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was descended from the ancient family* of Spenser, and was born in East Smithfield, near the Tower of London, about the year 1553.† His parents are not known, nor the school in which he was educated; but he was admitted as Sizer
* See the Prothalamion,
"At length they all to mery London came,
See on the family of the Spensers, note A. in the Biographia Britannica, art. Spenser, and Collins' Peerage, under Spenser D. of Marlborough, and Sir E. Brydges' note in Philips' Theat. Poet. art. Spenser, p. 150, and C. Croker's Researches in South of Ireland, p. 111, note.
+ This is fixed as the date of Spenser's birth by Fenton, in Observ. on Waller, p. 51; and see Biog. Britannica, note B. and G. Chalmers' Apology, p. 22. The parish registers of the city of London, of about the period of Spenser's birth, have generally disappeared from various
(Quadrantarius) at Pembroke College, Cambridge, in May 20, 1569. He took the degree of Bachelor of Arts in January 16, 1572-3, and that of Master in June 26, 1576. At Cambridge he formed an intimacy with Gabriel Harvey, of Christ's College, who survived his friend more than thirty years. It has been said that Spenser was an unsuccessful candidate for a fellowship in Pembroke Hall, against Andrews, afterwards Bishop of Winchester; but this has been disproved. That some disappointment however had occurred, and some disagreement taken place between him and the Master of the Society, is rendered probable by a letter of Harvey to him, in which he speaks, in his coarse and humorous style of abuse, of Spenser's Old Controllers. It is supposed that Spenser retired from the University when he had obtained his last degree, and went to reside with his relations in the north of England; but how he was supported, does not appear. Mr. Todd considers that long before this time he had employed his poetical abilities, while he concealed his name, and that several poems in "The Theatre for Worldlings" are his. "The similarity," he says, "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 not otherwise easily to be explained. Harvey, in a letter (ed. 1580, p. 41) says, "I like your Dreames passing well;" and again, "I dare say you wyll hold yourselfe reasonably wel satisfied, if your Dreames be but as well esteemed of in
England, as Petrarch's Visions be in Italy, which, I assure you, is the very worst I wish you." Mr. Church, in his edition of the Faerie Queene, observes, that Spenser's Visions are little things, done probably when Spenser was young, according to the taste of the time for Emblems; and as the Theatre for Worldlings presents a series of emblems, Mr. Todd supposes that the Visions in that book, the Dreames commended by Harvey, the Visions published by the bookseller, while Spenser was in Ireland, are originally the same composition subsequently altered and improved. E.K., (Kerke?) the commentator on the Shepheard's Calender, first published in 1579, informs us, that beside the Dreames, the Legends and Court of Cupid were then finished by Spenser, as well as his translation of Moschus's Idyllium of Wandering Love. He also mentions that Spenser had written a discourse under the title of the English Poet. Spenser, in a letter to Gabriel Harvey, October 16, 1579, speaks of his Slomber and other pamphlets, intended to be dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney; and in a letter dated April 10, 1580, mentions that his Dreames and Dying Pellicane were then fully finished: and that he designed soon to set forth a booke, entitled Epithalamion Thamesis. In the same letter he speaks of his Stemmata Dudleiana. These Legends, Court of Cupid, and Epithalamion, seem connected with passages which appeared in the Faerie Queene.*
* See Faerie Queene, book iii. c. 12. st. 5, 6; and book iv. c. 2. st. 10, 11, &c.
The Shepheards Calender was published in 1579.* Circumstances relating to his own history, and to that of contemporary persons, are mentioned in it; as well as Complaints of a Faithless Mistress, or, as Mr. Upton calls her, "a skittish female,' whom he met with in the north, and who is recorded under the name of Rosalind.+ Before the publication of the Shepheards Calender, Spenser was induced, at the advice of his friend Harvey, to move from the north to London: this was about 1578. He was introduced by Harvey to Sir Philip Sidney, who recommended him to his uncle, the Earl of Leicester. He is supposed to have resided with Sidney at Penshurst. The commentators understand the line in the Fourth Eclogue,
"Colin thou kenst, the southerne shepherd's boye,
* Printed in 1579, in thin quarto, black letter, v. Warton's Obs. on Spenser, i. p. 31.
+ See notes by E. K. on the 1st Eclog. The author of the Life of Spenser, prefixed to Church's ed. of the Faerie Queene observes," that the name being well entered, will betray the very name 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: thus Rose Lynde' -Rosalind.' Consult note E. in Biographia Britannica. Mr. Upton thinks she is characterized as 'Mirabella' in the Faerie Queene, book vi. c. 6. st. 16, 17; c. vii. st. 27. Mr. Malone says, "Rosalind's real name may have been Elisa Horden, the aspiration being omitted. Thomas Horden, as well as Mr. Linde, was a gentleman of Kent in the time of Henry the Sixth." V. Life of Shakespeare, p. 218.
as pertaining to some southerne nobleman, perhaps in Surrey, or Kent the rather, because he so often nameth the Kentish downes; and before, 6 as lithe as lasses of Kent.'" In the tenth Eclogue, Spenser celebrates the Earl of Leicester,
as the worthy whom the queen loves best," as E. K. has illustrated it. The eleventh Eclogue is conjectured to have been written at Penshurst; and the "maiden of great blood," whom Spenser calls " Dido," and whose death he laments, Mr. Malone believes to have been an illegitimate daughter of Robert, Earl of Leicester, by Douglas Howard, Lady Sheffield, the widow of John, the second Lord Sheffield.* The Shepheards Calender was appropriately dedicated to Maister Philip Sidney, whom Harvey, in a letter to Spenser, had marked out for peculiar praise, as "those two excellent gentlemen, Mr. Sidney and Mr. Dyer, the two very diamonds of her Majesty s court;" Spenser subscribing himself Immerito, by which title Harvey addresses him. In a letter of Harvey's prefixed to the poems, Spenser is called the unknown and new poet, but who, " soon as he shall be known, shall be beloved of all, embraced of the most, and wondered at of the best." Sir Philip Sidney, in his Defence of Poesie, says, "The Shepheards
* See Malone's Life of Shakespeare, p. 215.
Fenton supposes that Spenser's introduction to Sir Philip Sidney to be made by dedicating his Shepheards Calender to him and Dr. Birch is of the same opinion.