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terpoised there by the arts of power and favour. The
.-.tin-inn' spirits sent abroad as fuel, to keep the flame far
IT; and the effeminate made judges of dangers which they
iVar, and honour which they understand not." He saw
" how the idle-censuring faction at home had won ground
of the active adventurers abroad ;" he perceived the queen's
" governors to sit at home in their soft chairs, playing fast
and loose with them that ventured their lives abroad."
All these considerations put together made him more than
lukewarm about the Netherlands campaign, and less than
eager to take office under so egotistical an administration.
It was his cherished scheme to join in some private en-
terprise, the object of which should be the enfeeblement
of Spain and the strengthening of England beyond the

The thoughts which occupied his mind took definite
shape in the summer of 1585. "The next step which he
intended into the world was an expedition of his own pro-
jecting ; wherein he fashioned the whole body, with pur-
pose to become head of it himself. I mean the last
employment but one of Sir Francis Drake to the West
Indies." With these words Greville introduces a minute
account of Sidney's part in that famous adventure. He
worked hard at the project, stirring up the several passions
which might induce men of various sympathies to furnish
assistance by money or by personal participation.

'To martial men he opened wide the door of sea and land for
faun- ami comiurst. To the nobly ambitious, the far stage of Ameri-
ca tu win honour in. To the religious divines, besides a new apostol-
olling of the lost heathen to the Christian faith, a large field of
]oor Christians misled by the idolatry of Rome to their


mother primitive church. To the ingeniously industrious, variety of
natural riches for new mysteries and manufactures to work upon.
To the merchant, with a simple people a fertile and unexhausted
earth. To the fortune -bound, liberty. To the curious, a fruitful
work of innovation. Generally, the word gold was an attractive ada-
mant to make men venture that which they have in hope to grow rich
by that which they have not."

Moreover he " won thirty gentlemen of great blood and
state here in England, every man to sell one hundred
pounds land" for fitting out a fleet. While firmly resolved
to join the first detachment which should sail from Plym-
outh, he had to keep his plans dark; for the queen would
not hear of his eno-ao-ino; in such ventures. It was accord-

o *TJ o

ino-ly ao-reed between him and Sir Francis that the latter

~ v O

should go alone to Plymouth, and that Sir Philip should
meet him there upon some plausible excuse. When they
had weighed anchor, Sidney was to share the chief com-
mand with Drake. Sir Francis in due course of time set
off; and early in September he sent a message praying ur-
gently for his associate's presence. It so happened that
just at this time Don Antonio of Portugal was expected at
Plymouth, and Philip obtained leave to receive him there.
From this point I shall let Fulke Greville tell the story in
his own old-fashioned language :

" Yet I that had the honour, as of being bred with him from his
youth, so now by his own choice of all England to be his loving and
beloved Achates in this journey, observing the countenance of this
gallant mariner more exactly than Sir Philip's leisure served him to
do, after we were laid in bed acquainted him with my observation of
the discountenance and depression which appeared in Sir Francis, as
if our coming were both beyond his expectation and desire. Never-
theless that ingenuous spirit of Sir Philip's, though apt to give me
credit, yet not apt to discredit others, made him suspend his dh'n and
labour to change or qualify by judgment ; till within some few days


iiftcr. finding tin- ships neither ready according to promise, nor pos-
\ t<> !> made ready in many days, and withal observing some
-parks of t'alsr lire breaking out from his yoke-fellow daily, it pleased
him in the fivedom of our friendship to return me my own stock
with inteiest.

11 All this while Don Antonio landed not; the fleet seemed to us,
like the weary passengers' inn, still to go farther from our desires;
s came from the Court to hasten it away ; but it may be the
feet and nimble thoughts of Sir Francis wrought in the day,
and unwrought by night, while he watched an opportunity to discov-
er us without being discovered.

"For within a few days after, a post steals up to the Court, upon
whose arrival an alarm is presently taken : messengers sent away to
stay us, or if we refused, to stay the whole fleet. Notwithstanding
this first Mercury, his errand being partly advertised to Sir Philip be-
forehand, was intercepted upon the way; his letters taken from him
by two resolute soldiers in mariners' apparel, brought instantly to
Sir Philip, opened and read. The next was a more imperial mandate,
carefully conveyed and delivered to himself by a peer of this realm;
carrying with it in the one hand grace, the other thunder. The grace
was an offer of an instant employment under his uncle, then going
general into the Low Countries ; against which as though he would
gladly have demurred, yet the confluence of reason, transcendency of
power, fear of staying the whole fleet, made him instantly sacrifice
all these self-places to the duty of obedience."

