Abbildungen der Seite

picture of his Italian master in horsemanship, the gasconading Pugliano.

The winter of 1574-75 passed away at Vienna. In the spring he attended the Emperor Maximilian to Prague, where he witnessed the opening of the Bohemian Diet. Thence he moved homewards through Dresden, Heidelberg, Strasburg, and Frankfort, reaching London in June. During his absence one of his two sisters, Ambrozia, had died at Ludlow Castle. The queen took the other, Mary, under special protection, and attached her to her person. A new chapter was now opened in the young man's life. His education being finished, he entered upon the life of Courts.



SIDNEY'S prospects as a courtier were excellent. His powerful uncle Leicester, now at the height of royal favor, displayed marked partiality for the handsome youth, who was not unnaturally regarded by the world as his presumptive heir. In July 1575 Philip shared those famous festivities with which the earl entertained Elizabeth at Kenilworth; and when the Court resumed its progress, he attended her Majesty to Chartley Castle. This was the seat of the Earl of Essex, who was then in Ireland. The countess, in his absence, received her royal guest; and here Sidney, for the first time, met the girl with whom his fortunes and his fame were destined to be blended. Lady Penelope Devereux, illustrious in English literature as Sir Philip Sidney's Stella, was now in her thirteenth year; and it is not likely that at this time she made any strong impression on his fancy. Yet we find that soon after the return of Essex from Ireland in the autumn of 1575, he had become intimate with the earl's family. At Durham House, their London residence, he passed long hours during the following winter; and when Essex went again to Ireland as Earl-Marshal in July 1576, Philip accompanied him. It should here be said that Sir Henry Sidney had been nominated for the third time Lord Deputy in August

1575. Philip's visit was therefore paid to his father; but he made it in company with the man whom he had now come to regard as his future father-in-law. There is little doubt that had Lord Essex lived, the match would have been completed. But the Earl-Marshal died at Dublin on the 21st of September, after a painful illness, which raised some apparently ill-founded suspicions of poison. Philip was in Galway with his father, and Essex sent him this message on his deathbed: "Tell him I sent him nothing, but I wish him well; so well that, if God do move their hearts, I wish that he might match with my daughter. I call him son; he is so wise, virtuous, and godly. If he go on in the course he hath begun, he will be as famous and worthy a gentleman as ever England bred." These words are sufficient to prove that Philip's marriage with Penelope was contemplated by her father. That the world expected it appears from a letter of Mr. Edward Waterhouse to Sir Henry Sidney under date 14th November. After first touching upon the bright prospects opened for "the little Earl of Essex," this gentleman proceeds: "and I suppose all the best sort of the English lords, besides, do expect what will become of the treaty between Mr. Philip and my Lady Penelope. Truly, my Lord, I must say to your Lordship, as I have said to my Lord of Leicester and Mr. Philip, the breaking off from their match, if the default be on your parts, will turn to more dishonour than can be repaired with any other marriage in England."

What interrupted the execution of this marriage treaty is not certain. Penelope's mother, the widowed Lady Essex, was privately wedded to the Earl of Leicester soon after her first husband's death. The Sidneys were poor. Lady Mary Sidney writes to Lord Burleigh about this

time: "My present estate is such by reason of my debts, as I cannot go forward with any honourable course of living." It is remarkable that, so far as we know, she placed but little confidence in her brother Leicester, preferring to appeal in difficulties to a friend like Cecil. Philip was often at a loss to pay his debts. We possess, for instance, the copy of a long bill from his bootmaker which he requests his father's steward to discharge "for the safeguard of his credit." Thus Leicester's marriage, which seriously impaired Philip's prospects, Lady Mary's want of cordiality toward her brother, and the poverty of the Sidneys, may be reckoned among the causes which postponed Penelope's betrothal. It should also here be noticed that Sir Henry Sidney entertained a grudge against the Earl of Essex. Writing to Lord Leicester, he couples Essex with his old enemy the Earl of Ormond, adding that "for that their malice, I take God to record, I could brook nothing of them both." We may therefore conclude that Philip's father was unfavourable to the match. But the chief cause remains to be mentioned. Up to this time the proposed bridegroom felt no lover's liking for the lady. Languet frequently wrote, urging him to marry, and using arguments similar to those which Shakespeare pressed on his “fair friend." Philip's answers show that, unless he was a deep dissembler, he remained heart-free. So time slipped by. Perhaps he thought that he might always pluck the rose by only asking for it. At any rate, he displayed no eagerness, until one morning the news reached him that his Penelope was contracted to a man unworthy of her, Lord Rich. Then suddenly the flame of passion, which had smouldered so obscurely as to be unrecognised by his own heart, burst out into a blaze; and what was worse, he discovered that Penelope too loved him. In the

chapter devoted to Sidney's poetry I shall return to this subject. So much, however, had to be said here, in order to present a right conception of his character. For at least four years, between the death of Essex, in September 1576, and Penelope's marriage, which we may place in the spring or summer of 1581, he was aware that her father with his last breath had blessed their union. Yet he never moved a step or showed any eagerness until it was too late. It seems that this grave youth, poet as he was, passionate lover as he undoubtedly became, and hasty as he occasionally showed himself in trifles, had a somewhat politic and sluggish temperament. Fulke Greville recorded that he never was a boy; Languet could chide him for being sad beyond his years; he wrote himself, amid the distractions of Venetian society, that he required hard studies to drive away melancholy. Moreover, he indulged dreams of high and noble ambition. Self-culture, the preparation of his whole nature for some great task in life, occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of a woman's image. This saved him from the faults and follies of his age; but it rendered him cold, until the poet's fire leaped up and kindled a slumbering emotion.

Not love, but the ambition of a statesman, then was Sidney's ruling passion at this time. He had no mind to "sport with Amaryllis in the shade," or even to "meditate the thankless Muse," when work could be done for England and the affairs of Europe called for energetic action. In the spring of 1577 Elizabeth selected him for a mission, which flattered these aspirations. Rodolph of Hapsburg had just succeeded to the imperial throne, and the Elector Palatine had died, leaving two sons, Lewis and John Casimir. She sent Philip to congratulate the emperor and to condole with the bereaved princes. He stipulated

« ZurückWeiter »