1580
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To my long approoved and singular good Frende, Master G. H.

Three Proper, and Wittie, Familiar Letters: Lately passed betweene two Universitie Men: touching the Earthquake in Aprill last, and our English refourmed Versifying. With the Preface of a Wellwiller to them both.

Edmund Spenser


Edmund Spenser discusses quantitative verse with Gabriel Harvey, comments on his work in progress, and asks for criticism of his Faerie Queene. Gabriel Harvey was not initially impressed with what would become Spenser's major work. The circumstances by which these letters found their way into print is uncertain; Spenser and Harvey, writing anonymously, may have been trying to attract attention from Sir Philip Sidney and his literary circle. Harvey may have altered the letters considerably. The book was published anonymously.

Thomas Birch: "We find by another Letter of his to Mr. HARVEY, in the Beginning of April 1580, that he was then in London, where he mentions the Earthquake, which happen'd on the 6th of that Month, and 'overthrew,' as he observes, 'divers old Buildings and Pieces of Churches.' In this Letter he seems fond of the Project, then countenanc'd by his Friends Mr. SIDNEY, and Mr. EDWARD DYER, Author of several Poems, afterwards Knighted, and Chancellor of the Garter, of forming the English Versification upon the Feet and Measures of the Latin Poetry.... He mentions his Dreams and Dying Pelican as fully finish'd, and presently to be printed, and that he should immediately apply himself again to his Fairy Queen, which he desir'd his Friend to return to him with all Expedition, together with his long-expected Judgment upon it.... His Dreams abovemention'd were never publish'd under that Title; but as we find in a Letter of Mr. HARVEY to him, that they had some Resemblance to Petrarch's Visions, it is probable they are the same, which were afterwards printed under the several Titles of Visions of the World's Vanity, Bellay's Visions, and Petrarch's Visions" Life of Spenser, in Faerie Queene (1751) 1:xi-xii.

Walter Scott: "We perceive from thence, that Spenser had busied himself in the fruitless and unharmonious task of versifying as it was then called, that is, of composing English verses according to the Latin prosody. He seems, at the same time, to have been fully sensible of the difficulty of the attempt, and we wonder at his perseverance, after the humour with which he describes its effects.... We could hardly have suspected Spenser, the marshalled march of whose stanza is in general so harmonious, of drilling the stubborn and unmanageable words of the English language into such strange doggrel. The verses are truly 'lame and o'erburthened, and screaming their wretchedness'" Review of Todd's Spenser, in Edinburgh Review 7 (October 1805) 204-05.

Thomas James Mathias: "We see from Spenser's letters, that he himself, his friend Mr. Harvey, and Mr. Dyer, one of his patrons, approved of this [hexameter] method and practised it. Mr. Drant (he says) had derived the rules and principles of the art, which were enlarged with Mr. Sydney's own judgment, and augmented with his (Spenser's) Observations. This was in 1580" Works of Thomas Gray, ed. Mathias (1814) 2:17n.

Herbert E. Cory: "The relations of Spenser and Harvey have not been carefully stated. It is probable that we have been overestimating the influence of the self-made dictator on the young poet. It is true that Spenser revered Harvey. He did not, however, share unreservedly his would-be mentor's enthusiasm for classical metres in English; his own experiments seem to have been few and the product of almost whimsical moments. He made restrictions on classical metres in a letter to Harvey where he shows one of his few glimmerings of humour. 'For the onely or chiefest hardness; whyche seemeth, is in the accents; which sometime gapeth, and, as it were yawneth illfavouredly, comming shorts of that it should, and sometimes exceeding the measure of the Number....' And it is to be observed that all Spenser's real efforts were being spent on poems that bristled with rhymes" Critics of Edmund Spenser (1911) 90-91.

George Saintsbury [summarizing the earlier correspondence]: "Spenser's first letter informs Harvey that 'they [Sidney and Dyer] have proclaimed in their [Greek characters — "Areopagus"] [the literary 'cenacle' of Leicester House] a general surceasing and silence of bald rhymers, and also of the very best too: instead whereof they have, by the authority of their whole Senate, prescribed certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse, having had thereof already great practice, and drawn me to their faction.' And later, "I am no more in love with English versifying than with rhyming, which I should have done long since if I would have followed your counsel.' He hints, however, gently, that Harvey's own verses (these coterie writers always keep the name 'verses' for their hybrid abortions) once or twice 'make a breach in Master Drant's rules.' Which was, of course, a very dreadful thing, only to be 'condoned tanto poetae.' He requites Harvey with a few Iambics, which he 'dare warrant precisely perfect for the feet, and varying not one inch from the Rule.' And then follows the well-known piece beginning — 'Unhappy verse, the witness of my unhappy state,' where certainly the state must have been bad if it was as infelicitous as the verse. Not such was Gabriel Harvey that he might take even a polite correction; and his reply is a proper donnish setting-down of a clever but presumptuous youth. He respects the Areopagus — indeed they were persons of worship, and Harvey was a 'roturier' — more than Spenser can or will suppose, and he likes the trimeters (indeed, though poor things, they were Spenser's own after all, and such as no man but Spenser could have written in their foolish kind) more than Spenser 'can or will easily believe.' But — and then follows much reviewing in the now stale hole-picking kind, which has long been abandoned, save by the descendants of Milbourne and Kenrick, and a lofty protestation that 'myself never saw your gorbellied master's rules, nor heard of them before'" History of English Criticism (1911) 48-49.




Good Master H. I doubt not but you have some great important matter in hande, which al this while restraineth youre Penne and wonted readinesse in provoking me unto that wherein your selfe nowe faulte. If there bee any such thing in hatching, I pray you hartily lette us knowe before al the worlde see it. But if happly you dwell altogither in Justinians Courte, and give your selfe to be devoured of secreate Studies, as of all likelyhood you doe, yet at least imparte some your olde or newe, Latine or Englishe, Eloquent and Gallant Poesies to us, from whose eyes, you saye, you keepe in a manner nothing hidden. Little newes is here stirred: but that olde greate matter still depending. His Honoure never better. I thinke the Earthquake was also there wyth you (which I would gladly learne) as it was here with us, overthrowing divers old buildings and peeces of Churches. Sure verye straunge to be hearde of in these Countries, and yet I heare some saye (I knowe not howe truely) that they have knowne the like before in their dayes. Sed quid vobis videtur magnis Philosophis? I like your late English Hexameters so exceedingly well that I also enure my Penne sometime in that kind: whyche I fynd indeede, as I have heard you often defende in worde, neither so harde, nor so harshe, that it will easily and fairely yeelde it selfe to oure Moother tongue. For the onely or chiefest hardnesse, whych seemeth, is in the Accente; whyche sometime gapeth, and, as it were, yawneth ilfavouredly, comming shorte of that it should, and sometime exceeding the measure of the Number, as in Carpenter the middle sillable, being used shorte in speache, when it shall be read long in Verse, seemeth like a lame Gosling that draweth one legge after hir: and Heaven, beeing used shorte as one sillable, when it is in Verse stretched out with a Diastole, is like a lame Dogge that holdes up one legge. But it is to be wonne with Custome, and rough words must be subdued with Use. For why, a Gods name, may not we, as else the Greekes, have the kingdome of oure owne Language, and measure our Accentes by the sounde, reserving the Quantitie to the Verse? Loe, here I let you see my olde use of toying in Rymes turned into your artificial straightnesse of Verse by this Tetrasticon. I beseech you tell me your fancie without parcialitie.

See yee the blindefoulded pretie God, that feathered Archer,
Of Lovers Miseries which maketh his bloodie Game?
Wote ye why his Moother with a Veale hath coovered his Face?
Trust me, least he my Loove happely chaunce to beholde.

Seeme they comparable to those two, which I translated you ex tempore in bed, the last time we lay togither in Westminster?

That which I eate did I joy, and that which I greedily gorged.

As for those many goodly matters leaft I for others.

I would hartily wish you would either send me the Rules and Precepts of Arte, which you observe in Quantities, or else followe mine, that M. Philip Sidney gave me, being the very same which M. Drant devised, but enlarged with M. Sidneys own judgement, and augmented with my Observations, that we might both accorde and agree in one, leaste we overthrowe one an other and be overthrown of the rest. Truste me, you will hardly beleeve what greate good liking and estimation Maister Dyer had of youre Satyricall Verses, and I, since the viewe thereof, having before of my selfe had speciall liking of Englishe Versifying, am even nowe aboute to give you some token, and howe well therein I am able to doe: for, to tell you trueth, I minde shortely at convenient leysure to sette forth a Booke in this kinde, whyche I entitle Epithalamion Thamesis, whyche Booke I dare undertake wil be very profitable for the knowledge and rare for the Invention and manner of handling. For in setting forth the marriage of the Thames I shewe his first beginning and offspring, and all the Countrey that he passeth thorough, and also describe all the Rivers throughout Englande whyche came to this Wedding, and their righte names, and right passage, &c. A worke, beleeve me, of much labour, wherein notwithstanding Master Holinshed hath muche furthered and advantaged me, who therein hath bestowed singular paines in searching oute their firste heades and sources, and also in tracing and dogging oute all their course til they fall into the Sea.

O Tite, siquid ego,
Ecquid erit pretii?

But of that more hereafter. Nowe, my Dreames and Dying Pellicane being fully finished (as I partelye signified in my laste Letters) and presentlye to bee imprinted, I wil in hande forthwith with my Faery Queene, whyche I praye you hartily send me with al expedition; and your frendly Letters and long expected Judgement wythal, whyche let not be shorte, but in all pointes suche as you ordinarilye use and I extraordinarily desire. Multum vale. Westminster, Quarto Nonas Aprilis 1580. Sed, amabo te, meum Corculum tibi se ex animo commendat plurimum: iam diu mirata, te nihil ad literas suas responsi dedisse. Vide quaeso, ne id tibi Capitale sit: Mihi certe quidem erit, neque tibi hercle impune, vt opinor, iterum vale, et quam voles saepe.

Yours alwayes to commaunde,

IMMERITO.

Postscripte.

I take best my Dreames shoulde come forth alone, being growen by meanes of the Glosse, (running continually in manner of a Paraphrase) full as great as my Calendar. Therein be sme things excellently, and many things wittily discoursed of E. K. and the Pictures so singularly set forth, and purtrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) not ammend the best, nor reprehende the worst. I know you would lyke them passing wel. Of my Stemmata Dudleiana, and especially of the sundry Apostrophes therein, addressed you knowe to whome, muste more advisement be had, than so lightly to sende them abroade: howbeit, trust me (though I doe never very well,) yet in my owne fancie, I never dyd better: Verunteman te sequor solum: nunquam vero assequar.


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