Thomas Birch describes his intention as "the collecting of all the Facts relating to [Spenser], dispers'd in different Books, and the examining, digesting, and supplying them by his own Works, not hitherto sufficiently made use of for that Purpose" p. ii. He arranges the available material into a more shapely narrative than most, emphasizing Spenser's struggles for recognition and patronage more than his literary accomplishments. Birch believes that the concluding six books of the Faerie Queene were written and then lost.
The major discovery is Lodowick Bryskett's A Discourse of Civil Life (1606) with its account of Spenser in Ireland, though Birch makes little use of it. At the conclusion, the biographer reviews the criticism of the Faerie Queene, touches on the historical allegory, expresses approval of the recent imitations of Spenser by Gilbert West and James Thomson, and calls for an extension of the commentary begun by John Jortin in his Remarks of Spenser (1734) — which John Upton and Thomas Warton would soon supply.
William Oldys to Thomas Birch, 23 August 1751: "The happiness I have lately received in perusing your life of Spenser has greatly restored my desire, in this loitering, lingering useless condition, to such studies. There are very observable passages in it, both ancient and modern, which I had not before met with; for which, and many other memorable incidents, in our most illustrious ancestors, recovered and rectified by your reviving hand, if present readers shall he silent in your praise, those who are unborn will stigmatise their ingratitude, in the celebration of your industry" Notes and Queries S3 (25 January 1862) 63.
William Warburton to Thomas Birch: "I love your Books, because they bear the image of your heart, your integrity, your candour, and equity. I esteem them, because they have the strong stamp of your mind, your good judgment, and critical acumen" 17 November 1762; in Nichols, Illustrations (1817-58) 2:141.
Universal Magazine: "Thus, after this admirable poet and worthy Gentleman had struggled with poverty all his life time, he died in extreme indigence and want of bread. The late Dr. Birch has produced a new proof of this from an old play, intitled 'The Return from Parnassus, or the Scourge of Simony,' publicly acted by the students of St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1606. It was communicated to him by Mr. Garrick" "Life of Spenser" 49 (Supplement, 1771) 342.
Samuel Johnson: "Dr. Birch, however, being mentioned, he said, he had more anecdotes than any man. I said, Percy had a great many; that he flowed with them like one of the brooks here. JOHNSON: 'If Percy is like one of the brooks here, Birch was like the river Thames. Birch excelled Percy in that, as much as Percy excels Goldsmith" 1773; in Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 5:290.
W. Davenport Adams: "Thomas Birch (b. 1705, d. 1765), published A History of the Royal Society of London (1756-7); an edition of the works of Boyle; and, with Sale, a new version of Bayle's Critical Dictionary. The History is still regarded as a standard work" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 77.
Arthur Judson suggests that Thomas Birch may have been the author of the life of Spenser in A General Dictionary, Historical and Critical (1739) 9:331-36.
The establish'd Character of our Poet, the Number, Variety, and Excellence of his Writings, his Employment in a publick Post, and his Friendship with the most Illustrious of his Contemporaries for Rank and Learning, might justly raise an Expectation of seeing, before an Edition of his principal Work, an History of him, answerable in some measure to the Eminence of his Merit. And the Disappointment of such an Expectation will be a Circumstance of Astonishment to those, who have not consider'd the Defects of the English History, particularly that of our Writers, and who will find in this Case, that one of the greatest of them has scarce any other authentic Memorial of him, than a short Eloge in a Work, which would not admit of a more ample one, the Annals of Queen ELIZABETH by CAMDEN, from whom he peculiarly deserv'd that Honour, by the elegant Compliment paid to that learned Historian and Antiquary, in his Ruines of Time. The other Accounts of him are vague, imperfect, confus'd, and fuller of Inconsistencies with Chronology and each other, than are generally to be met with in so small a Compass. But defective as the best Endeavours will now prove for exhibiting a connected Narration of his Life, the collecting of all the Facts relating to him, dispers'd in different Books, and the examining, digesting, and supplying them by his own Works, not hitherto sufficiently made use of for that Purpose, is a Tribute of Respect due to the Memory of an Author, to whom we owe, not only the chief improvement of our Poetry since the Time of CHAUCER, but likewise the forming of the Genius of MILTON, as well as the awakening and cultivating those of COWLEY, DRYDEN, and POPE.
Mr. EDMUND SPENSER was born in London, and descended of an ancient and noble Family, according to Sir JAMES WARE; and we find him, in the Dedication of one or two of his Poems, claiming Affinity to some Person of Distinction; as particularly to the Lady CAREY, in the Dedication of his Muipotmos; and to the Lady STRANGE, in the Dedication of his Teares of the Muses: And in his Prothalamion, after mentioning London as his native City, he observes, that he took his Name form another Place,
An House of antient Fame.
The Time of his Birth is not known, the Inscription on his Monument deserving no Regard, as will be shewn hereafter; but we may conclude it to have been about the Year 1553; if we allow him to have been in the sixteenth Year of his Age, when he was sent to the University of Cambridge, where, as it appears from the Register, he was matriculated on the 20th of May 1569, being admitted a Sizer of Pembroke-Hall. He took the Degree of Batchelor of Arts in 1572, and that of Master in 1576.
During his Residence in his College, he is said to have stood for a Fellowship in Competition with that eminent Divine Mr. LANCELOT ANDREWS, afterwards Bishop of Winchester; and that this Disappointment, together with the Narrowness of his Circumstances, forc'd him from the University. But this Report is evidently without Foundation; for it was not our Poet, by Mr. THOMAS DOVE, afterwards Bishop of Peterborough, who was Mr. ANDREWS's Rival, and to whom, though he fail'd in the Competition, the Society allow'd a Stipend, tanquam Socius, to retain him among them: And there are good Grounds to believe, that our Poet had at that Time left Cambridge.
Upon his quitting of the University, he went to reside with some Friends in the North, where he fell in Love with his ROSALIND, a Lady of a very good Family, and eminent Accomplishments, who is so highly celebrated by him in his Shepherd's Calendar, and of whose Cruelty he complains there with such Pathos and Elegance. After he had continued for some Time in the North, he was prevail'd upon by the Advice of some Friends to quit his Obscurity, and come to London, that he might be in the Way of Preferment. To this he alludes in his Sixth Eclogue, where Hobbinol, by which Name he meant his intimate Friend Mr. GABRIEL HARVEY, persuades Colin, under whom SPENSER himself is shadowed, to leave the hilly Country, as a barren and unthriving Solitude, and remove to a better Soil. Upon this Change of his Situation, he attach'd himself to some Southern Nobleman of Kent or Surrey.
