Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

from the intolerable tyranny of Spain. Small, indeed, was the credit which redounded to the expedition, commanded as it was by a leader so incompetent as Leicester; but, nevertheless, opportunities were not wanting for the display of English valour, and by none were more chivalrous or gallant deeds done than by Sir Philip Sidney.

His career was as short as it was bright: he was carried off, wounded to the death, from the field of Zutphen, and a victory won by English daring, in the face of desperate odds, was saddened by the loss of one of the bravest and noblest of that brave and noble band who on that great day quelled the pride of Spain.

Everybody knows the beautiful and touching story which tells how, when the cup of water was handed to Sidney, he passed it untasted to the dying soldier whose eager eyes seemed to crave, with mute eloquence, the draught to cool the feverish thirst with which he was consumed. Some of the modern rectifiers of history would reject the tale as apocryphal, but we shall nevertheless take leave to credit and to repeat it till fuller and more conclusive proof of its falsehood is adduced.

It is one of those cases where it seems better to err (if we do err) with the old chroniclers, than to think right with the new philosophical historians. As to the assertion, that in consequence of the high esteem in which he was held the crown of Poland was offered to Sidney, we are willing to confess our belief that it is unfounded. But though false in the letter it may be regarded as true in a figure, the legend itself being, so to speak, the form in which the high and princely esteem in which he was held found its expression.

Sir Philip Sidney died in the thirty-second year of his age, A.d. 1586.

He was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral, and was honoured with a public funeral, u national mourning, and a general and most heartfelt lamentation.

WORKS.

Sir Philip Sidney takes rank both as a poet and as a classical English prose writer. His poems consist almost entirely of songs and sonnets. Upwards of one hundred of these latter, interspersed with songs, are grouped together under the general title of Astrophel and Stela. Their common theme is the beauty of Stella, the power of her charms, and the effect of the love which those charms inspire in Astrophel. There is considerable fertility of imagination, together with an abundance of those quaint and sometimes over-strained conceits which afterwards became a marked characteristic of that school of poets styled by Johnson the metaphysical. The poetry of Sidney, indeed, is for the most part stiff and Artificial. We find a straining after effect, and a certain affected formalism of expression. He did not sufficiently follow the advice which he tells us his Muse gave him, to "look into his heart and write." Yet we meet with many exalted »nd noble thoughts, and with passages not only poetical in sentiment, but melodious Mid beautiful in expression. In some of his songs there is often a light and lively play of fancy and a happy ease of style.

His prose works consist of the once far-famed and popular ron-ance of Arcadia, and a short treatise entitled A Defence of Poesie. The merits of the Arcadia are now generally taken on trust, for there are probably very few living persons who have had sufficient patience and enterprise to read it through. Its story or plot is indeed dull and tedious, and it would not be easy, within moderate limits, to give an adequate summary of it.

The scene is, as the title implies, laid in Arcadia, and the incidents and characters are pastoral, amatory, and chivalrous. Pamela and Philoclea, daughters of Basilius, king of Arcadia, are the heroines of the story. These ladies are respectively beloved by Pyrocles and Musidorus, whose adventures in the prosecution of their suits form the main thread of the plot. A variety of adventures, however, are interwoven with it, such as encounters of knights in lonely forests, challenges given and taken in honour of ladies' beauty, the pastimes of shepherds and country swains.

The spirit and tone of the work are very characteristic of the age in which it vras written. There is a mixture of the extravagant hut lofty features of knighterrantry, with the tastes and habits which belong to modern civilization.

The sentiments are often generous and noble. Valour, purity, and faith are upheld; cowardice, treachery, meanness, and vice are denounced and put to shame. Here and there a vein of philosophical reflection rnns through the substance of the story; pithy maxims are interspersed, and moral and political truths enunciated with epigrammatic terseness and point. There is much also of the element of poetry in both the thoughts and language. The style, indeed, savours somewhat of affectation. There is too much laboured antithesis, together with a certain exaggeration, or even distortion of phrase, which belonged to that particular kind of writing known by the name of Euphuism, which was fashionable at the time. But, nevertheless, many beautiful images and many picturesque forms of expression might be gleaned from the pages of the Arcadia; and many passages are to be found which strike on the ear with a sweet and melodious fall.

The Defence of Poesie is a short treatise, the object of which is to rescue poetry from the contempt into which the author seems to think it had fallen in his day; to refute some of the arguments urged against it by grave philosophers and moralists of the time; and to vindicate its claim to be regarded as one of the highest sciences.

He begins by insisting on the fact that poetry was the earliest kind of knowledge, and the "first light-giver to ignorance;" and that even philosophy itself made its first appearance under the guise of poetry. He appeals to the names given by the Greeks and Romans respectively to the poet, as showing their exalted estimate of his vocation, and reminds us that an important part of the Divine Revelation has been communicated to us through a poetical medium.

He goes on to review the different branches of knowledge, and taking it for granted that philosophy and history will be admitted to occupy the highest place, he proves that poetry, as a teacher of virtue and a setter forth of virtuous examples, is superior to both, and therefore superior to all.

Poetry, he adds, not only tells us what we ought to do, but moves us to do it.

