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ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Theatrum Poetarum: Edmund Spenser.

Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum. Containing the Names and Characters of all the English Poets, from the Reign of Henry III. to the Close of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. By Edward Phillips

Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges


Samuel Egerton Brydges reprints Edward Phillips's account of Spenser, amplifying it with some brief biographical remarks, including some inaccurate inferences of his own. The article is filled out with thirty pages of selected quotations from Thomas Warton's ("the most excellent of our critics on English Poetry") Observations on the Faerie Queene.

Brydges's Theatrum Poetarum selects the lives of the English poets only from Phillips's work, adding names omitted by Phillips from Thomas Warton's History of English Poetry, and arranging the whole in chronological order. A proposed second volume was never published — Brydges lacked Warton's research for the more modern period. Instead, he undertook, beginning with Censura Literaria in 1805, a series of bibliographical periodicals that set about accumulating the necessary information for the later period.

Samuel Egerton Brydges: "I have at length read so much Elizabethan poetry, and Elizabethan biography, that all the wits of that age, all its genius, and all its state, seem to be brought upon the stage before me; and my eyes and my ears are full of their figures, and their language! Their modes of thinking; their feelings; their customs; their phraseology, are brought back to life, and offer themselves for a comparison with what I hear and see among my contemporaries. I would not draw their 'frailties from their dread abode' in the tomb: but I delight to revive their virtues; and talk with their spirits, though their bones have long since mouldered into dust!" in Censura Literaria 10 (1809) 3.




"Edmund Spencer, the first of our Poets that brought heroic poesy to any perfection, his Fairy Queen being for great invention and poetic heighth, judg'd little inferior, if not equal to the chief of the ancient Greeks and Latins, or modern Italians, but the first poem that brought him into esteem was his Shepherd's Calendar, which so endeared him to that noble patron of all Vertue and Learning Sir Philip Sydney, that he made him known to Queen Elizabeth, and by that means got him preferred to be Secretary to his brother, Sir Henry Sidney, who was sent Deputy into Ireland, where he is said to have written his Faerie Queen, but upon the return of Sir Henry, his employment ceasing, he also return'd into England, and having lost his great friend Sir Philip fell into poverty, yet made his last refuge to the Queen's bounty, and had £500 ordered him for his support, which nevertheless was abridged to £100 by Cecil, who hearing of it, and owing him a grudge for some reflections in Mother Hubbard's Tale, cry'd out to the Queen, What, all this for a Song? This he is said to have taken so much to heart, that he contracted a deep melancholy, which soon after brought his life to a period: So apt is an ingenious spirit to resent a slighting, even from the greatest persons; and thus much I must needs say of the merit of so great a poet from so great a Monarch, that as it is incident to the best of poets sometimes to flatter some royal or noble patron, never did any do it more to the height, or with greater art or elegance, if the highest of praises attributed to so heroic a princess can justly be termed flattery."

SPENSER, the glory of English Poetry, claims to have been allied to the noble family of Spencer, of Althorpe in Northamptonshire; and it is certain that he reflects more honour an it, than he derives from it. "The nobility of the Spencers," says the elegant Gibbon, "has been illustrated and enriched by the trophies of Marlborough; but I exhort them to consider the Fairy Queen as the most precious jewel of their coronet."

He was educated at Pembroke-Hall, Cambridge, where he proceeded A.B in 1572, and A.M. in 1576, when he retired into the North, in consequence, as it is reported, of disappointment in obtaining a fellowship. Here he fell in love with his Rosalind — and is supposed to have written his Shepherd's Calendar, his earliest poem, which by a dedication to Sir Philip Sydney under the signature of Immerito, is conjectured to have first gained him an introduction to that illustrious patron, and to have drawn him from his retirement into the sunshine of the Court, where he seems however to have met with many disappointments, of which in many passages of his poems he most pathetically complains, particularly from Lord Burleigh, who, tho' an able politician, appears to have been of too coarse, too cold, and plodding a nature to have felt the divine influences of the Muse. In 1579, he was sent abroad by the Earl of Leicester, probably in some public employment: and when Arthur Lord Grey of Wilton was appointed to succeed Sir Henry Sydney, as Lord Deputy of Ireland, in 1580, Spenser was made his Secretary, an office which he discharged with great ability and integrity. But Lord Grey was recalled in 1582, and Spenser is supposed to have returned with him to England. There he continued till the death of Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, probably employed in the composition of the Fairy Queen, of which however fragments are said to have been written before his original introduction to Sir Philip. Yet the death of his great friend, however lamentable, did not happen before the poet had obtained, probably by his interest, a grant dated 27 June, 1586, of 3000 acres of land in the county of Cork in Ireland, part, of the forfeited estate of the Earl of Desmond. In 1587 he took possession of this estate, and having for his house the cattle of Kilcolman, and the pleasant river Mulla running through his grounds, he passed some years in a happy tranquillity and leisure. This situation gave him an opportunity of renewing his friendship with Sir Walter Raleigh, who having become acquainted with the poet, at the time of his having a command in Ireland under Arthur Lord Grey, had now obtained also a grant of 12,000 acres from the Crown, in Cork and Waterford. A visit by Sir Walter to Kilcolman is said to have determined Spenser to prepare the three first books of his, Fairy Queen for immediate publication, for which purpose the poet accompanied his friend back to London, and on his arrival there, 1588, finding his old patron Lord Leicester dead, was introduced by his friend to the Queen. At length in 1590 came out in quarto, the three first books of this incomparable poem, with a "Letter of the Author's, expounding his whole intention in the course of this worke, which for that it giveth great light to the Reader, for the better understanding is hereunto annexed." It is addressed "to the Right noble and valorous Sir Walter Raleigh, Knight, Lo. Wardein of the Stanneryes, and her Majesties liefetenaunt of the County of Cornewayll. Dated 23 January, 1589." This is followed by some panegyrical verses of Sir Walter and others, which are succeeded by some dedicatory sonnets by the poet himself, to some of the chief nobility.

