Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

troduce terza rima at all into English literature; to make
so exceptionally exacting a species of it as the sdrucciolo
at all attractive, would almost be beyond the powers of Mr.
Swinburne. The octave, as handled by Sidney, is passable,
as will appear from the even flow of this stanza :-

“While thus they ran a low but levelled race,
While thus they lived (this was indeed a life!)
With nature pleased, content with present case,
Free of proud fears, brave beggary, smiting strife
Of clime-fall court, the envy-hatching place,
While those restless desires in great men rife

To visit folks so low did much disdain,

This while, though poor, they in themselves did reign.” Of the sestines I will not speak. That form has always seemed to me tedious even in the hands of the most expert Italian masters; and Sidney was not the sort of poet to add grace to its formality by any sprightliness of treatment. It should be noticed that some of the songs in the Arcadia are put into the mouth of a sad shepherd who is Sidney himself. Phillisides (for so he has chosen to Latinise the first syllables of his Christian and surnames) appears late in the romance, and prepares us to expect the higher poetry of Astrophel and Stella.

[ocr errors]

CHAPTER V.

LIFE AT COURT AGAIN, AND MARRIAGE.

WHILE Philip was in retirement at Wilton two events of interest happened. His nephew, William Herbert, saw the light upon the 28th of April; and Edmund Spenser left England for Ireland as secretary to the new Viceroy, Lord Grey of Wilton. The birth of the future Earl of Pernbroke forcibly reminds us of Sidney's position in the history of English literature. This baby in the cradle was destined to be Shakespeare's friend and patron; possibly also to inspire the sonnets which a publisher inscribed in Shakespeare's name to Master W. H. We are wont to regard those enigmatical compositions as the product of Shakespeare's still uncertain manhood. But William Herbert was yet a child when bis uncle Philip's life-work ended. Astrophel and Stella had circulated among its author's private friends for at least four years when Zutphen robbed England of her poet-hero. At that date little Herbert, for whom Shakespeare subsequently wrote the lines

“Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;
What bast thou then more than thou hadst before ?"-

this little Herbert was but in his seventh year.

It is also possible, but not probable, that, while Philip was away in Wiltshire, his half-affianced bride, the daugh

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ter of the Earl of Essex, gave her hand to another suitor. Her guardian, the Earl of Huntingdon, wrote upon the 10th of March, in 1580, to Lord Burleigh, that he considered Lord Rich "a proper gentleman, and one in years very fit for my Lady Penelope Devereux, if, with the favour and liking of her Majesty, the matter might be brought to pass.” Lord Rich certainly married Penelope Devereux; but whether was in 1580, or rather in 1581, admits of discussion. To fix the exact date of her betrothal is a matter of some moment. I must therefore point out that, at that time in England, the commencement of the year dated officially from March 25. In private correspondence, however, the 1st of January had already begun to mark the opening of a new year. Privately, then, Lord Huntingdon's letter may have carried the date, 1580, as we understand it; but, officially, it must have been reckoned into the year which we call 1581. Now this letter is endorsed by Burleigh or his secretary, officially, under the year 1580; and, therefore, we have a strong presumption in favour of Penelope's not having been engaged to Lord Rich until 1581, seeing that the month of March in 1580 counted then for our month of March in 1581. When I review Astrophel and Stella it will appear that I do not attach very great importance to this question of dates. But I think it safer, on the evidence, to place Stella's marriage in the spring or summer of 1581.

Lord Rich was the son of the Lord Chancellor of England, who had lately died, bequeathing to his heir a very substantial estate, and a large portion of his own coarse temperament. If we may trust the Earl of Devonshire's emphatic statement, made some twenty-five years later to King James, this marriage was not to the mind of the lady. He says that Penelope,“ being in the power of her

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

here re

friends, was married against her will unto one against whom she did protest at the solemnity and ever after; between whom, from the very first day, there ensued continual discord, although the same fears that forced her to marry constrained her to live with him." I

may mind my readers of her subsequent history. During her husband's lifetime she left him and became the mistress of Sir Charles Blount, to whom she bore three children out of wedlock. He advanced to the peerage with the inherited title of Lord Mountjoy, and was later on created Earl of Devonshire; while Lady Rich, in spite of her questionable conduct, received, by patent, the dignity and precedence of the most ancient Earldom of Essex. Having been divorced from Lord Rich, she was afterwards at liberty to marry her lover; and in 1605 she became the Countess of Devonshire. James refused to countenance the nuptials. He had tolerated the previous illicit connection. But his opinions upon divorce made him regard its legalisation with indignant horror. Stella died in 1607 a disgraced woman, her rights of wifehood and widowhood remaining unrecognised.

In the course of the summer (1580), Leicester left his retirement and returned to Court. It was understood that though still not liking the French match, he would in future offer no opposition to the queen's wishes; and on these terms he induced Philip also to make his peace with her Majesty. We find him, accordingly, again in London before the autumn. Two of the longest private letters from his pen may be referred to this period. They are addressed to his brother Robert Sidney, who afterwards became Lord Leicester. This young man was then upon his travels, spending more money than his father's distressed circumstances could well afford. Philip sent him supplies, using language of great delicacy and warm brotherly affection: “For the money you have received, assure yourself (for it is true) there is nothing I spend so pleaseth me, as that which is for you. If ever I have ability, you will find it; if not, yet shall not any brother living be better beloved than you of me.” “For £200 a year, assure yourself, if the estates of England remain, you shall not fail of it; use it to your best profit.” Where Philip found the money may be wondered; but that he gave it with good grace is unquestionable. Probably he received more from the queen in allowances than we are aware of; for he ranked among the favoured courtiers then known as “pensioners.” As was the fashion of those times, he lectured his brother somewhat pompously on how to use the opportunities of the grand tour. Robert was constantly to observe the “virtue, passion, and vices” of the foreign countries through which he travelled.

“Even in the Kingdom of China, which is almost as far as the Antipodes from us, their good laws and customs are to be learned ; but to know their riches and power is of little purpose for us, since that can neither advance nor hinder us. But in our neighbouring countries, both these things are to be marked, as well the latter, which contain things for themselves, as the former, which seek to know both those, and how their riches and power may be to us avail. able, or otherwise. The countries fittest for both these are those you are going into. France is above all other most needful for us to mark, especially in the former kind; next is Spain and the Low Countries; then Germany, which in my opinion excels all others as much in the latter consideration, as the other doth in the former, yet neither are void of neither; for as Germany, methinks, doth excel in good laws, and well administering of justice, so are we likewise to consider in it the many princes with whom we may have league, the places of trade, and means to draw both soldiers and furniture thence in time of need. So on the other side, as in France and Spain, we are principally to mark how they stand towards us both in power and in.

« ZurückWeiter »