« PreviousContinue »
never allowed him to cross the Atlantic; and he had to rest content with the exercise of his martial prowess in the tourney and in single combat, and with the final sacrifice of his life at Zutphen in a barren campaign against Philip in the Netherlands. Ralegh, in the daring spirit of a modern adventurer, had rivalled the exploits of Frobisher and Drake ; he had bearded the Spaniards upon the high seas, and pursued the glories of knight errantry in the guise of a buccaneer. He had made persistent and costly efforts to found the colony of Virginia, and had taken an active part in the pursuit of the Armada. And now his presence at Kilcolman stirred all Spenser's youthful ambitions. It was not their first meeting. Both had enjoyed, at the same time, the patronage of Leicester, and Ralegh serving under Grey had been one of the captains appointed to carry out the massacre of the surrendered garrison at Smerwick. But now, under Spenser's roof, they were drawn into a closer intimacy. Each confided to the other his literary projects and ambitions, and Ralegh was not slow in recognizing the supreme merits of the Faerie Queene. His own restless energy reawakened in Spenser the desire to push his fortunes at Court. They set sail together, and before the close of the year Spenser was in London. Ralegh, once more in favour, presented him to the queen and he was graciously received. On the first of December the first instalment of the Faerie Queene was entered at the Stationers' Hall. Early in the next year it was published, with the dedication to the most mighty and magnificent Empresse Elizabeth, by the grace of God, Queene of England, France, and Ireland; Defender of the Faith, &c., Her most humble servant: Ed. Spenser'.
Not content with the mere dedication of the poem to the queen, Spenser added seventeen sonnets, in which he commended his work to the most powerful men of the day. The list is highly significant; for no poem had ever before been brought by its author to the attention of so august a company. The different language in which he appealed to each for his favour and interest throws much light upon the attitude in which he regarded them. To Sir Christopher Hatton and Lord Burghley he writes as grave counsellors, the pillars of the state, to the Earl of Oxford, the Lord Howard, High Admiral, to Sir John Norreys, as men whose fame he has already eternized, and to Essex as one whose heroic parts' will form his future theme. The sonnet to Lord Buckhurst pays fine tribute to the lofty numbers and heroick style' of the Induction; he addresses Lord Grey in terms of deep gratitude and personal devotion, and Ralegh as his comrade in song, the 'deare delight' of his sovereign, her soldier and poet. Nor did he forget the memory of him who had first encouraged his art. Sidney was dead; but to that most heroick spirit' he pays homage in a sonnet to his sister the Countess of Pembroke. He concludes with addresses to his cousin Lady Carey, and to all the gratious and beautiful Ladies in the Court.'
The success of the poem was immediate, and the literary world was not
SPENSER IN LONDON (1590).
xxix slow to recognize that the promise of the 'newe poete' was more than fulfilled. For more than a year London seems to have been his headquarters, and here he could enjoy his triumph to the full. It was in the summer of 1590, perhaps, that he paid a prolonged visit to the neighbourhood of Alton in Hampshire, for Aubrey was informed that Mr. Spenser lived sometime in these parts, in this delicate sweete aire, where he enjoyed his Muse, and writt good part of his verses'; 1 but in the autumn he would be back again at the centre of culture, on easy terms with all lovers of the arts. Among the ladies of the court he had many friends, and some of them he honoured with the dedication of poems. For the Countess of Pembroke he wrote the Ruines of Time to the renowning of the race of the Dudleys and to the eternizing of the chiefe of them late deceased', in particular Sir Philip Sidney. To the Marquesse of Northampton he dedicates Daphnaida, and to each of his cousins, Lady Strange, Lady Compton and Montegle, and Lady Carey, he dedicates a poem, addressing Lady Carey in terms which suggest a special intimacy. There can be no doubt that Spenser anticipated substantial recognition of his poetic fame in the shape of a post of responsibility under the crown. He had too great a sympathy with the national ideals of Sidney and of Ralegh to desire a mere sinecure; and his bitterest scorn was always directed against those who spent their lives hanging about the court in idleness; but it is clear that he aspired to some office which would give his ambitions a fuller scope than his Munster clerkship. Yet this was not to be. The queen might be personally attracted to Ralegh, as she had been before to Leicester, but she still trusted Burghley, and from Burghley that man had little to hope who appeared at court under the patronage of Leicester, Ralegh, and later of Essex; whilst his unswerving loyalty to his friends, when they were dead or out of favour, did not mark him as the likely recipient of worldly honours. Rather more than a year after his great poem had appeared he received a pension of fifty pounds a year, and with this he had to rest content. His impressions of the darker side of court life, which had disgusted him ten years before, were now intensified. It was probably when he saw that all his hopes were frustrate and that nothing could be gained by a silence intolerable to his impulsive nature, that he collected his volume of Complaints, in which he voices his despair at the neglect of the arts and the degeneracy of the times, and continually attributes them to the sinister influence of Burghley. Among these poems he included his early satire of Mother Hubberds Tale, adding to it that magnificently scornful exposure of the pitiful state of the suitor at court.
Spenser's inability to obtain court preferment has been the cause of many
We have no means of determining accurately at what period of Spenser's life this visit was paid; but it is difficult to fit it in to the crowded years before he left for Ireland, and on his second visit to England (1595–6) ha wate little pot Hence the summer of 1590 seems the most probable da
a diatribe against the neglect of literature in general and the stinginess
The time was once, in my first prime of yeares,
From natiue home, and spent my youth in vaine,
And this sweet peace, whose lacke did then appeare.
I from thenceforth have learn'd to loue more deare
This lowly quiet life, which I inherite here. (vI. ix. 24, 25.)