In plain words, then, Sir Francis Drake, disliking the
prospect of an equal in command, played Sir Philip Sidney
false by sending private intelligence to Court. The queen
expressed her will so positively that Sidney had to yield.
At the same time it was settled that he should go into the
Netherlands, under his uncle Leicester, holding her Majes-
ty's commission as Governor of Flushing and Rammekins.


By this rapid change of events his destiny was fixed.
1 >rake set sail on the 14th of September. Two months
later, n the 16th of November, Sidney left England for
l"t in the Low Countries. I ought here to add that


at some time during this busy summer his daughter Eliza-
beth, afterwards Countess of Rutland, was born.

Sidney's achievements in the Netherlands, except as
forming part of his short life, claim no particular atten-
tion. He was welcomed by Count Maurice of Nassau, the
eldest son of William, Prince of Orange ; and gleanings
from letters of the time show that folk expected much
from his activity and probity. But he enjoyed narrow
scope for the employment of his abilities. Rammekins, the
fortress which commanded Flushing, was inadequately fur-
nished and badly garrisoned. The troops were insufficient,
and so ill-paid that mutinies were always imminent. In
one of his despatches, urgently demanding fresh supplies,
he savs: "I am in a garrison as much able to command


Flushing as the Tower is to answer for London." The


Dutch government did not please him : he found " the peo-
ple far more careful than the government in all things
touching the public welfare." With the plain speech that
was habitual to him, he demanded more expenditure of
English money. This irritated the queen, and gave his
enemies at Court occasion to condemn him in his absence
as ambitious and proud. He began to show signs of im-
patience with Elizabeth. " If her Majesty were the fount-
ain, I would fear, considering what I daily find, that we
should wax dry." This bitter taunt he vented in a letter


to Sir Francis Walsinffham. Meanwhile the Earl of Leices-


ter arrived upon the 10th of December, and made mat-
ters worse. He laid himself out for honours of all sorts,
accepting the title of Governor-General over the United
Provinces, and coquetting with some vague scheme of being
chosen for their sovereign. Imposing but impotent, Leicester
had no genius for military affairs. The winter of 1585-86
through, with nothing memorable to relate.

5 ' o



The fallowing season, however, was marked by several
important incidents in Philip Sidney's private life. First,
Ladv Sidney joined her husband at Flushing. Then on
the 5th of May Sir Henry Sidney died in the bishop's
palace at Worcester. His body was embalmed and sent
to Penshurst. His heart was buried at Ludlow ; his en-
trails in the precincts of Worcester Cathedral. So passed
from life Elizabeth's sturdy servant in Ireland and Wales ;
a man, as I conceive him, of somewhat limited capacity
and stubborn temper, but true as steel, and honest in the
discharge of vcrv trvino- duties. Later in the same year,

> / o **

upon the 9th of August, Lady Mary Sidney yielded up her
gentle spirit. Of her there is nothing to be written but
the purest panegyric. Born of the noblest blood, surviv-
ing ambitious relatives who reached at royalty and perished,
losing health and beauty in the service of an exacting
queen, suffering poverty at Court, supporting husband and
children through all trials with wise counsel and sweet


hopeful temper, she emerges with pale lustre from all the
actors of that time to represent the perfect wife and moth-
er in a lady of unpretending, but heroic, dignity. Sidney
would have been the poorer for the loss of these parents,
if his own life had been spared. As it was, he survived
his mother but two months.

