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indications of the still greater things Spenser saw he would accomplish: he was “dead,” because he
“ Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell,
Tban so himselfe to mockerie to sell." It is to be borne in mind that these stanzas, and six others, are put into the mouth of Thalia, whose lamentation on the degeneracy of the stage, especially in comedy, follows those of Calliope and Melpomene. Rowe, under the impression that the whole passage referred to Shakespeare, introduced it into his “Account of the Life,” &c. in his first edition of 1709, but silently withdrew it in his second edition of 1714: his reason, perhaps, was that he did not see how, before 1591, Shakespeare could have shown that he merited the high character given of him and his productions,
“ And he the man, whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate." Spenser knew what the object of his eulogy was capable of doing, as well, perhaps, as what he had done; and we have established that more than a year before the publication of these lines, Shakespeare had risen to be a distinguished member of the Lord Chamberlain's company, and a sharer in the undertaking at the Blackfriars. Although we feel assured that he had not composed any of his greatest works before 1591, he may have done enough, besides what has come down to us, amply to warrant Spenser in applauding him beyond all his theatrical contemporaries. His earliest printed plays, “Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard II.,” and “Richard III.," bear date in 1597; but it is indisputable that he had at that time written considerably more, and part of what he had so written is contained in the folio of 1623, never having made its appearance in any earlier form. When Ben Jonson published the bulky volume of his “Works” in 1616, he excluded several comedies in which he had been aided by other poets’, and re-wrote part of
With misprints: see “Some Account of the Life," &c., 1709, p. xi. 6 Perhaps it was printed off before his “ Bartholomew Fair” was acted in 1614; or perhaps, that comedy being a new one, Ben Jonson did not think he had a right to publish it to the detriment of the company (the servants of the Princess Elizabeth) by whom it had been purchased, and produced.
? Such as “ The Widow," written soon after 1613, in which he was assisted by Fletcher and Middleton ; " The Case is Altered,” printed in 1609, in which his coadjutors are not known; and “Eastward Ho!" published in 1607, in which he was joined by Chapman and Marston : this last play exposed the authors to great danger of punishment.
“Sejanus,” because, as is supposed, Shakespeare (who performed in it, and whom Jonson terms a “happy genius ") had assisted him in the composition of the tragedy as it was originally acted. The player-editors of the folio of Shakespeare's “ Comedies, Tragedies, and Histories,” in 1623, may have thought it right to pursue the same course, excepting in the case of the three parts of “Henry VI. :” the poet, or poets, who had contributed to these histories (perhaps Marlowe and Greene) had been then dead thirty years ; but with respect to other pieces, persons still living, whether authors or booksellers, might have joint claims upon them, and hence their exclusion'. We only put this as a possible circumstance ; but we are persuaded that Shakespeare, early in his theatrical life, must have written much, in the way of revivals, alterations, or joint productions with other poets, which has been for ever lost. We here, as before, conclude that none of his greatest original dramatic productions had come from his pen; but if in 1591 he had only brought out “ The Two Gentlemen of Verona ” and “Love's Labour's Lost,” they are so infinitely superior to the best works of his predecessors, that the justice of the tribute paid by Spenser to his genius would at once be admitted. At all events, if before 1591 he had not accomplished, by any means, all that he was capable of, he had given the clearest indications of exalted genius, abundantly sufficient to justify the anticipation of Spenser, that he was a man
“ whom Nature selfe had made To mock her selfe, and Truth to imitate :" a passage which in itself admirably comprises, and compresses, nearly all the excellences of which dramatic poetry, to which Spenser obviously refers, is susceptible—the mockery of nature, and the imitation of truth.
Another point not hitherto noticed, because not hitherto known, is, that there is some little ground for thinking, that Spenser, if not a Warwickshire man, was at one time resident
8 We are not to be understood as according in the ascription to Shakespeare of various plays imputed to him in the folio of 1664, and elsewhere. We believe that he was concerned in “The Yorkshire Tragedy,” and that he may have contributed some parts of “ Arden of Feversham ;" but there is not a single passage in “ The Birth of Merlin ” which is worthy of his most careless moments. Of “The first part of Sir John Oldcastle" we have elsewhere spoken; and several other supposititious dramas in the folio of 1664, which certainly would have done little credit to Shakespeare, have also been ascertained to be the works of other dramatists.
in Warwickshire, and later in life he may have become acquainted with Shakespeare. His birth has been conjecturally placed in 1553', and on the authority of some lines in his “Prothalamion” it has been supposed that he was born in London: East Smithfield, near the Tower, has also been fixed upon as the part of the town where he first drew breath ; but the parish registers in that neighbourhood have been searched in vain for a record of the event'. An Edmund Spenser unquestionably dwelt at Kingsbury, in Warwickshire, in 1569, which was the year when the author of "The Faerie Queene" went to Cambridge, and was admitted a sizer at Pembroke College. The fact that Edmund Spenser (a rather unusual combination of names ) was an inhabitant of Kingsbury in 1569 is established by the muster-book of Warwickshire, preserved in the State-paper office, to which we have before had occasion to refer, but it does not give the ages of the parties. This Edmund Spenser may possibly have been the father of the poet (whose Christian name is no where recorded), and if it were the one or the other, it seems to afford a link of connexion, however slight, between Spenser and Shakespeare, of which we have had no previous knowledge. Spenser was certainly eleven or twelve years older than Shakespeare, but their early residence in the same part of the kingdom may have given rise to intimacy afterwards': Spenser
9 This date has always appeared to us too late, recollecting that Spenser. wrote some blank-verse sonnets, prefixed to Vandernoodt's “Theatre for Worldlings," printed in 1569. If he were born in 1553, in 1569 he was only in his sixteenth year, and the sonnets to which we refer do not read at all like the productions of a very young man. George Turberville also had addressed poetical epistles to Spenser from Russia.
