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In May, 1569, he entered Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, the first of that university's long line of poets, destined to include Milton, Dryden, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, and Tennyson. Though he was still poor and continued to benefit by the Nowell legacy, he made his way, as he had done in school, by his ability as a student and his evident poetic genius, and by the charm of his character. He always attracted noble men and kept their friendship. Of his college friends two are remembered with him — Gabriel Harvey, a Fellow, and Edward Kirke, a younger student.
Spenser stayed at the university seven years, graduating M.A. in 1576. He was in poor health at the time, and spent the following year with some relatives in Lancashire. This visit is remembered for his falling in love with Rosalind, the mysterious lady whom he celebrated later in the 'Shepherd's Calendar' and in others of his poems, connecting his name with hers much as Sidney connected his with Stella's. At the end of the year, disappointed in love, he went to London to seek his fortune. Gabriel Harvey gave him a letter to the Earl of Leicester, which proved a successful introduction, and Spenser at once began his career as secretary to Elizabeth's favorite.
Under Leicester's roof Spenser soon made the acquaintance of the brilliant young men of the court, especially of Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Edward Dyer, whose friendship for each other and for Fulke Greville is famous. They recognized his genius, and he became their comrade in literary interests. He also corresponded with Harvey, who had a theory of improving English poetry by discarding accent and rhyme, and establishing rules of quantity, such as govern Latin or Greek prosody. The young poets experimented with
this pedantic theory, and Spenser showed his true instinct as an English poet by being one of the first to give it up. At this time he began his great poem, the Faerie Queene,' and in 1579 he published his first book, the Shepherd's Calendar.'
This is a series of twelve poems, one for each month, in which country people discuss simple themes, such as belong to the shepherd's life. Such poems are called pastorals, and Spenser had taken for his models the pastorals of Theocritus and Virgil, and of their Italian and French imitators. He follows Virgil and these later writers also in making his pastorals not so much pictures of real life, as allegories; his shepherds are himself and his friends in disguise, and their simple talk veils a discussion of personal and public topics such as would interest all thoughtful Englishmen of the time. Each of the twelve poems was followed by a scholarly commentary, written by Edward Kirke, explaining the allegory and the allusions, and pointing out the beauty of the poetry with the greatest enthusiasm. We can see at once how typical of the Renaissance the book was, in its learning and in its imitation of French and Italian and classical writers. The allegorical method also belonged to the age and was characteristic of Spenser; we shall study it at length in the Faerie Queene.'
Spenser was hailed at once as the greatest English poet since Chaucer, and with his literary success came an appointment as secretary to the Lord Deputy of Ireland. He took up his new work in 1580, hoping that with advancement he might return permanently to England and the court. But Ireland was to be for him a land of exile until his death. He began his official tasks bravely, however, and devoted his leisure
structure of the story; G., E. Woodberry's essay in * "The Torch' (McClure), - a remarkably sympathetic analysis of the significance of the ‘Faerie Queene' and its position in world literature; Lowell's essay on Speaser in 'Among My Books,' Series II; and the earlier chapters of J. S. Harrison's Platonism in English Poetry of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries' (Macmillan), admirable expositions of the philosophical basis of the first books of the 'Faerie Queene.'
In approaching Spenser's great allegory, the student may easily be misled or discouraged by ill-advised erudition and commentary. Thoughtful as the poem is - one of the most thoughtful and scholarly in any language — its first appeal is to the imagination, and nothing should be allowed to interfere with this appeal. The student should see the adventures, and sympathize with the misfortunes and victories of the characters; after that it will be time enough to show what the poem means. The poem should be read through first for the story, then for the allegory, to understand the sequence of the states of mind, and then for the study of characters, scenes, color-effects, and the music of the verse.
On many other sides the study of the poem can be enriched. Some attention might be paid to individual words, especially the old ones, in order to stimulate the student's imagination and to vitalize the language for him. And the more historical background the student has for the poem, the better, since it is so much a poem of the past. Here, again, however, the approach should be imaginative. For a picture of Elizabethan England, Scott's ‘Kenilworth' might be read, and for the beginning of the Renaissance, Charles Reade's ‘Cloister and the Hearth.' Of the numerous
essays on the Renaissance, the first chapter in Sidney Lee’s ‘Great Englishmen of the Sixteenth Century' is the most useful. For different views of chivalry, Tennyson, Mallory, and Froissart provide convenient examples, and an excellent essay on the institution of chivalry is that prefixed to Sir Edward Strachey's edition of the 'Morte D'Arthur' (Macmillan).
CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE AND HISTORY.
1551. Sir Walter Raleigh born. English
Prayer Book revised by Cranmer.
1552. Spenser born
1553. Edward VI died. Coronation of
Lady Jane Grey. Accession of
Mary. 1554. Sir Philip Sidney and John Lyly
born. 1555. Protestants persecuted. 1556. Cranmer and Loyola died. 1558. Thomas Lodge and George Peele
born. England loses Calais. Death
of Mary. Accession of Elizabeth. 1560. Robert Greene born. The Geneva
Bible. 1561. Francis Bacon born. 1563. Michael Drayton born. The Thirty
nine articles. 1564. Shakespere, Marlowe, and Galileo
born. Michael Angelo and Calvin died.
1569. Spenser enters
Pembroke Hall, Cambridge.
1571. Elizabeth deposed by the Pope.
Keppler born. 1572. St. Bartholomew's massacre. 1573. Bacon enters Trinity College, Cam
bridge. Gabriel Harvey, M.A., Cambridge. Sidney in Germany
and Italy. 1575. John Lyly, M.A., Oxford. Tasso's
Gerusalemme Liberata completed.
1576. Spenser, M.A.
1579. The Shep
heardes Calendar. Correspondence with Harvey