« AnteriorContinuar »
Soul's joy, bend not those morning stars from me, Where virtue is made strong by beauty's might; Where love is chasteness, pain doth learn delight,
And humbleness grows one with majesty :
Whatever may ensue, O let me be
O look! O shine! O let me die, and see!
Whose cureless wounds, e'en now, most freshly bleed ;
A kind of grace it is to slay with speed.
While favour fed my hope, delight with hope is brought ;
Then grew iny tongue and pen records unto thy glory :
And all ears worse than deaf, that heard not out thy story.
I said my soul was thine,–0 that I then had lied !
And all I said so well, as no man it denied.
For rage now rules the reins, which guided were by pleasure:
The same key open can, which can lock up a treasure.
The mansion seat of bliss, and just excuse of lovers;
Whose own faults cast him down, hardly high seat recovers. The reader must bear in mind that these are all addressed to the ladye-love of Sidney.
There are passages of peculiar beauty and felicity scattered among
Sweet pillows, sweetest bed-
Love, still a boy, and oft a wanton is,
Nor so ambitious am I as to frame
Grav'd in my epitaph a poet's name.
Stella! food of my thoughts, heart of my heart's
-Reason, princess high,
Speaking of two lovers, he says:
The one is beautiful and fair
And this description of his beloved :
An humble pride, a scorn that favour stains ;
Sir Philip Sidney has been called the “ Bayard of England * sans pure et sans reproche ;' "_" the glass of fashion, and the mould of form;"_"the cynosure of all neighbouring eyes.” And to the mind that loves to dwell devotedly upon the past ages of chivalry-to whom the pageants of the tournament and the paraphernalia of the lists, the pomp, the splendour of that noon-day dream (for such it seems to us) which the fair and noble beauty, dames of gentle and of high degree, were wont to grace with their presence, and encourage with their applause, and with whose smile came at once the trophy and the renown—are as a spell and mantle of romance, remembered with the recollections of childhood, because it was interwoven with the state of being in which we were then held ;- to such a mind, how perfect and glorious must he seem who was the high-priest of chivalry itselfthe paragon of all that was honourable and great — the warrior upon whose valour no tongue could fix a stain — the poet whose melodies were eternal, for their theme was love -- the gentleman whose elegance was unsurpassed
the lover whose devotion was unrivalled! For he knelt at the altar of Beauty, and at his own shrine the Graces sacrificed. He was the model of all that is perfect and divine in man.
This is high praise ; but we are conscious that it is scarcely exaggerated. Camden says of him, that “he is his own monument whose memory is eternized in his writings, and who was born into
the world to show unto our age a sample of ancient virtues ;” and Spenser, whose Mecænas he was, laments for that
most noble spirit,
Worthy of heaven itself, which brought it forth." Some misunderstanding which arose between him and the Earl of Oxford, occasioned his retirement from the court of Elizabeth, to Wilton, a beautiful seat belonging to his brother-in-law, the Earl of Pembroke. We are now come to the period of the Arcadia, which was composed during his residence at Wilton.
The fictions which, previous to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, had engrossed the attention of readers, were of a nature the most wonderful and extravagant. They dea
They dealt in adventures, which exceeded the utmost limits of credibility, even in those credulous ages,-far surpassing in absurdity the creations of the Arabian story-teller, peopled only with magicians, giants, and fiery dragons; or, if they so far forgot their loftiness as to descend into the regions of this less subtle earth, their mortals were so far immortal as to be invincible in prowess, and invulnerable, though hemmed in on every side by danger. Poetry alone was calm : prose had wantoned so familiarly with the supernatural, that men were afraid of their own shadows. It is true that it taught one lesson, which mankind could never learn :-its heroes were perfect in every virtue, generous, religious, enthusiastic, brave;—its heroines were chaste, modest, delicate, and refined. This was the first era of the novel.
In 1504, the Arcadia of the Italian poet, Sanazzarius, was published at Milan. It is a mixed production of verse and prose, descriptive of pastoral life, the characters being chiefly shepherds and shepherdesses, and such as in classic time worshipped Pan upon the mountains. From this “ arcadia,” it is supposed that Sir Philip Sidney derived the idea of his own romance. About this time, too, the compositions of D'Urfe and Madame Scuderi became popular; the “ Grand Cyrus” of the latter was pecially so. In these productions one step further was advanced towards the novel of the present day. Still was chivalry, with its attendant heroism, the leading theme of their voluminous and almost interminable pages; but the supernatural and the incredible ceased to form their most attractive and preponderating feature. This was the era of the Arcadia.
