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That, to hear her so complain,
Ah! (thought I,) thou mourn'st in vain;
Senseless trees they can not hear thee,
Ruthless bears they will not cheer thee:
King Pandion he is dead;
All thy friends are lapp'd in lead;
All thy fellow-birds do sing,
Is no friend in misery.
Words are easy, like the wind;
Faithful friends are hard to find.
Every man will be thy friend
While thou hast wherewith to spend:
It must be remembered, that this was the age when collections of fugitive and miscellaneous poems first became common in England. Several volumes of this kind, published in the reign of Elizabeth, contain poems of high merit without any author's name attached to them; and, therefore, it is not remarkable that the last two poems introduced, should have been so long attributed to Raleigh and Shakspeare.
The miscellaneous poets of the reign of Elizabeth thus far noticed, bring us down to Spenser, whose genius is one of the peculiar glories of that romantic age.
EDMUND SPENSER was of an ancient though poor family, and was bor in the city of London, in 1553. From the circumstances of his parents it .
difficult to conjecture how he obtained his preparation for admission into the university; but it is certain that in May, 1569, he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge, as a charity student, and there continued until 1576, when he took his master's degree. His design evidently was to remain permanently attached to the university, and with this view, immediately after he was graduated, he made every effort that his limited resources would permit, to obtain a fellowship. But having neither friends nor influential patrons to make interest for him, he was disappointed in this important object, in consequence of which he accepted an invitation from some distant relatives in the north of England, to take up his residence with them until his future prospects should, in some degree, become determined.
While residing in the North, Spenser formed an attachment for a young lady whom he designates as Rosalind, and whose attractive beauty and graces first inspired his muse. To win her favor he composed his Shepherd's Calender, a pastoral poem, in twelve eclogues, one for each month, but without strict keeping as to natural description and rustic character, and deformed by a number of obsolete uncouth phrases; yet containing traces of a superior original genius. The fable of the Oak and Brier is finely told; and in verses like the following we see the germ of that tuneful harmony and pensive reflection in which the author afterward so remarkably excelled:
You naked buds, whose shady leaves are lost,
All so my lustful life is dry and sere,
My timely buds with wailing all are wasted;
The fair Rosalind, however, preferred a less poetical rival, and Spenser soon after left the country and repaired to London, there to seek his fortune in the midst of the more busy scenes of life. To this step he was induced by Gabriel Harvey, a fellow-student at Cambridge, and by whom he was introduced to Sir Philip Sidney, one of the very diamonds of her majesty's court. Sir Philip being himself a man of wit and polite accomplishments, immediately became sensible of Spenser's merit, and so long as that nobleman remained at court, the poet never wanted a judicious friend, nor a generous patron. In gratitude for Sidney's kindness, Spenser now revised and published the 'Shepherd's Calender,' with an appropriate dedication to
The 'Shepherd's Calender' appeared in 1579, and such was its popularity that even royalty itself smiled upon its author, and Spenser was raised to
the Laureate. This, however, he soon found to be but an empty honor, and he was accordingly left, for some years, to pine over his penury and neglect, though in constant attendance at court. While thus circumstanced he composed and published Mother Hubbard's Tale, which appeared in 1581, and which contains the following picture of the aggravations attending the life of disappointment and mortification which he then led:
Full little knowest thou that hast not tried,
To lose good days that might be better spent;
Spenser was, however, during this period, occasionally employed or inferior state missions, and thus his immediate necessities were supplied; but at length he received an important and lucrative appointment. Lord Grey of Wilton was sent to Ireland as lord-deputy, and Spenser accompanied him in the capacity of secretary. They remained in that country two years, when the deputy was recalled, and the poet also returned to England. In June, 1586, Spenser obtained, from the crown, three thousand and twentyeight acres in the county of Cork, out of the forfeited lands of the Earl of Desmond. One of the conditions of the grant was, that the poet should reside upon his estate, and he accordingly repaired to Ireland, and took up his abode in Kilcolman Castle, near Doneraile, which had been one of the ancient strongholds of the Earl of Desmond. Spenser's castle stood in the midst of a large plain, by the side of a lake; the river Mulla ran through his grounds, and a chain of mountains at a distance seemed to bulwark in the romantic retreat. To this castle he introduced, soon after it was repaired, the 'Elizabeth' of his sonnets, as its future mistress, and welcomed her with that noble strain of pure and fervent passion, which he has styled the Epithalamium, and which forms the most magnificent 'spousal verse' in the language. The following passages from this gem of poetry, show that the poem itself needs no farther comment:
Wake now, my love, awake; for it is time;
All ready to her silver coach to climb;
And Phoebus 'gins to show his glorious head.
