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tli- pa-toral; "the laincniin - elegiac;" "the bitter

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'ho iambic;" the satiric; the comic, " whom

iv-makers and stage-keepers have justly made


odious ;" " the high and excellent tragedy, that openeth
the greatest wounds, and showcth forth the ulcers that are
covered with tissue that maketh kings fear to be tyrants,
and tyrants to manifest their tyrannical humours that
with stirring the effects of admiration and commiseration,
teacheth the uncertainty of this world, and upon how
weak foundations gilded roofs are buildcd ;" the lyric.
" who with his tuned lyre and well-accorded voice giveth
praise, the reward of virtue, to virtuous acts who giveth
moral precepts and natural problems who sometimes
raiseth up his voice to the height of the heavens, in sing-
ing the lauds of the immortal God ;" the epic or heroic,
" whose-very name, I think, should daunt all backbiters . . .


which is not only a kind, but the best and most accom-
plished kind of poetry." He calls upon the detractors of
poesy to bring their complaints against these several sorts,
and to indicate in each of them its errors. What they
may allege in disparagement, he meets with chosen argu-
ments, among which we can select his apology for the
lyric. " Certainly, I must confess my own barbarousness :
I never heard the old song of * Percy and Douglas ' that I
found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet;
and yet it is sung but by some blind crowder, with no
rougher voice than rude style ; which being so evil-appar-
elled in the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, what
would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of

Having reached this point, partly on the way of argu-
ment, partly on the path of appeal and persuasion, Sidney
halts to sum his whole position up in one condensed para-
graph :

" Since, ihen, poetry is of all human learnings the most ancient

and of most fatherly antiquity, as from whence other learnings have


.'innings ; since it is so universal that no learned na-

i doth de-piso it, nor barbarous nation is without it; since both

i. in :ui'l (in-ek gave such divine names unto it, the one of prophe-

the other of making, and that indeed that name of making is fit

nsidering, that wliere all other arts retain themselves with-

in their subject, ami receive, as it were, their being from it, the poet

only, onlv biingeth his own stuff, and doth not learn a conceit out of

a matter, l-ut maketh matter for a conceit; since neither his descrip-

tiuii nor end contained! any evil, the thing described cannot be evil;

.-in etVects bo so good as to teach goodness, and delight the

learner- <(' it ; since therein (namely in moral doctrine, the chief of

all kn<>\\ led_ r < .-) In- doth not only far pass the historian, but, for in-

.cting, is \\cll nigh comparable to the philosopher; for moving,

leavcth him behind him; since the Holy Scripture (wherein there is

.ness) hath whole parts in it poetical, and that even our

riour Christ vouchsafed to use the flowers of it; since all his kinds

not only in their united forms, but in their severed dissections

fully commendable; I think, and think I think rightly, the laurel

MI appointed for triumphant captains, doth worthily, of all other

honour the poet's triumph."

<>hj..-i-ti"nN remain to be combated in detail. Sidney
< - li one first, uliieh offers no great difficulty. The

detractors of poetry gird at "rhyming and versing." lie
ha- :ihv:idy laid it down that " one may be a poet without
-itr.:, and a versifier without poetry." But he has also
shown wliv metrical lanjniajye should be regarded as the

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<-h.i'v>t and mt polished mode of speech. Verse, too,

it>r]f to inusi,' more properly than prose, and far exceeds

' in tin- knitting up of the memory." Nor is rhyme to

affected, especially in modern metres; seeing that it

^rikc- a HUM,- to the car. But the enemy advances heav-

A _'.! inst poetry he alleges (1) that there

tudn-s upon \\-hich a man may spend his time move

i (2) that it is the mother of lies; (3) that it is

"f abuse, corrupting the fancy, enfeebling manli-


ness, and instilling pestilent desires into the soul ; (4) that
Plato banished poets from his commonwealth.

