Sidney: The Critical Heritage

By Martin Garrett | Go to book overview
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Thomas Zouch


Zouch (1737-1815), scholar, clergyman, and editor of Izaak Walton, pays lengthy tribute to Sidney’s biographical virtues. (Zouch is, as The Quarterly Review, vol. 1, 1809, p. 89, noted, ‘oppressed by a flux of phrases’.) His criticism, staid and uninspiring in comparison with Walpole’s ourageousness or Hazlitt’s wit and cogency, struck some reviewers as damning Sidney with faint praise. For Zouch, Sidney’s main merits as a writer are his orthodox religious soundness, lack of obscenity, classical knowledge and allusions, and the fact that many other writers have praised him in the past (an argument from authority that was now beginning to wear rather thin). Astrophil and Stella is mentioned only once and very briefly (see below), with no hint as to Stella’s traditional ‘identity’ and marital status.

Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sidney, York, 1808, pp. 143, 145-6, 155-62, 334-5, 362-3, 369.

It must affix no small degree of merit to the Arcadia to reflect, that the reader of it will meet with no tale of obscenity, no dark attempt of lawless lust to destroy the purity of virgin innocence, or to corrupt the chastity of the marriage bed—no wicked artifice to poison the mind with the principles of irreligion, and thus to leave it a prey to the violence of passion, the blandishments of vice, or the enchantments of pleasure. Sidney’s shepherds are the pattern of that simplicity and innocence, which once adorned the pastoral life.

Would it not be ungenerous to examine this posthumous volume by the rules of rigid criticism? It now lies neglected on the shelf, and has almost sunk into oblivion. Yet the reception it obtained from the public, having gone through fourteen impressions, and having been translated into the French, the Dutch, and other European languages, clearly evinces that it was once held in very high estimation. It was read with attention by Shakespeare, Milton and Waller.


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