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Tet authentic materials which history has preserved, concerning Edmund Spenser, are by no mean, fuficient to enable us to give a full account of his life, or such a description, either of his person or & his fortune, as will completely gratify the admirer of English Poetry, or of real genius.
He was born in London, and fourished during the illustrious reign of Queen Elizabeth; but what raak his parents held in society is very uncertain : A circumftance which, of itself, renders it probable that his descent was obscure.
The time, both of his birth and of his death, has been disputed. Concerning the first, we are not in poselion of any circumstance which can authorise, us to hazard even a conje&ure. The latter cvent, in all probability, happened about the year 1998.
But while the accounts of his birth and family are so obscure and imperfect, and while many of the events of his life are lost in oblivion, Edmund Spenser is well known by his works, which have been read with admiration and delight ever since their first publication.
He had his education at Pembroke-Hall in Cambridge; where, after he had remained for some time, loring his mind with useful knowledge, he stood for a Fellowship, in competition with a Mr. Andrews, afterwards Bishop of Winchester ; but without success. This disappointment, and the narTownclo of his circumstances, obliged him to retire from the college. He took up his residence with fome friends in the north. And in this retirement he became enamoured of the beautiful Rosalind, whom he celebrates with so much elegance in his pastoral poems, and of whose cruelty we find him uttering so many pathetic complaints.
It was in this retirement that the genius of Spenser first began to distinguish itself; and the Shepo berd's Calendar was the first fruit of his unsuccessful pallion. This first effort of his genius he dedica ted to Sir Philip Sydney, who was regarded as the most accomplished and respe&able gentleman of the age in which he lived. Sir Philip was himself a poet of no inferior talents, and soon discovered ebe merit of Spenser, whom he continued to countenance and protect till the end of his life. By the advice of his friends, Spenser in a short time quitted this retirement, and went to London, that he might be more in the road of preferment. Here he experienced the judicious and generous patronage of the amiable Sir Philip Sydney, who, on reading a few stanzas of his Fairy Queen, which Spender had at this time begun to write, was fo ftruck with the inimitable description of some of the characters, that he ordered his steward to pay the author cwo hundred pounds; and prepared the way for his being known and received at Court.
Although nothing could have been more auspicious than this introduction, yet Spenser did not de rive from it any immediate benefit. He was indeed created Poet Laureat to Queen Elizabeth ; but for Come time he pollested only the place without the pension. His generous and noble patron was, from the nature of his employments, and the active fare he had in the campaigns of the Low Counkries
, obliged to be much absent from Court; and the Lord Treasurer Burleigh, who did not hold Spenser's merit in the same estimation, instead of promoting his intereft with the Queen, is faid to have intercepted her favour to this ingenious and unfortunate mans
This misfortune struck the elegant mind of the poet so deeply, that the impression seems not to have been effaced during a great part of his life. And, as might have been expected, we find him in many parts of his works, indulging himself in the most tender complaints of this ungenerous and undeserved treatment. In his poem called the Ruins of Time, which was written some time after Sydney's deatb ; in the speech of Calliope ; in the poem intitled the Tears of the Muses; in his Mother Hubbard's Tale; and at the end of book 6. of the Fairy Queen : there are several lines which carry a most pointed allufion to the repulse and oppositivin of the Lord Treasurer. This condud, on the part of the poet, naturally widened the breach between him and Burleigh; till what, at first, was perhaps only negleat in the Treasurer, was converted into a settled hatred.
Notwithftanding this violent and ilfiberal opposition of the Trealurer, however, the Queen, upon Spenser's presenting her with some poems, ordered him a gratuity of an hundred pounds; and, some time after his appearapce at Court, his uncommon abilities gained him the efteem and acquaintance of the nioft eminent men of that time,
His first appearance in adive life was in the year 1579, when he was fent abroad by the Earl of Leicester; but or what particular service he was employed is uncertain.
