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The Literary Biography of a Collective: The Familiar Letters of G.H. and Signior Immerito
by Joseph Loewenstein

The Literary Biography of a Collective: The Familiar Letters of G.H. and Signior Immerito 


                                                     An eye of looking back, were well.

                                                                          -Jonson, Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue

                                                    De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia



First, a warm welcome to the graduate students and recent PhDs.  If you become regular, dues-paying Spenserians, as we hope you will, you’ll soon discern the norms that govern these lectures.  They customarily begin with attractive, if over-elaborate abjection before the audience of experts.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Steven Orgel claim insufficient learning or—this one flattened me—Janet Adelman apologizing and apologizing for her ignorance of things Spenserian and then offering what remains, to my mind, the most startling account of  “The Legend of Holinesse” I’ve ever read or heard.  So while I’m honored to have been asked to give the Maclean lecture, my satisfaction is swamped by a sincere, if customary terror.  I’ve had months to attempt a brilliant analysis of the traffic between Book V and the Epithalamion; I took notes for a lecture on Spenser and intellectual property; but what I finally came up with is a book report. 

You may blame Dot Stephens for fostering the fantasy that I can get away with this.  A few years after David Miller, Patrick Cheney, Elizabeth Fowler, Andrew Zurcher, and I began work on an edition of the collected works, we presented a progress report at a wonderful conference hosted at Toronto.  After I disclosed that we might make the same s/long-s, i/j, u/v, and w/double-v substitutions that are customary in other editions in the Oxford English Text Series, thus provoking otherwise amiable people to sputtering outrage, the ingratiating Professor Stephens disarmingly changed the subject by asking what we had learned from our editorial work so far.  To which none of us had much of an answer.  Elizabeth said something about the difficulty of choosing a copy text for the Vewe.  David and I spoke in somewhat mystical terms of the experience of examining pairs of copies, darkly, through the paired glasses of Carter Hailey’s optical collating equipment, which gives the impression that one is not so much reading a surface as peering into a textual space, a trick of parallax made more intriguing when one is comparing variant pages, on which occasion the textual space seems at once to precede and recede, as if they had been produced in the print-shop of M. C. Escher.  I now regret not having had the wit to remark that we had learned that Spenserians are more attached to the original spelling of Spenser’s printed texts than they are attached to other writers’ original spelling, but perhaps I’d already done enough damage.

Anyway, although none of the editors rose to Dot’s amiable occasion, I have kept her challenge before me on most days that I’m working on the edition, if only to keep my head in the game.  What am I learning as I draft commentary on van der Noot’s commentary, in The Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings, on Spenser’s translations of Clement Marot’s translations of Petrarch’s Canzone of Visions?  What is accomplished by trying to be rigorously responsible for each strange term and phrase in the discussion of English orthography in the familiar letters between Spenser and Harvey, or for the drift of Harvey’s laboriously arch account of the northern European earthquake of April 6, 1580?

Of course, I’m learning something very different from what Patrick Cheney and David Miller are learning.  As they write commentary—Patrick on the The Shepheardes Calender and David on what the earliest editions refer to as “The First Part of The Faerie Queene”—they move through a crowded cityscape of generally wise criticism and annotation, whereas my critical activity is much lonelier.  I chose The Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings as my debut text for the edition, to be followed by the Spenser-Harvey correspondence.  There’s very little lore on The Theatre and almost no received ideas about it, for the simple reason that very few people have actually read it.[1]  John King would tell you that it provides an excellent introduction to the topoi of anti-Catholic polemic, and more than one historian of emblem literature would claim it as the first emblem book printed in England.  But that still leaves me pretty lonely.  If The Theatre had had a scholarly edition even once since its original publication in 1569, it might not have taken me a year to figure out that three-quarters of the French original of its scabrous commentary on the Book of Revelation had been cribbed by van der Noot from a Dutch translation of John Bale’s English Image of Both Churches.[2]  I can now cheerfully report to Dot that the necessary poking around has taught me that translation doesn’t inevitably flow northward, that Bale’s Image of Both Churches was a source not only for van der Noot’s commentary and for Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, but also for the glosses to the Geneva Bible.  Who knew? 

Not the editors of the Hopkins Variorum.  In the apparatus of their edition of Spenser’s translations for The Theatre, the editors quote van der Noot’s 215-page prose commentary exactly twice.  They publish Spenser’s translations, as do the editors of the Yale Shorter Poems, just adjacent to the Visions of Bellay and the Visions of Petrarch, the revised versions of the Theatre poems that appear 22 years later in Complaints, and this modern editorial decision wrests Spenser’s teenaged translations not only from their chronological place, but also from their discursive context, from a rich and startling commentary that makes its own mobile home in the seething nomadic culture of radical Northern European Protestantism.  Van der Noot had cobbled together his version of Bale’s more temperate commentary within a few months of his arrival in London, having fled Antwerp in the backlash that followed on the sacking of Antwerp churches and defacing of their images in the summer of 1566 and the failed Calvinist takeover of the city government during the following spring.[3]  The Variorum editors give us a Spenser who serves a pre-pastoral apprenticeship to the Italian and French masters of the Renaissance sonnet, but somewhat more responsible editing, minimally deferential to van der Noot’s designs, learns something else: for van der Noot Petrarch’s Canzone of Visions and Du Bellay’s dream visions of imperial Roman decay are prophetic apocalypses, to be printed alongside versifications of vignettes from the Book of Revelation.  Englishing the leading achievements of continental sonneteering would have been an interesting assignment for the teenaged Spenser, but van der Noot had rather recruited him to announce that the “fierce hatefull [Roman] beast and all hir traine / Is pitilesse throwne downe in pit of fire” (Theatre. Sonnets).  Arguably a better gig.[4]

Perhaps I shouldn’t have described the assignment in exclusive terms, since the great interest of this cultural moment has to do with the elated synergy of its cultural labor, the braided work of vernacular humanism and of prophesying that “The holy Citie of the Lorde, from hye / Descendeth garnisht as a loved spouse” (Theatre. Sonnets).  What’s clear to me, though, is that to read The Theatre poems without The Theatre, to read them proleptically, as drafts of the poems in Complaints, is to miss their timbre.  While we haven’t asked OUP to print the entire 215-page commentary, we have insisted on a substantial subset and the full text of van der Noot’s commentary will appear in the online Spenser Archive, the expanded open-access version of the edition.

Getting the commentary appropriately balanced is not a trivial matter.  We don’t want to emphasize the polemical context to the detriment of matters of aesthetics.  As the first printed English emblem book, its poems paired with woodcuts of much higher quality than those in the Shepheardes Calender, The Theatre quite sharply stages those mutually illustrative and competitive relations between verbal and visual “image” that would animate enargic poetic practice for several ensuing decades.  But it matters to me that such matters of poetics be appropriately historicized, and I would again note that there is much to be gained from specifying the Protestantism of this first emblem book, of seeing it as the product of a Reformation Arts Secretariat.  The designs of the woodcuts for the apocalyptic poems are heavily indebted to Cranach’s illustrations for Luther’s September Testament of 1522, themselves recognizably indebted to Dürer—and commentary should therefore insist on the Reforming pedigree of text-image interactions in The Theatre.

