« ForrigeFortsæt »
Sir Philip Sidney.
59 while his courtesy to inferiors, his liberal benefactions, and his early and melancholy death, threw a halo around his name which even yet has not grown dim. He was born in 1554 at Penshurst, and was the son of Sir Henry Sidney, nephew of the Earl of Leicester, and of Mary Dudley, daughter of the Duke of Northumberland. Sidney is a good illustration of the axiom that the child is father of the man. From his earliest years he exerted his faculties to the utmost, striving to improve himself in every available way. He never seems to have been a boy. His friend, Fulke. Greville, who was with him at Shrewsbury School, tells us that though he knew him from a child, he never knew him other than a man, with such staidness of mind, lovely and familiar gravity, as earned grace and reverence above greater years. He goes on to say that Sidney's talk was ever of knowledge, and his very play tending to enrich his mind, so that even his teachers found something in him to admire and learn above what they usually read and taught. It must not be supposed from this that Sidney was a mere plodding bookworm, buried in his studies, and with all the freshness and elasticity of youth crushed out of hin. On the contrary, he cultivated his body as carefully as his mind, and attained high excellence in all the athletic sports which then prevailed. Spenser describes him as
“In wrestling nimble, and in running swift ;
In shooting steady, and in swimming strong;
And all the sports that shepherds are among.
He vanquished all, and vanquished was of none." From Shrewsbury Sidney proceeded to Oxford, which he quitted at the age of seventeen to undertake a prolonged tour on the Continent. He visited Paris, where he was during the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew, the horrors of which no doubt did something to confirm him in his strongly Protestant principles, and afterwards went to Frankfort, Vienna, Padua, and other places. Everywhere his accomplishments and courtesy made him sure of a kind reception; and he formed
a close friendship with some of the most eminent men of the Continent. On his return to England in 1575, he was received with enthusiasm at Court, and won the favour of Queen Elizabeth, who was pleased to address him as “her Philip.” In 1577 he was employed on a diplomatic mission, in which he acquitted himself so well as to excite the admiration of William the Silent, who pronounced him one of the ripest and greatest counsellors of state in Europe. On his return to England, Sidney for eight years devoted himself mainly to literary pursuits, associating with men of letters, who found in him a bountiful patron, and writing his “Sonnets," the “Arcadia," and the “Apologie for Poetry.” He did not neglect politics altogether, however, although he held no public appointment; on the contrary, he actively exerted himself in endeavouring to provide measures in defence of the Protestant religion and to thwart the power of Spain. In 1585 came the crowning event of his life. He was sent to the Netherlands as Governor of Flushing along with an army under Leicester. There he soon distinguished himself by his valour and his prudence, but his bright career was destined to be a brief one. In October 1586, at a skirmish at Zutphen he received a mortal wound. As he rode from the battle-field occurred the touching incident which has done more than either his writings or his contemporary fame to keep Sidney's memory alive. “Being thirsty
. with excess of bleeding, he called for drink, which was presently brought him; but as he was putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor soldier carried along, who had eaten his last at the same feast, ghastly, casting up his eyes at the bottle, which Sir Philip perceiving, took it from his head before he drunk and delivered it to the poor man with these words, " Thy necessity is greater than mine.'”
None of Sidney's works were printed in his lifetime, though, as he was well known to be an author, writings of his were probably rather extensively handed about in manuscript. His most famous work is the “Arcadia," written in 1580, and dedicated to “Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother," the illustrious Countess of Pembroke. It was not published till 1590. It is a pastoral
61 somance, "containing discourses on the affections, passions, and events of life, observations on human nature, and the social and political relations of men, and all the deductions which a richly endowed and cultivated mind had drawn from actual experience.” Such is an admirer's view of the “ Arcadia.” Hear now what Hazlitt, who never did a thing by halves, says of it: “ It is to me one of the greatest monuments of the abuse of intellectual power upon record. It puts one in mind of the court dresses and preposterous fashions of the time, which are grown obsolete and disgusting. It is not romantic, but scholastic; not poetry, but casuistry; not nature, but art, and the worst sort of art, which thinks it can do better than nature. ... In a word, and not to speak it profanely, the 'Arcadia' is a riddle, a rebus, an acrostic in folio; it contains about 4000 far-fetched similes, and 6000 impracticable dilemmas, about 10,000 reasons for doing nothing at all, and as many against it; numberless alliterations, puns, questions, and commands, and other figures of rhetoric; about a score good passages, that one may turn to with pleasure, and the most involved, irksome, unprogressive, and heteroclite subject that ever was chosen to exercise the pen or the patience of man.” This is half-humorous exaggeration, but it must be confessed that the “ Arcadia,” though full of sweetness and gentle feeling, is tedious, and not likely to be ever much read, except in extracts. The “Apologie for Poetry," written, it is supposed, in 1581, and printed in 1595, is valuable both for its intrinsic merits and as an indication of the literary taste of the period. It is Sidney's best work in literature, and shows that he had a fine natural taste in poetry, and possessed a high degree of skill in warding off the objections of opponents.