The first of his Works, that was publish'd, was his Pastorals, printed at London in 4to in 1579, under the Title of The Shepheardes Calender, contyening twelve Aeglogues proportionable to the twelve Monethes: Entitled to the noble and vertuous Gentleman and most worthy of all Titles both of Learning and Chevalrie M. PHILIP SIDNEY; to whom he address'd them by a short Dedication in Verse, concealing himself under the humble Title of Immerito. There was likewise prefix'd to it a Letter from E. K. to Mr. GABRIEL HARVEY, dated at London the 10th of April, 1579, in which he applies the Saying of CHAUCER, "uncouth, unkist," to our "new Poet," as he stiles him, "Who for that he is, says he, uncouth, is unkist; and unknown to most Men, is regarded but of few. But I doubt not, adds he, so soon as his Name shall come to the Knowledge of Men, and his Worthiness be founded in the Trump of Fame, but that he shall be not only kist, but also beloved of all, embraced of the most, and wondered at of the best. No less, I think, deserveth his Wittiness in devising, his Pithiness in uttering, his Complaints of Love so lovely, his Discourses of Pleasure so pleasantly, his pastoral Rudeness, his moral Wiseness, his due observing of Decorum every where, in Personages, in Seasons, in Matter, in Speech, and generally in all seemly Simplicity of handling his Matter, and framing his Words; the which, of many things, which in him be strange, I know will seem the strangest, the Words themselves being so antient, the knitting of them so short and intricate, and the whole Period and Compass of Speech so delightsome for the Roundness, and so grave for the Strangeness, and . . . yet the Words both English, and also used of most excellent Authors, and most famous Poets." He afterwards observes, that it is one special Praise of many, which are due to our Poet, that "he hath labour'd to restore, as to their rightful Heritage, such good and natural English Words, as have been long Time out of Use, and almost clear disherited." This Work of SPENSER is highly commended by Sir PHILIP SIDNEY, in his Defence of Poetry, as "having much Poetry" in it; tho' he dare not allow the framing of the Style to an old rustic Language, since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazarius in Italian affected it. It is likewise often cited with great Applause by another contemporary Writer, Mr. WILLIAM WEBBE, in his Discourse of English Poetry, together with the Author's Judgement touching the Reformation of our English Verse, printed at London in 1586 in 4to. who thinks the Shepherd's Calender not inferior to the Pastorals of Theocritus or Virgil, and that our Poet would even have surpass'd them, "if the Coarseness of our Speech, (that is, the Course of Custom, which he would not infringe) had been no greater Impediment to him, than their pure native Tongues were to them." And the Reputation of these Pastorals was such at that Time, that they were several Times reprinted, particularly in 1586 at London in 4to and again there in 1591 in the same Form. This Work is, in the Opinion of Mr. DRYDEN, the most compleat of the Kind, which any Nation has produc'd ever since the Time of Virgil; tho' it may be thought imperfect in some Points, pointed out by Mr. Pope in his judicious Discourse upon Pastoral Poetry, written when that excellent Poet was but sixteen Years of Age. Mr. HUGHES observes, that in the Shepherd's Calendar our Author "has not been misled by the Italians, tho' TASSO's Aminta might have been at least of no good Authority to him in the Pastoral, as Ariosto in the greater Poetry. But the ingenious Writer did not consider, that the Aminta could not possibly have been a Model for SPENSER, if his Judgment would have admitted of it, since the first Edition of that Pastoral, tho' it was compos'd in 1574, was not printed till 1581, two Years after the Publication of the Shepherd's Calendar. These Pastorals refer to several Circumstances of the earlier Part of our Poet's Life; and it appears from two of them, that he was no Friend to Pomp and Luxury in the Clergy, and that he had an high Opinion of Archbp. GRINDAL, describ'd by him in the 5th Eclogue under the Anagram of Algrind, and then under the Queen's Displeasure and Sequestration; and he shew'd an equal Dislike of the Bishop of London, AYLMER or ELMOR, as he was sometimes call'd, whose Name is involv'd in the Anagram of Morrel in the 7th Eclogue, and who is introduc'd and represented there as extremely proud and ambitious. The 9th is a severe Satire upon the Romish Prelates; and the 10th a Complaint of the Contempt of Poetry and the Causes of it; and in the Argument to it we are inform'd, that SPENSER had written a Discourse under the Title of the English Poet; which the Editor promis'd the Public, but it never saw the Light. This Commentator likewise mentions our Author's Dreams, Legends, and Court of Cupid, as then finish'd, and his Translation of Moschus's Idyllion of wandering Love.
The Dedication of the Shepherd's Calendar seems to have been his first Introduction to the Acquaintance with Mr. (afterwards Sir PHILIP) SIDNEY, tho' another Account is given of it, which, tho' less probable, deserves to be related here. It is said, that he was a Stranger to Mr. SIDNEY, when he had begun to write his Fairy Queen, and that he took Occasion to go one Morning to Leicester House, where Mr. SIDNEY liv'd with his Uncle the Earl of Leicester, and to introduce himself by sending in to Mr. SIDNEY a Copy of the Ninth Canto of the First Book of that Poem. Mr. SIDNEY, surpriz'd with the Description of Despair in that Canto, shew'd an unusual Kind of Transport on the Discovery of so extraordinary a Genius. After he had read some Stanzas, he turn'd to his Steward, and order'd him to give the Person, who brought those Verses, Fifty Pounds; but upon reading the next Stanza, his Admiration was so much increas'd, that he directed the Sum to be doubled. The Steward, astonish'd at the Exorbitance of the Present, mutter'd, that from the Appearance of the Bearer of those Papers, Five Pounds would be an ample Reward for him; when Mr. SIDNEY, having read another Stanza, commanded him to give Two Hundred Pounds immediately, lest, as he read farther, he should think himself oblig'd to raise the Present beyond what his own Circumstances would allow. But this Story, when strictly examin'd, will be found embarras'd with Difficulties, that weaken and even destroy the Credibility of it. For it appears from the commendatory Verses, sign'd W. L. prefix'd to the first Edition of the Fairy Queen in 1590, that this Poem was so far from being the Occasion of Mr. SPENSER's Introduction to Mr. SIDNEY, that it was Mr. SIDNEY himself, who engag'd him to transfer his Talents from Pastoral to Heroic Poetry, and to undertake that Subject:
And as Ulysses brought fair Thetis' Son
From his retir'd Life to menage Arms;
So SPENSER was by SIDNEY's Speeches won,
To blaze her Fame, not fearing future Harms.
SPENSER himself, in his Verses to the Countess of Pembroke, Mr. SIDNEY's Sister, sent with the first three Books of the Fairy Queen, acknowledges, that it was he,
Who first my Muse did lift out of the Floor.
