while Spenser lived, yet his name, as that of the author, does not appear for some time to have been generally known: singular as this is, it seems proved by the fact of a MS. translation of the poem into Latin verse by John Dove, being preserved in the library of Caius College, Cambridge, which is dedicated to the Dean and Subdean of Christ Church, Oxford, and which shows that the translator had never heard of Spenser, nor had seen the first edition. He calls the book ådéσπotos, and describes it as "hoc opusculum jam pené deletum, et quasi sepultum."* Abraham Fraunce quoted some lines of the Calendar to illustrate "Disparates and Repugnancies" in his Lawyers' Logicke, pub
* Mr. Todd says, that the translation is by no means indifferent, and that there is subjoined an elegy in respectable Latin hexameters on the death of Algrind, i. e. Archb. Grindal, whom Spenser mentions under that name in the 5th eclogue, as in the 7th he designs Bishop Aylmer, or Elmer, under that of Morrell.
lished in 1588. Of these pastorals Mr. Campbell says, "The Shepheards in Spenser's Calendar are parsons in disguise, who converse about heathen divinities and points of Christian theology. Palinode defends the luxuries of the Catholic clergy, and Piers extols the purity of Archbishop Grindal, concluding with the story of a fox, who came to the house of a goat, in the character of a pedlar, and obtained admittance by pretending to be asleep. This may be barbarizing Esop, but certainly is not imitating Theocritus. There are fine thoughts and images in the Calendar, but on the whole, the obscurity of those pastorals is rather their covering than their principal defect.*"After the publication of the Calendar, Spenser appears to have been residing at Leycester House, and a letter on the 16th October, 1579, is dated from it. In this letter he expresses the doubtful state of his mind as to the publication of a poem made in honour of some lady-" a private personage unknowne"-fearing on the one hand least he should "cloge the noble ears of his patrons, and gather a contempt of himself;" and on the other, knowing" that whiles the yron is hote, it is good striking, and minds of nobles varie as their estates." He speaks of the "two worthy gentlemen, Master Sydney and Master Dyer, as having him, he thanks them, in sameness of familiarity." And then he adds, " And nowe they
* Vide Campbell's Spec. of English Poets, vol. ii. p.
have proclaimed in their άpewray@ a general surceasing and silence of auld rymes, and also of the very beste to, insteade whereof they have, by authoritie of their whole senate, prescribed certaine lawes and rules of quantities of English verse, having had thereof already great practice, and drawen mee to their faction. Newe bookes I hear of none, but only of one,* that writing a certaine booke, called the School of Abuse, and dedicating it to Maister Sidney, was for his labour scorned; if at least it be in the goodnesse of that nature to scorne. Such follie is it, not to regarde aforehande the inclination and qualitie of him to whome wee dedicate our bookes. Suche mighte I happily incurre, entituling" My Slomber," and the other pamphletts unto his Honour. I meant them rather to Maister Dyer. But I am of late more in love wyth my Englishe versifying, than with ryming, which I should have done long since, if I would then have followed your councill, "sed te solum jam tum suspicabar cum Aschamo sapere; nunc Aulam video egregios alere pöetas
* Stephen Gosson, his book published in 1579. He was a preacher and writer of verses, noted, according to A. Wood, for his admirable penning of pastorals.
+ "A Sennights Slumber," as it is entitled in the Bookseller's address to the reader, prefixed to the Complaints.
He means by English versifying, the adaptation of English verse to Latin prosody. Spenser wrote an elegie in trimeter iambics, entitled" Love's Embassie," unknown to Hughes, and not printed in any edition of Spenser previous to Mr. Todd's. See Todd's ed. of Spenser, vol ii. p.
Anglicos." He then sends a few Iambics to his friend, who had been practising in the country the same art, and had enclosed some verses to Spenser in his letter: adding a poem in Latin Hexameters, written with little accuracy or elegance of structure, to Harvey, "mox in Gallias navigaturo, ," and concludes in terms of great affection, " Vale, vale, plurimùm, mi amabilissime Harveie, meo cordi, meorum omnium longe charissime;" and he ends his letter, "So once again, and yet once more, farewell most heartily, mine own good master H., and love me as I love you, and thinke upon poore Immerito, as he thinketh upon you." In Harvey's answer to this letter, he desires Spenser to give him leave to play the counsellor awhile, and he conjures him, " by the contents of the verses and rhymes enclosed, and by all the good and bad spirites that attend upon the authors themselves, immediately upon the contemplation thereof to abandon all other fooleries, and honour virtue," &c. He then notices the English poem which Spenser had sent, and though he praises the English Trimetra,†
Mr. Upton says, "This Latin copy of verses was
written in great haste, and printed full of faults, first in the edition 1679, and afterwards by Hughes." Pref. xvi.
+ "The experiment which Sir Philip Sidney and Gabriel Harvey patronized, of introducing the Latin measures into English verse, was attempted upon a principle which it was too late to introduce, if indeed it could at any former time have been established. Whether Chaucer could have subjected the language to the rules of Latin prosody, may
cannot be persuaded "that they are all so precisely for the fete," and specifies some errors. Spenser had mentioned in his letter a wish for an immediate answer, 66 ere I goe, which will be, I hope, I fear, I thinke, the next weeke, if I can be dispatched of my lorde. I go thither as sent by him and maintained most-what of him; and then am to employ my time, my body, my minde, to his Honour's service." Harvey wagers "that you will not, that you shall not, I saye, bee gone over sea, for al your saying, neither the next, nor the next weeke." Mr. Todd doubts whether Spenser was ever employed upon this commission for the Earl of Leicester, which some of his biographers have asserted. Mr. Ellis and other
well be doubted; in Elizabeth's age there was too much poetry in the mouths of the people. The language had become a written and cultivated tongue, and so violent an innovation must have appeared as ridiculous then, as it does The specimens also that were produced, were singularly unfortunate. Sidney himself (a man never to be mentioned without love and admiration) richly endowed as he was with the powers of a poet, seems to have been totally forsaken by them in his Hexameters and Pentameters, his Phaleucians and Asclepiads, of all which, the matter is as insipid and authorless, as the accentuation is forced, and the inversions unnatural." Rev. of Chalmers' Engl. Poets, Quart. Rev., No. xxiii. Oct. 1814, p. 73, and Southey's Preface to the Vision of Judgment.
See Ellis's Specimens of Early English Poets, art. 'Spenser.' In Hughes's Life of Spenser, and in the life prefixed to the folio ed. 1679, it is said, that he was introduced to Sir Philip Sidney on the presentation of the ninth canto of the first book of the Faerie Queene.