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ance of the Elizabethan romance.
and Erasmus are introduced. Although, as in other tales of the time, the plot is incoherent and does not hang well together, the book is written in a nervous English style, and shows close observation of human character, 1.
There were many other writers of romances and tales during this wonderful period, when everyone seemed the possessor of literary talent. But we have pur- The importposely confined ourselves to the most famous of them, to those that are notable, chiefly because they gave the impulse to or formed the origin of greater things that will never pass away from our remembrance. In many cases those old tales are worth reading for themselves, but even when they are not they have a claim on the attention of all students of our literature because of the debt owed them by Shakespeare.
In them he often found the plots of his plays, and in rough shape many of the characters who are our familiar friends. From tales in Paynter's Palace of Pleasure he drew the main events of Romeo and Juliet, of All's Well that Ends Well, and of Measure for Measure; the victualler to the camp in Nash's Jack Wilton became in Shakespeare's hands the inimitable Falstaff of Henry IV. and the Merry Wives of Windsor; the episode of the Paphlagonian Unkind King in Sidney's Arcadia may have suggested the heart-rending story of Gloucester so pathetically and tragically set forth in Lear; in Riche's story of Silla, Shakespeare made the acquaintance of Viola, the heroine of Twelfth Night; in Greene's Pandosto, that of Hermione and Perdita of A Winter's Tale; and to Lodge's Rosalind we are indebted for the most poetical play in our literature-As You Like It.
1 Both Nash and Lyly took part in the famous Martin Mar-Prelate controversy. Under the name of Martin Mar-Prelate, the Puritans waged a pamphlet war against Episcopal government. Nash hated the Puritans, and attacked them under the name of Pasquil, and it is said that his brilliant satires led to the final crushing of the Martinists, as they were called. All the contributions to the controversy were, of course, anonymous.
III. Sir Philip Sidney.
Poetry and romance have thrown a halo round the name of Sir Philip Sidney. Although linked to the
school of Lyly and his friends by his romance Sidney.
of Arcadia, Sidney stands as a man of letters on a higher plane. He presents the type of an Elizabethan gentleman, well-born, brave, intelligent, modest, affectionate, and chivalrous. Possessing discernment and taste in literature and art, he was a writer of exquisite and passionate verse; and of prose simple and unaffected as well as fanciful and ornamented. It is, however, because his prose has greater literary importance than his verse that he finds a place here among the Elizabethan prose-writers. None of his literary achievements, it should be noted, were published in his lifetime.
Sidney was born in 1554, at the beautiful house of Penshurst in Kent. Ben Jonson, the dramatist, who, a
little later, often visited Penshurst, has finely His birth.
described it in his poem of The Forest as “an ancient pile” surrounded by “broad beeches” and shady chestnuts, and abounding in all that makes life pleasant. In the following century another poet, Waller (1605-1687), paced the alleys of the beautiful Elizabethan garden, which looks to-day exactly as it did then, framing love poems for his Sacharissa, Dorothy Sidney. As Lord President of Wales, Sidney's father often resided at Ludlow Castle, where in the next century Milton's Comus was to be presented, and there much of Sidney's boyhood was
passed. He was sent to a school at Shrews
bury, where he formed a lifelong friendship friendships.
with Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, who survived Sidney, wrote a biography of him, and had inscribed on his own tomb, “Friend to Sir Philip Sidney”. At Oxford, whither he proceeded on leaving school, he had for friends Edward Dyer, now remembered as the author of one poem,
My mind to me a kingdom is ”, and Richard Hakluyt, the celebrated traveller.
His education and
When Sidney left college, he set out on his travels through Europe. He was at Paris on the night of the massacre of St. Bartholomew (August 24, His travels 1572), and spent it in safety at the house of in Europe. the English ambassador, Sir Francis Walsingham, whose daughter he married in 1582. Sidney proceeded to Strasburg, Heidelberg, and Frankfort. Thence he made his way to Vienna, Hungary, and Venice, making friends wherever he went, winning the hearts of all by his grace and charm. He sat to the great painter, Paolo Veronese (1528–1588), for his portrait, but unluckily the picture, which Sidney gave to his friend Hubert Languet, the reformer, is lost.