The friendship of his Patron soon procur'd him the Favour of the Earl of Leicester, whom he had complimented in his Tenth Eclogue under the Title of "the Worthy, whom ELIZA loveth best," and who now sent him, in the latter End of the Year 1579, upon some Employment abroad; but before his setting out for France, he wrote an Epistle in Latin Verse to Mr. HARVEY, dated at Leicester-House on the 5th of October of that Year. In this Epistle, which was first publish'd, tho' incorrectly, with other Letters between him and Mr. HARVEY, in the Edition of his Works in 1679, he complains, that as he had hitherto liv'd in a Manner agreeable, tho' not profitable, to himself, he had now obtain'd a Situation, which was profitable, but not agreeable; but that he was grown weary of sacrificing any longer his youthful Years in fruitless Expectations of mean Employments, and therefore had submitted to the seeking of his Fortune by leaving his Country for long and tedious Journies in foreign Parts.
Omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci.
Dii mihi culce diu dederant, verum utile nunquam.
Utile nunc etiam, O! utinam quoque dulce dedissent!
Dii mihi, quippe Diis aequalis maxima parvis,
Ni nimis invideant Mortalibus esse beatis,
Dulce simul tribuisse queant, simul utile. Tanta
Sed Fortuna tua est, pariter quodque utile quodque
Ducle dat ad placitum. Scaevo nos sydere nati
Quaesitum imus eam per inhospita Caucasa longe,
Perque Pyrenaeos Montes, Babylonaque turpem.
Quod si quaestitam nec ibi inveneriumus, ingens
Aequor inexhaustis permensi Erroribus ulgra
Fluctibus in mediis socii quaremus Ulyssis:
Passibus inde Deam fessis comitabimur aegram,
Nobile cui furtum quarenti defuit orbis.
Namque sinu pudet in patrio, tenebrisque pudendis
Non nimis ingenio Juvenem infelice virentes
Officiis frustra deperdere vilibus annos,
Frugibus & vacuas speratis cernere spicas.
Ibimus ergo statim (quis eunti fausta precentur?)
Et pede clivosas fesso calcabimus Alpes.
In the Postscript to that Epistle, he tells his Friend, that he expected to set out the Week following; "if I can," says he, "be dispatched of my Lord. I go thither [to France[ as sent by him, and maintained most-what of him; and there am to employ my Time, my Body, my Mind, in his Honour's Service."
He did not continue many Months abroad, for 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. "I like your English Hexameters so well, "says he to Mr. HARVEY, "that I also enure my Pen sometimes in that Kind, which I find indeed, as I have heard you often defend in Word, neither so hard nor so harsh, but that it will easily and fairly yield itself to our Mother Tongue. For the only and chiefest Hardness, which seemeth, is in the Accent; which sometimes gapeth, and as it were yawneth ill-favouredly, coming short of that it should, and sometimes exceeding the Measure of the Number; as in 'Carpenter,' the middle Syllable being used short in Speech, when it should be read long in Verse, seemeth like a lame Gosling, that draweth one Leg after her. And 'Heaven' being used short as one Syllable, when it is in Verse stretched with a Diastole, is like a lame Dog, that holdeth up one Leg. But it is to be won with Custom, and rough Words must be subdued with Use. For why, a God's Name, may not we, as the Greeks, have the Kingdom of our own Language, and measure our Accounts by the Sound, reserving the Quantity to the Verse? I would heartily wish you would either send me the Rules or Principles of Art, which you observe in Quantities; or else follow those, which Mr. SIDNEY gave me, being the very same, which Mr. DRANT devised, but inlarged with Mr. SIDNEY's own Judgment, and augmented with my Observations, that we might both agree and accord in one, lest we overthrow one another, and be overthrown of the rest. To tell you the Truth, I mind shortly to set forth a Book in this Kind, which I intitle Epithalamium Thamesis, which Book I dare undertake will be profitable for the Knowledge, and new for the Invention and Manner of handling: for in setting forth the Marriage of the Thames, I shew his Beginning and Offspring, and all the Country he passeth through, and describe all the Rivers throughout England, which came to his Wedding." But if this Account of that Poem be compar'd with the Eleventh Canto of the Fourth Book of the Fairy Queen, it will appear, that he suspended his first Design, and form'd it afterwards into that beautiful Episode of the Marriage of the Thames and the Medway. In the same Letter 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 him with all Expedition, together with his long-expected Judgment upon it. In the Postscript to that Letter, he thinks it best, that his Dreams should come forth alone, being grown by means of the Gloss of his Commentator E. K. full as large as his Calendar. "Of my Stemmata Dudleyana," adds he, "and especially of the sundry Apostrophes therein, addressed you know to whom, must more Advisement be had, than so lightly to send them abroad. Now, but trust me, tho' I never do well, yet in my own Fancy I never did better." 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.
The Reputation of our Poet's Writings procur'd him the Title of the Poet Laureat to Queen ELIZABETH, and the Grant of a Pension; tho' the Payment of it is said to have been intercepted by the Lord Treasurer BURGHLEY; and that when her Majesty, upon SPENSER's presenting some Poems to her, order'd him the Gratuity of an Hundred Pounds, his Lordship ask'd, with some Contempt of the Poet, "What! all this for a Song?" The Queen replied, "Then give him what is Reason." SPENSER waited from some Time, but had the Mortification to find himself disappointed of the Queen's intended Bounty. Upon this he took a proper Opportunity to present a Paper to her Majesty, in the manner of a Petition, in which he reminded her of the Orders, which she had given, in the following Lines:
I was promis'd on a Time
To have Reason for my Rhime:
From that Time unto this Season
I receiv'd nor Rhime nor Reason.
This Paper produc'd the desir'd Effect; and the Queen, not without some Reproof of the Lord Treasurer, immediately directed the Payment of the Hundred Pounds, which she first ordered. Whatever Truth there may be in this Story, which I have been able to trace no higher than Dr. FULLER, it is evident from several Parts of SPENSER's Works, that he thought himself greatly injur'd by the Neglect, which had been shewn him; and his Complaints of it in some Passages seem to point directly at the Lord Treasurer. In his Ruines of Time, written after the Death of Sir PHILIP SIDNEY, and publish'd in 1591, he makes the following Exclamation, as it stands in that first Edition, for in the subsequent ones there are some Alterations in the Lines, which make the Invective more general, "him" being chang'd to "such":
O Grief of Griefs! O Gall of all good Hearts!
To see, that Virtue should despised be
Of him, that first was rais'd for virtuous Parts,
And now broad spreading like an aged Tree,
Lets none shoot up, that nigh him planted be.
