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“in the raw conceit of youth,” it shows the touch of his mature years. No doubt it expresses his own bitter experi
“ Full little knowest thou that hast not tried
What hell it is in suing long to abide;
The first three books of the “Faery Queene” were published in 1590, and were received with an outburst of applause. Spenser took rank as the first of living poets. “ The admiration of this great poem,” says
was unanimous and enthusiastic. No academy had been trained to carp at his genius with minute cavilling; no recent popularity, no traditional fame (for Chaucer was rather venerated than much in the hands of the reader) interfered with the immediate recognition of his supremacy.
The 'Faery Queene' became at once the delight of every accomplished gentleman, the model of every poet, and the solace of every scholar.” Spenser remained in London about a year in the enjoyment of his newly-won reputation, and in the pursuit of preferment. But in the latter he was disappointed, and returned to Ireland, as we have seen, with a feeling of resentment toward the manners and morals of the court.
In 1594 he married a lady by the name of Elizabeth — her family name remaining uncertain. In his “ Amoretti, or Sonnets,” he describes the beginning and progress of his affection.
These sonnets are interesting, not only for their purity and delicacy of feeling, but also for the light they throw on the poet's life. Whatever may have been the real character of the Irish maiden he celebrates, in the poems she is idealized into great beauty. It was only after a protracted suit that the poet met with encouragement and was able to say,
* After long storms' and tempests' sad assay,
All pains are nothing in respect of this;
The marriage, which took place in 1594, was celebrated in
Epithalamion,” which ranks as the noblest bridal song ever written.
In 1596 Spenser wrote his “ View of the State of Ireland,” which shows, not the poet's hand, but that of a man of affairs. It is rigorous in policy and inexorable in spirit. He sees but one side of the subject. After an elaborate review of the history, character, and institutions of the Irish, which are pronounced full of “evil usages," he lays down his plan of pacification. Garrison Ireland with an adequate force of infantry and cavalry; give the Irish twenty days to submit; and after that time, hunt down the rebels like wild beasts. “ If they be well followed one winter, ye shall have little work to do with them the next summer.” Famine would complete the work of the sword; and in less than two years, Spenser thought, the country would be peaceful and open to English colonists. Sub
mission or externination this was the simple solution of the Irish problem he proposed. "Bloody and cruel” he recog. nized it to be; but holding the utter subjugation of Ireland necessary to the preservation of English power and the Protestant religion, he would not draw back "for the sight of any such rueful object as must thereupon follow."
In 1598 Spenser was appointed sheriff of Cork: and Tyrone's rebellion breaking out soon afterward, Kilcolman Castle was sacked and burned. The poet and his wife escaped with difficulty, and it is probable that their youngest child, who was left behind, perished in the flames. In 1599 Spenser, overcome by misfortunes, died in a common London inn, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, near the tomb of his master, Chaucer. His life was full of disappointment. He never obtained the preferment to which he aspired, and he felt his failure with all the keenness of sensitive genius. And yet, under different and happier circumstances, his great natural gifts would probably not have borne such rich fruitage.
All that we know of Spenser is of good report. He had the esteem and friendship of the best people of his time; he was faithful in his attachments, and irreproachable in his outward life. In his comparative seclusion he was able to forget the hard realities of his lot, and to dwell much of the time in an ideal world ; and the poetic creations, which he elaborated in the quietude of Kilcolman Castle, had the good fortune to gain immediate and hearty recognition. He has been aptly styled “the poet's poet;" and it is certain that his writings, especially the “Faery Queene,” have been a perennial source of inspiration and power to his successors. Pope read him in his old age with the same zest as in his youth. Dryden looked up to him as master; and Milton called him “
our sage and serious poet, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas."
As already stated, the first three books of the “Faery Queene” were published in 1590. Three more books appeared in 1596 — an interval that indicates the conscientious labor Spenser bestowed upon his productions. The plan of the work contemplated no fewer than twelve books; but in its present incomplete state it is one of the longest poems in the language. There is a tradition that three unpublished books were burned in the destruction of Kilcolman Castle, but it is probably without foundation. The “Faery Queene” is Spenser's master-piece. Keenly sympathizing with all the great interests and movements of his time, he embodied in this work his noblest thoughts and feelings. Here his genius had full play, and attained the highest results of which it was capable. In this poem the Elizabethan age is reflected in all its splendor.
The stanza of the poem was the poet's own invention, and properly bears his name. It is singularly melodious and effective, and has since been made the medium of some of the finest poetry in our language. Though somewhat difficult in its structure, Spenser handled it with masterly ease and skill, and poured forth his treasures of description, narrative, reflection, feeling, and fancy, without embarrassment.
The poem is itself an allegory, a form that the poet took some pains to justify. In a prefatory letter addressed to Raleigh, the author fully explains his plan, and makes clear what would otherwise have remained obscure. “ The generall end, therefore, of all the booke,” he says, “is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline. Which for that I conceived shoulde be most plausible and pleasing, beeing coloured with an historicall fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for varietie of matter than for profit of the ensample : I chose the historie of King Arthure, as most fit for the excellencie of his person, beeing made famous by many men's former works, and also furthest from the danger of envie, and suspicion of present time.” Prince Arthur is the central figure of the poem, in whose person, Spenser says, “I sette forth magnificence in particular, which vertue, for that (according to Aristotle and the rest) is the perfection of all the rest and containeth in it them all, therefore in the whole course I mention the deeds of Arthure appliable to that vertue, which I write of in that booke.”
By magnificence Spenser meant magnanimity, which, according to Aristotle, contains all the moral virtues. Twelve other knights are made the representatives or patrons of so many separate virtues. The Knight of the Red Cross represents holiness ; Sir Guyon, temperance ; Britomartis, a lady knight, chastity; and so on. But the allegory is double. In addition to the abstract moral virtues, the leading characters represent contemporary persons. The Faery Queene stands for the glory of God in general, and for Queen Elizabeth in particular ; Arthur for magnanimity, and also for the Earl of Leicester; the Red Cross Knight for holiness, and also for the model Englishman; Una for truth, and also for the Protestant Church ; Duessa for falsehood, and also for the Roman Church, etc. But in this second part of the allegory a close resemblance is not to be expected, as flattery often guides the poet's pen or warps his judgment. While an acquaintance with the allegory is necessary for a complete understanding of the poem, it adds perhaps but little to the interest of perusal. The poem possesses an intrinsic interest as a narrative of adventure ; and our sympathy with the actual personages moving before us causes us to lose sight of their typical character.
The “Faery Queene,” it must be confessed, is defective in construction. Spenser intended to follow the maxim of Horace and the example of Homer and Virgil by plunging into the midst of his story; but he failed in his purpose, and a prose introduction, in the shape of a letter to Raleigh, became necessary to understand the poem. “ The methode of a poet historicall is not such as of an historiographer. For an historiographer discourseth of affaires orderly as they were done, accounting as well the times as the actions ; but a poet thrusteth into the middest, even where it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to the things forepast, and divining of things to come, maketh a pleasing analysis of all. The beginning, therefore, of my historie, if it were to be told by an historiographer,