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land House. The note had been seen by Malone and Steevens, and
its authenticity has never been questioned.



Aetion, we must go beyond the poems, and we
need not travel far.

The first part of King Henry VI. was pro-
duced during Spenser's stay in London. The
exact date cannot be ascertained. Malone fixes
it at 1589. In Mr. FurnivalPs Trial Table of
the Order of Shakespeare *s Plays, prefixed by
Professor Dowden to his Shakespere His Mind
and Art, the supposed date is 1 590-1. Pro-
fessor Masson {Shakespeare Personally) regards
it as 'a specimen of Shakespeare, about 1589
or 1590, first trying his hand in a Chronicle Play
from English History.'

No time could have been more favourable for
the presentation to the public of a stirring
national and heroic drama. The patriotic fer-
vour that had been kindled by the defeat and
destruction of the Armada was at its height.
The groundlings saw in Talbot, the hero of the
drama, a great English champion, the scourge
of France, who scorned to be exchanged for an
ignoble prisoner, and they hailed with delight
his heroic speech and conduct. The success of
the play was extraordinary. Thomas Nash, in
Pierce Penile ss His Supplication to the Divell
(1592), wrote thus in defence of 'our English
Chronicles wherein our forefathers' valiant
actions (that have lien long buried in rustic brasse



and worme-eaten bookes) are revived, and they
themselves raysed from the grave of oblivion ' :

' How would it have joyed brave Talbot (the
terror of the French) to thinke that after he
had lyne two hundred years in his Toomb hee
should triumphe againe on the Stage, and have
his bones new embalmed with the teares of ten
thousand spectators at least (at severall times)
who in the Tragedian that represents his person
imagine they behold him fresh bleeding ! '

Among the tens of thousands who daily
crowded the playhouse we may surely place
Spenser. He saw beyond the shouting crowd,
and with the intuition of genius predicted an
eagle flight for the gentle poet with the warlike
name, whose muse gave forth a sound so heroical.

The enthusiastic reception accorded to this
play contrasts strongly with the comments of
modern critics who for the most part dismiss it
with the frigid remark that it must be accepted
as in some small part the work of Shakespeare,
because we find it included in the authentic
edition of his plays printed in 1623. The scene
in the Temple Gardens is the part that has been
generally accepted as justifying the inclusion of
the play. Professor Dowden writes : ' Whether
any portions of the first part of Henry VI. be
from the hand of Shakespeare, and if there be,



what those portions are, need not be here investi-
gated. The play belongs in the main to the pre-
Shakesperian school.' *

Regarded as a work of art, the play deserves the
condemnation that it has received at the hands
of these critics. It was in the main the work of
an inferior dramatist, whether Greene or Peele
it is needless to inquire. But the drama, as
revised by Shakespeare, strikes a heroic note,
and in the recognition of this strain the ground-
lings are at one with Spenser, and with the
greatest of later-day critics of Shakespeare, Swin-
burne, who by force of genius was able to catch
an echo of the heroic note which struck the ear
and stirred the heart of Spenser.

In his Study of Shakespeare Swinburne devotes
himself to this play, mainly as showing the
development of the art of Shakespeare, who,
under the influence of Marlowe, was passing
from rhyme to blank verse. He exonerates the
memory of Shakespeare from the imputation of
having perpetrated in its evil entirety the first part
of King Henry VI. He had no part or share in the
defamation of the Maid of Orleans. But to him,
as to Spenser, the heroic strain which Shakespeare
infused into a dull play, and which raised it to
the level of a work of genius, was apparent.

• Sbakespere His Mind and Art.


' The last battle of Talbot seems to me as
undeniably the master's work as the scene in the
Temple Gardens, or the courtship of Margaret
by Suffolk.' Throughout the play he finds
' Shakespeare at work (so to speak) with both
hands — with his left hand of rhyme, and his
right hand of blank verse.' The noble scene of
parting between the old hero and his son on the
verge of desperate battle and certain death he
regards as ' the last and loftiest farewell note of
rhyming tragedy.'

Hark, countrymen ! either renew the fight
Or tear the lions out of England's coat.

He fables not ; I hear the enemy :

Out, some light horsemen, and peruse their wings.

O, negligent and heedless discipline !

How are we park'd and bounded in a pale,

A little herd of England's timorous deer,

Mazed with a yelping kennel of French curs !

