John Morley.

English men of letters (Volume 3) online

. (page 32 of 44)
Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 32 of 44)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

conduct which then ruled English gentlefolk:

" I have received t\vo letters from you, one written in Latin, the
other in French ; which I take in good part, and wish you to exercise
that practice of learning often ; for that will stand you in most stead
in that profession of life that you are born to live in. And since this
is my first letter that ever I did write to you, I will not that it be all
empty of some advices, which my natural care for you provoketh me
to wish you to follow, as documents to you in this your tender age.
Let your first action be the lifting up of your mind to Almighty God
by hearty prayer ; and feelingly digest the words you speak in prayer,
with continual meditation and thinking of Him to whom you pray and
of the matter for which you pray. And use this as an ordinary act,
and at an ordinary hour, whereby the time itself shall put you in re-
membrance to do that which you are accustomed to do in that time.
Apply your study to such hours as your discreet master doth assign
vou, earnestlv ; and the time I know he will so limit as shall be both

* *> *

sufficient for your learning and safe for your health. And mark the
sense and the matter of that you read, as well as the words. So shall
you both enrich your tongue with words and your wit with matter ;
and judgment will grow as years groweth in you. Be humble and
obedient to your master, for unless you frame yourself to obey others,
yea, and feel in yourself what obedience is, you shall never be able to
teach others how to obey you. Be courteous of gesture and affable to
all men, with diversity of reverence according to the dignity of the
person : there is nothing that winneth so much with so little cost.
Use moderate diet, so as after your meal you may find your wit fresher
and not duller, and your body more lively and not more heavy. Sel-
dom drink wine, and yet sometimes do, lest being enforced to drink
upon the sudden you should find yourself inflamed. Use exercise of
body, yet such as is without peril of your joints or bones ; it will in-
crease your force and enlarge your breath. Delight to be cleanly, as
well in all parts of your body as in your garments : it shall make you
grateful in each company, and otherwise loathsome. Give yourself to


K> merry, for you degenerate from your father if you find not your-
self most able in wit and body and to do anything when you be most
merrv; but let your mirth be ever void of all scurrility and biting
words t'> anv man, for a wound given by a word is oftentimes harder
to be cured than that which is given with the sword. BJ you rather
:i hearer and bearer away of other men's talk than a beginner and
procurer of speech ; otherwise you shall be counted to delight to hear
yourself spealc. If you hear a AVISO sentence or an apt phrase commit
it to your memory with respect of the circumstance when you shall
speak it. Let never oath be heard to come out of your mouth nor
word of ribaldry; detest it in others; so shall custom make to your-
self a law against it in yourself. Be modest in each assembly ; and
rather be rebuked of light fellows for maiden-like shamefastness than
of your sad friends for pert boldness. Think upon every word that
you will speak before you utter it, and remember how nature hath
ramparted up, as it were, the tongue with teeth, lips, yea, and hair
without the lips, and all betokening reins or bridles for the loose use
of that member. Above all things, tell no untruth ; no, not in trifles :
the custom of it is naughty. And let it not satisfy you that, for a
time, the hearers take it for truth ; for after it will be known as it is,
to your shame ; for there cannot be a greater reproach to a gentleman
than to be accounted a liar. Study and endeavour yourself to be virt-
uously occupied, so shall you make such a habit of well-doing in you
that you shall not know how to do evil, though you would. Remem-
ber, my son, the noble blood you are descended of, by your mother's
side ; and think that only by virtuous life and good action you may
be an ornament to that illustrious family, and otherwise, through vice
and sloth you shall be counted labes generis, one of the greatest curses
that can happen to man. Well, my little Philip, this is enough for
me, and too much, I fear, for you. But if I shall find that this light
n-'-al of digestion nourisheth anything in the weak stomach of your
capacity, I will, as I find the same grow stronger, feed it with tougher
f'.,d. - Your loving father, so long as you live in the fear of God,


To tliis epistle Lady Mary Sidney added a postscript,
which, if it is less correct in stvle and weighty with wise

*/ O J

counsel, interests us by its warm and motherly affection.