He next proceeds to examine the different kinds of poetry, inquires which of them can be objected to, and shows the use and benefit of each. He then considers and answers some particular objections made to poetry; as that the cultivation of it is an unprofitable employment of time; that it is the mother of lies; that it is "the nurse of abuse," infecting men with many "pestilent desires," and seducing to "sinful fancies;" that it was banished from Plato's commonwealth.

In opposition to this, he contends that so far from fostering lies, poetry is the highest truth; that the abuse of a thing is no argument against its use; and that great men have loved poetry and patronized poets.

He concludes with a review of the state of poetry in England, a criticism on the violation of the unities by contemporary dramatists, and a few observations on rhyme and metre. It should be observed that Sidney takes a very comprehensive view of what poetry is. Rightly enough, he by no means limits the name to rhymed or measured verse, but extends it to all those compositions which are the product of imagination and the creative faculty. Thus he refers to and includes in his estimate such works as the Cyropaedia of Xenophon, the Theagenes and Chariclea of Heliodorus, and the Eutopia of Sir Thomas More.

The style of the Defence of Poesie is simpler and less euphuistic than that of the Arcadia. There is a fair preponderance of the Saxon element in the language, together with a good deal of strength and force in the turns of expression, and compression of thought in many passages. There is just sufficient iuversion of order in the words to give something of dignity to the style, which is also varied and relieved by the intermixture of long and short sentences. The tendency to use compound epithets occasionally discovers itself here as it does more freely in the Arcadia. There is a strain of poetry in the language, and though we meet with some roughnesses and inaccuracies, yet many picturesque phrases might be gleaned, that, discreetly used, would richly inlay a modern composition.

EXTRACT.
DEFENCE OF POESIE.

Poetry: The Earliest And Most Excellent Of The Sciences.

And first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh against poetry may justly be objected, that they go very near to ungratefulness, to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards 'oftougher knowledges. And will you 2 play the hedgehog, that being received into the den, drove out his host 1 or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents t Let learned Greece, in any of her manifold sciences, be able to show me one book before Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history be brought, that can say any writers were there beforo them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some others are named, who, having been the first of that country that made pens deliverers of their knowledge to posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers in learning. For not only in time they had this priority, (although in itself antiquity be venerable,) but went before them, as causes to draw, with their charming sweetness, the wild untamed3 wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as 4 Amphion. was said to move stones with his poetry to build Thebes, and Orpheus to be listened to by beasts, indeed stony and beastly people: so among the Romans were Livius, Andronicus, and Ennius: so in the Italian language, the first that made it to aspire to be a treasure-house of science, were the poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch: so in our English were Gower and Chaucer; after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent foregoing, others have followed to beautify our mother-tongue, as well in the same kind, as other arts. This did so notably show itself, that the philosophers of Greece durst not a long time appear to the world, but under the rriSsk of poets: so Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides, sang their natural philosophy in verses: so did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral counsels: so did Tyrtaeus in war matters, and Solon in matters of policy: or rather, they being poets, did exercise their delightful vein in those points of highest knowledge, which before them lay hidden to the world; for that wise Solon was directly a poet it is manifest, having written in verse the noble fable of the Atlantic Island, which was continued by Plato. And, truly, even 6Plato, whosoever well considereth, shall find that in the body of his work, though the inside and strength were philosophy, the skin, as it were, and beauty, depended most of poetry. For all stands upon dialogues, wherein ho feigns many

honest burgesses of Athens speaking of such matters, that if they had been set on the rack they would never have confessed them: besides his poetical describing the circumstances of their meetings, as the well-ordering of a banquet, the delicacy of a walk, and interlacing mere tales, as 6Gyges's Ring, and others; which who knows not to be flowers of poetry, did never walk into Apollo's garden. Aud even historiographers, although their lips sound of things done, and verity be written in their foreheads, have been glad to borrow, both fashion, and, perchance, weight, of the poets: so Herodotus intituled the books of his History by the names of the Nine Muses; and both he, and all the rest that followed him, either stole or usurped, of poetry, their passionate describing of passions, the many particularities of battles which no man could affirm; or, if that be denied me, long orations, put in the mouths of great kings and captains, which, it is certain, they never pronounced. So that, truly, neither philosopher nor historiographer could, at the first, have entered into the gates of popular judgment, if they had not taken a great 'passport of poetry: which in all nations, at this day, where learning flourisheth not, is plain to be seen; in all which they have some feeling of poetry. In Turkey, besides 8 their law-giving divines, they have no other writers but poets. In our neighbour-country Ireland, where, truly, learning goes very bare, yet are their poets held in a devout reverence. Even among the most barbarous and simple Indians, where no writing is, yet have they tfteir poets, who make and sing songs, which they call Arentos, both of their ancestors' deeds, and praises of their gods. A sufficient probability, that if ever learning come among them, it must be by having their hard, dull wits, softened and sharpened with the sweet delight of poetry; for until they find a pleasure in the exercise of the mind, great promises of much knowledge will little persuade them that know not the fruits of knowledge. In Wales, the true remnant of the ancient Britons, as there are good authorities to show the long time they had poets, which they called Bards, so through all the conquests of Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, some of whom did seek to ruin all memory of learning from among them, yet do their poets, even to this day, last; so as it is not more

« AnteriorContinuar »