London: Printed [by Richard Field] for William Ponsonby, 1596.
Quarto: 18.1 x 13 cm. , 71,  p. Collation: A-I4, K2.
Bound in modern crushed red morocco gilt by Sangorski & Sutcliffe. First title page, supplied from a smaller copy (in 1974), has near-contemporary verses on the verso. Some headlines are very slightly shaved. Woodcut headpiece and printer's device on first title-page (McKerrow 222), woodcut initial, woodcut and type-ornament headpieces, section-title for “Daphnaïda” with woodcut printer's device (McKerrow 164).
The first edition of Spenser’s “Fowre Hymnes”. This is the only 16th c. edition and the only edition in quarto. The hymns are followed by the second printing of “Daphnaïda: an elegie upon the death of the noble and vertuous Douglas Howard, daughter of Lord Howard and wife of Arthur Gorges”, an imitation of Chaucer's “Book of the Duchess”, (first published by Ponsonby, 1591).” The “Daphnaïda” has a separate title-page but the volume has continuous pagination and signatures. Only three copies of the first edition of “Daphnaïda”(STC 23079) are recorded.
Published shortly after Spenser completed the second edition of the “Faerie Queene”, “Fowre Hymnes” marks Spenser’s contribution to the Renaissance revival of the classical literary hymn. The first two hymns (on earthly love and beauty) were written, as he tells us, “in the greener times” of his youth; the two later hymns (on heavenly love and beauty) were written after Spenser reached middle age. The book is dedicated from the court at Greenwich to Lady Margaret Clifford, countess of Cumberland, literary patron and close friend to Queen Elizabeth; and Lady Mary, countess of Warwick.
“’Four Hymns’ reflect the two basic courses which imitation of the classical literary hymn followed in the Renaissance. The earlier celebrations of love and beauty represent Spenser’s adoption of the kind of hymn which eschewed Christian objects of praise for classical semi-philosophical themes [as exemplified in the poetry of the Greek emigree humanist and soldier Michael Marullus (1458-1500)]. Spenser’s latter two hymns endorse the practice of Marco Girolamo Vida (1485-1566) and Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484-1558) in bringing Christian topics to the classical genre. The second pair consequently involve more than middle-aged experience’s assertion of moral and religious values superior to those affirmed by green youth in the first pair. Spenser’s reformation includes a broader aesthetic dimension which reflects a development of his artistic judgment.”(Rollinson 294)
“If we are to believe the dedicatory letter addressed by Spenser to Lady Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, and Lady Mary, Countess of Warwick, the first two hymns, written in praise of “naturall loue and beautie” respectively, were made in “the greener times” of the poet’s youth; the second two hymns, of “heauenly and celestiall” matters, were intended “by way of retraction” to “reforme” the poet’s earlier, more earthly work. The dedication raises questions concerning the dates of composition and possible revision of the first two hymns, for which there are no easy answers; as Spenser writes, “many copies thereof were formerly scattered abroad”, suggesting that the appearance of the printed volume sought to refashion the reputation he had made through the circulation of his poetry in manuscript. The volume appears to want to stage a kind of progression or design; however, in spite of the declared division of time and subject, the hymns, which are all written in rhyme royal, offer a complex coalescing vision when taken as parts of a whole. The first two hymns are dedicated to Cupid and Venus, and the third and fourth to Christ and Lady Sapience. By combining classical, mythological and Christian elements, Spenser engages with the writing of literary and liturgical hymns as two distinct, but complementary traditions.”(Badcoe, “Edmund Spenser: The Fowre Hymnes”)
As “Fowre Hymnes”, like Spenser’s “Prothalamion”, was printed in the autumn of 1596 (the dedication to the Countesses of Cumberland and of Warwick is dated 1 September 1596), and as neither was entered in the Stationers' Register, the Pforzheimer catalogue speculates that at least some copies of the two works were originally issued together. This conjecture is supported by the Pirie copy, which bears a faint offset of the “Prothalamion” title-page on K2v, its final, blank page.
STC 23086; ESTC S111278; Langland to Wither 238, Johnson 17; Pforzheimer 974