" Your noble and careful father hath taken pains (with his own
hand) to give you in this his letter so wise, so learned, and most req-
uisite precepts for you to follow with a diligent and humble thank-
ful mind, as I will not withdraw your eyes from beholding and rever-
ent honouring the same, no, not so long time as to read any letter
from me ; and therefore at this time I will write no other letter than
this : and hereby I first bless you with my desire to God to plant in
you His grace, and secondarily warn you to have always before the eyes
of your mind those excellent counsels of my lord, your dear father,
and that you fail not continually once in four or five days to read
them over. And for a final leave-taking for this time, see that you
show yourself a loving obedient scholar to your good master, and that
my lord and I may hear that you profit so in your learning as there-
by you may increase our loving care of you, and deserve at his hands
the continuance of his great joys, to have him often witness with his
own hand the hope he hath in your well-doing.

"Farewell, my little Philip, and once again the Lord bless you.
Your loving mother, MARY SIDNEY."

In those days boys did not wait till they were grown
men before they went to college. Sidney left Shrewsbury
in 1568, and began residence at Christ Church. He was
still in his fourteenth year. There he stayed until some
time in 1571, when he quitted Oxford without having tak-
en a deoree. In this omission there was nothing sino-ular.

o o o

His quality rendered bachelorship or mastership of arts in-
different to him ; and academical habits were then far freer
than in our times. That he studied diligently is, however,
certain. The unknown writer named Philophilippus, who
prefixed a short essay on " The Life and Death of Sir
Philip Sidney" to the Arcadia, speaks thus in his quaint
lano-uao-e of the years spent at Oxford : " Here an excellent

C^ C5 *l

stock met with the choicest grafts; nor could his tutors
pour in so fast as he was ready to receive." The Dean of
Christ Church, Dr. Thomas Thornton, had it afterwards en-


I:T;I\VI upon his own tomb at Ledbury that he had been
tin- pnreptor of "Philip Sidney, that most noble Knight."
\\Y possess few particulars which throw any light upon
Sidney's academical career. There is some reason, how-
ever, to believe that liberal learning at this period flourished
lr>s upon the banks of the Isis than at Cambridge and in
our public schools. Bruno, in his account of a visit to
Oxford ten years later, introduces us to a set of pompous
pedants, steeped in mediaeval scholasticism and heavy with
the indolence of fat fellowships. Here, however, Sidney
made the second great friendship of his youth. It was
with Edward Dyer, a man of quality and parts, who claims
distinction as an English poet principally by one faultless
line: "My mind to me a kingdom is." Sir Edward Dyer
and Sir Fulke Greville lived in bonds of closest affection
with Sir Philip Sidney through his life, and walked togeth-
er as pall-bearers at his funeral. That was an age in which
friendship easily assumed the accents of passionate love.
1 may use this occasion to quote verses which Sidney
wrote at a later period regarding his two comrades. He
had recently returned from Wilton to the Court, and found
there both Greville and Dyer.

" My two and I be met,
A blessed happy trinity,

As three most jointly set
In firmest bond of unity.

Join hearts and hands, so let it be ;

Make but one mind in bodies three.

" Weleome my two to me,
The number best beloved ;

Within the heart you be
In friendship Unix-moved.

Join hearts and hands, so let it be ;

Make but one mind in bodies three."


And again, when tired of the Court, and sighing for the
country, he offers up a prayer to Pan, according to the pas-
toral fashion of the age, in which his two heart's brothers
are remembered:

" Only for my t\vo loves' sake,
In whose love I pleasure take ;
Only two do me delight
With their ever-pleasing sight ;
Of all men to thee retaining
Grant me with those two remaining."

As poetry these pieces are scarcely worth citation. But
they agreeably illustrate their author's capacity for friend-

It was also from Oxford that Sidney sent the first lettei
still extant in his writing. This is a somewhat laboured
Latin epistle to his uncle Leicester. Elizabeth's favourite
had taken his nephew under special protection. It was
indeed commonly accepted for certain that, failing legiti-
mate issue, the Earl intended to make Philip his heir. This
expectation helps us to understand the singular respect
paid him through these years of early manhood. Sir Hen-
rv Sidnev was far from bein^ a rich man. His duties in

