Edward George Harman.

Edmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon online

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1594, Lord Roche was decreed the possession.^

1 Value about eight times more than now.

'^ Ireland under the J^iidors, iii. 198.

^ Hales, "Globe" edition of IVorks, p. 1.


There is no further notice of Spenser on which, in my
judgment, any reliance can be placed for biographical
purposes until 1598, when, on 30th September of that
year, the Privy Council in London recommended the
Irish Government to appoint Edmund Spenser to be
Sheriff of Cork. It appears that he is described in the
dispatch as " a gentleman dwelling in the County of
Cork, who is so well known unto you all for his good
and commendable parts, being a man endowed with
good knowledge in learning, and not unskilful or without
experience in the wars." ^ The Sheriffs post in Ireland
at that time was a critical one, and a man would only be
selected for it who could be depended upon for energy.
I suspect that the explanation of the special recommenda-
tion is to be sought in the threatening situation, and in
Ralegh's anxiety about his large estates in Munster.^
It was upon his advice that the Queen seems to have
relied in Irish matters, and he must have known the
settlers in Munster, as he went to Ireland in 1589,^ and
he employed agents in developing his properties there.

Before this letter can have arrived the rising in
Munster, which resulted in the abandonment of the
settlement and the death of many of the English settlers,
had taken place (in the first week of October 1598).
The information we possess of the fate of Spenser is
derived from Drummond of Hawthornden's recollections
of Ben Jonson's conversations with him in 161 8—19, and
Camden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth's reign, published
161 5-1625. Ben Jonson is reported as having said " that
Spenser's goods were robbed by the Irish, and his house
and a little child burnt, he and his wife escaped, and
after died for want of bread in King Street ; he refused
20 pieces sent him by my lord Essex, and said he
was sure he had no time to spend them." Camden,
writing in Latin, says that Spenser " had scarcely secured
the means of retirement and leisure to write when he

' Cited by Church, Spenser, " Men of Letters" series, p. 177.
''' .See Bagwell, Ireland under the I'udorSy iii. 1 99 and 304.
^ Edwards, Life 0/ Ralegh, i. ch. viii., Letter from Capt. Allen to
Anthony Bacon, quoted below at p. 4 1 8, note.


was ejected by the rebels, spoiled of his goods and
returned to England in poverty, where he died immedi-
ately afterwards, and was interred at Westminster near to
Chaucer, at the charge of the Earl of Essex, his hearse
being attended by poets, and mournful elegies, with the
pens that wrote them, being thrown into his grave."

Dean Church mentions an interesting fact, brought to
light by modern research, which indicates that Spenser
must have been in Ireland up to at least the 9th
December 1598. He says : "On December 9th Norreys
[then President of Munster] wrote home a despatch
about the state of the province. This despatch was sent
to England by Spenser, as we learn from a subsequent
despatch of Norreys of December 21. . . . This is the last
original document which remains about Spenser" (p. 177).

Dr. Grosart, however, produced from the Public
Record Office a further document relating to this event,
being a copy of a petition to the Queen, which he says
is by Spenser, relative to the disaster which had overtaken
the Munster settlement. Grosart published the document
as Appendix V. to vol. i. of his edition of Spenser's
Works, and says with regard to it that " this all-important
paper, and the others accompanying, are in the well-
known handwriting of Sir Dudley Carleton, and all are
carefully noted by him as written by Spenser (spelled
' Spencer ')." I shall have occasion to notice this
document when I come to Spenser's View of the State of
Ireland, but here I will only state my conclusion that
that treatise and the petition are most certainly by
different men. The petition was evidently written from
Ireland, and Grosart supposes that it was presented to
the Queen on Spenser's arrival in London towards the
end of December i 598. Thus he remained in Ireland
more than two months after the sack of his home by the
rebels. It appears that he died, shortly after his return to
England, on i6th January 1599.

