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Historical Novels and Poems
Dealing with the Era
pits, wrote first of all for the rich and the noble. A realization of these facts will add much to an understanding of the Elizabethan writers. SUGGESTED READING. Scott, Kenilworth, The Monastery, and The Abbot; Kingsley, Westward Ho!; Macaulay's poem, The Armada ; Miss Yonge, Unknown to History; Wordsworth, White Doe of Rylstone ; Tennyson, Queen Mary; Swinburne, Mary Stuart.
SIDNEY AND SPENSER
Authorities. The best materials for a study of the period between Wyatt and Spenser are Arber's editions of Googe, Eglogues, Epitaphs, and Sonnets (1563); Gascoigne, The Steel Glass (1576); Gosson, School of Abuse (1579); Sidney, Defense of Poesy (1580), and Robinson, Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584). Minto, English Poets, Ch. iii.; Sackville-West, The Works of Thomas Sackville, and Schelling, Life and Writings of George Gascoigne, should also be consulted.
The years between the publication of Tottel's Miscellany and The Shepheardes Calender stand in the history of English poetry as the era of the Courtly Makers. After the success of Wyatt and Surrey it became highly fashionable for the gay group about the king to breathe its amorous woes in verse modeled after Italian lyrists. A few there were like Gascoigne, the author of The Steel Glass, and Sackville, whose contributions to the Mirror for Magistrates show a surprising strength, that were true poets, but the age as a whole deserved the taunt of Sidney. Poetry, he declared, “is fallen to be the laughing-stock of children," and in summing up the achievements of the English Muse he found at the very middle of Elizabeth's reign that there had been but four poets whose works deserved mention.
Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently in his Troilus and Cressida ; of whom, truly, I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age walk so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great wants, fit to be forgiven in so reverend
Sidney's Literary Position
A Transition Figure
antiquity. I account the Mirror of Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts; and in the Earl of Surrey's lyrics many things tasting of a noble birth, and worthy of a noble mind. The Shepherd's Calendar hath much poetry in his eclogues, indeed worthy the reading, if I be not deceived.
Besides these, I do not remember to have seen but few (to speak boldly) printed, that have poetical sinews in them,
Sidney modestly forgets his own poetic achievements, but no other critic can omit them. He occupies a unique place in English poetry: half-way between the old and the new, the last of the Courtly Makers, the first of the Elizabethan creators, he stands a transition figure at the portal of the new era. As the president of the Areopagus he was leader of the group that would bind English poetry with the classic prosody; yet his sonnet sequence, written after the new methods, became the chief inspiration of the school that opposed the old measures. Though destined to become the typical figure of the Elizabethan era, he maintained at its very dawn that the English drama should adhere to the unities of Aristotle and avoid mixing comedy and tragedy,-advice which if followed would have made Shakespeare and his school impossible,—and he died knowing nothing of Shakespeare, and Bacon, and Jonson, nothing of the Armada, nothing of the ultimate glory of the great sovereign whom he so zealously served.
The era is dated from the first work of Spenser, who belonged wholly to the new school and who was destined to become one of the four great poets of the English race, but its opening notes were struck by Sidney.
1. Sir Philip Sidney ( 1554-1586) Authorities. The standard life of Sidney is Fox Bourne, Memoir of Sir Philip Sidney. The same au.
Sidney's Great Fame and Small Achievement
thor's Sir Philip Sidney in Heroes of the Nations Series, and Symonds' Sir Philip Sidney in the English Men of Letters Series, are the most serviceable works for the general student. The standard edition of Sidney's poems is Grosart's, a work indispensable to the student; but a good working edition is published in three volumes by the Scribners. See also Davis, Life and Times of Sir Philip Sidney, Arber's and Cook's editions of The Defense of Poesy; Scribner's edition of the Arcadia ; Welsh, English Masterpiece Course, and Minto, Ch. iv. Sir Henry Sidney's letter to his son is in Arber's English Garner, Vol. i.
Few men in all history have left so deep an impress upon their times with so small a showing of brilliant and far-reaching accomplishment as Philip Sidney. In his own estimation at least, his whole brief career, which covered indeed only the first period of Elizabeth's reign, was but a time of preparation. When he fell at Zutphen he had but just entered upon his real life-work.
As the son of Sir Henry Sidney, Viceroy of Ireland, and as nephew of the powerful Earls of Warwick and Leicester, Sidney was early given every advantage. His education was carefully attended to. After several years at Oxford he was granted a license“ to go abroad with three servants and four horses, and for the next three years he was busy with his studies in the leading European cities. He was in Paris during the massacre of St. Bartholomew; he was for nine months in Frankfort, where he had as master the celebrated Languet; he studied for eight months in Italy, and after a winter in Vienna he returned through the Low Countries to England to spend the greater part of his remaining years at the royal court. His ideal life was one of action ; literature was but an avocation, a solace for idle hours; he longed to join in
The Typical English Hero
His Contemporary Renown
the stirring life of the times, to sail into the Northwest with Frobisher or to the Spanish Main with Drake, but the Queen gave him little chance for action. She sent him on an embassy to the continent, and at length made him Governor of Flushing in the Netherlands, but it was his fate to fall in his first important engagement with the national foe.
With this slight record of actual achievement Sidney is the typical figure of a heroic age, one of the idols of the English nation. No man ever had a more perfect and lovable character, a more delightful personality. Over all who met him he cast a singular charm. None could know him and speak of him dispassionately. Queen Elizabeth, who was seldom mistaken in a man, declared him the jewel of her kingdom. William of Orange, the hero of the Netherlands, declared that “ her Majesty had in Mr. Philip Sidney one of the ripest and greatest counsellors of State that lived in Europe." His death was a national bereavement. It was accounted a sin,” says a contemporary, for any gentleman of quality, for months after, to appear at court or city in any light or gaudy apparel. “ Volumes would be filled," says Fox Bourne, “ were I to collect all the praise uttered in prose and still more extensively in verse, by Sir Philip Sidney's contemporaries or his immediate successors. And all this for a youth who died at thirty-two.
The Areopagus. It was almost inevitable that one of Sidney's temperament and training should be drawn toward literary work. As early as 1578 he had written a masque, The Lady of the May, to be acted before the Queen, and by the following year he was regarded by all as the foremost representative and patron of English let