Hark! now the cheerful birds do chant their lays,
The merry lark her matins sings aloft;
The thrush replies; the marvis descant plays;
The ouzel shrills; the ruddock warbles soft;
So goodly all agree, with sweet consent,
To this day's merriment.
Ah! my dear love, why do you sleep thus long,
For they of joy and pleasance to you sing,
That all the woods them answer and their echo ring.
My love is now awake out of her dream,
And her fair eyes, like stars that dimmed were
But first come, ye fair Hours, which were begot,
And ye three handmaids of the Cyprian Queen,
Help to adorn my beautifullest bride:
And, as ye her array, still throw between
Some graces to be seen;
And as ye use to Venus, to her sing,
The whiles the woods shall answer, and your echo ring.
Open the temple gates unto my love,
That cometh in to you
With trembling steps, and humble reverence,
Of her, ye virgins, learn obedience,
When so ye come into those holy places,
To humble your proud faces :
Bring her up to the high altar, that she may,
The sacred ceremonies there partake,
And let the roaring organs loudly play
The praises of the Lord in lively notes;
The whiles, with hollow throats,
The choristers the joyous anthem sing,
That all the woods may answer, and their echo ring.
Behold, while she before the altar stands,
That even the angels, which continually
Forget their service and about her fly,
Oft peeping on her face, that seems more fair,
But her sad eyes, still fastened on the ground,
That suffers not a look to glance awry,
Which may let in a little thought unsound.
Why blush you, love, to give to me your hand,
The pledge of all our band?
Sing, ye sweet angels, alleluya sing
That all the woods may answer, and your echo ring.
Kilcolman Castle is now a ruin, but the spot must ever remain dear to every lover of genius. It was there that Spenser wrote the Faery Queen, and there also he received the visit of Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1589, when, in the figurative language of the poet himself, the two illustrious friends, while reading the manuscript of that poem, sat
Amongst the coolly shade,
Of the green alders, by the Mulla's shore.
We may easily conceive the transports of delight with which Raleigh listened to those strains of chivalry and gorgeous description, which revealed to him a land still brighter than any that he had seen in his distant wanderings, or could have been present even to his own romantic imagination. When Raleigh left Kilcolman Castle to return to England, he persuaded Spenser to accompany him thither, that the poem might be published without unnecessary delay. The first, the second, and the third books of the 'Faery Queen,' accordingly, appeared in January, 1590, and was dedicated to the Queen in that strain of adulation which was the fashion of the age. Elizabeth was so much pleased with the work, that she settled upon the author an annual pension of fifty pounds, and Spenser returned to Ireland to complete his great design. The original plan of the Faery Queen embraced twelve books, and in 1596, Spenser having completed the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth, again visited London for the purpose of superintending their publication. The remaining six books, it is not probable, were ever written, though the story was long rife that they were committed, by the author, to the care of a servant to convey them to his publishers in London, and were, through carelessness, lost on the way.
At the time of the publication of the second part of the 'Faery Queen,' Spenser had resided in Ireland ten years, and during the whole of that period the Irish people had been very restive under English oppression. Rebellion after rebellion succeeding each other, the spirit of revolt finally reached Munster. The insurgents attacked Kilcolman, and having first robbed and plundered the castle, then set fire to it. Spenser and his wife escaped; but either in the confusion incident to such a calamity, or from inability to render assistance, an infant child of the poet was left behind,