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Dublin reported home that “Munster was the best tempered of all the rest at this present time ; for that though not long since sundry loose persons " (among them the base sons of Lord Roche, Spenser's adversary in land suits) " became Robin Hoods and slew some of the undertakers, dwelling scattered in thatched houses and remote places near to woods and fastnesses, yet now they are cut off, and no known disturbers left who are like to make any dangerous alteration on the sudden.” But they go on to add that they “ have intelligence that many are practised withal from the North, to be of combination with the rest, and stir coals in Munster, whereby the whole realm might be in a general uproar.” And they repeat their opinion that they must be prepared for a “universal Irish war, intended to shake off all English government.”
In April, 1598, Tyrone received a new pardon; in the following August, he surprised an English army near Armagh, and shattered it with a defeat, the bloodiest and most complete ever received by the English in Ireland. Then the storm burst. Tyrone sent a force into Munster : and once more Munster rose. It was a rising of the dispossessed proprietors and the whole native population against the English undertakers; a “ragged number of rogues and boys," as the English Council describes them ; rebel kernes, pouring out of the "great wood,"and from Arlo, the “chief fastness of the rebels.” Even the chiefs, usually on good terms with the English, could not resist the stream. Even Thomas Norreys, the President, was surprised, and retired to Cork, bringing down on himself a severe reprimand from the English Government. “You might better have resisted than you did, considering the many defensible houses and castles possessed by the undertakers, who, for aught we can hear, were by no means com. forted nor supported by you, but either from lack of comfort from you, or out of mere cowardice, fled away from the rebels on the first alarm." “Whereupon," says Cox, the Irish historian, “the Munsterians, generally, rebel in October, and kill, murder, ravish and spoil without mercy; and Tyrone made James Fitz-Thomas, Earl of Desmond, on condition to be tributary to him; he was the handsomest man of his time, and is commonly called the Sugan Earl."
On the last day of the previous September (Sept. 30, 1598), the English Council had written to the Irish Government to appoint Edmund Spenser, Sheriff of the County of Cork, "a gentleman dwelling in the County of Cork, who is so well known unto you all for his good and commendable parts, being a man endowed with good knowledge in learning, and not unskilful or without experience in the wars." In October, Munster was in the hands of the insurgents, who were driving Norreys before them, and sweeping out of house and castle the panicstricken English settlers. On December 9th, Norreys wrote home a despatch about the state of the province. This despatch was sent to England by Spenser, as we learn from a subsequent despatch of Norreys of December 21.3 It was received at Whitehall, as appears from Robert Cecil's endorsement, on the 24th of December. The passage from Ireland seems to have been a long one. And this is the last original document which remains about Spenser.
What happened to him in the rebellion we learn generally from two sources, from Camden's History, and from Drummond of Hawthornden's Recollections of Ben Jon
3 I am indebted for this reference to Mr. Hans Claude Hamilton. See also his Preface to Calendar of Irish Papers, 1574-85, p. lxxvi.
son's conversations with him in 1619. In the Munster insurrection of October, the new Earl of Desmond's followers did not forget that Kilcolman was an old possession of the Desmonds. It was sacked and burnt. Jonson related that a little new-born child of Spenser's perished in the flames. Spenser and his wife escaped, and he came over to England, a ruined and heart-broken man. He died Jan. 16, 159%; "he died,” said Jonson, “for lack of bread in King Street (Westminster), and refused twenty pieces sent to him by my Lord of Essex, saying that he had no time to spend them.” He was buried in the Abbey, near the grave of Chaucer, and his funeral was at the charge of the Earl of Essex. Beyond this we know nothing ; nothing about the details of his escape, nothing of the fate of his manuscripts, or the condition in which he left his work, nothing about the suffering he went through in England, All conjecture is idle waste of time. We only know that the first of English poets perished miserably and prematurely, one of the many heavy sacrifices which the evil fortune of Ireland has cost to England ; one of many illustrious victims to the madness, the evil customs, the vengeance of an ill-treated and ill-governed people.
One Irish rebellion brought him to Ireland, another drove him out of it. Desmond's brought him to pass
his life there, and to fill his mind with the images of what was then Irish life, with its scenery, its antipathies, its tempers, its chances, and necessities. Tyrone's swept him from Ireland, beggared and hopeless. Ten years after his death, a bookseller, reprinting the six books of the Faery Queen, added two cantos and a fragment, On Mutability, supposed to be part of the Legend of Constancy. Where and how he got them he has not
It is a strange and solemn meditation, on the universal subjection of all things to the inexorable conditions of change. It is strange, with its odd episode and fable which Spenser cannot resist about his neigh bouring streams, its borrowings from Chaucer, and its quaint mixture of mythology with sacred and with Irish scenery, Olympus and Tabor, and his own rivers and mountains. But it is full of his power over thought and imagery; and it is quite in a different key from anything in the first six books. It has an undertone of awe-struck and pathetic sadness.
What man that sees the ever whirling wheel
Her cruel sports to many men's decay. He imagines a mighty Titaness, sister of Hecate and Bellona, most beautiful and most terrible, who challenges universal dominion over all things in earth and heaven, sun and moon, planets and stars, times and seasons, life and death ; and finally over the wills and thoughts and natures of the gods, even of Jove himself; and who pleads her cause before the awful Mother of all things, figured as Chaucer had already imagined her :
Great Nature, ever young, yet full of eld ;
Thus sitting on her throne. He imagines all the powers of the upper and nether worlds assembled before her on his own familiar hills, instead of Olympus, where she shone like the Vision which "dazed” those “ three sacred saints" on “Mount Thabor.” Before her pass all things known of men, in rich and picturesque procession ; the Seasons pass, and the Months, and the Hours, and Day and Night, Life, as “a fair young lusty boy," Death, grim and grisly ;
Yet is he nought but parting of the breath,
Unbodied, unsoul'd, unheard, unseeneand on all of them the claims of the Titaness, Mutability, are acknowledged. Nothing escapes her sway in this present state, except Nature which, while seeming to change, never really changes her ultimate constituent elements, or her universal laws. But when she seemed to have extorted the admission of her powers, Nature silences her. Change is apparent, and not real; and the time is coming when all change shall end in the final changeless change.
“I well consider all that ye have said,
And Natur's selfe did vanish, whither no man wist. What he meant-how far he was thinking of those daring arguments of religious and philosophical change of which the world was beginning to be full, we cannot now tell.