1748
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sonnet VIII. On the Cantos of Spenser's Fairy Queen, lost in the Passage from Ireland.

A Collection of Poems in three Volumes. By Several Hands. Second Edition. [Robert Dodsley, ed.]

Thomas Edwards


The claim that the remaining six books of the Faerie Queene were lost at sea was first made by Sir James Ware in his preface to Spenser's View of the State of Ireland (1633), describing the poet's hasty flight to London; the manuscript "was soone after unfortunately lost by the disorder and abuse of his servant, whom he had sent before him into England" in Works of Spenser (1805) 1:cxv. On this subject compare the amusing Spenserians by Laurence O'Reilly, "Fragment, in the Style of Spenser" in A Collection of Poems, mostly original (1790) 176-80.

Ware's story was accepted by Spenser's biographer Thomas Birch, though rejected by most other eighteenth-century critics. Thomas Edwards may have been in correspondence with Birch about this time concerning the yet-to-be published 1751 edition of Spenser's Works, in which the biography appears.

Thomas Edwards at one time planned his own edition of Spenser; he wrote to Samuel Richardson: "I have been hard at work upon Spenser; but to what purpose except my own private satisfaction? There, however, it will repay me: for every time I read I find new beauties in him; such fine moral sentiments, such height of colouring in his descriptions, such a tenderness when he touches any of the humane passions! — Were but his language better understood, he must be admired by every one who has a heart" 8 May 1751; in Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Barbauld (1804) 3:20.

Walter Scott: "There is an unauthorised story told by Sir James Ware, that about this time Spenser had written the remaining six cantos of that beautiful poem, which were afterwards lost by the carelessness of his servant in passing from Ireland. But it appears much more probable, that the work was never completed by the author, especially when we consider how long he had dwelt upon the first three books. It is too certain, that if any fragments, excepting the two cantos of Mutabilitie, did ever exist, they are entirely lost to the world, and were probably destroyed in the wreck of our author's fortune, when his house was pillaged by the rebels" Review of Todd's Spenser in Edinburgh Review 7 (1805) 210-11.

Edwards's sonnet was reprinted among the commendatory verses in Todd's Works of Spenser (1805).



Wo worth the man, who in ill hour assay'd
To tempt that Western Frith with vent'rous keel,
And seek what heav'n, regardful of our weal,
Had hid in fogs, and night's eternal shade;
Ill-starr'd Hibernia! well art thou appaid
For all the woes, which Britain made thee feel
By Henry's wrath, and Pembroke's conqu'ring steel,
Who sack'd thy towns, and castles disarray'd:
No longer now with idle sorrow mourn
Thy plunder'd wealth, or liberties restrain'd,
Nor deem their victories thy loss or shame;
Severe revenge on Britain in thy turn
And ample spoils thy treach'rous waves obtain'd,
Which sunk one half of Spenser's deathless fame.

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