The period in which Sir PHILIP SIDNEY flourished, considered, as it relates to Manners, is reproached with a fondness for the fopperies of chivalry. But we must not confound the fugitive customs of the age, with that spirit which fashions the minds of men, and reaches beyond the date of those artificial customs that rather disguise than produce it. The passion for arms, gallantry, and devotion, in its minutiae and excess, may make men fight more than they need, love more than they ought, and pray perhaps at unsuitable times; but valour, sensibility, and patient suffering, are the noble results!
The universal favourite of this age was Sir PHILIP SIDNEY, the most accomplished character in our history, till Lord Orford startled the world by paradoxes, which attacked the fame established by two centuries. Singularity of opinion, vivacity of ridicule, and polished epigrams in prose, were the means by which this nobleman sought distinction: but he had something in his composition more predominant than his wit; a cold unfeeling disposition, which contemned literary men, at the moment that his heart secretly panted to share their fame; while his peculiar habits of society deadened every impression of grandeur in the human character.
Three volatile pages of petulance, however, have provoked the ponderous quarto before us. Biassed as we are in favour of Sidney, we find this a case of criticism somewhat nice to determine; for though we are willing to censure his Lordship for being much too brisk, we do not see that, therefore, we are to excuse his antagonist, for being much too saturnine.
The materials of these Memoirs present scarcely any thing new; they have already been used by Arthur Collins, in his account of the Sidney family, prefixed to the Sidney papers; and by Dr. Campbell, in the Biographia Britannica. The only novelty, is a long and uninteresting manuscript in the British Museum; a kind of biographical homily, containing an account of Sidney's death.
The life of Sidney, who died at little more than thirty, was chiefly passed in his travels; and had no claims on a volume of this size. Dr. Zouch has the merit, however, of giving a luminous disposition to his scanty materials: with these before its, we shall track him in his work, and ascertain whether his industry has always been vigilant, and his judgment enlightened by taste.
Sir Philip Sidney derived every advantage from two noble and excellent parents. His father, Sir Henry, was a sage, a statesman, and had even been a hero — but at this early period of life, the character of the mother is of some importance. She is thus described by Dr. Zouch.
"Nor was his motherless illustrious, or less amiable — Mary, the eldest daughter of the unfortunate Duke of Northumberland, alienated from the follies and vanities of life, by those tragical events in her own family, of which she had been an eye-witness, she devoted herself, like Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, to an employment equally pleasing, useful, and honourable — the instruction of her children. It was her delight to form their early habits; to instil into their tender minds the principles of religion and virtue; to direct their passions to proper objects; to superintend not only their serious studies, but even their amusements." p. 17.
We do not reproach this passage with a want of elegance, but of definitive ideas. We find, in this work, too many of these lax and general descriptions, which delineate nothing that is individual. The above description of Sir Philip Sidney's mother, may be let out for the use of any other: like those epitaphs on to tombstones, which are used by the whole parish in turn. Biographers too often fail in the nice touches of the pencil, and Dr. Zouch has here dropt an affecting trait in the portrait of this mother, which Sir Fulke Greville has feelingly copied from the life. Alluding to the tragical events in her own family, the companion and the biographer of Sidney adds,
"She was of a large ingenuous spirit, 'racked with native strength.' She chose rather to 'hide herself' from the curious 'eyes of a delicate time,' than come upon the stage of the world, with any manner of disparagement — the 'mischance of sicknesse' having cast such a kind of veile over her excellent beauty, as the modesty of that sex doth—" Again — "This clearnesse of his father's judgment, and 'ingenious sensiblenesse' of his mother's brought forth so happy a temper in their offspring."
Here are distinctly indicated, the high spirit of ancestry, and the tender melancholy of the mother; features, entirely lost, in the portrait, blurred over by Dr. Zouch. He should have enquired whether the maternal character did not considerably influence that of Sir Philip himself. We have no doubt that it did. In his defence of his uncle Lord Leicester, he alludes, with this high-toned feeling to his descent — "I am a Dudley in blood, the duke's daughter's son — my chiefest honour is to be a Dudley."
