1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Philip Sidney

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1855) 101.



Without enduring Lord Orford's cold-blooded depreciation of this hero, it must be owned that his writings fall short of his traditional glory; nor were his actions of the very highest importance to his country. Still there is no necessity for supposing the impression which he made upon his contemporaries, to have been either illusive or exaggerated. Traits of character will distinguish great men, independently of their pens or their swords. The contemporaries of Sydney knew the man: and foreigners, no less than his own countrymen, seem to have felt, from his personal influence and conversation, an homage for him, that could only be paid to a commanding intellect guiding the principles of a noble heart. The variety of his ambition, perhaps, unfavourably divided the force of his genius; feeling that he could take different paths to reputation, he did not confine himself to one, but was successively occupied in the punctilious duties of a courtier, the studies and pursuits of a scholar and traveller, and in the life of a soldier, of which the chivalrous accomplishments could not be learnt without diligence and fatigue. All his excellence in those pursuits, and all the celebrity that would have placed him among the competitors for a crown, was gained in a life of thirty-two years. His sagacity and independence are recorded in the advice which he gave to his own sovereign. In the quarrel with Lord Oxford, he opposed the right of an English commoner to the prejudices of aristocracy and of royalty itself. At home he was the patron of literature. All England wore mourning for his death. Perhaps the well-known anecdote of his generosity to the dying soldier speaks more powerfully to the heart than the whole volumes of elegies, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, that were published at his death by the universities.

Mr. Ellis has exhausted the best specimens of his poetry. I have only offered a few short ones.