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THE FAERY QUEEN—THE FIRST PART.
[1580—1590.] The Faery Queen is heard of very early in Spenser's literary course. We know that in the beginning of 1580, the year in which Spenser went to Ireland, something under that title had been already begun and submitted to Gabriel Harvey's judgment; and that among other literary projects, Spenser was intending to proceed with it. But beyond the mere name, we know nothing, at this time, of Spenser's proposed Faery Queen. Harvey's criticisms on it tell us nothing of its general plan or its numbers. Whether the first sketch had been decided upon, whether the new stanza, Spenser's original creation, and its peculiar beauty and instrument, had yet been invented by him, while he had been trying experiments in metre in the Shepherd's Calendar, we have no means of determining. But he took the idea with him to Ireland; and in Ireland he pursued it and carried it out.
The first authentic account which we have of the composition of the Faery Queen, is in a pamphlet written by Spenser's friend and predecessor in the service of the Council of Munster, Ludowick Bryskett, and inscribed to Lord Grey of Wilton: a Discourse of Civil Life, published in 1606. He describes a meeting of friends at his cottage near Dublin, and a conversation that took place on the “ethical" part of moral philosophy. The company consisted of some of the principal Englishmen employed in Irish affairs, men whose names occur continually in the copious correspondence in the Rolls and at Lambeth. There was Long, the Primate of Armagh ; there were Sir Robert Dillon, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and Dormer, the Queen's Solicitor ; and there were soldiers, like Thomas Norreys, then Vice-President of Munster, under his brother John Norreys; Sir Warham Sentleger, on whom had fallen so much of the work in the South of Ireland, and who at last, like Thomas Norreys, fell in Tyrone's rebellion ; Captain Christopher Carleil, Walsingham's son-in-law, a man who had gained great distinction on land and sea, not only in Ireland, but in the Low Countries, in France, and at Carthagena and San Domingo; and Captain Nicholas Dawtry, the Seneschal of Clandeboy, in the troublesome Ulster country, afterwards “Captain " of Hampshire at the time of the Armada. It was a remarkable party. The date of this meeting must have been after the summer of 1584, at which time Long was made Primate, and before the beginning of 1588, when Dawtry was in Hampshire. The extract is so curious, as a picture of the intellectual and literary wants and efforts of the times, especially amid the disorders of Ireland, and as a statement of Spenser's purpose in his poem, that an extract from it deserves to be inserted, as it is given in Mr. Todd's Life of Spenser, and repeated in that by Mr. Hales.
"Herein do I greatly envie," writes Bryskett," the happiness of the Italians, who have in their mother-tongue late writers that have, with a singular easie method taught all that Plato and Aristotle have confusedly or obscurely left written. Of which, some I have begun to reade with no small delight; as Alexander Piccolomini, Gio. Baptista Giraldi, and Guazzo; all three having written upon the Ethick part of Morall Philosophie both exactly and perspicuously. And would God that some of our countrimen would shew themselves so wel affected to the good of their countrie (whereof one principall and most im. portant part consisteth in the instructing men to vertue), as to set downe in English the precepts of those parts of Morall Philosophy, whereby our youth might, without spending so much time as the learning of those other languages require, speedily enter into the right course of vertuous life.
In the meane while I must struggle with those bookes which I vnderstand and content myselfe to plod upon them, in hope that God (who knoweth the sincerenesse of my desire) will be pleased to open my vnderstanding, so as I may reape that profit of my reading, which I travell for. Yet is there a gentle. man in this company, whom I have had often a purpose to intreate, that as his liesure might serue him, he would vouchsafe to spend some time with me to instruct me in some hard points which I cannot of myselfe understand; knowing him to be not onely perfect in the Greek tongue, but also very well read in Philosophie, both morall and naturall. Neuertheless such is my bashfulness, as I neuer yet durst open my mouth to disclose this my desire unto him, though I have not wanted some hartning thereunto from himselfe. For of loue and kind. nes to me, he encouraged me long sithens to follow the reading of the Greeke tongue, and offered me his helpe to make me understand it. But now that so good an opportunitie is offered vnto me, to satisfie in some sort my desire ; I thinke I should commit a great fault, not to myselfe alone, but to all this company, if I should not enter my request thus farre, as to moue him to spend this time which we have now destined to familiar discourse and conuersation, in declaring unto us the great benefits which men obtaine by the knowledge of Morall Philosophie, and in making us to know what the same is, what be the parts thereof, whereby vertues are to be distinguished from vices ; and finally that he will be pleased to run ouer in such order as he shall thinke good, such and so many principles and rules thereof, as shall serue not only for my better instruction, but also for the contentment and satisfaction of you al. For I nothing doubt, but that euery one of you will be glad to heare so profitable a discourse and thinke the time very wel spent wherin so excellent a knowledge shal be reuealed unto you, from which euery one may be assured to gather some fruit as wel as myselfe.