Sidney resembled "the melancholy Gray;" like him, too, he seems never to have been a boy. The language of Sir Fulke Grevilie is that of truth and of the heart. "I lived with him, and knew him from a child, yet I never knew him 'other than a man,' with such staiednesse of mind, lovely and familiar gravity, carried grace and reverence above greater years. His talk ever of knowledge, and his very play tending to enrich his mind; so as even his teachers found something in him to observe, and learn above that which they had usually read or taught. Which eminence by nature and industry, made his worthy father stile Sir Philip in my hearing (though I unseen) 'Lumen familiae suae,' the light of his family."
His father "designed him for foreign travel and the business of court very early." He drew up a compendium of instruction, which Dr. Zouch has judiciously preserved; and accompanied it by a continued and ingenious commentary from two similar compositions of Sir Walter Rawleigh, and Sir Matthew Hale. The English wisdom of these three venerable fathers we love infinitely more, than we admire the polite cynicism of Rochefoucault and Chesterfield. This old-fashioned massy sense will, in every age, be valued by its weight.
The academical education of Sidney was completed at both the universities, and such was his subsequent celebrity, that his learned tutor chose to commemorate on his tomb, that "He was the tutor of Sir Philip Sidney." The same remarkable testimony to this extraordinary character, was given by his friend Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, on whose tomb was inscribed, as the most lasting of his honours, "Fulke Greville, servant to Queen Elizabeth, Counsellor to King James, and friend to Sir Philip Sidney!" When afterwards we find, that there was a long public mourning observed for his death, and that the eulogiums bestowed on him by the most eminent of his contemporaries, at home and abroad, are positive and definitive, it seems but an idle labour to refute the malicious ingenuity of Walpole — that light work of spangles and fillagree, Truth shivers at a single stroke into glittering atoms!
At that momentous period of life, when youth steps into manhood, was Sidney a most diligent student, a lover and a patron of all the arts; but his ruling passion was military fame. This he inherited from his father, who had distinguished himself on many occasions, and particularly, in single combat with a Scottish chieftain, whom he overthrew and stripped of his arms.
He left the university to commence his travels; Dr. Zouch informs us of a wise precaution of our ancestors on this head.
"In those days, when travelling was considered as one of the principal causes of corrupt morals, a wise and sound policy dictated the expediency of observing the most rigid circumspection in permitting the English nobility and gentry to visit distant countries; and in general no persons were permitted to go abroad, except merchants, and those who were intended for a military life."
The royal licence was granted by the Queen on the 25th of May, 1572, and runs in this manner. "For her trusty and well-beloved Philip Sidney, Esquire, to go out of England into parts beyond the Seas, with three servants and four horses; to remain during the space of two years, for his attaining the knowledge of foreign languages."
The Earl of Leicester recommended him to Sir Francis Walsingham, our ambassador in France, whose daughter Sidney afterwards married. Charles IX. received him with unusual kindness, and made him a gentleman of his chamber. This must have been one of the artifices to trepan the Protestants; for Sidney had scarcely taken the oaths to his perfidious master, ere be became a spectator of the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
Dr. Zouch has with much curiosity and judgment collected the numerous Catholic testimonies, many of then written by eminent scholars, approving and applauding this sanguinary scene. Let the lesson perpetually instruct. He accounts for time seeming apathy of the court on the occasion, by the political wisdom of Elizabeth: but the emphatic language which her ministers employed, expresses their abhorrence of the crime. We regret that we cannot transcribe the fine picture of the silent resentment of the English court, when the French ambassador passed through the circle, as described by himself.
At Paris, Sidney was seen and admired by Henry IV. the young king of Navaire. "He used him (says Fulke Greville) like an equal in nature, and fit for friendship with a king."
At Frankfort, he lodged at the house of Andrew Wechel, one of the learned printers of the sixteenth century. Here he found Hubert Languet, and here he formed his memorable friendship with that bright ornament of literature, who was then resident minister from the Elector of Saxony. It was usual at this time for scholars to lodge in the houses of eminent printers. Robert Stephens had frequently ten learned men in his house, all of them foreigners, who occasionally corrected his proofs.
Languet combined with universal erudition, that keen sagacity which discovers the real characters of men; his expertness, in the conduct of political affairs, placed him in the confidence and employment of several princes, while the suavity of his manners and the classic elegance of his style, won him the hearts of all literary men. Such was the person whom young Sidney (for he had not yet reached his twentieth year) adopted as his friend, and revered as his master. Their communication suffered no interruption from time or place. His pupil thus elegantly commemorates, in his unfinished Arcadia, the wisdom and the learning of his friend, while he paints himself with the most delicate modesty.