The point, however, in the accounts given by Jonson
and Camden to which I wish to direct special attention
is the story relating to Essex. It has been regarded as


quite natural on the ground that Essex was one of
Spenser's friends. But Essex was only thirteen years old
when Spenser went to Ireland in 1580; therefore, on
the accepted facts, the intimacy must have been formed
on the two occasions when Spenser is said to have visited
London. The only evidence, however, adduced for these
visits, apart from conclusions drawn from the poems
and dedications, is a story in Manningham's Diary}
related with additions by Fuller (1662) and Phillips
(1675), as to a pension granted to Spenser by the Queen.
Fuller's statement is : " There passeth a story commonly
told and believed, that Spencer presenting his poems to
queen Elizabeth, she, highly affected therewith, com-
manded the lord Cecil, her treasurer, to give him an
hundred pound ; and when the treasurer (a good steward
of the queen's money) alledged that sum was too much ;
' Then give him,' quoth the queen, * what is reason ' ; to
which the lord consented, but was so busied, belike,
about matters of higher concernment, that Spencer
received no reward, whereupon he presented this petition
in a small piece of paper to the queen in her progress :

I was promis'd on a time,
To have reason for my rhyme ;
From tliat time unto this season,
I receiv'd nor rhyme nor reason.

Hereupon the queen gave strict order (not without some
check to her treasurer), for the present payment of the
hundred pounds the first intended unto him."

Fuller adds that he " afterwards went over into
Ireland, secretary to the lord Gray, lord deputy thereof."

The account of Phillips is different. He says that
upon the return of Sir Henry Sidney from Ireland "his

' The entry in Manningham's Diary (1602- 1603) (Camden Soc.) is as
follows :

" When hir Majestic had given order that Spenser should liave a reward
for his poems, but Spenser could have nothing, he presented hir with these
verses :

It pleased your Grace upon a tyme

To graunt nic reason for my ryme.

But from that tyme untill this season

I heard of neither ryme nor reason. Touse.^^


[Spenser's] employment ceasing, he also return'd into
England, and having lost his great friend Sir Philip, fell
into poverty, yet made his last refuge to the Queen's
bounty, and had 500I. ordered him for his support, which
nevertheless was abridged to lool. by Cecil, who, hearing
of it, and owing him a grudge for some reflections in
Mother Hubbard's Tale, cry'd out to the queen, What !
all this for a song ? This he is said to have taken so
much to heart that he contracted a deep melancholy,
which soon after brought his life to a period. . , ." ^

Of the two stories the second contains, to my mind,
the largest element of probability. Burghley certainly
had reason for resenting the allusions in MotJier Hubberds
Tale, and if Spenser had been in London when it was
published ^ it can hardly be doubted that he would have
heard of it from the Council. But when Spenser finally
came to England Burghley was dead. Such anachronisms,
however, are not surprising in traditionary stories.
Neither of these accounts, however, are satisfactory evi-
dence on which to found any statement as to Spenser's
visits to London from Munster, and the fact stated by
Todd, and repeated by subsequent writers, that a pension
of .^50 a year was actually awarded to Spenser in
February 1591,^ does not take us much further, because
there is no evidence as to the circumstances or cause of
the award from which any conclusions can be drawn as
to Spenser's presence at Court at the time. Moreover
(and this is a point of great importance which has not, so
far as I am aware, been noticed) no allusion whatever to
the Queen's bounty is made in Spenser's petition of
1598 referred to above; nor does the petition suggest
that the writer had any personal acquaintance with the
Queen. On the contrary, it is evident that he had no

1 See Hales, Memoir, pp. xiii, xiv, where these stories are given
in full.

2 The Printer's address to the Complaints (1591), in which it is in-
cluded, professes that the poems had been got together from various quarters
"since his departure over Sea."

* Todd says that Malone discovered a Patent for this grant in the
chapel of the Rolls.


such advantage, for he merely includes himself in the
number of the other unfortunate settlers — " us wreches
which no way discerue so great grace. . . . Pardon
therefore most gracious Soveraigne unto miserable
wreches, which without your knowledge and moste against
your will are plunged in this sea of sorrowes, to make
there euell case knowne unto you and to call for tymelie
redresse unto you, if yet at least any tyme be left. . . ."
Any man writing under such circumstances (and most of
all the author of the Faerie Queene, with its intimate
personal language) would naturally excite remembrance,
with grateful acknowledgments, of former favours or
passages of intercourse if he had experienced them. All
the other evidence for the visits is in the poems and
dedications, from which it is concluded that Spenser was
in England from the end of 1589 to some time early
in I 591, and again during the whole of 1596 and part
of 1597. The internal evidence fails entirely, in my
opinion, to bear out these conclusions.

Two considerations may be mentioned here which tend
to throw doubts on Spenser's visits to London after he
had settled in Munstcr. First, though no absolute reliance
can be placed on accounts such as those of Camden, yet
it seems in accordance with probability that Spenser had
no great means, even though he was one of the leading
settlers (with an official post). The principals, however,
among the " undertakers " did not settle on the lands
in Munster, but made what profit they could through
deputies and smaller men. Camden's statement is : " Sed
peculiari Poetis fato semper cum paupertate conflictatus"
(" but by a fate which still follows poets, he always
wrestled with poverty "). l^e that as it may, it is
difficult to see how a man in such a position could have
afforded to leave his interests in Ireland, which were his
means of livelihood, and to expose them to the depreda-
tions of hostile neighbours, particularly for the long periods
in question, and (as regards the first visit) so soon after
the grant of the lands on which he had settled. It is
still more difficult to understand how he contrived, as is


supposed, to lead a life during those visits about the
Court and in great company.

Secondly, the amount of literary work which must
necessarily be attributed to the two periods seems ex-
cessive, especially when allowance is made, as it must be,
for the environment of novel interests in which Spenser
must have found himself after a prolonged absence from
London. During the first visit the first three books of
the Faerie Queene were put through the press, no light
task. The entry of the book, in the name of the printer,
Ponsonby, in the Stationers' .Register is dated the ist of
December 1589, and the date of the introductory letter
to Ralegh is 23rd January 1589, that is 1590, modern
style. The poet must be regarded as having returned
to Ireland in time, presumably, to have completed his
original draft of Colin Clouts Come Home Again, which
he dates " from my house of Kilcolman, the 27 of December
1 59 1." The address of the "Printer," however, at the
beginning of the Complaints, which appeared in 1591,
indicates that he left England early in that year, because
it refers to his " departure over Sea " ; perhaps even
earlier, because the work was entered in the Stationers'
Register for publication on 29th December 1590. Of
these Complaints, some are early work, but the Ruines of
Time was written, according to the author himself, " sithens
my late cumming to England," and the allusions in it
bear this out. Though I do not myself believe that the
Teares of tJie Muses is as late, those who accept the
Spenserian authorship are compelled to attribute it to
the time of this visit, as it clearly belongs to the life of
London, and is incompatible with the pre- 15 80 period.
The brilliant, but in some parts libellous, Prosopopoia or
Mother Hubbcrds Tale was composed, according to the
author, " in the raw conceipt of my youth," and it is
generally thought to have been composed, in its original
form, before Spenser went to Ireland (August 1580); but
the embittered description of the suitor's state is incom-
patible with the circumstances of the fortunate ex-sizar of
Pembroke at that time, and it becomes necessary there-


fore to suppose that such reflections were added during
the first visit. How this is to be reconciled with the
good reception Spenser is supposed to have had in
England (including the grant of a pension by the Queen),
which he himself, after his return to Ireland, acknowledges
in Colin Clouts Come Home Again, is not explained.
Similarly, the favourable account in the latter poem of
the state of letters in England is wholly irreconcilable
with that given in the Teares of the Muses. MuiopoUnos
was first published by itself, in 1590. The remaining
pieces included in the Complaints are earlier work. These
points will be dealt with more fully in connection with
the several poems.

On the occasion of the visit in 1596 the literary work
which Spenser is supposed to have done comprises the
seeing through the press of the second portion of the
Faerie Queene} the composition of at least two out of the
Fowre Hymnes, of the ProtJialamion (the latest poem), and
of the long prose tract written in the form of a dialogue
entitled A Vieza of the Present State of Ireland. It is
clear from internal evidence (as will be shown) that this
is correctly attributed to the year 1596, and also that
it was written in London.""^

With all this mass of work it will be seen that Spenser
cannot have had very much time to give to social inter-
course, and in particular for forming an intimate new
friendship (for it must have been new) with tlie Earl of
Essex. A still greater difficulty however, to my mind,
presents itself in the rivalry for the Queen's favour between
Ralegh and Essex. That young nobleman " disdained
the competition of love " with such a man, and spoke of
him to the Queen as a " wretch " and a " knave," and
" did describe unto her what he had been and what he
was." ^ It is surely to the last degree improbable that

' Entered for publication in the Stationers' Register on 20th January 1596.

