than 1578, possibly in the previous year, Spenser became a member of the household at Leicester House (afterwards Essex House) in the Strand. For his patron's amusement he made many essays in poetry, while he read largely on his own account and confirmed his intimacy with Harvey. On 22 Dec. 1578 Spenser presented Harvey, while the latter was on a visit to Leicester in London, with a copy of Copland's now rare edition of the old romance of ‘Howleglas.’ Spenser made it a condition that if Harvey had not read the volume by 1 Jan. following, he should forfeit to the giver an edition of ‘Lucian’ in four volumes. The copy of ‘Howleglas’ presented by Spenser is now in the Bodleian Library, with a note of the bargain in Harvey's handwriting (Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, pp. 122–3).
One of Spenser's chief duties while in Leicester's service was apparently to deliver despatches to Leicester's correspondents in foreign countries. In Spenser's ‘View of the Present State of Ireland,’ one of the interlocutors, Irenæus (who usually utters the sentiments of Spenser), describes what he saw ‘at the execution of a notable traytour at Limmericke, called Murrogh O'Brien.’ The execution took place in July 1577 (see Carew Papers, ii. 104). Perhaps the identification of the poet with Irenæus is not to be pressed too rigorously. But if Spenser was in Ireland in 1577, it was doubtless as a bearer of despatches from Leicester to his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Sidney, the lord-deputy. In April 1579 Spenser's friend Kirke speaks of him as ‘for long time farre estranged,’ i.e. in some distant foreign land (see E. K.'s ‘Epistle to Master Gabriell Harvey,’ prefixed to the Shepheards Calender). In October 1579, in a letter written from Leicester House, Spenser spoke of himself as ‘mox in Gallias navigaturo,’ and of having to seek his fortune
per inhospita Caucasa longe
Perque Pyrenæos montes Babylonaque turpem,
i.e. in Spain and Rome, and even further afield; and he adds in English, ‘I goe thither as sent by him [my lord] and maintained mostwhat of him, and there am to employ my time, my body, my mind, to his Honour's service.’ He was back at ‘Westminster,’ i.e. Leicester House, early in April 1580.
Spenser's association with Leicester brought him the acquaintance of Sir Philip Sidney, Leicester's nephew. This acquaintance rapidly ripened into a deep and tender friendship, of singular and excellent influence, both morally and intellectually [see Sidney, Sir Philip]. With another courtier, Sir Edward Dyer, he also formed a close intimacy. Love of literature was the main bond of union between Spenser and his new friends. With Sidney, Dyer, Drant, and others, he formed a literary club which they styled the Areopagus. Its meetings were apparently held at Leicester House in 1578 and 1579. There they debated on and experimented in the application to English metre of the classical rules of quantity, a scheme which Harvey in and out of season pressed on Spenser's and his London friends' attention. Spenser was for a time attracted by the theory. ‘I am of late,’ he writes to Harvey, 5 Oct. 1579, ‘more in love wyth my English versifying [i.e. on classical lines] than with ryming, whyche I should haue done long since, if I would then haue followed your councell.’ And he gives a specimen of some unimpressive iambic trimeters in English, while he announces his intention of illustrating the uses of the classical metres in an elaborate topographical poem ‘Epithalamion Thamesis.’ But his good sense and his fine ear soon revealed to him the weakness of the pedantic arguments which Harvey urged in behalf of his metrical system, and the delusion that quantity instead of accent was the right principle of English verse passed away.
The letters that passed between Spenser and Harvey in 1579 and 1580 give full details of the former's exuberant literary activity at the period. Of the numerous works to which reference is made in this correspondence, some are not known to be extant, or, if extant, have been incorporated in poems which are now known by other titles than those conferred on them by Spenser and Harvey in 1579–80. Nine English comedies, called after the nine Muses in the manner of Herodotus, cannot be identified with anything from Spenser's pen that survives. ‘Dreames’ (formerly called ‘My Slumber’), a poem which, in Harvey's opinion, rivalled Petrarch's ‘Visions,’ was actually prepared for printing, with a glossary by Kirke and illustrations which Spenser deemed worthy of Michael Angelo. Harvey's appreciative description suggests at a first glance some connection with those ‘Visions’ that had done duty in Van der Noodt's volume or with the extant ‘Ruines of Time,’ which was first published in 1591 in the volume called ‘Complaints.’ But the balance of evidence is against the supposition that ‘Dreames’ escaped destruction. To a like category belong ‘The Dying Pelican,’ another poem ready for the press, and ‘The English Poet,’ apparently a prose tract with which Sidney was possibly familiar before he wrote his ‘Apologie for Poetrie.’ ‘Legends,’