Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

lightful prospects. There were hills which garnished their proud heights with stately trees; humble vallies, whose base' estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers; meadows enamelled with all sorts of eye-pleasing flowers; thickets, which being lined with most pleasant shade were witnessed so too, by the cheerful disposition of many well-tuned birds ; each pasture stored with sheep feeding with sober security, while the pretty lambs, with bleating oratory, craved the dams comfort. Here a shepherd's boy piping, as though he should never be old ; there a young shepherdess knitting, and withal singing, and it seemed that her voice comforted. her hands to work, and her hands kept time to her voice-music. As for the houses of the country (for many houses came under their eye) they were all scattered, no two being one by the other, and yet not so far off, as that it barred mutual succour: a shew as it were, of an accompaniable solitariness; and of a civil wildness. I pray you, said Musidorus, (then first unsealing his long silent lips) what countries be these we pass through, which are so divers in shew, the one wanting no store, the other having no store, but of want.

The country (answered Claius) where you were cast ashore, and now are past through, is Laconia,

i bas, low,

not so poor by the barrenness of the soil (though in itself not passing fertile,) as by a civil war, which being these two years within the bowels of that estate, between the gentlemen and the peasants (by them named helots) hath in this sort as it were disfigured the face of nature, and made it so unhospitable as now you have found it; the towns neither of the one side nor the other willingly opening their gates to strangers, nor strangers willingly entering for fear of being mistaken.—But this country, where now you set your foot, is Arcadia, and even hard by is the house of Kalander, whither we lead you. This country being thus decked with peace, and (the child of peace) good husbandry. These houses you see so scattered are of men as we two are, that live upon the commodity of their sheep ; and therefore, in the division of the Arcadian estatc, are termed shepherds--a happy people, wanting little, because they desire not much.

The reviewer of Todd's works of Spencer, in the fourth volume of the Annual Review, has occasion to speak of the Arcadia, and of its author; and his character of both is so excellent, and at the same time so just, that I cannot do better than present it to the reader. “ It has been of late years the fashion (says he) to depreciate the genius of this most admirable man; and Mr. Todd, who in matters of taste, exercises more faith than reason, joins in the

common censure.

Horace Walpole, we believe, was the first person who hazarded this opinion, and we all know how opinions are taken ready-made, upon such authority. Much of the praise which Sidney received, during his life, may have been paid to his rank ; it may have been flattery as to its motive, but in its matter it was no more than the praise to which he was entitled. Nobody, it has been said, reads the Arcadia. We have known very many persons who have read it, men, women, and children, and never knew one who read it without deep interest and an admiration at the genius of the writer, great in proportion as they were capable of appreciating it. The verses are very bad, not that he was a bad poet, (on the contrary, much of his poetry is of high merit,) but because he was then versifying upon an impracticable system. Let the reader pass over all the Eclogues, as dull interludes unconnected with the drama, and if he do not delight in the story itself, in the skill with which the incidents are woven together and unravelled, and in the Shakespearian power and character of language, with which they are painted ; let him be assured the fault is in himself and not in the book."-This romance furnishes the first example of an allegorical work written originally in English.

The Arcadia has been modernized by Mrs. Stanley; but in this performance, though an elegant composition, we do not see the mind of Sidney; the peculiar flow of his thoughts is broken ; and we can no longer discover his genuine intellectual character 'beneath the more fashionable attire of modern refinement. For my own part, I prefer the ideas of Sidney, in their customary and natural dress; such transformations are entitled to little commendation,

.

2. Another of his pieces is entitled, “ The Defence of Poesy;" London, 1595. It consists in the whole but of a few pages, of which the following is a favourable, and indeed a beautiful specimen.

The philosopher sheweth you the way, he informeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousness of the way, as of the pleasant lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the many bye-turnings that may divert you from your way ; but this is to no man, but to him that will read him,

and read him with attentive, studious painfulness; which constant desire whosoever hath in him, hath already past half the hardness of the way, and therefore is beholden to the philosopher but for the other half, Nay, truly, learned men have learnedly thought, that where once reason hath so much overmastered passion, as that the mind hath a free desire to do well, the inward light each man hath in itself, is as good as a philosopher's book : since in nature we know it is well to do well, and what is well and what is evil, although not in the words of art which phi. losophers bestow upon us; for out of natural conceit the philosophers drew it. But to be moved to do that which we 'know, or to be moved with desire to know, hoc

opus

hic labor est. Now, therein, of all sciences (I speak still of hilman, and, according to the human conceit) is our poet the monarch. For he doth not only shew the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it: Nay, he doth, as if your journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first, give you a cluster of grapes; that, full of that taste, you may long to

He beginneth not with obscure definitions; which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness; but he cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for,

pass farther.

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »