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which breathe the tenderest spirit of affection, mingled with
wise counsel and ever-watchful thought for the you no; man's

cj / o

higher interests. It was indeed one of Sidney's singular
felicities that he fell so early under the influence of char-
acters like \Valsino-ham and Lano-uet. Together with his

^j o o

father, they helped to correct the bias which he might have
taken from his brilliant but untrustworthy uncle Leicester.


There must have been something inexplicably attractive in
his person and his genius at this time ; for the tone of
Langnet's correspondence can only be matched by that of
Shakespeare in the sonnets written for his unknown friend.
Fulke Grcville has penned a beautiful description of
" this harmony of an humble hearer to an excellent teacher,"
which grew up between Sidney and Languet at Frankfort;
but he is mistaken in saying that the latter threw up all
other business for the sake of attending his new-found


mend upon his three years' travel. It is true that they


went together to Vienna in the summer of 1573. But


Sidney visited Hungary alone, and in November crossed
the Alps without Languet to Venice. He was accom-
panied by a gentleman of his own age and station, not
very distantly connected with him, named Thomas Con-
ingsby. Two of his attendants, Griffin Madox and Lewis
Brysket, are also known to us. The latter writes thus of
their journey :

" Through many a hill and dale,
Through pleasant woods, and many an unknown way,
Along the banks of many silver streams
Thou with him yodest ; and with him didst scale
The craggy rocks of the Alps and Apennine ;
Still with the muses sporting."

One incident of the tour has to be recorded for the light it
throws on Sidney's character. An innkeeper contrived to
get his bill twice paid ; and Sidney finding himself out of
pocket, charged Coningsby with having made away with
the money. In a letter to Languet he cleared the matter
up, and exculpated his travelling companion. But the in-
cident was not greatly to his credit. With all his gravity
and suavity of nature, he was apt to yield to temper and to
unaraiable suspicion. I shall have to revert to this point


Since Sidney is now launched, without guide or tutor,
upon his Italian travels, it will not be out of place to col-
lect some contemporary opinions regarding the benefit to
be derived by Englishmen from Italy. In a fine passage
of "The Schoolmaster" Ascham relates a conversation
which he had at Windsor with Sir Richard Sackville on
this subject. His judgment was that young men lost far
more than they gained by an Italian tour. Too many of


them returned Papists, or Atheists, experienced in new-
fangled vices, apt for treason, lying, and every form of
-\\ini-h debauchery. Taking for his text the well-known
proverb, " Inglcse italianato e un diavolo incarnato"
which Sidney, by the way, has translated thus:

" An Englishman that is Italianate,
Doth lightly prove a devil incarnate,"

Ascham preaches an eloquent sermon, -with, allegories from
Plato and Homer, to prove that Italy is but a garden of
Circe or an isle of sirens to our northern youth. Parker,
Howell, Fuller, Hall, Gabriel Harvey, Marston, Greene, all
utter the same note, and use the same admonishments,
proving how very dangerous an Italian tour was reckoned
in those days. Sidney, in a remarkable letter to Languet,
insists upon the point. lie says he wishes the Turks could
come to Italy in order to find corruption there : " I am
ijiiitc sure that this ruinous Italy would so poison the Turks
themselves, would so ensnare them in its vile allurements,
that they would soon tumble down without being pushed."
Venice, in particular, had an evil reputation. There, as
Ascham says, he saw in nine days' sojourn " more liberty
to sin than ever I heard tell of in our noble city of London
in nine years." He admits, however, that while he knows
of many who " returned out of Italy worse transformed
than ever was any in. Circe's court," yet is he acquainted
with "divers noble personages and many worthy gentle-
men of England, whom all the siren songs of Italy could
never untwine from the mast of God's word, nor no en-
chantment of vanity overturn them from the fear of God
and love of honesty." To the former class belonged the
Marl of Oxford. Of the latter Philip Sidney was an emi-


nent example. Like the bee which sucks honey from
poisonous flowers, he gained only good from the travels
which were so pernicious to his fellow-countrymen at