The song I sang, old LANGUET had me taught;
LANGUET, the shepherd best swift Ister knew,
For clearkly reed, and hating what is naught,
For faithful heart, clean hands, and mouth as true,
With his sweet skill, my skilless youth he drew.
To have a feeling taste of him that sits
Beyond the heaven; far more beyond your wits.
With old true tales he wont mine ears to fill,
How shepherds did of yore, how now they thrive—
He liked me, but pitied lustful youth;
His good strong staff my slippery years up bore;
He still hoped well, because I loved truth.
The character of Lauguet has not been ill drawn by Dr. Zouch; but towards the conclusion he is not fortunate. He first compares Languet to Socrates, and Sidney to Alcibiades, then seized by an orgasm for parallels, he proceeds to another which he likes better, namely, of Languet to Mentor, and Sidney to Telemachus. Elsewhere he compares Sidney to Alexander the Great, inasmuch as they died at the same age. All these parallels are not in the manner of Plutarch. There is too much of this grave trifling; we hope the author's sermons are more lively.
At Vienna, Sidney seems to have perfected himself in those noble accomplishments of the cavalier, with which Count Balthassar Castiglione has adorned his courtier. He practised manly and martial exercises, tennis, and music; and he studied horsemanship with particular attention. In his "Defence of Poetry" he alludes to the partiality of his equestrian preceptor Pugliano, in favour of his own professional occupation.
This man, who had the place of an equerry in the Emperor's stables, spoke so eloquently of that noble annual the horse, of his beauty, his faithfulness and his courage, that his pupil facetiously says, "if I had not been a piece of a logician before I came to him, I think he would have persuaded me to have wished myself a horse." In the second book of the Arcadia, he has finely described the management of this animal. — The works of a man of genius are thus frequently the records of his own feelings; these self-notices, in which our best writers abound, have not been gleaned with sufficient care by their biographers.
From Venice, the seat of libertinism, Sidney soon retired to Padua, where he applied to the sciences of geometry and astronomy. His constitutional delicacy and his disposition tinged with thoughtful melancholy, induced Languet to admonish him not to neglect his health, "lest he should resemble a traveller, who during a long journey, attends to himself, but not to his horse."
We have now a specimen of the new mode of writing History, which enables the ingenious inventors to give us the particulars of an event that never took place. Our author, having discovered that Tasso resided at Padua when Sidney was there, by the assistance of a certain historian (whose name appears to be LITTLE DOUBT) has boldly described their interview. The reader may take the following extract, as a fair specimen how the secret history of Queen Mab may yet be written in the most authentic manner!
"The celebrated Tasso was then resident at Padua, and there is LITTLE DOUBT Mr. Sidney visited this seat of learning, with a desire to partake of the conversation of our poet. The ardour with which they met, may be more easily conceived, than described. Both of them glowing with all the fire of native genius, and equally emulous to excel in every thing honourable, &c. &c. How fervent, &c. &c. must their friendship have been!" p. 66.
"Sidney," says Dr. Zouch, "left Venice and came to Padua, June, 1574." p. 65. "The celebrated Tasso was then resident at Padua." p. 66. Now we must inform Dr. Z. that in 1574, Tasso was "resident" at Ferrara. A meeting took place there between Henry III. then returning to France, and Alphonso, the patron of Tasso; and the poet accompanied the Duke to Venice, July, 1574. There he indulged in the festivities of the place, to the neglect of his "Jerusalem," till he was seized with a quartan fever. From Venice he went back to Ferrara, and was confined there all the winter by extreme debility. All this appears in a letter of the poet to the Pronotary Porzia, inserted in Serassi's elaborate and most interesting "Life of Tasso."
Tasso was, indeed, at Padua, during the month of March, 1575, consulting the critics of the academy there; and we are inclined to suspect that criticism contributed even more than love, to derange the irritable faculties of this too-feeling poet. Now, Sidney, by the Doctor's own account, p. 82, returned to England, through Germany, passing through various cities, in May, 1575, so that the whole of this rapturous superstructure is overthrown. We are sorry thus to differ from Dr. Zouch; but our duty to the publick will not permit us to see this LITTLE DOUBT, under the sanction of his authority, ranked among the Bayles, the Johnsons, or even the Birches of the day. We are convinced that Sidney never had an interview with Tasso. An event so interesting in the life of a poet, he who commemorated characters and events of less importance, had certainly not buried in silence.
