Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Tower, denied pen and ink, he writes to his daughter Margaret, and tells her, “This letter is written with a coal'; but that, to express his love, a peck of coals would not suffice. Climbing the crazy timbers where he was to die, he said gaily to the lieutenant, .1

pray you see me safe up; and for my coming down, let me shift for myself.' When life and death were within a second of each other, he bade the executioner to stay his hand till he had removed his beard, observing, “Pity that should be cut, which has never committed treason.' His fatalistic maxim

was:

'If evils come not, then our fears are vain;
And if they do, fear but augments the pain.'

His haracter presents many opposite and, unhappily, some inconsistent qualities. Beneath his sunny nature lay a stern inflexibility of resolve. When he took office, it was with the open stipulation, “first to look to God, and after God to the king.' He laughed at the superstition and asceticism of the day, yet every Friday scourged his body with whips of knotted cords, and by way of further penance wore his hair-shirt next to his lacerated skin. Once an opponent of abuses in the Church, when the Reformation was sprung, he went violently back to the extreme of maintaining the whole fabric of idolatry. Playful and affectionate in his own household, his abuses of power are a cloud on his memory. Free-thinker, as the bigots termed him, he appeals to miraculous relics as the evidences of his faith. In allusion to a napkin sent to King Abgarus, on which Jesus impressed the image of his own face, he says:

"And it hath been by like miracle in the thin corruptible cloth kept and preserved these 1500 years fresh and well preserved, to the inward comforts, spiritual rejoicing, and great increase of servor, in the hearts of good Christian people.' Theoretically opposed to sanguinary laws, he spared no pains to carry the most sanguinary into execution. He wished to have it engraved on his tombstone that he was 'Furibus, Homicidis, Hæreticisque molestus '--the scourge of Thieves, Murderers, and Heretics — the last being the greatest malefactors of the three.

Influence.- Viewed in active as in meditative life, in public as in private relations, the character, the events, and the works of this distinguished man will be always interesting and always instructive. Under his free and copious vein, the vernacular

idiom enlarged the compass of its expression. To him belongs the merit of having struck out, in advance of his age, and, as it afterward appeared, in advance of himself, a new path in literature,- that of political romances, wherein his successors — an

among them, Swift — were to be indebted largely to his reasoning and inventive talents. His antagonism to the Reformation could at most prove a transient evil, hardly appreciable, if so much as a retarding force. But the comprehensive dreams of the Utopia have haunted every nobler soul. Excellence is perpetual, and all of it exists in vision before it exists in fact. The Utopia has long afforded to conservatives a term of reproach applicable to all reformatory schemes and innovations. There is a large class of persons with whom the idea of making the world better and happier is ever regarded with distrust or contempt. He who entertains it is an unpractical dreamer. His project is straightway pronounced to be Utopian. Of which the moral, to the wise, is: Look kindly upon the 'vagaries' of the dreamer' and the “fanatic'; reflect that what was folly to our ancestors, is wisdom to us, and that another generation may successfully practice what we now reject as impossible or regard with an incredulous smile. The idealizing power of the race -- I would have it engraved upon the living tablets of every human memory — is the most potent force of its development. A family of equals — a community without want, without ignorance, without crime,- a church of righteousness,- a state where the intuitions of conscience have been codified into statutes,- are all possible, just as possible as cultivated America, jewelled all over with cities and fair towns, factories and schools, which no one would have dared to prophesy some hundred years ago.

A steamengine is only an opinion dressed in iron. A republic is but an idea worked out into men. The difference between a savage and an Angelo was once a power of progress. Desire only points to the reserve of power that one day shall satisfy it.

[blocks in formation]

Warbler of poetic prose.- Cowper. Biography.- Of high birth, born in Kent, in 1554; at thirteen entered Oxford, where he won distinction as a scholar; at eighteen, without a degree, though trained in polite literature, began a tour of travel embracing France, Germany, and Italy; was in Paris during the massacre of St. Bartholomew; read Plato and Aristotle; studied Astronomy and Geometry at Venice; pondered over the Greek tragedies and the Italian sonnets; returned to England in his twenty-first year, a polished and accomplished man; instantly became a favorite of the Queen and the Court, where he shone as one of the most brilliant; at twenty-two, an ambassador for the promotion of a Protestant league among the princes of the Continent; at twenty-nine, married, and was knighted; two years later, was a candidate for the throne of Poland, but yielded to the remonstrance of Elizabeth, who feared to lose "the jewel of her times'; shortly after, a cavalry officer fighting in the cause of the Netherlands; mortally wounded in battle, he died on the 17th of October, 1586, lamented abroad, honored at home with a public funeral in the cathedral of St. Paul's, while the whole nation went into mourning for their hero.