These four points arc taken seriatim, and severally an-
swered. The first is set aside, as involving a beginner of

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the question at issue. To the second Sidney replies " par-
adoxically, but truly I think truly, that of all writers under
the sun the poet is the least liar; and though he would, as
a poet, can scarcely be a liar." It is possible to err, and
to affirm falsehood, in all the other departments of knowl-
edge ; but "for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and there-
fore nothing lieth." His sphere is not the region of
ascertained fact, or of logical propositions, but of imag-
ination and invention. He labours not " to tell you what
is, or is not, but what should, or should not be." None is
so foolish as to mistake the poet's world for literal fact.
" What child is there, that cometh to a play, and seeing
Thebes written in great letters upon an old door, doth be-
lieve that it is Thebes ?" The third point is more weighty.
Are poets blamable, in that they " abuse men's wit, train-
ing it to a wanton sinfulness and lustful love?" Folk sav

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" the comedies rather teach than reprehend amorous con-
ceits ; they say the lyric is larded with passionate sonnets ;
the elegiac weeps the want of his mistress ; and that even
to the heroical Cupid hath ambitiously climbed." Here
Sidney turns to Love, and, as though himself acknowledg-
ing that deity, invokes him to defend his own cause. Yet
let us "grant love of beauty to be a beastly fault," let us
"grant that lovely name of love to deserve all hateful re-
proaches," what have the adversaries gained ? Surely they
have not proved " that poetry abuseth "man's wit, but that
man's wit abuseth poetry." " But what ! shall the abuse
of a tiling make the rio;ht odious?" Does not law, does

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not physic, injure man every day by the abuse of ignorant


| " Doth not God's Word abused breed heresy,
name abused become blasphemy?" Yet these
e contend that before poetry came to infect the Eng-
.. "oar nation had set their heart's delight upon action
and ii.. t imagination, rather doing things worthy to be
written than writing things fit to be done." But when
\\:i- there that time when the Albion nation was without
i \ ] Of a truth, this argument is levelled against all
learning and all culture. It is an attack, worthy of Goths
Vandals, upon the stronghold of the intellect. As such,
ini^ht dismiss it. Let us, however, remember that
p.'ctrv is the companion of camps : I dare undertake, Or-
lando Furioso or honest King Arthur will never displease
Mier; but the quiddity of ens and prima materia will
hardly agree with a corselet." Alexander on his Indian
ampai'j;ns left the living Aristotle behind him, but slept
with the dead llomer in his tent; condemned Callisthenes
i" death, but yearned for a poet to commemorate his deeds.
I/i-tly, they advance Plato's verdict against poets. Plato,
^ iin-y. " I have ever esteemed most worthy of rever-
: and with good reason, since of all philosophers he
i- the most poetical." Ilaving delivered this sly thrust, he
proved- : "' first, truly, a man might maliciously object that
1'lato, brim: a philosopher, was a natural enemy of poets."
V \t let us look into his writings. Has any poet author-
tilthincss more abominable than one can find in the
1'hardnis' and the "Symposium?" " Again, a man
mi-iit a-k -ut of what commonwealth Plato doth banish
It is in sooth one where the community of wom-
a I'-Tinitted ; and " little should poetical sonnets be hurt-
hen a man might have what woman he listed." Af-
thus trifling with the subject, Sidney points out that
to waa not offended with poetry, but with the abuse of


it. He objected to the crude theology and the monstrou>
ethics of the myth-makers. " So as Plato, banishing the
abuse not the thing, not banishing it, but giving due hon-
our to it, shall be our patron and not our adversary."
Once again he pauses, to recapitulate :

" Since the excellencies of poesy may be so easily and so justly
confirmed, and the low creeping objections so soon trodden down ; it
not being an art of lies, but of true doctrine; not of effeminateness,
but of notable stirring of courage ; not of abusing man's wit, but of
strengthening man's wit ; not banished, but honoured by Plato ; let
us rather plant more laurels for to ingarland the poets 1 heads (which
honour of being laureate, as besides them only triumphant captains
were, is a sufficient authority to show the price they ought to be
held in) than suffer the ill-favoured breath of such wrong speakers
once to blow upon the clear springs of poesy."

Then he turns to England. Why is it that England, " the
mother of excellent minds, should be grown so hard a
stepmother to poets ?"

