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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.”
The author of one of the most romantic poems in the English language, did not remain long unrewarded in the magnificent court of Elizabeth. In 1590, our poet accompanied Sir Walter Raleigh to England, who introduced him to Elizabeth, and through the influence, it is supposed, of the accomplished Earl of Essex, her Majesty soon afterwards conferred upon him a pension of £50 a year, in testimony of her admiration of the “Faerie Queene," of which he published the first three books, and dedicated them to her. After their publication, he returned to Ireland, where he passed an interval of two or three years; and in 1594 he married a country lass of humble birth, whose name he tells us was Elizabeth.
In consequence of the disturbances fomented by the Earl of Tyrone, he returned for a time to England, where he wrote several new
poems, and the second part of the “Faerie Queene." This new edition was published in 1596, with three additional books, which only half completed his design. There was a traditionary story, circulated on the authority of Sir James Ware, that the remaining six books were lost by a servant in passing from Ireland, to whose care the author had committed them. This rumour, bowever, does not appear to rest upon conclusive evidence, and it is more probable that Spenser had never completed the work
His well-known prose work, entitled "A View of the State of Ireland,” remained in manuscript from the time it was composed, in 1596, until 1633, when it was published by Sir James Ware. Of this production it may be observed, in the language of Campbell
, that “its great value is the authentic and curious picture of national manners and circumstances which it 'exhibits; and its style is as nervous as the matter is copious and amusing." It is true, however, that the public measures he recommended were not distinguished by mildness or toleration, a circumstance for which
the 'violent spirit of the age may in some degree account.
In 1597 Spenser returned to Ireland; and in 1598 was recommended by her Majesty to the honourable post of Sheriff of Cork. The close of his career was lamentable. In the course of that year the Tyrone rebellion broke out, and he was compelled, with his wife and family, to find a refuge in England. His estate was plundered by the insurgents, his house burned, and one of his children perished in the flames. From the effects of this terrible calamity he never recovered. He became dejected in mind; and it has been alleged that his affliction was increased by poverty. In January, 1598, he died at an obscure lodging in London, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, near the tomb of Chaucer, at the expense of the Earl of Essex. Several of his brother poets attended his funeral, and threw verses into his grave. It was reserved for the celebrated Anne, Countess of Dorset, to have the credit of erecting a monument over his remains.
Of Spenser's private character, the information we have is scanty and imperfect. Judging from tho events of his life, and the character of his writings: there is no reason to suppose that it was not, in all essential points, virtuous and amiable. Dr. Aikin, in his “Critical Essays on the English Poets," observes :-“To the intimate friend of Sidney and Raleigh, especially of the former, it is reasonable to attribute virtue as well as genius. His works breathe a fervent spirit of piety and morality; and it would be difficult to conceive any thing base or dissolute in conduct, in conjunction with the dignity of sentiment which is uniformly supported in the productions of his Muse. A querulous disposition, however, occasionally breaks forth; nor does he seem to have been contented under a fortune more affluent than usually falls to the lot of a poet. He paid considerable court to the Great, but without that extravagance of adulation, which was not unconimon even among the eminent persons of that age.'
Towards the end of his life, Spenser published four of his beautiful hymns. His principal works are, the “Shep
herds' Calendar," an "Hymn of Heavenly Love," the “Ruins of Rome," the "Ruins of Time," the “Fate of the Butterfly," with his minor poems, “Mother Hubbard's Tale,” his Sonnets, and the “ Faerie Queene." The latter work is considered to be one of the most splendid allegorical poems in our language. Spenser's own account of his design was, to represent all the moral virtues, assigning to every virtue a knight, to be the pattern and defender of the same; in whose actions, and feats of arms and chivalry, the operations of that virtue whereof he is the protector are to be expressed; and the vices and unruly appetites that expose themselves against the same, to be beaten down and overcome.”
The writer of Spenser's life in the biographical sketches, selected from "The Saturday Magazine," an interesting little work for young students, makes the following remarks on this masterly performance :—"The great fault of his poem is its design. An allegory long sustained will ever be tedious and uninteresting; and, moreover, in this particular instance, the covert meaning is often involved in so much obscurity, that it cannot easily be traced. It is also unfortunate for the general popularity of Spenser, that he studiously affected language which verged towards antiquity even in his own day, and which is uncouth and often obsolete now-a point in which we cannot but contrast bim with his great contemporary, Shakspeare, who seems to
before his own day in point of diction; and in whose works we often read long passages without a single word, that, after the lapse of two hundred years, sounds strange in our ears. Indeed, we cannot but think, that the writings of Shakspeare have cooperated with the Bible, in fixing, as much as the thing is possible, a standard of our language. Still, in spite of these drawbacks, the “Faerie Queene” is a poem of the very highest excellence. Milton, Cowley, Dryden, Pope, Thomson, Gray, and almost every English poet who has since written, have found it a mine from which to extract ore, which they, perhaps, have polished into greater brightness and
beauty. It has such an inexhaustible store of fancy, such a profusion of imagery, such richness and sweetness of poetical diction, and above all, it breathes a spirit so gentle, so pure, so elevated in morals, and so fervent in piety, that it deserves, as it enjoys, one of the very highest niches in our temple of fame.'
To collect and reprint all the tributes paid to the poetical genius of Spenser, would make an interesting volume. We have selected some of the most valuable and interesting. His divine hymns are praised by Southey as breathing a pure spirit of piety. In an admirable article on Sacred poetry, in the thirty-second volume of “The Quarterly Review," which has been ascribed to that distinguished critic, he remarks :"In all ages of our literary history, it seems to have been considered almost as an essential part of a poet's duty to give up some pages to scriptural story, or to the praise of his Maker, how remote soever from any thing like religion the general strain of his writings might be. Witness the Lamentation of Mary Magdalene' in the works of Chaucer, and the beautiful legend of 'Hew of Lincoln,' which he has inserted in his Canterbury Tales;' witness also the hymns of Ben Jonson. But these fragments alone will not entitle their authors to be enrolled among
Sacred poets. They indicate the taste of their age, rather than their own a fact which may be thought to stand rather in painful contrast with the literary history of later days.
“Recurring then to the distinction we have laid down, between the direct and indirect modes of Sacred poetry, at the head of the two classes, as the reader may perhaps have anticipated, we set the glorious names of Spenser and of Milton. The claim of Spenser to be considered as a Sacred poet does by no means rest upon his hymns alone; although even these would be enough to embalm and consecrate the whole volume which contains them. Whoever will attentively consider the ‘Faerie Queene' itself, will find that it is, almost throughout, such as might have been expected from the author of those truly sacred hymns. It is a continual, deliberate endeavour to enlist the restless intellect and chivalrous feeling, of an inquiring and
romantic age, on the side of goodness and faith, of purity and justice.”
Willmott's “Lives of the Sacred Poets” contain a brief review of the principal incidents in Spenser's life, and an admirable criticism on the character and tendency of his productions. The editor of that excellent work, concurs in opinion with the writer of the foregoing remarks—that the author of the “Faerie Queene” had unquestionable claims to the title of a great
“The lineaments of his Christian character will not be darkened," says he,“ to any thoughtful eye, by those 'allegorical devices' in which the poet, in his own words, loved cloudily to inwrap them. Spenser should indeed be read, as Thomas Warton loved to read bim, At the root of mossy trunk reclined,
Pleasures of Melancholy. “The Muse of bis verse seems only to lift her veil before the student in the quiet hour of contemplation; there all the charms of his intellectual physiognomy dawn in their natural lustre,—his touching pathos, his moral dignity, and his pensive tenderness. Sir William Temple regretted that Spenser had not more completely enveloped his moral in his fancy. But the Christian may rejoice in the censure. It is this under-tone of religious feeling, mingling with, and melting into, all the rich and various music of his fancy, that imparts to the reflective reader so delicate and lasting a pleasure. Truth seems to glimmer through the darkest allegory, and like his own Una, resting in the wood when fatigued with the search after her knight, 'her angel's face,' continually pours
A sunshine in the shady place. “His pictures glow with a southern sunshine, but their richest colours are frequently employed to heighten and embellish the portrait of Virtue, and his most gorgeous descriptions often point their moral to the heart. His own exquisite line,
Virtue gives herself light through darkness for to wade, might be prefixed as the motto to his poem."
There is no modern critic, with the exception of