Chalmers was a very diligent inquirer into such matters, and he could discover no entry of the kind: see his “Supplemental Apology," p. 22; and subsequent investigations, instituted with reference to this question, have led to the same result. Oldys is responsible for the statement, which has been received without scruple by Todd, but Mr. F.J. Child has recently published a very elegant edition of Spenser (Boston, 1855, 5 vols. 12mo), in which he shows that Spenser was certainly born at least a year earlier than the date universally fixed by his biographers.
? And belonging to no other family at that time, as far as our researches have extended. It has been too hastily concluded that the Spenser, as we have stated, whom Turberville addressed from Russia, in some epistles printed at the end of his “Tragical Tales," was not the poet. Taking Wood's representation, that these letters were written as early as 1569, it is still very possible that the author of “The Faerie Queene” was the person to whom they were sent: he was a young man, it is true, but not quite so young as has been imagined.
s Nobody has been able even to speculate where Spenser was at school;possibly at Kingsbury; though born in London, he may have received the first part of his education in Warwickshire. Drayton was also a Warwickshire man, must bave appreciated and admired the genius of Shakespeare, and the author of “The Tears of the Muses," at the age of not far from forty, may have paid a merited tribute to his young friend of twenty-six.
The Edmund Spenser of Kingsbury may have been entirely a different person, of a distinct family, and perhaps we are disposed to lay too much stress upon a mere coincidence of names; but we may be forgiven for clinging to the conjecture that he may have been the author of “The Faerie Queene," and that the greatest romantic poet of this country was upon terms of friendship and cordiality with the greatest dramatist of the world. This circumstance appears to give new point, and a more certain application, to the well-remembered lines in “A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Vol. ii. p. 243) in which Shakespeare has been supposed to refer to the death of Spenser *, and which may have been a subsequent insertion, for the sake of repaying by a living poet a debt of gratitude to a dead one.
Without taking into consideration what may have been lost, if we are asked what we think it likely that Shakespeare had written in and before 1591, we should answer, that he had altered and added to the three parts of “Henry VI.;" that he had written, or aided in writing, “ Titus Andronicus;" that he had revived and amended “The Comedy of Errors," and that he had composed “The Two Gentlemen of Verona," and “Love's Labour's Lost.” Thus, looking only at his extant works, we see that the eulogy of Spenser was well warranted by the plays which Shakespeare, at that early date, had probably produced.
and he received the earlier rudiments of learning in that county : see the Intro. duction to “ Poems by Michael Drayton," a volume printed by the Roxburghe Club in 1856. It contains all Drayton's rarest pieces.
* Differences of opinion, founded upon discordances of contemporaneous, or nearly contemporaneous, representations, have prevailed respecting the poverty of Spenser at the time of his death. There is no doubt that he had a pension of 501, a year (about 2501. of our present money) from the royal bounty, which probably he received to the last. At the same time we think there is much plausi. bility in the story that Lord Burghley stood in the way of some special pecuniary gift from Elizabeth. The Rev. H. J. Todd disbelieves it, and in his “Life of Spenser" calls it “a calumny" (p. lxvi), on the foundation of the pension, without considering, perhaps, that the epigram, attributed to Spenser, may have been occasioned by the Lord Treasurer's obstruction to some additional proof of the Queen's admiration for the author of “The Faerie Queene.” Fuller first published the anecdote in his “ Worthies," 1662; but sixty years earlier, and within a very short time after the death of Spenser, the story was current, for we find the lines in Manningham's Diary (Harl. MS. 5353), under the date of May 4, 1002: they are thus introduced :
“ When her Majesty bad given order that Spenser should have a reward for his poems, but Spenser could have nothing, he presented her with these verses :
“ It pleas'd your Grace upon a time
To grant me reason for my rhyme;
I heard of neither rhyme nor reason.' The wording differs slightly from Fuller's copy. We add the following epigram upon the death of Spenser, also on the authority of Manningham :
“ In Spenserum.
Then god of poets, pow poet of the gods."
If the evidence upon this point were even more scanty, we should be convinced that by “our pleasant Willy” Spenser meant William Shakespeare, by the fact that such a character as he gives could belong to no other dramatist of the time. Greene can have no pretensions to it, nor Lodge, nor Kyd, nor Peele; Marlowe never attempted comedy, but in some scenes of “Tamburlaine,” which the critical printer excluded : but if these have no title to the praise that they had mocked nature and imitated truth, the claim put in by Malone for Lyly is little short of absurd. Lyly was, beyond dispute, the most artificial and affected writer of his day: his dramas have nothing like nature or truth in them; and if it could be established that Spenser and Lyly were on the most intimate footing, even the exaggerated admiration of the fondest friendship could hardly have carried Spenser to the extreme to which he has gone in his “Tears of the Muses.” If Malone had wished to point out a dramatist of that day to whom the words of Spenser could by no possibility fitly apply, he could not have made a better choice than when he fixed upon Lyly. However, he labours the contrary position with great pertinacity and considerable ingenuity, and it is extraordinary how a man of much reading, and of sound judgment upon many points of literary discussion, could impose upon himself, and be led so far from the truth, by the desire to establish a novelty. At all events, he might have contented himself with an endeavour to prove the negative as regards Shakespeare, without going the strange length of attempting to make out the affirmative as regards Lyly.
We do not for an instant admit the right of any of Shakespeare's predecessors or contemporaries to the tribute of Spenser; but Malone might have made out a case for any of them with more plausibility than for Lyly. Greene was a writer of a fertile fancy, but choked and smothered by the