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Sacrifice of a Sinner;" “ The Seven Psalms;" “Dreams;"
The English Poet;" “ Legends;" “The Court of Cupid;" “The Hell of Lovers;" his “Purgatory;" “ A Se’ennight's Slumber;" “Pageants;" “Nine Comedies;” “Stemmata Dudleiana ;" and “Epithalamion Thamesis.”
It was necessary, by the terms of his patent, that Spenser should reside on his estate, and superintend its cultivation and improvement. He accordingly took up his abode in Kilcolman Castle, an ancient stronghold of the Earls of Desmond, romantically situated by the side of a lake, in the midst of a large plain shut in by mountains, and intersected by the river Mulla. Here, not long after, Sir Walter Raleigh, the “Shepherd of the Ocean,” visited the poet; and both, during this visit, seem to have sat
“Amongst the coolly shade
Of the green alders by the Mulla's shore,” and to have read together the manuscript of the “Faerie Queene,” the gorgeousness of which fascinated the sympathetic soul of Sir Walter. To such “fit audience" did the great bard rehearse the sage and solemn tunes in which he had
Spenser accompanied his illustrious friend to London, and published in 1590 the "Faerie Queene; disposed into twelve Books, fashioning twelve Moral Virtues.” This edition contained only the first three books, with the complimentary verses to and by the author which were common in his day. Of this, his great work, Spenser himself, in a conversation extracted from his friend Ludowick Bryskett's “Discourse of Civill Life,” is made to say, “I have already undertaken a work in heroical verse, under the title of a 'Faerie Queene,' tending to represent all the moral virtues, assigning to every virtue a knight to be patron and defender of the same, in whose actions, feats of arms, and chivalry, the operations of that virtue whereof he is the protector are to be expressed, and the vices and unruly appetites that oppose themselves against the same to be beaten down and overcome.” In 1590-1 Queen Elizabeth, to whom Raleigh presented him, conferred on Spenser a pension of fifty pounds a year; and the discovery of the grant of this pension in the Chapel of the Rolls by Mr. Malone, frees Lord Burleigh from the suspicion of having intercepted the intended bounty of the sovereign. It is creditable to Burleigh-and his character wants all the credit of this kind that can be decently claimed—if he did not put into practical form the undoubted coldness, dashed with party bitterness, which marked the relations subsisting between the statesman and the poet.
Spenser appears to have closed a courtship, the successful progress of which is traced in his “ Amoretti,” by a marriage with a lady whose Christian name was probably Elizabeth, but of whose family nothing is known. This marriage was celebrated in Ireland, on St. Barnabas' Day, 1594. In 1596 Spenser published the fourth, fifth, and sixth books of the “Faerie Queene;" and these were destined to be the last: for the remaining six, even if they were ever completed, were—with the exception of two imperfect cantos of “Mutability”—either lost through the carelessness of a servant to whom they were entrusted, or consumed in the flames which the adherents of Tyrone applied to the poet's dwelling of Kilcolman, and in which, besides these children of his brain, his infant son perished, having been overlooked in the hurried flight of the household.
Spenser died at an inn in King Street, Westminster, on the 16th of January, 1598-9, very soon after his escape to England as a land of refuge. Whether we adopt the
version of Camden, or Jonson, or Fuller, as to the circumstances of Spenser's death, we can arrive at nothing but gloom and sadness. It is not necessary to believe the worst account, which, as given by Ben Jonson in his conversations with Drummond, states that the poet “died for lake of bread in King Street, and refused twenty pieces sent to him by my Lord of Essex, and said, “He was sorrie he had no time to spend them.'” With reference to this, the wish may father the thought that rare Ben Jonson” was not the man to walk all the way from London to Hawthornden merely that he might "a plain unvarnished tale deliver.” The high colouring of the picture is suggestive of maudlin accessories on the part of the artist. It is less painful to leave the alternative starving or spirit-broken circumstances of Spenser's death undisturbed; and to know that his funeral expenses were defrayed by the Earl of Essex, who buried him in Westminster Abbey, close to the tomb of Chaucer, by whose side he had always wished to rest. The last glimpse we have of Spenser personally is afforded us by Camden; and it is the beautiful and beautifully befitting one of “his hearse being attended by poets, and mournful elegies and poems, with the pens that wrote them, thrown into his tomb."
Three short extracts are presented from the “Faerie Queene;" one of the minor merits of the first six books of which magnificent poem, it may be said, not invidiously, was of the kind that of old kept up the value of the Sibylline oracles. The hymn "On Heavenly Love" is the third of a series of four which the poet published in the same year that saw the issue of the second and last instalment of the “Faerie Queene." These hymns were dedicated “To the right honourable and most virtuous ladies, the Lady Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, and the Lady Mary, Countess of Warwick.” The following is Spenser's own narrative of their production :-" Having, in the green times of my youth, composed these former two hymns in the praise of love and beauty, and finding that the same too much pleased those of like age and disposition, which being too vehemently carried with that kind of affection, do rather suck out poison to their strong passion than honey to their honest delight, I was moved by the one of you two most excellent ladies to call in the same; but being unable to do so, by reason that many copies thereof were formerly scattered abroad, I resolved at least to amend, and by way of retraction, to reform them, making (instead of those two hymns of earthly, or material love and beauty) two others of heavenly and celestial, the which I do dedicate jointly unto you two honourable sisters, as to the most excellent and rare ornaments of all true love and beauty, both in the one and in the other kind."
HYMN ON HEAVENLY LOVE.
Love, lift me up upon thy golden wings
From this base world unto thy heaven's height, Where I may see those admirable things
Which there thou workest by thy sovereign might, Far above feeble reach of earthly sight, That I thereof an heavenly hymn may sing, Unto the God of Love, high heaven's King. Many lewd lays (ah! woe is me the more !)
In praise of that mad fit which fools call love, I have in th' heat of youth made heretofore,
That in light wits did loose affection move;
But all those follies now I do reprove,
ye that wont with greedy, vain desire
Sith now that heat is quenchéd, quench my blame,
And in her ashes shroud my dying shame; For who my passéd follies now pursues, Begins his own, and my old fault renews.
Before this world's great frame, in which all things
Are now contained, found any being-place,
About that mighty bound which doth embrace
(For fair is loved), and of itself begot, Like to itself, his eldest Son and Heir,
Eternal, pure and void of sensual blot,
The firstling of his joy, in whom no jot
In endless glory and immortal might,
Most wise, most holy, most Almighty Sprite,
Whose kingdom's throne no thoughts of earthly wight Can comprehend, much less my trembling verse, With equal words can hope it to rehearse. Yet, О most blessed Spirit! pure lamp of light,
Eternal spring of grace and wisdom true, Vouchsafe to send into my barren sprite
Some little drop of thy celestial dew,
That may my rhymes with sweet infuse imbrue,
And full of fruitful Love, that loves to get
His second brood, though not of power so great,
Yet full of beauty, next He did beget,
(Not this round heaven, which we from hence behold, Adorned with thousand lamps of burning light,
And with ten thousand gems of shining gold)