Therefore (said I), turning myselfe to M. Spenser, It is you sir, to whom it pertaineth to shew yourselfe courteous now unto vs all and to make vs all beholding unto you for the pleasure and profit which we shall gather from your speeches, if you shall vouchsafe to open unto vs the goodly cabinet, in which this excellent treasure of vertues lieth locked up from the vulgar sort. And thereof in the behalfe of all as for myselfe, I do most earnestly intreate you not to say vs nay. Vnto which wordes of mine euery man applauding most with like words of request and the rest with gesture and countenances expressing as much, M. Spenser answered in this maner:
Though it may seeme hard for me, to refuse the request made by you all, whom euery one alone, I should for many respects be willing to gratifie; yet as the case standeth, I doubt not but with the consent of the most part of you, I shall be excused at this time of this taske which would be laid vpon me; for sure I am, that it is not vnknowne unto you, that I haue alreedy vndertaken a work tending to the same effect, which is in heroical verse under the title of a Faerie Queene to represent all the moral vertues, assigning to every vertue a Knight to be the patron and defender of the same, in whose actions and feates of arms and chiualry the operations of that vertue, whereof he is the protector, are to be expressed, and the vices and unruly appetites that oppose themselves against the same, to be beaten down and ouercome. Which work, as I haue already well entred into, if God shall please to spare me life that I may finish it according to my mind, your wish (M. Bryskett) will be in some sort accomplished, though perhaps not so effectually as you could desire. And the same may very well serue for my excuse, if at this time I craue to be forborne
in this your request, since any discourse, that I might make thus on the sudden in such a subject would be but simple, and little to your satisfactions. For it would require good aduisement and premeditation for any man to vndertake the declaration of these points that you have proposed, containing in effect the Ethicke part of Morall Philosophie. Whereof since I have taken in hand to discourse at large in my poeme before spoken, I hope the expectation of that work may serue to free me at this time from speaking in that matter, notwithstanding your motion and all your intreaties. But I will tell you how I thinke by himselfe he may very well excuse my speech, and yet satisfie all you in this matter. I haue seene (as he knoweth) a translation made by himselfe out of the Italian tongue of a dialogue comprehending all the Ethick part of Moral Philosophy written by one of those three he formerly mentioned, and that is by Giraldi vnder the title of a Dialogue of Ciuil life. If it please him to bring us forth that translation to be here read among vs, or otherwise to deliuer to us, as his memory may serue him, the contents of the same; he shal (I warrant you) satisfie you all at the ful, and himselfe wil have no cause but to thinke the time well spent in reuiewing his labors, especially in the company of so many his friends, who may thereby reape much profit, and the translation happily fare the better by some mending it may receiue in the perusing, as all writings else may do by the often examination of the same. Neither let it trouble him that I so turne ouer to him againe the taske he wold haue put me to; for it falleth out fit for him to verifie the principall of all this Apologie, euen now made for himselfe ; because thereby it will appeare that he hath not withdrawne himselfe from seruice of the state to liue idle or wholly priuate to himselfe, but hath spent some time in doing that which may greatly benefit others, and hath serued not a little to the bettering of his owne mind, and increasing of his knowledge; though he for modesty pretend much ignorance, and pleade want in wealth, much like some rich beggars, who either of custom, or for couetousnes, go to begge of others those things whereof they haue no want at home.
With this answer of M. Spensers it seemed that all the