1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Philip Sidney

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 316.



SIR PHILIP SYDNEY, one of the most heroic and accomplished characters in the annals of England, was born at Penshurst, in West Kent, on Nov. 29th, 1554, and died at the premature age of thirty-one, on the 17th of October, 1586, having been mortally wounded on the 26th of the preceding September, in a desperate engagement near Zutphen. "As he was returning from the field of battle," records his friend, Lord Brooke, "pale, languid, and thirsty with excess of bleeding, he asked for water to quench his thirst. The water was brought; and had no sooner approached his lips' than he instantly resigned it to a dying soldier, whose ghastly countenance attracted his notice — speaking these ever-memorable words; This man's necessity is still greater than mine."

Had Sir Philip paid an exclusive attention to the poetical art, there is every reason to suppose that he would have occupied a master's place in this department; as it is, his poetry, though too often vitiated by an intermixture of antithesis and false wit, and by an attempt to introduce the classic metres, is still rich with frequent proofs of vigour, elegance, and harmony. His Arcadia, originally published in 1590, abounds in poetry, among which are some pieces of distinguished merit. In 1591, was printed his Astrophel and Stella, a collection of one hundred and eight sonnets, and eleven songs, and of these several may be pronounced beautiful. They were annexed to the subsequent editions of the Arcadia, together with Sonets, containing miscellaneous pieces of lyric poetry, several of which had appeared in Constable's Diana, 1594. To these may be added, as completing his poetical works, fifteen contributions to England's Helicon, a few sonnets in England's Parnassus, three songs in The Lady of May, a masque, subjoined to the Arcadia, two pastorals in Davison's poems, 1611, and an English version of the Psalms of David.

That Sydney possessed an exquisite taste for, and a critical knowledge of poetry, is sufficiently evident from his eloquent Defence of Poesy, first published in 1595. This, with his Collected Poetry, would form a very acceptable reprint, especially if recommended by an introduction from the elegant and glowing pen of Sir Egerton Brydges, whose favourite Sydney avowedly is, and to whom he has already paid some very interesting tributes.

The moral character of this great man equalled his intellectual energy; and the last years of his short life were employed in translating Du Plessi's excellent treatise on the Truth of Christianity.