O let the Man, of whom the Muse is scorned,
Nor alive nor dead be of the Muse adorned.
And in his Poem call'd The Tears of the Muses, in the Speech of Calliope, these Lines are applied to Persons of Quality and Fortune, who are reproach'd for their total Disregard of Learning:
Their great Revenues all in sumptuous Pride
They spend, that nought to Learning they may spare;
And the rich Fee, which Poets wont divide,
Now Parasites and Sycophants do share.
But he is more explicit in his Mother Hubbard's Tale, compos'd, as he says in the Dedication of it to the Lady Compton and Mountegle, "in the raw Conceit of his Youth," and publish'd in 1591. This Tale, which is written in Imitation of CHAUCER, and an admirable Specimen of SPENSER's Genius for Satire, in which he seldom indulg'd himself, after a very advantageous Picture of Sir PHILIP SIDNEY under the Character of the good Courtier, with the Contrast of some opposite ones, gives us a strong Representation of the Misery of Dependence on Court-Favour.
Full little knowest thou, that hast not tryed,
What Hell it is in suing long to bide;
To lose good Days, that might be better spent;
To waste long Nights in pensive Discontent;
To speed to Day, to be put back to Morrow;
To feed on Hope, to pine with Fear and Sorrow;
"To have thy Prince's Grace, yet want her Peers;"
To have thy Asking, yet wait many Years;
To fret thy Soul with Crosses and with Cares;
To eat thy Heart thro' comfortless Despairs;
To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undone.
This Passage was probably represented to Lord Burghley as a Reflection upon him; and our Poet, at the End of the Sixth Book, seems to allude to this, in describing the Monster Detraction:
Ne may this homely Verse, of many meanest,
Hope to escape his venemous Despite,
More than my former Writs, all were they clearest
From blameful Blot, and free from all that Wite,
With which some wicked Tongues did it backbite,
And bring into a "mighty Peer's" Displeasure,
That never so deserved to indite.
Therefore do you, my Rhimes, keep better Measure,
And seek to please, that now is counted wise Men's Treasure.
But when our Poet publish'd in 1590 the first three Books of his Fairy Queen, he thought proper to send them to his Lordship with a Sonnet, in which, after complimenting him as the Atlas, who supported the Government, he shews some Diffidence of his Lordship's Regard for Poetry, excusing his "unfitly" presenting to him these "idle Rhimes,"
The Labour of lost Time, and Wit unstaid:
Yet if their deeper Sense be inly weigh'd,
And the dim Veil, with which from common View
Their fairer Parts are hid, aside be laid,
Perhaps not vain they may appear to you.
Such as they be, vouchsafe them to receive,
And wipe their Faults out of your Censure grave.
It is not improbable, that his Lordship did not receive the Present of those first three Books in a Manner agreeable to the Author, since in the Introduction to the fourth, he seems to reflect upon that great Statesman's Dislike of his Poems:
The rugged Forehead, that with grave Foresight
Wields Kingdoms Causes, and Affairs of State,
My looser Rhimes, I wote, doth sharply wite
For praising Love.
But after all, Lord Burghley's Coldness towards our Poet, and Neglect of his Works, are not perhaps to be imputed so much to any personal Prejudice against him, or Contempt of Poetry, as to SPENSER's early Attachment to the Earl of Leicester, and afterwards to the Earl of Essex, who were both successively Heads of a Party opposite to the Lord Treasurer.
However, SPENSER was not long without being call'd into a publick Employment, after he once became known by his Pastorals; for upon the Advancement of ARTHUR Lord GREY of Wilton to the Post of Lord Deputy of Ireland, to which Office he was appointed August 12, 1580, and sworn into it on the 7th of September following, he was made Secretary to his Lordship, and probably continued so till his Lordship's resigning that Post in the Year 1582, when Archbishop LOFTUS and Sir HENRY WALLOP succeeded to the Government of Ireland, as Lords Justices, being sworn into that Office on the 6th of September.
Our Poet testified his Gratitude to Lord GREY, in a Sonnet sent to him with the first Edition of his Fairy Queen, beginning thus:
Most noble Lord, the Pillar of my Life,
And Patron of my Muses Pupillage,
Through whose large Bounty poured on me rife,
In the first Season of my feeble Age,
I now do live, bound yours by Vassalage.
This Death of his Patron Sir PHILIP SIDNEY, on the 16th of October, 1586, of the Wounds, from which he receiv'd at the Battle of Zutphen, was an important Loss to SPENSER, and afforded him a melancholy Subject for a Pastoral Elegy on that Occasion, intitled Astrophel. But, a few Months before, he had the Satisfaction of obtaining from the Queen, in reward both for his Services in Ireland, as well as in honour of his Genius, a Grant of 3028 Acres, in the County of Cork, of the Lands forfeited by the Rebellion of GERALD FITZ-GERALD, Earl of Desmond, whose Estates were likewise distributed among several other Persons, particularly Sir WALTER RALEGH, who were stil'd "Undertakers" in the Grant dated the 27th of June that Year; and obliged to perform several Conditions mentioned in the Queen's Articles for the Plantation of that Country. SPENSER's House was call'd Kilcolman, two Miles North-West of Doneraile, and was a Castle of the Earls of Desmond, on the North Side of a fine Lake, in the midst of a vast Plain, terminated to the East by the Mountains of the County of Waterford, Ballyhowra Hills, or, as SPENSER terms them, the Mountains of Mole, to the North, Nagle Mountains to the South, and those of Kerry to the West. It commanded a View of above half the Breadth of Ireland, and must have been, when the adjacent Uplands were cloth'd with Woods, a most pleasant and romantic Situation. The River Mulla, which he has more than once so beautifully introduc'd in his Poems, ran through his Grounds. An original Picture of him is still in being, in the Neighbourhood of his Seat, at Castle-Saffron, the House of JOHN LOVE, Esq.
He had here much better Success in Love than formerly with ROSALIND; and the Progress of his new Amour is given us in his Sonnets, in the 60th of which he speaks of himself as then Forty Years old; and the Conclusion of it in Marriage, about the Year 1592 or 1593, gave Occasion to an excellent Epithalamium, written by himself.
Here likewise he prosecuted his great Work of the Fairy Queen, which he had begun, as was observed above, as early at least as the Year 1580. And while he was engag'd in it, he was honour'd with a Visit from Sir WALTER RALEGH, with whom he must have been acquainted, while the latter was a Captain under Lord GREY in Ireland. This Visit appears to have been in the Summer of the Year 1589, after Sir WALTER's Return from the Expedition to Portugal with Don ANTONIO, when the Jealousy of his Rival the Earl of Essex confin'd him for some Time to Ireland. SPENSER relates the Circumstances of this Visit in his Pastoral, intitled, Colin Clout's come home again; in which RALEGH is describ'd under the Name of the Shepherd of the Ocean.
