No Room at the Top
Spenser's Pursuit of Fame
The Shepheardes Calender, printed some time in the winter of 1579-80, itself calendars that moment when one use of lyric manifestly gave way to another. Courtly play of wit to move a suit, win a lady or supplicate a lord was united with the open pursuit of general Fame, as Gabriel Harvey led Edmund Spenser to embark on a joint campaign of publicity which lasted only till late summer, and ended in disaster.
Both achieved Fame; both overreached themselves. By 12 August 1580 Spenser had landed in Dublin, an exile who published no more for a decade, though he carved out an estate for himself and rose to be Sheriff of Cork before the 'the watch word came' that, late in 1598, fired his Castle of Kilcolman; just as Harvey, after thirty years' struggle for University office at Cambridge, finally retired to his native Saffron Walden and thirty years more of obscurity and silence.
Yet however unsuccessful their campaign of self-advertisement-- which in Harvey's case had included two rhetorical treatises of 1577, and two small books of verse in 1587, all in Latin--this manifesto of 'the New Poet' established lyric not only as a fit 'kind' for the dignity of print, but for the ennobling of the language, itself a public service.
As a means of self-advancement, poetry was familiar enough, but by the second half of Elizabeth's reign the conventions governing it were both archaic and confused. In English, grave and moral works were allowed for publication, such as The Mirror for Magistrates of that supple courtier, Thomas Sackville, who crowned a successful career by achieving an earldom. The general public could not but be edified by being permitted to share advice on government intended for high quarters. Yet the forward youth in search of honour, who employed lyric as an adjunct to social manœuvres in the ceremonious but chancy game for preferment, would have offended against decorum by publishing his 'toys', made to be slipped into a pocket or dropped through