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"Behold while she before the altar stands
Such was the happy commencement of a brief and troublous in* terval.
Not long after his marriage, Spenser paid a short visit to London, where he published three more books of the Fairy Queen, and presented his " View of the State of Ireland" to the queen. The next year he returned home, and for a little longer every thing wore the air of peaceful prosperity: he was happy in his wife, who had made him the father of two fair sons; and his character as a resident proprietor, as well as his reputation as a poet, began to win him golden opinions in the city and surrounding territory. He was recommended also by the crown, to the office of sheriff for Cork. But the rebellion of Tyrone broke upon these goodly prospects, and surrounded every peaceful habitation with restless disquietudes and apprehensions. The inmates of one of Desmond's castles could not sleep undisturbed by the terrors which left no home secure. Frightful rumours were the daily conversation; the quiet woods which the poet so long had peopled with the fawns, satyrs, and hamadryades in which his fancy loved to revel, teemed with no imaginary groups of wolvish kernes and ruffian bonaghts fiercely looking out upon his castle and awaiting the night: night was haunted by fearful apprehensions—evil noises mingled in the winds, and the echoing signal was heard among the hills. Hapless is their state who are under the influence of such terrors—inflicting by anticipation the sufferings which may not arrive. But this was not the good fortune of poor Spenser, of whose felicity we more lament the ruin because it was so complete. Blest in the union he had formed, a happy father, a husband much loving and much loved, admired, respected, and after a life of toil possessed of a growing fortune: one fatal hour reversed his fortunate position and sent him a houseless fugitive with his helpless family, again to try his fortune in the uncertain favour of which he had so long experience.
We cannot here offer any precise detail of the dreadful particulars of a disaster, the horror of which is perhaps better to be understood from a single incident than from any description. The poet with his family were compelled to fly with such precipitation, that their youngest infant was left behind. It was perhaps the error of the wretched parents, inexperienced in popular convulsion, to imagine that a helpless and innocent babe could not be really in any risk; and they conceived that they had provided fully for its safety, by leaving the necessary directions for its journey on the following day, in a manner more accommodated to its tender age. The castle was plundered and burned, and the infant perished in the flames. The family only escaped by the promptness of their flight. They reached London, where they took lodgings in King Street.
Spenser never recovered from the shock of this calamity. Despair and discouragement clouded his breast, and his health sunk rapidly under the combination of grief, want, and the renewal of a painful servitude upon the capricious friendship of the great. We do not believe that he was utterly deserted in this distressing condition, because we do not believe in the utter baseness of mankind it would imply: feeling, generosity, and truth, can have no existence but in fable, if they are not to be found in the ranks of a high and polished aristocracy. But a just estimate of human nature, and a precise experience of the moral workings of society, is sufficient to account for the neglect which neither high worth, nor the possession of many friends, are enough to ward off. The generosity of the world is but an impulse, which its prudence more constant, is ever trying to limit and escape from: when the effort to relieve has been made, it is an easy thing to be satisfied that enough has been done, and to lay the blame of its actual insufficiency on the imprudence of the sufferer. The kindness is for the most part accompanied by counsel, for the most part inconsiderate, because it cannot be otherwise. It cannot be expected that any one will apply to the emergency of another that clear and elaborate scrutiny into the whole combination of their advantages and disadvantages which is necessary for conduct under the pressure of difficulty: counsel is cheap and easy, and all are ready to bestow it; but sound and considerate advice few have at their disposal when they need it for themselves. Our application of these reflections, is but conjectural, and the result of our own long observation of the ways of the world. But it is certain that Spenser had many high and influential friends, and claims of no slight order upon the sympathy of the good and wise, and upon the gratitude of all—the proudest ornaments of the Elizabethan age are Spenser and Shakespeare, with either of whom (different as they are) no other can be named. Poor Spenser with a family—stripped of his estate—with the claim of service and the noble title of genius—was, if not absolutely deserted, allowed to sink into neglect and penury. It is said, and not authoritatively contradicted, that when reduced to the most abject want, lord Essex sent him a sum of money which the poet's pride induced him to refuse. The circumstance is very likely to have received the exaggerations, so commonly attendant upon all incidents which can be distorted into scandal against the upper classes. We have already in another memoir,* had occasion to examine a very similar story. We however think it sufficiently confirms the general inference of his having suffered from want; nor can we entertain any doubt that his spirit must have been shattered and
* Life of Sheridan.—Dublin Univetsity Magazine, June, 1837.
his pride diseased into a morbid irritability by the sufferings and mortifications ever attendant upon such misfortunes.
