A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
"THE FAËRIE QUEENE" AND ITS GROUP

"Velut inter ignes luna minores"

THERE is no instance in English history of a poet receiving such immediate recognition, and deserving it so thoroughly, as Edmund Spenser at the date of The Shepherd's Calendar. In the first chapter of this volume the earlier course of Elizabethan poetry has been described, and it will have been seen that, with great intention, no very great accomplishment had been achieved. It was sufficiently evident that a poetic language and a general poetic spirit were being formed, such as had not existed in England since Chaucer's death; but no one had yet arisen who could justify the expectation based on such respectable tentatives. It seems from many minute indications which need not be detailed here, that at the advent of The Shepherd's Calendar all the best judges recognised the expected poet. Yet they could hardly have known how just their recognition was, or what extraordinary advances the poet would make in the twenty years which passed between its publication and his death.

The life of Spenser is very little known, and here and elsewhere the conditions of this book preclude the reproduction or even the discussion of the various pious attempts which have been made to supply the deficiency of documents. The chief of these in his case is to be found in Dr. Grosart's magnificent

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