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longed to a scholar ; thou knewest what pains, what toil, what travail,
conduct to perfection ; well couldst thou give every virtue his encour-
agement, every art his due, every writer his desert, cause none more
virtuous, witty, or learned than thyself. But thou art dead in thy
grave, and hast left too few successors of thy glory, too few to cher-
i.-h the sons of the Muses, or water those budding hopes with their
plenty, which thy bounty erst planted."

Lastly, we will lay the ponderous laurel- wreath, woven by
tvc Camden, on his tomb :

' This is that Sidney, who, as Providence seems to have sent him
into the world to give the present age a specimen of the ancients, so
did it on a sudden recall him, and snatch him from us, as more wor-


thy of heaven than earth; thus where virtue comes to perfection, it
is gone in a trice, and the best things are never lusting. Rest then
in peace, Sidney, if I may be allowed this address ! We will not
celebrate your memory with tears but admiration ; whatever we loved
in you, as the best of authors speaks of that best governor of Jiritain,
whatever we admired in you, still continues, and will continue in the
memories of men, the revolutions of ages, and the annals of time.
Many, as inglorious and ignoble, are buried in oblivion ; but Sidney
shall live to all posterity. For, as the Grecian poet has it, virtue's
beyond the reach of fate."

The note of tenderness, on which I have alrcadv dwelt,


sounds equally in these sentences of the needy man of
letters and the learned antiquarian.

It would be agreeable, if space permitted, to turn the
pages of famous poets who immortalised our hero ; to
glean high thoughts from Constable's sonnets to Sir Philip
Sidney's soul ; to dwell on Raleigh's well - weighed qua-
trains ; to gather pastoral honey from Spenser's Astrophel,
or graver meditations from his Ruins of Time. But these
are in the hands of every one ; and now, at the close of
his biography, I will rather let the voice of unpretending
affection be heard. Few but students, I suppose, are fa-
miliar with the name of Matthew Roydon, or know that
he was a writer of some distinction. Perhaps it was love
for Sidney which inspired him with the musical but un-
equal poem from which I select three stanzas :

" Within these woods of Arcady

He chief delight and pleasure took;
And on the mountain Partheny,

Upon the crystal liquid brook,
The Muses met him every day,
That taught him sing, to write and say.

" When he descended down the mount,
His personage seemed most divine ;


A thousand graces one might count

Upon his lovely cheerful eyne.
To hear him speak, and sweetly smile,
You were in Paradise the while.

" A sweet attractive kind of grace ;

A full assurance given by looks ;
Continual comfort in a face;

The lineaments of Gospel books :
I trow that countenance cannot lie,
Whose thoughts are legible in the eye."

Among Spenser's works, incorporated in his Astrophel,
occurs an cle^v of languid but attractive sweetness, which

?/ Cv

the great poet ascribes to the Countess of Pembroke, sister
by blood to Sidney, and sister of his soul. Internal evi-
dence might lead to the opinion that this " doleful lay of
Clorinda," as it is usually called, was not written by Lady
Pembroke, but was composed for her by the author of the
Faery Queen. Yet the style is certainly inferior to that
of Spenser at its best, and critics of mark incline to accept
it literally as her production. This shall serve me as an
excuse for borrowing some of its verses :


" What cruel hand of cursed foe unknown

Hath cropped the stalk which bore so fair a flower?

Untimely cropped, before it well were grown,
And clean defaced in untimely hour !

Great loss to all that ever him did see,

Great loss to all, but greatest loss to me J

" Break now your garlands, oh, ye shepherds' lasses,
Since tin- fair flower which them adorned is gone;

The flower which them adorned is gone to ashes ;
Never airaiu let lass put garland on ;

Instead of garland, wear sad cypress now,

Aii-1 hitter older broken from the bough."


