Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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had overthrowen, he founde in a little coffer of silver the two
bookes of Homers works, as layd up there for speciall jewels and
richesse, which he taking thence, put one of them dayly in his
bosome, and thother every night layde under his pillowe. Such
honor have Poetes alwayes found in the sight of princes and
noble men, which this author here very well sheweth, as els where
more notably.

Bacon's Advancement of Learning (book i.) :

What price and estimation he [Alexander] had learning in
doth notably appear in these three particulars : first, in the envy
he used to express that he bore towards Achilles, in this, that he
had so good a trumpet of his praises in Homer's verses ; secondly
in the judgment or solution he gave touching that precious
cabinet of Darius, which was found amongst his jewels, whereof
question was made as to what thing was worthy to be put into it,
and he gave his opinion for Homer's works.

And further on in the same treatise :

For have not the verses of Homer continued twenty-five
hundred years, or more, without the loss of a syllable or letter ;
during which time infinite palaces, temples, castles, cities, have
been decayed and demolished ?

Under " November " a further allusion is made to
unpublished work of the poet, and to another " com-
mentarye " by " E. K." to which I referred above. The
author of the poems himself refers to this commentary in
a postscript of a letter of " Immerito " to Harvey, published
in I 580 in " Three proper and wittie familiar letters lately
passed between two Universitie men : touching the
Earthquake in Aprill last, and our English refourmed
Versifying." The two passages are as follow : —

" E. K." :

Nectar and Ambrosia, be feigned to be the drink and foode
of the gods : Ambrosia they liken to Manna in scripture, and
Nectar to be white like Creme, whereof is a proper tale of Hebe,
that spilt a cup of it, and stayned the heavens, as yet appearcth.
But I have already discoursed that at large in my Commentarye
upon the Dreames of the same Authour.


" Immerito " :

I take best my Dreames shoulde come forth alone, being
growen by meanes of the Glosse (running continually in maner
of a Paraphrase) full as great as my Calendar. Therin be some
things excellently, and many things wittily discoursed of E. K. and
the pictures so singularly set forth and purtrayed, as if Michael
Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the beste, nor
reprehende the worst. I know you woulde lyke them passing wel.

Youthful disillusionment is the burden of the last
Eclogue, but the descriptions in detail must not be taken as
autobiographical. It has been pointed out, for instance,
that the three stanzas, beginning " Whilome in youth," are
taken bodily from one of Marot's eclogues. It is evident,
however, that under the imagery used the poet looks back
with regret on his early boyhood, before fancy was
disturbed by passion and the intrusions of personality, or
(in the words of the " Argument," supposed to be provided
by " E. K.") in " the spring time, when he was fresh and
free from loves follye." Rosalind might be a real person,
or a poetical type devised to represent a first love or the
first attraction of feminine beauty. It is possible that the
astrological line " For love then in the Lyons house did
dwell " is intended as a clue, in which case she may have
been a girl whom the writer met as a boy in the house of
the Earl of Warwick or the Earl of Leicester. " Lyon "
(with a " y " and a capital " L ") is frequently used by
Spenser with a heraldic significance. In any case, the
note in the " glosse " suggests that the possibility of such
an interpretation was in the writer's mind, because he
uses the words " he imagineth simply " as though to
anticipate it. But this, as also the changed spelling of
" Lion," may possibly be by design, in order to mislead.^

The hand of the author seems more than usually
evident in the concluding " glosse," where a brief survey
is taken of a period of life which has closed. The period
in the writer's mind was, I believe, from boyhood to
adolescence, and under the " keeping of sheepe " is figured
the writer's " studies " and pursuits.

' See further on this subject in Chapters XIII, and XVII.


Adiew delights, is a conclusion of all : where in sixe verses he
comprehendeth briefly all that was touched in this booke. In
the first verse his delights of youth .generally : In the second,
the love of Rosalind : In the thyrd, the keeping of sheepe, which
is the argument of all the ^glogues : In the fourth, his com-
plaints : And in the last two, his professed friendship and good
will to his good friend Hobbinoll.

The verses referred to are the following :

Adieu, delightes, that lulled me asleepe ;

Adieu, my deare, whose love I bought so deare ;

Adieu, my little Lambes and loved sheepe ;

Adieu, ye Woodes, that oft my witnesse were :
Adieu, good Hobbinoll, that was so true,
Tell Rosalind, her Colin bids her adieu.

