1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Philip Sidney

Bryan Waller Procter, in "English Poetry" Edinburgh Review 42 (April 1825) 51-52.



We now come to the all-famous Sir Philip Sydney. Not unlike Lord Surrey in his renown, he was yet more of a hero than his illustrious precursor. Lord Surrey was an accomplished and illustrious patrician, the first of his age; but Sidney was a refinement upon nobility. He was like the abstract and essence of romantic fiction, having the courage (but not the barbarity) of the "preux chevalier" of ancient time — their unwearied patience — their tender and stainless attachment. He was a hero of chivalry, without the grossness and frailty of the flesh. He lived beloved and admired, and died universally and deservedly lamented. He is the last of those who have passed into a marvel; for he is now remembered almost as the ideal personification of a true knight, and is translated to the skies, like the belt of the hunter Orion, or Berenice's starry hair!

Sir Philip Sidney's poetry was not without the faults of his time. It is full of conceits and strained similes, and the versification is occasionally cramped Nevertheless, many of his Sonnets contain beautiful images and deep sentiment (such as the 31. 82. 84. and others), though a little impoverished by this alloy.

But Sir Philip Sidney's fame was won upon crimson fields, as well as upon poetic mountains. He wooed Bellona as well as the Muses; and his last great act on the plain of battle at Zutphen, is of itself enough to justify the high admiration of his countrymen. It was one of those deeds by which men should be remembered, when the mere animal valour of soldiers, and the accidents of conquest, shall perish in the obscurity of the times to come.