Daisy Dunn

Ed­mund Spenser’s Pic­tures

The London Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - (Dig­gon Davie, The Shep­heardes Cal­en­der, Ed­mund Spenser)

Ed­mund Spenser’s shep­herd told the six­teenth-cen­tury English­man what he al­ready knew. More of­ten than not this ‘knowl­edge’ was in­tu­itivism, bol­stered by so keen a pa­tri­o­tism that he rarely thought it nec­es­sary to visit ‘for­rein costes’ for con­fir­ma­tion. Eng­land was the place to be, the idyl­lic, heav­enly cen­tre of the world. There was lit­tle point in leav­ing.

Spenser filled The Shep­heardes Cal­en­der with paeans to Eng­land and its coun­try­side. Charis­matic coun­try folk stroll and sur­vey their land, plant seeds. Lovelorn shep­herds in­dulge their woes in the shade of aged trees. Skies brighten over the head of Queen El­iz­a­beth I, while her sub­jects make merry un­til sun­down. In the first edi­tions of the po­etry book, de­tailed pic­tures adorn each of the twelve pas­torals – and noth­ing is more be­wil­der­ing than these.

Pub­lished in 1579, eleven years be­fore his Faerie Queene, Spenser’s Shep­heardes Cal­en­der was one of the early fully il­lus­trated books printed in Eng­land. Un­til then the oc­ca­sional wood­cut had tended to suf­fice: a horse­mounted knight as a pref­ace to The Knight’s Tale (Chaucer, Workes, 1561), dec­o­ra­tive prints loosely con­nected to the text in books such as John Ly­dgate’s The his­to­rye, sege and dys­truc­cyon of Troye (1513). With its twelve

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