The Complete Poetical Works of Edmund Spenser

By Edmund Spenser | Go to book overview

THE FAERIE QUEENE

DISPOSED INTO TWELVE BOOKS, FASHIONING

XII MORALL VERTUES

LONDON

PRINTED FOR WILLIAM PONSONBIE

1590

TO THE
MOST MIGHTIE
AND
MAGNIFICENT EMPRESSE
ELIZABETH,
BY THE
GRACE OF GOD
QUEENE OF ENGLAND,
FRANCE AND
IRELAND
DEFENDER OF THE FAITH &C.
HER MOST HUMBLE
SERVANT:
ED. SPENSER

[Dedication of the edition of 1590.]

TO THE MOST HIGH
MIGHTIE AND MAGNIFICENT EMPRESSE
RENOWMED FOR PIETIE, VERTUE,
AND ALL GRATIOUS GOVERNMENT
ELIZABETH
BY THE GRACE OF GOD QUEENE OF
ENGLAND FRAUNCE AND IRELAND
AND OF VIRGINIA,
DEFENDOUR OF THE FAITH, &C.
HER MOST HUMBLE SERVAUNT
EDMUND SPENSER
DOTH IN ALL HUMILITIE
DEDICATE, PRESENT AND CONSECRATE
THESE HIS LABOURS
TO LIVE WITH THE ETERNITIE
OF HER FAME

[Dedication of the edition of 1596.]

[When the first three books of the Faery Queen were published in 1590, Spenser had been at work upon the poem for at least ten years. The earliest records of its existence are worth transcribing. In the letter to Harvey of April 2, 1580, he writes: 'Nowe, my Dreames and Dying Pellicane being fully finished . . . and presentlye to bee imprinted, I wil in hande forthwith with my Faery Queene, whyche I praye you hartily send me with al expedition,and your frendly letters and long expected judgement wythal, whyche let not be shorte, but in all pointes suche as you ordinarilye use and I extraordinarily desire.' That was in the days just following the publication of the Calendar, some three months and a half before he went with Lord Grey to Ireland. There, probably in the year 1582, occurred that gathering in the little cottage near Dublin so memorably recounted by his friend Lodowick Bryskett. Being invited to speak of moral philosophy, its benefits and its nature, Spenser declined: 'For,' said he,' sure I am that it is not unknowne unto you that I have already undertaken a work tending to the same effect, which is in heroical verse, under the title of a Faerie Queene, to represent all the moral vertues, assigning to every virtue a knight to be the patron and defender of the same: in whose actions and feates of armes and chivalry the operations of that virtue whereof he is the protector are to be expressed, and the vices and unruly appetites that oppose themselves against the same to be beaten downe and overcome. Which work . . . I have already well entred into.' The company were content to await its conclusion.

Eight years passed, completing a decade, with but a quarter of the whole work done, and still this conclusion seemed to the poet within easy reach. The Letter to Raleigh shows him quite confident of achieving his hundred and forty-fourth canto, shows him even planning another hundred and forty-four in sequel. Mortality, that favorite theme of his generation, the theme of Complaints, was assuredly not in his mind when he thought of his Faery Queen

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