« ForrigeFortsæt »
velled and overthrown. The most accomplished members of the court of Queen Elizabeth were not less distinguished for the strictness of their moral principles, than for their polish and address as courtiers. Of such a stamp was Sir Philip Sidney, and, such as he was, every Englishman has reason to be proud of him. He exalted his country in the eyes of other nations, and the country he honoured will not be ungrateful. England will ever place him amongst the noblest of her sons, and the light of chivalry, which was his guide and beacon, will ever lend its radiance to illuminate his tomb-stone, and consecrate his memory
The productions of such a man, were they even inferior to: the expectation his renown had excited, deserve surely a better reception than the rigid severity of criticism. He, whose whole end in writing was to make his readers wiser and better men, surely has a right to other treatment from that world on which his comet-like radiance was thrown. If there was nothing else to excite our lenity, yet should his untimely fate dispose us to regard, with favour, productions which can hardly be called other than juvenile, and certainly not the fruits of maturity. There is something very touching in the premature departure of promising excellence in the cutting short of the bright course of talent, before it has reached its goal and consummation-in the striking, with the lightning of heaven, the uprising shoot of genius, while yet it has only produced the blossoms of paradise, blighted and destroyed before they are ripened into fruit. There is something very melancholy in the thoughts, how many bright ideas and noble creations, how many glowing images and emanations of fancy, have been lost for ever to the world, by the early death of those to whom a longer life would have brought everlasting renown. When we consider what they might have been, had a longer duration been allowed them, to what a blaze of splendour that flame, whose increase we were observing, might at length have shot out, had it not been for ever extinguished by death, it is impossible not to feel affection and commiseration for victims so soon led to the slaughter. Such was the fate of Sir Philip Sidney; and the pity which it excites should surely prevent us from treating his works, as they have been treated, with sneering insolence and cold blooded vituperation.--Let us remember that he died at the age of thirty-two; and, if the lives of Milton and Dryden had not been prolonged beyond that period, where would have been their renown, or where the poetical renown of their country?
But the works of Sir Philip Sidney stand in no need of indulgence from considerations of compassion. With a mind, glowing with images of heroism, and filled with the brightest oreations and the fairest visions of human and more than human excellence; with a heart which embraced, in its wide circuit of benevolence, the universal good of his species; with an intellect, whose comprehensiveness of observation seemed to claim all arts and sciences, as within the compass of its power and the precincts of its dominion ; with a fancy which, delicately beautiful and pensively sweet, overspread the emanations of his genius with an envelope not less delightfully tinted than the covering of the yet unopened rose-bud, and which breathed over all his productions an exquisite finish and relief; he possessed all the essential qualities, from whose operation the everlasting monuments of the mind are fabricated. Unfortunately for the world, the variety of his power and the diversity of his employments prevented him from bestowing on literature the whole energy of his mind, and thus such of his compositions as remain were rather the sports of his leisure, than the fullwrought and elaborate performances of his study. He has, however, left enough to the world, to demonstrate that the name of Sir Philip Sidney has an indisputable right to a place amongst those of our countrymen, who have been most distinguished for virtue or memorable for genius; and that, amongst the contemporaries of Shakspeare, no one has so closely approached his peculiar excellencies, or so nearly resembled him in some of his superlative endowments, as the author of the Arcadia. Without launching out into an hyperbolical exuberance of praise, we may safely affirm, that in the art of attracting interest and exciting compassion, in the art of ruling over and awaking the best sympathies of our nature, and of chaining the feelings of his readers to the fate and the fortunes of the personifications of his fancy-in the power of clothing and adorning every subject he treated upon, with the fairest flowers and sweetest of poetry, and of giving the charm of his inimitable diction to descriptions fresh from nature, and sentiments marked with the dignified and noble character of his mind-in the power of delighting and enchanting his readers, as with some strange and unearthly melody, which, once heard, is never forgotten, and whose remembered notes still continue to entrance the senses as long as their perceptions are alive—he is inferior to no writer in his own age, or in any
before or succeeded it. His great defect was the want of judgement, which led him sometimes to adopt the forced conceits and quaintness of his contemporaries, and often induced him to desert, in the imitation of others, his own never-failing and unequalled fountain of invention and thought. From this defect, his poetry is perhaps the least valuable part of his works, and is often little more than a jingle of words, or a collection of strange and ill-assorted ideas—where the magnificent and the ridiculous, the ingenious and the mean, are mingled in one mass of incongruity together.
He was not, indeed, qualified to shine in the cold and languid tameness of amatory poetry—his power lay in the representation of all that is most lovely in nature, or the resulting harmony of her productions; in the delineations of those of his species, whose high aspirations seem to point out a loftier and less terrene original
, and whose pure flame of affection appears rather to have been kindled at the sacrifice or the altar, than at the grosser fires of love. In short, his forte lay in the description of beings, like himself, romantically generous and enthusiastically constant; of whom he gives us pictures, which must always please as long as high-mindedness is attractive;—pictures, gratifying because they are exalted, and interesting because they are true.
But to proceed from his person to his works.-- His Defence of Poesy, which may, at some future time, form a subject for our Review, has received an universal tribute of admiration, and would be sufficient of itself, were there no other fruits of his genius extant, to give him a very high place amongst the authors of our country. It is, perhaps,
the most beautifully written prose composition of the Elizabethan age, impregnated with the
very soul and spirit of poetry, and abounding with the richest adornments of fancy. It is, in truth, merúm sal, “ the sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge,” a production the most felicitous of its kind that ever came from Nature's mintage stampt in extacy.” There is nothing equal to it in the whole circle of critical exposition, nothing which is at once so judicious, yet so poetical; so inimitable, yet so easy. What has been said of the criticisms of Longinus may, with much more justice, be applied to this composition, that it is itself a living exemplification of the highest excellence of the art it treats of. To those who can read it without feelings of delight and admiration, we can only apply the malediction against the contemners of poesie, with which Sir Philip Sidney concludes it.
