When the late Lord Orford represented the glorious Sir Philip Sydney as "an astonishing object of temporary admiration," he called forth a feeling of indignation from all enlightened and generous minds, which has been rather increased than diminished by the lapse of years since he ventured an assertion so unpropitious to his own reputation.
The man, who could combine with so brilliant a genius such an heroic spirit and such incomparable virtues of the heart, and exhibit all these in their full splendour within the short space of a life which did not extend to two-and thirty complete years, must be deemed the just wonder, not only of his own, but of every age.
Memorials of Sir Philip Sydney may be found in most of our Biographical collections. A short life of him was written by his friend Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke; Arthur Collins, in the Memoirs of the family prefixed to the Sydney Letters, has with great diligence and accuracy brought together a minute account of this great ornament of chivalry; and Dr. Zouch, the amiable editor of Walton's Lives, has added to the graces of a lettered old age "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sydney," printed at York in one vol. 4to. 1808. As the public therefore has been so lately gratified with the leading particulars of this subject, it will be the less necessary, and even less proper to repeat many facts, while indulgence may be allowed to a few remarks naturally springing from so delightful and fertile an object of contemplation.
Sir Philip Sydney was born at the noble family mansion at Penshurst in West Kent, on Nov. 29, 1554. His father was the famous Sir Henry Sydney, the able Lord President of Wales and Lord Deputy of Ireland, of whom an ample account may be found in the fourth vol. of the lately reprinted edition of Holinshead's Chronicles. His mother was the daughter of the powerful John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, too well known in the annals of K. Edw. VI. Sir William Sydney, the grandfather, was Tutor, Chamberlain, and Steward of the Household to K. Edw. VI. from the time of his birth to his coronation; and was son of Nicholas Sydney by Anne daughter to Sir William Brandon, and aunt to Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk.
He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he continued till he was seventeen years of age. He then obtained from Q. Elizabeth a license dated May 25, 1572, to travel abroad for two years, to obtain the knowledge of foreign languages. In these travels, Lord Brooke relates, that though so young he gained reverence among the chief learned men abroad And K. Charles IX. of France was so taken with his deportment and extraordinary merits, that he made him one of the Gentlemen of his Chamber. Dr. Zouch however remarks, that this has been considered as an insidious artifice to conceal the design, then formed, of destroying the Protestants; for he had not held his office a fortnight, when he had to behold the dreadful massacre of the Huguenots, which filled all Europe with horror. He himself escaped by being in the house of Sir Francis Walsingham, the Ambassador.
From Paris he travelled through Lorrain, and by Strasburgh and Heidelburgh to Frankfort. At the last place he became acquainted with the famous Hubert Languet, Minister of the Elector of Saxony, who was so taken with his behaviour and deportment, that Lord Brooke says, "he quitted his several functions, and became a nurse of knowledge to this hopeful young gentleman; and without any other hire or motive, than their sympathy of affections, he accompanied him in the hole course of his three years travel."
In 1573, he removed to Vienna, where he stayed till September, and then went into Hungary, and from thence into Italy, where he continued all the winter. Most of the summer, 1574, he spent in Germany; and the next spring he returned by Frankfort, Heidelburg, and Antwerp, home to England, where he arrived about May 1575.
In 1576, when not much more than one and twenty years of age, he was sent by the Queen to the Emperor Rodolph, to condole with him on the death of Maximilian, in which high employment he gained great credit. The next year, on his return to England, he had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with Don John of Austria, and William Prince of Orange.
In 1579 he opposed the Queen's marriage with the Duke of Anjou. "In this freedom," says Lord Brooke, "even while the greatest spirits and estates seemed hoodwinked or blind, and the inferior sort of men made captive by Hope, Fear, or Ignorance, did he enjoy the freedom of his thoughts with all recreations worthy of him."
His mighty spirit and warm temper jealous of his honour, on which he could not bear the least intrenchment, was particularly exhibited at this time in a quarrel with Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, himself a man of genius and a poet but of an equivocal moral character. There are two reasons why I shall give this story at length in this place, and in the very words of Collins. It not only illustrates Sir Philip's noble feelings of fortitude and independence, but it brings into full view another Elizabethan author, and a considerable contributor to The Paradise of Dainty Devises. It also proves the disgusting heighth to which the claims of aristocratical privileges were at that time carried, and even supported by the sovereign. It must appear astonishing to the present day, that an Earl of Oxford himself should thus presume to treat a man of the birth and qualities of Sir Philip Sydney!
"In this freedom of heart," says Collins, "being one day at tennis, Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, a peer, born great, and greater by alliance (having married a daughter of the great Cecil) and superlative in the Queen's favour, abruptly came into the tennis court, and forgot to entreat that, which he could not legally command. And finding this unrespectiveness in himself (though a great Lord) not respected by Sir Philip Sidney, he grew to expostulate more roughly. The returns of which still coming to a heart, that understood what was due to itself, and what it owed to others, seemed through the mists of my Lord's passions, swoln with the wind of his faction then reigning, to provoke in yielding. Whereby the less amazement, or confusion of thoughts, he stirred up in Sir Philip Sidney, the more shadows this great Lord's own mind was possessed with, till at last with rage (which is ever ill disciplined) he commands them to depart the court. To this Sir Philip coolly answers his Lordship, that had he expressed desire, in milder characters, perchance he might have led out those that he should now find, would not be driven out with any scourge of fury. This answer (like a bellows) blowing up the sparks, of already kindled anger, made my Lord scornfully call Sir Philip by the name of 'puppy.' In which progress of heat, as the tempest grew more and more vehement within, so did their hearts breathe out their perturbation in a more loud and shrill accent. The French Commissioners had that day audience in those private galleries, whose windows look into the tennis court. They all instantly drew to this tumult, every sort of quarrels sorting well with their humour, but especially this; which Sir Philip perceiving, and rising with inward strength, by the prospect of a mighty faction against him, asked my Lord with a loud voice, that which he heard clearly enough before. Who like an echo (that still multiplies by reflections) repeated this epithet of 'puppy' the second time. Sir Philip resolving, in one answer to conclude both the attentive hearers and passionate actor, gave my Lord the lye, impossible as he averred to be retorted, in respect, all the world knows, 'puppys are gotten by dogs, and children by men.' Hereupon those glorious inequalities of fortune in his Lordship, were put to a kind of pause, by a precious inequality of nature in this gentleman. So that they both stood silent a while, like a dumb shew in a tragedy: till Sir Philip sensible of his own wrong, and the foreign and factious spirits that attended, and yet even in this question between him and his superior, tender of his country's honour; with some words of sharp accent he led the way abruptly out of the tennis court; as if so unexpected an accident were not fit to be decided further in that place. Whereof the great Lord, construing it in a wrong sense, continues his play, without any advantage of reputation; as by the standard of humours in those times it was conceived.