In July he distinguished himself by the surprise and
capture of the little town of Axel. Leicester rewarded
him for this service with the commission of colonel. Eliza-
beth resented his promotion. She wished the colonelcy for
Count Iliihenlohe, or Hollock, a brave but drunken soldier.
Walsingham wrote upon the occasion: "She layeth the
blame upon Sir Philip, as a thing by him ambitiously
'ight. I see her Majesty very apt upon every light oc-
-ion to find fault with him." Ambition, not of the


vaulting kind, which " overleaps itself," but of a steady,
persistent, intellectual stamp, was, indeed, I think, the lead-
ing quality in Sidney's nature. From the courtiers of the
period, the Leicesters, Oxfords, Ormonds, llattons, and so
forth, this mark of character honourably distinguished him.
And, if he had but lived, Elizabeth, who judged her serv-
ants with some accuracy, might by judicious curbing and
parsimonious encouragement have tempered the fine steel

of his frailtv into a blade of trenchant edo-e. There was


nothing ignoble, nothing frivolous in his ambition. It was
rather of such mettle as made the heroes of the common-
wealth : pure and un- self -seeking, but somewhat acrid.
And now he fretted himself too much because of evil-
doers; impatiently demanded men and munitions from Eng-
land ; vented his bile in private letters against Leicester.
Sidney was justified by events. The campaign dragged
negligently on ; and the Commander of the Forces paid
more attention to banquets and diplomatic intrigues than
to the rough work of war. But the tone adopted by him
in his irritation was hardly prudent for so young and so
comparatively needy a gentleman.

Whatever he found to blame in Leicester's conduct of
affairs, Sidney did not keep aloof; but used every effort
to inspire his uncle with some of his own spirit. At the
end of August they were both engaged in reducing the lit-
tle fort of Doesburg on the Yssel, which had importance
as the key to Zutphen. It fell upon the 2d of September ;
and on the 13th Zutphen was invested Lewis William of
Nassau, Sir John Norris, and Sir Philip Sidney command-
ing the land-forces, and Leicester blockading the approach
by water. The Duke of Parma, acting for Spain, did all
he could to reinforce the garrison with men and provisions.
News came upon the 21st to Leicester that a considerable
8* M


convoy was at Devcntcr waiting an opportunity to enter
the town, lie resolved to cut off these supplies, and fixed
an earlv hour of the 22d, which was a Thursday, for this

ration. AVe have a letter, the last which Sidney penned

fore his fatal wound, dated from the camp at Zutphen

upon the morning of the engagement. It recommends

hard Smyth, " her Majesty's old servant," to Sir Francis
\Yalsinu;ham, and is one among several writings of the kind
which show how mindful Sidney was of humble friends
and people in distress. The 22d of September opened

inily. So thick a mist covered the Flemish lowlands
that a man could not see farther than ten paces. Sidney,
leading a troop of two hundred horsemen, pushed his way
up to the walls of Zutphen. Chivalrous punctilio caused him
to be ill-defended, for meeting Sir William Pel ham in light
armour, he threw off his cuisses, and thus exposed himself
to unnecessary danger. The autumn fog, which covered
every object, suddenly dispersed; and the English now
found themselves confronted bv a thousand horsemen of


the enemy, and exposed to the guns of the town. They
-barged, and Sidney's horse was killed under him. He
mounted another, and joined in the second charge. Rein-
forcements came up, and a third charge was made, during
which he received a wound in the left leg. The bullet,
which some supposed to have been poisoned, entered above
the knee, broke the bone, and lodged itself high up in the
thigh. His horse took fright, and carried him at a gallop
:> 'in the field. He kept his seat, however ; and when the
animal was brought to order, had himself carried to Leices-
ter's station. On the way occurred the incident so well-
>\vn to every one who is acquainted with his name.
' r.'-iii-j; thir>ty with excess of bleeding, he called for drink,
which \\as presently brought him ; but as he was putting


the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor soldier carried aloi;_.
who had eaten his last at the same feast, ghastly casting
up his eyes at the bottle, which Sir Philip perceiving, took
it from his head before he drank, and delivered it to the
poor man, with these words, Thy necessity is yet greater
than mine. And when he had pledged this poor soldier,
he was presently carried to Arnheim."

At Arnheim he lay twenty -five days in the house of a
lady named Gruitthueisens. At first the surgeons who at-
tended him had good hopes of his recovery. Ten days
after the event Leicester wrote to Walsinffham : " All the


worst days be passed, and he amends as well as possible in
this time." Friends were around him his wife, his broth-
ers Robert and Thomas, and the excellent minister, George
Gifford, whom he sent for on the 30th. The treatment of
the wound exposed him to long and painful operations,
which he bore with a sweet fortitude that moved the sur-
geons to admiration. With Gifford and other godly men
he held discourses upon religion and the future of the soul.
He told Gifford that " he had walked in a vague course ;
and these words he spake with great vehemence both of
speech and gesture, and doubled it to the intent that it
might be manifest how unfeignedly he meant to turn more
thoughts unto God than ever." It is said that he amused


some hours of tedious leisure by composing a poem on La
Cuisse Rompue, which was afterwards sung to soothe him.
He also contrived to write " a large epistle in very pure
and eloquent Latin " to his friend Belarius the divine.
Both of these are lost.

