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how could it be (as that worthy orator said) but that, walking in the sun, although for other causes he walked, yet needs he mought be sun-burnt; and, having the sound of these ancient poets still ringing in his ears, he mought needs in singing hit out some of their lunes.” He then goes on at considerable length to defend this practice of the poet, but his defence is not very convincing.
In 1580 Spenser went to Ireland, as secretary to the Viceroy, Lord Grey of Wilton. There he remained, with the exception of two visits to England, for eighteen years, holding various offices and writing the “Faerie Queen," which had been begun ere he quitted England. In 1586 he obtained, by the intercession of his friends, a grant of three thousand acres of land from the forfeited estates of the Earl of Desmond at Kilcolman, near Cork. In this beautiful and romantic district, through wirich flowed the river Mulla which has obtained an eternity of poetic fame by its frequent mention in Spenser's works, he was visited in 1589 by Sir Walter Raleigh, who listened with admiration to the portion of the "Faerie Queen” already written. This visit is thus, in figurative language, commemorated by Spenser :
“One day,' quoth he, “I sate (as was my trade)
Under the foot of Mole, that mountain hoar,
Of the green aiders by the Mulla's shore ;
Whether allured with my pipe's delight,
Or thither led by chance, I know not right;
And how he hight, himself he did ycleepe
And said he came far from the main-sea deep."
In 1590 Spenser accompanied Raleigh to England, carrying with him the three first books of the “Faerie Queen." They were published in that year, and at once received with favour. Elizabeth bestowed on the poet an annual pension of £ so,
Spenser's Personal Characteristics.
no mean sum in the sixteenth century. In 1591 Spenser returned to Ireland, and in the same year appeared a volume of minor poems from his pen, of which the most noticeable is “Mother Hubbard's Tale," a pleasing imitation of Chaucer. In 1595 appeared at different times his “Colin Clour's Come Home Again,” from which the verse above cited is taken, and which describes his voyage to England and his reception there; his “ Amoretti,” love-sonnets which do not add materially to his fame; and his “Epithalamion,” that magnificent marriage song, in which he celebrates in triumphant and richly jewelled verse the successful termination of his wooing. It has been called "the most glorious love-song in the English language,” nor is this praise too high. In the following year, Spenser returned to London and published the last three books of the “ Faerie Queen," and certain minor poems. In 1598 the Irish Rebellion took place ; Spenser's castle was sacked and burned, and he and his household had to fly to England for their lives. He died in London in January 1599, in very destitute circumstances if tradition may be trusted.
His only prose work (if we accept the lucubrations of “E. K.,” the commentator on the “Shepherds' Calendar") was a dialogue entitled “A View of the State of Ireland," written in 1596, but not published till 1633.
Of Spenser's personal characteristics much cannot be said with certainty. It is difficult to believe that he was a happy man; he had none of Chaucer's broad geniality, and could never have described the Canterbury Pilgrims with any approach to dramatic impartiality. That he was vain is proved by the remarks on him put in the mouth of his alter ego, “E. K.," and it is probable that he was proud also. He was an extremely learned poet, acquainted with the best models not only in English, but in Greek, Latin, Italian, and French. His appearance is thus described by Mr. Kitchin in the Clarendon Press edition of the “Faerie Queen:” “Short curling hair, a full moustache, cut after the pattern of Lord Leicester's, close-clipped beard, heavy eyebrows, and under them thoughtsul brown eyes, whose upper eyelids weigh them
dreamiy down ; a long and straight nose, strongly developed, answering to a long and somewhat spare face, with a wellformed sensible-looking forehead; a mouth almost obscured by the moustache, but still showing rather full lips, denoting feeling, well set together, so that the warmth of feeling shall not run riot, with a touch of sadness in them—such is the look of Spenser as his portrait hands it down to us.”
The “Faerie Queen” was intended to have extended to twelve books, but only six books and two cantos were writtenat least that is all which has survived. Whether it is a matter for regret that the poem is incomplete may be disputed. Ardent admirers of the bard who sang of "heavenly Una and her milk-white lamb,” who revel in his luxuriant descriptions and in his “ linked sweetness long drawn out,” who, like Christopher North, find something attractive even in such passages of his as are most repellent to the ordinary mind, may sigh when they think that half of the poetical feast which they might have enjoyed has been denied them. But it may well be doubted whether Spenser's popularity among readers in general would not have been diminished had the “Faerie
Queen" extended to twelve books. Macaulay expressed the opinion of thousands when he said, "One unpardonable fault, the fault of tediousness, pervades the whole of the 'Fairy Queen.' We become sick of cardinal virtues and deadly sins, and long for the society of plain men and women. Of the persons who read the first canto not one in ten reaches the end of the first book, and not one in a hundred perseveres to the end of the poem. Very few and very weary are those who are in at the death of the Blatant Beast. If the last six books, which are said to have been destroyed in Ireland, had been preserved, we doubt whether any heart less stout than that of a commentator would have held out to the end." This extract (which proves that Macaulay, indefatigable reader though he was, had not been able to hold out to the end of the “ Faerie Queen,” for the Blatant Beast does not die) doubtless appears to those whose admiration of Spenser's beauties blinds them to a sense of his faults, one of the many
The “ Faerie Queen."
proofs of Macaulay's deficiencies as a literary critic. Nevertheless the majority of readers will agree that in this instance Macaulay was substantially right. Books are written to be read; and surely a poem, which many who love poetry can with difficulty finish, is liable to the charge of tediousness. Now tediousness is so serious a fault that it needs many surpassing excellences to compensate for it. These excellences Spenser possesses. Perhaps no poet ever had so truly poetical a spirit—the power of viewing everything in a poetical light. " His command of imagery," writes Campbell, "is wide, easy, and luxuriant. He threw the soul of harmony into our verse, and made it more warmly, tenderly, and magnificently descriptive than it ever was before, or, with a few exceptions, than it has ever been since. It must certainly be owned that in description he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes and robust power which characterise the very greatest poets, but we shall nowhere find more airy and expansive images of visionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, or a finer flush in the colours of language than in this Rubens of English poetry.”
If we wish fully to understand the “Faerie Queen," and to appreciate Spenser's mode of literary workmanship, we must note carefully the allegory which runs through the poem. This is no easy task, for not only are virtues and vices personified, but the personifications are made also to represent personages of Spenser's time, whom he wished to compliment or the reverse. Fortunately, however, the beauties of the poem may be felt though the allegory is disregarded, and perhaps the best advice to give to one reading Spenser for the first time is to let the allegory alone altogether. Spenser is a poet to be read leisurely: we must fully surrender ourselves to his spell before we can feel its power; and nothing is more apt to break the spell than to pause in the middle of some fine passage and endeavour to find out, either from commen. lators or from one's own resources, what Spenser meant to typify in the passage, and what living character, if any, was therein personified. Impatient readers, who wish for some
thing clear and definite, must seek for it elsewhere than in the shadowy dreamland of the “Faerie Queen.”
To the fastidious critics of Queen Anne's time, to whom “correctness” and good taste seemed the highest virtues of poetry, Spenser, if they read him at all, must have proved a terrible stumbling-block. Keen as was his sense of beauty, he sometimes draws pictures which, to present-day readers at any rate, are intolerably repulsive. Such are his description of Error, and, in an even higher degree, the picture of Duessa unmasked. Burke is said to have admired the former, disgusting though it be, and in his old age repeated it to Sir James Mackintosh as reminding him “ of that putrid carcase, that mother of all evil, the French Revolution.” That Burke should have been fond of the passage appears le-s singular when we remember that his own speeches are now and again stained by similar violations of good taste.
The language of the “Faerie Queen," like that of the “Shepherd's Calendar,” is more archaic than that in general use at the time when it was written. The antique phraseology employed is not displeasing in a poem of the kind; perhaps upon the whole it rather adds to its attractiveness. The metre in which it is written, the “Spenserian stanza,” as it is called, has been employed by so many great poets in great poems as to conclusively prove how admirably it is adapted for certain kinds of metrical effect. It is the stanza adopted by Thomson in the “Castle of Indolence;" by Burns in the “Cottar's Saturday Night;" by Campbell in “ Gertrude of Wyoming;" by Scott in “Don Roderick ;" by Wordsworth in the “ Female Vagrant;" by Shelley in the "Revolt of Islam;" by Keats in the “ Eve of St. Agnes ;” and by Byron in “Childe Harold."
Spenser's patron, Sir Philip Sidney, may be taken as a typical example of all that was greatest and best among the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth.
Handsome in appearance, richly cultivated in mind, a proficient in all manly exercises, of unimpeachable courage, and great skill in the management of affairs, he was regarded by the aspiring young noblemen of his time as a model whom they would do well to emulate;