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Edmund Spenser

(1552—1599) poet and administrator in Ireland

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(c. 1552–99),

was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. In 1569, while still at Cambridge, he contributed a number of ‘Visions’ and sonnets, from Petrarch and Du Bellay, to van der Noodt's Theatre for Worldlings. To the ‘greener times’ of his youth belong also the ‘Hymne in Honour of Love’ and that of ‘Beautie’ (not published until 1596), which reflect his study of Neoplatonism. In 1579, through his college friend G. Harvey, Spenser obtained a place in Leicester's household and became acquainted with Sir P. Sidney, to whom he dedicated his Shepheardes Calender (1579). He probably married Machabyas Chylde in the same year, and began to write The Faerie Queene. In 1580 he was appointed secretary to Lord Grey of Wilton, then going to Ireland as lord deputy. In 1588 or 1589 he became one of the ‘undertakers’ for the settlement of Munster, and acquired Kilcolman Castle in Co. Cork. Here he occupied himself with literary work, writing his elegy ‘Astrophel’, on Sidney, and preparing The Faerie Queene for the press. The first three books of it were entrusted to the publisher during his visit to London in 1589. He returned reluctantly to Kilcolman, which he liked to regard as a place of exile, in 1591, recording his visit to London and return to Ireland in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (printed 1595). The success of The Faerie Queene led the publisher, Ponsonby, to issue his minor verse and juvenilia, in part rewritten, as Complaints, Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie (1591). This volume included ‘The Ruines of Time’, a further elegy on Sidney, dedicated to Sidney's sister, the countess of Pembroke; ‘Mother Hubberds Tale’; Muiopotmos'; ‘The Teares of the Muses’, and ‘Virgils Gnat’; also in 1591 Daphnaïda was published. In 1594 he married Elizabeth Boyle, whom he had wooed in his Amoretti, and celebrated the marriage in his superb Epithalamion: the works were printed together in 1595. He published Books IV–VI of The Faerie Queene and his Fowre Hymnes in 1596, being in London at the house of his friend the earl of Essex, where he wrote his Prothalamion and also his well‐informed though propagandist View of the Present State of Ireland. His castle of Kilcolman was burnt in October 1598, in a sudden insurrection of the natives. He died in London in distress, if not actual destitution, and was buried near his favourite Chaucer in Westminster Abbey. His monument describes him as ‘the prince of poets in his tyme’: there have been few later periods in which he has not been admired, and the poetry of both Milton and Keats had its origins in the reading of Spenser.

Subjects: Literature

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