"Sweet poesy, that hath anciently had kings, emperors, senators,
great captains, such as, besides a thousand others, David, Adrian,
Sophocles, Germanicus, not only to favour poets, but to be poets :
and of our nearer times, can present for her patrons, a Robert, King
of Sicily ; the great King Francis of France ; King James of Scot-
land; such cardinals as Bernbus and Bibiena; such famous preach-
ers and teachers as Beza and Melancthon ; so learned philosophers
as Fracastorius and Scaliger; so great orators as Pontanus and
Muretus ; so piercing wits as George Buchanan; so grave counsellors
as, besides many, but before all, that Hospital of France ; than whom,
I think, that realm never brought forth a more accomplished judg-
ment more firmly builded upon virtue ; I say, these, with numbers of
others, not only to read others' poesies, but to poetise for others'
reading : that poesy, thus embraced in all other places, should only
find, in our time, a hard welcome in England, I think the very earth
laments it, and therefore decks our soil with fewer laurels than if
was accustomed.' 1


Tin- true cause is that in England so many incapable folk
u , With the exception of the Mirror of Magis-

//</ I, L'-rd Surrey's Lyrics, and The Shepherd's Kalendar,

1 d not remember to have seen but few (to speak bold-

printed, that have poetical sinews in them." At this
point he introduces a lengthy digression upon the stage,
which, were we writing a history of the English drama,
oti^ht to be quoted in full. It is interesting because it
proves how the theatre occupied Sidney's thoughts; and
vt-t In- had not perceived that from the humble plays
of the people an unrivalled flower of modern art was about
to emerge. The Defence of Poesy was written before
Marlowe created the romantic drama; before Shakespeare
arrived in London. It was written in all probability be-
fore its author could have attended the representation of
Greene's and Peele's best plays. Gorboduc, which he
pra'iM > moderately and censures with discrimination, seem-
to him the finest product of dramatic art in England,
iause it approached the model of Seneca and the Italian
tragedians. For the popular stage, with its cha6s of tragic
and c.iinic elements, its undigested farrago of romantic in-
'idents and involved plots, he entertained the scorn of a
highly-educated scholar and a refined gentleman. Yet no

in-, l-t us be sure, would have welcomed Othello and The
M>i'<-I,,iitt < t f I'cnice, Volpone and A Woman Killed with
Kindness, more enthusiastically than Sidney, had his life

D pr-. traded through the natural span of mortality.
Having uttered his opinion frankly on the drama, he at-
; ' courtesan-like painted affectation" of the Eng-
at his time. Far-fetched words, alliteration, euphuistic
. - from B tone a and beasts and plants, fall under his hon-
t cen-Miv. II,- mentions no man. But he is clearly aim-
in- at the school of Lyly and the pedants ; for he pertinent-


ly observes : " I have found in divers small-learned courtiers
a more sound style than in some professors of learning."
Lano-uaofe should be used, not to trick out thoughts with

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irrelevant ornaments or to smother them in conceits, but to
make them as clear and natural as words can do. It is a
sin against our mother speech to employ these meretricious
arts; for whoso will look dispassionately into the matter,
shall convince himself that English, both in its freedom

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from inflections and its flexibility of accent, is aptest of all
modern tongues to be the vehicle of simple and of beauti-
ful utterance.

The peroration to The Defence of Poesy is an argument
addressed to the personal ambition of the reader. It some-
what falls below the best parts of the essay in style, and
makes no special claim on our attention. From the forego-
ing analysis it will be seen that Sidney attempted to cover
a wide field, combining a philosophy of art with a practical
review of English literature. Much as the Italians had re-


cently written upon the theory of poetry, I do not remem-
ber any treatise which can be said to have supplied the
material or susfo-ested the method of this apology. Eno-Jand,

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of course, at that time was destitute of all but the most
meagre textbooks on the subject. Great interest therefore
attaches to Sidney's discourse as the original outcome of

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his studies, meditations, literary experience, and converse
with men of parts. Though we may not be prepared to
accept each of his propositions, though some will demur to
his conception of the artist's moral aim, and others to his
.inclusion of prose fiction in the definition of poetry, while
all will agree in condemning his mistaken dramatic theory,
none can dispute the ripeness, mellowness, harmony, and
felicity of mental gifts displayed in work at once so concise
and so compendious. It is indeed a pity that English lit-


iture then furnished but slender material for criticism.
When w remember that, among the poems of the English
Renaissance, only Surrey's Lyrics, Gorboduc, the Mirror
.\f,i>/;.<ti-'ttc}f, and The Shepherd's Calendar could be
j.raiM-.l \\itli candour (and I think Sidney was right in this
judgment), wo shall be better able to estimate his own high
1 1. .xition, and our mental senses will be dazzled by the achieve-
ments of the last three centuries. Exactly three centuries
have elapsed since Sidney fell at Zutphen ; and who shall
ft Mint the poets of our race, stars differing indeed in glory,
hut >tars that stream across the heavens of song from him
to us in one continuous galaxy?