No small merit is due to Sir Philip Sidney for his refinement of our English tongue. To him we owe its purification from the most obnoxious curse with which the language was ever visited Euphuism. He was born in an age when this species of writing was in the seventh heaven of its popularity, and when there was
every temptation to a young writer to fall in with the stream, and follow in the wake of Lyly. But not so with Sidney. His true genius struck out for itself a path, untrodden by the desecrating feet of the unconverted; he darted his lightnings amidst unscathed rocks, or, to pursue a more suitable metaphor, he discovered in the bowels of the earth new and untasted springs, and led them forth, crystal and pure-gushing, into the light of day. It was not written for the public eye. It never underwent even the author's revision. Hear how modestly he dedicates it to his sister :
“ Here now have you this idle work of mine; which I fear, like the spider's web, will be thought fitter to be swept away than worn to any other purpose. For my part, in very truth (as the cruel fathers among the Greeks were wont to do to the babes they would not foster) I could well find in my heart to cast out in some desert of forgetfulness this child which I am loth to father. It is only done for you, only to you; for severer eyes it is not, being but a trifle, and that triflingly handled. Your dear self can best witness the manner, being done in loose sheets of paper, most of it in your presence; the rest, by sheets, sent unto you as fast as they were done. Read it then at your idle times, and the follies your good judgment will find in it, blame not, but laugh at."
Alas! who now reads the Arcadia ? and yet are there not many beautiful things—many delicious sentences,
• Ambient pearls at random strung," scattered thickly through it? Let us open it at hazard; here is a passage from the first page:
“ As her breath is more sweet than a gentle south-west-wind, which comes creeping over flowery fields and shadowed waters in the extreme heat of summer, and yet is nothing, compared to the honey-flowing speech that breath doth carry; no more all that our eyes can see of her is to be matched with the flocks of unspeakable virtues, laid up delightfully in that best builded fold. But indeed, as we better consider the sun's beauty by marking how he gilds these waters and mountains, than by looking upon his own face, too glorious for our weak eyes, so it may be that our conceits (not able to bear her sunstaining excellence) will better weigh it by her works upon some meaner subject employed."
What a description of a mistress! Now listen to his picture of a landscape.
“ And thus with some other words of entertaining was my staying concluded, and I led among them to the lodge, truly a place for pleasantness, not unfit to flatter solitariness; for it being set upon such an unsensible rising of the ground, as you are come to a pretty height before almost you perceive that you ascend, it gives the eye lordship over a good large circuit, which according to the nature of the country being diversified between hills and dales, woods and plains, one place more clear, another more darksome, it seems a pleasant picture of nature, with lovely lightsomeness and artificial shadows.”
He speaks, too, of “ the huntsmen handsomely attired in their green liveries, as though they were children of summer.”
The poetry of the Arcadia is the least pleasing walk of Sir Philip Sidney's genius. There are few of the many pieces inter
spersed which reach mediocrity, -none which excel it. The following, however, is worth preservation :
6. Why dost thou haste away,
0 Titan fair ! the giver of the day?
Disdain'st we see thee stain'd with other's light." After such fashion were compliments paid to the fair sex in the days of pastoral romance.
Lamartine has written on the Destinies of poetry, and Shelley has written eloquently its defence. Shelley was a lineal descendant of the Sidneys-Sir Philip and Algernon—and he prided himself not a little on his illustrious ancestry. True nobility is not traced alone in blood : to be numbered in the genealogy of the gifted is to be advanced in the scale of creation. Sidney and Shelley were each of them poets; each was endued with a highlywrought imagination; and each died young, leaving a name behind him which shall not soon pass away from the remembrance of the Muses. But their lives are not included in their mutual resemblance, for the chivalry of the one finds slight counterpart in the melancholy aspect of the other
" The cold fire-side and alienated home.”
In the 19th century, Shelley stood forward as the champion of poetry. Sir Philip Sidney had already achieved his triumph.
LOOK IN THY HEART AND WRITE," is our author's golden precept, communicated to him as the favourite of the Nine. But he did not, says a modern novelist, referring to this axiom, always practise what he taught. In the instance, at least, of his Defence of Poesie, the remark fails to apply. Never was language used to better purpose,-never with so great an effect. We read, and wonder as we read: Orpheus is pleading for his lyre; we own its master-spell. All that poesy and music, her twin sister of happy birth, are said to have performed, -we are no longer incredulous -We believe it all. Yea, the walls of Thebes might have stood erect at the witching of Amphion's harp; and dolphins, attracted by the sweetness of his music, might have borne Arion to the friendly shore. “ Nature,” says Sir Philip,
says Sir Philip, “never set forth the earth in go