^ It has been suggested that this piece was written in Ireland and brought
over by Spenser on the occasion of the second visit. It was entered for
publication (conditionally) in April 1598, when Spenser was in Ireland, but
it was not printed till 1633.

^ 1587. Essex was then twenty.


Essex would have formed an intimate friendship (for so
it is customary to describe it) with a man who was being
pushed at Court by one for whom he entertained these
sentiments. It may be said that his interest in letters
would overbear such prejudices. But there is nothing to
show that Essex had any great interest in letters. He
was the Queen's favourite, and his mind was engrossed
by schemes of military adventure. Though the literary
pieces of any value which have passed under his name
are beyond question, in my opinion, the work of Bacon,^
they may be presumed to reflect, to some extent at any
rate, the Earl's personality. In one of these, a letter of
advice to Sir Foulke Greville (not Sidney's friend) on his
going to Cambridge, Essex is made to say, " For poets,
I can commend none, being resolved to be ever a stranger
to them." And in a letter written to Bacon in the time
of his troubles (1600), in reply to one which contained
a poetical figure, the Earl says, " I am a stranger to all
poetical conceits, or else I should say somewhat of your
poetical example." ^ In this connection, however, I think
that these sentiments were put in by design, as part of
Bacon's scheme for securing for the Earl a reputation
for gravity. But, even so, they are hardly compatible
with a notorious intimacy with the principal poet of
the day. If, however, Essex cared little for poets and
poetry, he cared very much for anything which enabled
him to outshine his rivals at the Court devices, and a

^ I refer especially to the " Devices" (as to which see Spedding, Life, i. ;
Spedding's account of the "Northumberland" MS., "A Conference of
Pleasure," 1870; F. J. Burgoyne's edition of the same MS., 1904); also
to the Letter of Advice No. i to the Earl of Rutland (Spedding, Life, ii. 6),
and the letter above mentioned to Sir Foulke Greville (ibid. p. 21). An
example of the Earl's own work is his "Apology" of 1598, described as
"penned by himselfe." The style of this is entirely diflerent ; it is straight-
forward and sincere, it shows no evidence of much ability on the part of the
writer, and is undistinguished by literary art.

* See Spedding, Life, ii. 191, 192. This letter, in my opinion, is not the
Earl's own work, and Spedding evidently had doubts on the subject. It will
be noticed that, in spite of the words above quoted, the letter ends with a
poetical conceit of unusual magnificence, " I would light no where but at my
Sovereign's feet," etc. I take the letter to belong to the correspondence
which Francis Bacon " framed " to be shown to the Queen (see Spedding,
Life, ii. 196).


poet who had portrayed him (as I shall hope to show
Spenser had) under the romantic figure of " Artegall," the
lover of " Britomart " (the Queen), would certainly have
claims on his bounty, if not on his friendship. But is it
likely that Spenser, who professes to have owed his intro-
duction to the Court to Ralegh, would have done this,
and have represented his patron, and the rival of Essex,
under the relatively mean figure of the squire Timias ?
These questions may be left for fuller consideration in
connection with the poem itself. But my general con-
clusion is that Spenser's supposed friendship with Essex
is most improbable, and the story therefore that the Earl
paid for a funeral in Westminster Abbey is a very
curious one. But, if true, it is intelligible under my view
of the authorship of the poems, because the action of
Essex covered up Francis Bacon's secret. Whether he
knew it or not is immaterial, for he was always ready to
do anything to help Francis Bacon, for whom he enter-
tained feelings of warm regard and admiration. Essex,
we are told by a contemporary, was a man of " flexible
nature to be overruled," and where he liked he was, no
doubt, much influenced. I consider it probable that he
paid for Spenser's funeral because he was asked to do so,
and that the people of his household, among whom were
Anthony Bacon and his servants, managed the rest.

