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SPENSER was born in London (see lines 128-30 of the following poem) in the year 1552; but his family seems to have belonged to Lancashire. It was connected with the Spencers of Althorpe in Northamptonshire; he dedicates various poems to his lady cousins of that house. Nothing is known of his earlier years. In 1569 he went up to Cambridge University, to Pembroke Hall (now College), as a sizar. .In that same year were published, without his name, certain verses of his, translations from the Italian of Petrarch and the French of Du Bellay. At College he became acquainted with Gabriel Harvey and others who were subsequently of note. It is certain that he was a zealous student, and acquired a considerable knowledge of Latin and Greek literature, especially of Plato's writings; but, perhaps fortunately for the world, he was not elected to a Fellowship, and so, on taking his M.A. degree, ceased to reside in Cambridge. For about a year he lived amongst his relations in Lancashire. During this period he fell deep in love with a lady whom in his poems he calls "Rosalind," but she preferred one "Menalcas" to him.
In 1578 he quitted the North for Penshurst, Sir Philip Sidney's residence, and for London, where Sidney introduced him to his uncle, the Earl of Leicester. In the following year he published his Shepheards Calendar; from that time he took his place among the chief poets of his day. In 1580 he was appointed Secretary to Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In Ireland he spent the rest of his life, two visits and a flight to England excepted. In 1581 he was appointed Clerk of Degrees and Recognizances in the Irish Court of Chancery, a post which he held seven years, when he was appointed Clerk to the Council of Munster. He probably lived at Dublin till he received the latter appointment, when, no doubt, he removed into Cork county, perhaps straight to the old castle so intimately associated with his name-to Kilcolman Castle. During all these years he was composing his great poem, the Faerie Queene. Sir Walter Raleigh, who visited him in 1589, persuaded him to accompany him to London, that he might publish the first three books. These books appeared in 1590, and won great applause. In 1591 he received a grant of land in the South of Ireland. This land was the estate on which he had, probably, been already residing. It was part of the forfeited Desmond estates. To it he returned, probably, towards the close of the year in which it became his own. He now proceeded with his great work. Probably about this time, being now a man of some substance, he resigned his Munster Council Clerkship. He seems to have been troubled by lawsuits urged by natives who denied and withstood his claims to certain properties. In the summer of 1594 he married one Elizabeth, probably the daughter of some neighbour settler, after a prolonged and almost desperate courtship. In 1596 he again visited England, and published the second three books of the Faerie Queene. In greater honour than ever, he returned to Ireland, purposing, no doubt, to resume and complete his yet but half-concluded labour. This purpose was fulfilled but to a very slight In 1598 a furious insurrection, by no means the first or the last, was made by the
Irish. Spenser's castle was fired. It was all he could do to escape with his wife and children; indeed, according to Ben Jonson, as reported by Drummond, one little child was left behind. In the beginning of the year 1599, in a state of great mental, if not other distress, he died in King Street, Westminster. He was buried in the neighbouring Abbey, not far from his great predecessor Chaucer.
Spenser was not only a great poet himself, but in a singular degree was the cause—that is, the immediate cause-of poetry in others. He did not, of course, make his readers poets, but in those of them who were so by nature he awakened a sense of their powers. In some such sense Milton, Thomson, Keats, and many others, called him father.
He was not a poet of the dramatic sort, as were Chaucer and Shakspere; he had little or no sense of humour. He was a poet of conscious moral purposes; also of abstract thoughts rather than of embodiments. His persona are rather virtues, ideas, essences, than living and breathing creatures of flesh and blood. As a poet, he lives and moves in a high, pure, spiritual world, wrapt in the contemplation of beauty and love, and other such fair existences.
The melody of his versification is especially remarkable. In a longer poem the incessant sweetness of his lines is apt to be somewhat cloying; in a shorter one, especially when he writes in a bright happy mood, as in his Epithalamium, the effect is delightful.
Though he was but ten years senior to Shakspere, his language is comparatively obsolete. This is because in some respects he belonged to the age which was ending rather than to the great Elizabethan æra. The subject he chose for his great work drew him into the midst of the old times of chivalry, and the literature that belonged to them. With such a subject the older forms of the language seemed to consort better. To him too, perhaps, as to Virgil, the older words and word-forms seemed to give elevation and dignity. Moreover, an older dialect was probably to some extent his vernacular, as he had probably passed his youth in Lancashire. Lastly, the only great poet who had preceded him, his great model, the Tityrus of whom he his songs did lere," was Chaucer. To him Chaucer's language may have seemed the one language of English poetry.