His correspondence with Languet was doubtless useful
to him, while residing at Venice and Padua. From it we
learn something about his studies, which seem at this time
to have been chiefly in philosophy and science. Languet
urges him not to overwork himself; and he replies: "I
am never so little troubled with melancholy as when my
mind is employed about something particularly difficult."
Languet on another occasion dissuades him from geometry :
" You have too little mirthfulness in your nature, and this is
a study which will make you still more grave." He recom-
mends him to devote his time to such things as befit a


man of high rank in life, and to prepare himself for the
duties of a statesman rather than for the leisure of a liter-
ary man. Sidney begs for a copy of Plutarch in Amyot's
translation, says he is " learning astronomy and getting a
knowledge of music," and is anxious to read the Politics
of Aristotle. Meanwhile he frequented the sumptuous
houses of the Venetian nobles : " Yet I would rather have
one pleasant chat with you, my dear Languet, than enjoy
all the magnificent mao-nificences of these magnificoes."

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He seems indeed to have been a grave youth. Who his
intimate friends were, we do not know. Sarpi was away
at Mantua ; so it is not likely that he made his acquaint-
ance. We hear, however, much of the young Count Philip
Lewis of Hannau.

At Venice Sidney sat for his portrait to Paolo Vero-
nese, and sent the picture afterwards to Languet. What
has become of this painting is not known. Possibly it still
lies buried in some German collection. Of all the por-


traits which are supposed to represent Sidney, the best to
my mind is one now preserved at Warwick Castle. It is
said to have belonged to Fulke Greville, and therefore we
may trust its resemblance to the original. John Aubrey,
the useful anecdote-monger, tells us that he was " extreme-
ly beautiful. lie much resembled his sister; but his hair
was not red, but a little inclining, namely a dark amber
colour. If I were to find a fault in it, methinks 'tis not
masculine enough ; yet he was a person of great courage."
The Warwick Castle portrait answers very closely to this
description, especially in a certain almost girlish delicacy
of feature and complexion. That Sidney was indeed beau-
tiful may be taken for granted, since there is considerable
concurrence of testimony on this point. The only dissen-
tient I can call to mind is Ben Jonson, who reported that
he " was no pleasant man in countenance, his face being
spoiled with pimples, and of high blood, and long." But
Jonson was only thirteen years of age when Sidney died,
and the conversations with Drummond, from which this
sentence was quoted, abound in somewhat random state-

It was natural that a Telemachus of Sidney's stamp should
wish to visit Home before he turned his face northwards.
But his Huguenot Mentor, and perhaps also his friends at
home, so urgently dissuaded him from exposing his imma-
turity to the blandishments of the Catholic Calypso, that
he prudently refrained. After a short excursion to Genoa,
he returned to Venice, crossed the Alps, and was again
with Languet at Vienna in July. Here the grave youth,
who had set his heart on becoming perfect in all gentle ac-
complishments, divided his time between discourse on poli-
tics and literature, courtly pleasures, and equestrian exer-
cises. In the Defence of Poesy he has given us an agreeable


picture of his Italian master in horsemanship, the gascon-
ading Pugliano.

The winter of 1574-75 passed away at Vienna. In the
spring he attended the Emperor Maximilian to Prague,
where he witnessed the opening of the Bohemian Diet.
Thence he moved homewards through Dresden, Heidel-
berg, Strasburg, and Frankfort, reaching London in June.
During his absence one of his two sisters, Ambrozia, had
died at Ludlow Castle. The queen took the other, Mary,
under special protection, and attached her to her person.
A new chapter was now opened in the young man's life.
His education being finished, he entered upon the life of



SIDNEY'S prospects as a courtier were excellent. His
powerful uncle Leicester, now at the height of royal favor,
displayed marked partiality for the handsome youth, who
was not unnaturally regarded by the world as his pre-
sumptive heir. In July 1575 Philip shared those famous
festivities with which the earl entertained Elizabeth at
Kenil worth; and when the Court resumed its progress, he
attended her Majesty to Chartley Castle. This was the
seat of the Earl of Essex, W 7 ho was then in Ireland. The
countess, in his absence, received her royal guest; and here
Sidney, for the first time, met the girl with whom his fort-
unes and his fame were destined to be blended. Lady
Penelope Devereux, illustrious in English literature as Sir
Philip Sidney's Stella, was now in her thirteenth year;
and it is not likely that at this time she made any strong
impression on his fancy. Yet we find that soon after the
return of Essex from Ireland in the autumn of 1575, he
had become intimate with the earl's family. At Durham
House, their London residence, he passed long hours dur-
ing the following winter; and when Essex went again to
Iii-land as Earl-Marshal in July 1576, Philip accompanied
him. It should here be said that Sir Henry Sidney had
be fii humiliated for the third time Lord Deputy in August


