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printing-press just as the New Learning was making its way, bringing from Italy an enthusiasm for the classics and awakening among English scholars an interest in the study of the Bible in the original tongues. In the religious disturbances that darkened the reigns of Edward VI and Mary, the light of the New Learning seemed in danger of being quenched; but, with the coming of Elizabeth, herself a lover of Greek and Latin literature, the classics regained their supremacy, and the grammar schools, recently established, spread the love of learning among the people.
A spirit of inquiry in regard to natural phenomena was abroad in Elizabeth's time. The Copernican system was revolutionizing men's ideas in regard to the relations of the heavenly bodies, and, before many years, Francis Bacon was to give to the study of natural science an impulse such as it had never before received in England.
In the province of religion old barriers were swept aside and new forces were given full play. When Henry VIII threw off his allegiance to Rome and declared himself head of the English church, the national consciousness was no doubt quickened; but the event that did most during his reign toward developing the moral and religious sentiment of the nation was the translation of the Bible into English. In a few years the Bible, known already through the teachings of the clergy, became the one book of the mass of the people; the images of the Hebrew writers were in every mind, their phrases on every tongue. More than Homer to the Greek was the Bible to the Englishman;
for from it he gained that moral strength, that realization of his individual worth as the child of God, which made him battle with a stout heart against the dreaded power of Catholic Spain, and which, later, enabled him to resist successfully the tyranny of his own rulers. The translation of the Bible exercised an influence upon the development of English literature; and the influence was in part owing to the time at which the translation was made; that is, it was made just when the language was ripe for it. Not until the 16th century were the various elements that go to make up the English tongue thoroughly assimilated. While to-day the language of Chaucer needs to be studied, the speech of the 16th century, freed from its peculiarities in spelling, may easily be read by a person of ordinary intelligence; in fact, it is practically modern. English. By the wide and rapid diffusion of the Bible, the people as a whole, even those speaking peculiar dialects, became familiar with a body of writings expressed in the literary medium of the period. Consequently the 16th-century writers when employing the current tongue could appeal to persons of various social conditions. This is one reason why the literature of the Elizabethan Age is the literature, not of a class, but of a nation.
While the influences just mentioned quickened the moral perceptions and refined the literary instincts of the people, the discovery of the New World awoke in them a sudden consciousness of their own force, and led them to realize in a slight degree the part they were destined to play on the great stage of the world. Up to the
beginning of the 16th century Englishmen had been obliged to acknowledge that their small island had little weight in the affairs of Europe. She had heretofore looked to Rome for spiritual guidance and to Italy and France for inspiration and teaching in literary matters. Now at last she was to take her true place in the onward march of the nations. The discovery of America and the subsequent explorations of daring navigators sailing under English colors had given to England even more truly than to Castile and Leon a " New World." The spirit of the Vikings that had slumbered for centuries in their descendants awoke, and England felt her real power the power of the conqueror and the colonizer; the power which was to make that "little body with a mighty heart" the greatest civilizing force of modern times.
As we consider these facts we begin to see why the man of the Elizabethan Age differed in many respects both from his predecessors and from his descendants. We can now account for his unruly passions, his lively imagination, his religious intolerance, and his love of adventure. We do not wonder that the finer spirits. of the time were inspired by lofty and generous ideals. Fortunate, indeed, was the genius whose lot was cast in this remarkable century; if not heir of all the ages that have stored up their wealth for the 19th-century man, he was the possessor of a rich inheritance. If the genius were a Spenser, he looked beyond the material universe, out upon vast realms of the imagination peopled with those airy nothings to which the poet alone can give a local habitation and a name.
And yet, the poet is, after all, born into the hard, actual world,
Of all of us, the place where in the end,
and he, like the commonest mortal, must grapple with facts, and gain strength and insight through experience.
Edmund Spenser was born in London near the Tower, some time between 1549 and 1554. 1552 is the date usually fixed upon, and this makes him six years old when Elizabeth came to the throne. He was evidently of good family, though his parents must have been in moderate circumstances. He was a pupil in the grammar school established by the Merchant Taylors' Company, and when sixteen or seventeen left school for the university of Cambridge. In 1573 he became B.A., and in 1576 left the university with the degree of M.A. His friendship with Gabriel Harvey, a fellow-student, had an important influence upon his future life, since Harvey introduced him to Sir Philip Sidney, who made him known to his uncle, the Earl of Leicester. After a short stay in the north of England, where he is supposed to have wooed unsuccessfully a certain fair Rosalind, the poet settled in London. In 1579 his first printed book, the "Shepherd's Calendar," was published. This production was dedicated to Sidney. In 1580 Spenser went to Ireland as secretary to Arthur, Lord Grey de Wilton. Since he was staying at Lord Leicester's house just before this event, it is probable that he obtained the position through Leicester's influence. Lord Grey was recalled in 1582, and
Spenser returned to England with him.
In 1586 a
large estate at Kilcolman, not far from the city of Cork, was granted Spenser by the queen; and it was in his new home that he composed the first three books of the Faery Queene. Sir Walter Raleigh, whose friendship he had gained during his former visit to Ireland, thought so highly of the work that he persuaded Spenser to accompany him to England that he might present
him to the queen. Elizabeth received the poet with marked favor, and granted him a pension of fifty pounds a year. The three books were published in 1590 with an explanatory letter addressed to Raleigh. In 1591 a collection of Spenser's shorter poems appeared. In 1594 the poet married a "countrey lasse" named Elizabeth, and in honor of the occasion wrote his celebrated Epithalamion. A second edition of the first three books of the Faery Queene was printed in 1596, together with the next three books. Spenser was in London at this time. After his return to Ireland, in 1598, the Tyrone Rebellion broke out, and the castle of Kilcolman was sacked and burnt. The poet was obliged to flee with his family, and in the hurry and confusion one of the children was left to perish in the flames. Spenser managed to reach England, but died three months later, in January, 1599. His body lies beside that of Chaucer in Westminster Abbey.
In the Prothalamion, written when he was a little over forty, the poet speaks of his birthplace as
merry London, my most kindly nurse,
That to me gave this life's first native source;
and in the same poem he alludes to