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SPECIMEN OF SIDNEY'S PROSE.
more vigour than prudence, to a work called “Leicester's Commonwealth,” impugning the character of his uncle.
A STAG IIUNT.
(FROM THE “ARCADIA.") They came to the side of the wood, where the hounds were in couples, staying their coming, but with a whining accent craving liberty; many of them in colour and marks so resembling, that it shewed they were of one kind. The huntsmen handsomely attired in their green liveries, as though they were children of summer, with staves in their hands to beat the guiltless earth, when the hounds were at a fault; and with horns about their necks, to sound an alarm upon a silly fugitive: the hounds were straight uncoupled, and ere long the stag thought it better to trust to the nimbleness of his feet than to the slender fortification of his lodging; but even his feet betrayed him; for, howsoever they went, they themselves uttered themselves to the scent of their enemies, who, one taking it of another, and sometimes believing the wind's advertisements, sometimes the view of-their faithful counsellors--the huntsmen, with open mouths, then denounced war, when the war was already begun. Their cry being composed of so well-sorted mouths that any man would perceive therein some kind of proportion, but the skilful woodmen did find a music. Then delight and variety of opinion drew the horsemen sundry ways, yet cheering their hounds with voice and horn, kept still as it were together. The wood seemed to conspire with them against his own citizens, dispersing their noise through all his quarters; and even the nymph Echo left to bewail the loss of Narcissus, and became a hunter. But the stag was in the end so hotly pursued, that, leaving his flight, he was driven to make courage of despair; and so turning his head, made the hounds, with change of speech, to testify that he was at a bay : as if from hot pursuit of their enemy, they were suddenly come to a parley.
When Chaucer died, the lamp of English poetry grew dim, shining for many years only with faint, uncertain gleams. A haze of civil blood rose from the trodden battle-fields of the Roses and the dust of old, decaying systems, the clamour of whose fall resounded through the shaking land, obscured the light "and blotted out the stars of heaven.” But only for a while. Truth came with the Bible in her hand. The red mist rolled away. The dust was sprinkled with drops from the everlasting well. Men breathed a purer air and drank a fresher life into their spirit, and a time came of which it may well be said, “There were giants on the earth in those days.”
Edmund Spenser was, in point of time, the second of the four grand old masters of our poetical literature. He was born in 1553, in East Smithfield, by the Tower of London. It is said that he was of a noble race, but we know little or nothing of his parents. Nor can we tell where he went to school. At the age of sixteen (1569) he entered Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, as a sizar, and there in 1576 he took his degree of M.A. So meagre is our knowledge of his early life.
A friendship, formed at Cambridge with Gabriel Harvey of Trinity Hall, had considerable influence upon the poet's fortunes. When Spenser left college, having disagreed, it is thought, with the master of his hall, he went to live in the north of England, perhaps to act as tutor to some young friend. He had, no doubt,
THE GRANT OF KILCOLMAN.
long been wooing the Muses by the classic banks of Cam, brit now the time had come when his genius was to shine out in fuller lustre. His fame, as often happens, had its root in a deep sorrow. A lady, whom he calls Rosalind, made a plaything of his heart, and, when tired of her sport, cast it from her. She little knew the worth of the jewel she had flung away. “ The sad mechanic exercise” of verse was balm to the wounded poet, who poured forth his tender soul in The Shepheard's Calender, begun in the north but completed under the oak-trees of Penshurst, where dwelt “Maister Philip Sidney.”
Spenser owed this brilliant friend to the kindness of Harvey, who had induced him to come to London. Thus he was naturally brought under the notice of Leicester, Sidney's uncle, by whose interest he became secretary to Lord Grey of 1580 Wilton, the newly-appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. The next two years were therefore spent in that country. Grey owed much to the gifted pen of his grateful secretary, who zealously defended his policy and reputation. The poet's services were rewarded in 1586 by a grant from Elizabeth of more than 3000 acres in the county of Cork. These acres—the estate of Kilcolman—formed a part of the forfeited lands of the rebel Desmonds, of which Raleigh had already received a large share. This seeming generosity-which, however, cost Elizabeth nothing—is ascribed to the good offices of Grey and Leicester; but there are not wanting hints that the cool and cautious Burleigh, anxious to thin the ranks of his magnificent rival, managed thus to consign to an honourable exile an adherent of Leicester, whose genius made him a formidable foe. The life of Spenser, all but the last sad scene, is henceforth chiefly associated with the Irish soil.
