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THE FAERY QUEEN.-SPENSER'S LAST YEARS (1590—1599).
The publication of the Faery Queen in 1590 had made the new poet of the Shepherds Calendar a famous man. He was no longer merely the favourite of a knot of enthusiastic friends, and outside of them only recognized and valued at his true measure by such judges as Sidney and Ralegh. By the common voice of all the poets of his time he was now acknowledged as the first of living English poets. It is not easy for us, who live in these late times and are familiar with so many literary masterpieces, to realize the surprise of a first and novel achievement in literature; the effect on an age, long and eagerly seeking after poetical expression, of the appearance at last of a work of such power, richness, and finished art.
It can scarcely be doubted, I think, from the bitter sarcasnis interspersed in his later poems, that Spenser expected more froin his triumph than it brought him. It opened no way of advancement for him in England. He continued for a while in that most ungrateful and unsatisfactory employment, the service of the State in Ireland ; and that he relinquished in 1593. At the end of 1591 he was again at Kilcolman. He had written and probably sent to Ralegh, though he did not publish it till 1595, the record already quoted of the last two year's events, Colin Clouts come home again,-his visit, uuder Ralegh's guidance, to the Court, his thoughts and recollections of its great ladies, his generous criticisms on poets, the people and courtiers whom he had seen and heard of; how he had been dazzled, how he had been disenchanted, and how he was come home to his Irish mountains and streams and lakes, to enjoy their beauty, though in a
6 Who is Edmondus Spenser, Prebendary of Effin (Elphin) ? in a list of arrears of first fruits ; Calendar of State Papers, Ireland,
salvage” and “foreign ” land ; to find in this peaceful and tranquil retirement something far better than the heat of ambition and the intrigues of envious rivalries; and to contrast with the profanations of the name of love which had disgusted him in a dissolute society, the higher and purer ideal of it which he could honour and pursue in the simplicity of his country life.
And in Ireland, the rejected adorer of the Rosalind of the Shepherd's Calendar found another and still more perfect Rosalind, who, though she was at first inclined to repeat the cruelty of the earlier one, in time relented, and received such a dower of poetic glory as fow poets have bestowed upon their brides.
It has always appeared strange that Spenser's passion for the first Rosalind should have been so lasting, that in his last pastoral, Colin Clouť s come home again, written so late as 1591, and published after he was married, he should end his poem by reverting to this long-past love passage, defending her on the ground of her incomparable excellence
Dec. 8, 1586, p. 222. Church preferments were under special circumstances allowed to be held by laymen. See the Queen's “Instructions," 1579; in Preface to Calendar of Carew MSS. 1589-1600, p. ci.
and his own unworthiness, against the blame of friendly “shepherds," witnesses of the "languors of his too long dying," and angry with her hard-heartedness. It may be that, according to Spenser's way of making his masks and figures suggest but not fully express their antitypes, Rosalind here bears the image of the real mistress of this time, the “country lass,” the Elizabeth of the sonnets, who was, in fact, for a while as unkind as the earlier Rosalind. The history of this later wooing, its hopes and anguish, its varying currents, its final unexpected success, is the subject of a collection of Sonnets, which have the disadvantage of provoking comparison with the Sonnets of Shakespere. There is no want in them of grace
and sweetness, and they ring true with genuine feeling and warm affection, though they have of course their share of the conceits then held proper for love poems. But they want the power and fire, as well as the perplexing mystery, of those of the greater master. His bride was also immortalized as a fourth among the three Graces, in a richly-painted passage in the last book of the Faery Queen. But the most magnificent tribute to her is the great Wedding Ode, the Epithalamion, the finest composition of its kind, probably, in any language : so impetuous and unflagging, so orderly and yet so rapid in the onward march of its stately and varied stanzas ; so passionate, so flashing with imaginative wealth, yet so refined and self-restrained. It was always easy for Spenser to open the floodgates of his inexhaustible fancy. With him,
The numbers flow as fast as spring doth rise.
2 “In these kind of historical allusions Spenser usually per. plexes the subject: he leads you on, and then designedly misleads you.”—Upton, quoted by Craik, üii. 92.
But here he has thrown into his composition all his power of concentration, of arrangement, of strong and harmonious government over thought and image, over language and measure and rhythm ; and the result is unquestionably one of the grandest lyrics in English poetry. We have learned to think the subject unfit for such free poetical treatment; Spenser's age did not.
Of the lady of whom all this was said, and for whom all this was written, the family name has not been thought worth preserving. We know that by her Christian name she was a namesake of the great queen, and of Spenser's mother. She is called a country lass, which may mean anything; and the marriage appears to have been solemnized in Cork, on what was then Midsummer Day, “ Barnaby the Bright,” the day when “ the sun is in his cheerful height,” June li, 1594. Except that she survived Spenser, that she married again, and had some legal quarrels with one of her own sons about his lands, we know nothing more about her. Of two of the children whom she brought him, the names have been preserved, and they indicate that in spite of love and poetry, and the charms of Kilcolman, Spenser felt as Englishmen feel in Australia or in India. To call one of them Sylvanus, and the other Peregrine, reveals to us that Ireland was still to him a “salvage land," and he a pilgrim and stranger in it; as Moses called his firstborn Gershom, a stranger here--" for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.”
In the year after his marriage, he sent over these memorials of it to be published in London, and they were entered at Stationers' Hall in November, 1595. The same year he came over himself, bringing with him the second instalment of the Faery Queen, which was entered for publication the following January, 159% Thus the half of the projected work was finished ; and finished, as we know froin one of the Sonnets (80), before his marriage. Aftur his long "race through Fairy land," he asks leave to rest, and solace himself with his “love's sweet praise;" and then “ as a steed refreshed after toil,” he will "stoutly that second worke assoyle.” The first six books were published together in 1596. He remained most of the year in London, during which The Four Hymns on Love and Beauty, Earthly and Heavenly, were published ; and also a Dirge (Daphnaida) on Douglas Howard, the wife of Arthur Gorges, the spirited narrator of the Island Voyage of Essex and Ralegh, written in 1591 ; and a "spousal verse" (Prothalamion), on the marriage of the two daughters of the Earl of Worcester, late in 1596. But he was only a visitor in London. The Prothalamion contains a final record of his disappointments in England.
I, (whom sullein care,
His marriage ought to have made him happy. He professed to find the highest enjoyment in the quiet and retirement of country life. He was in the prime of life, successful beyond all his fellows in his special work, and apparently with unabated interest in what remained to be done of it. And though he could not but feel himself at a distance from the “sweet civility” of England, and socially at disadvantage compared to those whose lines had fallen to them in its pleasant places, yet nature,