*/ */

Ireland and Wales removed him from the circle of the
Court, and his bluntness of speech made him unacceptable
to the queen. Philip therefore owed more of his prestige
to his uncle than to his father. At this time Leicester ap-
pears to have been negotiating a marriage contract between
the lad at Christ Church and Anne Cecil, daughter of Lord
Burleigh. Articles had been drawn up. But the matter
fell through ; the powerful Secretary of State judging that
he could make a better match for his girl than with the
son of a needy knight, whose expectations of succeeding to
Leicester's estate were problematical. Politely but plainly


he extricated himself from the engagement, and bestowed
Anne upon Edward de Vere, the dissolute and brutal Earl
of Oxford. This passage in the life of Sidney is insignifi-
.;mt. That the boy of sixteen could have entertained any
strong feeling for his projected bride will hardly admit of
belief. One of his biographers, however, notices that about
the time when the matter terminated in Anne's betrothal
to the Earl of Oxford, Philip fell into bad health. Leices-
ter had to obtain permission for him to eat flesh in Lent
from no less a personage than Doctor Parker, the Arch-
bishop of Canterbury.



IT is not the business of Sir Philip Sidney's biographer to
discuss Elizabeth's Irish policy at length. Yet his fathers
position as governor of the island renders some allusion to
those affairs indispensable. Sir Henry Sidney was a brave
and eminently honest man, the sturdy servant of his sov-
ereign, active in the discharge of his duties, and untainted
by corrupt practice. But he cannot be said to have dis-
played the sagacity of genius in his dealings with the Irish.
He carried out instructions like a blunt proconsul extir-
pating O'Neil's rebellion, suppressing the Butlers' war,
maintaining English interests, and exercising impartial jus-
tice. The purity of his administration is beyond all doubt.
Instead of enriching himself by arts familiar to viceroys,
he spent in each year of his office more than its emolu-
ments were worth, and seriously compromised his private
fortune. Instead of making friends at Court he contrived,
by his straightforward dealing, to offend the brilliant and
subtle Earl of Ormond. While Sir Henry was losing
health, money, and the delights of life among the bogs and
wastes of Ulster, Ormond remained attached to the queen's
person. His beauty and adroit flattery enabled him to
prejudice Elizabeth against her faithful henchman. Broken
i:i health by a painful disease contracted in the hardship


successive campaigns, maddened by bis sovereign's re-
criminations, and disgusted by her parsimony, Sir Henry
- Incy returned in 1571 to England, lie was now a man

forty-three, with an impaired constitution and a dimin-
i-ln-d <-state. His wife had lost her good looks in the
small - pox, which she caught while nursing the queen
through an attack of that malady. Of this noble lady, so
patient in the many disasters of her troubled life, Fulke
Greville writes: " She chose rather to hide herself from
the curious eyes of a delicate time than come upon the
sta^e of the world with any manner of disparagement ;

*/ L Zj

this mischance of sickness having cast such a veil over her


excellent beauty as the modesty of that sex doth many
times upon their native and heroical spirits." Neither Sir
Henry Sidney nor Lady Mary uttered a word of reproach
against their royal mistress. It was Elizabeth's good fort-
une to be devotedly served bv men and women whom she

M /

rewarded with ingratitude or niggardly recognition. And
on this occasion she removed Sir Henry from his dignity
of Lord Deputy, which she transferred to his brother-in-
law, Sir "William Fitz-Williarn. As a kind of recompense
she made him the barren offer of a peerage. The distinc-
tion was great, but the Sidneys were not in a position to
accept it. A letter, addressed by Lady Mary to Lord Bur-
leigh, explains the difficulty in which they stood. Her
husband, she says, is "greatly dismayed with his hard
choice, which is presently offered him ; as, either to be a
I >aron, now called in the number of manv far more able


than himself to maintain it withal, or else, in refusing it,

' 5

t<> incur her Ilighness's displeasure." She points out that
the title, without an accompanying grant of land, would be
an intolerable burden. Elizabeth had clearly no intention
of bestowing estates on the Sidney family ; and Lady Mary


was forced to beg the secretary's good offices for mitigat-
ing the royal anger in the event of Sir Henry's refusal.
Of the peerage we hear no more ; and it is probable that
Elizabeth took the refusal kindly. She had paid the late
Deputy for his long service and heavy losses by a compli-
ment, his non-acceptation of which left her with a seat in
the House of Lords at her disposal.