At this juncture, I’d be quite pleased to step back and announce that I’ve worked out a set of rigorous principles for my commentary, but although I do claim a loose coherence for my practice, it’s probably not informed by anything impressive enough to be called “principles.”  Let’s say that I’ve tried to impose three forms of discipline on myself as I write commentary.  They’re gentle, as disciplines go, less trouble than flossing, but I’ve found them a useful hygiene.  The first is the discipline of credulousness: I have tried to see how far I could get by taking what I read as an attempt to tell the truth.  I have therefore tried to take van der Noot seriously when he speaks of Petrarch as a religious Reformer, and when I turned to the correspondence, I have tried to believe Harvey when he says that he thinks The Faerie Queene not nearly so promising an undertaking as Spenser’s plays.[5]  In this case the exercise of credulousness is almost radicalizing, since I believe that almost everyone in this room has tacitly agreed to regard Harvey’s remark as some sort of joke.  I’ve considered it almost a matter of critical duty to imagine that Spenser might in fact have been working on some plays, though they don’t survive, that there was something quite unpromising about Spenser’s early work on The Faerie Queene, and that while Harvey’s assessment may seem either odd or obtuse, it was one the force of which he might expect that Spenser could be made to feel.  More later on what such credulousness can yield.

The second gentle discipline is myopia, a studied resistance to the temptation of foresight.  There’s a critical tradition of reading Spenser’s literary future out of snippets of the Spenser-Harvey letters, and a slighter critical tradition of treating Spenser’s translations of Marot, Petrarch, DuBellay, and van der Noot as adumbrations both of canto xi of the Legend of Holiness and of many aspects of the 1591 Complaints (not just of The Visions of Bellay and The Visions of Petrarch).  There’s nothing too wrong with those critical traditions, just as there’s nothing exactly wrong with insisting that Spenser determined to pursue a Virgilian literary career.  But these literary-biographical practices secure their quite considerable insights at the cost of certain kinds of historical and biographical misrepresentation.[6]  To discern the Virgilian Spenser we have to ignore a considerable body of ambitious literary activity, and to make the Spenser of The Theatre anticipate the publications of the early 1590s, we may very well distract ourselves from its immersion in the cultural exhilarations of the 1560s, its involvement with Bale and Foxe, and with Mulcaster, Googe, and Drant.  And if it sounds facetious to use “exhilaration” in the same sentence with “Googe” and “Drant,” it’s because we haven’t been doing our homework, letting literary historians like C. S. Lewis tell us what to think.[7] 

I won’t make the full revisionary case here, but, trust me, there’s a case to be made; let me instead emphasize the value of a serious confrontation with the simple historical principle that the present doesn’t know the future.  Of course, when one is providing commentary for an edition comprising a six-volume career, a certain amount of forward reference is obligatory, but surely Spenserians may be relied upon to recognize the pitfalls that anticipatory explanation entails.  Consider that one of our usual opening pedagogical gambits is to ask students who the gentle knight of the first stanza of The Faerie Queene is, who the lovely lady is, when they are named; to ask where they take refuge and when that place is named: because the epic insistently compels judgment in conditions of ignorance, an editor wary of disrupting central features of the implied reading experience will not refer to Red Crosse or St. George in the commentary to the first stanza of canto i.  Because “ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit,” the commentary for the Oxford edition will be discretely lodged in the back of each volume (though we will gloss a bit on the page), and although the display of text and commentary in the online edition will be highly customizable, the default view of our text will not provide commentary and will, indeed, suppress highlighting of links to commentary.  Indeed we will suppress stanza numbers in the default view, taking our cue from the original editions and being especially mindful of what it meant—or rather, what meanings are secreted—by the unnumbered state of stanzas and lines in the first edition of the Epithalamion.  Editors need not be constrained by their authors, of course, but Spenser is an analyst and an artist of ignorance, and we feel a special responsibility not to disturb the stealthy rhythms of enlightenment.[8]

Instead of proceeding to describe my third discipline, I’m going to stop for a moment to tie myself in contradiction by taking the long view and indicating that Spenser’s sensitivity to the predicament of uncertainty is anticipated as early as 1580.  The Spenser-Harvey correspondence practically sparkles with ignorance:

Good Master H. I doubt not but you have some great important matter in hande, which al this while restraineth youre Penne. . . .  If there bee any such thing in hatching, I pray you hartily, lette us knowe, before al the worlde see it.

(Letters 1.1-2, 4-5)

This is the opening of the first of the Three Proper Wittie Familiar Letters, the first of the paired volumes of familiar letters that Bynneman published in 1580.  You’ll recall that the letters are published out of sequence, those in the first volume written in mid-1580 and the two in the second volume written in 1579.  The two volumes sandwich the publication of The Shepheardes Calender, and if the letter just quoted bristles with Spenser’s curiosity about Harvey’s important but secret matter, the first letter of the earlier, second volume twitches with more nervous uncertainty about the impending publication:

My principal doubts are these. First, I was minded for a while to have intermitted the uttering of my writings: leaste by over-much cloying their noble eares, I should gather a contempt of my self, or else seeme rather for gaine and commoditie to doe it, for some sweetnesse that I have already tasted. Then also me seemeth the work too base for his excellent Lordship, being made in Honour of a private Personage unknowne, which of some yl-willers might be upbraided, not to be so worthie, as you knowe she is: or the matter not so weightie, that it should be offred to so weightie a Personage: or the like.

(Letters 4.10-19)

The letter seems to derive from a moment at which Spenser was planning to dedicate The Calender to Leicester, not Sidney, and he worries about the niceties of such gestures; he is considering dedicating a set of dream visions to Sidney, but is sharply aware of how badly Gosson’s foolish dedication of the School of Abuse to Sidney was received.

Even before Rick Rambuss’s brilliant discussion of these letters, Spenserians recognized the correspondence as a work of busy self-promotion; Rambuss sharpened this recognition by alerting us to how obliquity and inexplicitness—the references to “some sweetnesse that I have already tasted” or to “some great important matter in hand”—how piquantly these feints and veilings spice the self-promotion.  But critical credulousness should also have its day: if the Letters are meant to provoke our curiosity by flaunting what Harvey refers to as a “vowed, and long experimented secrecie” (Letters 5.20), they also insist on the correspondents’ longing to know and shape a future that holds itself frustratingly beyond their grasp and knowledge.[9]  The ideological untethering that Richard Halpern observes in The Calender has its biographical correlative in the nervous uncertainties of the Letters.  The correspondents project futures that they recognize may not come to be, plan publications of works that they won’t finish and may not have started, and feel urgencies that will slacken, while they glance back at urgencies that others have already forsaken.  They live in an uneasy present.

