In a chatty and ill-informed letter, "Edwin," visiting at Mallow in Cork, comments on Spenser's pictorialism, expresses regret that Samuel Johnson did not leave a life of Spenser, and believes the Thomas Warton "has left a good deal to be done." He is informed by his inn-keeper that one of Spenser's descendents had once been a resident at Mallow, and had passed on information about Spenser to a man who had made a drawing of the castle at Kilcolman. A note identifies this person as the Irish antiquary, Joseph Cooper Walker.
Robert Southey, writing to Grosvenor C. Bedford, was one of many to comment on the outmoded character of this periodical: "the Gentleman's Magazine, alias the Oldwomaniana, a work which I have begun to take in here at Keswick, to enlighten a Portuguese student among the mountains, and which does amuse me by its exquisite inanity, and the glorious and intense stupidity of its correspondents; it is, in truth, a disgrace to the age and the country" 23 April 1804; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:281-82.
Mr. Urban, Mallow, Nov. 17.
Seated in an inn in this town, and left to the enjoyment of uninterrupted reflection, Spenser would naturally occur to an admirer of that delightful poet. After wandering for some time through that "wilderness of sweets," the "Fairy Queen," I have just laid down the book to express my surprize to you, Mr. Urban, that in this age of graphic embellishment, an author who is so rich in imagery of every kind, and whose descriptions are so clear and distinct, should remain neglected, while the effusion of every young poetaster's brain are ushered into the world with all the pomp of elegant engravings, and wove-paper hot-pressed. But I trust justice will, at length, be done a poet which England has reason to be proud; a poet who may rank with Shakespeare and Milton.
In collecting materials for a life of Spenser, recourse might, I think, be had to descriptions and allusions in his poems, which his former biographers seem to have neglected. In "Colin Clout's come home again," several of the rivers and mountains in the neighborhood of his residence are particularly mentioned. In Book VII. cant. VII. of the "Fairy Queen," he not only describes the source and course of the Allo, a river which ran through or near his grounds, but pathetically alludes to the injury his property had sustained from wolves and thieves:
Those woods, and all that goodly chase,
Doth to this day with wolves and thieves abound,
Which too-too true that land's indwellers since have found.
In book IV. cant. XI. he speaks affectionately of Cambridge, where he had been educated. In book V. cant. X. it may be presumed he describes, under the character of Belge, the persecution and sufferings of a widowed friend, whom some
Tyrant had her now deprived,
And into mores and marshes banish had,
Out of the pleasant soil and cities glad,
In which she want to honour happily.
And though the name of Rosalind is not mentioned, it may be supposed she is shadowed under the ideal form of the "fourth mayd," whom Calidor discovered in the act of dancing with the Graces, to the musick of Colin's pipe. Book VI. cant. X.
It is to be regretted that the eloquent pen of Johnson had not been employed to delineate the poetic character of Spencer. As the spirit of party would not have warped his judgment, it may be presumed the bard would have received ample justice at his hands. In a commentator he has been fortunate. Yet Mr. Warton has left a good deal to be done; and some one, I hope, will be found to complete what he began.
I am informed by "mine host" that a descendant of Spenser resided, a few years since, in this town; and that a gentleman, whose name he does not recollect, had collected from him a good deal of information concerning his great ancestor; and he added, that he believed the same gentleman had made a drawing of the house or castle in which the "Fairy Queen" had been written. It is hoped, Mr. Urban, that, if a new edition of Spenser's works should be undertaken, the gentleman alluded to will not withhold from the public either his drawing or the result of his enquiries.
Before I close this letter, permit me to ask some of your correspondents, who was the Willy lamented by Thalia in the "Tears of the Muses?" It could not be Shakspeare; for Shakspeare survived Spenser at least seven years.