Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

this is the account Fulke Greville gives of his reception:

“Though at the first, in his Spanish haughture, he (Don John) gave him access as by descent to a youth, of grace as to a stranger, and in particular competition, as he conceived, to an enemy; yet after a while that he had taken his just altitude, he found himself so stricken with this extraordinary planet that the beholders wondered to see what ingenuous tribute that brave and high-minded prince paid to his worth, giving more honour and respect to this hopeful young gentleman than to the ambassadors of mighty princes."

What happened at Sidney's interview with William of Orange is not told us. That he made a strong impression on the stadtholder appears from words spoken to Fulke Greville after some years. Greville had been sent as anbassador to the prince at Delft. Among other things William bade him report to Queen Elizabeth his opinion “that her Majesty had one of the ripest and greatest counsellors of estate in Sir Philip Sidney that at this day lived in Europe; to the trial of which he was pleased to leave his own credit engaged until her Majesty might please to employ this gentleman either ainongst her friends or enemies." Sidney's caution prevented his friend from delivering this message to a sovereign notoriously jealous of foreign interference in her home affairs.

Philip was in London again in June, when he presented his respects to her Majesty at Greenwich. That he had won credit by the discharge of his embassy appears from a letter written by Mr. Secretary Walsingham to Sir Henry Sidney soon after his arrival. “There hath not been any gentleman, I am sure, these many years that hath gone through so honourable a charge with as great commendations as he: in consideration whereof I could not but communicate this part of my joy with your Lordship, being no

66

less a refreshing unto me in these my

troublesome businesses than the soil is to the chafed stag.” Henceforth we may regard our hero as a courtier high in favour with the queen, esteemed for his solid parts by the foremost statesmen of the realm, in correspondence with the leaders of the Reformed party on the Continent, and surely marked out for some employment of importance. He had long to wait, however, before that craving for action in the great world which we have already indicated as his leading passion, could even in part be gratified. Meanwhile it was his duty to hang about the Court; and how irksome he found that petty sphere of compliments, intrigues, and gallantries, can be read in the impatient letters he addressed to Languet. Their correspondence was pretty regularly maintained, although the old man sometimes grumbled at his young friend's want of attention. “ Weigh well, I beseech you, what it is to grudge through so long a space of time one single hour to friends who love you so dearly, and who are more anxious for you than for themselves. By omitting one dance a month you could have abundantly satisfied us." In this strain Languet writes occasionally. But his frequent reference to Philip's “sweetest letters," and the familiarity he always displays with his private affairs, show that the young courtier was a tolerably regular correspondent. It is difficult for elderly folk, when they have conceived ardent affection for their juniors, to remember how very much more space the young occupy in the thoughts of the old than the old can hope to command in youthful brains distracted by the multifarious traffic of society. Languet had little to do but to ply his pen in his study. Sidney had to follow the queen on progress, trifle with her ladies, join in games of skill and knightly exercises with the gentlemen about the Court. Yet it is certain that this life wearied him. He was for ever seeking to escape ; at one time planning to join Prince Casimir in the Low Countries; at another to take part in Frobisher's expedition; and more than once contemplating “some Indian project.” Languet did his best to curb these wandering ambitions. He had conceived a very firm opinion that Sidney was born to be a statesman, not a soldier of fortune, not an explorer of the ocean. At the same time, he greatly dreaded lest his friend should succumb to the allurements of fashionable idleness. “My noble Sidney, you must avoid that persistent siren, sloth.” “Think not that God endowed you with parts so excellent to the end that you should let them rot in leisure. Rather hold firmly that He requires more from you than from those to whom He has been less liberal of talents." “There is no reason to fear lest you should decay in idleness if only you will employ your mind; for in so great a realm as England opportunity will surely not be wanting for its useful exercise.” Nature has adorned you with the richest gifts of mind and body; fortune with noble blood and wealth and splendid family connections; and you from your first boyhood have cultivated your intellect by those studies which are most helpful to men in their struggle after virtue. Will

you

tben refuse your energies to your country when it demands them? Will you bury that distinguished talent God has given you?" The career Languet had traced out for Philip was that of a public servant; and he consistently strove to check the young man's restlessness, to overcome his discouragement, and to stimulate him wbile depressed by the frivolities of daily life. It was his object to keep Philip from roaming or wasting his powers on adventure, while he also fortified his will against the seductions of an idle Court.

During this summer of 1577 Languet once or twice al

ludes in very cautious language to some project of great importance which had recently been mooted between them on the Continent. It involved the participation of eminent foreigners. It required the sanction and active assistance of the queen. What this was we do not know. Some of Sidney's biographers are of opinion that it concerned his marriage with a German noblewoman. Others -perhaps with better reason-conjecture that his candidature for the Polish Crown had then been mooted. When Henri III. resigned the throne of Poland for that of France in 1574 Stephen Bathori was elected king. He lived until 1585. But in 1577, the year of Languet's mysterious letters, he had not yet given substantial proof of his future policy; and the Protestant party in Europe might have been glad to secure a nominee of the English queen as candidate in the case of a vacancy. There is no doubt that a belief prevailed after Sidney's death that the crown of Poland had in some sort been offered him. The author of The Life and Death of Sir Philip Sidney mentions it. Sir Robert Naunton asserts that the queen refused “ to further bis advancement, not only out of emulation, but out of fear to lose the jewel of her times." Fuller says that Sidney declined the honour, preferring to be “a subject to Queen Elizabeth than a sovereign beyond the seas." It would be far too flattering to Philip to suppose that a simple English gentleman in his twenty-third year received any actual offer of a throne which a king of France had recently vacated, and which was generally given by election to such as could afford to pay dearly for the honour. Yet it is not impossible that the Reformed princes of Germany may have thought him a good pawn to play, if Elizabeth were willing to back him. The Fædus Evangelicum, it must be remembered, was by no means yet devoid of actuality.

ear.

Mary Sidney's recent marriage to the Earl of Pembroke had strengthened the family by an alliance with one of England's chief noblemen. After coming home Philip paid his sister a visit at Wilton, returning, however, soon to Court in order to watch his father's interests. Sir Henry Sidney was still at his post as Lord Deputy of Ireland; and in his absence the usual intrigues were destroying his credit with the queen. Brilliant, unscrupulous, mendacious, Ormond poured calumnies and false insinuations into her

She gave the earl too easy credence, partly because he was handsome, and partly because the governinent of Ireland was always costing money. There seems little doubt that Sir Henry made no pecuniary profit for himself out of bis viceroyalty, and that he managed the realm as economically and as justly as was possible. Ormond and the nobles of his party, however, complained that the Lord Deputy decided cases inequitably against them, that his method of government was ruinously expensive, and that he tyrannously exacted from them land-taxes which had been remitted by his predecessors. Philip undertook his father's defence in a written statement, only the rough notes of which, and those imperfect, have come down to us. He met the charge of injustice by challenging the accusers to show evidence. On the question of the land-tax, or cess, which Ormond and others claimed to have remitted, he proved the inequity and the political imprudence of freeing great nobles from burdens which must be paid by the poor. These poor, moreover, were already taxed by their lords, and shamefully ill-treated by them. “And privileged persons, forsooth, be all the rich men of the pale, the burden only lying upon the poor, who may groan, for their cry cannot be heard.” Sir Henry had proposed to convert the cess, computed at an average of ten pounds,

« ZurückWeiter »