Page images

In the following year, he published his "Shepheards Calender,” a series of twelve eclogues, appropriated to, or rather named after, the twelve months of the year, and written in such antiquated diction that it was thought necessary, even at that time, to add an explanation of the obsolete words at the end of each eclogue. This pastoral is not confined to scenes of rural life, to sketches of rustic manners, and to descriptions of the beauties or peculiarities of natural scenery or of particu lar seasons; indeed, they form but a small part of it. Instead of them, Spenser has introduced his shepherds discussing the comparative merits of the Protestant and Romish churchesdisquisitions little favorable to the development of poetical genius, and, in a pastoral, not only out of place, but absurd. He has also made this, as well as almost every other of his productions, the vehicle of panegyric on his sovereign. "The Shepheards Calender," in fact, is very moral, and, for the most part, very dull; possessing little that is tender or beautiful, and affording few indications of that excellence which the author afterwards attained. There are, however, some passages not deficient in accurate and forcible description. Sir Philip Sidney, to whom it was dedicated, speaks of it in measured terms of praise:"The Shepheards Calender," says he, "has much poetry in he Eclogues indeed worth the reading, if I be not deceived." It obtained some reputation for the author: Abraham Fraunce, a lawyer, a poet, and a friend of Sidney, drew from it part of his illustrations in The Logick of the Law, and it passed through five editions in Spenser's lifetime.

Some curiosity has been excited respecting Spenser's friend and commentator, E. K. That he was not the poet himself, as has been lately suggested, we are bound to believe, from the high strain of eulogium in which he indulges when speaking of Spenser; although the latter evidently thought highly of his own genius. From the circumstance of the name of Mrs. Kerke occurring in one of Spenser's letters to Harvey, in which E. K. is mentioned as desiring his hearty commendations to Harvey, some have conjectured that his name was Kerke. This friend, who says he "was made privy to his counsel and secret meaning in these eclogues," informs us that "Rosalind is a feigned name, which being well ordered, will bewray the very name of his


love and mistress, whom by that name he coloureth." Not being ourselves privy to his secret meaning, and E. K. not having left us a key to it, we are constrained to leave this weighty matter to the curious, who may be disposed to try to order the name rightly.

It appears, from the Epistle of E. K. prefixed to "The Shepheards Calender," that this was not the only poetical work on which the pen of Spenser had then been employed: he expresses a hope that this publication will "occasion him to put forth other excellent works of his which sleep in silence; such as his 'Dreams,' his 'Legends,' his 'Court of Cupid,' and sundry others." In a note to the third eclogue, he mentions having seen a translation of "Moschus his Idyllion of Wandering Love;" and, in the Argument to the tenth, he alludes to the author's book called "The English Poet;" "which book," he says, "being lately come to my hands, I mind also, by God's grace, upon further advisement, to publish." These "Legends," and "The Court of Cupid," were probably parts of "The Faerie Queene;" the latter, we conceive, was what is now called "The Masque of Cupid," in that work.

By Harvey, Spenser was introduced to Sir Philip (then Mr.) Sidney, by whom he was recommended to the Earl of Leicester. His biographers, however, differ in opinion as to the precise occasion and period of this event. Although it is not a matter of much importance, yet, as his last biographer has rejected, in rather decisive terms, two of the assigned occasions of this introduction, and, as appears to us, on insufficient grounds, we will for a moment advert to it. Mr. Todd, in alluding to a letter addressed by Spenser to Harvey, dated 16th Oct. 1579, in which he speaks of Sir Philip Sidney as a person with whom he was acquainted, adds, that it "affects the credibility of his pretended introduction to Sidney on account of his presentation to him of the Ninth Canto of the First Book of The Faerie Queene;' for it shows that he was known to Sidney previous to the publication of The Shepheards Calender' in 1579. This incontrovertible fact," he subjoins, "refutes the opinion also of a very elegant writer (Mr. Ellis), and of others less known to fame, that the Dedication of The Shepheards Calender' seems to have procured Spenser his first introduction to Sir