Harvey and Spenser are young men on the make; they are also, for anyone who has read G.K. Hunter’s great study of John Lyly, recognizable as mere instances of a social type.  As his slightly old-fashioned subtitle, The Humanist as Courtier, implies, Hunter’s literary biography was really a prosopography, the biography of a generation of middle-class, university graduates trained for courtly/bureaucratic/diplomatic careers that were not so very wide open to their talents and whose social and professional frustrations produced, well, you know, Elizabethan literature.  The Spenser-Harvey correspondence may be regarded as early post-graduate volumes in a generational diary. 

What did they pack into these “long, large, lavish, Luxurious, Laxative Letters” (Letters 5.3), besides the flirting intimacy of young intellectuals anxious for the consequence of their wide reading and of their artistic experiments?  Fantasies of service to Leicester and his family; a great deal of Cambridge university gossip; an anti-Aristotelian disquisition on meteorology, provoked by the earthquake of 1580; some quite brilliant joking about whether virtue is to Leicester as Accident is to Substance; and a detailed exchange on how best to write English verse in classical meters.  And Spenser helped, some.  He has nothing to offer on the earthquake, and Harvey provides the Cambridge gossip, but he has almost as much to say about prosody as does Harvey, and while Harvey offers six of the poetic examples and quotes another nine by his younger brother, John, Spenser contributes a respectable four.  Admittedly, two of those are quite short, but one is long and very, very impressive.  I’m edging up, finally, to the last of my three editorial disciplines and that is to try to keep Spenser’s place in his complete works in prosopographic perspective.  The Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings was not his idea, and the plan to publish a combined collection of poems and familiar letters was almost certainly Harvey’s.[10]  Harvey had assisted him with The Calendar; why should he not assist with these ambitious letters?  But we should see this as the Harvey-Spenser correspondence and not the other way around.

Harvey makes sure that the letters are spruce with intellectual fashion.  He claims to be prepping to give Leicester a cram course in apodemica, the hot new science of methodical travel.  Letter two, which carries the title, “A Pleasant and pitthy familiar discourse, of the Earthquake,” takes its inspiration from the sixth book of Seneca’s fiercely skeptical Natural Questions, and offers a scientific account that forcefully sidelines supernatural explanation.  Sidney and Dyer have formed a literary club, an Areo-pagos they call it, and if they’re toying with quantitative prosody, Harvey is all for it, and even his correspondent finds himself “more in love wyth my Englishe Versifying, than with Ryming” (Letters 4.53).[11]  This cannot but now seem an eccentric curiosity, and if we should see it as faddishly glamorous, at least, it was surely more than that.  In 1580, from the dual vantage of a writing table at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and a writing table at Leicester House in Westminster it would not have seemed inevitable that English poetry would continue on the road of rhyme, and it might have seemed deplorable if that were to be our literary fate.  As I’ve said, the future was fascinatingly uncertain, but when Spenser speaks of the imminent publication of his glossed and illustrated Dreames—a revision, possibly, of the Theatre poems or a new and more mature emblem book in the Theatre / Calender vein—he may be betraying an eagerness to get it out quickly so that he could put rhyme and accentual-syllabism behind him.[12]  Or he may be suggesting that he means to put it behind him in order to please Harvey.  As for Harvey’s disapproval of The Faerie Queene project, to which the Letters variously attest: was it because The Faerie-Queene stanza seemed so embarrassingly arrière-garde, such a betrayal of what Harvey calls “our new famous enterprise for the Exchanging of Barbarous and Balductum Rymes with Artificial Verses” (Letters 3.9-10)?

Harvey’s swagger makes the Letters more reckless than The Calender: with this book he launches a career as a satirist.  In it he reconfigures The Calender’s masculinist praise of Leicester as a bantering condescension to women’s understanding of natural philosophy; he displaces the comparatively delicate satiric work of The Calender with a thinly veiled attack on Andrew Perne, the vindictive, time-serving vice-chancellor of Cambridge, an attack that, according to Nashe, landed Harvey in the Fleet.[13]  The satire complements the skeptical science, which in turn complements the famous portrait of extra-curricular intellectual life at Cambridge:

Matchiavell a great man: Castilio of no small reputation: Petrach, and Boccace in euery mans mouth: Galateo and Guazzo never so happy: over many acquainted with Unico Aretino: The French and Italian when so highlye regarded of Schollers? The Latine and Greeke, when so lightly?

(Letters 2.346-348)

These lines have been much cited, whereas the ones that closely follow them have not:

the Ceremoniall Lawe, in worde abrogated: the Judiciall in effecte disanulled: the Morall indeede abandoned: the Lighte, the Lighte in euery mans Lippes, but marke me their eyes, and tell me, if they looke not liker Howlets, or Battes, than Egles.

(Letters 2.364-367)

The mocking quotation of those claiming illumination is a complaint against pious humbug, but Harvey doesn’t speak as a freethinker disdainful of all piety.  Rather he protests those who have abrogated Romanist ceremony in word only.  The velocity with which Harvey writes here suggests that he expects his correspondent to sympathize, that Spenser need not be persuaded: “the Text knowen of moste, understood of fewe, magnified of all, practised of none: the Divell not so hated, as the Pope” (Letters 2.371-372).  Text-centered piety and anti-Catholicism have become empty shticks, distractions from inner discipline.  Yet Harvey seems fully committed to outward Reformation and deplores the loss of its energies: “No more adoe aboute Cappes and Surplesses: Maister Cartwright” (Letters 2.375-376)—a fierce opponent of vestments and of episcopal efforts to constrain Puritan vestarian opposition, ousted by Whitgift from the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity—“Maister Cartwright nighe forgotten.  The man you wot of” (Letters 2.375-376)—Vice-chancellor Perne, satirized in Spenser’s “Maye” eclogue for unprincipled, predatory cunning, hence Harvey’s reticence here—“The man you wot of, conformable, with his square Cappe on his rounde heade: and Non resident at pleasure” (Letters 2.376-377).

Who are these “two universitie men” and what do they want?  If Harvey’s disposition and principles are shared by his correspondent, as I believe they are, they have somewhat conservative intellectual tastes, but like their peers they are amused and engaged by secular innovation in science, in manners, and in political thought.  And while they have smart young men’s intolerance of their elders’ spiritual failings, they admire the most rigorous members of the prior generation, especially when that rigor is cross-cut, as it is in the cases of Cartwright and Grindal, with a sympathetic respect for Puritan nonconformity.  What do they want?  They want Reformation to continue and, especially, to sustain its anti-ceremonial drive.  They want to chip away at Aristotelian orthodoxies in natural philosophy.  They want poetry to be, in their terms, “artificial,” in our terms, craftsmanlike and difficult; they especially want it to bear witness to awe or outrage.