"A day Sir Philip remains in suspense, when hearing nothing of, or from this Lord, he sends a gentleman of worth to awake him out of his trance: this stirred up a resolution in his Lordship to send Sir Philip a challenge. But these thoughts in the great Lord wandered so long between glory, anger, and inequality of state, as the Lords of her Majesty's Councel took notice of the differences, commanded peace, and laboured a reconciliation between them. Yet needlessly in one respect, and bootlessly in another. The great Lord being, as it should seem, either not hasty to adventure many inequalities against one, or inwardly satisfied with the progress of his own acts. But Sir Philip was on the other side confident, that he neither had, nor would lose, or let fall any thing of his right; which her Majesty's council quickly perceiving, recommended this work to herself.
"The queen, who saw that by the loss or disgrace of either she would gain nothing, presently undertakes Sir Philip, and lays before him the difference in degree between earls and gentlemen; the respect inferiors owed to their superiors; and the necessity in princes to maintain their own creations, as degrees descending between the people's licentiousness and the anointed sovereignty of crowns; how the gentleman's neglect of the nobility taught the peasant to insult upon both. Whereunto Sir Philip, with such reverence as became him, replied: first, that place was never intended for privilege to wrong, witness herself, who, how sovereign soever she were, by throne, birth, education, and nature; yet was she content to cast her own affections into the same mould her subjects did, and govern all her rights by the laws. Again he besought her Majesty to consider, That, although he were a great Lord by birth, alliance, and grace, yet he was no Lord over him; and therefore the difference of degrees between free men, could not challenge any other homage than precedency. And by her father's acts (to make a princely wisdom become the more familiar) he instanced the government of King Henry the Eighth, who gave the gentry free and safe appeal to his feet against the oppression of the grandees; and found it wisdom by the stronger corporation in number to keep down the greater in power: inferring else, that if they should unite, the overgrown might be tempted by still coveting more, to fall, as the angels did, by affecting equality with their Maker. These truths did not displease the Queen, though he did not obey her commands.
"Whereupon the same year he retired from court, and in that summer, 1580, it is conceived be wrote the eloquent and entertaining romance called ARCADIA, whereof there have been printed fourteen editions; which he dedicated to his sister the Countess of Pembroke; and there is a room at Wilton, the lower pannels whereof are finely painted with representations of the stories mentioned therein."
Notwithstanding this quarrel with Lord Oxford, he appears, either immediately afterwards, or about this time, to have been engaged on the same side with him in a public exhibition of heroism. For Sir Wm. Seagar records, that in 1580 a challenge to a Tournament having been brought before her Majesty by the Earl of Arundel and his assistant Sir Wm. Drury, against all Comers, the Defenders were the Earl of Oxford, the Lord Windsor, Sir Philip Sydney, and others; and the prize was given by her Majesty to the Earl of Oxford.
About this time Sir Philip represented the County of Kent in parliament, and took an active part in the business of the House.
In 1581 he attended, with his uncle the Earl of Leicester and others, the Duke of Anjou to Antwerp on his departure from England. And Jan. 13, 1583, was knighted as proxy to John, Prince Palatine of the Rhine, then invested with the Order of the Garter.
In 1583 he married Frances only child of the famous statesman, Sir Francis Walsingham, who in her widowhood remarried, 1st, the celebrated Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, and afterwards Richard de Burgh, 4th Earl of Clanrickard, who in 1628 was created an English Peer by the title of Earl of St. Albans, and died in 1635.
In 1585 he projected an expedition to America, in association with Sir Francis Drake; but the Queen having discovered his intentions would not suffer him to engage in a scheme so remote and hazardous.
To alleviate this disappointment, his Sovereign instantly on his return to court, made him "Lord Governor of Flushing with the Rammekyns, &c. and General of the Horse under his uncle the Earl of Leicester." The patent of this appointment was dated Nov. 7, 1585. On the 18th of the same month Sir Philip arrived at Flushing. In July of the following year he shewed great skill in contriving the surprize of Axel. About the same time he lost his father, who died at the Bishop's Palace at Worcester, May , and was buried at Penshurst June 25 following, having been twenty-six years Lord President of Wales. His mother did not survive her husband more than three months.
On the 26th of September of the same year (1586) in stopping a convoy of the enemy, under the guard of 300 cavalry, which was making its way to Zutphen, a desperate engagement took place, in which this illustrious hero was so wounded, as after a short period of excruciating pain, which he bore with inimitable fortitude, to occasion his death.
The following anecdote, though perhaps better known than any other in the biography of England, must not be omitted. "As he was returning from the field of battle, 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 — with these ever memorable words 'Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.'
He lingered till the 17th day of October, when he expired in the arms of Mr. Wm. Temple, not having completed his thirty-second year, to the regret of all Europe. His death caused a general mourning in England, supposed to be the first instance of the kind in the case of a private person. "No gentleman for many months appearing in a gay or gaudy dress, either in the court or city."
Three volumes of verses on his death in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Italian, were published by the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
I cite the following Epigram on him from Holland's Heroologia, Vol. 1. p. 72, and Blount's Censura, 584.
Quod sit ab antiquo tantum cantatus Homero,
Felicem Macedo Rex vocat Aeacidem.
O me infelicem! quia tu, Divine Philippe,
Felix carminibus non potes esse meis.
Qui scribenda facit scribitve legenda beatus
Ille; beatior es tu, quod utrumque facis.
Diana legi scribis, facis et dignissima scribi;
Scripta probant doctum te; tua facta, probum.
Justus Lipsius in Epistol. praefix. Dialog. de Rect. Pronunciatione Lat. Linguae, speaks of him in the following terms of high panegyric.
"Corporis tui bona intueor? ad robur pariter factus es, et ad decorem. Animi? cultissimus ille; et uberrimae in te ingenii judiciique dotes. Externa? stirpe nobilissimus es, opibus splendidissimus: Nec quidquam facile tibi deest, quod Naturae aut Fortunce adest. Macte his dotibus! eo magis, quod non ad arobitionem, ut pleraque ista nobilitas, aut ad pompam abuteris: sed confers eas, qua potes ad tuam et publicam salutem: Idque domi et foris, toga et sago: cum vegeta illa animi vis ad omnia sufficiat: et Marti ita lites, ut Sacrum nunquam deseras Sophiae et Musarum. Sed libo hoc laudum tuarum limen, non penetro. Quia ut sacratum silentio potius, quam plausu spectamus: sic tuas ego virtutes quas veneror, non exsequor, adoro paene dixerim, non adorno. Tu tantum, O Britanniae tuae clarum sidus, (cui certatim lucem affundunt Virtus, Musa, Gratia, Fortuna) tenuem obscurumque hunc laborem a me libens accipe, et paulisper instar doni pendere patere in Famae templo."
Hubert Languet in Epist. 72, has these words.
"Natura te maximis animi et corporis dotibus ornavit: Fortuna vero nobilitate et opibus ac splendidis necessitudinibus: Tu autem a prima pueritia animum magno studio excoluisti iis, artibus, quae contendentibus ad virtutem magno adjumento esse solent."
"I feel the death of Sydney deeply," says his friend Du Plessis, to Sir Francis Walsingham, "both on your account and my own; I bewail his loss and regret him, not for England only, but for all Christendom," &c.
"The learned of Europe," says Lord Orford, "dedicated their works to him; the Republic of Poland thought him at least worthy to be in nomination for their crown!" And yet this noble critic cannot find out what prodigious merits excited such admiration! Could all the nations of Europe then, who beheld him living, and witnessed the splendid assemblage of his virtues, concur in yielding to a delusion? Could after-ages promote the mistake by continuing to ratify his praises? To give a colour for the remark, which must rather have been prompted by a love of singularity than the unbiassed conviction of his mind, Lord O. speaks as if Sir Philip's writings alone were considered as the basis of his fame. Does he wish us to forget him as a man of romantic gallantry, a general, a statesman, a courtier, a man of manners exquisitely refined, of a heart of the purest virtue and the nicest sensibility, and actuated by the most sublime principles of religion? Does he wish us to forget that Sir Philip attracted the notice and won the favour of all the greatest princes of his time; and the friendship of most of those eminent for their genius or learning, to many of whom he became a patron as munificent as he was a companion beloved?
It seems an idle sort of scrupulosity to reject the testimony of opinions upon characters recorded in the history of past ages, even though most of the facts on which those opinions were built should have perished in the wreck of Time. If Lord O. had chosen to confine his censure to Sir Philip's literary remains, they would have formed a fair subject of criticism, because they still existed in full exposure to him. In answer to the weak cavil on his heroism, it has been long ago remarked, that to be a hero among heroes must surely deserve higher praise, than to be so among those whose gallantry has been less distinguished.
To my humble mind, which, perhaps from its weakness, is liable to be dazzled in degrees so very different from that of Lord Orford, the various powers of head, heart, and body, which Sir Philip possessed in perfection, and all of which he kept in full exercise, must form a subject of unabated and inexpressible astonishment! And how in the little space of two-and-thirty fleeting years he could find leisure to cultivate so many opposite accomplishments must ever, I conceive, raise rational wonder in every generous contemplator of former years!
We now come to Sir Philip's writings. Lord Orford seems to consider the best proof of his talents to appear in his Answer to the scandalous libel on his uncle, entitled Leicester's Commonwealth, originally entitled, A Dialogue between a Scholar, a Gentleman and a Lawyer, 1585, 8vo. and from the colour of its leaves, then usually called Father Parsons's Green Coat. Lord Orford remarks, that "what was said in derogation of their blood seems to have touched Sir Philip most." It is certainly true, that that subject forms a large portion of the answer; and is written with great ability and force. I shall venture to pronounce it decisive on the point; though such are the prejudices of the world, so fond are the generality of mankind of listening to tales derogatory to the preeminence of others, and so difficult is it to wipe out the stain of the most unfounded scandal, that the lie continued for ages to prevail; and even that profound genealogist Sir William Dugdale fell into the error in his early work, the History of Warwickshire, though he afterwards abandoned his error (silently indeed, which was not quite candid) in his Baronage. It was pretended that the Duke of Northumberland's father Edmund was not son of John Dudley, a younger son of John Sutton, Lord Dudley; but of one John Dudley, a Sussex mechanic.