Sir Philip Sidney was not only eminent as pleader, crit-
ic, and poet. He also ranked as the patron and protector
t.f nirn of letters. " He was of a very munificent spirit,"
Bays Aubrey, "and liberal to all lovers of learning, and to
those that pretended to any acquaintance with Parnassus;
insomuch that he was cloyed and surfeited with the poet-
rs <.f those days." This sentence is confirmed by the
l verses written on his death, and by the many
>k< \\ hidi were inscribed with his name. A list of these
mav !> read in Dr. Zouch's Life. It is enough for our

^ ^>

jmrpo - to enumerate the more distinguished. To Sidney,
v user dedicated the first fruits of his genius, and Hak-
luyt the iirst collection of his epoch-making Voyages,
ll'-nri Ktienne, who was proud to call himself the friend of
Sidney, pl;ux>d his 1576 edition of the Greek Testament
and hi l.'.>l edition of llerodian under the protection of
name. Lord Brooke, long after his friend's death, ded-

ollected works to Sidney's memory.
all the.xe tributes to his love of learning the most in-


ting in my opinion is that of Giordano Bruno. This
tan of impassioned speculation passed two years in Lon-


don between 1583 and 1585. Here he composed, and
here he printed, his most important works in the Italian
tongue. Two of these he presented, with pompous com-
mendatory epistles, to Sir Philip Sidney. They were his
treatise upon Ethics, styled Lo Spaccio della Bestia Trion-
fante, and his discourse upon the philosophic enthusiasm,
entitled Gil Eroici Furori. That Bruno belonged to Sid-
ney's circle, is evident from the graphic account he gives
of a supper at Fulke Greville's house, in the dialogue called
La Cena delle Ceneri. His appreciation of " the most il-
lustrious and excellent knight's " character transpires in the
following phrase from one of his dedications : " the natural
bias of your spirit,' which is truly heroical." Those who
know what the word eroica implied for Bruno, not only of
personal courage, but of sustained and burning spiritual pas-
sion, will appreciate this eulogy by one of the most penetrat-
ing and candid, as he was the most unfortunate of truth's
martyrs. Had the proportions of my work justified such
a digression, I would eagerly have collected from Bruno's

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Italian discourses those paragraphs which cast a vivid light
upon literary and social life in England. But these belong
rather to Bruno's than to Sidney's biography.



Sidney's marriage there remained but little more

than tlnv.- years of life to him. The story of this period

in:iy In- brierl v t-Kl. Two matters of grave import occupied

mind. These were: first, the menacing attitude of

- tin and the advance of the Counter-Reformation ; sec-

lly, a project of American Colonisation. The suspicious

.:li 'f the Duke of Anjou, followed by the murder of

tin- lYnn.v of Orange in 1584, rendered Elizabeth's iriterfer-

'.n the L<w Countries almost imperative. Philip II.,

1 by the powers of Catholicism, and served in secret

by the formidable Company of Jesus, threatened Europe with

the extinrtion of religious and political liberties. It was

known that, sooner or later, he must strike a deadly blow

;. Jand. The Armada loomed already in the distance.


I'. :t In.w \\a> he to be attacked? Sidney thought that
L izabeth would do well to put herself at the head of a
1'' ml allian.-e against what Fulke Grevillc aptly styled

" m:i>k-d between Spain, Rome, and the Jes-
uitiral fa.-tmn of France." He also strongly recommended

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96 of tin- Uritish navy and a policy of protecting

