« PreviousContinue »
marks of a sorrowful mind, supported with a weak body; which they perceiving, and knowing that the violence of sorrow is not at the first to be striven withal (being like a mighty beast, sooner tamed with following, than overthrown by withstanding) they gave way to it for that day and the next, never troubling him either with asking questions, or finding fault with his melancholy, but rather fitting to his dolor dolorous discourses of their own and other folks misfortune. Which speeches, though they had not a lively entrance to his senses shut
in sorrow, like one half asleep, he took hold of much of the matters spoken unto him, so as a man may say, ere sorrow was aware, they made his thoughts bear away something else beside his own sorrow, which wrought so in him, that at length he grew content to mark their speeches, then to marvel at such wit in shepherds, after to like their company, and lastly, te vouchsafe conference. So that the third day after, in the time that the morning did strew roses and violets in the heavenly floor against the coming of the sun, the nightingales (striving one with the other, which could in most dainty variety recount their wrong-caused sorrow,) made them put off their sleep, and rising from under a tree (which that night had been their pavilion) they went on their journey, which by and by welcomed Musidorus' eyes (wearied with the wasted soil of Laconia) with delightful prospects. There were hills which garnished their proud heights with stately trees; humble vallies, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers ; meadows enamelled 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 dams 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-music. As for the houses of the country (for many houses came under their eye) they were all scattered, no two being one by the other, and yet not so far off, as that it barred mutual succour: a shew as it were, of an accompaniable solitariness; and a civil wildness. I pray you, said Musidorus, (then first unsealing his long silent lips) what countries be these we pass through, which are so divers in shew, the one wanting no store, the other having no store, but of want.
The country (answered Claius) where you were cast ashore, and now are past through, is Laconia,
i bas, low.
not so poor by the barrenness of the soil (though in . itself not passing fertile,) as by a civil war, which being these two years within the bowels of that estate, between the gentlemen and the peasants (by them named helots) hath in this sort as it were disfigured the face of nature, and made it so unhospitable as now you have found it; the towns neither of the one side nor the other willingly opening their gates to strangers, nor strangers willingly entering for fear of being mistaken.—But this country, where now you set your foot, is Arcadia, and even hard by is the house of Kalander, whither we lead ou This country being thus decked with peace, and (the child of peace) good husbandry. These houses you see so scattered are of men as we two are, that live upon the commodity of their sheep ; and therefore, in the division of the Arcadian estate, are termed shepherds-a happy people, wanting little, because they desire not much,
The reviewer of Todd's works of Spencer, in the fourth volume of the Annual Review, has occasion to speak of the Arcadia, and of its author; and his character of both is so excellent, and at the same time so just, that I cannot do better than present it to the reader. " It has been of late years the fashion (says he) to depreciate the genius of this most admirable
man; and Mr. Todd, who in matters of taste, exercises more faith than reason, joins in the
Horace Walpole, we believe, was the first person who hazarded this opinion, and we all know how opinions are taken ready-made, upon such authority. Much of the praise which Sidney received, during his life, may have been paid to his rank it may have been flattery as to its motive, but in its matter it was no more than the praise, to which he was entitled. Nobody, it has been said, reads the Arcadia. We have known very many persons who have read it, men, women, and children, and never knew one who read it without deep interest and an admis ration at the genius of the writer, great in proportion as they were capable of appreciating it. The' verses are very bad, not that he was a bad poet, (on the contrary, much of his poetry is of high merit,) but because he was then versifying upon an impracticable system. Let the reader pass over all the Eclogues, as dull interludes unconnected with the drama, and if he do not delight in the story itself, in the skill with which the incidents are woven together and unravelled, and in the Shakespearian power and character of language, with which they are painted ; let him be assured the fault is in himself and not in the book.” This romance furnishes the first example of an alle-gorical work written originally in English.
The Arcadia has been modernized by Mrs. Stanley; but in this performance, though an elegant composition, we do not see the mind of Sidney ; the peculiar flow of his thoughts is broken ; and we can no longer discover his genuine intellectual character beneath the more fashionable attire of modern refine. ment. For my own part, I prefer the ideas of Sidney in their customary and natural dress; such transformations are entitled to little commendation,
2. Another of his pieces is entitled, “ The Defence of Poesy;" London, 1595. It consists in the whole but of a few pages, of which the following is a favourable, and indeed a beautiful specimen.
The philosopher sheweth you the way, he informeth you of the particularities, as well of the tediousness of the way, as of the pleasant lodging you shall have when your journey is ended, as of the many bye-turnings that may divert you from your way; but this is to no man, but to him that will read him,