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David, Ulysses, and Solon, feign'd themselves fools and mad. men; our fools and madmen feign themselves Davids, Ulysses's, and Solons. It is pity fair weather should do any hurt; but I know what peace and quietness hath done with some melan. choly pickstraws.
The letters preserve a good many touches of character which are interesting. This, for instance, which shows Spenser's feeling about Sidney. “ New books," writes Spenser, “I hear of none, but only of one, that writing a certain book called The School of Abuse, [Stephen Gosson's Invective against poets, pipers, players, &c.] and dedicating to M. Sidney, was for his labour scorned: if at least it be in the goodness of that nature to scorn." As regards Spenser himself, it is clear from the letters that Harvey was not without uneasiness lest his friend, from his gay and pleasure-loving nature, and the temptations round him, should be carried away into the vices of an age, which, though very brilliant and high-tempered, was also a very dissolute one. He couches his counsels mainly in Latin ; but they point to real danger; and he adds in English,—“ Credit me, I will never lin [=cease) baiting at you, till I have rid you quite of this yonkerly and womanly humour." But in the second pair of letters of April, 1580, a lady appears. Whether Spenser was her husband or her lover, we know not; but she is his "sweetheart.” The two friends write of her in Latin Spenser sends in Latin the saucy messages of his sweetheart, “meum corculum," to Harvey; Harvey, with academic gallantry, sends her in Latin as many thanks for her charming letter as she has hairs, “half golden, half silver, half jewelled, in her little head ;”-she is a second little Rosalind—"altera Rosalindula," whom he salutes as “Domina Immerito, mea bellissima Colina Clouta." But whether wife or mistress, we hear of her no more. Further, the letters contain notices of various early works of Spenser. The "new" Shepherd's Calendar, of which more will be said, had just been published. And in this correspondence of April, 1580, we have the first mention of the Faery Queen. The compositions here mentioned have been either lost, or worked into his later poetry; his Dreams, Epithalamion Thamesis, apparently in the "reformed verse," his Dying Pelican, his Slumber, his Stemmata Dudleiana, his Comedies. They show at least the activity and eagerness of the writer in his absorbing pursuit. But he was still in bondage to the belief that English poetry ought to try to put on a classical dress. It is strange that the man who had written some of the poetry in the Shepherd's Calendar should have found either satisfaction or promise in the following attempt at Trimeter Iambics.
And nowe requite I you with the like, not with the verye beste, but with the verye shortest, namely, with a few Iambickes : I dare warrant they be precisely perfect for the feete (as you can easily judge), and varie not one inch from the Rule. I will imparte yours to Maister Sidney and Maister Dyer at my nexte going to the Courte. I praye you, keepe mine close to your selfe, or your verie entire friends, Maister Preston, Maister Still, and the reste.
Unhappio Verse, the witnesse of my unhappie state,
Make thy selfe Auttring wings of thy fast flying
Whether lying reastlesse in heavy bedde, or else
Sitting so cheerlesse at the cheerfull boorde, or else
If in Bed, tell hir, that my eyes can take no reste :
If at Boorde, tell hir that my mouth can eate no meate :
Asked why ? say: Waking Love suffereth no sleepe :
Say, that raging Love dothe appall the weake stomacke :
Tell hir, that hir pleasures were wonte to lull me asleepe :
Tell hir, that hir beautie was wonte to feede mine eyes :
Nowe doe I nightly waste, wanting my kindely reste :
Nowe doe I dayly starve, wanting my lively foode :
And if I waste, who will bewaile my heavy chaunce ?
And if I starve, who will record my cursed end ?
THE NEW POET–THE SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR.
[1579.] It is clear that when Spenser appeared in London, he had found out his powers and vocation as a poet. He came from Cambridge, fully conscious of the powerful attraction of the imaginative faculties, conscious of an extraordinary command over the resources of language, and with a singular gift of sensitiveness to the grace and majesty and suggestiveness of sound and rhythm, such as makes a musician. And whether he knew it or not, his mind was in reality made up, as to what his English poetry was to be. In spite of opinions and fashions round him, in spite of university pedantry and the affectations of the court, in spite of Harvey's classical enthusiasm, and Sidney's Areopagus, and in spite of half-fancying himself converted to their views, his own powers and impulses showed him the truth, and made him understand better than his theories what a poet could and ought to do with English speech in its free play and genuine melodies. When we first come upon him, we find that at the age of twenty-seven, he had not only realized an idea of English poetry far in advance of anything which his age had yet conceived or seen; but that, besides what he had executed or planned, he had already in his mind the outlines of the Faery Queen, and, in some form or other, though perhaps not yet as we have it, had written some portion of it.
In attempting to revive for his own age Chaucer's suspended art, Spenser had the tendencies of the time with him. The age was looking out for some one to do for England what had been grandly done for Italy. The time in truth was full of poetry. The nation was just in that condition which is most favourable to an outburst of poetical life or art. It was highly excited; but it was also in a state of comparative peace and freedom from external disturbance. “An over-faint quietness," writes Sidney in 1581, lamenting that there were so few good poets, “should seem to strew the house for poets." After the first ten years of Elizabeth's reign, and the establishment of her authority, the country had begun to breathe freely, and fall into natural and regular ways. During the first half of the century, it had had before it the most astonishing changes which the world had seen for cen. turies. These changes seemed definitely to have run their course; with the convulsions which accompanied them, their uprootings and terrors, they were gone; and the world had become accustomed to their results. The nation still had before it great events, great issues, great perils, great and indefinite prospects of adventure and achievement. The old quarrels and animosities of Europe had altered in character: from being wars between princes, and disputes of personal ambition, they had attracted into them all that interests and divides mankind, from high to low. Their animating principle was a high and a sacred cause : they had become wars of liberty, and wars of religion. The world had settled down to the fixed antipathies and steady rivalries of centuries to come. But