We are informed of a fact highly curious and characteristic of the age, that when Sidney conversed with the literati of the church of Rome, his English friends, as well as Languet, suspected that he was becoming a proselyte. The latter conjured him not to go to Rome, that seat of ancient glory, which had inflamed the curiosity of his classic mind. Sidney followed the harsh counsel, and regretted it ever after. Since Rome was forbidden, he projected a journey to Constantinople, in which Languet acquiesced; and probably would have preferred that Sidney should become a Turk, rather than a Papist!
Languet darkens the Italian character. He trembles for the purity of Sidney's morals, "now whiter than snow," and describes the subtle craftiness of the Genoese, the dissolving libertinism of the Venetians, and the theological machiavelism of the Romans.
There is no reason to think that the mind of Sidney was ever tainted; he followed his pious father's admonition, "To be always virtuously employed."
On his return to England, he became the admiration and delight of the English Court. The queen called him "her Philip." Elizabeth, with such ambiguous coquetry, gratified at once her political sagacity and her feminine vanity all her favourites had some endearing nick-name, or shared in some tender caress of royal courtesy. Sidney made his gratitude picturesque, in a masque of "The Lady of the May!"
In 1576, a an age not much exceeding twenty years, Sidney was appointed ambassador at the court of Vienna; the ostensible purpose was to condole with the emperor Rodolph, on the demise of his father; the concealed one, was more important: It was to unite the Protestant princes in the defence of their common cause against Rome and the overwhelming tyranny of Spain, at this period the terror of Europe.
The choice of young Sidney to fill this situation is the clearest evidence of his distinguished character — and indeed his successful termination of the embassy confirms it.
Dr. Zouch observes "The Queen's own penetration and discernment had promoted him to this appointment. It is remarked of this Princess, that in the choice of her ambassadors, she had a regard not only to the talents, but even to the figure and person of those to whom she consigned the administration of her affairs abroad."
Our young ambassador has given a full narrative of his embassy in an official letter to Walsingham, and it will be considered as a splendid testimony of political address and maturity of genius, very far above his years. He extorted unqualified approbation from Burleigh, time jealous rival of his uncle Leicester. After describing his interviews with the emperor, and the rest of the imperial family, he proceeds thus:—
"The rest of the daies that I lay there I informed myself as well as I coold of such particularities as I received in my instructions; as I of the Emperor's disposition; and his brethren; 2 by whose advice he is directed; 3 When it is likely he should marry; 4 What Princes in Germany are most affected to him; 5 In what state he is left for revenews; 6 What good agreements there is betwixt him and his brethren. 7 And what partage they have. In these things I shall at my return more largely declare. The Emperor is holy (wholly) by his inclination given to the warres, few of vordes, sullain of disposition, very secrete and resolute, nothing the manners his hither had in winninge men in his behaviour, but yet constant in keeping them: and such a one, as, though he promise not much outwardly, but as the Latins say, 'aliquid in recessu;' his brother Earnest much lyke him in disposition, but, that he is more franke, and forward, which perchance the necessity of his fortune argues him to be: both extremely Spaniolated." p. 3.
These are some of the mysteries of diplomacy; high matters, which serve to prove (if proof were necessary) that an ambassador in all ages, is, as some one has coarsely said, a privileged spy.
Sidney had not yet attained his twenty-fifth year, when he was known to the most eminent personages in Europe. William the First, Prince of Orange, emphatically described him "as one of the ripest and greatest Counsellors of State at that day in Europe." The correspondence between these two great men turned on the political state of Europe, and we have to regret its loss.
Sidney must indeed have been the extraordinary character which history records; since he could even extort admiration from Don Juan of Austria, the Spanish viceroy in the Netherlands: a man haughty with military fame, and whose banner floated with an inscription of Extermination to the Protestant faith. Dr. Zouch thus gives his character.