The reiteration of phrases in these softly-falling stanzas
recalls the plaining of thrush or blackbird in the dewy si-
lence of May evenings. But at the close of her long des-
cant, Urania changes to thoughts of the heaven whose
light has been increased by the "fair and glittering rays"
of Astrophel. Then her inspiration takes a loftier flight.
Meditations are suggested which prelude to Lycidas and
Adonais. A parallel, indeed, both of diction and idea be-
tween this wilding flower of sono- and the magnificent

~ ~ o

double-rose of Shelley's threnody on Keats can be traced
in the following four stanzas :

" But that immortal spirit, which was decked

With all the dowries of celestial grace,
By sovereign choice from the heavenly choirs select,

And lineally derived from angel's race,
Oh, what is now of it become, aread !
Ah me, can so divine a thing be dead ?

" Ah no ! it is not dead, nor can it die,

But lives for aye in blissful paradise,
Where, like a new-born babe it soft doth lie,

In beds of lilies wrapped in tender wise,
And compassed all about with roses sweet
And dainty violets from head to feet.

" There lieth he in everlasting bliss,

Sweet spirit, never fearing more to die ;
Nor dreading harm from any foes of his,

Nor fearing savage beasts' more cruelty :
Whilst we here, wretches, wail his private lack,
And w r ith vain vows do often call him back.

" But live thou there still, happy, happy spirit,

And give us leave thee here thus to lament,
Not thee that dost thy heaven's joy inherit,

But our own selves that here in dole are drent.


Thus do we weep and wail and wear our eyes,
Mourning in others our own miseries."

One couplet by a nameless playwright upon the death of
Sidney's aunt by marriage, the Lady Jane Grey, shall serve
to end this chapter :

" An innocent to die, what is it less
But to add angels to heaven's happiness !"


N we review the life of Sir Philip Sidney, it is certain
that one thought will survive all other thoughts about him

* ^J

in our mind. This man, we shall say, was born to show
the world what goes to the making of an English gentle-
man. But he belonged to his age; and the age of Eliza-
beth differed in many essential qualities from the age of
Anne and from the age of Victoria. Sidney was the typi-
cal English gentleman of the modern era at the moment of

^3 *~j

transition from the media3val period. He was the hero of
our Renaissance. His nature combined chivalry and piety,
courtly breeding and humane culture, statesmanship and
loyalty, in what Wotton so well called " the very essence
of congruity." Each of these elements may be found
singly and more strikingly developed in other characters of
his epoch. In him they were harmoniously mixed and
fused as by some spiritual chemistry. In him they shone
with a lustre peculiar to the " spacious times of great
Elizabeth," with a grace and purity distinctive of his unique
pT-<Mi;ility. To make this image charming this image,
not of king or prince or mighty noble, but of a perfect
gentleman the favour of illustrious lineage and the grave

viii.] EPILOGUE. 181

beaut} 7 of his presence contributed in no small measure.
There was something Phoebean in his youthful dignity :

" When he descended down the mount,
His personage seemed most divine."

Men of weight and learning were reminded by him of
the golden antique past: "Providence seems to have sent
him into the world to give the present age a specimen of
the ancients." What the Athenians called K-aAok-ctyaflm,
that blending of physical and moral beauty and goodness
in one pervasive virtue, distinguished him from the crowd
of his countrymen, with whom goodness too often assumed
an outer form of harshness and beauty leaned to effemi-
nacy or insolence. He gave the present age a specimen of
the ancients by the plasticity of his whole nature, the ex-
act correspondence of spiritual and corporeal excellences,
which among- Greeks would have marked him out for


sculpturesque idealisation.

It was to his advantage that he held no office of impor-
tance, commanded no great hereditary wealth, had done no
deeds that brought him envy, had reached no station which
committed him to rough collision with the world's brazen
interests. Death, and the noble manner of his death, set
seal to the charter of immortality which the expectation of
contemporaries had already drafted. He was withdrawn
from the contention of our earth, before time and opportu-
nity proved or compromised his high position. Glorious-
ly, he passed into the sphere of idealities ; and as an ideal,
he is for ever living and for ever admirable. Herein too


there was something Greek in his good fortune; something
which assimilates him to the eternal youthfulness of Hel-
las, and to the adolescent heroes of mythology.