In the Sonnets to Lord Ormond and lord Grey he seems clearly to allude to Ireland, as the place where the poem was principally written.

TO THE EARL OF ORMOND AND OSSORY.
Receive most noble Lord a Ample taste
Of the wilde fruit, which savage soyl hath bred,
Which being through long wars left almost waste,
With brutish barbarisme is overspredd:
And in so faire a land, as may be redd,
Not one Parnassus, nor one Helicone
Left for sweete Muses to be harboured,
But where thyselfe hast thy brave mansione;
There in deede dwel faire Graces many one.
And gentle Nymphes, delights of learned wits,
And in thy person without Paragone
All goodly bountie and true honour fits,
Such therefore, as that wasted soyl doth yield,
Receive dear Lord in worth the fruit of barren field.

TO THE LORD GREY OF WILTON.
Most noble Lord the pillor of my life,
And Patrone of my Muses pupillage,
Through whose large bountie poured on me rife,
In the first season of my feeble age,
I now doe live, bound yours by vassalage:
Sith nothing ever may redeeme, nor reave
Out of your endlesse debt so sure a gage,
Vouchsafe in worth this small guift to receave,
Which in your noble hands for pledge I leave,
Of all the rest, that I am tyde t' account:
Rude rymes, the which a rustick Muse did weave
In savadge soyle, far from Parnasso mount,
And roughly wrought in an unlearned Loome:
The which vouchsafe dear Lord your favorable doome.

Spenser now married; and in his Irish retirement, finished three more books of the Fairy Queen, besides several other poems. But his quiet was soon to end. After the death of the Earl of Desmond in 1593, the Earl of Tyrone broke out into a fresh rebellion. On this occasion Spenser became not a little anxious for his own settlement at Kilcolman; and in 1596, wrote a plan for reducing the kingdom, under the title of A View of the State of Ireland. In 1596, the fourth, fifth and sixth Books of the Fairy Queen were published at London in 4to: and he is supposed to have come to England himself at that time. However he was in Ireland again 1597; and there it seems he died, amid the desolations of the Rebellion, which was now raging, as appears from the following curious anecdote in Drummond, who has left us the heads of a conversation between himself and Ben Jonson. "Ben Jonson told me that Spenser's goods were robbed by the Irish in Desmond's rebellion; his house and a little child of his burnt; and he and his wife nearly escaped; that he refused twenty pieces sent him by the Earl of Essex, and gave this answer to the person who brought them, that he was sure he had no time to spend them." Camden informs us, that Spenser was in Ireland when the rebellion broke out under Tyrone in 1598, but that being plundered of his fortune, he was obliged to return into England, where he died, that fame, or the next year. Camden adds, that he was buried in the Abbey of Westminster, with due solemnities, at the expence of the Earl of Essex. If Drummond's account be true, it is most probable that the Earl, whose benefaction came too late to be of any use, ordered his body to be conveyed into England, where it was interred, as Camden relates. It must be owned that Jonson's account in Drummond, is very circumstantial; and that it is probable, Jonson was curious enough to collect authentic information, on so interesting a subject. At least his profession and connections better qualified him to come at the truth. Perhaps he was one of the poets who held up Spenser's pall.

Hugolin Spenser, a great-grand son, is said to have been restored by the Court of Claims, in the reign of Charles II, to so much of the lands as could be found to have belonged to the poet....


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