Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/391

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

rence Spenser of Filly Close married Lettice Nowell of the family of Dean Alexander Nowell [q. v.], and the poet profited by the educational benefactions of the dean's brother, Robert Nowell. The poet, too, claimed some relationship with the Spencers of Althorp. He designated as his cousins Sir John Spencer's three daughters (Elizabeth, lady Carey; Alice, lady Strange; Ann, successively Lady Monteagle, Lady Compton, and Countess of Dorset). To each of these ladies he dedicated a poem [see under Spenser, Robert, first Baron Spencer]. In ‘Colin Clouts come home againe’ he described the ‘sisters three’ as

    The honor of the noble family
    Of which I meanest boast myself to be.

The poet's father seems to have been John Spenser, ‘a gentleman by birth,’ who was in October 1566 ‘a free journeyman’ in the ‘art and mystery of clothmaking,’ and then in the service of Nicholas Peele, ‘sheerman,’ of Bow Lane, London. The Christian name of the poet's mother was Elizabeth (see Sonnet lxxiv.). The parents, according to a statement of Oldys the antiquary, were living in East Smithfield when Spenser was born—probably in 1552. His date of birth cannot be later than 1552; it may have been a year earlier. In Sonnet lx. (of his ‘Amoretti’) he wrote that the one year during which he had been in love with the lady to whom the sonnet was addressed seemed longer to him ‘than all those forty which’ he had previously lived, and there is reason to believe that he began his wooing in 1592. He was not an only son. His intimate friend, Gabriel Harvey, wrote to him of ‘your good mother's eldist ungracious sonne’ (see Harvey's Letter-Book, ed. Scott, p. 60). He seems to have had a younger brother John, doubtless the John Spenser who entered Merchant Taylors' school on 3 Aug. 1571, and afterwards went, like the poet, to Pembroke Hall. But this brother of the poet is to be distinguished from John Spenser [q. v.], who became president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. A sister of the poet was named Sarah.

Spenser was educated at the newly founded Merchant Taylors' school, and probably entered during 1561, the first year of its existence. Nicholas Spenser, a man of great wealth, was warden of the Taylors' Company at the time. Richard Mulcaster [q. v.] was Spenser's headmaster. Robert Nowell, brother of Alexander Nowell [q. v.], dean of St. Paul's, left on his death, 26 Feb. 1568–9, large sums of money to be bestowed on poor scholars and other deserving persons. The account-books detailing ‘the spending of the money of Robert Nowell’ by the executors are preserved at Towneley Hall, and were printed by Dr. Grosart in 1877 (cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. pp. 406–8). There Edmund Spenser is mentioned among thirty-one ‘certyn poor schollers of the scholls aboute London’ (St. Paul's, Merchant Taylors', St. Anthony's, St. Saviour's, and Westminster) as receiving a gown early in 1569. Another entry (dated 28 April 1569) on a later folio, under the heading of ‘Geven to poor schollers of dyvers gramare scholles,’ runs, ‘To Edmond Spensore, scholler of the Mrchante Tayler scholles, at his gowinge to Pembrocke Hall in Chambridge, Xs.’ The poet went up to Pembroke Hall (now College) as a sizar in May 1569. He matriculated on 20 May.

About the time of his leaving school Spenser appeared in print. On 22 July 1569 the well-known printer and publisher, Henry Bynneman, obtained a license to issue an English version by one Theodore Roest of an edifying moral tract, originally written in Flemish prose by an Antwerp physician named John Van der Noodt, who had taken refuge in England from religious persecution. A French translation was issued in London in 1568. The work appeared in its English form next year with the running title ‘A Theatre for Worldlings’ (London, b. l. 8vo); a dedication addressed to the queen and signed by Van der Noodt was dated 25 May. There followed, as a further introduction to the book, twenty-one woodcuts in illustration of some poems by Petrarch and Du Bellay which Van der Noodt had studied when compiling his tract, and opposite each woodcut was placed a translation into English verse of the appropriate Italian or French poem. The six poems assigned to Petrarch, which were in Van der Noodt's volume entitled ‘Epigrams,’ were renderings of the six stanzas of Petrarch's canzone, beginning ‘Standomi un giorno solo a la finestra,’ and each consisted of either fourteen or twelve lines alternately rhymed. The fourteen sonnets or ‘Visions’ of Du Bellay—four of which were described as taken ‘out of the Revelations of St. John’—were unrhymed in the English version. Van der Noodt in his preface writes of these poems as his own work, but there can be little doubt that they were the products of Spenser's youthful pen, and were inserted by the publisher as letterpress for the illustrations. In a collection of verse avowedly by Spenser, and published in 1591 under the title of ‘Complaints,’ these twenty stanzas were reprinted with some revision; Du Bellay's sonnets were supplied with rhymes, and