"Nothing could be more discordant than this man, and the English ambassador. At first he looked with contempt on his youth, and with all the insolence of national pride, scarcely deemed him worthy of his notice. Yet such are the charms of intrinsic merit; so attractive the beauty of genuine excellence, that we find the haughty and imperious Spaniard struck, as it were, with reverential awe, at the view of pre-eminent goodness, and contributing a just and involuntary applause to the fine talents, and high endowments of our ancient countryman."
Here, however, we find the fault, which prevails throughout this work; an indistinctness of description, which loses itself, in what we may term, the volubility of the pen. Had the author freed himself from some of this redundance of language, he might have found leisure to give its the fact to which he alluded: We recollect what Philip of Spain, no admirer of heretics, declared on the death of Sidney, that "England had lost in one moment, what she might not produce in an age!"
Sidney distinguished himself as the advocate of his father, against a faction who had drawn up articles of impeachment on his administration in Ireland; his father was reinstated in the Queen's favour. But the fervent spirit of Sidney, in every thing which touched his romantic feelings of honour, had nearly involved him in an open quarrel with the Earl of Ormond. He chose to be sullenly silent when the Earl addressed him. But the Earl conducted himself more nobly, by saying, "he would accept no quarrel from a gentleman, who is bound by nature to defend his father's cause, and who is furnished with so many virtues as he knows Mr. Philip to be."
When Elizabeth's proposed marriage with the Duke of Anjou divided the nation into two parties, Sidney was foremost among the strenuous opposers of that mischievous design. He addressed a letter to her Majesty, which Hume has justly characterised for its elegance, and its forcible reasoning. The head of the French faction (for even in better times, France found a faction among the dissolute and the desperate part of the nation) was the Earl of Oxford, a man of ruined fortune, and blasted reputation. Some altercation ensued, in which the Earl scornfully called Sidney "a puppy!" A challenge passed between them, but the Queen interposed. Her argument must have mortified the haughty spirit of Sidney — it turned on "the difference in degree between Earls and Gentlemen;" and "how the Gentleman's neglect of the Nobility taught the Peasant to insult both." Sidney, with adroit flattery, converted the argument of her Majesty to its own confutation, by appealing to her, who "had willed that her Sovereignty should be guided by the same laws, as her people. — The Earl of Oxford was a great lord, yet he was no lord over him. — and therefore the difference of degrees between Freemen, could not challenge any other homage, than precedency." The Queen was not displeased with this elevated strain from her knight — Sidney, however, incapable of submission, retired from Court. Some of these particulars may be found in the narrative of Fulke Greville; they are not detailed in Dr. Zouch.
In his retreat at Wilton, the seat of his brother in law, the Earl of Pembroke, he planned his "Arcadia," and on the pannels of one of the apartments several of its scenes were painted. "The Defence of Poetry" was the more perfect fruit of those happy and contemplative days.
Languet had often seriously exhorted his young friend not to imitate his royal mistress in her preference of a life of celibacy. In 1583, Sidney married the daughter of Walsingham, whom Jonson congratulates in one of his Epigrams. He was also knighted, an honour which like all others, the Queen "bestowed with frugality and choice."
Sidney had not yet obtained, what he seems to have long desired — some splendid occasion to manifest his heroic disposition. When Sir Francis Drake returned from his first expedition, the novelty of his discoveries, and perhaps the treasures he poured into the Queen's coffers, inflamed the nation. Foreigners, indeed, considered Drake as the greatest pirate that ever infested the seas; but in England, he was admired as a new Columbus. Shakespeare alludes to this temporary passion of the times:
Some to the wars to try their fortune there;
Some to discover Islands far away.
Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Weary of inaction, and inspired by a romantic fancy of founding a new empire of his own, of which Sir Fulke Greville has given a most extraordinary account, Sidney secretly planned with Drake, to join him in his second expedition. Dr. Zouch tells but half his tale; Sir Fulke Greville has supplied many curious particulars. After giving a sketch of this wild design, he details the shrewd inventions which Sidney condescended to practise, to reach Plymouth, "overshooting Walsingham in his own bow;" and his bold contrivance to intercept the Queen's messenger, by employing two Soldiers in disguise, to take his letters from him; nor would he leave Plymouth till the Queen dispatched a Peer to command his immediate return. These and other facts, which Dr. Zouch seems purposely to conceal in his perpetual panegyric, are surely of importance; they let us a little into the character of Sidney — his sullen conduct to the Earl of Ormond; his letter to his father's steward, threatening his life, on a rash supposition that he betrayed his correspondence; his virulent defence of his uncle; all these were the sins of his youth: his infirmity was rashness and impetuosity of temper.
