1720 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Philip Sidney

Giles Jacob, in Historical Account of the Lives and Writings of our most considerable English Poets (1720) 186-89.



A Gentleman of immortal Fame for Arts and Arms, and the Glory of the English Nation, in a Reign which was only worthy of him, that of the Great Queen Elizabeth. He was Son of Sir Henry Sidney, several times Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and was born at Penshurst in the County of Kent, in the Year 1554. He had his Education at Christ's-Church College in Oxford, where he excell'd all his Cotemporaries for polite Literature, and was the greatest Honour to the University. From hence he was invited to Court, by his Uncle Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, who married his Mother's Sister; whereupon he quitted his Academical Life, and, coming to London, he apply'd himself to the Business of the State. Here he soon became the glorious Star of his Family: His exquisite Learning and fine Parts so endear'd him to Queen Elizabeth, that she sent him upon a very important Embassy to the Emperor of Germany; and by his Travels he became renown'd throughout Europe. He was the Admiration of all Countries, and unequall'd Abroad as well as at Home; which, as some Authors tell us, occasion'd his being put in Election for the Kingdom of Poland. He return'd from his Embassy with unusual Honour and Reputation, and his great Virtue, excellent Wit, and sweet Temper, did not more recommend him to the Affection of Mankind, than his great Courage and Conduct proclaim'd his Fame amongst the Heroes of his time. During the Dutch Wars, he was made Governor of Flushing; but at length in an action before Zutphen, in the midst of Victory, he was unfortunately wounded in the Thigh, whereof he died some Days after. This fatal Skirmish happen'd in the Year 1586. and took off the finest Gentleman in the World in his Prime. His Behaviour was such, that 'tis questionable whether his Wisdom, Industry, or Valour may challenge to it self the greatest Praise and Commendation; and all Christendom had a Loss in his Fall. Nat. Lee, in his Dedication to Cesar Borgia, says, Sir Philip Sidney was so extravagantly great, that he refus'd to be a King. He was at once a Cesar and a Virgil, the leading Soldier, and the foremost Poet. He obliged the World with the following Pieces, viz.

I. His Arcadia, an incomparable Romance, dedicated to his Sister the Countess of Pembroke. This Piece, besides the most entertaining Novels, and Intrigues, has in it all the Strains of Poetry, and shews a very great Genius in the Author.

II. Astrophel and Stella. This Work contains several Poems and Songs in Praise of his Lady, whom he celebrated under the bright Name of Stella; she was Daughter to the Great Sir Francis Walsingham.

III. A Defence of Poesy, a very good Piece in those Days. He also translated part of that excellent Treatise of Philip Morney du Plessis, of the Truth of the Christian Religion.

He was not so fond of his Arcadia, as the Bishop of Heliodorus was of his amorous Book; for a little before his Death he desir'd an intimate Friend of his to burn it; but what Answer his Friend made is uncertain: However, this gave the subject for the following Latin Epigram:

Ipse tuam moriens (sed Conjuge Teste) jubebas
Arcadium Savis ignibis esse Cibum:
Si meruit Mortem, quia Flammam accedit Amoris,
Mergi, non Uri, debuit iste Liber.
In librum quaecunq; cadat Sentientia: Nulla
Debuit Igenium morte perire tuum.

In his last Agonies, when his Friends were about him, and express'd the greatest Sorrow at his approaching Fate, taking notice of his quitting Life for eternal Happiness, he made these Lines:

Why mourn you thus, my Parents, Friends, and Kin?
Lament ye when I lose, not when I win.

His body was brought over from Holland to England, and interr'd with great Solemnity in St. Paul's Church, London. There was an Epitaph on his Tomb, the Contents of which was, that England had his Body, the Netherlands his Blood.

The Heavens have his Soul, the Arts his Fame;

All Soldiers share his Grief, and the World his good Name.

King James the First wrote these Latin Verses on the Death of this Gallant and Accomplish'd Gentleman.

Armipotens cui jus in fortia pectora Mavors,
Tu Dea quae cerebrum perrumpter digna totantis,
Tuque adeo bijugae proles Latonia rupis
Gloria, deciduae cingunt quam collibus artes,
Duc tecum, & querela Sidnaei funera voce
Plangite; nam vester fuerat Sidnaeus almunus,
Quid genus, & Proavos, & Spem, Floremq; Juventae,
Immaturo obitu raptum sine fine retexo?
Heu frustra queror? heu rapuit Mors omnia secum,
Et nihil ex tanto nunc est Heroe superstes,
Praeterquam Decus & Nomen virtute Paratum,
Doctaque Sidnaes testantia Carmina laudes.

These Lines of Majesty, tho' a great Honour to his Memory, did not exceed his Merit: And Sir John Harrington made this Epigram upon Occasion of them:

If that be true, the latter Proverb says,
Laudari a Laudatis is most Praise:
Sidney, thy Works are in Fame's Books enroll'd,
By Princes Pens, which have thy Acts extoll'd,
Whereby thy Name shall last to endless Days.