If we be English deer, be then in blood ;

Not rascal-like, to fall down with a pinch,

But rather, moody-mad and desperate stags,

Turn on the bloody hounds with heads of steel

And make the cowards stand aloof at bay :

Sell every man his life as dear as mine,

And they shall find dear deer of us, my friends.

God and Saint George, Talbot and England's right

Prosper our colours in this dangerous fight ! *

* i Hen. VI., I. v. 27 ; IV. ii. 42.


Here is the heroic sound ; here is the brandish-
ing of the spear of which Spenser thought, when
from his castle of Kilcolman he wrote to Raleigh
of the poets by whom Cynthia was surrounded,
of whom none was more gentle than the shepherd
whose muse did like his name heroically sound.

But what Spenser tells us of the man whom he
knew in the year 1591, and whom he chose to
call Aetion, is more to our purpose than his
estimate of the qualities of his muse, for of these
we can form our own opinion unaided. Of this
man he writes : ' No gentler Shepheard may
no where be found.'

The word ' gentle,' in the sense in which it
was used by Spenser, has disappeared from the
English language, and it has left no successor.
In this sense, which is noted as archaic, it is thus
defined in the New English Dictionary : ' Having
the character appropriate to one of good birth :
noble, generous, courteous.' In these qualities,
in the opinion of Spenser, not one of the poets
whom he met in London surpassed the young
actor, commenced poet and dramatist, who had
come from the country town of Stratford a few
years ago, to seek his fortune, in, as was reported,
a very mean condition.

There was not one of Shakespeare's fellows
whose estimate of the qualities of a gentleman is

2 4


entitled to more respect than the writer of these
words. Edmund Spenser, son of a London
clothmaker, took his name from a ' house of
ancient fame.'* His relationship to the Spensers
of Althorp was acknowledged. He dedicated
poems to the daughters of Sir John Spenser,
the head of that branch of the family, and in
Colin Clouts he writes of these ladies as

The honor of the noble familie :

Of which I meanest boast myselfe to be.

And Gibbon writes : ' The nobility of the
Spensers has been illustrated and enriched by
the trophies of Marlborough ; but I exhort them
to consider the Faerie Queen as the most precious
jewel of their coronet.'

A more worthy conception of the obligations
of gentle birth — of late happily revived — held
good in Tudor times than in some later years,
and the poet's father, ' a gentleman,' brought
no discredit on his name when he became a free
journeyman in the ' art and mystery of cloth-

In this business he was not successful, for his
son Edmund received assistance as a poor
scholar of Merchant Taylors' school, when, in
1569, he entered Pembroke Hall, now Pembroke

* Epithalamium.

2 5


College, Cambridge, as a sizar. He took his
degree of M.A. in 1576. His lifelong friend,
Gabriel Harvey, the Hobbinol of the Shcpheards
Calendar and of Colin Clouts, obtained a fellow-
ship in this college in the following year. A man
of great ability and learning, he held a high
position in the University, and Spenser, through
his intimacy with Harvey, must have been
brought into touch with the best class of students
of his day. From his experience at the Uni-
versity, and afterwards in public life, Spenser
was well qualified to form an estimate of the
qualities which entitled a man to be regarded
as ' gentle.'

But Spenser has still stronger claims to our
attention. He was the intimate friend of Philip
Sidney and of Walter Raleigh, and his great work,
the Faerie Queene, was an allegory, of which the
general end was * to fashion a gentleman or
noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline.'
Surely commendation from Spenser is praise

It must startle a reader accustomed to the
ordinary description of the ' man from Strat-
ford,' commencing dramatist as a theatrical
fac totum, to find one like Spenser writing of him,
not only that he was ' gentle,' but that among
the poets of the day no ' gentler ' than he could



be found. For there were those among the
Shepherds of the Court of Cynthia to whom the
term ' gentle ' could have been applied with
undoubted fitness. Astrophel we know to be
Sir Philip Sidney, for he appears under the same
title in Spenser's elegy on his death. Alabaster,
educated in Westminster School, became a
Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Daniel
left Oxford without a degree, but he became
tutor to William Herbert, afterwards Earl of
Pembroke, to whom the Folio of 1623 was dedi-
cated in recognition of the favours with which
he had ' prosecuted ' the author. Amyntas
has, with probability, been identified with Ferdi-
nando, Earl of Derby. The young poet, who as a
gentleman compared favourably with men like
these, was very different from the illiterate clown
of whom we have read, the creature of the
imagination of certain later-day writers.

