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Or Spenser's life something may be learned from official documents and from the writings of his contemporaries, but the most valuable information is to be found in his poetry. The art of an idealist is in a peculiar sense the expression of his mind and character, and of his relation with the world about him; and along with this intimate though often intangible autobiography Spenser has incidentally recorded some details capable of more definite interpretation. From a sonnet written in 1593, the year of his courtship, a year which, he tells us, seems longer Than al those fourty that my life outwent,

we conjecture that he was born about 1552; from the Prothalamion, where he speaks of

mery London, my most kindly nurse,
That to me gave this life's first native sourse;
Though from another place I take my name,
An house of auncient fame,

we learn that he was born in London, but that his parents were not Londoners. The 'house of auncient fame' with which he was connected was the Spencers of Althorpe, Northampton. Of three of the daughters of Sir John Spencer he hymns the praises in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, and to each of them he dedicated one of his minor poems, claiming a relationship with them that they seem gladly to have acknowledged.

His mother's name, he tells us, was Elizabeth; his father has been identified with one John Spenser, a gentleman by birth, and a member of the clan of Spensers whose home was in the Pendleton district of north-east Lancashire. But John Spenser had settled in London, and become a free journeyman of the Merchant Taylors Company, living in East Smithfield near the Tower. Here his three children, Edmund the poet, John, and Elizabeth were born. He was evidently in humble circumstances, for when his boys went, as pore schollers', to the newlyfounded school of the Merchant Taylors, he received bounties for their maintenance from the Nowells,2 a wealthy Lancashire family; and this generosity was repeated when they proceeded as sizars to Pembroke College, Cambridge. The poet was fortunate in his school. Mulcaster,

1 11. 536-71.

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2 Cf. Grosart: Life of Spenser, p. 16, and The Spending of the Money of Robert Nowell.



its first head master, was a keen scholar with a generous conception of the aims of education. It is not a mind,' he wrote, not body, that we have to educate, but a man; and we cannot divide him.' The conception derives from the enthusiastic culture of the Renaissance, and something both of the ideal and the practice of the perfect courtier, which Spenser was later to emulate and to portray, must have been instilled into him in early youth. Mulcaster grounded his pupils in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, he trained them daily in music both vocal and instrumental, and was a convinced advocate of the study of the mother tongue, and of the educational value of acting. He presented plays yearly before the court, in which his boys were the actors, and by that means taught them good behaviour and audacity'. It is highly probable that Spenser, as among Mulcaster's leading scholars, made his first appearance before the queen as an actor.

At school, too, Spenser acquired some knowledge of French, and made his first experiments as a poet. In 1569 appeared a small volume entitled A Theatre, wherein be represented as wel the miseries and calamities that follow the voluptuous worldlings as also the greate joyes and pleasures which the faithfull do enjoy. An argument both profitable and delectable to all that sincerely love the Word of God. Devised by S. John vander Noodt. It contained translations from Marot's version of one of the canzoni of Petrarch and from some sonnets by Du Bellay, which were afterwards included in Spenser's Complaints of 1591. A few of them were then rewritten, others left as they had stood in 1569, but all are clearly enough from Spenser's hand; and though the lines are often rough and boyish, they anticipate, however faintly, the liquid fluency of his later versification.

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Of his years at Cambridge (1569-76) there is little detail to record. But though, as Dr. Johnson has remarked, a scholastic life is very uniform' and would put him 'little in the way of extraordinary casualties', its influence was none the less potent both upon his intellectual development and his subsequent career. During his residence the entry books of Pembroke College refer to him on several occasions as the recipient of allowances, 'aegrotanti', and it is possible that chronic ill-health`tended to develop the dreamy and reflective side of his nature. But it does not seem to have affected the avidity of his reading, and it may well be that his bodily infirmities, like Herbert's, ' betrayed him to a lingering book,' and preserved him from the distractions of the world. He is among the most learned of our poets, and if some have been better scholars, none has been more widely read. Of his contemporaries, Ben Jonson, and perhaps Chapman, could rival his knowledge of the classics; but Ben Jonson, as Drummond informs us, 'did neither understand French nor Italiannes', and Spenser was widely conversant with both. His scholarship would be accounted superficial to-day. There are signs enough that, reading his authors for their spirit and matter, he inclined to disregard the

niceties of grammatical structure. Yet in his own time he was accounted a proficient Greek scholar; 1 and in Greek poetry, except the tragedians, so strangely neglected by the Elizabethans, he was well read. But he was attracted rather by the thought than by the art of Greece. He was an enthusiastic student of Plato and Aristotle. By the mystical element in Plato, more particularly as it is revealed in the Symposium, Phaedo, Phaedrus, and parts of the Republic, he was profoundly influenced; and he knew both the originals and the chief Italian commentators upon them, Bembo, Ficino, and Bruno, who gave to Platonic teaching so wide a currency in his time. The poetry of Rome attracted him both by its. wealth of material which he could shape to his own purpose, and by virtue of its style. It is significant too that while most Elizabethans turned chiefly to Ovid, Spenser was more vitally affected by the finer art of Virgil.2

At Cambridge Spenser formed a deep and lasting friendship with Gabriel Harvey, who was elected Fellow of Pembroke a year after the poet had come into residence, and was among the most notable figures at the University. Biographers of Spenser have wondered at this friendship between men who differed so widely in temperament and ideals, and have inclined to minimize it, or to attribute it to the modesty of the younger and the arrogance of the elder. It is, indeed, easy enough to represent Harvey as a pedantical scholar, vain of his own absurd achievements, an intellectual bully, so censorious that he could hardly find it in his heart to commend any man', quarrelsome, forcing his opinions upon men of finer genius than himself, unable to appreciate any art that did not conform to his own mechanical rules, and finally routed and held up to eternal scorn by the nimbler wit of Nashe. But this is mere caricature. Harvey was a scholar of eminence, deeply versed in all that was accounted learning in his day. His lectures on rhetoric drew crowded audiences, and enhanced a reputation that was already assured. His fame was not confined to his own University; Leicester and Sidney held him in high esteem and took a personal interest in his career. He was certainly unpopular. The son of a Suffolk rope-maker, he may well have been resented as an upstart by well-born colleagues who were intellectually his inferiors, and his bearing towards them was not conciliatory. He was, moreover, a strong Puritan, and at Cambridge, the hot-bed of those ecclesiastical controversies which harassed the minds of Elizabeth and her advisers, the odium theologicum was peculiarly virulent; so that it is less to be wondered at that Harvey had many enemies than that Still and Preston, who favoured the more moderate party, were ranked among his friends. Harvey's literary theory and practice have

1 Cf. Bryskelt, quoted infra, pp. xxv, xxvi.

? Vide Spenser's Belesenheit, von W. Reidner: Leipzig, 1908.

* Vide McKerrow (Nashe, v. 66 f.), who suggests this point, and has influenced my view of Harvey.

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