Philip Sidney." This deduction, so confidently made by Mr. Todd, is by no means so clear as he represents it. The letter does not show that Spenser knew Sidney before the publication of "The Shepheards Calender." What it does how, is, that Spenser knew Sir Philip Sidney at the date of the letter; that is, the latter part of that year in which "The Shepheards Calender" was published. But Mr. Todd appears to have overlooked the circumstance that the Epistle of E. K., prefixed to this work, bears date the 10th of April, 1579; and, as this part of a publication is usually written the last, we may fairly assume that "The Shepheards Calender" was published in the spring of that year, in the autumn of which this letter is dated. To this evidence of the inaccuracy of Mr. Todd's conclusion we may add, that Spenser, in the letter itself, speaks of his having been "minded for a while to have intermitted the uttering of his writings;" plainly alluding to the antecedent publication of "The Shepheards Calender," the only one of his works which had then been printed. However, it is not improbable that he did know Sidney before the publication of it, for he resided, at the time of his writing it, in Kent; and it might be, as another biographer asserts, at Penshurst. The only evidence of this fact, of which we are aware, is, that E. K. intimates, in his "Gloss to the Sixth Eclogue," that Spenser was then resident in Kent. For the same reason, we may remark that this letter does not affect the credibility of Spenser's pretended introduction to Sir Philip Sidney on account of his presentation of the Ninth Canto of the First Book of "The Faerie Queene." The credibility of that romantic and agreeable anecdote, in accordance, as it is in some measure, with the turn of Sir Philip Sidney's mind, is much more affected by its own internal evidence of improbability. The story is, that Spenser one morning repaired to Leicester House, an entire stranger, "furnished only with a modest confidence, and the Ninth Canto of the First Book of The Faerie Queene."" Having obtained admission to Sidney, he presented his poem to that poet and lover of poetry, who, having read part of the "Allegory of Despair," ordered his steward to give the person who presented the verses fifty pounds; and, proceeding to the next stanza, he raised the gift to a hundred; which, on reading a third stanza, he doubled,

and commanded the steward to give it him immediately, lest, advancing his reward in proportion to the pleasure he received in reading the poem, he should give him more than he had.

From the before-mentioned letter of the 16th Oct. 1579, Spenser appears, but rather from complaisance than conviction, to have entered into the absurd scheme, formed by Harvey and patronized by Sidney, of introducing the use of quantity into English verse. Speaking of Sidney and Sir Edward Dyer, he says, they have proclaimed "a general surceasing and silence of bald rhymes, and also of the very best too; instead whereof they have, by authority of their whole senate, prescribed certain laws and rules of quantity of English syllables for English verse; having had already thereof great practice, and drawen me to their faction." And again: "But I am of late more in love with my English versifying than with rhyming; which I should have done long since if I would then have followed your counsel." To this letter he subjoins a specimen, which by no means makes us regret that he did not indulge more in that style of composition.


Unhappie verse! the witnesse of my unhappie state,
Make thy selfe fluttring winge of thy fast flying
Thought, and fly forth unto my love whersoever she be:

Whether lying reastlesse in heavy bedde, or else
Sitting so cheerelesse at the cheerefull boorde, or else
Playing alone carelesse on hir heavenlie virginals.

If in bed; tell hir that my eyes can take no reste:
If at boorde; tell hir that my mouth can eate no meate:
If at hir virginals; tell her I can beare no mirth.

Asked why? Waking love suffereth no sleepe:
Say that raging love doth appall the weake stomacke:
Say that lamenting love marreth the musicall.

Tell hir that her pleasures were wonte to lull me asleepe;
Tell hir that hir beauty was wonte to feede mine eyes:
Tell hir that her sweete tongue was wonte to make me mirth.
VOL. 1.


Now doe I nightly waste, wanting my kindlie reste:
Now doe I dayly starve, wanting my daily foode:
Now doc I always dye, wanting my timely mirth.

And if I waste, who will bewaile my heavy chance?
And if I starve, who will record my cursed end?
And if I dye, who will saye, This was Immerito?

Spenser did not apparently pursue this unprofitable study, but devoted himself with great assiduity to the cultivation of "English undefiled." It appears, also, from this letter, that Spenser was then about to be sent on some mission to France by the Earl of Leicester; but which it does not seem was ever carried into effect, for he was in London in the following April. Harvey, in a letter dated 7th April, 1580, mentions several productions of our author, in addition to those already referred to,—his Dying Pellicane, and his Dreams, his nine English Comedies, and Stemmata Dudlæana. Spenser had, in a letter dated 10th April, which seems to have crossed this on the road, desired Harvey to return "The Faerie Queene," with his long-expected judgment on it. Harvey anticipates this request, and returns it with his last-mentioned letter, which contains the following criticism: "In good faith, I had once againe nigh forgotten your Faerie Queene: howbeit, by good chance, I have now sent hir home at the laste, neither in better nor worse case than I founde hir. And must you, of necessitie, have my judgement of her indeede? To be plaine: I am voyde of all judgement, if your nine Comedies, whereunto, in imitation of Herodotus, you give the names of the Nine Muses, (and in one mans fansie not unworthily,) come not nearer Ariostoes Comœdies, eyther for the finenesse of plausible eloqution, or the rarenesse of poetical invention, than that Elvish Queene doth to his Orlando Furioso. Which, notwithstanding, you will needes seeme to emulate, and hope to overgo, as you flatly professed yourself in one of your last letters. Besides that, you know it hath bene the usual practise of the most exquisite and odde wittes in all nations, and especially in Italie, rather to shewe and advaunce themselves that way than any other; as namely, those three dyscoursing heads, Bibiena, Macheavel, and Aretine, did, (to let Bembo and Ariosto passe,) with the great admiration and wonderment of the whole countrey; being indeede reputed matchable in all points, both for

« PreviousContinue »