In view of this farewell, and for other reasons which
will appear later, I think the person alluded to in the last
stanza but six, " One if I please, enough is me therefore,"
is Queen Elizabeth.

I have alluded above to the extraordinary self-esteem
displayed in the Epilogue. " E. K." justifies it on the
precedent of the lines of Horace, " Exegi monumentum,"
etc., and refers to the odes of that poet as " a worke
though ful indede of great wit and learning yet of no
so great weight and importaunce." But Horace had, at
least, done something, whereas the Shepheards Calender is
a very slender and immature performance. The interest
of it is mainly in the genius which is unmistakably
stamped on the poems. The self-esteem shown by the
author, not only in this epilogue, but throughout the notes
(as I believe), is evidence of youth and inexperience, but
it is on such a prodigious scale and so little justified by
this single piece of work (apart from the genius of which
it gives indications) that it cannot be attributed only to
that. A strange and quite abnormal personality is
behind these utterances, and in the chapters which follow
.some further light will, I hope, be thrown on the problem
which they present.

A word may be said about the antique and irregular
language adopted, or invented, by the author in this
collection of poems. It is partly a deliberate affectation


of a rude style of speech under which the writer might
express his opinions on various topics with less risk than
he could in current language, and partly due to the
pleasure which he finds in the words themselves, as
explained in " E. K.'s " introductory letter. This is
characteristic of youth. The case of Chatterton (who did
not live to complete eighteen years) is similar, and lends
support to the view which I have expressed that the writer
of the " Calender " was very young.



The facts, or conjectures, relating to Spenser's life are
very completely stated in the biographical memoir by
Professor Hales in the "Globe" edition of Spenser's Works}
It will be observed that the " life " has been constructed
mainly out of inferences drawn from the poems, and that
where the external sources of information present diffi-
culties they are discarded in favour of what is taken for
internal evidence.^ This is an arbitrary method, but
without it no " biography " (on the accepted view of the
poet's identity) would be possible.

Let us look at the information from external sources
(as given in the memoir above mentioned) which has
been discarded as inadmissible. It consists of four
instances where a " Spenser " is mentioned in con-
temporary records : —

1. An "Edmund Spenser," of Kingsbury, Warwickshire, is
" mentioned in the books of the Treasurer of the Queen's
Chamber in 1569 as paid for bearing letters from Sir Henry
Norris, her Majesty's ambassador in France, to the Queen "
(p. xvii).

2. "In a work called Tragical Tales, published in 1587,
there is a letter in verse, dated 1569, addressed to 'Spencer'
by George Turberville, then resident in Russia as secretary to

' Sec also the article in the Dictionary of National Biography hy the same
writer, jointly with the Editor.

2 "Our external sources of information are, then, extremely scanty.
Fortunately our internal sources are somewhat less meagre. No poet ever
more emphatically lived in his poetry than did Spenser. . . . His poems
are his best l)ioprnphy. In the sketch of his life to be given here his poems
sh.ill he our one great authority." Extract, " Olobc " edition of IVorks, p. xv.




the English ambassador, Sir Thomas Randolph. Anthony k
Wood says this Spencer was the poet ; but it can scarcely have
been so " (p. xx).

3. " On the strength of an entry found in the register of St.
Clement Danes Church in the Strand — ' 26 Aug. (1587) Florenc
Spenser, the daughter of Edmond Spenser ' — it has been con-
jectured that the poet was married before 1587. This conjecture
seems entirely unacceptable " ^ (p. xxiii).

4. "A ' Maister Spenser ' mentioned in a letter written by
James VI. of Scotland from St. Andrews in 1583 to Queen
Elizabeth," who was carrying despatches. " It may be presumed
that this gentleman is the same " as the Spenser of Kingsbury
mentioned above (p. xxxii).