It is, in the midst of these painful circumstances, cheering to contemplate the fact that his wife—the haughty beauty whom he had wooed for three years, and who adorned and exalted his short interval of worldly happiness—did not wrong the deep love and the immortalizing praises of the poet; but with the attachment and constancy peculiar to her sex, walked with him like a ministering angel in the fiery furnace of affliction and bitterness: confirming her claim in sober history, to the encomium with which poesy has handed down her name.
Spenser only survived his flight from the country of his adoption, "a little more than kin and less than kind," for five years, and died at his inn in King street, in January, 1598, in the 45th year of his age. The world, which felt that he was to be no longer a burden, but thenceforth an honour, showered upon his heedless grave its most unavailing honours and distinctions. His funeral was conducted with a pomp more suited to his real merits, than to his fortunes. The earl of Essex contributed the cost, and the poets of the day came to shower their verses into his grave. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, next to Chaucer, the only other name that could yet be named with his. His wife is understood to have survived him for some years, but not to have married again. His two sons had descendants, but have left no trace in our history; they found their way to their native country, but did not recover their father's estate. Sylvanus married a Miss Nangle of Moneanymy, in the county of Cork: by her he had Edmund and William Spenser. The other son, Peregrine, left also a son, who was afterwards reinstated by the court of claims, in all that could be ascertained of the Kilcolman estate. He was however afterwards outlawed for his adherence to James II. The property was again recovered to the family by William Spenser, the grandson of Sylvanus, by means of lord Halifax. It has however long passed away, and with it all distinct traces of the family. They are not however the less likely to be still existing: property is the stem of the genealogical tree, of which the leaves and branches cannot long survive the support.
It is a part of our most especial duty to offer something more than the mere history of the Fairy Queen, a production of which neither the characteristic style nor the local origin can be separated from the woods and streams of the county of Cork. Milton, whose mind was more deeply imbued with the poetry of Spenser than seems to have been noticed, describes this poem with his usual graphic precision in his divine 11 Penseroso:—
"And if ought else great bards beside
Besides its intrinsic merits as a great masterpiece of English poetry, the Fairy Queen is a composition of peculiar interest both to the nati
oarr aad th* sasrai tawariaa. am Mxumu. «£ A* fnarnry witk which K may fa* »aai t© ni&tt ta* 4cmii:mv. saancrv siiii,fnc^-va*. aad tkw wkfiie «oirh of ;h* ag*. Th* n-i. evidence «- tkis. a oafy M be eolieeted frwm a autre iaxnaat* arqjiaaii iar> wish tkc maaami neglected wrrtinrf- and the forrptiea ana nt. Udnf saperstiiaaa* with which tho** aosean reeerds are reai«e.