In 1575 Sidney returned to England, took part in the festivities at Kenilworth, and afterwards visited the Countess of Essex at Chartley, where he fell in love
• Stella.” with her daughter, Penelope Devereux, the “Stella” of his famous sonnet series. She ultimately married Lord Rich. The queen sent Sidney on several missions abroad, but court life at home was little to his taste, and he was scarcely sorry when his open opposition to the French match put him out of favour for a time, and enabled him in 1580 to pay a long visit to his sister, Mary, Countess of Pembroke, at Wilton near Salisbury. There at her request and to give her pleasure“it is done only for you, only to you”—he The “ Arwrote the Arcadia. Mary Sidney, like her cadia”. brother, had literary talent, and together they began to translate the Psalms into verse. It was during that visit that his nephew, William Herbert, was born. He became later Shakespeare's patron, and is perhaps the W. H. to whom the sonnets of the great dramatist are inscribed.
In 1584, Elizabeth, in order, as she hoped, to divert Spain from England, interfered to protect the Low Countries. Sidney was appointed Governor of Flushing. During the siege of Zutphen, in 1586, he received the wound that caused his death. As he was being carried to a place of safety, (1 205)
being thirsty with excess of bleeding (his biographer, Fulke Greville, relates), he called for drink, which was presently brought him; but as he was putting the bottle to his mouth he saw a poor soldier carried along, 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 mouth before he drank, and delivered it to the poor man, with these words—“thy necessity is greater than mine”.
He was taken to Arnheim, where he died a little more than three weeks later. He was buried in old St. Paul's, London. All England mourned him. Poets and prosewriters vied with each other in composing tributes to his memory: it is said that some two hundred of them were written. Perhaps the tenderest and most sorrowful of them is that by Matthew Roydon, who sang of Sidney's sweet attractive kind of grace", and declared
Did never Muse inspire beneath
Sidney's contributions to literature are the sonnet series Sidney's lit- Astrophel and Stella, the romance Arcadia, erary work.
and the Apology for Poetry, the first piece of pure literary criticism in the English language.
The sonnets were written between 1579 and 1581, and were first published in 1591. They number one hundred
Sidney as and eight, and celebrate Sidney's love for Lady poet. Rich (Stella) in verse that is at once passionate and sincere and thoughtful. In the first sonnet, Sidney puts very beautifully the fact that all true poetry must come from the heart. Wishing to move his lady's pity, he sought fit words in which to paint his woe, studied ways in which to entertain her wits, turned over others' leaves to see if he could find a way to please her. But nothing availed until
“Fool,” said my muse to me, “look in thy heart and write". Sidney did not invariably keep to the rules of the sonnet. In that just referred to he uses lines of twelve syllables,
i Presently in Elizabethan English meant immediately.
and his method of riming is throughout varied. The following fine sonnet on Death may be taken as an example of Sidney's manipulation of the sonnet form.
Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
b 3 Grow rich in that which never taketh rust; 4 Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings.
b 5 Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might 6 To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
d 7 Which breaks the clouds, and opens forth the light, 8 That doth both shine, and give us sight to see.
d 9 O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death, f
Who seeketh heav'n and comes of heav'nly breath. f 13 Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see:
g 14 Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me."
Very fine also are the sonnets on Sleep (39), and On the power of Stella's glance (41). Sidney's verse has always, and most deservedly, been greatly admired. Charles Lamb, whose judgment in literary matters was seldom at fault, writes :
Sidney's sonnets—I speak of the best of them—are among the very best of their sort. The spirit of “learning and of chivalry” shines through them.
The Apology for Poetry was published in 1595. It had been written in 1581, and may fitly be styled the first piece of English literary criticism. Other pieces of sidney as criticism, such as Webbe's Discourse of Eng- critic. lish Poetry (1586), and Puttenham's Art of Poetry (1589), were published, although not written, earlier than Sidney's, but as they deal chiefly with criticism of the forms of poetry, they scarcely enter into competition with Sidney's work, which is concerned with the subject matter and the spirit of poetry. He shows how the earliest writers of
Shakespeare, later, used exactly the same form of the sonnet.