After leaving Oxford, Philip passed some months at
Ludlovv with his father, who continued to be President of
Wales. In the spring of 1572 the project of a French
match was taken up at Court. Mr. Francis "Walsingham,
the resident ambassador at Paris, had already opened ne-
gotiations on the subject in the previous autumn; and the
execution of the Duke of Norfolk for treasonable practice
with Mary, Queen of Scots, now rendered Elizabeth's mar-
riage more than ever politically advisable. It was to be
regretted that the queen should meditate union with the

~ J

Duke of Alengon. He was the youngest member of the
worthless family of Yalois, a Papist, and a man green in
years enough to be her son. Yet at this epoch it seemed
not wholly impossible that France might still side with
the Protestant Powers. Catherine de' Medici, the queen-
mother, had favoured the Huguenot party for some years;
and Charles IX. was scheming the marriage of his sister

o o

Margaret with Henry of Navarre. The interests, more-
over, of the French Crown were decidedly opposed to those
of Spain. The Earl of Lincoln was, therefore, nominated
Ambassador Extraordinary to sound the matter of his
queen's contract with a prince of the French blood-royal.
Sir Henry Sidney seized this opportunity for sending
Philip on the grand tour; and Elizabeth granted licence
to " her trusty and well-beloved Philip Sidney, Esq., to go
out of England into parts beyond the sea, with three serv-


ants and four horses, etc., to remain the space of two years
immediately following his departure out of the realm, for
the attaining the knowledge of foreign languages." On
the LMJth of May the expedition left London, Philip carry-
ill"- a letter from his uncle Leicester to Francis Walsino;-

r5 o

ham. This excellent man, \vlio was destined after some
years to become his father-in-law, counted among the best
and wisest of English statesmen. He was a man of Sir


Henry Sidney's, rather than of Leicester's, stamp; and it
is recorded of him, to his honour, that, after a life spent in
public service, he died so poor that his funeral had to be
conducted at night.

\Yhcn Lincoln returned to England with advice in favour


of AlenQon's suit, Philip stayed at Paris. The summer of
1572 was an eventful one in French history. Charles IX.


had betrothed his sister, Margaret of Yalois, to Henry of
Navarre; and the Capital welcomed Catholic and Hugue-
not nobles, the flower of both parties which divided France,
on terms of external courtesy and seeming friendship.
Fulkc Grevillc tells us that the kino- of Navarre was so struck


with Philip's excellent disposition that he admitted him
to intimacy. At the same time Charles IX., who had been
installed Knight of the Garter on the same day as Philip's
father, appointed him Gentleman in Ordinary of his bed-
chamber. The pate-nt runs as follows: "That considering
how great the house of Sidenay was in England, and the
rank it had always held near the persons of the kings and
queens, their sovereigns, and desiring well and favourably
to treat the young Sir Philip Sidenay for the 'good and
commendable knowledge in him, he had retained and re-

o '

ceivcd him," etc. On the 9th of August " Baron Sidenay,"
a> he is also described in this document, took the oaths
and rnUTrd <>u his new office. His position at the French


Court made him to some extent an actor in the ceremonial
of Henry's wedding, which took place upon the 18th of
August. It will be remembered that Margaret of Navarre

O '"'

had previously been pledged to the Duke of Guise, the am-
bitious leader of the League, the sworn enemy to Reform,
and the almost openly avowed aspirant after the French
Crown. Before the altar she refused to speak or bend her
head, when asked if she accepted Henry for her husband ;
and her brother had to take her by the neck and force her
into an attitude of assent. Already, then, upon the nuptial
morning, ominous clouds began to gather over the political
horizon. When the Duke of Guise marched his armed
bands into Paris, the situation grew hazardous for the Hu-
guenots. Then followed the attack upon Coligny's life,
which exploded like the first cannon shot that preludes a
general engagement. Yet the vain rejoicings in celebra-
tion of that ill-omened marriage continued for some days ;
until, when all was ready, on the 24th of August, Paris
swam with the blood of the Huguenots. Anarchy and
murder spread from the Capital to the provinces ; and dur-
ing the seven days and more which followed, it is not known
how many thousands of Protestants perished. In Rome
Te Deums were sung, and commemorative medals struck.
In Eno;land the Court went into mourning. The French

