Abbildungen der Seite

into ra

comes less idyllic and ornate, and at last it merges pidity of narration. To sustain the manner of the earlier pages, which remind us of Boccaccio and Sannazzaro, throughout the labyrinthine intricacies of the fable, would have been tedious. Perhaps, too, we may connect the alteration of literary tone with Sidney's departure from Wilton to the Court.

I shall not attempt a complete analysis of the Arcadia. The main story is comparatively slender; but it is so complicated by digressions and episodes that a full account of the tangled plot would take up too much space, and would undoubtedly prove wearisome to modern readers. Horace Walpole was not far wrong when he asserted that “the patience of a young virgin in love cannot now wade through" that jungle of pastoral, sentimental, and heroical adventures. A brief outline of the tale, together with some specimens of Sidney's descriptive and sententious styles, must, however, here be given, since it is not very likely that any readers of my book will be impelled to turn the pages of the original.

Musidorus, Prince of Thessalia, and Pyrocles, Prince of Macedon, were cousins. An affection, such as bound the knights of elder Greek romance together, united them even more than the nearness of their blood. Pyrocles, being the elder, taught his friend all that he knew of good, and brave, and gracious. Musidorus learned willingly; and thus the pair grew up to manhood in perfect love, twin flowers of gentleness and chivalry. When the story opens the two heroes have just been wrecked on the Laconian coast. А couple of shepherds, Claius and Strephon, happened to be pacing the sea-shore at that moment. They noticed a young man floating on a coffer, which the waves washed gradually landward. He was" of so goodly shape and well-pleasing favour that one would think death had in him a lovely countenance; and that, though he were naked, nakedness was to him an apparel.” This youth proved to be Musidorus. Pyrocles meanwhile remained upon the wreck; and, while the shepherds were in the act to rescue him, he was carried off by pirates under the eyes of his sorrowing comrade. There was nothing for it but to leave him to his fate; and Musidorus, after a moment of wild despair, yielded to the exhortations of the good shepherds, who persuaded him to journey with them to the house of a just and noble gentleman named Kalander. The way was long; but, after two days' march, it brought them to Arcadia. The description of that land is justly celebrated.

“The third day after, in the time that the morning did strew roses and violets in the heavenly floor, against the coming of the sun, the nightingales (striving one with the other which could in most dainty variety recount their wrong-caused sorrow) made them put off their sleep; and rising from under a tree (which that night had been their pavilion), they went on their journey, which by-and-by welcomed Musidorus's eyes (wearied with the wasted soil of Laconia) with delightful prospects. There were hills which garnished their proud heights with stately trees: humble vallies, 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 too by the cheerful disposition of many well-tuned birds ; each pasture stored with sheep, feeding with sober security, while the pretty lambs with bleating outcry 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 hier hands kept time to her voice-music. As for the houses of the country (for many houses came under their eye), they were all scattered, no two being one by the other, and yet not so far off as that it barred mutual succour; a show, as it were, of an accompanable solitariness and of a civil wildness."

In due course of time they arrived at the house of Kalander, where Musidorus was hospitably received.

“The house itself was built of fair and strong stone, not affecting so much any extraordinary kind of fineness as an honourable representing of a firm stateliness." “ The servants not so many in number as cleanly in apparel and serviceable in behaviour, testifying even in their countenances that their master took as well care to be served as of them that did serve."

Perhaps Sidney, when he penned these sentences, thought of Penshurst. At any rate they remind us of Jonson's lines upon that venerable country seat. The pleasance, also, had the same charm of homeliness and ancient peace :

“The backside of the house was neither field, garden, nor orchard ; or rather it was both field, garden, and orchard: for as soon as the descending of the stairs had delivered them down, they came into a place cunningly set with trees of the most taste-pleasing fruits: but scarcely had they taken that into their consideration, but that they were suddenly stepped into a delicate green; of each side of the green a thicket, and behind the thickets again new beds of flowers, which being under the trees, the trees were to them a pavilion, and they to the trees a mosaical floor, so that it seemed that art therein would needs be delightful by counterfeiting his enemy error and making or. der in confusion."

Here Moisidorus sojourned some while, until he happened to hear that his host's son, Clitophon, had been taken prisoner by the Helots, who were now in revolt against their Laconian masters. Musidorus begged permission to go to the young man's rescue; and when he reached the rebels, he entered their walled city by a stratagem and began a deadly battle in the market-place. The engagement at first was general between the Helots and the Arcadians, but at length it resolved itself into a single combat, Musidorus attacking the leader of the Helots with all his might. This duel remained for some time equal and uncertain, when suddenly the brigand chief threw down his sword, exclaiming, “What! hath Palladius forgotten the voice of Daiphantus ?" It should here be said that Pyrocles and Musidorus had agreed to call each other by these assumed names. A joyful recognition of course ensued. Pyrocles related the series of events by which he had been forced to head the rebels, after being captured by them. Clitophon was released, and all returned together to Arcadia.

At this point the love intrigue, which forms the main interest of what Milton called “the vain amatorious poem of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia," begins to unfold itself. An eccentric sovereign, Basilius, Prince of Arcadia, was married to an accomplished and beautiful woman, Gynecia. They had two daughters, Pamela the elder, and Philoclea the younger, equally matched in loveliness of mind and person, yet differing by subtle contrasts of their incomparable qualities. Basilius, in a fit of jealousy and suspicion, had left his palace, and was now residing with his wife and daughters in two rustic lodges, deep-embowered by the forest. Gynecia, Philoclea, and himself occupied one of these retreats. Pamela dwelt in the other, under the care of a clownish peasant family, consisting of Dametas, his hideous wife Miso, and their still more odious daughter Mopsa. It need not be related how Musidorus fell in love with Pamela and Pyrocles with Philoclea. In order to be near the ladies of their choice, the princes now assumed new names and strange disguises. Pyrocles donned Amazon's attire and called himself Zelmane. Musidorus became a shepherd and was known as Dorus. Both contrived to win the affections of the princesses, but meanwhile they got entangled in embarrassing and dangerous complications. Dorus had to feign love for the disgusting Mopsa. Zelmane was persecuted by the passion of both Basilius and Gynecia; Basilius deeming bim a woman, Gynecia recognising a man through his disguise. When Milton condemned the Arcadia as “a book in that kind full of mirth and witty, but among religious thoughts and duties not worthy to be named, nor to be read at any time without due caution,” he was assuredly justified by the unpleasant situation created for Zelmane. A young man, travestied as a girl, in love with a princess, and at the same time harassed by the wanton solicitations of both her father and her mother, is, to say the least, a very risky subject for romance. Yet Sidney treated it with sufficient delicacy, and contrived in the end to bring both Basilius and Gynecia to their senses. "Loathsomely loved and dangerously loving," Zelmanc remained long in this entanglement; but when he and Philoclea eventually attained their felicity in marriage, both of them conccaled Gynecia's crror. And she“ did, in the remnant of her life, duly purchase [their good opinion] with observing all duty and faith, to the example and glory of Greece; so uncertain are mortal judgments, the same person most infamous and most famous, and neither justly.”

I have dwelt on this part of the story because it anticipates the plots of many Elizabethan dramas which turned upon confusions of sex, and to which the custom of boys acting female parts lent a curious complexity. If space allowed I might also follow the more comic fortunes of Dorus, and show how the tale of Amphialus (another lover of Philoclea) is interwoven with that of Pyrocles and Musidorus. This subordinate romance introduces one of the longest episodes of the work, when Cecropia, the wicked mother of Amphialus, imprisons Zelmane, Philoclea, and Pamela together in her castle. It is during this imprison

« ZurückWeiter »