Now the first incontestable fact in Spenser's life is his
appointment as Secretary to Lord Grey de Wilton in
Ireland in August 1580. By this I mean that it is a fact
not derived from an inference from the poems but from
records of the time ; and here for the first time is a man
who can be identified, with certainty, as the author, or
pretended author, of the poems. According to the
accepted view Spenser was at that time about twenty-
eight,^ and he is supposed to have been identified (as
explained in Chapter I., see p. i, note 2) as having been
at Cambridge until he was twenty-four. What little is
known of his doings in the interval comes from inferences
from writings connected with " Immerito." From these
it appears that he was for some time in the north of
England, and by 1579, perhaps earlier, in the households
of Sir Henry Sidney in Kent and the Earl of Leicester in
London. He appears as a poet and engaged, during as
much time as he could find from duties of attendance, etc.,
in literary pursuits.

There was no regular " Civil Service " in those days,
and only men who possessed wealth, or who obtained it
by favour of the sovereign, could aspire to high ofifice.
They employed their own " servants," who were retainers

* Tlie Sonnets are held to indicate 1594 as the year of Spenser's marriage.

2 Inference from Sonnet 60 —

. . . one yeare is spent :
The which doth longer unto me appcare,
Then al those fourty which my life out-went.


in the great households. The fact therefore that Lord
Grey should have chosen a secretary outside the ranks of
his own men is important, as it suggests that there were
special circumstances. They are not difficult to see.
Lord Grey was sent to Ireland by the Queen at a critical
time to deal with the state of things arising out of the
Desmond rebellion, which for the moment had been
crushed by Pelham and Ormonde, but the Earl of
Desmond was still at large with a considerable following,
other parts of Ireland were in revolt, and a combined
invasion by Spain and the Pope was expected.^ The
Queen, however, was being pressed at that time in the
affairs of the Netherlands, and as regards Ireland her
main anxiety was to spend as little money as possible.
She is charged with having all but ruined Sir Henry
Sidney, and Lord Grey, who accepted the appointment
of Lord Deputy with great reluctance, had every reason
to expect similar treatment unless he could speedily find
means to put an end to hostilities. It is reasonable to
suppose that in those circumstances, knowing nothing of
Ireland himself, he would have been glad to take a
secretary who had experience of the country ; and there
was no one to whom he would be so likely to go for such
a man as to Sir Henry Sidney, the late Lord Deputy.^
Sir Henry Sidney then, it may be supposed, recommended
Edmund Spenser, not, however, as a promising writer,
but as the most experienced man he had for the post.

' Sir Henry Sidney was recalled in September 1578. There was an
interregnum during which Sir William Pelham carried on the government
as a Lord Justice, and Lord Grey arrived as Lord Deputy in Dublin on the
1 2th August 1580.

* Early in 1580 Lord Grey was in frequent consultation with Sir Henry
Sidney, who visited him at his home. Dictionary of National Biography.

There is a letter in Collins's State Papers from Sir Henry Sidney at Denbigh
to Lord Grey in Dublin, dated 17th September 1580, giving him advice how
to proceed in Ireland. In the course of it he recommends various men in
Ireland by name, mostly old servants of his, for secret intelligence and other
services, and wishes to be remembered to them. He also says that "if
Philip Sidney were in your Place, who most ernestlie and often hath spoken
and writen to doe this louinge Office, he I sale shold haue no more of me
than I moste willinglie will wright to you from Tyme to Tyme," and he signs
himself "Your Lordships ancient AUie, lovinge Companion, and faithfull
Frend, H. Sydney."


But if the author of the SJiepheards Calender was this
man, when did he get his experience, and why should the
loquacious " E. K.," who is so intimate with the poet,
give no hint of this Irish service ? Similarly in the two
letters of " Immerito " (reprinted at pp. 706-709 of the
" Globe" edition) there is no suggestion of any experience
of the kind. There is, however, a passage in the View
of the State of Ireland where " Irenaeus" mentions some-
thing which he himself saw at an execution at Limerick,
from which it might reasonably be inferred that Spenser
was with Sir Henry Sidney in Ireland, as the execution
referred to took place in his time (July 1577).

This is one of the inadmissible pieces of evidence — or
at least one of the difficulties. But the passage evidently
might apply to Spenser, the official, for the reasons
above given ; also because it hardly seems likely that
the real author of this work (with which I shall deal
later) would have been so unguarded as to put the words
into the mouth of " Irenaeus " — who is clearly intended to
stand for the author of the piece — unless Spenser had
been in Ireland at the time. Moreover it appears that
there was a vague tradition in the time of Milton of
Spenser having served in Ireland under Sir Henry
Sidney ; see the passage from the Theatrum Poetaricm
Anglicanorum by Milton's nephew, Edward Phillips, at
p. xiv of Mr. Hales's Memoir.

