« PreviousContinue »
mily, the great hopes of mankind, the most lively pattern of virtue, and the darling of the world, nobly engaging the enemy at Zutphen in Guelderland, lost his life bravely and valiantly. This is that Sidney, whom as Providence seems to have sent into the world to give the present age a specimen of the ancients, so did it on a sudden recall him, and snatch him from us, as more worthy of heaven than of earth. Thus when virtue has come to perfection it presently leaves us, and the best things are seldom lasting. Rest, then, in peace, O Sidney! if I may be allowed this address. We will not celebrate thy memory with tears, but with admiration. 'Whatever we loved in thee' (as the best author speaks of the best governor of Britain), 'whatever we admired in thee continues, and will continue in the memories of men, the revolutions of ages, and the annals of time *. Many, as being inglorious and ignoble, are buried in oblivion, but Sidney shall live to all posterity.' For, as the
* CC Quidquid ex Agricolâ amavimus, quidquid mirati sumus, manet, mansurumque est in animis hominum, in
æternitate temporum, famâ rerum. Nam multos veterum,
velut inglorios et ignobiles, oblivio obruet; Agricola posteritate superstes erit." C. Cornel. Taciti Agricolæ Vita, 46.
Greek poet has it, Virtue is beyond the reach of Fate*""
After such an eulogy, and from such a quarter, I know not that any thing material can be added, except what shall result from a more extended consideration of that beautiful feature in the character of sir Philip Sidney with which this essay opened, his strong affection for, and admiration of, his sister; an attachment which, as exclusively founded on the singular piety, virtue, and talents of that celebrated lady, tends not only to throw a lustre of the most endearing and fascinating kind over the literary and chivalric laurels which so conspicuously bind the brow of Sidney, but to develope with peculiar strength and clearness his social, moral, and devotional feelings.
It is evident, however, that, for this purpose, it will be necessary to give some account of the character, disposition, and pursuits of the countess of Pembroke; and the following paper will therefore open with a slight sketch of her life, which may be considered under a secondary point of view, as preparatory to a few critical remarks on her writings
* Αγεται κρείσσονές εισι μορφ
and those of her brother. For as the literary labours of sir Philip were not published until after his death, and as these, when they did see the light, were revised, corrected, and improved, sometimes by the pen, and sometimes by the counsel, of lady Pembroke; and as one of them, on which it is my purpose to dwell more at length, was written in conjunction with him, and has only very lately issued from its manuscript state, the propriety of postponing a farther notice of works thus situated, until both parties have been brought before us, will be obvious, more especially when it shall be found that between sir Philip and his sister there existed an affinity, truly remarkable, in genius, taste, and disposition.
Urania, sister unto Astrophel,
In whose brave mynd, as in a golden cofer,
MARY SIDNEY, afterwards countess of Pembroke, the amiable and accomplished, and only surviving sister of sir Philip Sidney, was born about the middle of the sixteenth century. The utmost attention was paid to her education; and being gifted by nature with quick and lively parts, she made a rapid progress in all the literature of her age. It speaks highly, indeed, in favour of her genius and talents, that, at a time when the example of the queen had rendered learning a fashionable acquirement among the ladies of her court, she became the brightest star in the galaxy which surrounded her
The foundation for this superiority was, no doubt, laid in the love and emulation which, at a very
early age, existed between her and her brother. Until the latter went to Shrewsbury, they appear to have been educated together; and we know that when he entered the busy world, his reputation, welfare, and example, were ever dearest to her heart. They were, in fact, both in person and mind, the counterparts of each other; so that when Spenser in his pastoral elegy, intitled "Astrophel," is about to introduce a dirge written by the countess herself on the death of sir Philip, he designates
The gentlest shepherdess that lives this day,
Another advantage of a similar kind which the fair subject of our narrative enjoyed may be attributed to her union with Henry Herbert, earl of Pembroke. To this nobleman, who is represented as a great friend and patron of religion and learning †, she was married during the early part of the year 1576, a connexion which appears to have been ardently desired by her father, sir Henry Sidney.
* Vide Todd's Spenser, vol. viii. p. 61.
+ Vide Granger's Biographical History of England, vol. i. p. 200.