To attempt erea » simunary of thi* waald iawii* a* ia tke discussion of a variety of topics, ooc easily dismissed within the limits we should wish to preserve, The litcratare of Ex-ruiad aad -.Lit of oar island, yet eominaed maottlj apart £rotn -a-:c other beta in rcaterial and character. The literature of Ireiand was. like her Language, the relie of a remote civilization, for ct ami Lea on the decline and trading to no revival. Eogush literature was jmn br^akine fresh from the shackles, and impediments of a long bat retarded prog i ess into a fresh and glorioa* adolescence—onder the head and heart expanding' influence of the reformation. The prejudices and superstitions of earlier times rejected from the enlarging dominion of reason were delivered up to the fancy or imagination: from reality they melted into the sombre magnificence of poetry. All that was solemn, terrific, or magnificent— all that was influential over character and feeling—all that had possessed the spirit and giren its whole form to the external manners of the previous age—yet held a modified power over the heart of the. world, and a venerable charm in its recollections. Such is the law of moral transition—the expansion of the intellect long precedes the real alteration of the moral constitution of the breast. It is on this principle that the ghost and fairy hare so long held their place in modern fiction: there is a faith of the imagination, which long outlives the stern exposures of reason. There is not indeed, when w*> would truly estimate the extent to which the poetry of an age reflects its actual spirit, a more essential consideration than this, that it ia not in the knowledge of its books, or by the actions of its leading characters (all that history records), the world is to be truly seen: it is not so in this age of diffusive education, and was not so when knowledge was nearly confined to those, who were engaged in the extension of its bounds. As the German poet, (or his translator) says—
"To u», my friend, the times tliat are gone by
From the surviving lucubrations of the academy or the cloister, in which little of external life can be felt (the only knowledge of life,) or from history which is but an abstract of gross results, or a record of facts, connected by the webwork of the writer's art ;* there is little to
* Wii Imvo borrowed the phrase from the same writer, to whom we are indebted lor ilia quutiition ubove.
Facts dramatised say rather—action—plot
Sentiment, every thing the writer's own,
At it but fits the webwork of his story."—Fauilus, p. 39.
convey the true character of a remote age,—it is to be inferred onlj from an intense realization of circumstances to be laboriously gleaned from a large collation of remains and records: but the nearest approach must ever be made, by a fair allowance for the representation of the poet, and the record of transmitted customs and superstitions.
The real spirit of the public mind of the age of Elizabeth, was not materially varied from the quaint and simple character of many previous generations—a few loftier pinnacles had emerged into the upward beams of morning light—but the plains and valleys lay in twilight.
The fairy people played their feats and gambols on the forest glade
and the bar-ghosts and goblins of midnight were indistinctly visible. The student still endeavoured to draw responses from the stars—or brooded over the furnace and crucible, in the feverish vigil of "hope deferred." The Gothic pageantry—the chivalric spirit of all the quaint solemnities with which a long lapse of ages of growing civilization had endeavoured to refine and ornament life, held a customary sway over the mind of'every class and order, and moulded the age. These features are apparent in a multitude of ancient writers now little known, and may be traced in every record of manners in the Elizabethan age. Amid the splendour of the genius and wisdom of that glorious age, may be discerned the ghastly empiricism which passed for knowledge—the absurd traditions which passed for history—the quaint and scholastic, but often just and lofty ethics, stiffened with a pasteboard panoply of conceits and allegories by the taste for mysticism which is so congenial to the infancy of knowledge, as well as by the seemingly opposite but equally allied tendency to give a palpable form and representation to the invisible and spiritual Hence indeed the gorgeous masques, moralities and mysteries, with their grotesque and cumbrous machinery of virtues, graces, and mythologic beings, the delight of that generation to which they were fraught with an intense ideal and moral interest, unintelligible to the children of our shrewd age. "In the reign of queen Elizabeth," says Warton, "a popular ballad was no sooner circulated than it was converted into a moralization." The moralization passed into a pageantry, which was but a costly improvement on the cap and bells of simpler times. In a coarse and simple age the passions are likely to occupy a prominent place in the productions of taste or fancy. "No doubt," writes an author of that period, "the cause that books of learning seem so hard, is, because such and so great a scull of amarouse pamphlets have so preoccupied the eyes and ears of men, that a multitude believe there is none other style or phrase worth gramercy. No books so rife or so friendly read, as be these books. But if the setting out of the wanton tricks of a pair of lovers, as for example, let them be called Sir Chaunticleere and Dame Partilote, to tell how their first combination of love began, how their eyes floated, and how they anchered, their beams mingled one with the other's beauty. Then, of their perplexed thoughts, their throes, their faulies, their dryric drifts, now interrupted, now unperfitted, their love days, their sugred words, and their sugred joys. Afterwards, how envious fortune, through this chop or that channer, turned their bless to bale, severing two such beautiful faces and dutiful hearts," &c. We have made so