One Day, quoth he, I sat, as was my Trade,
Under the Foot of Mole, that Mountain hore,
Keeping my Sheep amongst the cooly Shade
Of the green Alders by the Mulla's Shore.
There a strange Shepherd chanc'd to find me out,
Whether allur'd with my Pipe's Delight,
Whose pleasing Sound yshrilled far about;
Or thither led by Chance, I know not right:
Whom when I asked from what Place he came,
And how he hight, himself he did ycleep
The Shepherd of the Ocean by Name,
And said he came far from the Main-se deep.
He sitting me beside in that same Shade
Provoked me to play some pleasant Fit;
And when he heard the Music, which I made,
He found himself full greatly pleas'd at it.
Yet aemuling my Pipe, he took in Hond
My Pipe, before that aemuled of many,
And plaid thereon, for well that Skill he con'd,
Himself as skilful in that Art as any.
Sir WALTER persuaded SPENSER to abandon his obscure Retreat in Ireland, and accompany him to England, where he promis'd to introduce him to the Queen.
He gan to cast great Liking to my Lore,
And great Disliking to my luckless Lot,
That banish'd had myself, like Wight forlore,
Into that Waste, that I was quite forgot.
The which to leave thenceforth he counsell'd me,
Unmeet for Man, in whom was ought regardful,
And wend with him, his Cynthia to see;
Whose Grace was great, and Beauty most rewardful.
Besides her peerless Skill in making well,
And all the Ornaments of wondrous Wit,
Such as all Womankind did far excell,
Such as the World admir'd, and praised it.
So that with Hope of Good, and Hate of Ill,
He me perswaded forth with him to fare.
Our Poet consented, and attended Sir WALTER to England, where he was introduc'd by him to her Majesty.
The Shepherd of the Ocean, quoth he,
Unto that Goddess' Grace me first enhanced,
And to mine oaten Pipe inclin'd her Ear,
That she thenceforth therein gan take Delight,
And it desir'd at timely Hours to hear,
All were my Notes but rude and roughly dight.
In this Poem he takes Occasion to compliment that reigning Wits and Beauties of that Age. The Name of Cynthia, given to Queen ELIZABETH, is the same under which Sir WALTER RALEGH had celebrated that great Princess, in a Poem under that Title, often commended by SPENSER. By Astrophel is meant Sir PHILIP SIDNEY; by Urania his Sister, the Countess of PEMBROKE; by Stella, the Lady RICH, Sister to ROBERT Earl of Essay; by Mansilia, the Marchioness of NORTHAMPTON. DANIEL, the Poet and Historian, and Dr. WILLIAM ALABASTER, Author of a Latin Poem, called Eliseis, in honour of the Queen, but left by him imperfect and never publish'd, are mention'd by their own Names.
Soon after his Arrival in England, he was prevail'd upon to publish the first three Books of his Fairy Queen, at London 1590, in 4to under this Title, The Faerie Queen. Disposed into Twelve Books, fashioning XII Morall Virtues. At the End of it he subjoin'd a Letter to Sir WALTER RALEGH, expounding his Intention in the Course of that Poem, dated the 23d of January 1589. And Sir WALTER return'd him the Compliment of two Copies of commendatory Verses, the first of several prefix'd to that Poem, those Verses being subscrib'd with the initial Letters of his Name. This Edition of that admirable Poem is much more exact than all the latter ones; and has besides a whole Page of Errata at the End, few of which were corrected in his own second Edition, tho' he made in that Edition several Alterations and Additions to his Work; and most of those Errors have been continued and multiplied in all the subsequent Impressions. The same Year 1590 he publish'd at London in 4to. his Muipotmos: or, the Fate of the Butterflie: with a Dedication to the Lady CAREY, to whose Bounty he acknowledges himself highly oblig'd. And the Year following that Poem was republish'd in a small Volume in 4to with some others, under the Title of Complaints: containing sundrie small Poemes of the World's Vanitie. This Volume consists of, 1. The Ruines of Time; dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke: 2. The Teares of the Muses, dedicated to the Lady STRANGE, on Account of her "particular Bounties," and "some private Bonds of Affinity," which she was pleas'd to acknowledge: 3. Virgil's Gnat, dedicated long before to the Earl of Leicester, who was dead before Publication, in a Sonnet, which refers to some unfortunate Situation, in which he had once been with respect to that Nobleman, and begins thus:
Wrong'd, yet not daring to express my Pain,
To you, great Lord, the Causer of my Care,
In cloudy Tears my Case I thus complain
Unto your self, that only privy are.
4. Prosopopoeia; or Mother Hubberd's Tale. 5. The Ruines of Rome by Bellay: 6. Muipotmos. 7. Visions of the World's Vanities. 8. Bellaye's Visions. 9. Petrarche's Visions. The Printer, in an Advertisement to the Reader, prefix'd to this Collection, observes, that upon the late Publication of the Fairy Queen, finding the Success of it, he had endeavour'd by all good Means to get into his Hands such small Poems of the Author, as he heard were dispers'd abroad in sundry Hands, and not easy to be recovered by himself, some of them having been "diversely embezzel'd and purloined from him, since his Departure over Sea." That besides these now publish'd, the Author had written several others, as a Translation of Eccelesiates, and Canticum Canticorum, A Sennight's Slumber, The Hell of Lovers, and Purgatory, all dedicated to Ladies; which together with some others loosely scattered abroad, as The Dying Pelicane, The Hours of the Lord, The Sacrifice of a Sinner, the seven Psalms, &c. the Printer, when he could obtain them from the Author, or otherwise, intended to publish.
SPENSER was at London on the 1st of January 1580-91, when he wrote the Dedication of his Daphnaida; but return'd to Ireland some Time after; from whence he wrote a Dedication of his Colin Clout's come home again, to Sir WALTER RALEGH, dated at his House of Kilcolman the 27th of December that Year, in part of Payment of the "infinite Debt," in which he acknowledged himself bound unto Sir WALTER, for his "singular Favours" and "sundry good Turns" shewed to him at "his late being in England"; desiring him with his good Countenance to protect this Poem against the "Malice of evil Mouths, which were always open to carp at, and misconstrue his simple Meaning."
