1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Wordsworth

Charles Lamb to William Wordsworth, 1 February 1806; Works of Charles Lamb, ed. Lucas (1903-05) 6:332-35.



I have seen the Books you ordered, booked at the White Horse Inn, Cripplegate, by the Kendal waggon this day 1st Febr. 1806; you will not fail to see after them in time. They are directed to you at Grasmere. We have made some alteration in the Editions since your sister's directions. The handsome quarto Spencer which she authorised Mary to buy for 2. 12. 6, when she brought it home in triumph proved to be only the Fairy Queen: so we got them to take it again and I have procured instead a Folio, which luckily contains, beside all the Poems, the view of the State of Ireland, which is difficult to meet with.... A propos of Spencer (you will find him mentioned a page or two before, near enough for an a propos), I was discoursing on Poetry (as one's apt to deceive onesself, and when a person is willing to talk of what one likes, to believe that he also likes the same: a Lovers do) with a Young Gentleman of my office who is deep read in Anacreon Moore, Lord Strangford, and the principle Modern Poets, and I happen'd to mention Epithalamiums and that I could shew him a very fine one of Spencer's. At the mention of this, my Gentleman, who is a very fine Gentleman, and is brother to the Miss Evans who Coleridge so narrowly escaped marrying, pricked up his ears and exprest great pleasure, and begged that I would give him leave to copy it: he did not care how long it was (for I objected to the length), he should be very happy to see any thing by him. Then pausing, and looking sad, he ejaculated POOR SPENCER! I begged to know the reason of his ejaculation, thinking that Time had by this time softened down any calamities which the Bard might have endured — "Why, poor fellow!" said he, "he has lost his wife!" "Lost his wife?" said I. "Who are you speaking of?" "Why, Spencer," said he, "I've read the Monody he wrote on the occasion, and a very pretty thing it is." This led to an explanation (it could be delay'd no longer) that the sound Spencer, which when poetry is talk'd of generally excites an image of an old Bard in a Ruff, and sometimes with it dim notions of Sir P. Sidney and perhaps Lord Burleigh, had raised in my Gentleman a quite contrary image of The Honourable William Spencer, who has translated some things from the German very prettily, which are publish'd with Lady Di. Beauclerck's Designs.

Nothing like defining of Terms when we talk. What blunders might I have fallen into of quite inapplicable Criticism, but for this timely explanation.

N.B. At the beginning of Edm. Spencer (to prevent mistakes) I have copied from my own copy, and primarily from a book of Chalmers on Shakspear, a Sonnet of Spenser's never printed among his poems. It is curious as being manly and rather Miltonic, and as a Sonnet of Spencer's with nothing in it about Love or Knighthood.