« PreviousContinue »
but unfortunately for his character for “ irreproachable morality,” he continued to prosecute this unhappy lady with his suit after her marriage, making her the subject of the most impassioned strains, and he endeavoured, for a purpose it is to be feared equally base and selfish, to effect a breach between her and her husband, by applying to the latter the most opprobrious and obnoxious epithets. This is a strong accusation, but it is impossible for any unprejudiced person to read the volume of poetry which he has devoted to the history of this criminal and unfortunate passion, without being con vinced of its justice and strict veracity. * which his encomiasts have set up in his justification, which is, that his attachment to Lady Rich was merely platonic, must also vanish before such a scrutiny, it is too absurd to deserve serious notice.
Another part of Sidney's conduct can hardly be reconciled with that exalted morality for which his biographers are disposed to give him credit. This is his written defence of his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, against the severe charges in a publication, entitled, “ Leicester's Commonwealth.” In this work the Earl was accused, and there is every reason to presume justly, with crimes, both public and private, of the most heinous nature. In Sidney's answer, none of these accusations are confuted, or even noticed; he contents himself with vindicating the high descent of his relation, and after giving his antagonist the lie direct,
* See the poem entitled “ Astroph el and Stella" passim, but more particularly the songs at p. 91, 100, 109, and 126, of the octa vo edition, 1724 ; and the articles marked 24, 37, and 78.
challenges him to a meeting in any part of Europe, within three months from the date of his replication. This defence, if it be not a misnomer to call it so, was written within two years of his death, so that the plea of extreme youth cannot be fawly brought forward in its
There is even another incident in the life of Sidney, in which the strictness of his morals may be called in. question. In the year 1584, tired of an inactive life, and repeatedly foiled in his attempts to procure some employment from the queen's ministers, he made private arrangements to accompany Drake in one of his piratical attempts upon the Spanish colonies. He was to have been the principal director of it, and had engaged himself to furnish both a naval and a land armament for the purpose of effecting a powerful attack upon the newly settled states. He was prevented from carıying his purpose into execution, by the powerful and judicious interposition of the queen, who, while she secretly ap-proved, perhaps, of the attempts made by a private seaman, such as Drake then was, had too much prudence and sense of propriety, to allow of them, when under the conduct of a man connected with some of her principal nobility and counsellors, and long conspicuous for his attendance near her person. It must be recollected that England was at this time at peace with Spain, and that Drake was justly considered by foreigners, in no other character than that of a pirate and freebooter.
Of the personal bravery of Sir Philip Sidney, there can be no doubt; it amounted to rashness, which probably in the event cost him his life. On the morning
of the day in which he received his death wound, he is said to have taken off his defensive armour, that he might not appear to have been surpassed in daring, by one whom he had accidentally met lightly armed. This incident gave rise to a remark of Queen Elizabeth to an impetuous young nobleman, who had gone abroad without her knowledge, to serve under one of her generals :-"Serve me so once again, and I will lay you fast enough for running. You will never leave 'till you are knocked on the head, as that inconsiderate fellow Sidney was," But he was too little employed in military affairs, to admit of any estimate of his talents in the capacity of a soldier being fairly made. Considered in this light, the comparison between him and the Chevalier Bayard, or Edward the Black Prince, completely fails. Of his public performances in state pageants, in tilts and tournaments, little need be said, they won him temporary fame, but make no appeal to posterity.
That he patronised Spenser, is past all dispute by the poet's own acknowledgment; but the story of his ordering his steward to advance him a large sum of money upon first reading the Fairy Queen,* is contradicted by Sidney's circumstances at the time. then a young man dependent on the bounty of his uncle, and as it appears, living upon a quarterly allowance made him by his father, who was himself of too noble
Many of the commentators on Spenser, among wliom may be included Mr, Todd, the latest and the best, are of opinion, that the Fairy Queen owes its origin to the advice of Sir Philip Sidney, and that a portion of it was written when the Poet resided at Pepshurst.
a disposition to acquire wealth by his employments, So far from being in circumstances to act the part of a munificent patron, we find by a curious document printed by Dr. Zouch, that Sidney at this period of his life, was occasionally unable to pay his debts, and was obliged to refer a tradesman to his father's steward, for the amount of his bill, consisting of less than five pounds, under promise of returning it at the next quarter. His public employment had produced him but little, and he beld no office under the crown, if an exception may be made to that of cup-bearer, and a small sinecure in Wales, which has been before alluded to.
As a statesman, Sir Philip Sidney was but little tried. The embassy which he undertook in early life,, appears to have been one of parade only, and of but a few months continuance. From this time to his appointment as governor of Flushing, in the last year of. his life, he was never placed in any situation of trust, either civil or military, though he constantly resided at court, was ambitions of power, frequently solicited employment, and had the powerful influence of his uncle and father in law, not to mention his excellent father, to promote his views. He was not even admitted a member of the Privy Council, until within a year or two of his death, though he was anxious to obtain that honour, and in order to procure it, descended even to request the assistance of his father's secretary, whom he had previously insulted with unfounded suspicions of being unfaithful to his trust. This augurs some defect in our hero. It was not the custom of Queen Elizabeth or her advisers, to permit merit to sue for employment, and though the period of Sidney's
life was not thc most active part of her reign, yet situations were not wanting, in which talents such as are usually assigned to him, might have been advantageously called into action.
As a writer, Sir Philip Sidney could not be publicly known during his life, none of his works being printed until some years after his death. He attained the full amount of his honours while living to enjoy them, and they have been confirmed only by posterity ; so that 18 part of his reputation can with propriety be attributed to this source.
The elegance of his person and manners may be admitted without dispute.
Like most men of genius, Sidney appears been of a melancholy temperament; his friend Languet aware of this, advises him in one of his letters, to select cheerful companions. Several instances in the events of his life, may be advanced in proof that he was irritable and impetuous in his disposition. One has been already noticed in his intemperate defence of his uncle. He also embarked with even less discretion in defence of his father's government of Ireland, which as may be expected, did not please all men.
Among others, the Earl of Ormond, a near relation of the queen's, and highly esteemed by her, expressed his opinion unfavourably of some measures adopted by the Lord Deputy. Sir Philip Sidney publicly insulted him, with the intention of provoking a challenge, which the magnanimity of the Earl prevented, who asserted, that he would accept no quarrel with a gentleman who was bound by nature to defend his father's cause, and who was otherwise furnished with so many virtues as be