"Spenser" (or "Spencer") is, of course, not an un-
common name, but it is curious that in the scanty records
of the time there should be two " Edmund Spensers."
Yet there is nothing incredible in this, and it is clear
that the Spenser who carried dispatches in 1569 could
not have been the Spenser who was at the Merchant
Taylors' School during part of that year.^ Collier con-
jectured that the former may have been the poet's father,
but this is nothing but a guess, unsupported by any

1 Cf. p. I, note 2. The reader is reminded that the identification of this
Spenser with the poet does not rest on any early tradition, which merely
relates that the poet was an "alumnus" of Cambridge (Camden's Annals,
published 1615-1625), and "brought up in Pembroke-hall in Cambridge"
(Fuller's Worthies^ published 1662).



authority. Of the two, the first is the most hkely man,
from his age and previous connection with government
business, to have been the Spenser whom Lord Grey
took with him to Dubh'n. Or, if it was the second, then
he must, on, or soon after, leaving Cambridge, have gone
to Ireland in Sir Henry Sidney's service in order to
acquire the special experience which, presumably, was
the cause of his selection by Lord Grey. It is immaterial
to the argument which of the two (if there were two, or
if two were alive then) was the Spenser mentioned in
extract No. 4 above. But neither the one nor the other,
in my view of the case, could have been " Immerito."

I have not yet dealt with No. 3. Those who
interpret the poems in terms of the circumstances of the
Irish official and settler are necessarily compelled to regard
this entiy as applying to another man. For reasons which
I shall give in their place, I am not concerned, in that
connection, in its application, because I do not regard the
Amoretti, or the Epithalaniion, as having any reference to
the poet's own marriage. But apart from that question,
it seems to me highly probable that the Edmond Spenser
mentioned in the register was the Irish Spenser (then in
London), as it seems likely, on the ground of age and the
conditions of his life as a settler in Ireland, that he was
a married man. There is moreover a piece of evidence
(to be mentioned later) which suggests the probability that
Spenser's sons were grown up at the time of his death.

It remains to notice one further point in connection
with the external evidence which presents difficulties.
Spenser died in January i 599, and no monument was
erected over his grave until 1620, when the present
monument was erected by Anne, Countess of Dorset. The
original inscription gave the year of his birth (presumably
incorrectly) as 1510.^ It appears that the monument was
"restored" in 1778, and the present date "1553," which was
obtained by inference from Sonnet 60, was substituted."^

■ The (late of his death was given, also incorrectly, as 1596.
^ The modern view is that 1552 is the more correct date, but that is im-
material, as it is only a question of the exact year when the sonnet was written.


Lord Grey remained in Ireland for two years, during
which Spenser held the post of his Secretary, and
obtained other rewards for his services. Thus in 1 5 8 1
he was given a post in the Irish Court of Chancery
(which he held concurrently), and he secured property
from Abbey lands at Enniscorthy in 1581, and Kildare
in 1582. Lord Grey's administration was marked by
extreme severity. He was, says Bagwell, " more a
knight-errant than a general," ^ and his first act was an
ill-advised attack on the rebel forces at Glenmalure in
which the English arms suffered a severe defeat. There-
after his policy was one of unsparing repression, and he is
best known for the ruthless, though, in the circumstances
of the times and of the military situation, possibly
justifiable slaughter of the Spanish and Italian garrison
at Smerwick (Nov. i 5 80). His recall, however, in August
1582 appears to have been really due to the Queen's
annoyance at the continuance of military operations and
expenditure. In view of preoccupations with Continental
affairs, Elizabeth seems to have made up her mind at
that time to leave Ireland to itself as much as possible,
and she found a pretext for recalling the Deputy in
accusations which were being brought against him —
probably, so far as the Queen was concerned, by
interested parties — of undue severity. Lord Grey lived
thereafter in England in retirement, and he died in 1593.
A sonnet is addressed to him among the " Verses
addressed by the Author of the Faerie Queene to Various
Noblemen, etc." at the beginning of the first three books,
which appeared in 1590, where he is described as the
" Patrone of my Muses pupillage " ; but there is evidently
no allusion to him in the work itself until the second