As time wore on it appeared that the cure was not ad-
vancing. After the sixteenth day, says Greville, " the very
shoulder-bones of this delicate patient were worn through
his skin." He suffered from sharp pangs which " stang


iiiin l.v Jits/' d frit internally that his case was desperate.
"One morning lifting up the clothes for change and ease
of his body, he smelt some extraordinary noisome savour
about him, differing from oils and salves, as he conceived."
This he judged, and judged rightly, to be the sign of "in-
ward mortification, and a welcome messenger of death."
Thereupon he called the ministers into his presence, " and
before them made such a confession of Christian faith as
no book but the heart can truly and feelingly deliver."
Death had its terrors for his soul ; but he withstood them
manfullv, seeking peace and courage in the sacrifice of all
arthly affections. "There came to my mind," he said to
Gifford, "a vanity in which I delighted, whereof I had not
rid myself. I rid myself of it, and presently my joy and
comfort returned.' 1 Soon he was able to declare : " I would
not change my joy for the empire of the world." Yet, up
to the very last, he did not entirely despair of life. This
is proved by the very touching letter he wrote to John
\Yier, a famous physician, and a friend of his. It runs
thus in Latin : " Mi Wiere, veni, veni. De vita periclitor
et te cupio. Nee vivus, nee mortuus, ero ingratus. Plura
non possum, sed obnixe oro ut festines. Vale. Tuns Ph.
Sidney.' 1 k My dear friend Wier, come, come. I am in
IH ril of my life, and long for you. Neither living nor dead
:-hall I be ungrateful. I cannot write more, but beg you
urgently to hurry. Farewell. Your Ph. Sidney." In this
way several days passed slowly on. He had made his will
upon the 30th of September. This he now revised, adding
a codicil in which he remembered many friends and serv-
ants The document may be read in Collins' Sidney Pa-
pi r*. Much of it is occupied with provisions for the child,
with which his wife was pregnant at this time, and of
which she was afterwards delivered still-born. But the


thoughtful tenor of the whole justifies Grcvillc in saying
that it " will ever remain for a witness to the world that
those sweet and large affections in him could no more be
contracted with the narrowness of pain, grief, or sickness,
than any sparkle of our immortality can be privately buried
in the shadow of death."

Reflecting upon the past he exclaimed: "All things in
my former life have been vain, vain, vain." In this mood
he bade one of his friends burn the Arcadia ; but we know
not whether he expressed the same wish about Astropkel
and Stella. On the morning of the 17th of October it
was clear that he had but a few hours to live. His brother
Robert gave way to passionate grief in his presence, which
Philip gently stayed, taking farewell of him in these mem-
orable words: "Love my memory, cherish my friends;
their faith to me may assure you they are honest. But
above all, govern your will and affections by the will and
word of your Creator; in me beholding the end of this
world with all her vanities." Shortly afterwards he sank
into speechlessness, and the bystanders thought that what
he had greatly dreaded namely, death without conscious-
ness, would befall him. Yet when they prayed him for
some sign of his "inward joy and consolation in God," he
held his hand up and stretched it forward for a little while.
About two o'clock in the afternoon he again responded to
a similar appeal by setting his hands together in the atti-
tude of prayer upon his breast, and thus he expired.

