Familiar Letters (1580)
in The early Spenser, 1554–80
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Familiar Letters is usually interpreted as a collaborative venture on the part of Harvey and Spenser and their joint effort to obtain preferment. This chapter shows that Harvey orchestrated the publication without Spenser’s assistance. In Familiar Letters (1580) we are told that Spenser (Immerito) gave copies of the letters to a ‘Well-Willer’ who then gave the correspondence to Harvey’s printer, Henry Bynneman. Brink is the first to point out that ‘Well-Willer’ is an English version of Benevolio, a figure in Harvey’s Letter-Book.The letters themselves are described as ‘scholarly pointes of learning’ because they focus on the science of earthquakes and prosody, not topics of general interest to courtiers or diplomats. The letters are intended to further Harvey’s career in an academic setting. Twelve years later when Harvey discusses the 1580 correspondence, he does not repeat this story, but acknowledges that the correspondence was printed to further his campaign to be University Orator at Cambridge. By references in the letters themselves, Brink shows that Spenser had already become the client of Lord Grey and that he had already received preferment. Spenser had no need to collaborate with Harvey to win preferment.

The early Spenser, 1554–80

‘Minde on honour fixed’

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