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English poets (to put out of sight the Scottish poetry of the century, which pursues, in part, an independent course), during this period had produced piece of such range in subject, such art in writing ; nothing which (even at the vast interval that an honest judgment must recognize between a Vergil and a Spenser), could so fairly recall ancient master-works. It was to this continuous display of power, this bulk and mass, that, I think, we must ascribe much of the immense influence exercised by the Calender over the literature of its time: to the weight of the blow, not less than to the skill with which it was directed.
If the Calender proved to be a “turning-point in the history of our poetry," * a work with which only Chaucer's Pilgrimage could fairly be compared in point of extent and power, its position was, it appears, clearly recognized at the date of publication. The sense that a great poet had arisen has never been more clearly expressed than in the Epistle of E. K. prefixed ; and it is noteworthy that he dwells most upon the style and command of language shown by the "new Poete"; thus showing a true if unconscious estimate of Spenser's peculiar literary mission; although at the same time betraying a sense that the artificial archaism prevalent in his diction requires apology. The love of mystery and allegory which is so marked in the literature of the Elizabethan age, (forming, doubtless, a parallel to its atmosphere of political intrigue and statecrast, as that itself is an expression of the Machiavellianism of the sixteenth century,) is curiously displayed in this Preface, and (so far as we may now infer)
in the circumstances attending the publication. It is certain that during several years, although new editions appeared in 1581 and 1586, Spenser was either really not recognized as the author, or at any rate not named: and this, though the author's own proudly-humble dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, and the fact that E. K's Epistle was addressed to Harvey, a littérateur then well known, would naturally, we might think, have led to the announcement of his name. What was the true reason of this mystery,—whether meant to advertise the book; or whether, as Dean Church conjectures, “the avowed responsibility for the Calenler might have been inconvenient for a young man pushing his fortune among the cross currents of Elizabeth's court,"—is now, probably, beyond explanation. All students must be perpetually and painfully conscious how meagre and how fragmentary is the evidence surviving for precisely that period of our literary history when details would be of the highest value and interest. The age of youthful advance in the fine arts, the age of first maturity, are always the most fascinatingly attractive to later times ;—they are always also by a natural law) the ages of which the scantiest records remain. Eminently is this the case in regard to our own Renaissance, those " spacious times of great Elizabeth,” which we seem to know so well. We are familiar with the grand and glittering outline which has been accepted as the history of that Empress (so Spenser names her), and of her England : the actual buildings, the books, survive ; the names of a few writers are still household words of every day; yet that impenetrable cloud which hides from our closest research the personality of Shakespeare is only the most typical and striking example of the darkness which everywhere meets us in reference to the inner and vital progress of sixteenthcentury England, in every branch of art and thought and literature. The story of our Renaissance can only be now reached by critical inference from its remaining productions; of contemporary records, notices, and letters, till some distance into the following century, we are miserably barren-a deficiency which the explanatory comments on Spenser will be found conspicuously to illustrate.
It may be fairly inferred that the Calender was, at least in great part, the work of the years between 1573 (when Spenser took his Bachelor's degree) and 1579, in the April of which E. K.'s Epistle is dated; and that it was also the main work of this period,-being, at least, the only one selected for publication amongst several which, known to us only by name, attest the fluency of the writer and the determined zeal with which he at that time gave himself to literature as his true profession. Meanwhile, evidence is afforded by various phrases in E. K.'s Glosses that the poems were read and criticized in manuscript : in fact, the Elizabethan age seems to present the last example of that older form of publication, anterior to the invention of printing, when a book circulated first in what may be called private manuscript, before it was transcribed for general sale. *
A passage in the Arte of English Poesie (ascribed generally to Puttenham, and written, according to Mr. Arber, in his excel. lent reprint, between 1585 and 1589, when it was published), has been thought to show that this practice of manuscript circulation arose from causes special to the time. "As well Poets as Poesie
No reader who wishes to enjoy this vigorous firstling of Spenser's genius should fail to read the prefaces and notes with which the poem was originally published. The "generall argument," and those prefixed to each month, though I do not find them expressly so claimed, are doubtless due to “ E. K." ;- -we cannot believe that Spenser himself would have cared to insert the pedantic reasonings in favour of beginning the year with January in place of April which fill the greater portion of that Argument. It is however noteworthy, as a fair specimen of the immature scholarship, and of the unreal, factitious elements which play too large a part in the Renaissance movement, especially that of Western Europe, at the date before us.
Pedantries of this nature appear everywhere in the glosses added to the separate Aeglogues, and enhance the tone of artifice in poems already too artificial. are despised," the author says, speaking apparently of his own age, "and the name become, of honorable, infamous, subject to scorne and derision. . . And this proceedes through the barbarous ignoraunce of the time, and pride of many Gentlemen, and others.” By “ others" he seems to mean princes, whose neglect of liberal encouragement he goes on to notice--a remark which, however veiled, can only be held to apply to the Queen-whence, he adds, those of the nobility or gentry who were gifted in poetry “have no courage to write, and if they have, yet are they loath to be a knowen of their skill; ” suppressing their verse, or letting it be published “without their owne names to it.”
This tale of national barbarism will come before us again ; meanwhile, although the parsimony of Elizabeth and her political advisers must be fully conceded, I do not think that any one who is conversant with the angry personalities, the petty jealousies, of the critics of that age, and considers also how small was then the diffusion of literary intelligence, will be ready to accept this as a literally true version of public opinion in 1589.
With reference to the authorship of the Arte of English Poesie see Croft's Boke of the Governour of Sir Thomas Elyot (1880, 2 vols. 4to), Life, pp. clxxxii-ix, for evidence that Richard, not George Puttenham, was its most probable author.
On the disputed question of E. K.'s identity I need not enter; it is enough here to note that the full, though often mysterious explanatory details which he gives (to which we may add his adoption of Spenser's conventional spelling, unless this be due to the poet's own revision for the press), prove him clearly entitled to speak of Spenser as his “so very good and so choise frend";although we may perhaps infer from the phrase "him selfe being for long time furre estraunged," from the conjectural character of certain notes, and the divergence of others from Spenser's own intention, that the familiarity between the Poet and the Scholiast in April 1579 had suffered some cooling interruption : --even if Spenser's praises of the (never-published) Glosse upon his Dreamcs by E. K. in his letter of April 1580, may support the interpretation which has been offered, that the estrangement noticed was rather local than personal. ---How far, in case of the Calender, Spenser precisely authorized the Gloss, remains uncertain ; that he was virtually his own commentator, although recourse to such a literary device could not, in his case, be rejected on general grounds, is, I am convinced, a wholly improbable conjecture.
Turning, lastly, to the twelve poems before us, as I need not here linger over the general question of the Bucolic or Pastoral, a few words may be given to the relation between the Calender and the models assigned to Spenser. E. K. gives several reasons, in his conjectural manner, why “this our new Poete” should have begun his career with Pastoral, naming as his examples the chief writers in the style, Theocritus, Vergil, and then several of their Renaissance followers, amongst whom