This Poem, with his Astrophel, was printed at London in 1595; and the Year following he republish'd at London in 4to the three first Books of his Fairy Queen, to which he now added a second Part, containing the fourth, fifth, and sixth Books. These six Books, were only half of what he design'd, the Title Page of both Editions declaring, that the Poem was to consist of twelve Books, and to represent "twelve moral Virtues." But the last six Books, excepting the two Cantos of Mutability, printed first in the Folio Edition at London in 1609, "were lost by the Disorder and Abuse," says Sir JAMES WARE, of his Servant, whom he had sent before him into England. But Mr. FENTON, instead of deploring the Fate of these six Books, which are said to have perish'd, declares himself of Mr. DRYDEN's Opinion, that upon Sir PHILIP SIDNEY's Death, SPENSER was depriv'd both of Means and Spirit to accomplish his Design; and thinks, that "this Story of their being lost in his Voyage from Ireland seems to be a Fiction copied from the Fate of Terence's Comedies, which itself has the Air of a Fiction"; or that "at best it was but a Hearsay, that pass'd the Biographers without due Examination." But this ingenious Poet and Commentator will scarce convince his Readers, that the Death of Sir PHILIP SIDNEY was an Event sufficient to prevent SPENSER from finishing his Poem, when it is evident, that he gave the World, after the Loss of his Patron, six Books of it, at the same Time promising the rest, of which we actually have remaining two Cantos upon Mutability, equal, if not superior, to any of the rest; and two Stanzas of another Canto. And the Authority of so considerable a Writer as Sir JAMES WARE, who liv'd near the Time, and was in a Situation of informing himself about the Fact, cannot justly be rejected as a mere unsupported Hearsay, propagated "without due examination." It is true in the 33d Sonnet of his Amoretti, written about the year 1592, he speaks of the "finishing" of his Fairy Queen, as prevented by the Cruelty of his Mistress; and in the 80th he desires a little Refreshment after so long a Task, as that of compiling the first six Books of that Poem, and Leisure to sing his "Love's sweet Praise"; the Contemplation of whose Beauty would "raise his Spirit," and enable him to undertake his "second Work"
With strong Endeavour and Attention due.
But these Sonnets, allowing the Subjects of them to have been real Facts, and not poetical Fiction, were compos'd at least five or six Years before the last six Books of the Fairy Queen were suppos'd to have been lost; an Interval long enough for so ready and inexhaustible a Genius as our Author's to complete them, whose Years bore no Proportion to the Number and Perfection of his Works. For the Loss of those Books could not have happen'd till after 1596, because he mentions in the Title-Page of the Edition of the Fairy Queen that Year, that the Poem would contain "Twelve Books": but they must have perish'd, as Sir JAMES WARE intimates, when he sent his Servant to England in 1598, before his own last Journey thither from Ireland, upon the plundering of his Estate by the Rebels there.
SPENSER was most probably in England in 1596, during the Impression of this Second Edition of his Fairy Queen; for we find him at Greenwich on the 1st of September that Year, from whence he dedicated his Four Hymns to the Countesses of Cumberland and Warwick, the two first, in Praise of Love and Beauty, being written, as he observes, in the "greener Times" of his Youth; and having afterwards in vain endeavour'd, at the Desire of one of those Ladies, to suppress the Manuscript Copies, he now publish'd them with the Addition of two others upon Heavenly Love and Heavenly Beauty.
He wrote likewise in the same year 1596 "a View of the State of Ireland, written Dialogue-wise between Eudoxus and Irenaeus." This Discourse shews him to have been possess'd of a vast Fund of political as well as other Knowledge, and equally qualified for the Business of State, as for Speculation and the Exercise of Genius, and that, like Sir JOHN DAVIS, whose "Discovery of the true Causes why Ireland was never intirely subdued" is as justly esteem'd as his Poem on Human Nature and the Soul of Man, he was as finish'd a Writer in Prose, as in Poetry. It continued in Manuscript till 1633, when Sir JAMES WARE publish'd it at Dublin, in fol. from a Manuscript in Archbishop USHER's Library, with a Dedication to the Lord Viscount WENTWORTH, then Lord Deputy of Ireland; in which Sir JAMES remarks, that the "Calamities" of that Kingdom were "fully set forth, and "to the Life," by our Author, with a "Discovery of their Causes and Remedies, being for the most Part excellent Grounds of Reformation." And in the Preface Sir JAMES remarks, that this Discourse sufficiently testifies the Learning and deep Judgment of SPENSER; but that it were to be wish'd, that in some Passages it had been temper'd with more Moderation, tho' the Troubles and Miseries of the Time, when he wrote it, may partly excuse him: That his Proofs (although most of them conjectural) concerning the Original of the Language and Customs of the Nation, and the first peopling of the several Parts of the Island, are full of good Reading, and shew a sound Judgment: And that with respect to the general Scope intended by him for the Reformation of Abuses and ill Customs, tho' many Persons had taken Pains in the same Subject during the Reign of Queen ELIZABETH, and some before, as the Author of Salus Populi under King EDWARD IV. and PATRICK FINGLAS, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and afterwards Chief Justice of the Common-Pleas in Ireland, in the Reign of HENRY VIII. yet none came so near to the best Grounds for Reformation, as our Author, except in a few Passages, has done. But the Editor of Sir JAMES WARE's Works in English, does not pass so favourable a Judgment on this Discourse, as Sir JAMES himself; for though he owns, that there are some Things in it very well written, particularly as to the political main Design of reducing Ireland to the due Obedience of the Crown of England; yet that in the History and Antiquities of the Country he is often miserably mistaken, and seems rather to have indulg'd the Fancy and License of a Poet, than the Judgment and Fidelity required for an Historian; besides his Want of Moderation. If this Character be a true one, we have the less Reason to regret his not finishing another Treaties, which he promised at the Conclusion of his View, expressly upon the Antiquities of Ireland.
During his Residence in London, he wrote his Prothalamion upon the double Marriage of the Lady ELIZABETH and Lady CATHERINE SOMERSET, Daughters to EDWARD Earl of Worcester, to Mr. HENRY (afterwards Sir HENRY) GUILFORD, and Mr. WILLIAM PETRE, afterwards Lord Petre. In this Poem he complains of the Disappointments of his Applications at Court.
When I, whom sullen Care,
Through Discontent of my long fruitless Stay
In Princes Court, and Expectation vain
Of idle Hopes, which still do fly away,
Like empty Shadows, did afflict my Brain,
Walkt forth to ease my Pain
Along the Shore of silver-streaming Thames.
He likewise mentions the Favours, which he had formerly receiv'd from his old Patron the Earl of Leicester, and the Want of his Patronage in his present Situation.
Next whereunto there stands a stately Place,
Where oft I gained Gifts and goodly Grace
Of that great Lord, which therein wont to dwell,
Whose Want too well now feels my friendless Case.
