Academic journal article Spenser Studies

Enuies Scourge, and Vertues Honour: A Rare Elegy for Spenser

Academic journal article Spenser Studies

Enuies Scourge, and Vertues Honour: A Rare Elegy for Spenser

Article excerpt

UNTIL SOME TWO DECADES ago, an unknown poem of the early 1600s, consisting of 408 lines arranged in 68 stanzas and contained in an unbound octavo volume stitched as issued, languished unnoticed in the imperfect stock of the London dealers Pickering and Chatto, consigned to oblivion since about 1920 because it lacked a title page. Eventually acquired by Bernard Quaritch Ltd, it was sold in 1982 for the princely sum of $30,000 to the American collector Robert Taylor, who in turn donated the work to the Princeton University Library. The entry by Robert Freeman in Quaritch's catalogue at the time of Princeton's acquisition is revealing: "We can think of no recent discovery of completely unheralded printed verse of the English 'golden age' to compare with it."1

This hitherto unrecorded and presumably unique copy of Enuies Scourge, and Vertices Honour (the title is supplied by the running heads) has been assigned number 15107.7 by the revised Short Title Catalogue, which dates it "? 1603" without explanation. It was written by one "M. L.," as he subscribes himself in his prefatoiy prose dedication, paying tribute as "your worships poore kinseman" to "Master Thomas Paget of the Middle Temple, Esquire" (A2), former treasurer of that inn and head of the Court of the Arches in London.2 Among this influential lawyer's relations in London and Northamptonshire there seems to be no known poet with the initials M. L., nor do any other writers or printers with those initials (e.g., Matthew Lawe, Matthew Lownes, et al.) seem to fill the bill. Between the years 1600 and 1615 (dates suggested by a study of printers' devices and watermarks),J only one work bears some similarity to M. L.: John Lane's Toni Tel-Troth's Message and His Pens Complaint (1600), which attacks the vices of the age in the same ababcc stanza.4 An earlier work, Charles Fitzgeffrey's Sir Francis Drake (1596), is somewhat close in tone and style. But even these poems present no resemblances significant enough to identify their authors with the mysterious M. L.

The discovery of Enuies Scourge has yielded not only a singular document but an important addition to literary history. For students of the turn of the sixteenth century, the mystery of M. L.'s identity is doubled by the greater mystery of his literary antecedents. Where, we must ask, does this vigorous, ambitious, and curiously memorable poem spring from? How can we account for the seemingly anomalous appearance of a lengthy work of such indisputable-if sometimes indisputably awkward-power? Although the "scourge" of M. L.'s title might suggest that we should search primarily among unnamed or pseudonymous satirists, I would suggest a different source of inspiration. We will find, rather, that this unknown poet has meditated upon, assimilated, and creatively transformed a major writer in a surprisingly complete act of homage and inventive good stewardship.

That major author is Edmund Spenser, whose death in 1599 under tragic circumstances had called forth genuine grief but no major extended elegies, unless we count the poems which were, according to Camden, thrown into his grave along with the pens that had written them (Annales, IV, 1627). Virtually all of Spenser's characteristic modes-the complaints of the Teares of the Muses and the Ruines of Time, the epic and satiric (and pastoral) components of the Faerie Queene, the devotion of the Fowre Hymnes, and the court satire of Colin Clouts Come Home Againe-are here subsumed in a new design as M. L. creates his own complex and persuasive persona, that of a volatile champion of Virtue who is himself embattled with Envy, Wrath, and Demogorgon. Within M. L.'s poem there is evidence not only of broad Spenserian themes interrelated in a new way but of a persistent pattern of distinctive Spenserian words and phrases. M. L.'s verbal echoes and allusions are ingeniously veiled, and he has followed the master's use of recurring rhyme pairs and techniques of correlative verse to arrive at an effect of copious intensity. …

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