« ZurückWeiter »
ing pension was only fifty pounds a-year. The LordTreasurer Burghley, who considered the mechanic arts as more important than the polite in a rising state, is accused of having in this instance intercepted the annual hundred pounds of her Majesty's favour. And, as misfortunes have the strongest influence on elegant and cultivated minds, it was no wonder that Spenser was much depressed by the coldness of his reception. Accordingly, we find him pouring out his heart in complaints of his undeserved treatment; which, however, would probably have been less afflictive, if his noble patron by his employments abroad had not necessarily been absent from court. To these discouragements Spenser appears to allude, in a poem entitled The Ruins of Time,' written after Sidney's death, in the following stanza:
O grief of griefs, O gall of all good hearts!
Burghley afterward, likewise, conceived a dislike against him, for the satire which he apprehended was levelled at himself, in Mother Hubbard's Tale.'* In
* Even the sighs of a miserable man, Hughes elegantly observes, are sometimes resented as an affront, by him who is the occasion of them. The following story, related by some as a matter of fact commonly reported at that time, reflects heavily upon the character of Burghley: it is discredited, however, by Dr. Birch. It has been said, that upon Spenser's presenting some poems to the Queen, she ordered him a gratuity of a hundred pounds; but the Lord-Treasurer objecting to it, scornfully
this poem, the author has vividly depicted the misfortune of depending on court-favours, in the following beautiful lines:
Full little knowest thou, that hast not tried,
To lose good days that might be better spent,
demanded, "What, all this for a song?" The Queen replied, "Then give him what is reason." Spenser, having for some time expected in vain his remuneration, took an opportunity of presenting a paper to her Majesty, in the manner of a petition, in which he reminded her of her order by the following lines:
I was promised on a time
To have reason for my rhyme:
I received nor rhyme nor reason.'
This produced the intended effect: the Queen, after sharply reproving the Treasurer, directed the payment to be instantly made. Mr. Todd, however, has disproved this story too.
*And yet notwithstanding the illiberal opposition of Lord Burghley, whose memory has been devoted to ignominy by every admirer of Spenser, the period during which the poet was condemned to this suffering was not long protracted; since, after a very few years of the servitude of office, at thirty-three he was rewarded by an ample and independent fortune, of which he was only deprived (twelve years afterward) by a general and national calamity. Few candidates for court-favour, with no better pretensions than great literary merit, have been so successful. That his burial was ordered by the Earl of Essex (as
When Lord Grey of Wilton was appointed Deputy of Ireland, Spenser was recommended to be his Secretary. This settled him in a scene of life very different from what he had formerly known; but that he discharged his employment with skill and capacity, is abundantly proved by his Discourse on the State of Ireland,' in which occur many most judicious remarks. He was now freed from the difficulties, under which he had hitherto struggled: but his principal being recalled in 1582, Spenser returned with him to England, and seems to have continued there till the untimely death of his first patron, Sir Philip Sidney, in 1586.
His services to the crown, as Secretary to the LordDeputy, having been recompensed by a grant from Queen Elizabeth of three thousand acres of land in the county of Cork, out of the forfeited estates of the Earl of Desmond, he determined to reside in Ireland. His house was at Kilcolman; and the river Mulla, which he has more than once beautifully introduced in his poems, ran through his grounds. About this time, he contracted an intimate friendship with Sir Walter Ralegh, who was then a captain under Lord Grey. His elegant poem, entitled Colin Clout's come home again,' in which that illustrious man is described under the name of the "Shepherd of the Ocean," is an interesting memorial of this friendship,* which springing from a similarity of taste in the polite
Mr. Todd remarks) may surely be considered as a token of that nobleman's respect for the poet, without proving that the poet was starved. Of the man, who had thus perished, a distinguished funeral might have seemed almost mockery.
Through the recommendation of Sir Walter, Queen Eliza beth read all Spenser's writings.
arts, he has described with a softness and delicacy peculiar to his pen.
In 1594, he fell in love a second time with a merchant's daughter, in which he was more successful than in his first amour. Upon this occasion, he wrote a beautiful epithalamium, which he presented to the lady upon their bridal day.
In 1596 he again visited England, and presented (as it is inferred by Mr. Todd) his View of the State of Ireland' to the Queen; a work, which though very short, contains probably the best account extant of the customs, manners, and national character of the Irish of that day. For this, his only production in prose, Elizabeth deigned to reward him, as he justly deserved and a letter from her Majesty to the Irish government, dated in September, 1598, has been discovered, recommending him to be appointed Sheriff of Cork. But the rebellion, which broke out in the ensuing month under the Earl of Tyrone, frustrated her generous purpose.
In the mean time he had completed his Fairy Queen,' which had been continued at different intervals, and of which he at first published only the first three books. To these were added three more, in a subsequent edition: but the six last books (with the exception of the two cantos on Mutability) were unfortunately lost by his servant, whom he had hastily sent before him to England; when, in the rebellion of the Earl of Desmond, he had been plundered and deprived of his estate. This distress forced him back to his native country, where he was plunged into new calamities. He died in King-street, West
minster, in 1598, and was buried as he desired near Chaucer in Westminster-Abbey. His obse
quies were attended by several of his poetical contemporaries, who paid the last honours to his memory. Several copies of verses were thrown into his grave with the pens that wrote them, and his monument was erected at the charge of Robert Devereux, the unfortunate Earl of Essex.*
That we have so few anecdotes of the private life of this great poet, must be a mortification to all lovers of the Muses, as he was one of the ornaments of the age in which he lived. No writer ever found a nearer way to the heart. His verses, indeed, have the peculiar faculty of recommending the author to our friendship, as well as of exciting our admiration. One cannot read him without fancying one's-self transported into Fairy-Land, and there conversing with the graces of
* This is the account, given by the editor of his works, of the death of Spenser; and he is supported in it by the authority of Camden. But, in a work of reputation, we find a different relation delivered upon probable grounds. Drummond of Hawthornden maintained an intimate correspondence with all the contemporary literati who resided in London, particularly Ben Jonson, who even spent some time with him at his house in Scotland. Upon his departure, Drummond, with a view of preserving what had passed between them, wrote down the heads of their conversation; which he published with his Poems and History of the Five Jameses, Kings of Scotland. Among other particulars is the following: "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 afterward died in King-street, Dublin, by absolute want of bread; and 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.""