But that House, which was built by the Earl of Leicester, being now transferr'd to his Son-in-law the Earl of Essex, he takes Occasion to pay a beautiful Compliment to his Lordship, upon the Success of his late Expedition against Cadiz, in the latter End of June 1596.
Yet therein now doth lodge a noble Peer,
Great England's Glory, and the World's wide Wonder,
Whose dreadful Name late thro' all Spain did thunder,
And Hercules' two Pillars standing near
Did make to quake and fear:
Fair Branch of Honour, Flower of Chivalry,
That fillest England with thy Triumph's Fame,
Joy have thou of thy noble Victory,
And endless Happiness of thine own Name,
That promiseth the same;
That thro' thy Prowess and victorious Arms
Thy Country may be freed from foreign Harms,
And great ELIZA's glorious Name may ring
Thro' all the World, filled with thy wide Alarms,
Which some brave Muse may sing
To Ages following.
How long he resided in England after the Publication of the second Edition of his Fairy Queen, there is no Account. But he was in Ireland in 1598, when the Rebellion broke out there with great Fury under Tyrone, in which being plunder'd of his whole Fortune, he was obliged to return to England in great Necessity, and soon after died at Westminster, at the Age of 45 or 46, in 1598, according to CAMDEN, or in 1599, as Sir JAMES WARE affirms; a Difference, which I have in vain endeavour'd to determine by a strict Search of the Prerogative Office at London, where no Will of his is to be found. He was interr'd in the Collegiate Church at Westminster, near his favourite CHAUCER, at the Expence of the great by unfortunate Earl of Essex, his Funeral Oration being attended by the Poets of that Time, who threw several Copies of Verses into his Grave. The Monument erected to him was long ascrib'd to that Earl, in Orthography, and containing false Dates both of his Birth and Death, the former being fix'd in 1510, and the latter in 1596. But it has since been discover'd, that this Monument was set up above thirty Years after our Poet's Death, by STONE, Master-Mason to King CHARLES I. who was paid Forty Pounds for it by ANNE, Widow of RICHARD Earl of Dorset, and Daughter of GEORGE CLIFFORD, Earl of Cumberland.
Besides the printed Works of SPENSER, he wrote several others, of which only the Titles remain; the most considerable of which were Nine Comedies, in Imitation of those of his admir'd Ariosto, inscrib'd with the Names of the Nine Muses. The rest were, his Dying Pelicane, his Pageants, his Legends, Stemmata Dudleyana, The Canticles and Ecclesiastes paraphras'd, Seven Psalms, Hours of our Lord, Sacrifice of a Sinner, Purgatory, A Sennight's Slumber, The Court of Cupid, and The Hell of Lovers; with a Treatise in Prose, abovemention'd, call'd The English Poet.
His Great-grandson HUGOLIN SPENSER was, after the Restoration of King Charles II, restored by the Court of Claims to so much of the Lands, as could be found to have been his Ancestor's. And in the Reign of King WILLIAM, a Person came over into England from Ireland, to solicit the same Affair, and brought with him Letters of Recommendation as a Descendant of SPENSER. His Name procur'd him a favourable Reception; and being introduc'd by Mr. CONGREVE to Mr. MONTAGU, afterwards Earl of Hallifax, then at the Head of the Treasury, he obtain'd his Suit. He was a Man somewhat advanc'd in Years, and might be the same mention'd before, who had possibly recover'd only some Part of the Estate at first, or had been disturb'd in the Possession of it. He could give no Account of the Works of his Ancestor, which are wanting, and which are therefore in all Probability irrecoverably lost. Some of the Descendants of our Poets are still remaining in the County of Cork.
The most celebrated of our Author's Works is his Fairy Queen; in the Allegorical Form of which he had the Advantage of an excellent Model in the Induction to the Mirrour for Magistrates. In this Poem, which had for its Author no less a Man than SACKVILLE Lord Buckhurst and Earl of Dorset, Lord High Treasurer to Queen ELIZABETH and King JAMES I. and was written by him in his younger Years, before he was engag'd in public Business, are introduc'd beautiful Pictures of many Allegorical Personages, as "Sorrow," "Remorse," "Dread," "Revenge," "Misery," "Care," "Sleep," "Old Age," "Malady," "Famine," "Death," and "War." But the Stanza is different from that of SPENSER, consisting only of seven Lines, rhyming thus, the first to the third, the second to the fourth and fifth, and the sixth to the seventh.
The Fairy Queen, notwithstanding all the Defects either of the Plan or Execution, may be justly consider'd as one of the noblest Efforts of Genius in any Age or Language. Sir WILLIAM TEMPLE having first remark'd, that the Religion of the Gentiles had been woven into the Contexture of all the ancient Poetry, with a very agreeable Mixture; which made the Moderns affect to give that of Christianity a Place also in their Poems; but that the true Religion was not found to become Fiction so well as a false one had done, all their Attempts of this Kind seeming rather to debase Religion, than to heighten Poetry; that Elegant Writer then tells us, that SPENSER endeavour'd to supply this with Morality, and to make Instruction, instead of Story, the Subject of an Epic Poem: in which "his Execution was excellent, and his Flights of Fancy very noble and high; but that his Design was poor, and his Moral lay so bare, that it lost the Effect; and tho' the Pill was gilded, it was so thin, that the Colour and the Taste were too easily discovered." Mr. RHYMER thinks, that SPENSER may be reckon'd the first of our Heroic Poets; that he had a large Spirit, a sharp Judgment, and a Genius for Heroic Poesy, perhaps above any, who have ever written since Virgil. But that "our Misfortune is, that he wanted a true Idea, and lost himself by following an unfaithful Guide. Tho' besides Homer and Virgil he had read Tasso, yet he rather suffered himself to be misled by Ariosto, with whom blindly rambling on marvellous Adventures, he makes no Conscience of Probability. All is fanciful and chimerical, without any Uniformity, or without any Foundation in Truth: in a Word, his Poem is perfect Fairy Land." Mr. DRYDEN is of Opinion, that the English have only to boast of SPENSER and MILTON in Heroic Poetry: "who," says he, "neither of them wanted either Genius or Learning to have been perfect Poets, and yet both of them are liable to many Censures. For there is no Uniformity in the Design of SPENSER: He aims at the Accomplishment of no Action: He raises up a Hero for every one of his Adventures, and endows each of them with some particular Moral Virtue, which renders them all equal, without Subordination of Preference: Every one is most valiant in his own Legend. Only we must do him that Justice to observe, that Magnanimity, which is the Character of Prince ARTHUR, shines throughout the whole Poem, and succours the rest, when they are Distress. The Original of every Knight was then living in the Court of Queen ELIZABETH; and he attributed to each of them that Virtue, which was most conspicuous in them; an ingenious Piece of Flattery, tho' it turn'd not much to his Account. Had he lived to finish his Poem in the six remaining Legends, it had certainly been more of a Piece, but could not have been perfect, because the Model was not true. But Prince ARTHUR, or his chief Patron, Sir PHILIP SIDNEY, whom he intended to make happy by his Marriage of GLORIANA, dying before him, depriv'd the Poet both of Means and Spirit to accomplish his Design." Mr. DRYDEN then observes, that his obsolete Language, and ill Choice of this Stanza, are Faults but of the second Magnitude; for notwithstanding the first, he is still intelligible, at least after a little Practice; and for the last, he is the more to be admir'd, that labouring under such a Difficulty, his Verses are so numerous, so various, and so harmonious, that only Virgil, whom he was professedly imitated, has surpass'd him among the Romans, and only Mr. WALLER among the English. Mr. HUGHES tells us, that the Fairy Queen is conceived, wrought up, and coloured with a stronger Fancy, than any of his other Writings: And having observ'd, that our Poet himself, in his Letter to Sir WALTER RALEGH, calls it "a continual Allegory or dark Conceit," gives his own Remarks on Allegorical Poetry in general, and on this Poem in particular, the Merit of which consists in that surprising Vein of fabulous Invention, which runs through it, and enriches it every where with Imagery and Descriptions, more than we meet with in any other modern Poem; the Author seeming to be possess'd of a Kind of poetical Magic, and the Figures, which he calls up to our View, rising so thick upon us, that we are at once pleas'd and distracted by the exhaustless Variety of them; so that his Faults may in a Manner be imputed to his Excellencies. His Abundance betrays him into Excess, and his Judgment is overborne by the Torrent of his Imagination. What seems to Mr. HUGHES most liable to Exception in his Work, is the Model of it, and the Choice of so romantic a Story. The several Books appear rather like so many several Poems than one intire Fable. Each of them has its peculiar Knight, and is independent of the rest: and tho' some of the Persons make their Appearance in different Books, yet this has very little Effect in connecting them. Prince ARTHUR is indeed the principal Person, and has therefore a Share given him in every Legend: but his Part is not considerable enough in any one of them. He appears and vanishes again like a Spirit, and we lose Sight of him too soon, to consider him as the Hero of the Poem. Our Author evidently never design'd to form his Work upon the Rules of Epic Poetry, as drawn from the Practice of Homer and Virgil: And tho' it may seem strange, that he, who appears to have been well acquainted with the best Writers of Antiquity, should not imitate them in the Structure of his Story; yet two Reasons may be assign'd for this: The first is, that at the Time, when he wrote, the Italian Poets, whom he has chiefly imitated, and who were the first Revivers of this Art among the Moderns, were in the highest Vogue, and were universally read and admir'd. But the chief Reason was, perhaps, that he chose to frame his Fable after a Model, which might give the greatest Scope to that Range of Fancy, which was so remarkably his Talent. It is probably, for the same Reason, that among the Italian Poets he rather followed Ariosto, whom he found more agreeable to his Genius, that Tasso, who had form'd a better Plan, and from whom he has only borrow'd some particular Ornaments; yet his Plan is much more regular than that of Ariosto. Add to this, that at the Time, when he wrote, the Remains of the old Gothic Chivalry were not quite abolish'd; and this might render his Story more familiar to his Readers.
The general Design of this Poem, as SPENSER himself explains it in his Letter to Sir WALTER RALEGH, is "to fashion a Gentleman or Nobleman in virtuous and gentle Discipline"; or, as it is more fully open'd in a Dialogue written by one of his Friends, in which he is introduc'd as one of the principal Interlocutors, "to represent all the Moral Virtues, assigning to every Virtue a Knight to be the Patron and Defender of the same, in whose Actions and Feats of Arms and Chivalry, the Operations of that Virtue, whereof he is the Protector, are expressed, and the Vices and unruly Appetites, that oppose themselves against the same, beaten down and overcome."
In this Poem are many Allusions to particular Characters and Actions in the Reign of Queen ELIZABETH, which is figuratively represented in the Fifth Book under the Virtue of Justice. The Queen, who in other Parts of the Poem, appears under the Character of the Queen of Fairy Land, is there describ'd under the Name of MERCILLA, sending Relief to Belge or the Netherlands, and reducing the tyrannical Power of Geryoneo, or Spain. The Tryal of the Queen of Scots is shadow'd in the Ninth Canto. Sir PHILIP SIDNEY is generally allow'd to be meant by Prince ARTHUR, as ST. BURBON was undoubtedly intended to characterise HENRY IV. of France, the Genius of which Country is express'd by the Lady FLOURDELIS.
The Language of our Poet is much more antient than that of his Contemporaries; for which Reason a Glossary was added to his first Work, his Pastorals, to render them more intelligible. His Design, as well as that of MILTON, was, by the Use of antique Words and Idioms, to give a greater Solemnity to his Subjects: and his Example is a sufficient Justification of the late excellent Imitators of him, Mr. WEST, Mr. THOMSON, and others, who have been unjustly censur'd for adopting the general Form, as well as some of the Peculiarities, of his Expression, under a false Pretence, that his Style was not his Choice, but Necessity; and that he only wrote the ordinary Language of his own Time, as he would have conform'd himself to that of any other Age, in which he had liv'd.
The Stanza of the Fairy Queen is almost the same with that of the Italian Ottave Rime, used both by Ariosto and Tasso, but improv'd by SPENSER with the Addition of a Line more in the Close, of the Length of our Alexandrines. And tho' this is by no Means suited to long or narrative Poems, and has sometimes tempted our Author to take Liberties in point of Grammar, and to make use of bad Rimes, which he endeavours, according to the Custom of the Italian Poets, to conceal, from the Eye at least, by a Change in the Orthography of the Words; yet it is astonishing, that under such a Restraint, he should be able to preserve such uncommon Force and Beauty of Style, with all the Harmony and Graces of Versification.
The Edition of the Fairy Queen now offer'd to the Public, it is hop'd, will be found to be a just Representation of the genuine Text, not hitherto given in any single Edition, but form'd from an exact Collation of the two original ones of the Author, compar'd in the three last Books with the first Folio printed at London in 1609, which has furnish'd Corrections of some Mistakes in the 4to of 1596. Nothing therefore now remains for the Honour of our Poet, and the Satisfaction of the Public, but that the Learned and Ingenious unite their Labours towards such a Commentary upon his admirable Poem, as Mr. JORTIN has oblig'd the World with a Specimen of his Remarks, printed in 1734.