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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 Fairie 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. I know you 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.
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 favour of the great, might open to him the door of advancement. Spenser was probably expecting to push his fortunes in some public employment under the patronage of two such powerful favourites 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 favour 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 even 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 coloured 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 his 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 became 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 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 place 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.
| Froude, x. 158.
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 name 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 Anti-Christ of Rome. The “good Lord Grey,” he was, if