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Biography of Edmund Spenser


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EDMUND SPENSER, one of the chief literary ornaments of the great Elizabethan period, was born in London, in the year 1553. In 1569, he went to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, where he remained several years, becoming Bachelor of Arts in 1572, and Master in 1576. After leaving college, he went to live with friends in the north of England. Of the detail of his life at this period, nothing is known further than that he busied himself with poetry, his first volume of which, The Shephearde's Calendar, was published in 1579. Its dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, was the means of introducing him to that noble and kindly gentleman, who not only extended to him a generous patronage, but honored him with his warm friendship. Towards the end of this year, through the influence of Sidney's uncle, the Earl of Leicester, an appointment was procured for him as Secretary to Lord Grey of Wilton, the Queen's deputy in Ireland, whither he at once proceeded. About this time it was that he commenced his great work, The Faery Queen. What portion of Spenser's after-life was passed in England, what in Ireland, we do not know. Nearly all we distinctly know of him henceforth, is the date of his several publications. The first three books of The Faery Queen, issued on his arrival in England in 1590, were followed the year after by three more, and a collection of lesser pieces, entitled Complaints, including Mother Hubbard's Tale, Tears of the Muses, etc.; and in 1596, by four Hymns, so called, in which the Platonic doctrine of Beauty is elaborated in noble music. In 1598, Tyrone's rebellion having broken out, his house at Kilcolman was sacked and burned by the rebels, he and his wife with difficulty escaping, whilst their youngest child perished in the flames. On January 15th, 1599, his death took place in London. According to the account given by Ben Jonson to Drummond, he "died for lake of bread." He was buried, by his own request, near Chaucer, in Westminster Abbey, at the expense of the Earl of Essex, who is said, in the account by Jonson, to have tendered him succor on his death-bed, though too late to be of any avail.

Spenser takes admitted rank as one of the very greatest of British poets; and his chief work, The Faery Queen, written in that stateliest of English measures, since known by the name of its inventor, is a masterpiece of opulent genius. In the poetry of Spenser, an ever present seeking for and sense of beauty finds its fit expression and reflex in a fluent succession of sweet and various cadences; in breadth and splendor of pictorial effect, it has never, perhaps, been surpassed; and throughout it is pervaded by that atmosphere of moral wisdom and serenity, which Milton reverently recognizes in the sage and serious Spenser.