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As they'll shut up each path, hide every way,
Because they still would have her go astray. The reader must assist me, and assist himself. I cannot otherwise give him to understand what the men of this age had the felicity to experience.
Luxuriance and irregularity were the two features of this spirit and this literature, -features common to all the literatures of the Renaissance, but more marked here than elsewhere, because the German race is not confined, like the Latin, by the taste for harmonious forms, and prefers strong impression to fine expression. We must select amidst this crowd of poets; and here is one amongst the first, who exhibits, by his writings as well as by his life, the greatness and the folly of the prevailing manners and the public taste: Sir Philip Sidney, nephew of the Earl of Leicester, a great lord and a man of action, accomplished in every kind of culture; who, after a good training in classical literature, traveled in France, Germany, and Italy; read Plato and Aristotle, studied astronomy and geometry at Venice; pondered over the Greek tragedies, the Italian sonnets, the pastorals of Montemayor, the poems of Ronsard; displaying an interest in science, keeping up an exchange of letters with the learned Hubert Languet; and withal a man of the world, a favorite of Elizabeth, having bad enacted in her honor a flattering and comic pastoral; a genuine “jewel of the court;" a judge, like d'Urfé, of lofty gallantry and fine language; above all, chivalrous in heart and deed, who wished to follow maritime adventure with Drake, and, to crown all, fated to die an early and heroic death. He was a cavalry officer, and had saved the English army at Gravelines. Shortly after, mortally wounded, and dying of thirst, as some water was brought to him, he saw by his side a soldier still more desperately hurt, who was looking at the water with anguish in his face: “Give it to this man,” said he; “his necessity is still greater than mine.” Do not forget the vehemence and impetuosity of the middle age ;-one hand ready for action, and kept incessantly on the hilt of the sword or poniard. “Mr. Molineux,” wrote he to his father's secretary, “if ever I know you to do so much as read any letter I write to my father, without his commandment or my consent, I will thrust my dagger into you. And trust to it, for I speak it in earnest.”
It was the same man who said to his uncle's adversaries that they clied in their throat;" and to support his words, promised them a meeting in three months in any place in Europe. The savage energy of the preceding age remains intact, and it is for this reason that poetry took so firm a hold on these virgin souls. The human harvest is never so fine as when cultivation opens up a new soil. Impassioned, moreover, melancholy and solitary, he naturally turned to noble and ardent fantasy; and he was so much the poet that he had no need of verse.
Shall I describe his pastoral epic, the Arcadia ? It is but a recreation, a sort of poetical romance, written in the country for the amusement of his sister; a work of fashion, which, like Cyrus and Clélie, is not a monument, but a document. This kind of books shows only the externals, the current elegance and politeness, the jargon of the fashionable world,—in short, that which should be spoken before ladies; and yet we perceive from it the bent of the public opinion. In Clélie, oratorical development, delicate and collected analysis, the flowing converse of men seated quietly in elegant arm-chairs; in the Arcadia, fantastic imagination, excessive sentiment, a medley of events which suited men scarcely recovered from barbarism. Indeed, in London they still used to fire pistols at each other in the streets; and under Henry VIII. and his children, Queens, a Protector, the highest nobles, knelt under the axe of the executioner. Armed and perilous existence long resisted in Europe the establishment of peaceful and quiet life. It was necessary to change society and the soil, in order to transform men of the sword into citizens. The high roads of Louis XIV. and his regular administration, and more recently the railroads and the sergents de ville, freed the French from habits of violence and a taste for dangerous adventure. Remember that at this period men's heads were full of tragical images. Sidney's Arcadia contains enough of them to supply half-a-dozen epics. “It is a trifle," says the author;
my young head must be delivered.” In the first twenty-five pages you meet with a shipwreck, an account of pirates, a halfdrowned prince rescued by shepherds, a journey in Arcadia, various disguises, the retreat of a king withdrawn into solitude with his wife and children, the deliverance of a young imprisoned
1 Two French novels of the age of Louis XIV., each in ten volumes, and written by Ma. demoiselle de Scudéry.-TR.
lord, a war against the Helots, the conclusion of peace, and many other things. Read on, and you will find princesses shut up by a wicked fairy, who beats them, and threatens them with death if they refuse to marry her son; a beautiful queen condemned to perish by fire if certain knights do not come to her succor; a treacherous prince tortured for his wicked deeds, then cast from the top of a pyramid; fights, surprises, abductions, travels : in short, the whole programme of the most romantic tales. That is the serious element: the agreeable is of a like nature; the fantastic predominates. Improbable pastoral serves, as in Shakespeare or Lope de Vega, for an intermezzo to improbable tragedy. You are always coming upon dancing shepherds. They are very courteous, good poets, and subtle metaphysicians. Several of them are disguised princes who pay their court to the princesses. They sing continually, and get up allegorical dances; two bands approach, servants of Reason and Passion; their hats, ribbons, and dress are described in full. They quarrel in verse, and their retorts, which follow close on one another, over-refined, keep up a tournament of wit. Who cared for what was natural or possible in this age? There were such festivals at Elizabeth's“ progresses;” and you have only to look at the engravings of Sadeler, Martin de Vos, and Goltzius, to find this mixture of sensitive beauties and philosophical enig
The Countess of Pembroke and her ladies were delighted to picture this profusion of costumes and verses, this play beneath the trees. They had eyes in the sixteenth century, senses which sought satisfaction in poetry—the same satisfaction as in masquerading and painting. Man was not yet a pure reasoner; abstract truth was not enough for him. Rich stuffs, twisted about and folded; the sun to shine upon them, a large meadow studded with white daisies; ladies in brocaded dresses, with bare arms, crowns on their heads, instruments of music behind the trees,—this is what the reader expects; he cares nothing for contrasts; he will readily accept a drawing-room in the midst of the fields.