1575. Philip's visit was therefore paid to his father; but
he made it in company with the man whom he had now
come to regard as his future father-in-law. There is little
doubt that had Lord Essex lived, the match would have
been completed. But the Earl-Marshal died at Dublin on
the 21st of September, after a painful illness, which raised
some apparently ill-founded suspicions of poison. Philip
was in Gal way with his father, and Essex sent him this
message on his deathbed: "Tell him I sent him nothing,
but I wish him well ; so well that, if God do move their
hearts, I wish that he might match with my daughter. I
call him son ; he is so wise, virtuous, and godly. If he
go on in the course he hath begun, he will be as famous
and worthy a gentleman as ever England bred." These

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words are sufficient to prove that Philip's marriage with
Penelope was contemplated by her father. That the
world expected it appears from a letter of Mr. Edward
Waterhouse to Sir Henry Sidney under date 14th Novem-
ber. After first touching upon the bright prospects opened
for "the little Earl of Essex," this gentleman proceeds:
" and I suppose all the best sort of the English lords, be-
sides, do expect what will become of the treaty between
Mr. Philip and my Lady Penelope. Truly, my Lord, I
must say to your Lordship, as I have said to my Lord of
Leicester and Mr. Philip, the breaking off from their
match, if the default be on your parts, will turn to more
dishonour than can be repaired with any other marriage in

What interrupted the execution of this marriage treaty
is not certain. Penelope's mother, the widowed Lady
Essex, was privately wedded to the Earl of Leicester soon
after her first husband's death. The Sidneys were poor.
Lady Mary Sidney writes to Lord Burleigh about this


time: "My present estate is such by reason of my debts,
I cannot go forward with any honourable course of liv-
ing." It is remarkable that, so far as we know, she placed
but little confidence in her brother Leicester, preferring to
appeal in difficulties to a friend like Cecil. Philip was
often at a loss to pay his debts. We possess, for instance,
the copy of a long bill from his bootmaker which he re-
quests his father's steward to discharge "for the safeguard
of his credit." Thus Leicester's marriage, which seriously
impaired Philip's prospects, Lady Mary's want of cordiality
toward her brother, and the poverty of the Sidneys, may
be reckoned among the causes which postponed Penelope's
betrothal. It should also here be noticed that Sir Henry
Sidnev entertained a grudge against the Earl of Essex.

Cs C^ Cj

Writing to Lord Leicester, he couples Essex with his old
enemy the Earl of Ormond, adding that " for that their
malice, I take God to record, I could brook nothing of
them both." We may therefore conclude that Philip's
father was unfavourable to the match. But the chief
cause remains to be mentioned. Up to this time the pro-
posed bridegroom felt no lover's liking for the lady.
Languct frequently wrote, urging him to marry, and using
arguments similar to those which Shakespeare pressed on
his " fair friend." Philip's answers show that, unless he
was a deep dissembler, he remained heart-free. So time
Dipped by. Perhaps he thought that he might always
pluck the rose by only asking for it. At any rate, he dis-
played no eagerness, until one morning the news reached
him that his Penelope was contracted to a man unworthy
of her, Lord Rich. Then suddenly the flame of passion,
whi'-h had smouldered so obscurely as to be unrecognised
by his own heart, burst out into a blaze; and what was
worse, he discovered that Penelope too loved him. In the


chapter devoted to Sidney's poetry I shall return to this
subject. So much, however, had to be said here, in order
to present a rio'lit conception of his character. For at
least four years, between the death of Essex, in September
1576, and Penelope's marriage, which we may place in the
spring or summer of 1581, he was aware that her father
with his last breath had blessed their union. Yet he never
moved a step or showed any eagerness until it was too
late. It seems that this grave youth, poet as he was, pas-
sionate lover as he undoubtedly became, and hastv as he

f /

occasionally showed himself in trifles, had a somewhat
politic and sluggish temperament. Fulke Greville recorded
that he never was a bov ; Lano-uet could chide him for

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being: sad beyond his years : he wrote himself, amid the

* /

distractions of Venetian society, that he required hard
studies to drive awav melancholy. Moreover, he indulged

f / O

dreams of hio-h and noble ambition. Self -culture, the

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preparation of his whole nature for some great task in life,
occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of a woman's image.
This saved him from the faults and follies of his age; but
it rendered him cold, until the poet's fire leaped up and
kindled a slumbering emotion.