His Arcadia, the present subject of our remarks, if not so uniformly pleasing and satisfactory, is, after all, the great foundation on which his fame must rest, and to which his right to a place amongst the great masters of the human mind must depend for its allowance. Like all other works of genius, it is irregularly and unequally written, diversified by occasional risings and falls, ascents to grandeur and sinkings to littleness : yet, from beginning to end, there is perceptible an air of gentle pensiveness, and of melancholy yet not gloomy moralization, which diffuses over all his work a seductive charm, and is always fascinating, from the train of mind which it brings along with it.The Arcadia is a mixture of what has been called the heroic and the pastoral romance: it is interspersed with interludes and episodes, which, it must be acknowledged, rather encumber
than aid the effect of the work itself: the main story is worked out with much skill; though interwoven, it is lucid and perspicuous; and, though intricate, it is far from being perplexed. From a chasm which occurs in the third book, the progress of the story is not perfectly deduced to the end: this defect has been supplied by two different continuators: it, probably, arose from the difficulty the author experienced of filling up the vacancy to his satisfaction. This romance was written only for the amusement of his sister, Mary, the Countess of Pembroke, and never intended by the author for the public view: it is even said, that one of his last requests, on his death-bed, was, that it should never be published. Be this as it may, no one who has read the work will be inclined to treat with severity the violators of his injunction: and those who can praise the preservers of the Æneid may readily excuse the non-compliance with Sir Philip Sidney's demand. Were the fastidious nicety and scrupulous exactness of authors, in this respect, to be allowed, the richest treasures of the mind would, like the ring of the tyrant, be prodigally and lavishly cast away, and more would be lost in the pursuit of perfection, than perfection itself could compensate for.
We will now give a short outline of the story, without regarding the various incidental episodes which connect themselves with it.
Musidorus and Pyrocles, the two heroes of the romance, united together in a strict league of friendship, set forth in quest of adventures, and after signalizing their valour in several courageous exploits, and killing the customary quantum of giants and monsters, set sail with a fleet to join Euarchus, King of Macedon, the uncle of Musidorus and father of Pyrocles, then waging war at Byzantium ; who, having relinquished the care of the two princes to his sister, the wife of Dorilaus, Prince of Thessaly, was become impatient to behold them who had been so long estranged from him, and of whose actions and promise the voice of Fame had spoken so loudly. Delayed by many accidents, and after encountering many perils, they are at last obliged, by a fire breaking out in the ship in which they are sailing, to commit themselves to the mercy of the waves, by which they are separated, and Musidorus is carried to the shore of Laconia in an insensible condition. Here he is seen by two shepherds, who use all their endeavours to restore animation and bring him to life again, in which, at length, they succeed. His first inquiry and consideration, when recovered, is after his friend Pyrocles; and though with little hopes of rescuing him from the watery grave, from which himself had so narrowly escaped, Musidorus immediately procures a boat, and ventures forth again upon the sea. He has not proceeded far before he
meets with the wreck of the almost consumed ship, and
“ upon the mast they saw a young man(at least if he were a man) bearing shew of about eighteene yeares of age, who sate (as on horsebacke) having nothing upon him but his shirt, which, being wrought with blue silke and gold, had a kind of resemblance to the sea : on which the sun (then neer his western home) did shoot some of his beams. His hair (which the young men of Greece used to weare very long) was stirred up and down with the wind, which seemed to have a sport to play with it, as the sea had to kisse his feet; himselfe, full of admirable beauty, set forth by the strangenesse both of his seat and gesture: for, holding his head up full of unmoved majestie, he held a sword aloft with his faire arme, which often he waved about his crowne, as though he would threaten the world in that extremity.”—p. 4.
This, as our readers will conceive, is the object of his search, his friend Pyrocles, who greets Musidorus with all the transports of affection and joy. Before, however, they have approached sufficiently near to Pyrocles, to give him any assistance, the vessel of a pirate appears in sight, and the master of the boat, fearing an engagement, immediately sets sail back again to the shore, notwithstanding all the entreaties and adjurations of Musidorus, who is thus obliged to return disconsolate, without accomplishing the rescue of his friend. On his arrival to the shore, the shepherds offer to conduct him to the house of Kalander, a wealthy and hospitable inhabitant of Arcadia ; and Musidorus, sorrowful and heavy-hearted in his apprehensions for the fate of Pyrocles, puts himself under their guidance, reckless and not caring whither they may carry him. As they enter into Arcadia, its beautiful appearance strikes the eyes of Musidorus.
« There were hils which garnished their proud heights with stately trees : humble vallies, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers: medowes, enamelled with all sorts of eiepleasing flowers: thickets, which being lined with most pleasant shade were witnessed so too, by the cheerfull disposition of many well-tuned birds: -each pasture stored with sheep, feeding with sober security, while the pretty lambs with bleating oratory craved the dammes' comfort: here a shepheard's boy piping, as though hee should never be old; there a yong shepheardesse knitting, and withall singing, and it seemed that her voyce comforted her hands to worke, and her hands kept time to her voice-musick."-p.6.
Upon their arrival at the house of Kalander, he receives Musidorus with great hospitality and kindness, and endeavours to remove the melancholy which he perceives in his guest by every exertion in his power. His own peace of mind is shortly afterwards disturbed, by the intelligence that Clitiphon, his son,