But they are wary, and Spenser especially so.  They want to get the rules of quantitative prosody in English settled, and Spenser wants to keep them close to those of Master Drant; Harvey, on the other hand, doesn’t care so much about Drant.  Spenser wants syllable-length firmly tethered to orthography, while Harvey trusts his ear, and teases Spenser for not trusting his.  Above all, Spenser wants to please Sidney, and Harvey, Leicester.  While Harvey’s disapproval of The Faerie Queene may derive entirely from its commitment to “Barbarous and Balductum Rymes,” the disapproval may be supplemented by a nervous politics, by the shared hope that the future is more Leicester’s than Elizabeth’s.  Harvey may swagger in this, but Spenser is timid: “Of my Stemmata Dudleiana, and especially of the sundry Apostrophes therein, addressed you knowe to whome, muste more advisement be had, than so lightly to sende them abroade” (Letters 1.79-81).[14] 

The Leicesterian Stemmata Dudleiana was never published and may never have been drafted.[15]  Was it—would it have been—stanzaic, accentual, and rhymed, or was it—would it have been—a quantitative effort, in “Artificial Verses” (Letters 3.10)?  In English or, instead, as its title may suggest, in Latin?  It might well have been the latter, since we know that Spenser had considerable skills in Latin composition, and we know that on evidence from the Spenser-Harvey correspondence themselves.  A few moments ago, I suggested that one of Spenser’s contributions to the 1580 publication overshadows all the other poems in the volume, or would have overshadowed them if we had had a good translation of the gorgeous farewell epistle to Harvey that Spenser wrote as he looked forward, anxiously, to a diplomatic mission to France.  We still don’t have a good translation; what we have is mine, on the last pages of today’s party favor:


Ad Ornatissimum virum, multis iamdiu

nominibus clarissimum, G. H. Immerito

sui, mox in Gallias navigaturi,



Sic malus egregium, sic non inimicus Amicum:

Sicque novus veterem iubet ipse Poëta Poëtam,

Salvere, ac cælo post secula multa secundo

Iam reducem, cælo mage, quàm nunc ipse, secundo

Utier. Ecce Deus, (modò sit Deus ille, renixum 93.5

Qui vocet in scelus, et iuratos perdat amores)

Ecce Deus mihi clara dedit modò signa Marinus,

Et sua veligero lenis parat Æquora Ligno,

Mox sulcanda, suas etiam pater Æolus Iras

Ponit, et ingentes animos Aquilonis— 93.10

Cuncta viis sic apta meis: ego solus ineptus.

Nam mihi nescio quo mens saucia vulnere, dudum

Fluctuat ancipiti Pelago, dum Navita proram

Invalidam validus rapit huc Amor, et rapit illuc.

Consiliis Ratio melioribus usa, decusque 93.15

Immortale levi diffissa Cupidinis Arcu.

Angimur hoc dubio, et portu vexamur in ipso.

Magne pharetrati nunc tu contemptor Amoris,

(Id tibi Djj nomen precor haud impune remittant)

Hos nodos exsolve, et eris mihi magnus Apollo. 93.20

Spiritus ad summos, scio, te generosus Honores

Exstimulat, maiusque docet spirare Poëtam.

Quàm levis est Amor, et tamen haud levis est Amor omnis.

Ergo nihil laudi reputas æquale perenni,

Præque sacrosancta splendoris imagine tanti, 93.25

Cætera, quæ vecors, uti Numina, vulgus adorat,

Prædia, Amicitias, urbana peculia, Nummos,

Quæque placent oculis, formas, spectacula, Amores

Conculcare soles, ut humum, et ludibria sensus.

Digna meo certè Harveio sententia, digna 93.30

Oratore amplo, et generoso pectore, quam non

Stoica formidet veterum Sapientia vinclis

Sancire æternis: sapor haud tamen omnibus idem.

Dicitur effæti proles facunda Laërtæ,

Quamlibet ignoti iactata per æquora Cæli, 93.35

Inque procelloso longùm exsul gurgite ponto,

Præ tamen amplexu lachrymosæ Coniugis, Ortus

Cælestes Diuûmque thoros sprevisse beatos.

Tantùm Amor, et Mulier, vel Amore potentior. Illum

Tu tamen illudis: tua Magnificentia tanta est: 93.40

Præque subumbrata Splendoris Imagine tanti,

Præque illo Meritis famosis nomine parto,

Cætera, quæ Vecors, uti Numina, vulgus adorat,

Prædia, Amicitias, armenta, peculia, nummos.

Quæque placent oculis, formas, spectacula, Amores. 93.45

Quæque placent ori, quæque auribus, omnia temnis.

Nae tu grande sapis, Sapor at sapientia non est:

Omnis et in parvis benè qui scit desipuisse,

Sæpe superciliis palmam sapientibius aufert.

Ludit Aristippum modò tetrica Turba Sophorum. 93.50

Mitia purpureo moderantem verba Tyranno

Ludit Aristippus dictamina vana Sophorum,

Quos levis emensi male torquet Culicis umbra:

Et quisquis placuisse Studet Heroibus altis,

Desipuisse studet, sic gratia crescit ineptis. 93.55

Denique Laurigeris quisquis sua tempora vittis,

Insignire volet, Populoque placere faventi,

Desipere insanus discit, turpemque pudendæ

Stultitiæ laudem quærit. Pater Ennius unus

Dictus in innumeris sapiens: laudatur at ipse 93.60

Carmina vesano fudisse liquentia vino.

Nec tu pace tua, nostri Cato Maxime sæcli,

Nomen honorati sacrum mereare Poëtæ,

Quantamuis illustre canas, et nobile Carmen,

Ni stultire velis, sic Stultorum omnia plena. 93.65

Tuta sed in medio superest via gurgite, nam Qui

Nec reliquis nimiùm vult desipuisse videri,

Nec sapuisse nimis, Sapientem dixeris unum.

Hinc te merserit unda, illinc combusserit Ignis.

Nec tu delicias nimis aspernare fluentes, 93.70

Nec sero Dominam, venientem in vota, nec Aurum

Si sapis, ablatum, (Curiis ea, Fabriciisque

Linque viris miseris miseranda Sophismata: quondam

Grande sui decus ii, nostri sed dedecus ævi:)

Nec sectare nimis. Res utraque crimine plena. 93.75

Hoc bene qui callet, (si quis tamen hoc bene callet)

Scribe, vel invito sapientem hunc Socrate solum.

Vis facit una pios: Iustos facit altera: et altra

Egregiè cordata, ac fortia pectora: verùm

Omne tulit punctum, qui miscuit utile dulci 93.80

Dii mihi, dulce diu dederant: verùm utile nunquam:

Utile nunc etiam, ô utinam quoque dulce dedissent.

