Taking issue with John Dryden's statement in the Essay on Satire that the death of Sir Philip Sidney "deprived the poet both of means and spirit to accomplish his design" of the Faerie Queene, Edmond Malone establishes the chronology of Spenser's life, arguing that most of the poem was written after Sidney's death and much of it after Spenser was given lands and a a pension: "from whatever it may have arisen, it is manifest that the death of Sydney was not the circumstance which deprived the world of the last six books of THE FAERY QUEEN." Malone was a skillful biographical sleuth, but fails to consider that much of the Faerie Queene may in fact have been written long before the poem was published, though just how much we do not know. It remains for some latter-day Malone to develop still better means of textual analysis to determine precisely which parts of the Faerie Queen were written when.
Joseph Ritson: "His pages abound with profound ignorance, idle conjectures, crude notions, feeble attempts at jocularity" Cursory Remarks on Malone's Shakspeare (1792) in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 4:578.
George Ellis to Walter Scott, then editing Dryden: "Quoad Malone, — I should think Ritson himself, could he rise from the dead, would be puzzled to sift out a single anecdote of the poet's life; but to abridge Malone — and to render his narrative terse, elegant, and intelligible — would be a great obligation conferred on the purchasers (I will not say the readers, because I have doubts whether they exist in the plural number) of his very laborious compilation. The late Dr. [Joseph] Warton, you may have heard, had a project of editing Dryden a la Hurd; that is to say, upon the same principle as the castrated edition of Cowley. His reason was, that Dryden, having written for bread, became of necessity a most voluminous author, and poured forth more nonsense of indecency, particularly in his theatrical compositions, than almost any scribbler in that scribbling age. Hence, although his transcendent genius frequently breaks out, and marks the hand of the master, his comedies seem, by a tacit but general consent, to have been condemned to oblivion; and his tragedies, being printed in such bad company, have shared the same fault. But Dr. W. conceived that, by a judicious selection of these, together with his fables and prose works, it would be possible to exhibit him in a much more advantageous light than by a republication of the whole mass of his writings. Whether the Doctor (who, by the way, was by no means scrupulously chaste and delicate, as you will be aware from his edition of Pope) had taken a just view of the subject, you know better than I; but I must own that the announcement of a 'general' edition of Dryden gave me some little alarm" 1805; in Lockhart, Life of Scott (1837-38; 1902) 1:455-46.
From the time this Essay was written, to the present day, this representation has been given again and again, in various books of biography and criticism; and among others, Fenton has declared himself entirely of Dryden's opinion, that, on the death of Sir Philip Sidney, "Spencer was deprived of means and spirit to accomplish his design," in consequence of which his FAERY QUEEN was left imperfect and unfinished. This notion, for which there is no ground whatsoever, (as I shall elsewhere more fully shew,) proves how very slight and superficial the inquiries were, which the poets of the last century and the beginning of the present, made concerning their predecessors; of which Rowe's Life of Shakspeare, and Hughes's Life of Spencer, as well as the present observation of Dryden, furnish abundant evidence.
Before Spencer went to Ireland with Lord Grey (1580) we learn from one of his letters to Gabriel Harvey, that the plan of THE FAERY QUEEN was formed, and some part of it composed. In a Dialogue written by his friend Lodowick Bryskett, which appears to have been composed some time between 1584 and 1589, and in which Spencer is introduced as a speaker, the poem is spoken of as then in hand. In 1589 he brought three books of it to London, which were published in 1590-91. In 1592 or 1593, he became acquainted with the lady, whom he afterwards (f. June 11, 1594,) married, and addressed several sonnets to her, which were published in 1595. In this interval he appears to have written the fourth, fifth, and sixth books of his great poem; and from his 80th sonnet, apparently written in 1594, we find that he had then completed only SIX BOOKS, and was desirous of "rest" after having executed so long and laborious a task. In that or the next year he came to England, and printed the last three books, which were published in 1596, in which year he also wrote some small poems in honour of his patrons, and his most valuable "View of the State of Ireland." Thus all his time has been accounted for, except about twenty months, from the beginning of 1597, to September 1598; in which period he probably wrote some detached portions of the remaining six books, of which the Cantos on MUTABILITY are a proof. In October 1598, on Tyrone's rebellion breaking out, his castle was plundered, one of his children murdered, and he and his wife escaped to London, where he died, between the 1st of January, and the 25th of March, 1598-9; probably in the forty-fifth year of his age.
Sir Philip Sydney, we know, died October 16, 1586; but so far is it from being true that his death deprived Spencer of "spirit" to complete his work, that it is almost certain much the greater part of it was written between that year and 1595; and it is equally untrue, that on the loss of that patron, he was deprived of those "means" which would have rendered him independent, and enabled him to devote his hours to literary pursuits: for a very few months before that event, he obtained the grant of the Castle of Kilcolman, in the county of Corke, with 3000 acres of land annexed to it; and though he was unsupported by such influence as Sydney might have had at court, above five years afterwards, Feb. 25, 1590-91, (as I discovered a few years ago in the Rolls-Chapel,) his talents were rewarded with a pension of fifty pounds a year, during his life, (in addition to the estate which he then possessed) which, all circumstances being considered, was fully equal to £200 a year a present. From this statement, I conceive, it may justly be inferred, that his own "immature" death (to use Camden's words in his Account of the Monuments in Westminster Abbey,) was the real cause of his poem's not being completed; but from whatever it may have arisen, it is manifest that the death of Sydney was not the circumstance which deprived the world of the last six books of THE FAERY QUEEN.