^ Ireland under the Tudors, iii. 61. This description is founded on the
impression that Arthegal in the Faerie Queene represents Lord Grey. I
believe that to be a mistake, for reasons to be given later. Lord Grey
appears to have had no very outstanding qualities, but to have been a dis-
tinguished soldier, with strong Protestant convictions, who did his best under
great difficulties. His father, William, 13th Lord Grey, under whom he
served as a youth in France, was referred to at his death as " the greatest
soldier of the nobility." See the account of his services, written by his son,
and the introduction thereto, Camden Soc, No. 40.


portion, which appeared in 1596, when he is alluded to
under the person of " Artegall " (but, as will be explained,
in one passage only) in the " Legend of Artegall or of
Justice," which is the subject of Book V.

In June 1586, in connection with the colonisation of
Munster, Spenser was granted 3028 acres of land in
County Cork from the forfeited Desmond estates, with a
house at Kilcolman.^ It is probable that he settled there
in 1588, as in 1587 he is said to have resigned his
clerkship in Dublin, and in June 1588 he purchased the
clerkship of the Munster Council from Bryskett. It seems
to me highly probable (even apart from the evidence of
the church register) that, before going there, he came over
to London to settle his affairs, confer with the " under-
takers," of whom Ralegh was the principal, and make
arrangements with other settlers. For such an enterprise
careful preparations would, of course, be necessary. In
Munster he lived, as probably did the other English
settlers, in frequent conflict with his Irish neighbours,
and he was charged with rapacity and with using his
official position to oppress others and for his own gain.
There seem to have been good grounds for these charges,
whatever faults there were on the other side ; but the real
answer to them appears to me to be that if he had not
been a man of that kind he would never have been there.
Every settler in Ireland at that time took his life in his
hand, and nothing but the hope of acquiring wealth, or
the pressure of starvation in England, could have induced
any one to go there. A man must have been of a hard
quality to have undertaken the venture.

Mr. Bagwell states the case as follows : " Spenser had
Kilcolman and 4000 acres allotted to him [by the
English Commission], but he complained that the area
was really much less. Less or more, he was not allowed
to dwell in peace, and his chief enemy was Lord Roche,
who accused him of intruding on his lands, and using

' Kilcolman appears to have been a small peel tower, of the form which
such houses assumed in turbulent times. The ruin is said to indicate that the
walls were about 8 feet thick. Church's ^tfWJ<rr, p. 79, and Murray's Guide.


violence to his tenants, servants and cattle. The poet
retorted that the peer entertained traitors, imprisoned
subjects, brought the law into contempt, and forbade all
his people to have any dealings with Mr. Spenser and his
tenants. . . . Lord Roche was charged with many out-
rages, such as killing a bullock belonging to a smith who
mended a settler's plough, seizing the cows of another for
renting land from the owner of this plough, and killing a
fat beast belonging to a third, ' because Mr. Spenser lay
in his house one night as he came from the Sessions at
Limerick.' Ultimately the poet's estate was surveyed as
3028 acres at a rent of ;^8 : 13s. 9d., which was doubled
at Michaelmas 1594, making it about five farthings^
per acre. Spenser maintained himself at Kilcolman until
1598, when the undertakers were involved in general

Troubles between him and Lord Roche continued,
and they appear to have reached a climax in 1593, at a
time when Spenser is supposed to have been writing
the Sonnets relating to his courtship. Petitions were
presented against him to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland
by Lord Roche, who described Spenser as " a heavy
adversary unto your suppliant," and accused him of
assigning his office as Clerk of the Munster Council
" unto one Nicholas Curteys among other agreements
with covenant that during his life he should be free in
the said office for his causes, by occasion of which im-
munity he doth multiply suits against your suppliant in
the said province upon pretended title of others." The
dispute was about lands, which Spenser and his " tenants
being English" were charged with improperly appropriating.
The document continues that " the said Edmond Spenser
appearing in person had several days prefixed unto him
peremptorily to answer, which he neglected to do." There-
fore " after a day of grace given," on the i 2th of February

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 4 of 55)