HI)_MK-II..N in their French seaports. But he judged

H-rlainU an ill-chosen field for fighting the main

ith Spain. There, Philip was firmly seated in


well-furnished cities, where lie could mass troops and muni-
tions of war at pleasure. To maintain an opposition on
the side of Holland was of course necessary. But the re-
ally vulnerable point in the huge Spanish empire seemed
to him to be its ill-defended territory in the West Indies.
Let then the Protestant League, if possible, be placed upon
a firmer basis. Let war in the Low Countries be prosecut-
ed without remission. But, at the same time, let the Eng-
lish use their strongest weapon, attack by sea. Descents
might be made from time to time upon the Spanish ports,
as Drake had already harried Vera Cruz, and was afterwards
to fall on Cadiz. Buccaneering and filibustering expedi-
tions against the Spanish fleets which brought back treas-
ure across the Indian main, were not to be contemned.
But he believed that the most efficient course would be to
plant a colony upon the American continent, which should
at the same time be a source of strength to England and a
hostile outpost for incursions into the Spanish settlements.
Fulke Greville has devoted a large portion of his Life to the
analysis of Sidney's opinions on these subjects. He sums
them up as follows : " Upon these and the like assumptions
he resolved there were but two ways left to frustrate this
ambitious monarch's designs. The one, that which divert-
ed Hannibal, and by setting fire on his own house made
him draw in his spirits to comfort his heart; the other,
that of Jason, by fetching away his golden fleece and not
suffering any one man quietly to enjoy that which every
man so much affected."

In the autumn of 1584 Sidney sat again in the House of
Commons, where he helped to forward the bill for Raleigh's
expedition to Virginia. This in fact was an important step
in the direction of his favourite scheme ; for his view of the
American colony was that it should be a real " plantation,


not like an asylum f>r fugitives, a bellum piraticum for
banditti, or any such base ramas of people; but as an em-
porium for the confluence of all nations that love or profess
anv kind of virtue or commerce." Parliament next year
had to take strong measures against the Jesuits, who were
already fomenting secret conspiracies to dethrone or assas-
sinate the queen. The session ended in March, and in April
Raleigh started for the New World. Three months later
Sidnev received a commission to share the Mastership of
the Ordnance with his uncle Warwick. He found that de-
partment of the public service in a lamentable plight, owing
to Elizabeth's parsimony ; and soon after his appointment,
he risked her displeasure by firmly pressing for a thorough
replenishment of the stores upon which England's efficiency
as a belligerent would depend.

It was probably in this year that Sidney took up his
pen to defend his uncle Leicester against the poisonous
libel, popularly known as Leicester's Commonwealth, and
generally ascribed to the Jesuit Parsons. We possess the
rough draft of his discourse, which proves convincingly
that he at least was persuaded of the earl's innocence. He
does not even deign to answer the charges of " dissimulation,
hypocrisy, adultery, falsehood, treachery, poison, rebellion,
treason, cowardice, atheism, and what not," except by a flat
denial, and a contemptuous interrogation : " what is it else
but such a bundle of railings, as if it came from the mouth
of some half drunk scold in a tavern ?" By far the larger
portion of the defence is occupied with an elaborate exhibi-
ti'n of the pedigree and honours of the House of Dudley,
in reply to the hint that Edmund, Leicester's grandfather,
wa< basely born. Sidney, as we have seen, set great store
'ii his own descent from the Dudleys, which he rated high-
et than his paternal ancestry; and this aspersion on their


origin inspired him with unmeasured anger. At the close
of the pamphlet he throws down the glove to his anony-
mous antagonist, and deh'es him to single combat. " And,
from the date of this writing, imprinted and published, I
will three months expect thine answer." Ilorace Walpole
was certainly not justified in calling this spirited, but ill-
balanced composition, " by far the best specimen of his

June 1585 marked an era in the foreign policy of Eliza-
beth. She received a deputation from the Netherlands,
who offered her the sovereignty of the United Provinces if
she would undertake their cause. This offer she refused.
But the recent adhesion of the French Crow r n to what was
called the Holy League, rendered it necessary that she
should do something. Accordingly, she agreed to send 6000
men to the Low Countries, holding Flushing and Brill with
the Castle of Rammekins in pledge for the repayment of
the costs of this expedition. Sidney began now to be
spoken of as the most likely governor of Flushing. But
at this moment his thoughts were directed rather to the
New World than to action in Flanders. We have already
seen why he believed it best to attack Spain there. A let-
ter written to him by Ralph Lane from Virginia echoes
his own views upon this topic. The governor of the new
plantation strongly urged him to head a force against what
Greville called " that rich and desert West Indian mine."
Passing by the islands of St. John and Hispaniola, Lane
had observed their weakness. "How greatly a small force
would o;arboil him here, when two of his most richest and

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strongest islands took such alarms of us, not only landing,
but dwelling upon them, with only a hundred and twenty
men, I refer it to your judgment." Sidney, moreover, had
grown to distrust Burleigh's government of England.


" Nature," says Grcvillc, "guiding his eyes first to his na-
ti\v .-.'iiutrv, he found greatness of worth and place coun-

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 42 of 44)