O *'

ambassador, when ordered by his master to explain the
reasons of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew to Elizabeth,
excused himself from the performance of this duty. His
words deserve to be recorded : " I should make myself an
accomplice in that terrible business were I to attempt to
palliate." The same man has also left a vivid account of
his reception at Woodstock when the news arrived. " A
gloomy sorrow sat on every face. Silence, as in the dead
of night, reigned through all the chambers of the royal


apartments. The ladies and courtiers were ranged on each
side, all clad in deep mourning; and as I passed them, not
wed on me a civil look or made the least return
of my salutes."

rhilip had taken refuge at the English embassy, and to
this circumstance he possibly owed his life. The horrors
of St. Bartholomew must, however, have made a terrible
impression on his mind ; for there was no street in Paris
which did not resound with the shrieks of the assassinated,
the curses of their butchers, and the sharp ring of musket-
rv. He knew that the kino- intoxicated with a sudden

. C?*

blood-thirst, had levelled his harquebus from that window
in the Louvre ; he knew that the Duke of Guise had tram-
pled with his heel upon Coligny's naked corpse. It can-
not be doubted that the bold and firm opposition which
Philip subsequently offered to Elizabeth's French schemes
of marriage had its root in the awful experience of those
dav> >f carnage.

v. j

Early in September Lords Leicester and Burleigh de-
itched a formal letter from the Privy Council to Francis
Walsingham, requesting him to provide for the safety of
young Lord Wharton and Master Philip Sidney by procur-
ing passports in due form, and sending them immediately
back to England. It seems, however, that Sir Henry Sid-
ney did not think a return to England necessary in his son's
ca>e. Philip left Paris, passed through Lorraine, visited
Strasburg, stopped at Heidelberg, and came thence to Frank-

It would be interesting to know what social and political
impressions the young man, now in his eighteenth year,
rarri.-d away with him from Paris. Had he learned the
v htial baseness and phlegmatic wickedness of the Flor-
Muesli-mother ? Had he discerned that the king,



crazy, misled, and delirious in his freaks and impulses, was
yet the truest man of all his miserable breed? Had he
taken a right measure of the Duke of Anjou ghastly,
womanish, the phantom of a tyrant; oscillating between
Neronian debauchery and hysterical relapses into pietism ?
And the Duke of Alengon, Elizabeth's frog-faced suitor,
had he perceived in him the would-be murderer of his broth-
er, the poisonous traitor, whose innate malignancy justified
his sister Margaret in saying that, if fraud and cruelty were
banished from the world, he alone would suffice to repeople
it with devils ? Probably not ; for the backward eye of
the historian is more penetrative into the realities of char-
acter than the broad, clear gaze of a hopeful gentleman
upon his travels. We sound the depths revealed to us by
centuries of laborious investigation. He only beheld the
brilliant, the dramatic, the bewilderingly fantastic outside
of French society, as this was displayed in nuptial pomps
and tournaments and massacres before him. Yet he ob-
served enough to make him a firmer patriot, a more deter-
mined Protestant, and an abhorrer of Italianated Courts.
At Frankfort he found a friend, who, having shared the
perils of St. Bartholomew, had recently escaped across the
Rhine to Germany. This was Hubert Languet, a man
whose conversation and correspondence exercised no small
influence over the formation of Sidney's character.

Languet was a Frenchman, born in 1518 at Yiteaux in
Burgundy. He studied the humanities in Italy, and was
elected Professor of Civil Law at Padua in 1547. Two
years later he made the acquaintance of Melanchthon. Their
intercourse ripened into friendship. Languet resigned his
professorship in order to be near the man whom he had
chosen for his teacher ; and under Melauchthon's influence
he adopted the reformed religion. From 1550 forwards
2* C


he was recognised as one of the leading political agents of
the Protestant Powers, trusted by princes, and acquainted
with the ablest men of that party in France, Holland, and
the German States. No one was more competent to guide
Sidney through the labyrinth of European intrigues, to un-
mask the corruption hidden beneath the splendours of the
Yalois Court, and to instil into his mind those principles
of conduct which governed reformed statesmen in those
troubled times. They were both staying, as was then the
custom, in the house of the printer Wechel at Frankfort.
A few years later, Giordano Bruno also sojourned under
that hospitable roof, whence he departed on his fatal jour-
ney to Venice. The elder man immediately discerned in
Sidney a youth of no common quality, and the attachment
he conceived for him savoured of romance. We possess a
lono; scries of Latin letters from Lano-uet to his friend,

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 32 of 44)