Sidney's death sent a thrill through Europe. Leicester,
.who truly loved him, wrote upon the 25th, in words of
passionate grief, to Walsingham. Elizabeth declared that
she had lost her mainstay in the struggle with Spain.
Duplessis Mornay bewailed his loss " not for England only,
but for all Christendom." Mendoza, the Spanish secre-


tary, said that though he could not but rejoice at the loss
to hi> master of such a foe, he yet lamented to see Chris-
tendom deprived of so great a light, and bewailed poor
wid<> \\vd England. The Neth'erlanders begged to be al-
lowed to keep his body, and promised to erect a royal
monument to his memory, "yea, though the same should
cost half-a-ton of gold in the building." But this petition
was rejected; and the corpse, after embalmment, was re-
moved to Flushing. There it lay eight days; and on the
1st of November the English troops accompanied it with
military honours to the Black Prince, a vessel which had

belonged to Sidney. On the 5th it reached Tower Hill.


and on the 16th of February it was buried with pomp in
St. Paul's. This long delay between the landing in Lon-
don and the interment arose from certain legal complica-
tions, which rendered the discharge of Sidney's debts dif-
ficult. Walsingham told Leicester that he would have to


" pay for him about six thousand pounds, which I do assure
your Lordship hath brought me into a most desperate and
hard state, which I weigh nothing in respect of the loss of
the gentleman who was my chief worldly comfort." Lest
this should seem to reflect ill upon Sidney's character, it
must be added that he had furnished Walsinffham with a


power of attorney to sell land, and had expressly consid-
ered all his creditors in his will. But his own death hap-
pened so close upon his father's, and the will was so im-
perfect touching the sale of land, that his wishes could not
lie carried into effect. This, added Walsingham, " doth
greatly afflict me, that a gentleman that hath lived so un-
-potted in reputation, and had so great care to see all men
satMird, should be so exposed to the outcry of his credit-
ors.' When the obstacles had been surmounted the fu-
neral \\a* splendid and public. And the whole nation went


into mourning. " It was accounted a sin," says the author
of The Life and Death of Sir Philip Sidney, "for any
gentleman of quality, for many months after, to appear at
Court or City in any light or gaudy apparel."

I have told the story of Sidney's last days briefly, using
the testimony of those who knew him best, or who were
present at his death-bed. Comment would be superfluous.
There is a singular beauty in the uncomplaining, thought-
ful, manly sweetness of the young hero cut off in his prime.
Numberless minute touches, of necessity omitted here,
confirm the opinion that Sidney possessed unique charm
and exercised a spell over those who came in contact with
him. All the letters and reports which deal with that long
agony breathe a heartfelt tenderness, which proves how
amiable and how admirable he was. The character must
have been well-nigh perfect which inspired persons so dif-
ferent as the Earl of Leicester, George Gifford, and Fulke
Greville with the same devoted love. We have not to deal
merely with the record of an edifying end, but with the
longing retrospect of men whose best qualities had been
drawn forth by sympathy with his incomparable good-

The limits of this book make it impossible to give an
adequate account of the multitudinous literary tributes to
Sidney's memory, which appeared soon after his decease.
Oxford contributed Exequiae and Peplns ; Cambridge shed
Lacrymae ; great wits and little, to the number it is said
of some two hundred, expressed their grief with more or
less felicity of phrase. For us the value of these elegiac
verses is not great. But it is of some importance to know
what men of weight and judgment said of him. His dear-
est and best friend has been so often quoted in these pages
that we are now familiar with Greville's life-lono- adora-


tion. Yet I cannot omit the general character be gives of
Sidney :

"Indeed In- was a true model of worth ; a man fit for conquest,
plantation, reformation, or what action soever is greatest and hardest
among men : withal, such a lover of mankind and goodness, that
whoever had any real parts in him, found comfort, participation, and
protection to the uttermost of his power : like Zephyrus, he giving
life where he blew. The universities abroad and at home accounted
him a general Mecaenas of learning ; dedicated their books to him ;
and communicated every invention or improvement of knowledge
with him. Soldiers honoured him, and were so honoured by him as
no man thought he marched under the true banner of Mars that had
not* obtained Sir Philip Sidney's approbation. Men of affairs in most
parts of Christendom entertained correspondency with him. But
what speak I of these, with whom his own ways and ends did con-
cur ? Since, to descend, his heart and capacity were so large that
there was not a cunning painter, a skilful engineer, an excellent mu-
sieian, or any other artificer of extraordinary fame, that made not
himself known to this famous spirit, and found him his true friend
without hire, and the common rendezvous of worth in his time."

Thomas Nash may be selected as the representative of
literary men who honoured Sidney.

" Gentle Sir Philip Sidney !" he exclaims ; " thou knewest what be-

Online LibraryJohn MorleyEnglish men of letters (Volume 3) → online text (page 43 of 44)