"Perchawnce" (the writer) "will seem to dout" says Sir Philip, "for what will he not doubt, who will affirm that, which beyond all dout is fals, whether my great grandfather Edmond Dudley, were of the Lord Dudleis hows, or no. Certainly, he might, in conscience and good manners, if so he did doubt, have made som distinction between the two Howses, and not in all places have made so contemtible mention of that name of Dudlei, which is born by an other Peer of the Realm; and even of charity sake he should have bestowed som Father uppon Edmond Dudiei, & not leave him not only ungentled but fatherles. A railing Wryter extant, against Octavius Augustus, saith, his grandfather was a silversmith; an other Italian, against Hu Capet, though with most absurd falshod, saith his father was a butcher. Of dyvers of the best Howses of England, there have been such foolish dreames, that one was a ferrers son, an other a shoomakers, an other a milners, an other a fidlers; foolish lyes, & by any that ever tasted of antiquities, known to be so. Yet those Howses had luk to meet with honester railers, for they were not left fatherles clean, thei descended from some boddi; but we, as if we wear of Deucalion's brood, wear made out of stones, have left us no awncestors from whence we are come: but alas, good Railer, you saw the prooves wear cleer, & therefore for honesty sake, wear contented to omitt them; for if either their had been difference of name or difference of armes between them; or, if though in name & armes thei agreed, yet if their had been many descents faln since, the seperating of those branches, (as we see in many ancient Howses, it so falls out, as thei are uncertain whether came out of other) then, I say yet, a valliant railer mai venture uppon a thing, where, becaws there is not an absolute certainti, there mai be som possibiliti to escape; but in this case, where not oneli name & armes, with oneli that difference which acknowledgeth our House to be of the yonger brother, but such neereness of blood, as that Edmond Dudleis was no furdre of then son to the yonger brother of the same lord Dudiei, & so as he was to be Lord Dudlei, if the Lord Dudiei had died without heires; & by the Jermen & Italien manner, himself was also to have been called Lord Dudlei; that his father being called John Dudlei, married to the daughter & heir of Bramshot, in Sussex; twas the oneli descent between him & the Lord Dudlei, who was his grandfather; his great grandfather beeing that noble Lord Dudlei, whome before I mentioned, & no man need doubt that this wryter doth not only know the trewthe hereof, but the proofes of this trewth. This John, Edmondes father, being buried at Arundell Castle, who married Bramshot, & left that land to Edmond, & so to the Duke in Sussex, which, after the Duke sold, by confiscation came to the crown. This tomb any man at Arundel Castell mai see. This Bramshot land I name, a thing not in the air, but which any man, by the ordinari course of those thinges, mai soone know whether such land did not succeed unto Edmond from his father. So as where is this enheritance of land, & monumentes in churches, & the persons themselves little more then in man's memory; truly this libeller deserves many thankes, that, with his impudent falshood, hath given occasion to set down so manifest a truth."
It does not appear that any of Sir Philip's works were published in his life time.
The "ARCADIA," supposed to have been written in 1580, was first printed by Wm. Ponsonbie, 1590, 4to. Again, 1593, Fol. A third time, 1598, Fol.
"ASTROPHILL AND STELLA, wherein the excellence of sweet poesie is concluded. To the end of which are added sundry other rare Sonnetes of divers noblemen and gentlemen," printed for T. Newman, 1591, 4to. This was annexed to the second edition of The Arcadia, 1593, and to all subsequent editions.
The "DEFENCE OF POESY" first appeared in 4to. 1595, and was annexed to the third edition of The Arcadia, 1598. It was reprinted by Warton, 1787.
Several of his "SONETS" appeared in "Constable's Diana," 1594, and were afterwards annexed to The Arcadia.
The "Arcadia" is called by Lord Orford "a tedious, lamentable, pedantic pastoral romance." Had this honourable critic exercised his candour instead of his love of censure, and looked for beauties instead of faults, he might have found an abundant harvest in this work. Its tediousness to a modern reader arises in a great measure not from the fault of the writer, but from the vast change of manners since it has ceased to keep up the attention. I am afraid that most readers would think Spenser himself tedious, were they condemned to read the Fairy Queen regularly through! And how few other productions of that day are there, enriched by the same extent of observation, the same variety and delicacy of sentiment, and the same purity and copiousness of style?
I take the following character at random, from the second book, as a specimen.
"This man, called Pamphilus, in birth I must confess, is noble; (but what is that to him, if it shall be a stain to his dead ancestors to have left such an offspring?) in shape, as you see, not uncomely, (indeed the fit mask of his disguised falsehood;) in conversation wittily pleasant, and pleasantly gamesome; his eyes full of merry simplicity; his words of hearty companionableness; and such a one whose head one would not think so stayed, as to think mischievously; delighted in all such things, which by imparting the delight to others, makes the user thereof welcome; as music, dancing, hunting, feasting, riding, and such like. And to conclude, such a one as who can keep him at arms end, need never wish a better companion. But under these qualities lies such a poisonous adder, as I will tell you. For by those gifts of nature and fortune, (being in all places acceptable) he creeps, nay to say truly he flies so into the favour of poor silly women, that I would be too much ashamed to confess, if I had not revenge in my hand, as well as shame in my cheeks. For his heart being wholly delighted in deceiving us, we could never be warned, but rather one bird caught, served for a stale to bring in more. For the more he gat, the more still he shewed, that he as it were gave away to his new mistress, when he betrayed his promises to the former. The cunning of his flattery, the readiness of his tears, the infiniteness of his vows were but among the weakest threads of his net. But the stirring our own passions, and by the entrance of them, to make himself Lord of our forces; there lay his master's part of cunning, making us now jealous, now envious, now proud of what we had, desirous of more; now giving one the triumph, to see him that was prince of many, subject to her; now with an estranged look, making her fear the loss of that mind, which indeed could never be; never ceasing humbleness and diligence, till he had embarked us in some such disadvantage, as we could not return dry-shod, and then suddenly a tyrant, but a crafty tyrant. For so would he use his imperiousness that we had a delightful fear and an awe, which made us loth to lose our hope. And, which is strangest (where sometimes with late repentance I think of it) I must confess, even in the greatest tempest of my judgment I was never driven to think him excellent, and yet so could set my mind both to get and keep him, as though therein had lain my felicity; like them, I have seen play at the ball, grow extremely earnest who should have the ball, and yet every one knew it was but a ball. But in end, the bitter sauce of the sport was, that we had either our hearts broken with sorrow, or our estates spoiled with being at his direction, or our honours for ever lost, partly by our own faults, but principally by his faulty using of our faults; for never was there man that could with more scornful eyes behold her, at whose feet he had lately lain, nor with a more unmanlike bravery use his tongue to her disgrace, which lately had sung sonnets of her praises; being so naturally inconstant, as I marvel his soul finds not some way to kill his body, whereto it had been so long united. For so hath he dealt with us (unhappy fools) as we could never tell, whether he made greater haste after he once liked to enjoy, or after he once enjoyed to forsake. But making a glory of his own shame, it delighted him to be challenged of unkindness; it was a triumph unto him to have his mercy called for; and he thought the fresh colours of his beauty were painted in nothing so well, as in the ruins of his lovers; yet so far had we engaged ourselves (unfortunate souls) that we listed not complain, since our complaints could not but carry the greatest accusation to ourselves. But every of us (each for her self) laboured all means to recover him, while he rather daily sent us companions of our deceit, than ever returned in any sound and faithful manner. Till at length he concluded all his wrongs with betrothing himself to one (I must confess) worthy to be liked, if any unworthiness might excuse so unworthy a changeableness; leaving us nothing but remorse for what was past, and despair of what might follow: then indeed the common injury made us all join in fellowship, who till that time, had employed our endeavours one against the other. For we thought nothing was a more condemning of us, than the justifying of his love to her by marriage; there despair made fear valiant, and revenge gave shame countenance; whereupon we (that you saw here) devised how to get him among us alone; which he suspecting no such matter of them whom he had by often such abuses, he thought, made tame to be still abused) easily gave us opportunity to do."