Dii mihi, (quippe Diis æqualia maxima parvis)

Ni nimis invideant mortalibus esse beatis,

Dulce simul tribuisse queant, simul utile: tanta 93.85

Sed Fortuna tua est: pariter quæque utile, quæque

Dulce dat ad placitum: sævo nos sydere nati

Quæsitum imus eam per inhospita Caucasa longè,

Perque Pyrenæos montes, Babilonaque turpem,

Quòd si quæsitum nec ibi invenerimus, ingens 93.90

Æquor inexhaustis permensi erroribus, ultrâ

Fluctibus in mediis socii quæremus Ulyssis.

Passibus inde Deam fessis comitabimur ægram,

Nobile cui furtum quærenti defuit orbis.

Namque sinu pudet in patrio, tenebrisque pudendis 93.95

Non nimis ingenio Iuvenem infœlici, virentes,

Officiis frustra deperdere vilibus Annos,

Frugibus et vacuas speratis cernere spicas.

Ibimus ergo statim (quis eunti fausta precetur?):

Et pede Clivosas fesso calcabimus Alpes. 93.100

Quis dabit interea conditas rore Britanno,

Quis tibi Litterulas? quis carmen amore petulcum?

Musa sub Oebalii desueta cacumine montis,

Flebit inexhausto tam longa silentia planctu,

Lugebitque sacrum lachrymis Helicona tacentem. 93.105

Harveiusque bonus (charus licet omnibus idem,

Idque suo merito, prope suavior omnibus unus),

Angelus et Gabriel, (quamvis comitatus amicis

Innumeris, gèniûmque choro stipatus amœno)

Immerito tamen unum absentem sæpe requiret, 93.110

Optabitque Utinam meus hîc Edmundus adesset,

Qui nova scripsisset, nec Amores conticuisset,

Ipse suos, et sæpe animo, verbisque benignis

Fausta precaretur: Deus illum aliquando reducat.etc.


To that most accomplished man and, for a long time, the most eminently renowned, G.H., the Farewell [eutychein] of his Immerito, soon to make his voyage into Gaul.

Thus the bad poet salutes the great one; thus the not unfriendly one, his friend; thus the novice, the veteran, and wishes him, now returned after many years, favorable skies, more favorable than those he himself now enjoys.  Behold, the god—if indeed he really be a god who tempts the unyielding to wickedness and brings sworn love to ruin—behold, the sea god has now given me clear signs and, gentle, prepares smooth seas, soon to be furrowed by sail-bearing bow; Father Aeolus also puts by his furies and the huge gusts of the North Wind: thus all things suit my passage. 

Only I am unsuited.  For just now my mind, wounded by I know not what injury, is tossed by an uncertain sea, while Love, a powerful sailor, hauls here and there the powerless prow.  Reason, that makes use of better counsel, and immortal honor have been split by Cupid’s fickle bow.  We are anguished by this doubt, and shaken even while still at port.  Oh, you who are now The Great Scorner of Quiver-wearing Love (I pray that the gods not allow you that title unpunished) loosen these fetters and you will be, to me, The Great Apollo.  A generous spirit, I know, drives you to the highest honors, and teaches the Poet to aspire more greatly.  How fickle is Love (and yet not all love is fickle).  You therefore judge nothing equal to endless fame, nor of like glory to the image of the divine; those other things that the senseless mob adores as gods—estates, friendships, city investments, money—and whatever pleases the eyes—those lovely forms, spectacles, and couplings, these you trample beneath you, like dirt and the mockeries of sense.  Surely this is a judgement worthy of my Harvey, worthy of the grand speaker and the noble heart; nor would the Stoic wisdom of the ancients fear to sanctify this judgement with eternal bonds.  Yet for all that, tastes differ. 

It is said that the eloquent son of feeble Laertes, however much driven across the seas beneath unknown skies, and however long an exile in an ocean stormy with whirlpools, refused celestial beings and the blessed couch of the gods in favor of the embrace of a tearful spouse: so mighty was his Love, and his wife, in fact, even mightier than Love.  And yet you mock it; such is your boast.  Compared with an enshadowed vision of such great splendor and a reputation born of famous merits, you despise all those other things that the senseless mob worships as gods—estates, friendships, herds, property, money—whatever pleases the eyes—those lovely forms, spectacles, and couplings—and whatever is pleasing to the tongue and to the ears. 

Fine as is your palate, taste is not wisdom: he who knows well how to have been unwise, often bears the palm away from arrogant wisemen.  The gloomy crowd of the Wise now mocks Aristippus for tempering mild words to the purple-robed tyrant; Aristippus mocks the empty precepts of the Wise, whom the merest shadow of a passing gnat could cruelly torment.  And whoever strives to please great heroes, strives to be unwise, for rewards flood the foolish.  All told, whoever hopes to glorify his brow with plaited laurel and to please a generous crowd, strives, crazed, for unwisdom and seeks the degraded praise of shameful folly.  Father Ennius was said to be the only wise man in a numberless crowd, yet he is praised for having poured out songs drenched in lunatic wine.  Nor, if one may say so, would you, the greatest Cato of our age, really deserve the sacred name of reverend Poet, no matter how gloriously you sing or how noble the song, unless you would wish to make a fool of yourself, for the world is full of fools. 

Yet a safe path remains in the midst of the whirlpool, for you should call wise only he who wishes to seem to the rest neither too foolish, nor too wise: here by a wave you would have drowned, and there, by a fire, consumed.  If you’re smart, don’t reject gushing delights outright, nor a mistress slow in responding to your vows, nor stolen gold: leave such pitiful scruples to the Curiuses and Fabriciuses, those pitiful men, once the honor of their age, but now the dishonor of our own.  Don’t try too hard.  Either extreme is full of reproach.  The man who is really thus seasoned, if anyone is really seasoned, call him alone wise, even if reluctant Socrates should challenge it. 

One power makes for pious men, another makes them just, and still another makes them most prudent, but “he who mixes the useful and the pleasant wins on every count.”  Long ago, the gods had given me the gift of the Pleasant, but never, in fact, the Useful: Oh, if only they had given me, or even now, the Useful along with the Pleasant.  If the gods didn’t so begrudge happiness to mortals, they could have granted me, at once, (since to the gods great things and small ones weigh equally) both the Pleasant and the Useful.  But your good Fortune is so great, that it gives you, equally, whatever is pleasant and, at pleasure, whatever is useful; while we, born under a harsh star, go off at length to seek our fortune through the inhospitable Caucasus, the rocky Pyrenees, and polluted Babylon.  But if we shall not find there what we seek, having crossed a huge sea in endless wandering, we will seek it beyond, in the midst of the flood, in the company of Ulysses.  Thenceforth with weary steps we will attend the mournful Goddess, for whom, seeking for that noble thing which was stolen, the world is bereft.  For it shames the not too moderately gifted youth, languishing in shameful darkness and in the paternal lap, vainly to waste the flourishing years on worthless tasks and to pick out only empty stalks, when fruits were hoped for. 

