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A CORNER AT PEMBROKE
Spenser's College at Oxford. verses as were circulating in manuscript and not set that fashion ; his is only the negative published them in a small volume, protesting blame of not rising above it. to the “gentle reader” that his object in so There was no hesitation or diffidence about doing was “the better increase and accom- the welcome given to Spenser's new work. plishment of your delights."
Spenser's cup was once more overflowing Spenser sent his “Shepheard's Calendar " with praise, as it had done ten years before, into the world anonymously, but he claimed when he had approved himself England's new the parentage of the “ Faerie Queene" from poet. But was praise to be all? Not quite. the day of publication. His earlier work had Elizabeth, close-fisted as she was, evidently been attributed to various writers; there thought she must do something for the poet should be no mystery about this child of his who had done so much for her; and it was fancy. Not only does he avow his ownership like Spenser's luck that his Queen was perof the poem in his famous explanatory letter suaded to make her bounty less than she had to Raleigh, but he sets his name boldly to the intended. Tradition affirms that Elizabeth dedication addressed to the Queen. That ordered a goodly sum to be given to the dedication was amplified in a later edition, poet, but that on Lord Burghley murmuring, its original reading being : “ To the most “What! all this for a song ?” the order was mightie and magnificent Empresse Elizabeth, changed into, “Well, let him have what is by the grace of God Queene of England, reason.” In the end, Spenser was awarded France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, a pension of £50 a year, which he began to etc. Her most humble Servant: Ed. Spenser.” enjoy in February, 1591. It would be unjust to attribute this dedication, pension of £50 a year was better than and the laudation of Elizabeth in the poem nothing, but that Spenser was bitterly disitself, to base motives; Spenser was but appointed in not being offered some State writing in harmony with the manner of his employment in his native England is beyond day. It is true, as Dean Church remarked, doubt. But there was to be no success for that there is nothing in history which can be him at court; and when he reached his lonely compared to the “gross, shameless, lying home in Ireland again, and had time to think flattery paid to the Queen," but the poet did calmly over the experiences through which he had passed, he was enabled to reach the had no easy conquest. At first he appears sane conclusion that things were best as to have had as little hope of success as with they were.
Rosalind, and his verse is overclouded with Early in the year 1591 Spenser returned the somber hues of anticipated rejection. to his Irish home at Kilcolman, and before in june, 1594, he gladly assumed the bonds the year was out he had, in “ Colin Clouts of wedlock. For wedding present he gave Come Home Againe,” found sufficient reasons his wife that bridal ode, his “Epithalamion," for thinking that he ought to be at least mod- which has no rival in any language, to be erately contented with his lot. It is pleasant Unto her a goodly ornament, to suppose that he was not altogether lonely And for short time an endlesse moniment. in his exile. There are reasons for believing For such a gift surely high-born ladies would that a sister kept house for him ; and prob- be content to forego the choicest coronet or ably congenial friends, such as Gabriel Har- the costliest crown, Sonnets and ode were vey and Ludowick Bryskett, visited him now sent across to Ponsonby the publisher, and and then. But for such ameliorations as Spenser had not been a married man six these, and his delight in verse, his lot would months before the rich fruit of his love pashave been almost unendurable. The fact sion had been garnered in the store of Engthat he was an Englishman would be suffi- lish literature. cient to embitter the natives of the district Almost as soon as the “ Amoretti and Epi. against him, and that feeling must have been thalamion” volume had been entered at intensified a thousand-fold by his occupancy Stationers' Hall, the poet himself was in of Kilcolman, a castle which had once be- London again. Perhaps the increased re. longed to the Earls of Desmond. The poet's sponsibilities of wedded life made him long name, like that of Cromwell, is still a word of once again for more preferment,” or perscorn in Ireland, and such living records as haps the cause for his visit must be sought in we have of his Kilcolman days are tinged the fact that he had finished the other three with hatred. One inveterate enemy he had in the person of Lord Roche, who forbade his people to have any trade or conference with Spenser or his tenants, and, in true Irish fashion, killed an animal belonging to a man who had dared to give the poet a night's lodging when re-urning from the Limerick sessions.
Rosalind has been lost sight of dur. ing these years of exile, but not forgotten by Spenser. The closing passages of “ Colin Clouts Come Home Againe” describe, as has been seen, the anger of Colin's fellow-shepherds for Rosalind's cruel treatment of their friend, and his defense of his mistress. More, in almost his last words he bids his comrades
Unto the world for ever witness bee
That hers I die. Alas for the inconstancy of man! Spenser was not destined to remain faithful to his ideal. Not long after he wrote those words there crossed his path a lady whose name recalled his mother and his Queen, an Elizabeth who was to supplant Rosalind in his life and verse. There is no record of his courtship save that darkly hinted at in his sonnets, but KING STREET, WESTMINSTER, WHERE SPENSER DIED that record is sufficient to prove that he
From a Contemporary Print
books of the “ Faerie Queene," and was year was waning to its close there came the anxious to see them through the press him- welcome news that he had been appointed self.