In the Annual Review, VII. p. 324, under the account of Dr. Zouch's book, is a very able defence of Sir Philip. "No man, who had read this romance," observes the critic, "would call it pastoral. It is an heroic romance with pastoral interludes; but not pedantic; not tedious, not lamentable. Never was there a story in which the light and shade were more happily blended and proportioned; nor one which more delightfully excited interest, or more irresistibly maintained it. The fable is wound up with such consummate skill, the events follow so naturally, and vet the issue is so well concealed, that the suspense of the reader almost amounts to pain. They who admire Shakspeare, and despise the Arcadia, admire they know not what, and only because such admiration is the fashion" — "There is nothing wearying except the Interludes. They indeed come in like bad music between the acts of Macbeth; but as little do they spoil the piece."
The Arcadia is filled everywhere with poetry, in which there are many pieces of great merit; and the whole are proofs of great talent, though sometimes misapplied.
I commence with the following extract, as short.
Get hence, foul Grief, the canker of the mind!
Farewell Complaint, the Miser's only pleasure!
Away, vain Cares, by which few men do find
Their sought-for treasure!
Ye helpless sighs, blow out your breath to nought!
Tears, drown yourselves, for woe (your cause) is wasted!
Thought, think to end; too long the fruit of thought
My mind hath tasted!
But thou, sure Hope, tickle my leaping heart!
Comfort, step thou in place of wonted sadness!
Forefelt Desire, begin to savour parts
Of coming gladness!
Let voice of sighs into clear music run!
Eyes, let your tears with gazing now be mended!
Instead of thought, true pleasure be begun,
And never ended!"
Why dost thou haste away,
O Titan fair, the giver of the day?
Is it to carry news
To Western wights, what stars in east appear?
Or dost thou think that here
Is left a Sun, whose beams thy place may use?
Yet stay, and well peruse
What be her gifts, that make her equal thee?
Bend all thy light to see
In earthly clothes enclos'd a heavenly spark.
Thy running course cannot such beauties mark
No, No, thy motions be
Hasten'd from us with bar of shadow dark,
Because that thou the author of our sight
Disdainst we see thee stain'd with other's light.
Sir Philip, as appears from a passage in one of Languet's Letters to him, was naturally melancholy: "Cum es natura minus hilaris," says he, "quaerendi sunt tibi sodales, quorum honesta consuetudine exhilareris." But is not this melancholy almost always, if not constantly, the attendant of high genius? It is not necessary here to enter into the causes which produce this characteristic; but perhaps the acute feelings, without which genius cannot exit, are alone sufficient to account for it. The perpetual chills which that noble flame of ambition encounters in a coarse world; the murmurs of that solitude, which is the only field for the expanded thoughts it loves, must necessarily cherish the propensity.
I select the following poem on Solitude, because it is in coincidence with these ideas, and appears to me forcibly expressed, though the attempt to adapt the English language to Latin metres, which has been much censured, may offend the English reader. It is an endeavour to imitate Asclepiadiacs.
O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness!
O how much do I like your solitariness!
Where man's mind hath a freed consideration
Of goodness to receive lovely direction.
Where senses do behold th' order of heav'nly host,
And wise thoughts do behold what the Creator is:
Contemplation here holdeth his only seat:
Bounded with no limits, borne with a wing of hope,
Climbs, even unto the stars; Nature is under it.
Nought disturbs thy quiet, all to thy service yields;
Each sight draws on a thought, thought mother of Science:
Sweet birds kindly do grant harmony unto thee;
Fair trees shade is enough fortification,
Nor danger to thyself if be not in thyself.
O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness!
O how much I do like your solitariness!
Here nor treason is hid, veiled in innocence,
Nor Envy's snaky ere finds any harbour here,
Nor Flatterer's venomous insinuations,
Nor coming Humourists puddled opinions,
Nor courteous ruin of proffered usury;
Nor time prattled away, cradle of ignorance,
Nor causeless duty, nor comber of arrogance,
Nor trifling title of Vanity dazzleth us,
Nor golden manacles stand for a Paradise.
Here Wrong's name is unheard: Slander a monster is;
Keep thy sprite from abuse; here no abuse doth haunt.
What man grafts in a tree dissimulation?
O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness!
O how well do I like your solitariness!
Yet, dear soil, if a soul clos'd in a mansion
As sweet as violets, fair as a lily is,
Strait as cedar, a voice stains the Canary birds,
Whose shade safely doth hold; danger avoideth her:
Such wisdom that in her lives speculation:
Such goodness, that in her simplicity triumphs:
Where Envy's snaky eye winketh, or else dieth;
Slander wants a pretext; Flattery gone beyond:
O, if such a one have bent to a lonely life,
Her steps glad we receive, glad we receive her eyes,
And think not she doth hurt our solitariness;
For such company decks such solitariness."
