| English Literature for Boys and Girls|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Delightful introduction to the writers of English literature whose works hold the greatest appeal for the youthful reader. The life and personality of each author is given in outline, with enough material quoted from his works to give an idea of what he wrote. For most authors suggestions for further reading are included. The outline of historical background enables the young reader to grasp the connection between the literature and the life of the time. Excellent as a companion to a chronological study of English literature. Ages 12-15 |
SPENSER—HIS LAST DAYS
 THERE are so many books now published which tell the stories of
the Faery Queen, and tell them well, that you may think I hardly
need have told one here. But few of these books give the poet's
own words, and I have told the story here giving quotations from
the poem in the hope that you will read them and learn from them
to love Spenser's own words. I hope that long after you have
forgotten my words you will remember Spenser's, that they will
remain in your mind as glowing word-pictures, and make you
anxious to read more of the poem from which they are taken.
Spenser has been called the poet's poet,
he might also be called
the painter's poet, for on every page almost we find a word-
picture, rich in color, rich in detail. Each person as he comes
upon the scene is described for us so that we may see him with
our mind's eye. The whole poem blazes with color, it glows and
gleams with the glamor of fairyland. Spenser more than any other
poet has the old Celtic love of beauty, yet so far as we know
there was in him no drop of Celtic blood. He loved neither the
Irishman nor Ireland. To him his life there was an exile, yet
perhaps even in spite of himself he breathed in the land of
fairies and of "little people" something of their magic: his
fingers, unwittingly perhaps, touched the golden and ivory gate
so that he entered in and saw.
 That it is a fairyland and no real world which Spenser opens to
us is the great difference between Chaucer and him. Chaucer
gives us real men and women who love and hate, who sin and
sorrow. He is humorous, he is coarse, and he is real. Spenser
has humor too, but we seldom see him smile. There are, we may be
glad, few coarse lines in Spenser, but he is artificial. He took
the tone of his time—the tone of pretense. It was the fashion
to make-believe, yet, underneath all the make-believe, men were
still men, not wholly good nor wholly bad. But underneath the
brilliant trappings of Spenser's knights and ladies, shepherds
and shepherdesses, there seldom beats a human heart. He takes us
to dreamland, and when we lay down the book we wake up to real
life. Beauty first and last is what holds us in Spenser's poems-
-beauty of description, beauty of thought, beauty of sound. As
it has been said, " 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever,' and that
is the secret of the enduring life of the Faery Queen."
Spenser invented for himself a new stanza of nine lines and made
it famous, so that we call it after him, the Spenserian Stanza.
It was like Chaucer's stanza of seven lines, called the Rhyme
Royal, with two lines more added.
Spenser admired Chaucer above all poets. He called him "The Well
of English undefiled,"
and after many hundred years we still
feel the truth of the description. He uses many of Chaucer's
words, which even then had grown old-fashioned and were little
used. So much is this so that a glossary written by a friend of
Spenser, in which old words were explained, was published with
the Shepherd's Calendar. But whether old or new, Spenser's power
of using words and of weaving them together was wonderful.
He weaves his wonderful words in such wonderful
 fashion that they
sound like what he describes. Is there anything more drowsy than
his description of the abode of sleep:
"And more, to lull him in his slumber soft,
A trickling stream from high rock tumbling down,
And ever drizzling rain upon the loft
Mix'd with a murmuring wind, much like the sound
Of swarming bees, did cast him in a swound,
No other noise nor peoples' troublous cries,
As still are wont t' annoy the walled town,
Might there be heard; but careless quiet lies
Wrapt in eternal silence, far from enemies."
So all through the poem we are enchanted or lulled by the glamor
The Faery Queen made Spenser as a poet famous, but, as we know,
it did not bring him enough to live on in England. It did not
bring him the fame he sought nor make him great among the
statesmen of the land. Among the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth he
counted for little. So he returned to Ireland a disappointed
man. It was now he wrote Colin Clout's come home again, from
which I have already given you some quotations. He published
also another book of poems and then he fell in love. He forgot
his beautiful Rosalind, who had been so hard-hearted, and gave
his love to another lady who in her turn loved him, and to whom
he was happily married. This lady, too, he made famous in his
verse. As the fashion was, he wrote to her a series of sonnets,
in one of which we learn that her name was Elizabeth. He writes
to the three Elizabeths, his mother, his Queen, and
"The third, my love, my life's last ornament,
By whom my spirit out of dust was raised."
But more famous still than the sonnets is the Epithalamion or
wedding hymn which he wrote in his lady's
 honor, and which ever
since has been looked on as the most glorious love-song in the
English language, so full is it of exultant, worshipful
It was now, too, that Spenser wrote Astrophel, a sadly beautiful
dirge for the death of his friend and fellow-poet, Sir Philip
Sidney. He gave his verses as "fittest flowers to deck his
Just before his marriage Spenser finished three more books of the
Faery Queen, and the following year he took them to London to
publish them. The three books were on Friendship, on Justice,
and on Courtesy. They were received as joyfully as the first
three. The poet remained for nearly a year in London still
writing busily. Then he returned to Ireland. There he passed a
few more years, and then came the end.
Ireland, which had always been unquiet, always restless, under
the oppressive hand of England, now broke out into wild
rebellion. The maddened Irish had no love or respect for the
English poet. Kilcolman Castle was sacked and burned, and
Spenser fled with his wife and children to Cork, homeless and
wellnigh ruined. A little later Spenser himself went on to
London, hoping perhaps to better his fortunes, and there in a
Westminster inn, disappointed, ill, shattered in hopes and
health, he lay down to die.
As men count years, he was still young, for he was only forty-
seven. He had dreamed that he had still time before him to make
life a success. For as men counted success in those days,
Spenser was a failure. He had failed to make a name among the
statesmen of the age. He failed to make a fortune, he lived poor
and he died poor. As a poet he was a sublime success. He
dedicated the Faery Queen to Elizabeth "to live with the eternity
of her fame," and it is not too much to believe that even should
the deeds of Elizabeth be forgotten the fame of Spenser will
 And the poets of Spenser's own day knew that in him they
had lost a master, and they mourned for him as such. They buried
him in Westminster not far from Chaucer. His bier was carried by
poets, who, as they stood beside his grave, threw into it poems
in which they told of his glory and their own grief. And so they
left "The Prince of Poets in his tyme, whose divine spirit needs
no other witnesse than the workes which he left behind him."
BOOKS TO READ
Tales from Spenser (Told to Children Series).
Una and the Red Cross Knight, by N. G. Royde Smith (has many quotations).
Tales from the Faerie Queene, by C. L. Thomson (prose).
The Faerie Queene (verse, sixteenth century spelling).
Faerie Queene, book I, by Professor W. H. Hudson.
Complete Works (Globe Edition), edited by R. Morris.
Britomart, edited by May E. Litchfield, is the story of Britomart taken from scattered portions in books
III, IV, and V in original poetry, spelling modernized.
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