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Sir Philip Sidney's literary reputation rests on his two prose works the « Arcadia" and the « Defence of Poesy." He wrote a few sonnets, but though they contain much that is truly poetical, they are disfigured by conceits. That « To Sleep" is the best of them. But his best poetry is his prose; and as a prose writer he may justly be regarded as the first of his time.2
The « Arcadia” is a mixture of what has been called the heroic and the pastoral romance. The scene of it is laid in Arcadia, that province of the Peloponnesus, celebrated in olden times as the abode of shepherds, and the scene of most of the pastoral poetry of Greece.
Musidorus and Pyrocles are the heroes of the romance, and are united to gether in a firm league of friendship. They go forth in quest of adventures, and after killing the customary quantuin of giants and monsters, set sail for Greece. The ship is wrecked, and Musidorus is thrown upon the shores of Laconia. He is seen by two shepherds, who offer to conduct him to Kalander, a wealthy inhabitant of Arcadia, the province north of Laconia. As they enter into Arcadia, its beautiful appearance strikes the eyes of Musidorus.
DESCRIPTION OF ARCADIA. There were hills which garnished their proud heights with stately trees: humble valleys, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers : meadows, enameled with all sorts of eye-pleasing flowers: thickets, which being lined with most pleasant shade were witnessed so too, by the cheerful disposition of many well-tuned birds : each pasture stored with sheep, feeding with sober security, while the pretty lambs with bleating oratory craved the dam's comfort: here a shepherd's boy piping, as though he should never be old ; there a young shepherdess knitting, and withal singing, and it seemed that her voice comforted her hands to work, and her hands kept time to her voice-m.usic.
After being at the house of Kalander a few days, Pyrocles mysteriously arrives. The Prince of Arcadia had two daughters, with whom, of course, the two young heroes fall in love. The following is a description of their characters
PAMELA AND PHILOCLEA. The elder is named Pamela, by many men not deemed inferior to her sister : for my part, when I marked them both, methought there was (if at least such perfections may receive the word of more) more sweetness in Philoclea, but more majesty in Pamela : methought love played in Philoclea's eyes, and threatened in Pamela's: methought Philoclea's beauty only persuaded, but so persuaded as all hearts must yield; Pamela's beauty used violence, and such violence as no heart could resist. And it seems that such proportion is between their minds : Philoclea so bashful, as though her excellencies had stolen into her before she was aware: so humble, that she will put all pride out of countenance; in short, such proceedings as will stir hope, but teach hope good manners. Pamela of high thoughts, who avoids not pride with not knowing her excellencies, but by making that one of her excellencies to be void of pride; her mother's wisdom, greatness, nobility, but (if I can guess aright) knit with a more constant temper. The following is
1 Cowper very felicitously calls him a “warbler of poetic prose;" and he himself says, m his “ Dei fence of Poesy;"" " It is not rhyming and versing that maketh poesy: one may be a poet without versing, and a versifier without poetry.”
? I say this notwithstanding the criticisms of Hazlitt, as ungenerous as they are unjust. See nia "Lectures on the Dramatic Literature of the Age of Elizabeth."
A DESCRIPTION OF A STAG-HUNT. Then went they together abroad, the good Kalander entertaining them with pleasant discoursing—how well he loved the sport of hunting when he was a young man; how much in the comparison thereof he disdained all chamber-delights; that the sun (how great a journey soever he had to make) could never prevent him with earliness, nor the moon, with her sober countenance, dissuade him from watching till midnight for the deers' feeding. O, said he, you will never live to my age, without you keep yourself in breath with exercise, and in heart with joyfulness; too much thinking doth consume the spirits; and oft it falls out, that, while one thinks too much of his doing, he leaves to do the effect of his thinking. Then spared he not to remember, how much Arcadia was changed since his youth; activity and good fellowship being nothing in the price it was then held in; but, according to the nature of the old-growing world, still worse and worse. Then would he tell them stories of such gallants as he had known; and so, with pleasant company, beguiled the time's haste, and shortened the way's length, till they came to the side of the wood, where the hounds were in couples, staying their coming, but with a whining accent craving liberty ; many of them in color and marks so resembling, that it showed they were of one kind. The huntsmen handsomely attired in their green liveries, as though they were children of summer, with staves in their hands to beat the guiltless earth when the hounds were at a fault, and with horns about their necks, to sound an alarm upon a silly fugitive. The hounds were straight uncoupled, and ere long the stag thought it better to trust to the nimbleness of his feet than to the slender fortification of his lodging; but even his feet betrayed him; for, howsoever they went, they themselves uttered themselves to the scent of their enemies, who, one taking it of another, and sometimes believing the wind's advertisements, sometimes the view of (their faithful counsellors) the huntsmen, with open mouths then denounced war, when the war was already begun. Their cry being composed of so well-sorted mouths, that any man would perceive therein some kind of proportion, but the skilful woodmen did find a music. Then delight and variety of opinion drew the horsemen sundry ways, yet cheering their hounds with voice and horn, kept still, as it were, together. The wood seemed to conspire with them against his own citizens, dispersing their noise through all his quarters ; and even the nymph Echo left to bewail the loss of Narcissus, and became a hunter. But the stag was in the end so hotly pursued, that, leaving his flight, he was driven to make courage of despair; and so turning his head, made the hounds, with change of speech, to testify that he was at a bay: as if from hot pursuit of their enemy, they were suddenly come to a parley.
