Page images
[blocks in formation]

The LIFE of



S the reign of Queen Elizabeth is one of the most shining parts

of our history, and an age of which Englishmen are accustomed to speak with a particular pride and delight; it is remarkable for having been fruitful in eminent genius's of very different kinds. Among the Romans the age of Augustus is obferved to have produced the finest Wits, but the preceding one the greatest men. But this was a period of time distinguished for both; and by a wonderful conjunction, we find learning and arms, wisdom and police arts arising to the greatest heights together. .

In this happy reign flourished" Edmund Spenser, the most eminent of our poets till that time, unless we except Chancer, who was in some respects his master and original. The accounts of his birth and family are but obscure and imperfect; and it has happened to him, as to many other men of wit and learning, to be much better known by his works than by the history of his life. He was born in London, and had his education at Pembroke- Hall in Cambridge. Though in the dedications of one or two of his poems, we find him claiming affinity with some persons of distinction, yet his fortune and intereft seem at his first setting out to have been very inconsiderable: For after he had continued in the college for some time, and laid thae foundation of learning, which joined to his natural genius, qualified him for rising to so great an excellency afterwards, he stood for a fellowship in competition with Mr. Ane drews, afterwards bihop of Winchester, but without success. This disappointment, together with the-narrowness of his circumstances, forced him from the university. And we find him next taking up his residence with some friends in the North, where he fell in love with his Rosalind, whom he fo finely celebrates in his pastoral poems, and of whose cruelty he has written such pathetical complaints.

As poetry is frequently the offspring of Love and retirement, it is probable his genius began first to distinguish it self

about this time ; for the Shepherd's Calender, which is so full of his unprosperous paflion for RoJalind, was the first of his works of any note. This he addressed, by a short dedication in verse, to Sir Philip Sidney; concealing himself under the humble title of Immerito. Sir Pbilip was then in the highest reputation for his wit, gallantry, and polite accomplishments; and indeed seems to have been the most universally admired and beloved of any one gentleman of the age in which he lived. As he was himself a very good writer, and especially excelled in the fabulous or inventive part of poetry, it is no wonder he foon became fen Gible of our


« PreviousContinue »