There was really nothing in the birth or
education of Shakespeare to render it improbable
that one of the fortunate ones

Quibus arte benigna
Et meliore luto finxit precordia Titan

should have possessed the qualities ascribed to
him by Spenser. Something more on this sub-
ject will be found in a chapter entitled ' Family



and Friends.' But antecedent improbability,
even where it exists, must yield to the testimony
of credible witnesses, a class in which Edmund
Spenser may surely be placed.

That Spenser was attracted by the personality
of Shakespeare appears from the terms of per-
sonal esteem in which he writes of Aetion. It
was not until after the death of Spenser that
Shakespeare gave expression to his feelings of
regard. But what he then wrote leaves us in
no doubt as to the reality and strength of the
friendship that had its origin in Spenser's visit
to London in 1589.

Spenser's disposition was social, and he had
the genius of friendship, qualities not always
united in the same individual. Throughout his
life he found delight in the society of men of
letters. With Philip Sidney, Sir Edward Dyer,
and some other friends, he formed a literary
club styled ' Areiopagus,' the meetings of which
appear to have been held in the years 1578 and
1 579 at Leicester House.* His correspondence
with Gabriel Harvey about the same time affords
evidence, not only of his literary activity, but
of his constancy in friendship. His lifelong
friendship with Harvey probably had its origin
in kindness shown by a senior member of the

* Diet. Nat. Biography.


University, of established position, to a poor
and unknown sizar. Some such explanation
seems to be needed, for no characters could be
more unlike than the author of the Faerie Queene,
and the arrogant and scurrilous pamphleteer
whose paper warfare with Nash and Greene is an
unedifying chapter of Elizabethan literature.
So scandalous did it become that in 1599 it was
ordered by authority ' that all Nashe's bookes
and Dr. Harvey's bookes be taken wherever they
may be found, and that none of the same bookes
be ever printed hereafter.'* Spenser's love of
Harvey was at one time a real danger to English
literature. The ambition of Harvey's lifetime
was to be known as the inventor of the English
hexameter. He did his utmost to induce his
friend to abandon rhyme for classical methods of
versification, and it appears from their correspon-
dence that he was at one time all but successful.
But Spenser's true literary sense and ear for
the music of words saved us from this calamity,
and he found salvation in rhyme, as Shakespeare
found it in blank verse.

Friendship was a necessary of life to Spenser.
When he found himself in the position of secre-
tary to the Lord Deputy of Ireland he surrounded
himself with the best literary society that Dublin

* Cooper, Atben. Cant.


could supply, and in Lodovick Bryskctt, an
Irish official, he found an intimate and congenial
friend. Bryskett, who is said to have been of
Italian descent, had filled the office of Clerk of
the Council under Sir Henry Sidney. Becoming
an intimate friend of Philip Sidney, he was his
companion in a three years' tour through
Germany, Italy and Poland. He was a poet,
and Spenser showed his appreciation of his
friend's work by including two of his poems in a
collection which he published in 1595 under the
title of Astrophel. He also addressed to Bryskett
as ' Lodwick,' a sonnet included in his Amoretti
(Sonnet xxxiii.). But Bryskett's claim to
grateful remembrance rests on the introduction
which he prefixed to a translation of an Italian
philosophical treatise entitled A Discourse of
Civill Life containing the Ethike Part of Morall
Philosophic. The introduction to this book,
addressed to Arthur Lord Grey, of Wilton, is
described by Sir Sidney Lee as of unique interest
in English literature. In it we find ourselves
in the company of a party of friends assembled
at the author's cottage, near Dublin. They were
described as ' Dr. Long, Primate of Ardmagh ;
Sir Robert Dillon, Knight ; M. Dormer, the
Queenes Sollicitor ; Capt. Christopher Carleil ;
Capt. Thomas Norreis : Capt. Warham St.



Leger ; Capt. Nicholas Dawtrey ; and M.
Edmond Spenser, late your Lordships Secre-
tary ; and M. Smith, apothecary.'