We will therefore set out at once (would anyone wish me good luck at the outset?); we will trudge with weary foot up the steep Alps.  Who, meanwhile, who will send you little notes, spiced with British dews? and who will write the song goatish with love? Beneath the peak of the Oebalian mountain the unpracticed Muse in inexhaustible laments will bemoan her silence so protracted, and weeping will mourn the silencing of sacred Helicon.  Good Harvey, who can be dear to all, and deservedly so, since he is sweeter, almost, than all the rest, my Angel and Gabriel, however thronged by countless friends and pressed by delightful choirs of guardian spirits, will nevertheless often pine for an absent one, Immerito, and will wish, ‘if only my Edmund were here, who has written news, and has not kept silent about his own love affairs, and often prays, from his heart and with kind words, for my good fortune.  May God eventually return him, etc.

As you look it over you’ll see that many of themes I’ve begun to address today are condensed in this poem.  It excites itself over an unknown future and stages, more sharply than the “October” eclogue, the yearning envy of boldness and the shame of caution.  The poet, prepared to voyage, confines himself to the harbor.  The chief constraint is called “love”—love for Harvey, perhaps, or perhaps for Machabyas Childe, otherwise barely glanced at in the Letters, although she and Spenser married in the interval between the two volumes of letters.  Like Milton after him, Spenser reserves his most private matters for expression in Latin—the competition between political ambition and private affections, between love of old friend and love of new spouse—and even in Latin, Spenser is reticent, confused by the clash of pleasant present and uncertain future.  I’ll dare to say that this betters The Shepheardes Calender in that it tangles together what inhibits Colin and what inhibits Cuddye, disclosing troubled self-portrait where the Calender more fully and more decorously sorts the self into personal types.  The cautious epistolary poet makes a hero of temporizing Aristippus, who finds a way to speak half-truths to power.  “[A] safe path remains in the midst of the whirlpool, for you should call wise only he who wishes to seem to the rest neither too foolish, nor too wise.”  Admiringly, he chides his reckless friend, “here by a wave you would have drowned, and there, by a fire, consumed.”

A poem of parting, yet it shares with the rest of the Spenser-Harvey Letters a fervent commitment to community.  Though Spenser bemoans the inevitable parting, he imagines the forsaken Harvey “thronged by countless friends and pressed by delightful choirs of guardian spirits.”  Though he commits himself reluctantly to departure, he imagines himself setting forth (on an even farther voyage) in a slightly unconventional first-person plural: “we will seek [our fortune] beyond, in the midst of the flood, in mediis socii quæremus Ulyssis, in the company of Ulysses.”  Sociability is his nervous imaginative habit, so that even as he imagines himself bereft, like Ceres, he expresses that imagining as an association: “Thenceforth with weary steps we will attend the mournful Goddess.”  It would be much too easy to sentimentalize the imaginative habit of friendship, and we can thank Rambuss for a clarifying austerity when he points out that secretarial duties required that Spenser share out his identity with others, experience it as permeable, appropriable and appropriated, as improper.[16]  But whether the prosopographic leaning is professional or characterological, strategic or sentimental, any editor of Spenser’s Collected Works will tell you that it’s a disposition that needs to be dealt with, if only as a matter of slackened textual principle.  A collected works is one of the minor institutional bulwarks of possessive individualism, but individualism is quite imperfectly suited to the editorial case at hand, for it is a case at hands.

What should The Collected Works of Edmund Spenser include, after all?  One must use the possessive advisedly to say that the translations for van der Noot’s Theatre are “Spenser’s,” since the young translator’s name appears nowhere in the volume.  Of course, early modern attribution is casual, even optional, and the fact that Spenser’s name is unmentioned in the Theatre was quite unexceptional in 1569.  But the editorial usage of “Spenser’s” remained imprecise across the career.  Like the Theatre, “Spenser’s” next published work—also a collection of poems accompanied by illustrations and learned commentary—is also a group project, the commentary by E.K.; the woodcut illustrations anonymously produced; the book, Immeritô’s, but deeded over, “entituled,” to Philip Sidney.  Within a burgeoning authorial literary culture, the Spenser of volume 1 of the Collected Works discloses himself, insistently, as a prosopographer.[17]  Hence the importance of my third editorial discipline: I’m trying always to ask what collective has produced a given work and what collective it stages, whether saintly, pastoral, epistolary, or areopagitical.  If my editorial gaze is, first and second, resolutely credulous and studiously short-sighted, it is at least, and third, amiably circumspect.  Spenser and who else?

As we read this epistle, we can, if we wish, concentrate our attention, know more, and see and hear farther ahead, to a future as distant as the conclusion to Book VI of The Faerie Queene.  “Long ago, the gods had given me the gift of the Pleasant, but never, in fact, the Useful: Oh, if only they had given me, or even now, the Useful along with the Pleasant.”  One can also hear something less hedged, the kind of grandiose and quite dangerous self-conception of the already embattled reformer who, “born under a harsh star, go[es] off at length to seek [his] fortune through the inhospitable Caucasus, the rocky Pyrenees, and polluted Babylon.”  But the end of the poem will at least startle those who can’t forget the familiar Spenserian career, for the fantasy of an arduous reforming future abroad includes a quite regretful farewell to poetry.

We will therefore set out at once . . . ; we will trudge with weary foot up the steep Alps.  Who, meanwhile, who will send you little notes, spiced with British dews? and who will write the song goatish with love? Beneath the peak of the Oebalian mountain the unpracticed Muse in inexhaustible laments will bemoan her silence so protracted, and weeping will mourn the silencing of sacred Helicon.

Spenser should have written more Latin poetry: plainly it frees him to an attractive ardor; to some self-betraying grandeur, as well; and to some of those autobiographical intricacies that we admire in other writers of both his generation and the next one.  One wonders if the desire to write in classical meters entailed a desire to write this way in English.  At any rate, this is not quite the Spenser we know, and I’m happy to report to Professor Stephens that I learned about this unfamiliar Spenser by editing the familiar Letters.


Joseph Loewenstein

Washington University in St. Louis



[1] I’m somewhat less lonely as a student of the other text I’m editing for volume 1 of the edition: Andrew Hadfield has read right through the Spenser-Harvey correspondence, and has read it closely, and recently; so have Rick Rambuss and Jon Quitslund, but this is still a rather small club.  There have been great readings in the Letters—Jonathan Goldberg’s stands out—but I hope it won’t be thought inflammatory or ungrateful to observe that many of these partial readings are imperfect ones.  Half an academic generation ago Derek Attridge gave the prosodic parts of the letters a meticulous treatment in a brilliant effort to make sense of the movement to write English verse in quantitative meters, but I find myself at odds with him on what seems to me to be some important if highly technical details; more recently, Richard Helgerson worked on the cultural nationalism of the quantitative movement, and while the gist of his argument is unexceptionable, I’ve been dismayed to find myself disagreeing with him in matters of detail.