Sheriff of the County of Cork. Lord BurghWe have only one picture of Spenser dur- ley was dead, and now, perchance, he was ing this second visit home, and that was on the highroad to that " more preferment" drawn by himself. Towards the end of 1596 he had sought so long. In this year of new he wrote a “spousal verse” in honor of the hope he had prepared, for the Queen's special marriage, at Essex House, of the two daugh- guidance, a brief paper on the state of Ireters of the Earl of Worcester, and in that land, and its proem is the last sigh we catch poem he refers to himself when
from his lips: “Out of the ashes of desolaSullein care,
tion of wasteness of this your wretched Realm Through discontent of my long fruitless stay
of Ireland, vouchs afe, most mighty Empress, In Princes Court, and expectation vayne our dread sovereign, to receive the voices of Of idle hopes, which still doe fly away,
a few most unbappy ghosts (of whom is nothLike empty shaddowes, did afflict my brayne. ing but the ghost now left), which lie buried Although Leicester had not done much for in the bottom of oblivion, far from the light him, he generously implies, now he is dead, of your gracious sunshine.” That deepthat he had been a helpful friend, and thinks shadowed picture is suddenly illumined by of him as one “ whose want too well now the promise of brighter days for the poet. feeles my freendles case.” An undercurrent But it is only such a rift in the clouds as of sadness runs through this “spousal verse;" heralds the denser darkness before the storm. the poet is conscious of the incongruous That autumn of 1598, which seemed so effect; he tries to subdue the discord with a full of hope for Spenser, saw the culmination higher note of melody; but the feeling left of another of those wild rebellions which when the music ceases is more akin to pathos swept over Ireland so frequently in the reign than joy. For this, had he known it, was of Elizabeth. Spenser was living amid ruins. really Spenser's swan-song. There was to An English home in Ireland, however fair, be no life of leisured ease for him, nor any was a home on the sides of Ætna or Vesuvius; home in his smiling native land. He must it stood where the lava flood had once passed, return to that half-ruined castle on the wild and upon no distant fires." The poet was plain at the foot of the Galtee hills, must not blind to the dangers amid which he face the ill-omened scowls of aliens again, lived. His report to Elizabeth, and his prose and live on as best he might amid sights work giving a “ View of the Present State of and sounds of wretchedness made all the Ireland," witness to his clear knowledge of the more painful by the remembered contrasts of political unrest by which he was surrounded. his beloved England.
Still, he can hardly have thought that danger In one matter Spenser may have thought was so near, for the wild onrush of the rebels himself fortunate. With that inaptitude which in October found him utterly unprepared was ingrained in his character, King James to resist their attack on Kilcolman Castle. of Scotland actually asked that the poet That attack was only too successful. The should be arrested and punished for the pic- poet, with his wife and children, bad to fly ture he had drawn of his mother, Mary, for their lives, and the building was given to Queen of Scots, in the character of Duessa. the flames. Ben Jonson told that a new-born The passage which had so moved the Scots child of Spenser's perished in the burning King is that in Canto 1X., Book IV., of the castle, but, happily, there are no valid reasons “Faerie Queene;" he thought little, appar- for crediting that assertion; the picture is ently, of the earlier sketch in the eighth canto dark enough without that added touch. of the first book! Having so many friends, It is a mistake to think that the Munster and probably some enemies, at court, Spenser rebellion drove Spenser from Ireland. He no doubt heard of his danger, and in those and his family made their way to Cork, and uncertain times he must have fully appreciated there they were secure from further attack. the narrow escape he had bad. But was not The fact that his wife and children did not Kilcolman prison enough for such a spirit? leave the country is proof that the rebels had
Back, then, to Kilcolman again, and now done their worst by burning Kilcolman, and for the last time. The date is uncertain, but that there was no more to fear from them. it was probably early in 1597. He lived Also, it is to be remembered that Sir Thomas quietly through that year, and as the next Norreys, the President of Munster, sought
safety in Cork, thereby bringing upon himself bitter experiences of the previous months, a severe rebuke from the Government for his this may have set the seal on his fate. He cowardice. If Cork had not been a secure was but forty-six years old; some explanaretreat, there would have been no sting in the tion seems necessary for his being suddenly rebuke. No, it was not the rebellion which sent cut down in the prime of life. He was able,
In the Gardens of Pembroke College, Oxford. Spenser across the Irish Channel again; he it seems to deliver his dispatch on December went as the bearer of a dispatch from Sir 24, and then we lose sight of him until the Thomas Norreys, being chosen for thaterrand, 16th of the following month. On that day probably, because his personal knowledge he died. might be useful to the authorities in London. Tradition, in the person of Ben Jonson, has Norreys wrote his dispatch on December 9, invested the death-bed of Spenser with unand committed it to Spenser's care. The poet called-for and unbelievable pathos. “He was going home for the last time.