This should not divert our thoughts from the fact that


Sidnoy \\.-i.s essentially an Elizabethan gentleman. His
chivalrv belonged to a period when knightly exercises were
still in vo^iu-, when bravery attired itself in pomp, when the
M.-i-t d'Arthur retained its fascination for youths of noble
nurture. Those legends needed then no adaptations from
:i Laureate's golden quill to make them popular. Yet they
wore remote enough to touch the soul with poetry, of
which the earlier and cruder associations had by time been
mellowed. Knight-errantry expressed itself in careers like
that of Stukeley, in expeditions like those of Drake and
Raleigh. Lancelot's and Tristram's love had passed through
the crucible of the Italian poets.

Sidney's piety was that of the Reformation, now at
length accomplished and accepted in England after a se-
vere struggle. Unsapped by criticism, undimmed by cen-
turies of ease and toleration, the Anglican faith acquired
reality and earnestness from the gravity of the European
situation. Spain threatened to enslave the world. The
Catholic reaction w r as rolling spiritual darkness, like a cloud,
northward, over nations wavering as yet between the old
and the new creed. Four years before his birth Loyola
founded the Company of Jesus. During his lifetime this
Order invaded province after province, spreading like leav-
en through populations on the verge of revolt against
Rome. The Council of Trent began its sessions while he
was in his cradle. Its work was finished, the final rupture
of the Latin Church with Protestantism was accomplished,
twenty-three years before his death at Zutphen. He grew
t" boyhood during Mary's reactionary reign. It is well to
bear these dates in mind ; they prove how exactly Sidney's
life corresponded with the first stage of renascent and bel-
ligerent Catholicism. The perils of the time, brought fear-
fully home to himself by his sojourn in Paris on the night

vin.] EPILOGUE. 183

of St. Bartholomew, deepened religious convictions which
might otherwise have been but lightly held by him. Yet
he was no Puritan. Protestantism in England had as yet
hardly entered upon that phase of its development. It
was still possible to be sincerely godly (as the Earl of Es-
sex called him), without sacrificing the grace of life or the
urbanities of culture.

His education was in a true sense liberal. The new
learning of the Italian Renaissance had recently taken root
in England, and the methods of the humanists were being
applied with enthusiasm in our public schools. Ancient
literature, including the philosophers and historians of Ath-
ens, formed the staple of a young man's intellectual train-
ing. Yet no class at once so frivolous and pedantic, so
servile and so vicious, as the Italian humanists, monopolised
the art of teaching. Roger Ascham, the tutor of princes ;
Sir John Cheke, at Cambridge; Camden, at Westminster;
Thomas Ashton, at Shrewsbury, were men from whom
nothing but sound learning and good morals could be im-
bibed. England enjoyed the rare advantage of receiving
both Renaissance and Reformation at the same epoch.
The new learning came to our shores under the garb of
Erasmus rather than Filelfo. It was penetrated with sober
piety and enlightened philosophy instead of idle scepti-
cism and academical rhetoric. Thus the foundations of
Sidney's culture were broadly laid ; and he was enabled to
build a substantial superstructure on them. No better
companion of his early manhood could have been found
than Languet, who combined the refinements of southern
with the robust vigour of northern scholarship. The acqui-
sition of French, Italian, Dutch, and Spanish led him to
compare modern authors with the classics ; while his trav-
els through Europe brought him acquainted with various


manners and with the leading men of several parties. An
education so complete and many-sided polished Sidney's
excellent natural parts, until he shone the mirror of accom-
plished gentlehood. He never forgot that, in his case,
studies had to be pursued, not as an end in themselves, but
;is the means of fitting him for a public career. Diligent

o i o

as he was in the pursuit of knowledge, he did not suffer
himself to become a bookworm. Athletic exercises re-
ceived as much of his attention as poetry or logic. Con-
verse with men seemed to him more important than com-
munion with authors in their printed works. In a word, he
realised the ideal of Castiglione's courtier, and personified
Plato's Euphues, in whom music was to balance gymnastic.