Bryskett, supported by the applause of the
company, appealed to Spenser as ' not onely
perfect in the Greek tongue, but also very well
read in Philosophic both Morall and Naturall,'
to spend the time which they had ' destined to
familiar discourse and conversation, in declaring
to them the benefits obtained by the knowledge
of Moral Philosophy, and in expounding and
teaching them to understand it.' Spenser asks
to be excused on the ground that he had already
undertaken a work tending to the same effect,
' which is in heroical verse, under the title of a
Faerie Queene, to represent all the moral virtues ;
assigning to every Virtue a Knight, to be the patron
and, defender of the same? The company were
well satisfied, and ' shewed an extreme longing
after his worke of the Faerie Queene whereof some
parcels had bin by some of them seene,' and
pressed Bryskett to produce his translation of
which Spenser had spoken. Bryskett complied,
and delivered his translation of the work of Giraldi,
with which the company must have been well
pleased, for the discussion of the book and of some
questions proposed by Spenser on the doctrines
of Plato and Aristotle lasted for three days.



With our knowledge of Spenser's sociable dis-
position and love of literary companionship, we
can understand how he bemoaned the ' luckless
lot ' that had banished him ' like wight forlore '
to the waste in which he was forgotten, and we
can realise his enjoyment of the society of the
shepherds whom he celebrates in Colin Clouts.
We are also prepared to find in his writings, as
well as in those of Shakespeare, evidence that
he found in Action what most in life he prized — a

Spenser paid another visit to London towards
the end of the year 1595, returning to Ireland in
the beginning of 1597. Shakespeare's greatest
works had not then been produced. But the
author of Romeo and Julia, The Merchant of
Venice, Richard 11. and Richard 111. had gone
far in the eagle flight which Spenser six years
before had predicted for Aetion. During Spen-
ser's stay in London he produced the second
part of the Faerie Queene, and wrote his View
of the Present State of Ireland. There is no
record of his experiences in London, such as he
furnished to Raleigh in Colin Clouts on his
return from his former visit. Spenser was in no
fitting mood for telling a such like happy tale,
nor would it have had prosperity in the ear
of Raleigh.

3 2


In Protbalamion, published in 1596, he writes

of his

Sullein care
Through discontent of my long fruitlesse stay-
in princes Court, and expectation vayne
Of idle hopes.

Raleigh, also, had learned from experience to
put no confidence in princes, and he had severed
his connection with Ireland by the sale of his
estates to the Earl of Cork.

For proof of the continuation of the friendship
which had its origin in Spenser's first visit to
London we must turn from him to what was
written by Shakespeare after the death of
Spenser. But some things happened, of no
particular significance in themselves, but worth
noting in connection with others of greater
importance. We have seen in Gabriel Harvey
not only a fierce pamphleteer, but also a critical
student of Shakespeare's work, attracted to him
in the first instance, like Spenser, by his poems,
but capable of appreciating his greatness as a
dramatist. His entry into the paper warfare
in which he engaged was by the publication of
a pamphlet entitled ' Foure Letters and Certain
Sonnets ; especially touching Robert Greene,
and other parties by him abused' (1593). The
abuse was contained in Greene's Groatsworth of



Wit, of which more shall be said in another chap-
ter, and one of the parties abused by Greene and
vindicated by Harvey was William Shakespeare.
By this abuse the wrath of Harvey was kindled,
and he thus wrote of the Groatsworth of Wit :

1 If his other bookes be as holesome geere as
this, no marvaile though the gay-man conceive
trimlic of himself, and statelye scorn all besides
Greene ; vile Greene ! would thou wearest half
so honest as the worst of the foure whom thou
upbraideth, or halfe so learned as the unlearnedst
of the three.'

Among the sonnets printed in this pamphlet
is one addressed by Spenser to Harvey in praise
of his i doomeful writing ' as a critic. It is
addressed ' to the Right Worshipfull, my sin-
gular good frend Mr. Gabriel Harvey, Doctor
of the Lawes,' and it thus concludes

Like a great lord of peerelesse liberty
Lifting the good up to high Honour's seat,
And the evil damning evermore to dy,
For life and death is in thy doomeful writing
So thy renovvme lives ever by endighting.

Dublin, this 18 of July 1586

your devoted frend during life

Edmund Spenser.

This sonnet was not written in view of Harvey's
vindication of Shakespeare from the attacks of



Greene. But he was in constant communication
with Spenser, and Harvey would not have added
the sonnet to his pamphlet if he had not been
assured of the sympathy of the writer in the
cause of which he became the champion.