Because I oft in dark abstracted guise
Seem most alone in greatest company,
With dearth of words, or answers quite awry
To them that would make speech of speech arise,
They deem, and of their doom the rumour flies,
That poison foul of bubbling pride doth lie:
So in my swelling breast that only I
Fawn on me self, and others do despise:
Yet pride I think doth not my soul possess,
Which looks too oft in his unflattering glass:
But one worse fault, Ambition, I contess,
That makes me oft my best friends overpass,
Unseen, unheard, while thought to highest place
Bends all his powers, even unto Stella's grace.
Having this day my horse, my hand, my lance
Guided so well that I obtain'd the prize,
Both by the judgement of the English eyes,
And of some sent from that sweet enemy France:
Horsemen my skill in horsemanship advance;
Town-folks my strength; a daintier judge applies
His praise to sleight, which from good use doth rise;
Some lucky wits impute it but to chance:
Others, because of both sides I do take
My blood from them, who did excell in this,
Think Nature me a man of Arms did make.
How far they shot awry the true cause is,
Stella look'd on; and from her heavenly face
Sent forth the beams, which made so fair my race.
What have I thus betray'd my liberty?
Can those black beams such burning marks engrave
In my free side? Or am I born a slave,
Whose neck becomes such yoke of tyranny?
Or want I sense to feel my misery?
Or sprite, disdain of such disdain to have?
Who for long faith, tho' daily help I crave,
May get no alms but scorn of beggary!
Virtue awake; Beauty but beauty is;
I may, I must, I can, I will, I do
Leave following that which it is gain to miss.
Let her do: soft, but here she comes, go to;
Unkind, I love you not: O me, that eye
Doth make my heart give to my tongue the lie.
In martial sports I had my cunning fried,
And yet to break more staves did me address:
While with the people's shouts, I must confess,
Youth, luck, and praise, e'en flll'd my veins with pride.
When Cupid having me his slave descried
In Mars's livery, prancing in the press;
What now, Sir Fool, said he, I would no less;
Look here, I say. — I Iook'd and Stella spied,
Who hard by made a window send forth light.
My heart then quak'd; then dazzled were mine eyes;
One hand forgat to rule; th' other to fight.
Nor trumpets sound I heard, nor friendly cries;
My foe came on, and beat the air for me,
Till that her blush taught me my shame to see.
Stella, think not, that I by verse seek fame,
Who seek, who hope, who love, who live but thee;
Thine eyes my pride, thy lips mine history:
If thou praise not, all other praise is shame.
Nor so ambitious am I, as to frame
A nest for my young praise in laurel-tree:
In truth, I swear I wish not there should be
Grav'd in mine epitaph a Poet's name:
Ne, if I would, I could just title make,
That any 'and to me thereof should grow,
Without my plumes from others wings I take.
For nothing from my wit or will doth flow,
Since all my words thy beauty doth endite,
And Love doth hold my hand, and makes me write.
When far-spent Night persuades each mortal eye,
To whom nor art nor nature granteth light,
To lay his then mark wanting shafts of sight,
Clos'd with their quivers in sleep's armory;
With windows ope, then most my mind doth lie,
Viewing the shape of darkness and delight;
Takes in that sad hue, which with th' inward night
Of his maz'd powers keeps perfect harmony:
But when birds charm, and that sweet air, which is
Morn's messenger, with rose-enamel'd skies
Calls each wight to salute the flower of bliss;
In tomb of lids then buried are mine eyes,
Forc'd by their Lord, who is asham'd to find
Such light in sense, with such a darken'd mind.
O happy Thames, that didst my Stella bear,
I saw thyself, with many a smiling line
Upon thy chearful face, joy's livery wear:
While those fair planets on thy streams did shine.
The boat for joy could not to dance forbear:
While wanton winds with beauties so divine
Ravish'd, staid not, till in her golden hair
They did themselves, O sweetest prison, twine.
And fain those Aeols youth there would their stay
Have made, but forc'd by Nature still to fly,
First did with puffing kiss those locks display.
She, so dishevel'd, blush'd; — from window I
With sight thereof cried out; O fair disgrace,
Let Honour self to thee grant highest place.
In a grove most rich of shade,
Where birds wanton music made,
May then young, his pied weeds shewing,
New perfum'd with flowers fresh growing,
Astrophel with Stella sweet
Did for mutual comfort meet,
Both within themselves oppressed,
But each in the other blessed.
Him great harms had taught much care;
Her fair neck a foul yoke bare;
But her sight his cares did banish;
In his sight her yoke did vanish.
Wept they had; alas, the while;
But now tears themselves did smile,
While their eyes by love directed
Sigh they did, but now betwixt
Sighs of woe were glad sighs mixt,
With arms cross'd yet testifying
Restless rest, and living dying.
Their ears hungry of each word,
Which the dear tongue would afford,
But their tongue restrain'd from walking,
Till their hearts had ended talking.
But when their tongues could not speak,
Love itself did silence break;
Love did set his lips asunder,
Thus to speak in love and wonder:
Stella, Sovereign of my joy,
Fair triumpher of annoy,
Stella, star of heavenly fire,
Stella, loadstar of desire.
Stella, in whose shining eyes
Are the lights of Cupid's skies,
Whose beams, where they once are darted,
Love therewith is strait imparted.
Stella, whose voice, when it speaks,
Senses all asunder breaks;
Stella, whose voice, when it singeth,
Angels to acquaintance bringeth.
Stella, in whose body is
Writ each character of bliss,
Whose face all, all beauty passeth,
Save thy mind, which yet surpasseth.
Grant, O grant; but speech, alas,
Fails me, fearing on to pass,
Grant, O me, what am I saying?
But no fault there is in praying.
Grant, O dear, on knees I pray,
(Knees on ground he then did stay)
That not I, but since I love you,
Time and place for me may move you.
Never season was more fit,
Never room more apt for it;
Smiling air allows my reason;
These birds sing; row use the season.
This small wind, which so sweet is,
See how it the leaves doth kiss,
Each tree in his best attiring,
Sense of love to love inspiring.
Love makes earth the water drink,
Love to earth makes water sink;
And if dumb things be so witty,
Shall a heavenly grace want pity?
There his hands in their speech fain
Would have made tongue's language plain;
But her hands his hands repelling,
Gave repulse all grace excelling.