It may be asked what was the motive for such
secrecy. I have touched on this point in the previous
chapter, but I will take the opportunity here of dealing
with it more fully. The answer is to be sought in two
directions, in the character and habits of thought of the
English people of the upper class at that epoch, and in
the social position and occupations of the author. A
writer in those days had a very limited audience,
confined, practically, to a certain number of the upper
class and a small professional class. The English of
those times, if somewhat less than of preceding times,
were for the most part of a serious and (in my
belief) self-contained habit. They admired gravity, and
certainly expected it in men in responsible positions.


Until recently they had been constantly engaged in
war, and they had passed through a period of change,
accompanied by violence, in matters of religion. The
problems which lay in the path of the new Protestant
State were serious and formidable, no man knew
whether it could hold its own against the united
powers of Catholicism in Europe, and it was held as a
cardinal doctrine that there could not be unity in the
State where there were divisions in the Church. With
these and many other problems calling for solution,
the arts had little appeal for men in responsible or
leading positions, and those who affected them were liable
to be regarded as idle and light-minded. Especially
suspect was the " new poetry," which, in form at any
rate, was not a native product, but a graft from Itah'.
Moreover the use of books was still comparatively
small and little understood. The personality of the
Queen, the absence of any other social centre, and the
enormous powers of the Crown, drew the enterprising
spirits to the Court, where there were two strata, those
who were employed in official positions and who did the
work, and those who secured opportunities of enrich-
ment by nearness to the Queen, either through grants
or by means of " squeezing " suitors (a regular practice
of the times). Among the former were men like Burghley
and VValsingham, serious and able men, with Protestant
sympathies ; the latter were, as a rule, members of the
leading families. Catholic or Protestant, or men like
Hatton and Ralegh, whom the Queen raised as favourites
from a less distinguished position. These represented
the intimate inner ring, but Elizabeth seems always
to have known how to control them and prevent en-
croachments on the executive domain which she reserved
for her servants trusted in that capacity. The " inner "
Court was the circle which gave opportunities to the
poet of human intercourse, and which appealed to his
artistic sense, and it was to this circle that the Faerie
Queene was primarily addressed. But the ambition of
the poet on his active side lay in the direction of the


working positions. His problem was how to reconcile
the two, and in affecting the former as a man of the
world not to prejudice his chances of success as a
statesman in the latter.

These are somewhat summary remarks, but they
may serve to assist the reader in appreciating the
bearings of some passages which I am about to quote,
which throw light on the author's motives for secrecy.

The first passage is from the anonymous Arte of
English Poesie (i 589)^ :

And peraduenture in this iron and malitious age of ours,
Princes are lesse delighted in it [the Art of the Poet], being
ouer earnestly bent and affected to the affaires of Empire and
ambition, whereby they are as it were inforced to indeuour them
selues to armes and practises of hostilitie, or to entend to the
right poUicing of their states, and haue not one houre to bestow
vpon any other ciuill or delectable Art of naturall or morall
doctrine : nor scarce any leisure to thincke one good thought
in perfect and godly contemplation, whereby their troubled
mindes might be moderated and brought to tranquillitie. So
as, it is hard to find in these dayes of noblemen or gentlemen
any good Alathematician^ or excellent Musitian^ or notable
Philosopher, or els a cunning Poet : because we find few great
Princes much delighted in the same studies. Now also of such
among the Nobilitie or gentrie as be very well scene in many
laudable sciences, and especially in making or Poesie, it is so
come to passe that they haue no courage to write and if they haue,
yet are they loath to be a knowen of their skill. So as I know
very many notable Gentlemen in the Court that haue written
commendably and suppressed it agayne, or els suffred it to be
publisht without their owne names to it : as if it were a discredit
for a Gentleman, to seeme learned, and to shew him selfe amorous
of any good Art. In other ages it was not so, ..."

The second passage is from a disagreeable play by
Ben Jonson entitled The Silent Woman (whether " Sir
John Daw " stands for Sir Francis Bacon, as some
suppose, is immaterial to the point under notice) :

Sir Dauphine Eugenie. Why, how can you justify your
own being of a poet, that so slight all the old poets ?

Online LibraryEdward George HarmanEdmund Spenser and the impersonations of Francis Bacon → online text (page 5 of 55)