Not love, but the ambition of a statesman, then was
Sidney's ruling passion at this time. He had no mind to
"sport with Amaryllis in the shade," or even to "meditate
the thankless Muse," when work could be done for Eng-
land and the affairs of Europe called for energetic action.
In the spring of 1577 Elizabeth selected him for a mission,
which flattered these aspirations. Rodolph of Hapsburg
had just succeeded to the imperial throne, and the Elector
Palatine had died, leaving two sons, Lewis and John
Casimir. She sent Philip to congratulate the emperor
and to condole with the bereaved princes. He stipulated


that, aft<T performing the ceremonial part of this embassy,
IK- .should l>e permitted to confer with the German Powers
upon the best means of maintaining reformed principles
and upholding political liberties. Instructions were ac-
cording v drawn up which empowered the youthful envoy
to touch upon these points. At the end of February he
set out upon his travels, attended by Fulke Greville and by
a train of gentlefolk. In the houses where he lodged he
aused tablets to be fixed, emblazoned with his arms, under
which ran a Latin inscription to this effect : " Of the most
illustrious and well-born English gentleman, Philip Sidney,
son of the Viceroy of Ireland, nephew of the Earls of
Warwick and Leicester, Ambassador from the most Serene
(^ueen of England to the Emperor." This ostentation was
not out of harmony with the pompous habits of that age.
Yet we may perhaps discern in it Sidney's incapacity to
treat his own affairs with lightness. He took himself and


all that concerned him au serieux ; but it must also be ob-
served that he contrived to make others accept him in like
manner. As Jonson puts it, when comparing himself,
under the name of Horace, with men of less sterling merit :

" If they should confidently praise their works,
In them it would appear inflation ;
Which, in a full and well-digested man,
Cannot receive that foul, abusive name,
But the fair title of erection."

!i first proceeded to Heidelberg, where he failed to find
the Elector Lewis, but made acquaintance with the younger
prince, his brother Casimir. The palatinate, like many of
the petty German states, was torn by religious factions.
The last elector had encouraged Calvinism : but his son

O *

l.-wis was now introducing Lutheran ministers into his do-


minions. The Calvinists, after enduring considerable hard-
ships, had to emigrate; and many of them took refuse
with Prince Casimir. It seems that before he reached
Heidelberg, Sidney had been met bv Hubert Languet: and

O' */ * O

this o-ood counseller attended him through all his German

O ^

wanderings. They went together to Prague, where the
new emperor was holding his Court. Here, even more
than at Heidelberg, the English Envoy found matter for
serious disquietude. Rodolph had grown up under Catho-
lic influences, and the Jesuits were gaining firm hold upon
his capital. Students of history will remember that a Jes-
uit Father had negotiated the participation of the Emperor
Ferdinand in the closing of the Tridentine Council. Aus-


tria, under his grandson Rodolph's rule, bid fair to become
one of their advanced posts in northern Europe. Sidney
meant, so far as in him lay, to shake the prestige of this
" extremely Spaniolated " and priestridden emperor. It
was his intention to harangue in Germany against the
" fatal conjunction of Rome's undermining superstition
with the commanding forces of Spain." Fulke Greville
has sketched the main line of his argument ; but it is hard-

o /

ly probable that lie bearded the lion in his den and spoke
his mind out before the imperial presence. The substance
of the policy he strove to impress upon those German
princes who took the Protestant side, and upon all well-
wishers to the people, was that the whole strength of their
great nation could not save them from the subtle poison
which Sarpi styled the Diacatholicon, unless they made a
vigorous effort of resistance. Rome, by her insidious arts
and undermining engines by her Jesuits and casuistical

o o /

sophistications sapped the social fabric and dissolved the
ancestral loyalties of races. Into the dismembered and
disintegrated mass marched Spain with her might of arms,


her money, her treaties, marriages, and encouragement of
>L-dition. In short, Sidney uttered a prophecy of what
happened in the Thirty Years' War, that triumph of Jesu-
itical diplomacy. As a remedy he proposed that all the
German Powers who valued national independence, and
had a just dread of Spanish encroachment, should "asso-
ciate by an uniform bond of conscience for the protection
of religion and liberty." In other words, lie espoused the
policy of what was known as the Fcedus Evanyelicum.

