1835 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Philip Sidney

L. L., in "English Poets" Southern Literary Messenger [Richmond] 1 (June 1835) 559.



Sir Philip Sidney was famous throughout all Europe for his intellectual and personal accomplishments. He was spoken of as a candidate for the throne of Poland on the death of Sigismond Augustus, but Elizabeth was unwilling to lose the "prime jewel of all England," and retained him at the English court. It is more than probable that he would have been defeated; for the claim of a Duke of Anjou, pleaded by so wily an advocate as Montluc, "the happy embassador," would have been more than strong enough to vanquish that of an honest, open-minded British gentleman.

The character of Sir Philip Sidney was without reproach. Not unlike Lord Surrey in his renown, he was yet more 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 chevaliers 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; and he is now remembered almost as the ideal personification of a true knight.

Sir Philip Sidney's poetry was not without the faults of his time. It abounds with 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 Sidney's reputation was won upon crimson fields, as well as upon poetic mountains. He wooed Bellona, as well as the Muses; and his last great act, when dying, at Zutphen, is of itself enough to justify the high admiration of his countrymen.