THIS is the last complete poem written by Spenser that is now extant. It was written and published towards the end of the year 1596, after the Earl of Essex's return from Spain. In that same year he published his Hymns to Heavenlie Love and Heavenlie Beauty.
There is no such word in Greek or Latin as "Prothalamium." The word for a marriagesong is Epithalamium-that which is sung at the bridal-chamber door. But this is no such song, but rather one in honour of a meeting of the happy pair-pairs in this case-before the bridal day has fully come. In Greece, and probably in Rome, a Hymenæan song was sung as the bridal procession moved along from the bride's house to that of the bridegroom (a custom as early as Homer's time; see Iliau, xviii. 493): in Rome this song was called Talasius, or Talassio; but this song does not answer to that, or one of those. Probably Spenser invented the word to express his purpose. The "Pro" may have a temporal force; and the whole word mean " the song that preceded the nuptials." He himself calls it "a Spousall verse."
The happy pairs were "the two honourable and vertuous ladies the Lady Elizabeth and the Lady Catherine Somerset" (see 1. 67) on the one hand, on the other "the two worthie gentlemen Mr. Henry Gilford and Mr. William Peter, Esquyers."
The text is here printed faithfully from the original edition, except that in 1. 12 "the" is read for "he."
See on this word Max Müller's Lect. on
1. 3. spirit. Here, perhaps, in its radical sense. the Science of Language, 2d Series, Lect. viii. [What is meant by lightly here?] delay =
retard, impede; and so, virtually, ward off.
See Class. Dict.
fayre. In Anglo-Saxon, adverbs were sometimes but cases of nouns or adjectives specially used. All cases but the nominative were in fact so used; but perhaps the case most commonly employed was the dative. The e at the end of fayre here is perhaps the e of the dative case used adverbially. This e had in Spenser's time lost both its sound and its meaning; then, as now, ly was the usual adverbial sign; so that what was really an adverb For an instance of the old usage, see Chaucer, passed for an adjective adverbially used. Prol. 94:
glyster. Gold Fishes:
"Well cowde he sitte on hors and faire ryde."
Gray uses this form in his lines "On a favourite Cat drowned in a Tub of
"Know one false step is ne'er retrieved . . .
5. It will be observed that the verb afflict in this sentence has two objects, viz. whom and my bruyne. It has been proposed to read whose for whom; but this is quite unnecessary. The latter object may be taken as in fact defining the former, and so standing in a sort of apposition to it. Or, the whom may be taken as used in a loose conjunctival way, as is no uncommon in Elizabethan English; eg. Shakspere's Winter's Tale, V. i. 136:
Though bearing misery, I desire my life
Venus and Adonis, 935:
"Who when he lived, his breath and beauty set
See Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar, § 115.
6. See Spenser's Life. It is mentioned there that an estate was given him in Ireland; but it was evidently surrounded with discomforts, and its position of course cut him off from the brilliant society and life of the time. No wonder he sought other preferment. Murmurs like that in this stanza are common in his poems. See below, 1. 140, and Mother Hubberds Tale, 11. 905-18.
Mention any other forces it may have.]
8. [What is the force of of here? 11. Silver streaming Themmes. See a fuller picture of the Thames in the Faerie Queene, B. IV. cant. xi., where his marriage with the Medway is described. Denham, too, mentions its extreme clearness, ironically it might seem to us; see Cooper's Hill:
"O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
Though deep yet clear, though gentle yet not dull,
rooty, and so fruitful, flower-producing.
the which: so below, 1. 47, &c. Which is partly adjectival in its nature. Etymologically it who like. The very oldest form in which it is found-i.e. its Gothic form-is hvêleiks. Compare Anglo-Saxon hwylc, Old Frisian hwelik, the Scotch quhilk. Thus it answers to the Latin qualis, and the Greek πnλixos, rather than to qui and ős. Therefore it can be used with the article, as other adjectives in English can be. We may say the who-like [which] person," just as we say, "the like person," or, "the Cæsar-like person." This adjectival usage with "which" still prevailed when its etymology was quite forgotten, and the word had come to be used as if it was but a various form of 'who.' It has almost entirely died out now, which having come to be used as the neuter of who.