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SIDNEY'S POETRY

No lovely Paris made thy Helen his :

No force, no fraud, robbed thee of thy delight,
Nor fortune of thy fortune author is.

But to myself myself did give the blow.
While too much wit, forsooth, so troubled me,
That I respects for both our sakes must show :
And yet could not by rising morn foresee
How fair a day was near: O punished eyes,
That I had been more foolish, or more wise!

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Sonnet 87, with its speech of duty, affords conclusive proof of Stella having been a married, or at least a betrothed, woman :

When I was forced from Stella ever dear

Stella, food of my thoughts, heart of my heart-
Stella, whose eyes make all my tempests clear--
By Stella's laws of duty to depart;

Alas! I found that she with me did smart ;

I saw that tears did in her eyes appear;
I saw that sighs her sweetest lips did part,
And her sad words my sadded sense did hear.
For me, I wept to see pearls scattered so;
I sighed her sighs, and wailed for her woe;
Yet swam in joy, such love in her was seen.

Thus while the effect most bitter was to me,

And nothing than the cause more sweet could be,

I had been vexed, if vexed I had not been.

If any doubt could remain, it should be sufficient to weigh the poetical Sidney's

merit of the Stella sonnets, addressed

to the heroine of a real history, against the mere elegance of the verse of the Arcadia, composed to comply with a convention. In Astrophel and Stella Sidney appears for the first time as a true poet, and far in advance of any predecessor in his own line. It does not thence follow that his passion was of a very intense. character. It was genuine while it lasted, but gratification would soon have killed it, and even disappointment could not long keep it alive. It never forbids his helping himself out with an appropriation from a French or Italian poet, or turning

Initial Letter from Sidney's "Arcadia," 1590

aside to mere ingenuities, like the following exceedingly pretty but exceedingly

palpable conceit :

Morpheus, the lively son of deadly Sleep,
Witness of life to them that living die,

A prophet oft, and oft an history,

A poet eke, as humours fly or creep;

Since thou in me so sure a power dost keep,

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That never I with closed-up sense do lie,
But by thy work my Stella I descry,

Teaching blind eyes both how to smile and weep;
Vouchsafe, of all acquaintance, this to tell,
Whence hast thou ivory, rubies, pearl and gold,
To show her skin, lips, teeth and head so well?
Fool! answers he, no Indes such treasures hold;

But from thy heart, while my sire charmeth thee,
Sweet Stella's image do I steal to me.

Sidney at his best, it will be admitted, is in the sonnet no unworthy

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Form of Sid ney's Sonnets

Map and View of the Town of Zutphen, the scene of Sidney's death

forerunner of Shakespeare. Had he bent himself to acclimatise the Petrarchan form of the sonnet he might have been a precursor of Milton also. It will be noticed that the form of sonnet he employs frequently approaches that of Spenser, who begins each quatrain with a rhyme to the last line of the quatrain preceding, in attempting a compromise between the Petrarchan sonnet and the characteristically English succession of three quatrains concluding with a couplet. He clearly recognised the superiority of the Petrarchan form, and would probably have adopted it if he had been able to overcome its difficulties. Yet it is hardly a matter for regret that he shrunk from the attempt; for while the Petrarchan form is far more artistic, and fitter for the expression of a single grave or graceful thought, the more rapid flow of the English sonnet often adapts it better for the expression of simple but earnest feeling.

SIDNEY'S "DEFENCE OF POETRY'

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Had Sidney set the example Shakespeare might have followed it, and it is doubtful whether his sonnets would have gained by being Petrarchised.

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Sidney's Defence of Poetry is a remarkable essay, not a model of close The " Defence consecutive reasoning, but undertaken in a spirit of love and devotion to of Poetry what the author has himself found precious, and hence itself in some sort a poem. Sidney does not confine poetry to metrical composition. "It is not riming and versing that maketh poetry. One may be a poet without versing, and a versifier without poetry." Poetry is with him the antithesis of Philistinism, and denotes whatever elevates and purifies the mind, and casts an ideal hue over lite. The poet is to him the great enchanter. "Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as many poets have

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A portion of the great Procession at the Funeral of Sir Philip Sidney

From Laut's" Sequitur Celebritas Pompa Funeris," 1587

done; neither with 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." From his own experience of the effects of poetry he relates: "Certainly I must confess my own barbarousness. I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I I felt not my heart moved more than with a trumpet; and yet it is a song sung but by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style; which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobwebs of that uncivil age, what would it work trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?" He admits the inferiority of English poetry to that of other polite nations, and ascribes it to want of encouragement: "That poetry thus embraced in all other places, should only find in our time a hard welcome in England, I think, the very

Sir Walter
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earth lamenteth it, and therefore decketh our soil with fewer laurels than it was accustomed." The fault is not in the language, whose fitness for poetry Sidney proclaims with no less eloquence than truth. He speaks, nevertheless, with high commendation of Sackville's Gorboduc, and encouragingly of Spenser's early efforts. The greatest distinction of Chaucer seems to have escaped him, though, if the Canterbury Tales were, in general, too familiar for his taste, the Knight's Tale could hardly fail to attract him. Troilus and Creseyde, however, is his favourite. Excellently is his Troilus and Creseide, of whom truly I know not whether to marvel more that he in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age walk so stumblingly after him." In Surrey also, in so many respects his own counterpart, Sidney finds "many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind.” The weakest part of his criticism is that on dramatic poetry he disapproves of the mingling of tragedy and comedy to which the drama was to owe its regeneration, and would have confined it, like the drama of Italy, to the narrow limits traced by classical precedent. No doubt the English drama as then performed was infinitely shocking to a refined taste, and the prodigious development it was to receive within ten years was not in mortal to foresee. In so far, moreover, as Sidney is merely a literary critic he writes as the disciple of the Italians; it is only when, transcending technical rules, he concerns himself with ideas, that he finds his veritable self.

Little as Sidney is of a utilitarian, the practical importance of poetry is strenuously asserted by him :

Now therein of all sciences I speak still of human, and according to the 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 every man to enter into it. Nay he doth as if your journey should be 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 not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness. But he cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of music; and with a tale forsooth he cometh unto you, with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner, and, by pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue.

The exact date of Sidney's tractate is uncertain, but from the mention of Spenser's first poetical attempts it must be later than 1578: and as he professes to undertake it in the character of a poet, it may probably have been written after the Arcadia and Astrophel and Stella had given him an unquestionable claim to this designation. It seems to have been prompted by indignation at the attacks upon poetry made by Stephen Gosson in 1579; but Gosson, who had impudently dedicated his libel to Sidney himself, would scarcely have escaped castigation by name if Sidney had written in the first flush of resentment.

With Sidney, SIR WALTER RALEIGH ranks among the four great prosewriters of the Elizabethan age. As is so frequently the case with illustrious

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Letter from Sir Philip Sidney to Lord Burghley

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