His breeding was that of a Court which had assumed
the polish of Italy and France, and with that polish some
of their vices and affectations. Yet the Court of Elizabeth
was, in the main, free from such corruption as disgraced
that of the Valois, and from such crimes as shed i sinister
light upon the society of Florence or Ferrara. It was purer
and more manly than the Court of James I., and even that
remained superior to the immoralities and effeminacies of
southern capitals. The queen, with all her faults, main-
tained a high standard among her servants. They repre-
sented the aristocracy of a whole and puissant nation,
united by common patriotism and inspired by enthusiasm
for their sovereign. Conflicting religious sympathies and
discordant political theories might divide them ; but in the
hour of danger, they served their country alike, as was
shown on the great day of the Spanish Armada.

Loyalty, at that epoch, still retained the sense of person-
al duty. The mediaeval conviction that national well-being
depended on maintaining a, hierarchy of classes, bound to-


her by reciprocal obligations and ascending privileges,

viii.] EPILOGUE. 185

and presided over by a monarch who claimed the allegiance
01 all, had not broken down in England. This loyalty,
like Protestant piety, was braced by the peculiar dangers
of the State, and by the special perils to which the life of
a virgin queen was. now exposed. It had little in common
with decrepit affection for a dynasty, or with such homage
as nobles paid their prince in the Italian despotisms. It
was fed by the belief that the commonwealth demanded
monarchy for its support. The Stuarts had not yet
brought the name of loyalty into contempt ; and at the
same time this virtue, losing its feudal rigidity, assumed
something of romantic grace and poetic sentiment. Eng-
land was personified by the lady on the throne.

In his statesmanship, Sidney displayed the independent
spirit of a well-born Englishman, controlled by loyalty as
we have just described it. He was equally removed from
servility to his sovereign, and from the underhand subtle-
ties of a would-be Machiavelli. In serving the queen he
sought to serve the State. His Epistle on the French

Match, and his Defence of Sir Henrv Sidney's Irish Ad-

j /

ministration, revealed a candour rare among Elizabeth's
courtiers. With regard to England's policy in Europe, he
declared for a bold, and possibly a too Quixotic interfer-
ence in foreign affairs. Surveying the struggle between
Catholicism and Protestantism, Spanish tyranny and na-
tional liberties, he apprehended the situation as one of ex-
treme gravity, and was by no means willing to temporise
or trifle with it. In his young-eyed enthusiasm, so differ-

J O */

ent from Burleigh's world-worn prudence, he desired that
Elizabeth should place herself at the head of an alliance of
the Reformed Powers. Mature experience of the home gov-
ernment, however, reduced these expectations; and Sidney
threw himself upon a romantic but well-weighed scheme


of colonisation. In each case he recommended a great
policv, defined in its object, and worthy of a powerful
race, to the only people whom he thought capable of car-
rying it out effectively.

This kindly blending of many qualities, all of them Eng-
lish, all of them characteristic of Elizabethan England,
made Sir Philip Sidney the ideal of his generation, and for
us the sweetest interpreter of its best aspirations. The
essence of congruity, determining his private and his public
conduct, in so many branches of active life, caused a loving
nation to hail him as their Euphues. That he was not de-
void of faults, faults of temper in his dealings with friends
and servants, graver faults perhaps in his love for Stella,
adds to the reality of his character. Shelley was hardly
justified in calling him "Sublimely mild, a spirit without
spot." During those last hours upon his death-bed at Arn-
heim, he felt that much in his past life had been but vani-
ty, that some things in it called for repentance. But the evil
inseparable from humanity was conquered long before the
end. Few spirits so blameless, few so thoroughly prepared
to enter upon new spheres of activity and discipline, have
left this earth. The multitudes who knew him personally,
those who might have been jealous of him, and those who
owed him gratitude, swelled one chorus in praise of his nat-
ural goodness, his intellectual strength and moral beauty.
\Ve who study his biography, and dwell upon their testi-
mony to his charm, derive from Sidney the noblest lesson
bequeathed by Elizabethan to Victorian England. It is a
->on which can never lose its value for Greater Britain
o, and for that confederated empire which shall, if fate
defeat not the high aspirations of the Anglo-Saxon race,
ari>o to be the grandest birth of future time.


AUG 2 7 1943

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