Theoretically, tins plan was not only excellent, but also
necessary for stemming the advance of those reactionary
forces, knit together by bonds of common interest and
common enthusiasm, which governed the Counter Refor-
mation. But unfortunately it rested upon no solid basis
of practical possibilities. A Protestant Alliance, formed to
secure the political and religious objects of the Reforma-
tion in its warfare with Catholicism, had been the cherish-
ed scheme of northern statesmen since the days of Henry
VIII. The principles of evangelical piety, of national free-
dom, of progressive thought, and of Teutonic emancipation
upon regulated methods, might perhaps have been estab-
lished, if the Church of England could have combined with
the Lutherans of Germany, theCalvinists of Geneva, and of
France, Sweden, and the Low Countries, in a solid confed-
eration for the defence of civil and religious liberty. But
from the outset, putting national jealousies and diplomatic
difficulties aside, there existed in the very spirit of Protest-
antism a power antagonistic to cohesion. Protestantism
had its root in critical and sceptical revolt. From the first
it assumed forms of bewildering diversity on points of doc-
trine. Each of its sects passed at an early stage into dog-
matism, hardly less stubborn than that of the Catholic
< liurch. It afforded no common or firm groundwork for



alliance. Lutherans, Zwinglians, Anglicans, Anabaptists,
Hussites, Calvinists, Sacramentarians, Puritans, could not
work together for a single end. It lias always been thus
with the party of progress, the Liberals of world-transform-
ing moments in the march of thought. United by no

o n */

sanctioned Credo, no fixed Corpus Fidei, no community of
Conservative tradition ; owing no allegiance to a spiritual
monarch; depending for their being on rebellion against
authority and discipline; disputing the fundamental prop-
ositions from which organisation has hitherto been ex-


panded, they cannot act in concert. These men are in-
novators, scene-shifters, to whom the new scene, as in the
plan of God it will appear, is still invisible. They are
movers from a fixed point to a point yet unascertained.
Each section into which they crystallise, and where as sects
they sterilise, conceives the coming order according to its
narrow prejudices. Each sails toward the haven of the
future by its own ill-balanced compass, and observes self-
chosen stars. The very instinct for change, the very ap-
prehension which sets so-called Reformers in motion, im-
plies individualities of opinion and incompatibilities of
will. Therefore they are collectively weak when ranged
against the ranks of orthodoxy and established discipline.
It is only because the life of the world beats in their hearts
and brains, because the onward faces of humanity are with
them, that they command our admiration. The victory of

./ v

liberalism in modern Europe was won at the cost of retro-
grade movements such as the extinction of free thought
in Italy and Spain, the crushing of the Huguenots in
France, the bloody persecution of the Netherlands, the
Thirty Years' War, and the ossification of the Reformed
Churches into inorganic stupidity. And the fruits of the

victory fall not to any sect of Protestantism, but to a new


spirit whieh arose in Science and the Revolution. To ex-
pect, therefore, as Sidney and the men with whom he sym-
pathised expected, that a Protestant League could be form-
ed, capable of hurling back the tide of Catholic reaction,
\\as little short of the indulgence of a golden dream. Facts
and the essence of the Reformation were against its possi-
bility. As a motive force in the world, Protestantism was

already well-nigh exhausted. Its energy had already pass-
ed into new forms. The men of the future were now rep-
resented by philosophers like Bruno and Bacon, by naviga-
tors of the world like Drake, by explorers of the heavens
like Galileo, by anatomists and physicists like Yesalius,
Servetus, Sarpi, Harvey.

AYhatever Sidney's hopes and dreams may have been, the
religious discords of Germany, torn asunder by Protestant
sectarians and worm-eaten to the core by Jesuitical propa-
gandists, must have rudely disilluded him. And no one
was better fitted than Lano-uet to dissect before his eves


the humours and imposthumes of that unwieldy body pol-

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 33 of 44)