died,” Jonson told Drummond, “ for want of Between the writing of the dispatch and bread, in King Street; he refused twenty pieces its delivery at Whitehall, fifteen days elapsed. sent him by my lord Essex, and said he was Perchance the poet had a stormy passage, sure he had no time to spend them. This and, with nerves and body shattered by the legend of starvation was repeated by other writers, but no evidence has been adduced in Several portraits (in oils) of Spenser are in its support. No student of Spenser's life existence, and at least one miniature. The could so far forget his facts as to affirm that latter may be dismissed at once as wholly the poet had attained a state of affluence at unsatisfactory. There is nothing of the his death; on the other hand, it is impossible Elizabethan atmosphere about it, and its for him to believe that death ensued from subject is a nondescript character wholly out actual want of bread. Spenser was now of keeping with the pronounced personality Sheriff of the County of Cork, and he had of the author of the “Faerie Queene.” The come to London as messenger of the Presi- other portraits may be divided into two classes, dent of Munster to the English court. If he represented respectively by the canvas at had been in extreme monetary need on his Duplin Castle and that which was formerly arrival in London, there were many in the in the possession of Lord Chesterfield. It capital who would at once have relieved his is impossible to reconcile these portraits; wants. The scene of his death, a tavern in they are of men utterly dissimilar; they have King Street, Westminster, also tells against absolutely nothing in common. All who have the starvation legend. King Street, then the compared them must regard it as little short only highway between the Royal Palace of of a misfortune that the Lord Chesterfield Whitehall and the Parliament House, was a painting is that which has generally been folstreet of considerable importance, and Spen- lowed in the engraved portraits of the poet; ser's presence there is explained by Stow's it is hardly more satisfactory than the miniremark that “ for the accommodation of such ature. On the other hand, the Duplin poras come to town in the terms, here are some trait seems to prove its own authenticity. good inns for their reception, and not a few There is an excellent replica of this portrait, taverns for entertainment, as is not unusual from the brush of Sir Henry Raeburn, in the in places of great confluence.” There are possession of Earl Spencer at Althorp, and ample proofs, too, that King Street was the the accompanying reproduction of a photousual resort of those who were messengers to graph taken recently from that canvas may the Court, such as Spenser then was. Hap- be confidently left to create its own justificapily, then, there are no grounds for believing tion as the most reliable likeness of the poet. that the poet died for want of bread; it was There is a note on the back of the portrait, tragedy enough that such a life should have which, taken in conjunction with the fact that gone out at so early an age.
Raeburn made the copy in 1820, appears to There was but one burial-place for Spen- offer inferential evidence in favor of this ser-that Abbey in which the dust of Chaucer likeness. The note is to the following effect: had already consecrated Poets' Corner to be “ Another original portrait of this great poet the sepulture of England's sweet singers. was known to have been at Castle Saffron in It is said that Spenser asked a resting-place the county of Cork, Ireland, situated in the near that sacred dust, and such a wish was neighborhood of Kilcolman Castle, the resi naturalin one who knew that he was Chaucer's dence of Spenser, which was destroyed by lineal successor. Lord Essex defrayed the fire before his death. This picture, in concharges of the funeral, and poets bore the sequence of the roof of Castle Saffron fallpall and cast upon the coffin their elegies ing in from neglect, was utterly destroyed, and the pens with which they were written, a fact ascertained by Admiral Sir Benjamin Spenser did not lack for a monument, al- Halliwell during the period of his comthough it was more than twenty years after mand-in-chief of the port of Cork in 1818, his death before such a memorial was sup- at the request of George John, Earl Spencer, plied, through the generosity of Anne Clifford, K.G.". Countess of Dorset. A hundred and fifty P erhaps the chief evidence for the autheryears after, that monument had fallen into ticity of the portrait accompanying this decay, but its appearance is faithfully repro- article is the surprising manner in which it duced by the existing marble, which was harmonizes with the character of Spenser. erected by subscription in 1778, at the in- This, at any rate, is a man of whom the stigation of the poet Mason. The inscription “Faerie Queene” might be expected. There difters in two particulars from the accepted is an aloofness in the expression which may dates of Spenser's life, giving 1553 instead well have mirrored to the outward world the of 1552 as the date of his birth, and 1598 spirit of one who dwelt apart in a "happy instead of 1599 as the year of his death. land of Faerie."