An honour, less ambiguous than a West India expedition, was reserved for Sidney. His friends abroad named him as a competitor for the elective Crown of Poland, in 1583. That character must approach to excellence, which could create a party among distant foreigners, uninfluenced by corruption, to offer a crown to all English knight!
The Queen, however, one historian writes, was "jealous of losing the jewel of her times," and another, that "she was jealous that any of her subjects should be kings." I will not allow, said Elizabeth, that my sheep shall be marked with a stranger's mark; nor that they follow the whistle of a foreign shepherd!
The Queen opened a fairer field of honour in appointing Sidney to the government of Flushing, having resolved to assist the Protestant inhabitants of the Netherlands against Spanish oppression. His uncle Leicester, who afterwards disappointed England and her allies, by his want of wisdom and military skill, followed, with an army. On this intercourse of the English with the Flemish, Dr. Zouch appositely observes from Camden, that "The English, which of all the northern nations had been the least drinkers, learned by these Netherland Wars, to drown themselves with immoderate drinking, and by drinking to other's health, to impair their own." A philosophical antiquary may discover, in our continental wars, the origin of many of our worst customs, and not a few of our vices.
In this first, and last campaign, of the young hero, he marked his short career, by enterprize and invention — combining these ardent military qualities with that penetration and prudence which form a great general. Before he entered into action, he warmed his soldiers by a patriotic address; he revived the ancient discipline of order and silence in his march; and when he was treacherously invited to take Gravelin, he only ventured a small detachment of his army, by which means, the rest were saved. He was the soldiers' friend, and remunerated them, in proportion to their merits, out of his private fortune.
In the hope, but scarcely having yet attained to the pride, of military fame, fell the Marcellus of his country and his age! In a skirmish before Zutphen, "so impetuous that it became a proverbial expression among the Belgian soldiers to denote a most severe and ardent conflict," Sidney, having one horse shot under him, and mounting a second, rushed forward to recover Lord Willoughby, surrounded by the enemy. He succeeded, and continued the fight till he was wounded by a bullet in the left knee.
The most beautiful event in his life, was his death; from the moment he was wounded, and thirsty with excess of bleeding, when he turned away the water from his own lips, to give it to a dying soldier, with these words, "Thy necessity is still greater than mine!" to his last hour, he marked the grandeur, and the tenderness of his nature.
Dr. Zouch informs us that "an ode which was composed by him on the nature of his wound, discovered a mind perfectly serene and calm." We wish our author had been satisfied with having informed us of this fact; but he proceeds with a strange and superfluous apology for a dying poet composing an ode.
"These efforts of his expiring muse will not surely subject him to censure and reproach. It is impossible to suggest that they were disfigured by any sentiments of rashness and impiety. They were exercised on a subject of the most serious nature, on a wound which was likely to terminate in death."
This paragraph is a fair specimen of the literary merits of this work; the author is never satisfied with telling all he knows — for he seems oppressed by a flux of phrases. It is a ridiculous anxiety, to be alarmed for the piety of his hero, in writing a death-bed ode. Were not the odes of David composed by the same feelings, under the influence of the most trying occasions?
Other particulars are recorded of his death, which give a most interesting picture of his heroism, his philosophy, and his religion.
The night before he died, leaning upon a pillow in his bed, he wrote a short, but pathetic, note to a physician; and an epistle to a divine, in elegant latin, which for "its pithiness of matter," was presented to the queen. — He conversed on the immortality of the soul, and compared the conjectures of the pagan philosophy with the truths of revelation. On the day he died, he affixed a codicil to his will; and called for music, and particularly for the ode which has made Dr. Zouch so uneasy, "to procure repose to his disordered frame." With the same dignified composure he bade adieu to his brother; and exhorted him to cherish his friends; "their faith to me may assure you that they are honest." He made an extempore prayer before his death — a circumstance which renews the Doctor's uneasiness. He conjures up a question, which he cannot lay, concerning "public worship led by a layman." "We are not hence to conclude," he writes, "that Sidney professed a religion peculiar to himself; nor that he derived any singular sentiments from Languet; &c. — by which means, we are furnished with a page of articles that we are not to conclude about.