Writings.--Far from the glittering whirl of the Court, in the shelter of the forest oaks, Sidney wrote for his own and his sister's amusement the Arcadia, a romance of love and chivalry, narrated in prose mixed with verse, in imitation of Italian models, with pastoral episodes, in the manner of the Spanish. Two princes, cousins, in quest of adventure, attached to each other in chivalrous fashion, are wrecked on the coast of Sparta, wander providentially and mysteriously into the kingdom of Arcadia, fall in love with the king's two daughters, and, after passing through many severe trials, marry them, and are happy. You will find in it profusion of startling events and tragical or fantastic images,- shipwrecks, deliverances, surprises, abductions, pirates, wicked fairies, dancing shepherds, disguised princes, songs, allegories, sensuous beauties, tournaments of wit. It is less a monument than a relic, not more an image of the time than of the man, who had said: “It is a trifle; my young head

must be delivered.' In works of courtly taste and impassioned youth, look for excessive sentiment. A lover sends a letter to his love, and says to 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.' Two young princesses have retired:

* 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 sweet, 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 refreshe himselfe between their sweet breathing lippes.' It is, in part, the knightly desire of effect; in part, the exaggeration of inventive fire, confusing the story by endless digressions, and marring now and then idea, as well as expression, by unnatural refinements. Hence, the Arcadia is above the proselevel by its poetic genius, absorbing reveries, and tumultuous thoughts. So, it was long, and may still remain, the haunt of poets. Stately periods, luxuriant imagery, graceful fancies, natural freshness, piercing through the outward crust of affectation, withstanding the revolutions of times and tastes. For 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 varieties recount their wronge-caused sorrow) made thcm put off their sleep." Or the scenery of Arcadia:

* There were hills which garnished their prond heights with stately trees; humble val. leys, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers; meadows, enamelled with all sorts of eye-pleasing flowers; thickets, which being lined with most pleasant shade, were witnessed so io, by the cheerful disposition of many well-tuned birds; each pasture stored with sheep, feeding with sober security; while the pretty lambs, with bleating oratory, craved the dam's comfort; here a shepherd's boy piping, as though he should never be old; there a young shepherdess knitting, and withal singing; and it seemed that her voice comforted her hands to work, and her hands kept time to her voice-music.' Growing Puritanism disparaged poetry, calling the poets of the age "caterpillars of the commonwealth.' Sidney, therefore, as a knight battling for his lady, wrote, in heroic and splendid style, The Defence of Poesy. The conception is noble, the argument profound, the tone vehement and commanding. No art or science, he reasons, produces such invigorating moral effects; and it possesses this excellence by its superior creative power to dress and embellish nature. He

says: • Now, therein, of all es - I speak st human, and according to the human conceit - is our poet the monarch. For he doth not only shew the way, but giveth so

[ocr errors]

sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it. Nay, he doth, as if your journey should lie 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 margin with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness; but he cometh to you with words set with delightful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of music; and with a tale, forsooth, he comcth unto you, with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney-corner; and pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the mind from wickedness to virtue; even as the child is often broaght to take most wholesome things, by hiding them in such other as have a pleasant taste. So is it in men, most of whom are childish in the best things, till they be cradled in their graves. Glad they will be to hear the tales of Hercules, Achilles, Cyrus, Æneas; and hearing them, must needs hear the right description of wisdom, valour, and justice; which, if they had been barely – that is to say, philosophically - set out, they would swear they be brought to school again.'

It was natural that a spirit so ardent and aspiring should feel and paint the sentiment in which all dreams converge - love. More beautiful than anything in the world were the eyes,

lovelier still the soul, of Stella (star) who inspired his adoration:

*Stella, sovereign of my joy, ..
Stella, star of heavenly fire,
Stella, load-star of desire,
Stella, in whose shining cyes
Are the lights of Cupid's skics. ...
Stella, whose voice when it speaks
Senses all asunder breaks;
Stella, whose voice when it singeth,
Angels to acquaintance bringeth.'

To her, he, as Astrophel (lover of the star), addressed one hundred and eight sonnets, besides a number of songs; and in addition to these, wrote sixteen others, chiefly amatory. Some are artificial and cold; others, artless and warm: some forced and painful; others, simple and sweet. There is nothing conventional here-only the troubled heart, and the adored image of the absent, seen through worshipful tears:

• 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 woc;
Yet swam in joy, such love in her was seen.
Thus, while th' effect most bitter was to me,
And nothing than the cause sweet could be,
I had been vexed, if vexed I had not been.'

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »