Page images
PDF
EPUB

the “reputed work of Sir Philip Sidney." But if it was officially a secret, it was an open secret, known to every one who cared to be well informed. It is possible that the free language used in it about ecclesiastical abuses was too much in sympathy with the growing fierceness and insolence of Puritan invective to be safely used by a poet who gave his name: and one of the reasons assigned for Burghley's dislike to Spenser is the praise bestowed in the Shepherd's Calendar on Archbishop Grindal, then in deep disgrace for resisting the suppression of the puritan prophesyings. But anonymous as it was, it had been placed under Sidney's protection; and it was at once warmly welcomed. It is not often that in those remote days we get evidence of the immediate effect of a book ; but we have this evidence in Spenser's case. In this year, probably, after it was published, we find it spoken of by Philip Sidney, not without discriminating criticism, but as one of the few recent examples of poetry worthy to'be named after Chaucer.

as the

“I account the Mirror of Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts; and in the Earl of Surrey's Lyrics many things tasting of birth, and worthy of a noble mind. The Shepherd's Calendar hath much poetry in his Eglogues: indeed worthy the reading .

dare not allow, șith neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sanazar in Italian, did affect it. Besides these do I not remember to have seen but few (to speak boldly) printed that have poetical sinews in them.

Sidney's patronage of the writer and general approval of the work doubtless had something to do with making Spenser's name known: but he at once takes a place in contemporary judgment which no one else takes, till the next decade of the century. In 1586, Webbe published his Discourse of English Poetrie. In this, the author of the Shepherd's Calendar is spoken of by the name given him by its Editor, E. K

new poet," just as, earlier in the century, the Orlando Furioso was styled the “. nuova poesia ;" and his work is copiously used to supply examples and illustrations of the critic's rules and observations. Webbe's review of existing poetry was the most comprehensive yet attempted: but the place which he gives to the new poet, whose name was in men's mouths, though, like the author of In Memoriam, he had not placed it on the title-page, was one quite apart.

“This place (to wear the Laurel] have I purposely reserved for one, who, if not only, yet in my judgment principally, deserveth the title of the rightest English poct that ever I read: that is, the author of the Shepherd's Calendar, intituled to the worthy Gentleman Master Philip Sidney, whether it was Master Sp. or what rare scholar in Pembroke Hall soever, because himself and his friends, for what respect I know not, would not reveal it, I force not greatly to set down. Sorry I am that I cannot find none other with whom I might couple him in this catalogue in his rare gift of poetry: although one there is, though now long since seriously occupied in graver studies, Master Gabriel Harvey, yet as he was once his most special friend and fellow poet, so because he hath taken such pains not only in his Latin poetry

but also to reform our English verse therefore will I adventure to set them together as two of the "rarest wits and learnedest masters of poetry in England."

1

He even ventured to compare him favorably with Virgil. “But now yet at the last hath England hatched up one poet of this sort, in my conscience comparable with the best in any respect : even Master Sp., author of the Shepherd's Calendar, whose travail in that piece of English poetry I think verily is so commendable, as none of equal judgment can yield him less praise for his excellent skill and skilful excellency showed forth in the same than they would to either Theocritus or Virgil, whom in mine opinion, if the coarseness of our speech (I mean the course of custom which he would not infringe) had been no more let unto him than their pure native tongues were unto thein, he would have, if it might be, surpassed them.”

The courtly author of the Arte of English Poesie, 1589, commonly cited as G. Puttenham, classes him with Sidney. And from this time his name occurs in every enumeration of English poetical writers, till he appears, more than justifying this early appreciation of his genius, as Chaucer's not unworthy successor, in the Faerie Queene. Afterwards, as other successful poetry was written, and the standards of taste were multiplied, this first enthusiastic reception cooled down. In James the First's time, Spenser's use of “old outworn words” is criticised as being no more practical English” than Chaucer or Skelton:, it is not "courtly” enough. * The success of the Shepherd's Calendar had also, apparently, substantial results, which some of his friends thought of with envy. They believed that it secured him high patronage, and opened to him a way to fortune. Poor Gabriel Harvey, writing in the year in which the Shepherd's Calendar came out, contrasts his own less favored lot, and his ill-repaid poetical efforts, with Colin Clout's good luck. "But ever and ever, methinks, your great Catoes, Ecquid erit pretii, and our little Catoes, Res age quæ prosunt, make such a buzzing and ringing in my head, that I have little joy io animate and encourage either you or him to go forward, unless ye might make account of some certain ordinary wages, or at the least wise have your meat and drink for your day's works. As for myself, howsoever I have toyed and trifled heretofore, I am now taught, and I trust I shall shortly learn (no remedy, I must of mere necessity give you over in the plain field), to employ my travail and time wholly or chiefly on those studies and practices that carry, as they say, meat in their mouth, having evermore their eye upon the Title, De pane lucrando, and their hand upon their halfpenny: For I pray now what saith Mr. Cuddie, alias you know who, in the tenth Æglogue of the aforesaid famous new Calendar.

[ocr errors][merged small]

6

"'The dapper ditties, that I wont devise

To feed youths' fancy and the flocking fry,
Delighten inuch: what'I the best for thy?

They han the pleasure, I a sclender prize,
I beat the bush, 'the birds to them do fly.

What good thereof to Cuddie can arise ? “But Master Colin Clout is not everybody, and albeit his old companions, Master Cuddie and Master Hobinoll, be as little beholding to their mistress poetry as ever you wist : yet he, peradventure, by the means of her special favor, and some personal privilege, may haply live by Dying Pelicans, and purchase great lands and lordships with the money which his Calendar and Dreams have, and will afford CHAPTER III.

him."

* Bolton in Haslewood, ii. 249.

SPENSER IN IRELAND.

[1580.]

In the first week of October, 1579, Spenser was at Leicester House, expecting next week” to be despatched on Leicester's service to France. Whether he was sent or not, we do not know. Gabriel Harvey, writing at the end of the month, wagers that " for all his saying, he will not be gone over sea, neither this week nor the next.' In one of the Æglogues (September) there are some lines which suggest, but do not necessarily imply, the experience of an eye-witness of the state of religion in a Roman Catholic country. But we can have nothing but conjecture whether at this time or any other Spenser was on the Continent. The Shepherd's Calendar was entered at Stationers' Hall, December 5, 1579. In April, 1580, as we know from one of his letters to Harvey, he was at Westminster. He speaks of the Shepherd's Calendar as published; he is contemplating the publication of other pieces, and then “he will in hand forthwith with his Faerie Queene," of which he had sent Harvey a specimen. He speaks especially of his Dreams as a considerable work.

“I take best my Dreams should come forth alone, being grown by means of the Gloss (running continually in manner of a Paraphrase) full as great as my Calendar. Therein be some things excellently and many things wittily discoursed of E. K., and the pictures so singularly set forth and portrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amend the best, nor reprehend the worst. would like them passing well.

It is remarkable that of a book so spoken of, as of the Nine Comedies, not a trace, as far as appears, is to be found. He goes on to speak with much satisfaction of another composition, which was probably incorporated, like the Epithalamion Thamesis, in his later work.

“Of my Stemmata Dudleiana, and specially of the sundry Apostrophes therein, addressed you know to whom, much more advisement he had, than so lightly to send them abroad: now list, trust me (though I do never very well) yet, in mine own fancy, I never did better. · Veruntamen te sequor solum: nunquam vero assequar.

I know you

He is plainly not dissatisfied with his success, and is looking forward to more. But no one in those days could live by poetry. Even scholars, in spite of university endowments, did not hope to live by their scholarship; and the poet or man of letters only trusted that his work, by attracting the favor of the great, might open to him the door of advancement. Spenser was probably expecting to push his for. tunes in some public employment under the patronage of two such powerful favorites as Sidney and his uncle Leicester. Spenser's heart was set on poetry: but what leisure he might have for it would depend on the course his life might take. To have hung on Sidney's protection, or gone with him as his secretary to the wars, to have been employed at home or abroad in Leicester's intrigues, to have stayed in London filling by Leicester's favor some government office, to have had his habits moulded and his thoughts affected by the brilliant and unscrupulous society of the court, or by the powerful and daring minds which were fast thronging the political and literary scene—any of these contingencies might have given his poetical faculty a different direction; nay, might have eyen abridged its exercise or suppressed it. But his life was otherwise ordered. A new opening presented itself. He had, and he accepted, the chance of making his fortune another way. And to his new manner of life, with its peculiar conditions, may be ascribed, not, indeed, the original idea of that which was to be his great work, but the circumstances under which the work was carried out, and which not merely colored it, but gave it some of its special and characteristic features.