Then she spake; her speech was such,
As not ears but heart did touch;
While such wise she love denied,
As yet love she signified.
Astrophel, said she, my love,
Cease in these effects to prove:
Now be still; yet still believe me;
Thy grief more than death would grieve me.
If that any thought in me
Can taste comfort but of thee,
Let me, fed with hellish anguish.
Joyless, hopeless, endless languish.
If those eyes you praised, be
Half so dear as you to me,
Let me home return, stark blinded
Of those eyes and blinder minded.
If to secret of my heart
I do any wish impart,
Where thou art not foremost placed,
Be both wish and I defaced.
If more may be said, I say,
All my bliss in thee I lay;
If thou love, my love content thee,
For all love, all faith is meant thee.
Trust me, while I thee deny,
In myself the smart I try;
Tyrant Honour doth thus use thee,
Stella's self might not refuse thee.
Therefore, Dear, this no more move,
Lest, though I leave not thy love,
Which too deep in me is framed,
I should blush, when thou art named.
Therewithal away she went,
Leaving him to passion rent,
With what she had done and spoken,
That therewith my song is broken.
Go, my flock, go, get you hence,
Seek a better place of feeding,
Where you may have some defence
Fro' the storms in my breast breeding,
And showers from mine eyes proceeding.
Leave a wretch in whom all woe
Can abide to keep no measure;
Merry flock, such one forego,
Unto whom mirth is displeasure
Only rich in mischief's treasure.
Yet, alas, before you go,
Hear your woeful master's story,
Which to stones I else would show:
Sorrow only then hath glory,
When 'tis excellently sorry.
Stella, fiercest shepherdess,
Fiercest, but yet fairest ever;
Stella, (whom O heavens do bless,
Tho' against rue she persever,
Tho' I bliss inherit never,)
Stella hath refused me,
Stella, who more love hath proved
In this caitiff heart to be,
Than can in good ewes be moved
Towards lambkins best beloved.
Stella hath refused me,
Astrophel, that so well served
In this pleasant spring must see,
While in pride flowers be preserved,
Himself only winter-sterved.
Why, alas, doth she then swear,
That she loveth me so dearly,
Seeing me so long to bear
Coals of love, that burn so clearly;
And yet leave me helpless merely?
Is that love? Forsooth I trow,
If I saw my good dog grieved,
And a help for him did know,
My love should not be, believed,
But he were by me relieved.
No; she hates me, well away,
Feigning love, somewhat to please me:
For she knows, if she display
All her hate, death soon would sieze me,
And of hideous torments ease me.
Then adieu, dear flock, adieu:
But alas, if in your straying
Heavenly Stella meet with you,
Tell her in your piteous blaying,
Her poor slave's unjust decaying.
"Anacreontics. From the Arcadia."
My Muse, what ails this ardour
To blase m only secrets?
Alas, it is no glory
To sing my own decay'd state!
Alas, it is no comfort
To speak without an answer.
Alas, it is no wisdom
To shew the wound without cure.
My Muse, what ails this ardour?
Mine eyes be dim, my limbs shake;
My voice is hoarse, my throat scorch'd;
My tongue to this my roof cleaves;
My fancy amaz'd, my thought dull'd,
My heart doth ach, my life faints,
My soul begins to take leave.
So great a passion all feel
To think a sore so deadly
I should so rashly rip up.
My Muse, what ails this ardour?
If that to sing thou art bent
Go sing the fall of Old Thebes,
The wars of ugly Centaurs,
The life, the death of Hector;
So may the song be famous,
Or if to love thou art bent,
Recount the rape of Europe,
Adonis' end, Venus' net;
The sleepy kiss the Moon stale:
So may thy song be pleasant.
My Muse, what ails this ardour,
To blase my only secrets?
Wherein do only flourish
The sorry fruits of anguish.
The song thereof a last will,
The tunes be cries; the words plaints;
The singer is the song's theme,
Wherein no ear can have joy,
Nor eye receive due object,
Ne pleasure here, ne fame get.
My Muse, what ails this ardour?
Alas, she saith, I am thine;
So are thy pains, my pains too.
Thy heated heart my seat is,
Wherein I burn, thy breath is
My voice, too hot to keep in;
Besides lo here the author
Of all thy harms: lo, here she,
That only can redress thee;
Of her will I demand help.
My Muse, I yield, my Muse sing,
But all thy gong herein knit,
The life we lead is all love:
The love we hold is all death;
Nor ought I crave to feed life,
Nor ought I seek to shun death;
But only that my Goddess
My life my death do count hers.
As the present article has already run to too great a length, and as the portrait intended to accompany it, has been delayed, I shall reserve the conclusion of it for another Number.
Aug. 27, 1809.
Though there are many who deem the attempted distinction between great talents and genius to be a fanciful refinement, I cannot but consider Sir Philip Sydney with all his wonderful assemblage of excellencies to have possessed more of the former than of the latter. In poetry, praise-worthy as he was, he was far inferior to his countryman and neighbour Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, whose imagination more picturesque, more solemn, more elevated, and more pathetic, exceeded in some respects even the force of Spenser, whom he preceded. Sydney displays more of the artifices, and less of the inspiration of poetry. His command of language, and the variety of his ideas are conspicuous. His mind exhibits an astonishing fund of acquired wealth: but images themselves never seem to overcome him with all the power of actual presence. The ingenuity of his faculties supplies him with a lively substitute; but it is not vivid, like the reality.
Let me only take four stanzas of Sackville's INDUCTION by way of proof.
And first within the porch and jaws of Hell
Sat DEEP REMORSE OF CONSCIENCE, all besprent
With tears; and to herself oft would she tell
Her wretchedness, and cursing never stent
To sob and sigh; but ever thus lament,
With thoughtful care, as she that all in vain
Would wear and waste continually in pain.
Her eyes unstedfast roiling here and there,
Whirl'd on each place, as place that vengeance brought,
So was her mind continually in fear,
Toss'd and tormented with the tedious thought
Of those detested crimes, which she had wrought;
With dreadful chear, and looks thrown to the sky,
Wishing for death, and yet she could not die.