[2] The first of van der Noot’s productions in London was a Dutch edition, Het theatre oft Toon-neel waer in ter eender de ongelucken ende elenden die den werelts gesinden ende boosen menschen toecomen; it was printed by John Day and dedicated to the Lord Mayor of London.  A month later Day brought out a second, French version, Le theatre auquel sont exposés et monstrés les inconveniens et miseres qui suivent les mondains et vicieux, this one dedicated to Queen Elizabeth.  Only a month: the copper engravings from the Dutch version could be reused, the poems in the Dutch book were translations from French originals, and van der Noot’s French was good enough that he could at least draft the French translation of the long Dutch commentary on the poems.  The subsequent English version—from Henry Bynneman’s shop; Day was probably too busy with the second edition of Foxe—took another year: the copper engravings had to be copied as woodcuts (which would stand up better to a larger print run), the translation of the commentary had to be turned over to someone else – one Thomas Roest, as it turned out, who worked from the French, not the Dutch.

[3] Bale’s commentary, written in 1547, is more cautious than van der Noot’s: he treats Revelation as figurative, eschewing rhetoric of a prophetic or millenarian character.  Yet Bale’s historiography is shaped by the Joachimist idea that each of the seals represents a period in church history from the death of Christ to the End of Days, and it required very little effort for van der Noot to amp up Bale’s apocalypticism.

And this whoore with the whole generation of hypocrites shall be burnt with unquencheable fyre, prepared for the devyl and his aungels. This sentence is not so severe as true, for the Lorde who shal judge them, is of power and might: he is holy and faithful in mercie, true in his worde and promise, marvellous in all his workes, fearefull, terrible and righteous in his judgements against the wycked. No man then shall be able in those dayes to withdrawe any part of the threatned vengeaunce of hys wrath from the evill doer.


All the wicked which persecute the true membres of Christ, as doth at thys day, that wycked tyrant the Duke of Alba, with all his adherents very hangmen and cruel murtherers of the Pope, shall have an ylfavored and shameful end here in this worlde, and hereafter have eternall ignominie and confusion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. 


[4] The Theatre can be situated in what should be recognized as a “Two Churches” publishing movement , the beginnings of which may be traced to the exilic works of Frith, Joye, Bale, Foxe, and Osiander, to Bullinger’s Hundred Sermons on the Apocalipse (1561) and, most important, the notes to the Geneva Bible of 1560 (themselves powerfully influenced by Bale).  Foxe’s Actes and Martyrs (1563) repatriates this millenarian tradition, which gains momentum in the late sixties with van der Noot’s Theatre.  A year later, in the aftermath of the Northern Rebellion, we get Purfoot’s The Hatefull Hypocrisie, and Rebellion of the Romishe Prelacie, Fulke’s Sermon . . . Wherein is Playnly Proved Babilon to be Rome, Kirchmeyer’s The Popish Kingdome, the second edition of Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, and a new edition of Bale’s Image.

[5] “In good faith I had once againe nigh forgotten your Faerie Queene: howbeit by good chaunce, I have nowe sent hir home at the laste, neither in better nor worse case, than I founde hir.  And must you of necessitie have my Judgement of hir in deede?  To be plaine, I am voyde of al judgement, if your Nine Comœdies, wherunto in imitation of Herodotus,

you give the names of the Nine Muses, (and in one mans fansie not unworthily), come not neerer Ariostoes Comœdies, eyther for the finenesse of plausible Elocution, or the rarenesse of Poetical Invention, than that Elvish Queene doth to his Orlando Furioso, which notwithstanding, you wil needes seeme to emulate, and hope to overgo, as you flatly professed your self in one of your last Letters”

(Letters 3.129-40).

Van der Noot’s acceptance of a Reformation Petrarch is assisted by the fact that Petrarch was transmitted to him by way of Marot, master of the Geneva Psalter, who breaks the canzone of visions into a sequence of douzaines.  Marot’s sponsorship firms up the Reformation claim on the Rime sparse (founded on a few anti-papal sonnets and not on the canzone of visions) and so reinforces Bale’s inclusion of Petrarch among those “holy and godly men, and well learned fathers, whiche through their excellent and divine woorkes and writings have exhorted and cried (especially since the comming up of the Pope) for redresse and reformation of the churche” (Theatre, L5)—among them Luther, Calvin, Wycliff, Valla, John of Salisbury, Mantuan, and Dante.

[6] For half a century, early modernists have been especially disposed to historiographic—often Whiggishly historiographic—gun-jumping: of finding regicide and Civil War in political criticism of the 1590s or of conjuring a bourgeois public sphere wherever people gather in crowds or books are produced in piles.  And the practice of literary biography, now especially thriving, is especially guilty of gun-jumping: most such biographies, although not all of them, set out to explain the literary output, usually as an expression of lived circumstance.  By concomitant convention, then, most literary biographies are teleological in structure, not only insofar as they tend to accumulate precisely such biographical detail as will best explain the works, but often constructing the biographical narrative in ways that make the early life and work reach quite far forward in the specific direction of literary productions thereby understood to be culminative.

[7] Mulcaster’s importance as model and influence is familiar.  For the young translator of the Theatre and future author of the Calender, Googe would have special importance as Protestant and humanist: Googe’s austere moral eclogues in his 1563 collection, Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes are fully in Mantuan’s idiom, but the completion of his translation of the neo-Lucretian Zodiac of Palingenius in 1565 breaks new ground: in touch with the latest in scientific thought, swaggeringly satiric in its anti-Catholicism.  Googe’s translation of Kirchmeyer’s The Popish Kingdome in 1570 postdates Spenser’s work for the Theatre, but the graduate who had just translated Dubellay, Petrarch, and van der Noot to provide the poetic core for a sustained millenarian anti-Catholic satire could glance at Googe’s work as a poet and translator and perhaps imagine a future. 

Drant offered an even more important model poet-translator-diplomat-ideologue.  He and Googe were of an age, about twelve years Spenser’s senior; Drant was Bishop Grindal’s chaplain and a reader at St. Paul’s.  In 1565, he published a work of literary criticism, an anti-Catholic commentary on Shacklock’s epitaph for the Bishop of Chester.  In the same year he published a complete translation, in fourteeners, of Horace’s satires, into which he foisted an anti-Catholic satire his own.  Two years later, in 1567, The Art of Poetry, also in fourteeners; he prepared an edition of Proverbs as well, and it was licensed in the same year, but never published; in 1568, a collection of godly verses and epigrams.  Chaplain to the bishop responsible for the Dutch and other Calvinist stranger churches, a classicist, a Protestant poet, a role model of whom Spenser would write fondly and respectfully in the Letters.

