In Whitman's Hand

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Title: Edmund Spenser: born about 1553—died 1599.

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Undated

Editorial note: Grier estimates that this was written in 1859 or 1860. (Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Manuscripts, ed. Edward F. Grier [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 5:1791).

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original item.

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00177

Contributors to digital file: Lauren Grewe, Nicole Gray, Ty Alyea, and Matt Cohen



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EdmundEdmund SpenserSpenser:

born about 1553—died 1599.


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was an intimate friend of Sydney (Philip) who was killed by a wound at the battle of Zutphen


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Wrote adulatory verses on Queen Elizabeth—"(great Gloriane,)"


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Raleigh was Spenser's next friend, after Sydney.


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had a pension of £50 from the Queen, and the actual Laureateship


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he danced attendance, like a lackey, for a long time at court,—but without luck.—He left in disgust at last, and went to his Irish estate, on the banks of the Mulla


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Earl Leicester was his patron and friend—


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The E.K. often mentioned by Spenser is supposed to have been himself —E.K. has much to say of Spenser's writings—commends them.—


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Spenser took his degrees of B.A. and Ma.A. at Cambridge in 1573 & 1576


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after serving in an Irish secretaryship received from the Queen the profitable grant of property, the Abbey of Enniscorthy in the county of Wexford, —making the poet rich—owner of and resident in Kilcolman castle.


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There in his castle he must have written ^or finished in 1588-9—the Fairy Queen—it was published in 1590—("twelve books fashioning twelve ^moral virtues")


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was married when 40 (or over)


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Kilcoman castle attacked by insurgents.— Spenser and his family fled—one of his children burned to death—the castle being fired.—


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A flight from Ireland—

Poverty ensued.—comparative poverty anyhow


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Lived a year in London


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Died—was buried in Westminster Abbey.

—a monument erected, 30 years after death, by Anne, Countess of Dorset.


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In his poems, reverence for a purity and goodness, is paramount to all the rest.—


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In person Spenser was small and delicate, and in costume precise, "as became a man of taste."

His face had sweetness & refinement —mild almond‑shaped eyes,—forehead lofty, but not very wide—was well beloved by contemporaries —who all exempted him from satire


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Tone of Spenser's poetry is unworldly, abstracted, contemplative in the highest degree—loving high themes— princeliness, purity, white garments, —rather averse to reality—his personages being only half‑real— —He is haunted by a morbid refinement of beauty—beauty three times washed and strained—


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No doubt but he was very learned.—


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Even at the time of writing them, Spenser's words, in his poems, were many of them unusual, obsolete, or considered affected and strained.


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  • Fairy Queen—personages,
Red Cross Knight—"Holiness"
Una—"Truth"
Sans foy—"Faithless"
Arthur—Magnanimity—
Orgoglio—"Pride"
Gloriana—Glory—Queen Elizabeth

In the F.Q. are also Despair, Fear, Care, and Mammon.—

First book—a king's daughter applies to a knight—her parents are confined in their castle —a vast and terrible dragon has laid in wait todevouring the country, and is now after them—The knight sets forth, encounters a monster, an enchanter, kills the dragon, delivers the king & queen, marries the daughter.—


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