That which turned the course of his career, and exercised a decisive influence, certainly on its events and fate, probably also on the turn of his thoughts and the shape and moulding of his work, was his migration to Ireland, and lis settlement there for the greater part of the remaining eighteen years of his life. We know little more than the main facts of this change from the court and the growing intellectual activity of England, to the fierce and narrow interests of a cruel and unsuccessful struggle for colonization, in a country which was to England much what Algeria was to France some thirty years ago. Ireland, always unquiet, had become a serious danger to Elizabeth's Government. It was its bleeding ulcer.” Lord Essex's great colonizing scheme, with his unscrupulous severity, had failed. Sir Henry Sidney, wise, firm, and wishing to be just, had tried his hand as Deputy for the third time in the thankless charge of keeping order; he, too, after a short gleam of peace, had failed also. For two years Ireland had been left to the local administration, totally unable to heal its wounds, or cope with its disorders. And now the kingdom threatened to become a vantage-ground to the foreign enemy. In November, 1579, the Government turned their eyes on Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, a man of high character, and a soldier of distinction. He, or they, seem to have hesitated; or, rather, the hesitation was on both sides. He was not satisfied with many things in the policy of the Queen in England: his discontent had led him, strong Protestant as he was, to coquet with Norfolk and the partisans of Mary Queen of Scots, when England was threatened with a French marriage ten years before. His name stands among the forty nobles on whom Mary's friends counted.* And on the other hand, Elizabeth did not

* Froude, x, 158.

like him or trust him. For some time she refused to employ him. At length, in the summer of 1580, he was appointed to fill that great placé which had wrecked the reputation and broken the hearts of a succession of able and high-spirited servants of the English Crown,' the place of Lord-Deputy in Ireland. He was a man who was interested in the literary enterprise of the time. In the midst of his public employment in Holland he had been the friend and patron of George Gascoigne, who left a high reputation, for those days, as poet, wit, satirist, and critic. Lord Grey now took Spenser, the new poet, the friend of Philip Sidney, to Ireland as his Secretary.

Spenser was not the only scholar and poet who about this time found public employment in Ireland. Names which appear in literary records, such as Warton's History of English Poetry, poets like Barnaby Googe and Ludovic Bryskett, reappear as despatch-writers or agents in the Irish State Papers. But one man came over to Ireland about the same time as Spenser whose fortunes were a contrast to his. Geoffrey Fenton was one of the numerous translators of the time. He had dedicated Tragical Tales from the French and Italian to Lady Mary Sidney, Guevara's Epistles from the Spanish to Lady Oxford, and a translation of Guicciardini to the Queen. About this time he was recommended by his brother to Walsingham for foreign service; he was soon after in Ireland: and in the summer of 1580 he was made Secretary to the Government. He shortly became one of the most important persons in the Irish administration. He corresponded confidentially and continually with Burghley and Walsingham. He had his eye on the proceedings of Deputies and Presidents, and reported freely their misdoings or their unpopularity. His letters form a considerable part of the Irish Papers. He became a powerful and successful public servant. He became Sir Geoffrey Fenton; he kept his high place for his life; he obtained grants and lands; and he was commemorated as a great personage in a pompous monument in St. Patrick's Cathedral. This kind of success was not to be Spenser's.

Lord Grey of Wilton was a man in whom his friends.saw a high and heroic spirit. He was a statesman in whose motives and actions his religion had a dominant influence : and his religion-he is called by the vague naine of Puritan-was one which combined a strong and doubtless genuine zeal for the truth of Christian doctrine and for purity of morals, with the deepest and deadliest hatred of what he held to be their natural enemy, the Antichrist of Rome.. The“ good Lord Grey,” he was, if we believe his secretary, writing many years after this time, and when he was dead, most gentle, affable, loving, and temperate ; always known to be a most just, sincere, godly, and right noble man, far from sternness, far from unrighteousness. But the infelicity of his times bore hardly upon him, and Spenser admits, what is known otherwise, that he left a terrible name behind him. He was certainly a man of severe and unshrinking sense of duty, and like many great Englishmen of the time, so resolute in carrying it out

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »