Page images

John Spenser the younger, when his brother's son, Edmund, came of age, gave up to him the farm at Hurstwood, and lived until 1619, at Redlees, in Cliviger. This Edmund Spenser died in 1654, leaving two sons, John and Edmund, and it was not until some ninety years after the poet's death that the freehold at Hurstwood was by a deed of conveyance alienated from that section of the Spenser family. If we look, then, to the Hurstwood relations visited by Spenser when he went among his friends in the north of England, we find that the farm was occupied-say, in 1578, when the poet went north after graduating-by the Edmund Spenser who died, an old man, in 1587, with Margaret, his second wife, and his two sons John, of whom the younger could not have been less then than ten or twelve years old.

There were other Spensers within easy reach of a visitor to Hurstwood. At Filley Close, in a part of the Pendle Forest district which was held to belong to the Castle parish at Clitheroe, there lived in a house still known as Spensers', a Lawrence Spenser, who had married Lettice Nowell, of the family of Dean Nowell, whose brother, Robert Nowell, bequeathed to him a charge for the charitable disbursement of much money. The spending of Robert Nowell's money, set forth in a MS. preserved at Towneley Hall, contains entries that have thrown much light upon the poet Spenser's early history. Lettice Nowell's marrying with Lawrence Spenser, of Filley Close, seems to have been the origin of Dean Nowell's regard to the Spensers as poor kinsfolk. Lawrence of Filley Close had two sons, Ellis and Lawrence. He was himself alive in 1569, and may be the Lawrence who was buried at Newchurch in 1584. Lawrence was frequent as a family name in this household of Spensers. There was another Lawrence Spenser, who had four children born between 1564 and 1575, and who himself died in September, 1593. Lawrence was the name given by the poet to his second son.


There was another Spenser-John-at Downham, on the other side of Pendle Hill, who had a son, Richard, and a brother, Henry, and whose will was dated February, 1611. There was a Robert Spenser in Habergham Eaves or Ightenhill Park, who, in some litigation about property, is found making common cause with Edmund Spenser, the elder, of Hurstwood, who died in 1587. There was a John Spenser, of Habergham Eaves, who was a witness, in 1586, to that Edmund Spenser's will. There were Spensers, also one of them an Edmund— living in the town of Burnley.

There can be no doubt that these Spensers were the poet's kith and kin, and it is fair to look for his nearest kindred among those who favoured more especially the name of Edmund. It was a very frequent Christian name among them.

There was Edmund Spenser, of Habergham Eaves, who died eight years after Edmund Spenser the poet.

Of the poet's own birth there is no record. He was born in or about the year 1552, and the oldest parish register at

Burnley does not begin until ten years later.
But he was born, probably, in a part of London

where his baptism would have been recorded in the books of a church destroyed by the great fire of 1666. Dr. Grosart probably is right in his conjecture that the poet's father was John Spenser, a younger brother of the Edmund Spenser, of Hurstwood, who died in April, 1587. This John Spenser, as a younger brother, having no land to inherit, appears to have learnt a trade and lived in London as a clothworker. In the records of the Merchant Taylors' Company there is a John Spenser, described as a free journeyman in the art or mystery of clothmaking, who was, in October, 1566, in the service of Nicholas Peele, shierman, of Bow Lane. Edmund Spenser, the poet, was a poor scholar at Merchant Taylors' School, which he left in 1569, nine years after the school had been established.

The Poet's

There were only two other Spensers on the books of the company, and neither of these could have been father to a boy aided as poor. There was a wealthy Nicholas Spenser, who was Warden of the Company in the year when Edmund was admitted to the school as a poor scholar. There was also on the books of the Merchant Taylors' Company a John Spenser who was of a Suffolk family. He went to Oxford and there became, in 1607, the President of Corpus Christi College.

There was a John Spenser, described as the son of “ John Spenser, gent.," admitted as a scholar to Merchant Taylors' School in August, 1571. He went on to Cambridge, and was sent, like Edmund, to Pembroke Hall. It is not unlikely that this John was the poet's younger brother, sent to school in London three years later, when their father had acquired a business of his own.

Until some document, yei undiscovered, shall give certain evidence of Spenser's parentage, these reasonable conjectures may be taken as, at any rate, in full agreement with all facts that have been ascertained. We may assume, also, as most probable that when the young poet went to Lancashire he was, for the chief part of the time, guest of his uncle Edmund and aunt Margaret at Hurstwood, where there were two cousins John, who may, possibly, both have been named after the yeoman's younger brother. Hurstwood is about two miles from Townley Hall, three miles from Burnley, and six or seven from Todmorden.

Of the date of Spenser's birth there is no evidence except that which may be inferred from one of his sonnets, and supported by reference to the time of his entering and leaving college.

The sixtieth sonnet is one written, as its place in the sequence shows, at the close of the year before that in which Spenser was married. It is known that he was married in 1594; the sonnet, therefore, was written at the end of the

Birth Date.

year 1593. The sixty-second sonnet is on New Year's Day. The sixtieth sonnet speaks of a year's love-suit,

" The which doth longer unto me appear

Than all the forty which my life outwent.”.

Take this literally, and the deduction of that one year's love-suit brings us to the end of the year 1592, from which a deduction of forty brings us to the suggested birth date, 1552. But poetry is not chronology ; forty may also be taken as the round number that came nearest to the truth. Thirty-seven, eight, or nine; forty-one, two, or three ; could not have been the number used in such a context.* But as Spenser went to college in May, 1569, he would then have been in his seventeenth year if born in 1552 ; and as he went from Merchant Taylors' School and entered as a sizar, he would hardly have gone at a much earlier or at a

If he wrote in the same year the pieces of verse translation ascribed to him in the English version of van

later age.

* This is the Sonnet :

“ They that in course of heavenly Spheres are skilled

To every planet point his sundry year
In which her circle's voyage is fulfilled, -

As Mars in threescore years does run his Sphere :

So, since the wingéd god his planet clear
Began in me to move, one year is spent

The which doth longer unto me appear
Than all those sorty which my life outwent.-
Then, by that count which lovers' books invent,

The Sphere of Cupid forty years contains,
Which I have wasted in long languishment

That seemed the longer for my greater pains.
But let my Love's fair Planet short her ways
This year ensuing, or else short my days.”

Spenser, it will be observed, speaks here of his long languishment,” not in the forty years before the one, but in the one that he had found by love's arithmetic to be equal to forty.

der Noodt's “Theatre for Worldlings,” he could not well have been more than a year younger—that is to say, in his sixteenth year. The birth-date, therefore, if not 1552, was probably 1553 rather than 1550, 1551, or 1554.

Spenser himself, in his “ Prothalamion,” names London as his place of birth

" At length they all to mery London came,
To mery London, my most kyndly Nurse,
That to me gaue this Lifes first natiue sourse.”

William Camden also said that Edmund Spenser was a Londoner. The tradition that he was born in East Smithfield, near the Tower, reaches us through two writers of

Birthplace. the eighteenth century, William Oldys and George Vertue. Oldys (who died in 1761) wrote in East Smithfield" as a marginal note to the date of Spenser's birth, in Winstanley's “ Lives of the most famous English Poets.” George Vertue wrote, in 1731, in his “Notes on the Life and Poems of Spenser,"* _“East Smithfield, near the Tower, the birthplace of Edmund Spenser, that Famous Poet and our Second Chaucer. This printed in Latin and English at the bottom of a Large Map of London graved by Hollar, published 1647; or rather Perspective View of London." There is no such inscription printed on that map. Vertue could only have seen it as it had been printed in manuscript by some unknown person at any time between 1647 and 1731 ; and the same note made by an unknown writer on the margin of Hollar's map may have been the authority for Oldys's note on the margin of Winstanley's book. But the tradition may have reached Oldys in some other way. In London, then, Spenser certainly was born. His friend Gabriel Harvey sets him down as of London, in the county of Middlesex ; so that he was not born on the Surrey side of the Thames. But as to the part of London in which he

* In Additional MS. 23,089, in the British Museum.

« PreviousContinue »