In London, surrounded by those who enjoyed princely favour and were playing for big stakes, the lesson was harder to learn; but even there the
1 Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, 660-822.
50 a year age can
of our vho had
and was genius.
poet to alization rds Tale
to the tterness
ubberds heroic e poet's
beauties revealed to his imagination had power to drive away the sullen care which afflicted him
Through discontent of his long fruitlesse staye
Of idle hopes, which still doe fly away.
At Kilcolman, by the side of the Mulla, in the country whose beauty he had come to love, he was content.) It is as fatal to high poetic achievement to live in the strenuous pursuit of fortune as to be condemned to uninterrupted distance from the kind’. In truth, life in Ireland, with occasional visits to England, to quicken and to feed his interest in affairs, and at the same time to make him appreciate more fully the peace that awaited him at home, was a good life for the poet, and he knew it.
To Ireland he returned, probably in the spring of 1591,1 leaving behind him, ready for publication, his volume of Complaints.
This volume, as we have seen, contains work completed during his stay in London, but it takes us back to his earliest years of authorship. We can safely attribute to his undergraduate days the Visions of du Bellay and the Visions of Petrarch, a mere rehandling of the versions he had written for Van der Noodt. The former are turned with as little change as possible from blank verse to sonnets of Shakespearian form, and a few poems omitted by Van der Noodt are added to the series (6, 8, 13, 14). The latter needed less manipulation, for he had rhymed them in his earlier version; but in four of the first six he had originally kept to the twelve lines of Marot's rendering, and these he expanded to sonnet form; in place of the quatrain which in 1569 closed the series he now added a sonnet of his own rhyme system (abab bcbc cdcd ee). To the same period belongs
1 The exact time at which Spenser returned to Ireland cannot be determined with certainty. He dated Daphnaïda from London this first of Jan. 1591', which according to the old style of reckoning, by which the year began with March 25, would mean 1592. On the other hand, Colin Clout is dated from Kilcolman, December 27, 1591. A journey from Ireland could hardly have been made in three days, and we have to choose between regarding either (1) one or other of the dates as a misprint, or (2) the dating of Daphnaïda as intentionally according to the new style, or (3) the dating of Colin Clout from Kilcolman as a ruse to fit in with the general conception of the poem. Mr. P. Long has argued ably for the last alternative, but I cannot bring myself to accept it. Though much of the detail and the setting of the poem is undeniably fictitious, its whole spirit suggests to my mind that Spenser had actually returned to Ireland when he wrote it, and was reviewing for Ralegh's pleasure and his own satisfaction his visit to London, its disappointments and consolations. But in any case, Spenser was in London in December 1590, when his Complaints was entered at the Stationers' Hall. The statement, therefore, in my preface to the Minor Poems of Spenser, Clarendon Press, 1910 (p. xvii), that the venture of the publisher was undertaken after Spenser's departure over sea, and that therefore he had no opportunity of correcting the proofs, is justly pointed out by Mr. Long as untenable. It is indeed quite likely that he did not see the proofs, but he cannot have been innocent of the publication of the volume, though its contents suggest reasons why he might wish to appear so; and the Preface contributed by Ponsonby must have been a piece of intentional mystification. b
the translation of Du Bellay's Antiquitez de Rome, in the Shakespearian form, and soon after, whilst still dominated by the influence of the Pléiade, he must have written his own original sequence, the Visions of the Worlds Vanitie. He was, doubtless, interested in the work of the Pléiade upon its formal side, but he was attracted to their matter also. His natural addiction to allegory was strengthened by his study of their work; and the recurrent themes of the vanity of the world, and the degeneracy of the times, as well as their insistence upon the immortality which verse alone can bestow, had more than a passing effect upon him.
Later than this, and belonging to his early London years, are Virgils Gnat and Mother Hubberds Tale, though Mother Hubberds Tale was specially revised and in part rewritten for publication in 1591. Virgils Gnat was described by Wharton as a vague and arbitrary paraphrase ' of the pseudo-Virgilian Culex, and certainly it reads more like an original poem than a translation. It is more than half as long again as the Culex, and Spenser, with his love of a fluent and leisurely style, has felt himself free in it to elaborate and expand as his fancy suggested. Already his soft Muse delights to play,
An easie running verse with tender feete,
and in its peculiar use of assonance, alliteration, and the iteration of word and verbal cadence,)Virgils Gnat is not a little suggestive of the style that Spenser was later to bring to perfection.1
Of the political significance of Mother Hubberds Tale I have spoken already. Its poetical importance is even greater. Like the early Visions it is allegorical, but for its inspiration he has turned away from the emblematic devices of the Pléiade to the more comprehensive methods of mediaeval allegory. Caxton's translation of Renard the Fox has supplied him with the plot; its manner shows the further influence of Chaucer. In the Shepheardes Calender he had aimed at the formation of an ideal poetic diction on the model of Chaucer; now he takes the same model upon simpler lines, his object being to write in the familiar style without the richness of allusion, so predominant in his work as a whole, and with only the faintest touch of archaism. Simple is the devise and the composition meane,' he tells us. The language is essentially plain, and admirably suited to clear and forcible narrative. And his use of the heroic couplet has all the ease of mastery. But not only is the poem in metre and language Chaucerian, Spenser has here caught successfully something of
1 A comparison of ll. 377-84 with Culex 237-40
'Et Tityos, Latona, tuae memor anxius irae
terreor, a tantis insistere, terreor, umbris,
will at the same time show the manner in which Spenser expanded his original, and suggest one at least of the sources whence he learnt his musical device of repetition. Cf. p. lxiii, infra.