Of the interminable narrative of Sidney's death, written by Mr. George Giffard, a preacher of the times, we should have been thankful to Dr. Zouch had he taken the pains to have read and not printed it: but to the eyes of an antiquary, there is something magical in a MS.
We regret to find that the last moments of Sidney were disturbed by the mis-directed piety of this Mr. Giffard, who never ceased "proving to him by testimonies and infallible reasons out of the scriptures" every thing that came into his head. When Sidney was in the last agony, (says the MS.) and all natural heat and life were almost utterly gone out of him; that his understanding had failed, and that it was to no purpose to speak any more to him — "then it was that the aforesaid Mr. Giffard made a long speech, and required the expiring Sidney "to hold up his hand," "which we thought he could scarce have moved." Documents of this kind are more fanatic than historical; and more tedious than fanatic.
The manes of Sidney received every honour, public and private, domestic and foreign. Never died an Englishman so universally lamented. All the world remembered him but his own family — and no monument was raised to his name. Men like Sidney, indeed, build their own monuments; yet we cannot admit that considerations of this nature furnish a legitimate plea for the parsimony of their heirs.
Such was Sir Philip Sidney. But was this singular character exempt from the frailties of human nature? If we rely on Dr. Zouch, we shall not discover any; if we trust to Lord ORFORD, we shall perceive little else. The truth is, that had Sidney lived, he might have grown up to that ideal greatness which the world adored in him; but he died early — not without some errors of youth. His fame was more mature than his life, which, indeed, was but the preparation for a splendid one. We discern that future greatness (if we may use the expression) in the noble termination of his early career, rather than in the race which he actually ran. The life of Sidney would have been a finer subject for the panegyric of a Pliny, than for the biography of a Plutarch; his fame was sufficient for the one, while his actions were too few for the other.
It may be useful to notice some of the aspersions of Lord ORFORD on our favourite character.
"He died with the rashness of a Volunteer," says he, "after having lived to write with the sangfroid, and prolixity of Mademoiselle Scudery," and he quotes the observation of Queen Elizabeth on Essex — "We shall have him knock'd o' the head, like that rash fellow Sidney." On the day Sidney received his fatal wound, it appears that observing the marshal of the camp lightly armed, he threw off his cuisses, merely, according to Sir Fulke Greville's account, "to venture without any inequalitie." p. 143. Dr. Zouch has not given the occasion of this act, which we see was a mere heroic bravado, which sober critics like ourselves do not presume to comprehend. Dr. Zouch has made an ingenious observation on the defect of our military institutions in the sixteenth century, at page 36, but he has not defended his hero from this accusation of rashness. Yet this may still be done; for the valour of Sidney was founded on fatalism, like that of many other eminent military characters. William III. used to say, that every bullet had its billet; and that this was the opinion of Sidney, appears by what he affirmed after he had received his wound, "that God did send the bullet, and commanded it to stryke him." The system of fatalism must not be discouraged among our heroes; and it will sufficiently defend Sidney, from "the rashness" attributed to him by one who was no hero himself.
When Lord Orford apologised in his second edition for having past by Sidney's "DEFENCE OF POETRY," he acknowledged "that he had forgotten it; a proof," he adds, "that I at least did not think it sufficient foundation for so high a character as he acquired." This is mere malignity. Sidney had diligently read the best Latin and Italian commentaries on Aristotle's Poetics, and these he has illustrated with the most correct taste and the most beautiful imagery. It is a work of love; and the luminous order of criticism is embellished by all the graces of poetry.
The ARCADIA is a posthumous and unfinished work, and was composed, as he himself tells his sister, "in loose sheets of paper, most of it in your presence, the rest by sheets sent unto you, a fast as they were don." "For severer eyes," he adds, "it is not; being but a trifle, and triflingly handled." It was his earnest request on his death-bed, that the Arcadia should be destroyed. The Countess of Pembroke collected and published the fugitive leaves, and with a sisterly fondness, called them "The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia." Such is the history of a work, which the gallantry of criticism should have spared.
Of this romance Dr. Zouch has given a curious and copious account; it was read with avidity and delight in an age when pageants and pastorals were familiar to the eye and the ear; even in the present times, congenial fancy can kindle over Arcadian scenery; and a poet never dies, while there lives another poet of his nation.