Smitten in the autumn of 1586 with a great grief—the bloody death of Sidney near Zutphen-Spenser hurried across to his estate, of which he was called the Undertaker, and 1586 which he was compelled to cultivate, in terms of the grant. It was a lovely scene, and we cannot quarrel with the causes, friendly or the reverse, which led the author of The Faerie Queene to take up his dwelling among “the green alders by the
Mulla's shore.” The castle of Kilcolman, from which the Desmonds had been lately driven, stood by a beautiful lake in the midst of an extensive plain, girdled with mountain ranges. Soft woodland and savage hill, shadowy river-glade and rolling ploughland were all there to gladden the poet's heart with their changeful beauty, and tinge his verse with their glowing colours. Dearly he loved the wooded banks of the gentle Mulla, which ran by his home, and by whose wave, doubtless, many sweet lines of his great poem were composed. Hither there came to visit him the brilliant Raleigh, then a captain in the Queen's Guard, who seems to have quarrelled with Essex, and to have been “chased from court" by that hot-headed favourite. The result of this remarkable meeting was Spenser's resolve to publish the first three books of “The Faerie Queene,” with which Raleigh was greatly delighted.
The two friends—for Raleigh now filled in the poet's heart the place which poor Sidney had once held—crossed the sea together with the precious cantos. The voyage is poetically described in the Pastoral of Colin Clouts come home againe, published in 1591, where Raleigh figures as the "Shepherd of the Ocean." Intro
duced by his friend to the Queen, and honoured with her 1590 approval of what he modestly calls his "simple song," the
poet lost no time in giving to the world that part of “The Faerie Queene” which was ready for the press.
The cess of the poem was so decided, that in the following year the publisher issued a collection of smaller pieces from the same pen. A pension of £50 from Elizabeth—no small sum three centuries ago-rewarded the genius and the flattery of Spenser, who then went back to Ireland to till his beautiful barren acres, and “pipe his oaten quill.” He had, besides his farming and his poetry, a public work to do, and that of no easy or pleasant kind. As Clerk of the Council for Munster, and afterwards as Sheriff of Cork, he came much into collision with the Irish people, whom it was his policy to keep down with an iron hand.
The chief events of his later life were his marriage, and the publication of the second three books of " The Faerie Queene." In the fair city of Cork, not far from his castle, he was united, pro
bably in 1594, to a lady named Elizabeth, in whose honour he sang the sweetest marriage song our language boasts. In 1596 he crossed to England and published the fourth, fifth, and sixth books of his great work.
So, laurelled and rejoicing, he returned to his Irish castle. To all appearance a long vista of happy years, bright with the love of a tender wife and blooming children, lay stretching out before the poet. But in that day life in Ireland resembled the perilous life of those who dress their vines and gather bursting clusters on the sides of Etna or Vesuvius. Scarcely was he settled in his home, when a torrent of rebellion swept the land. Hordes of long-coated peasants gathered round Kilcolman. Spenser Oct. and his wife had scarcely time to flee. In their haste and 1598 confusion their new-born child was left behind, and, when the rebels had sacked the castle, the infant perished in the flames. It was only three months later that Spenser breathed his last at an inn in King Street, Westminster. A common tale in human life. Bright hopes--a crushing blow-a broken heart -and death!
" Alas for man, if this were all,
And nought beyond the earth." In Westminster Abbey, near the dust of Chaucer, the body of this great brother minstrel was laid.
The grandest work of Spenser is his Faerie Queene. Among his numerous other writings the Shepheard's Calender, Colin Clouts come home againe,—Epithalamion,—and his View of the State of Ireland are worthy of special notice.
In a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, prefixed to the first three books of "The Faerie Queene," which were published in 1590, the poet himself tells us his object and his plan. His object was, following the example of Homer, Virgil, Ariosto, and Tasso, to write a book, coloured with an historical fiction, which should “ fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.” The original plan provided for twelve books, “ fashioning XII. morall vertues." Of these twelve books we have only six. The old story of the six remaining books being finished in Ireland,