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A Biography of Edmund Spenser   By: (1836-1914)

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From the Macmillan Globe edition of THE WORKS OF EDMUND SPENSER

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Accented, etc. characters are shown thus: {a\} = a grave accent {e\} = e grave accent {e"} = e diaeresis mark {ae} = ae diphthong {oe} = oe dipthong Footnotes for each chapter are enclosed in curly brackets, e.g. {1} Regions of italic type are defined by underscores

E D M U N D S P E N S E R .

Ille velut fidis arcana sodalibus olim Credebat libris; neque, si male cesserat, unquam Decurrens alio, neque si bene; quo fit ut omnis Votiva pateat veluti descripta tabella Vita senis.

Hither, as to their fountain, other stars Repairing in their urns draw golden light.

The life of Spenser is wrapt in a similar obscurity to that which hides from us his great predecessor Chaucer, and his still greater contemporary Shakspere. As in the case of Chaucer, our principal external authorities are a few meagre entries in certain official documents, and such facts as may be gathered from his works. The birth year of each poet is determined by inference. The circumstances in which each died are a matter of controversy. What sure information we have of the intervening events of the life of each one is scanty and interrupted. So far as our knowledge goes, it shows some slight positive resemblance between their lives. They were both connected with the highest society of their times; both enjoyed court favour, and enjoyed it in the substantial shape of pensions. They were both men of remarkable learning. They were both natives of London. They both died in the close vicinity of Westminster Abbey, and lie buried near each other in that splendid cemetery. Their geniuses were eminently different: that of Chaucer was the active type, Spenser's of the contemplative; Chaucer was dramatic, Spenser philosophical; Chaucer objective, Spenser subjective; but in the external circumstances, so far as we know them, amidst which these great poets moved, and in the mist which for the most part enfolds those circumstances, there is considerable likeness. Spenser is frequently alluded to by his contemporaries; they most ardently recognised in him, as we shall see, a great poet, and one that might justly be associated with the one supreme poet whom this country had then produced with Chaucer, and they paid him constant tributes of respect and admiration; but these mentions of him do not generally supply any biographical details. The earliest notice of him that may in any sense be termed biographical occurs in a sort of handbook to the monuments of Westminster Abbey, published by Camden in 1606. Amongst the 'Reges, Regin{ae}, Nobiles, et alij in Ecclesia Collegiata B. Petri Westmonasterii sepulti usque ad annum 1606' is enrolled the name of Spenser, with the following brief obituary: 'Edmundus Spencer Londinensis, Anglicorum Poetarum nostri seculi facile princeps, quod ejus poemata faventibus Musis et victuro genio conscripta comprobant. Obijt immatura morte anno salutis 1598, et prope Galfredum Chaucerum conditur qui felicissime po{e"}sin Anglicis literis primus illustravit. In quem h{ae}c scripta sunt epitaphia:

Hic prope Chaucerum situs est Spenserius, illi Proximus ingenio proximus ut tumulo.

Hic prope Chaucerum, Spensere poeta, poetam Conderis, et versu quam tumulo propior. Anglica, te vivo, vixit plausitque po{e"}sis; Nunc moritura timet, te moriente, mori.'

'Edmund Spencer of London, far the first of the English Poets of our age, as his poems prove, written under the smile of the Muses, and with a genius destined to live. He died prematurely in the year of salvation 1598, and is buried near Geoffrey Chaucer, who was the first most happily to set forth poetry in English writing: and on him were written these epitaphs:

Here nigh to Chaucer Spenser lies; to whom In genius next he was, as now in tomb... Continue reading book >>

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