[8] While Ignorance appears as jailer to the Knight of Holinesse, whose Legend is Spenser’s most sustained study of ignorance, the predicament of ignorance is piquant throughout the epic.  It receives its culminative display during Mutability’s eclipse of Cynthia, (TCM, vi, 9 and 13).

[9] As Harvey puts it, he will not satisfy his correspondent’s curiosity until experience satisfies his own: “I am at this instant, very busilye, and hotly employed in certaine greate and serious affayres: whereof, notwithstanding (for all youre vowed, and long experimented secrecie) you are not like to heare a worde more at the moste, till I my selfe see a World more at the leaste” (4.19-21).

[10] The evidence comes from Harvey’s Letter-Book, and its best analyst is Josephine Bennett.  The Letter-Book contains a mock-legal contract devised to constrain to “Magnifico Segnior Immerito” from unauthorized publication of a collection of Harvey’s poems.  Virginia Stern reads this too-credulously, despite Bennett’s more painstaking analysis, which demonstrates that the planned publication, a collection of poems and familiar letters, was Harvey’s idea.

[11] Harvey’s enthusiasm is such that he claims it was their idea in the first place, G.H. and Master Immerito’s, and that it was a matter of good fortune that Sidney and Dyer have consented to “helpe forwarde our new famous enterprise” (Letters 3.9) 

[12] “I take best my Dreames shoulde come forth alone, being growen by meanes of the Glosse, (running continually in manner of a Paraphrase) full as great as my Calendar. Therin be some things excellently, and many things wittily discoursed of E. K. and the Pictures so singularly set forth, and purtrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the best, nor reprehende the worst” (Letters 1.73-78).  It may well be that Spenser was planning to refashion van der Noot’s Theatre as Immerito’s: the Theatre woodcuts still existed, however, and Spenser might well have thought to print his revisions with the original woodcuts.  Unfortunately, the blocks were in Cologne.

Like the Calender, the Letters were clearly meant to stir up interest in the correspondents’ yet-to-be-published works.  G.H. refers to his unfinished epic, Anticosmopolita, and to his “Schollers Loue, or Reconcilement of contraries,” which he has promised to send to Immerito.  This pre-publication puffery is a device already assayed in the Calender, where E.K. lists Harvey’s Musarum Lachrymae, his Gratulationum Valdinensium, and “other his sundrye most rare and very notable writings, partely under unknown Tytles, and partly under counterfayt names, as hys Tyrannomastix, his Ode Natalitia, his Rameidos, and esspecially that parte of Philomusus, his divine Anticosmopolita, and divers other of lyke importance.”  There is evidence that Harvey had actually written some of these works: manuscripts of three survive, and the Anticosmopolita was registered for publication in June of 1579.  As for Immerito, he too has more work to show.  Harvey’s commendatory Epistle to the Calender lists “divers . . . excellent works of his, which slepe in silence, as his Dreames, his Legendes, his Court of Cupide, and sondry others” (156-8).  E.K. adds a reference to a translation of Moschus via Poliziano’s Latin and to a work of literary theory, “The English Poete,” which, if it ever existed, was quite possibly absorbed into the theoretical discussions of the Letters.  And the list of Immerito’s yet unpublished works expands considerably in the Letters themselves.  Immerito refers to “My Slomber,” to his “dying Pellicane,” and to an Epithalamium Thamesis that eventually shows up in Book IV of the Faerie Queene; for his part (as has already been observed here), G.H., praises his correspondent’s Ariostan Nine Comœdies.  

[13]   Harvey’s “Speculum Tuscanismi,” a satire on the Earl of Oxford, did not get Harvey in trouble, although when Lyly brought the poem to Oxford’s attention, hoping to gain some advantage thereby, Lyly himself suffered.

[14] In the Calender, Spenser gives a name to this timidity; he calls it “Cuddye.”  Cuddye is hamstrung both by circumstance—there are no available Maecenases to pay for poetry and no Augustuses to inspire it (ll. 61-64)—and by devastating self-assessment—aspiration itself, whether to Leicesterian epic, Elizabethan pastoral, or divine poetry, lies beyond Cuddye’s powers, which are “too weake and wanne, / So high to sore, and make so large a flight.” The Letters make it clear that Cuddye was meant as a portrait of a cautious, self-pitying, venal someone else.  “I pray now,” asks G.H. what saith M. Cuddie, alias you know who, in the tenth Æglogue of the foresaid famous new Calender?,” but this you-know-who is also a generational type.

[15] It shares non-publication with an intriguing list: the Nine Comœdies, the Dying Pellicane, the Epithalamium Thamesis, “My Slomber,” and “my Dreames,” although some form of the latter three arguably appear in Spenser’s later publications.

[16] I suspect that this conception of the secretarial Spenser gets at something quite generally true of identity among the middling sort, a population of individuals so often multiply and diversely affiliated.

[17] And it is not merely a matter of juvenilia: in 1595, Colin Clouts Come Home Againe again gives us a Spenser whose poetical character, whose hand and voice, is distinctively indistinct, at least in the second half of the volume.  There the pastoral singer of Astrophel solicits anthology, first “rehearsing” The Dolefull Lay of Clorinda and then,

                             When she ended had, another swaine

                        Of gentle wit and daintie sweet device:

                         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

                        Hight Thestylis, began his mournfull tourne,

                        And made the Muses in his song to mourne

Mary Sidney may have written Clorinda’s lay and Lodowick Bryskett may well have written Thestylis’s complaint—some editors have thought so, though some attribute them to Spenser—and most ascribe the ensuing Pastorall Æglogue to Bryskett (since the first edition prints “L. B.” beneath the eclogue).  The conclusion of the Dolefull Lay of Clorinda is somewhat more noncommittal, announcing only an anonymous suite of mourners—“And after him full many other moe”—who will follow Thestylis, with the Pastorall Æglogue, An Elegie, or Friends Passion, An Epitaph vpon the right Honourable sir Phillip Sidney, and An other of the same.  Once editors made “Spenser” the organizing principle of their labors, they have had to confront the difficulty of individuating this representation of communal mourning.  The title page of the 1611 folio certainly seems to sponsor such arch-poetic individuation.  Yet however important the attributive drift between 1579 and 1611 might be, it hardly issued in seismic transformation: Lownes includes both of the Sidneian agglomerations, the Calender and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, in the 1611 folio, so that “Edm. Spencer’s” umbrella extends to cover the affiliations and solidarities that had been so important to the work of Immeritô.



Cite as:

Joseph Loewenstein, "The Literary Biography of a Collective: The Familiar Letters of G.H. and Signior Immerito," Spenser Review 43.1.1 (Spring-Summer 2013). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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