Sidney was a considerable poet, but he was not a great one. Like Spenser's friend, Gabriel Harvey, he was very fond of trying to introduce new metres, particularly Greek and Latin ones, into the English language ; but his efforts in this way do not call for much praise beyond what may be due to their ingenuity. The “Astrophel and Stella" sonnets, his most famous poems, were first published, perhaps surreptitiously, in
1591. Astrophel represents Sidney ; Stella, Lady Penelope Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex, whom he had loved and was to marry. The match, however, was broken off, and “Stella” married Lord Rich, a brutal and ignorant man, from whom she was afterwards divorced. Sidney's sonnets, which were addressed to her after her marriage, show cultivated taste and refinement of expression, and more impassioned emotion and deep personal feeling than is generally found in the love sonnets of that age, which were often written rather to exhibit the writer's talent than to express his love. One of the finest of Sidney's sonnets is the following, which would deserve to be called perfect were it not for the awkward transposition in the last line:
“ With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies !
How silenily, and with how wan a face !
Do they call virtue there—ungrarefulness.” Sidney's prose is distinctly superior to that of any preceding writer: it is clear, copious, and easy, containing few obsolete words; but it is frequently languid and diffuse, and wants the great quality of strength. The full resources of the English language as an instrument of prose composition were first distinctly shown by Richard Hooker, the "judicious Hooker," as he is called. Like many other great men, Hooker has suffered from the panegyrics of rash admirers. “So stately and graceful is the march of his periods,” said Hallam, “so various the fall of his musical cadences upon the ear, so rich in images, so condensed in sentences, so grave and noble his diction, so
1 Meaning, “Do they call ungra'efulness virtue there."
little is there of vulgarity in his racy idiom, of pedantry in his learned phrases, that I know not whether any later writer has more admirably displayed the capacities of our language, or produced passages more worthy of comparison with the splendid monuments of antiquity." Hallam was not apt to sin on the side of over-praise, but here he undoubtedly does so, and thus, perhaps, has been the means of causing some writers to err on the opposite side. John Austin, no mean judge, spoke of the first book of the “ Ecclesiastical Polity" as “lustian.” The truth, as is usual in such cases, lies between the two extremes. Hooker's style is undoubtedly heavy, but it is also stately and powerful; he is no safe model for a student of English composition to follow, as his sentences are formed too exclusively upon Latin models, but the sonorousness and dignity of many of his periods will always give him a high place in literature.
The story of Hooker's life has been related by Isaac Walton with his usual quaint felicity. He was born at Heavitree, near Exeter, in 1553. His parents were poor, but Hooker's industry and talents early attracted the attention of his schoolmaster, who persuaded them to use every effort to give the promising boy a liberal education. “The good schoolmaster," as Walton calls him, also applied to a rich uncle of Hooker's to do something for his relative. The application was so far successful. The uncle spoke about the lad to Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, who, after examining the youthful prodigy, "gave his schoolmaster a reward, and took order for an annual pension for the boy's parents, promising also to take him under his care for a future preferment.” This promise he fulfilled by sending him to Oxford in 1567, and specially recommending him to the care of Dr. Cole, the President of Corpus Christi College. In 1571 Hooker lost his patron, but his fortunes were not impaired thereby, for Dr. Cole promised to see that he should not want; and nine months later he was appointed tutor to Edwin Sandys, son of the Bishop of London, who had heard Hooker warmly praised by Jewel.. Soon aster George Cranmer (nephew's son to the Archbishop) and other pupils came under his care.