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THE LIFE OF EDMUND SPENSER.
SINCE this series began, amidst all the brilliant names we have overtaken, perhaps two only can be placed beside the author of "The Faerie Queene," namely Shakspeare and Milton. And it is singular, that in reference to all these, the biographical information is rather scanty (although Charles Knight and David Masson have done their part admirably in expiscating new facts in the lives of the authors of "Hamlet" and the "Paradise Lost"), and that to conceive clearly of the life and character of these illustrious bards, we must draw somewhat largely on their own peculiar faculty-that of imagination.
Edmund Spenser was born in London. This fact is stated by himself in his "Prothalamion on the Marriage of the Two Daughters of the Earl of Worcester," where he speaks of
"Merry London, my most kindly nurse,
That to me gave this life's first native source."
It thus appears that the metropolis has had the honour of producing three out of the four greatest of our poets, namely, Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton. There has been a good deal of doubt and discussion about the date of his birth. The general opinion is, that he was born in or about the year 1553. This is founded on some lines in one of his sonnets which was written in 1592 or 1593:
"So since the winged god his planet clear
Than all those forty which my life outwent.
Then, by that course which lovers' books invent,
The sphere of Cupid forty years contains,
Which I have wasted in long languishment."
The meaning of these lines seems to be, that the poet was now
forty-one years of age; forty of which had been spent in "languishment," or lack of love, and one under the influence of Cupid. This would fix the date of his birth at 1552 at farthest.
On the other hand, we have evidence that in 1569 a bill was paid by the treasurer of the Queen's Chamber "to Edmund Spencer, that brought letters to the Queen's Majesty from Sir Henry Norris, her Majesty's ambassador in France, being at Thouars in the same realm;" but surely, if it was the poet who was thus employed, he must have been older than sixteen. We find again in the same year (1569), George Tuberville, then secretary to Sir Thomas Randolph, English ambassador in Russia, addressing, among other epistles in verse descriptive of the country, one "To Spencer," whom Antony Wood affirms to be Spenser the poet. If so, as Tuberville was then twenty-nine, and appears from the tenor of the verses to have been very intimate with his correspondent, it has been inferred that Spenser must have been considerably above sixteen. Curiously enough, in this very year too, there appeared a book entitled "A Theatre of Worldlings, &c., by S. John Vander Noodt, with Six Epigrams prefixed," which, in 1591, Ponsonby, Spenser's own publisher, printed as his, with some changes and corrections apparently from the poet's pen. In the same wonderful year, we find from a record in the State Paper Office, that one Edmund Spenser lived at Kingsbury in Warwickshire. And yet, to crown all, it is certain that on the 20th of May 1569, the poet was admitted sizer of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. Thus we find an Edmund Spenser returned from a journey to France-a Spencer receiving a poetical epistle from Russia-a Spenser publishing poetry himself-an Edmund Spenser living quietly in the country-and the veritable poet entering college—all in the year 1569. One is tempted to exclaim, like Richard III., "There be six Spensers in the field," and to conclude that there is no puzzle in all "The Faerie Queene" itself more perplexing. We think it probable that there were more Spensers than one. The Edmund Spenser of Kingsbury might be, as Collier conjectures, the father of the poet. The Spencer returned from abroad, and addressed by Tuberville, might be a relative. It is not at all likely that the poet would in the same
be receiving a bill for foreign service, and entering Cambridge in the mean position of a sizer. At the same time, how Spenser's father, who had been in London at the date of Edmund's birth, should in 1569 be residing in Warwickshire, we cannot explain.
East Smithfield, by the Tower, witnessed the birth of this transcendent poet. Of the rank and circumstances of his parents little is known, although it seems probable that they were poor. It has always been held that they were related to the ancient and honourable house of Spenser. The branch of that family with which the poet was connected, is supposed to have been that of the Spensers, or Le Spensers, of Hurstwood, near Burnley, in the east of Lancashire. In the poet's time, this family probably lived on a small property three miles north of Hurstwood, in the forest of Pendle, and at the foot of Pendlehill, still called "the Spensers." His degree of connexion with this family is not exactly known, but several circumstances combine in proving that he belonged to their stock. We know from one of his commentators, whose initials are E. K., and who was a personal friend, and annexed notes to "The Shepherd's Calendar" when it first appeared, that Spenser lived a considerable time in the north, and there wrote a part at least of that poem. It is likely that he was then upon a visit to the Spensers of Hurstwood, We find, too, from the pedigree of the poet's descendants, that Edmund and Laurence are family names, although not very common at that time, or even yet, in England. Now, turning to the registers of baptisms and burials in Burnley, Pendle, and Colne, in the neighbourhood of the ancient residence of the Spensers, we find quite a redundancy of Edmunds and Laurences—the one following the other almost in regular rotation. (This, by the way, tends to confirm our conjecture, that there were several Edmund Spensers connected with the same race alive in 1569.) Mr Craik adds what he thinks another corroborative evidence: "The poet himself always spelt his surname, not as the Spencers of Althorpe did and do, with a c, but with an s; and it appears from the entries in the parochial registers, that it was spelled in the same manner, with an 8, at Hurstwood, and for six or seven miles round, not only in
the age of Elizabeth, but for a century afterwards, and that while even at Kildwick, near Shipton, at only ten or twelve miles' distance, it was spelled with a c. It may be doubted indeed, we apprehend, if the spelling with an s was known anywhere else than in this small district." After all, a shade of uncertainty rests on the subject, although we cordially agree with Gibbon, who says in his Memoirs, "The nobility of the Spencers has been illustrated and enriched by the trophies of Marlborough; but I exhort them to consider 'The Faerie Queene' as the brightest jewel of their coronet." Spenser was proud of his connexion with the old race, and alludes to it both in his prose and his verse, as where he says, after the lines about London being his birthplace,
Though from another place I take my name,
An house of ancient fame."
Of Spenser's school-boy days we know absolutely nothing, and of his University career very little. He entered Pembroke Hall, as formerly stated, on the 20th of May 1569, as a sizera circumstance which implies poverty, a sizer being the lowest academic rank. His career there does not seem to have been very brilliant; nay, there is some reason for supposing that he had met with ill usage from his tutor, as we gather from a letter addressed to him in 1580 by his college friend, Gabriel Harvey, in which he satirises the poet's "Old Controller" (one Doctor Perne) in the bitterest terms. It is remarkable, at all events, that Spenser, although he celebrates the University, never alludes to his own particular college. He took his Bachelor's degree, Jan. 16, 1572-3, and became Master of Arts, June 26, 1576. He seems then to have left Cambridge abruptly, and for
That Spenser enjoyed the scenery around Cambridge is not very likely. Probably he felt with Robert Hall, that the Cam was the "sleeping river," "standing still to see people drown themselves; " that on its dull and dreary banks, "nature was giving out signals of distress;" and that its so-called hills. seemed, from their Lilliputian summits, rather to insult than relieve the surrounding tameness. There was not a spot in all that neighbourhood that could suggest images for the "Wood