Next saw we DREAD; all trembling how he shook,
With foot uncertain proffer'd here and there;
Benumb'd of speech, and with a ghastly look
Search'd every place, all pale and dead for fear,
His cap borne up with staring of his hair,
Stoin'd and amaz'd at his own shade for dread,
And fearing greater dangers than was need.
And next, within the entry of this lake,
Sat fell REVENGE, gnashing her teeth for ire,
Devising means how she may vengeance take,
Never in rest till she have her desire;
But frets within so far forth with the fire
Of wreaking flames that now determines she,
To die by death, or veng'd by death to be.
Here are, (to use Sir Philip's own words in his excellent Defence of Poesie), "vices and passions so in their own natural states laid to the view, that we seem not to hear of them, but clearly to see through them." And it must be confessed that there is nothing of the same kind in the verses of the amiable and accomplished critic himself.
It is probable that the variety of Sydney's attainments tended to modify, distract, and weaken the force of any single faculty. I am perfectly convinced that he who would reach excellence in poetry, should not only be endowed by nature with the peculiar gift, but should give himself up exclusively to that one art. It is true that Sackville afterwards became a statesman; but we know, that from the time he became so, he wrote no more poetry. We do not know, that up to that time he cultivated any other talent than that sublime one, on which his fame is founded. We are ignorant of his excellence as a statesman: we are sure that in that respect he was at least inferior to many of his cotemporaries. But who could have equalled him in the divine gift, which he chose to neglect, and forego, for more worldly accomplishments? There must have been something unfortunate, or something (if I may be forgiven the expression) base in this new destination! The heart that preferred the senile trappings of a courtier, the baubles of coronets, and the wages o places and pensions, to the fame and exquisite enjoyments of a poet in posession not merely of rural competence but of rural grandeur. — the independent lord of mansions, and parks, and woods, and streams-must have had something mingled with all its fire and all its vivid sensibility which calls for extreme pity, if not contempt.
The same blame is not imputable to Sydney. Nature had constituted him of other and more varied materials. His astonishing assemblage of talents was more fitted to shine in the numerous complicated situations of active life. In him alternate intercourse with mankind and retirement, fed, cherished, and brightened into same his opposite talents. His Arcadia is full of axioms and sentiments, which exhibit such a mixture of speculative and practical wisdom, as must till the patient and intelligent reader with admiration. At that period the mere accomplishments of the body must have consumed no inconsiderable portion of the day. To this we may add the great sacrifice of time required by the parade of a fantastic though glorious court. Then let us recollect how much must have been consigned to the acquisition of languages, to his travels, and employments of state; and shall we not glow with esteem and wonder at the intellectual fruits which he found leisure to leave behind him?
But what are mere mental excellencies, uncombined with those of the heart? (even if they could exist without them, which, in the highest degree, they surely cannot!) Sydney is recorded to have possessed every gentle, and every generous quality of the bosom. Bold as a lion, yet tender as pity itself; bountiful, yet not indiscreet; profuse to others, yet sparing to himself; full of religious hope and awe, yet trembling with delight at all the virtuous pleasures of this world; fond therefore of life, "yet not afraid to die," the eminent charms of his disposition and personal conduct kept pace with those of his head.
It is a singular coincidence that Kent should have produced, or at least have been inhabited by both these great men (Sydney and Sackville ) at the same time; they lived near each other in West-Kent; and both their magnificent mansions still remain. They are both well-known. And I have visited them with emotions, which I wish I had powers of language to describe. Of Penshurst, where Sydney was born, there is a curious engraving by Vertue, inserted in the first volume of Hasted's History of the County. Its rude grandeur, its immense hall, its castellated form, its numerous apartments, well accord with the images of chivalry, which the memory of Sydney inspires.
Mrs. Charlotte Smith has written a plaintive Sonnet on visiting this place, which is worthy of insertion here.
Ye towers sublime, deserted now and drear,
Ye woods, deep sighing to the hollow blast,
The Musing Wanderer loves to linger near,
While history points to all your glories past:
And startling from their haunts the timid deer,
To trace the walks obscur'd by matted fern,
Which Waller's soothing lyre were wont to hear,
But where now clamours the discordant heron!
The spoiling hand of Time may overturn
These lofty battlements, and quite deface
The fading canvas, whence we love to learn
Sydney's keen look, and Sacharissa's grace;
But fame and beauty still defy decay,
Sav'd by th' historic page — the poet's tender lay!
The mansion is now, I fear, deserted. It belongs to a descendant and heir (by the female line) of the family, who has taken the name of Sydney. He returned to it for some years with a spirit becoming his birth. But the cruel operation of the Assessed Taxes upon such antient establishments has probably been the cause of his leaving it again.
They who are smitten with the love of liberty, and idolize its martyr, will recollect that this was also the scene of the early years of Sir Philip's great nephew, Algernon Sydney. a man of a sterner temper and more philosophic turn, who never drank of the stream of the Muses, but wrapped himself in the mantle of the antient Republicans, and steeled his soul to the severest trials of political virtue. I daily behold some of the effects of his adversity, and wander in woods which were the sacrifice to his scorn of courtly dependence! They will probably pass from me too, as they did from him, because I have been unable to bend my mind to flattery and intrigue! Let the reader excuse me, if I have dwelt too long and too fondly on this subject, when he is told that some of my earliest associations have been blended with affection and reverence for the fame of the Sydneys!
Knowle, the seat of Sackville, and now of his descendant, the Duke of Dorset, though restored with all the freshness of modern art, retains the character and form of its Elizabethan splendour. The visitor may behold the same walls, and walk in the same apartments, which witnessed the inspiration of him, who composed The Induction, and the Legend of the Duke of Buckingham! He may sit under the same oaks, and behold, arrayed in all the beauty of art, the same delightful scenery, which cherished the day dreams of the glowing poet! Perchance he may behold the same shadowy beings glancing through the shades, and exhibiting themselves in all their picturesque attitudes to his entranced fancy! It is well, however, if he do not hear a scream or two intermixed from the frighted Dryads and Hamadryads, should some late reports be true!