In the year 1599 a piratical publisher, named
William Jaggard, brought out a poetical mis-
cellany, entitled The Passionate Pilgrim, by
TV. Shakespeare, containing twenty pieces, some
of which are undoubtedly Shakespeare's. Among
these pieces is a sonnet addressed, as Shake-
speare's sonnets were, to a private friend. The
friend is a lover of music, the sonneteer a lover
of sweet poetry ; but

One god is God of both, as poets feign.

To the friend ravished by a heavenly touch on
the lute, the poet writes

Spenser to me, whose deepe Conceit is such,
As, passing all conceit, needs no defence.

1 The secret of Spenser's enduring popularity
with poets and lovers of poetry lies specially in
this, that he excels in the poet's peculiar gift, the
instinct for verbal music. Shakespeare, or the
author of the sonnet usually assigned to him,
felt and expressed this when he drew the parallel
between " music and sweet poetry " '



Thou lovest to hear the sweet melodious sound
That Phoebus' lute, the queen of music, makes ;
And I in deep delight am chiefly drowned
W'henas himself to singing he betakes.

' This is an early word in criticism of Spenser,
and it is the last word about his prime and
unquestionable excellence — a word in which all
critics must agree.' * The sonnet attributed to
Shakespeare by Jaggard had appeared in the
preceding year in a volume entitled Poems in
diverse Humours as the work of Richard Barn-
field. Whether Barnfield had included in his
Poems an unclaimed sonnet written by Shake-
speare ; or Jaggard, greatly daring, had converted
to his use a sonnet which Barnfield had printed
as his own, is a question which cannot be here
discussed. There is a possibility that Barnfield
was the private friend to whom the sonnet was
addressed, and that with or without the consent
of Shakespeare — to whom his sonnets were
unconsidered trifles — he included it in his col-
lection of Poems. ' That he had some personal
relations with Shakespeare seems almost certain,
and the disputed authorship of the particular
pieces mentioned above has attracted students
to Barnficld's name. It is no small honour to
have written poems which everyone, until our

* Encyclopedia Britannica, tit. ' Spenser.'



own day, has been content to suppose were
Shakespeare's.' *

Spenser returned to Ireland early in 1597,
a broken and disappointed man. The short
remainder of his life was clouded in gloom, and
ended in tragedy. In the October of the fol-
lowing year his castle of Kilcolman was burned
over his head by the followers of Hugh O'Neill,
Earl of Tyrone. Spenser, with his family, fled
to Cork, whence he was sent to London on the
9th of December with a despatch by Sir Thomas
Norris, the President of Munster. A month after
his arrival in London, on the 1 6th of January,
1598-9, he died, in the words of Shakespeare,
' in beggary.'

The story was thus told by Ben Jonson to
Drummond of Hawthornden :

' The Irish having rob'd Spenser's goods, and
burnt his house and a little child new born, he
and his wyfe escaped ; and, after, he died for
lake of bread in King Street, and refused 20 pieces
sent to him by my Lord of Essex, and said, He
was sorrie he had no time to spend them.'

The exact facts of the case must have been
known to Ben Jonson and to Shakespeare, and
I prefer their testimony, as to a matter of fact
within their knowledge, to the speculations of

* Mr. Edmund Gosse in Diet. Nat. Biography, tit. ' Barnfield.'



later writers who are moved by the improbability
of Spenser, a favourite at Court, a pensioner of
the Crown, the bearer of an important despatch,
with friends in London, being allowed to die for
lack of bread. More improbable events have
in fact occurred than the death of Spenser for
lack of the nourishment necessary in his enfeebled
condition. His death, under such circumstances,
might well be described by Jonson as ' for
lake of bread,' and by Shakespeare as ' in
beggary.' *

That Spenser's friends were touched with
remorse when they realised the consequence of
their neglect adds to the pathos of the tragedy.
He was buried in Westminster Abbey. Essex,
whose failure to send timely aid may have been
due to Spenser's unwillingness to appeal for
assistance, paid the expense of the funeral.
Camden tells us that his hearse was attended by
poets ; and mournful elegies and poems, with the
pens that wrote them, were thrown into his
tomb. That Shakespeare was among the mourn-
ing poets who stood by the grave of his friend we
cannot doubt, for he was moved by the pity of
it to depart from his wont, and to introduce

• That Spenser died in poverty was generally known. It is men-
tioned by Fletcher, by John Wecvcr, and by the author of The
Returne from Pernassus.


into one of his plays an allusion to an event of
the day.

A Midsummer Night's, Dream was first printed
in 1600, the year following the death of Spenser.

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