He was ącxt recommended as secretary to the Lord Grey of Wilton, upon his being chosen deputy of Ireland. Iq this atuation hç acquitted himself with great skill and ability, as may appear from his discourse on the state of Ireland, in which are to be found many folid and judicious remarks, that refled as much honour on his talents for public business, as his other productions do on his genius for poetry
Our author feemed now for ever exemp:ed from the difficulties and embarrassments of his former life. His services to the Crown were rewarded, by a grant from Queen Elizabeth of 3000 acres of land in the county of Corke. His houfe was in Kilcolman; and the river Mulla, which he has more than once so beautifully introduced in his poems, ran through his grounds.
About this time, Spenter contracted an intimate friendship with the great and learned Sir Walter Raleigh; and the poem called " Colin Clout's come home again," in which Sir Walter is described, after the pastoral manner, in the character of the Shepherd of the Ocean, is a beautiful memorial of this friendship, which originated at first fr. m congeniality of foul and fimilarity of taste in the polite arts. Sir Walter did Spenfer confiderable Services at Court, and rendered the Queen better acquainted with his writings than fhe had ever been before.
In this delightful retirement he was a more successful lover, than when he paid his addresses to Rofalind. The hiftory of the progreis of his new amour may be traced in the collection of his sonnets; and the excellent epithalamium which we find among his writings, was occasioned by his obtaining the object of his affcctirn in marriage.
It was here too, that he finished his celebrated poem of the Fairy Queen, which was begun and tontinued at different intervals of time, and of which only the three first books were ac first published. In a following edition he added three more : but the last six books (excepting the two cantos of Mu. tability) were unfortunateiy loít by his lervant, whom he had sent before him in haste to England ; a circumstance which the admirers of genuine merit, and of this most admirable poem, must for ever regret.
Spenser, however, was soon Gr ven from this serene and tranquil scene. In the rebellion of the Earl of Desmond he lost his estate. And upon his return to England, the weight of his misfortunes was doubled, from the want of his best friend the brave Sir Philip Sydney, who, a few years before, had died of the wounds he had received in an action in the Netherlands, univerfally lamented, as the ornament of the English nation.
The remainder of Spenser's life, were it better known, would probably be little else than the mournful detail of affliction. His fortune was now broken ; his heart was wounded with calamity; and the evening of a day, in which he had seen but few bright hours, was spent in the deep gloom of adversity.
He died in the same year with his powerful enemy the Lord Burleigh, which was in 1598, and about twelve years after his beloved patron Sir Philip Sydney. He was buried. at his own request, in Westminster Abbey, ocar the famous Geoffrey Chaucer. His obsequics were attended by the poets
of that time. Several copies of verses were thrown into his grave; and a monument to his memory was erected at the charge of the famdus Robert Devereux, the unfortunate Earl of Effex.
Besides those pieces of Spenser which have been preserved, we find he had written several others, of which the titles only can now be traced. Among these the most considerable were, nine comedies, infcribed with the names of the Nine Muses. The rest, which are mentioned in his own letters, and these of his friends, are, his Dying Pelicane, his Pageants, Stemmata Dudleyana, the Canticles paraphrased, Ecclefiaftes, Seven Psalms, Hours of our Lord, Sacrifice of a Sinner, Purgatory, A Se'nEight's Slumber, The Court of Cupid, and the Hell of Lovers. He is likewise said to have written a treatise in prose, called the English Poet.
As for the Epithalamion Thamesis, and his Dreams, both mentioned by himself in one of his letters, it is probable they are fill preserved, though under different names. His dreams, there is reason to conclude, have been published under the several titles of, Visions of the World's Vanity, Bellay's Vifiors, Petrarch's Vigons, &c.; and the substance of the Epithalamion 1 hamesis has been preserved in Canto XI. of Book IV. of the Fairy Queen, in that beautiful episode of the marriage of the Thames and Medway, which is so great an ornament to that book.
We are equally ignoraat, what family Spenser left behind him, as we are concerning many of the events of his own life. The only circumstance that seems to merit any credit is, that a person, in the reign of King William, came over from Ireland to folicit the lands which had belonged to his ancestors, and brought along with him letters of recommendation as a descendant of Spenfer. His claim was allowed to be good, and he obtained his fuit. He could give no account whatever of the works of his illuftrious ancestor which are wanting ; and in all probability, therefore, we must condade, with regret, that they are irrecoverably lost,