« PreviousContinue »
knew Sidney to be. Of his quarrel with the Earl of Oxford, some notice has been taken before ; his biographers are anxious to explain this affair favourably to their hero, and we have their account only, of the provocation. It is certain that Sidney, though a favourite, received a reprimand from the queen, and also found it necessary to absent himself, for a time, from the court in consequence. In his eagerness to defend his father's government, he accused his secretary, Edward Molineux, Esq. a most respectable and worthy man, of dishonourable practices, in divulging the contents of confidential papers. “The language in which he intimates his resentment,” says Dr. Zouch, “ is extremely indecorous. Flushed with the ardour of youth, he is for a moment alive to the impulses of anger and the victim of violence and irritability of temper." The charge appears to have been without foundation
; the punishment however, denounced for a repetition of this presumed offence, by Sidney, was death to the offender.
In the several relations of a son a brother, and a friend, Sidney appears entitled to all the praise he has received.
From the foregoing examination of the character and conduct of Sir Philip Sidney, which was begun with strong prejudice in his favonr, and has been conducted with all the impartiality of which the writer is capable, it is plain to him, that some causes independent of pure desert, must have conspired to elevate Sir Philip Sidney to the eminence to which he has attained. Of these, perhaps, the principal one is the accident of his birth. The age in which he lived, was above all others
remarkable for producing a host of court sycophants which exhausted every term in the language in flattering those in power, or those likely to attain power. It was not to be expected that the son of Sir Henry Sidney, the Governor of Ireland and of Wales, and more particularly, the nephew and adopted heir of the Earl of Leicester the Queen's favourite, should escape from the contamination of this herd of parasites and flatterers; more especially when both these advantages were united in one person, when that person was a young man of merit and accomplishments, and distinguished as a favourite by the Queen herself. * But it may be objected, that Sidney has had for his encomiasts, both men, and bodies of men, who from talent and rank should have been secured from this meanness. That Spenser employed his magic pen to extend his fame, and that the universities themselves bewailed his loss and celebrated his praise in every language in which writers could be found. Be it remembered, that Spenser wrote his immortal work to honour a Queen by whom he was neglected, that he addressed it, with a flattering sonnet, to his personal enemy the cold-hearted and tasteless Burleigh; and that he singled out the Earl of Leicester, the accused murderer of his wife, and a man contaminated
* It is exceedingly probable that the Earl of Leicester, who was a designing and artful man, had some selfish end in view, in placing his accomplished nephew about the person of the queen. He well knew the queen's susceptible disposition, and her partiality for handsome young men. Mr. Parke, in a note upon the following passage in Shakspeare “ There have been Earls, and what is more Pensioners here,” remarks, that the poet alludes to a party of young men by which the queen was in general surrounded; from subsisting principally on her bounty, , this party had acquired the title of pensioners, and Sir Philip Sidney is inserted in the list.
with every vice without any redeeming virtue, as the prototype of the most exalted creation of his fancy,as the original of his poetic Prince Arthur. Be it also remembered, that the same Universities which so highly complimented the memory of Sidney, published volumes equally bulky, complimentary and learned, when a child was born to that profligate and worthless Earl.
A second adventitious cause was the gallant manner in wl ich Sir Fhilip Sidney met his fate,-a death worthy of the noblest hero of antiquity. After fighting bravely in defence of his friend and comrade, when placed on a litter to be borne from the field of battle, mangled and faint with loss of blood, he requested drink; water was brought to him, and he was about to raise it to bis lips, when his attention was directed to a dying soldier, who eyed the refreshing beverage with an earnest and supplicating look. The appeal was not made in vain ; the noble Sidney refused the yet untasted draught, and directed it to be given to his more unfortunate brother in arms, with the memorable expression--" thy necessities are greater than mine.” This is perhaps one of the finest traits of magnanimity to be found in the history of human nature.
A third, and very powerful cause, may be found in the partiality and the power of surviving friends and relations. The first memoir ever published of Sir Philip Sidney, was from the pen of his most intimate friend, Sir Fulke Greville, and the nature of this me. moir may be presumed from the circumstance that the writer considered the friendship of Sidney as the greatest honour he had obtained during a long and successful life ; of which he was so proud that he caused it to be recorded on his monument. The Earl of
Leicester was at the zenith of his power when his nephew died; he was attached to his accomplished relative, and received with pleasure and satisfaction every thing that tended to do honour to his memory, or exalt his reputation. The widow of Sidney * afterwards married the powerful Earl of Essex; she also chc.ished the memory of her gallant husband, and to her Spenser addressed his elegy on his death. But perhaps more is to be attributed to the exertions of his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, than to all the others combined. She inherited her brother's talents and disposition, and was the depository of his literary efforts. Learned herself, she aspired to be the patroness of learned men, and during a long life she was continually surrounded by men of talent, who paid their court most effectually to her by exto’ling the virtues and extending the fame of her beloved brother.
In fine, the character of Sir Philip Sidney, divested of romance may be summed up as follows-He derived from nature a handsome person, an engaging address, a generous and noble disposition; he acquired from cultivation all the elegant accomplishments of his day, a proficiency in languages, and a talent for poetry. Introduced at court with every advantage during a female reign, he obtained a distinguished place as a courtier. He paid his respectful addresses to the Queen, he figured in the tiltyard, he gallanted with the ladies, he patronised the poets, he received with pleasure and duly noticed the addresses and the works of the learned. Ambitious also, and proud of his birth
* The daughter of Secretary Walsingham, one of the most powerful of Queen Elizabeth's ministers.
and connexions, his disposition was probably impetuous and prone to take offence, a frame of mind not incompatible, as Shakspeare has assured us, with gentle man
Ile was a dutiful son, an affectionate brother, a firm friend, a devoted partizan, and without doubt a delightful companion. That he was brave, is sufficiently proved by the last action of his life, but his military talents were never fairly put to the test. That he eagerly sought to be employed as a Statesman, is also upon record, but it is equally certain that he was not employed. In his attatchment to the sex he was unfortunate, but he had himself only to blame ; he sacrificed at the shrine of ambition the richest treasure bestowed upon our nature, the heart of a lovely and accomplished woman, and he suffered the punishment of his unhappy choice. This incident, as he himself has assured us, tinged the remainder of his life with melancholy, led him into a criminal and a hopeless pursuit, increased his irritability of temper, and produced frequent abstractions of mind; but it also gave occasion to his composing the only literary work that will descend to posterity, and by the influence of example confirmed him in the love of virtue and noble actions. In a word, Sir Philip Sidney was an accomplished, and upon the whole, a virtuous man, but there are no proofs of his possessing consummate abilities, or extraordinary genius in any department; men fully his equals, have not been wanting at any
“They are as gentle