What are they going to say there? Here comes out that nervous exaltation, in all its folly, which is characteristic of the spirit of the age; love rises to the thirty-sixth heaven. Musidorus is the brother of Céladon; Pamela is closely related to the severe he
roines of Astrée : 1 all the Spanish exaggerations abound and all the Spanish falsehoods. For in these works of fashion or of the Court, primitive sentiment never retains its sincerity: wit, the necessity to please, the desire for effect, of speaking better than others, alter it, influence it, heap up embellishments and refinements, so that nothing is left but twaddle. Musidorus wished to give Pamela a kiss. She repels him. He would have died on the spot; but luckily remembers that his mistress commanded him to leave her, and finds himself still able to obey her command. He complains to the trees, weeps in verse: there are dialogues where Echo, repeating the last word, replies; duets in rhyme, balanced stanzas, in which the theory of love is minutely detailed; in short, all the grand airs of ornamental poetry. If they send a letter to their mistress, they speak to it, tell the ink: “Therefore mourne boldly, my inke; for while shee lookes upon you, your blacknesse will shine: cry out boldly my lamentation ; for while shee reades you, your cries will be musicke."
Again, two young princesses are going to bed: “They impoverished their clothes to enrich their bed, which for that night might well scorne the shrine of Venus; and there cherishing one another with deare, though chaste embracements; with sweete, though cold kisses; it might seeme that love was come to play him there without dart, or that wearie of his owne fires, he was there to refresh himselfe between their sweete breathing lippes.”
In excuse of these follies, remember that they have their parallels in Shakespeare. Try rather to comprehend them, to imagine them in their place, with their surroundings, such as they .are; that is, as the excess of singularity and inventive fire. Even though they mar now and then the finest ideas, yet a.natural freshness pierces through the disguise. Take another example: “In the time that the morning did strew roses and violets in the heavenly floore against the coming of the sun, the nightingales (striving one with the other which could in most dainty varietie recount their wronge-caused sorrow) made them put off their sleep.”
In Sidney's second work, The Defence of Poesie, we meet with
Céladon, a rustic lover in Astrée, a French novel in five volumes, named after the heroinc, and written by d'Urfé (d. 1625). —TR.
3 Ibid. p. 114 2 Arcadia, ed. fol. 1629, p. 117.
genuine imagination, a sincere and serious tone, a grand, commanding style, all the passion and elevation which he carries in his heart and puts into his verse. He is a muser, a Platonist, who is penetrated by the doctrines of the ancients, who takes things from a lofty point of view, who places the excellence of poetry not in pleasing effect, imitation, or rhyme, but in that creative and superior conception by which the artist creates anew and embellishes nature. At the same time, he is an ardent man, trusting in the nobleness of his aspirations and in the width of his ideas, who puts down the brawling of the shoppy, narrow, vulgar Puritanism, and glows with the lofty irony, the proud freedom, of a poet and a lord.
In his eyes, if there is any art or science capable of augmenting and cultivating our generosity, it is poetry. He draws comparison after comparison between it and philosophy or history, whose pretensions he laughs at and dismisses. He fights for poetry as a knight for his lady, and in what heroic and splendid style! He says: “I never heard the old Song of Percie and Douglas, that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet: and yet it is sung but by some blinde Crowder, with no rougher voyce, than rude stile; which beeing so evill apparelled in the dust and Cobweb of that uncivill age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindare ? "2
The philosopher repels, the poet attracts: “Nay hee doth as if your journey should lye through a faire vineyard, at the very first, give you a cluster of grapes, that full of that taste, you may long to passe further.”3
What description of poetry can displease you? Not pastoral so easy and genial? “Is it the bitter but wholesome lambicke, who rubbes the galled minde, making shame the Trumpet of villanie, with bold and open crying out against naughtinesse ?” 4
At the close he reviews his arguments, and the vibrating martial accent of his poetical period is like a trump of victory: “So that since the excellencies of it (poetry) may bee so easily and so justly confirmed, and the low-creeping objections so soone trodden downe, it not being an Art of lyes, but of true doctrine;
1 The Defence of Poesie, ed. fol. 1629, p. 558: “I dare undertake, that Orlando Furioso, or honest King Arthur, will never displease a soldier: but the quidditie of Ens and prima materia, will hardly agree with a Corselet." See also, in the same book, the very lively and spirited personification of History and Philosophy, full of genuine talent.
2 Ibid. p. 553.
3 Ibid. p. 550.
4 Ibid. p. 552