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William Jones understood the dialect of that poet, I am convinced that he would not have awarded the pastoral crown to any other author. Ramsay's shepherds are distinct, intelligible beings, neither vulgar, like the caricatures of Gay, nor fantastic, like those of Fletcher. They afford such a view of a national peasantry, as we should wish to acquire by travelling among them; and form a draft entirely devoted to rural manners, which for truth, and beauty, and extent, has no parallel in the richer language of England. Shakespeare's pastoral scenes are only subsidiary to the main interest of the plays where they are introduced. Milton's are rather pageants of fancy, than pictures of real life. The shepherds of 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 a sheep. This may be burlesquing Æsop, 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.
In 1580, Arthur Lord Grey, of Wilton, went as lord lieutenant to Ireland, and Spenser accompanied him as his secretary; we may suppose by the recommendation of the Earl of Leicester. Lord Grey was recalled from his Irish government in 1582, and Spenser returned with him to England, where, by the interest of Grey, Leicester, and Sydney, he obtained a grant from Queen Elizabeth, of 3028 acres in the county of Cork, out of the forfeited estates of the Earl of Desmond. This was the last act of kindness which Sydney had a share in conferring on him : he died in the same year, furnishing an almost solitary instance of virtue passing through life uncalumniated.
Whether Sydney was meant or not, under the character of Prince Arthur in the Fairy Queen, we cannot conceive the poet, in describing heroic excellence, to have had the image of Sir Philip Sydney long absent from his mind.
By the terms of the royal grant, Spenser was obliged to return to Ireland, in order to cultivate the lands assigned to him. His residence at Kilcolman, an ancient castle of the earls of Desmond, is described by one who had seen its ruins, as situated on the north side of a fine lake, in the midst of a vast plain, which was terminated, to the east, by the Waterford mountains, on the north, by the Ballyhowra hills, and by the Nagle and Kerry mountains, on the south and east. It commanded a view of above half the breadth of Ireland, and must have been, when the adjacent uplands were wooded, a most romantic and pleasant situation. The river Mulla, which Spenser has so
often celebrated, ran through his grounds. In this retreat he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, at that time a captain in the queen's army. His visit occasioned the first resolution of Spenser, to prepare the first books of the Fairy Queen for immediate publication. Spenser has commemorated this interview, and the inspiring influence of Raleigh's praise, under the figurative description of two shepherds tuning their pipes, beneath the alders of the Mulla; a fiction with which the mind, perhaps, will be much less satisfied, than by recalling the scene as it really existed. When we conceive Spenser reciting his compositions to Raleigh, in a scene so beautifully appropriate, the mind casts a pleasing retrospect over that influence which the enterprize of the discoverer of Virginia, and the genius of the author of the Fairy Queen, have respectively produced on the fortune and language of England. The fancy might even be pardoned for a momentary superstition, that the Genius of their country hovered, unseen, over their meeting, casting her first look of regard on the poet, that was destined to inspire her future Milton, and the other on the maritime hero, who paved the way for colonizing distant regions of the earth, where the language of England was to be spoken, and the poetry of Spenser to be admired. Raleigh, whom the poet accompanied to England, introduced him to Queen Elizabeth. Her majesty, in 1590-1, conferred on him a pension of 501. a year. In the patent for his pension he is not styled the laureat; but his contemporaries have frequently addressed him by that title. Mr. Malone's discovery of the patent for this pension, refutes the idle story of Burleigh's preventing the royal bounty being bestowed upon the poet, by asking if so much money was to be given for a song, as well as that of Spenser's procuring it at last by the doggrel verses,
I was promised, on a time,
my rhyme, &c. Yet there are passages in the Fairy Queen which unequivocally refer to Burleigh with severity. The coldness of that statesman to Spenser most probably arose from the poet's attachment to Lord Leicester and Lord Essex, who were each successively at the head of a party opposed to the Lord Chancellor, After the publication of the Fairy Queen, he returned to Ireland, and, during his absence, the fame which he had acquired by that poem, (of which the first edition, however, contained only the three first books), induced his publisher to compile and reprint his smaller pieces'. He appears to have again visited London about the end of 1591, as his next publication, the elegy on Douglas Howard, daughter of Henry Lord Howard, is dated
1 Viz. 1. The Ruins of Time.-2. The Tears of the Muses. 3. Virgil's Gnat.---4. Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubbard's Tale. -5. The Ruins of Rome, by Bellay.-6. Muiopotmos, or the Tale of the Butterfly.-7. Visions of the World's Vanitie 2 8. Bellay's Visions.-9. Petrarch's Visions. ·
January 1591-2. From this period there is a long interval in the history of Spenser, which was probably passed in Ireland, but of which we have no account. He married, it is conjectured, in the year 1594, when he was past forty; and it appears, from his epithalamium, that the nuptials were cele-, brated at Cork. In 1596, the second part of the Fairy Queen appeared, accompanied by a new edition of the first. Of the remaining six books, which would have completed the poet's design, only frage ments have been brought to light; and there is little reason to presume that they were regularly fur.. nished. Yet Mr. Todd has proved, that the con temporaries of Spenser believed much of his valuable poetry to have been lost, in the destruction of his house in Ireland.
In the same year, 1596, he presented to the queen his “ View of the State of Ireland,” which remained in manuscript, till it was published by Sir James Ware, in 1633. Curiosity turns naturally to the prose work of so old and eminent a poet, which exhibits him in the three-fold character of a writer delineating an interesting country from his own observation, of a scholar tracing back its remotest history, and of a politician investigating the causes of its calamities. The antiquities of Ireland have been since more successfully explored; though on that subject Spenser is still a respectable authority. The great value of
book is the authentic and curious picture of national manners and circumstances which