After passing through many severe trials of their love, the two princesses are married to Musidorus and Pyrocles, and so ends the 6 Arcadia."
The other great work of Sir Philip Sidney is his « Defence of Poesy," which may be truly pronounced to be the most beautiful as well as the most truthful essay upon the subject in our language, and one from which many have borrowed, without acknowledging their obligations. It may be regarded as a logical discourse, from beginning to end, interspersed here and there with a few of the more flowery parts of eloquence, but everywhere keeping in view the main objects, indeed, of all logic and eloquence-proof and persuasion. It is evidently the result of deep conviction in the mind of the writer, and a strong desire to impress that conviction upon others: to impress it, however, in a manner that shall render it not merely a sentiment of the heart, but a settled belief of the reason and judgment.” 2 In what a skillful and highly eloquent manner does he contrast « Poesy” with all the other arts and sciences, in his
CHARACTER OF THE POET. There is no art delivered to mankind, that hath not the works of nature for its principal object, without which they could not consist, and on which they so depend, as they become actors and players, as it were, of what nature will have set forth. So doth the astronomer look upon the stars, and by that he seeth, set down what order nature hath taken therein. So doth the geometrician and arithmetician, in their divers sorts of quantities. So doth the musician, in tunes tell you which by nature agree, which not. The natural philosopher thereon hath his name, and the moral philosopher standeth upon the natural virtues, vices, or passions of man: And follow nature, saith he, therein, and you shall not err. The lawyer saith what men have determined: the historian, what men have done. The grammarian speaketh only of the rules of speech, and the rhetorician and logician, considering
1 “The great praise of Sidney in this treatise is, that he has shown the capacity of the English language for spirit, variety, gracious Idiom, and masculine firmness." Read-Hallam's "Introduction to the Literature of Europe."
% Retrospective Review, X. 45.
what in nature will soonest prove and persuade, thereon give arti. ficial rules, which are still compassed within the circle of a question, according to the proposed matter. The physician weigheth the nature of man's body, and the nature of things hurtful or helpful to it. And the metaphysic, though it be in the second and abstract notions, and therefore be counted supernatural, yet doth he indeed build upon the depth of nature....
Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature; in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demigods, cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like, so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit. Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done ; neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-much-loved earth more lovely : her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden. Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison, to balance the highest point of man's wit with the efficacy of nature; but rather give right honor to the HEAVENLY MAKER of that maker, who, having made man to his own likeness, set him beyond and over all the works of that second nature, which in nothing he showed so much as in poetry-when, with the force of a divine breath, he bringeth things forth surpassing her doings; with no small arguments to the incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam.—Since our erect wit maketh us know what perfection is, and yet our infected will keepeth us from reaching unto it. Hori
Again, he contrasteth the Philosopher, the Historian, and the Poet: dj
The philosopher, therefore, and the historian are they which would win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example ; but both, not having both, do both halt. For the philosopher, sitting down with the thorny arguments, the bare rule is so hard of utterance, and so misty to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him shall wade in him until he be old, before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general, that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. On the other side, the historian, wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be, but to what is to the particular truth of things, and not the general reason of thingsthat his example draweth not necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine. Now doth the peerless poet perform both; for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it, by some one by whom he pre-supposeth it was done, so as he coupleth the general notion with the particular example. A perfect picture, I say, for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which doth neither strike, piercé, nor possess the sight of the soul, so much as that other doth. So, no doubt, the philosopher with his learned definitions, be it of virtues or vices, matters of public policy or private government, replenisheth the memory with many infallible grounds of wisdom, which, notwithstanding, lie dark before the imaginative and judging power, if they be not illuminated and figured forth by the speaking picture of poesy. Tully taketh much pains, and many times not without poetical helps, to make us know what force the love of our country hath in us : let us but hear old Anchises, speaking in the midst of Troy's flames; or see Ulysses, in the fulness of all Calypso’s delights, bewailing his absence from barren and beggarly Ithaca! Anger, the Stoics said, was a short madness ; let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, killing or whipping sheep and oxen, thinking them the army of the Greeks, with their chieftains Agamemnon and Menelaus; and tell me if you have not a more familiar insight into anger than finding in the schoolmen its genus and difference? The philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to say, he teacheth them that are already taught. But the poet is the food for tender stomachs; the poet is indeed the right popular philosopher.
1 The word poet means maker, being from the Greek Tolytns, (poietes) “a maker," "a poet." Hence Warton remarks, “The man of rhymes may be easily found; but the genuine poet, of a lively, plastic imagination, the true MAKER OR CREATOR, is so uncommon a prodigy, that one is almost tempted to subscribe to the opinion of Sir William Temple, who says, that of all the numbers of mankind that live within the compass of a thousand years, for one man that is born capable of making a great poet, there may be a thousand born capable of making as great generals, or ministers of state, as the most renowned in story."-Essay on Pope, i. 111. | 2 One cannot fall to see many of these same ideas in the first lecture of that most instructive hook, Bishop Lowth's" Lectures on Hebrew Poetry."
After having gone through many particular comparisons, he thus comes out with a fine burst of enthusiasm
IN PRAISE OF POETRY. Now therein-(that is to say, the power of at once teaching and enticing to do well) - now therein, of all sciences-I speak still of human and according to human conceit—is our poet the monarch. For he doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it. Nay, he doth, as if your journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster of grapes, that, full of that taste, you may long to pass further. He beginneth