VI
Sir Philip Sidney and his Poetry

JEAN ROBERTSON

*

NOTHING that happened later in his life meant so much to Fulke Greville as Sidney had done. In the long postscript he had to make do with his friend's literary remains. So Sidney's biography was written, and by emphasizing the preceptual value of the Arcadia, Greville tried to convey something of his 'searching and judicious spirit'; but his dissatisfaction kept breaking through the praise. With one of the flashes of insight that light up his fuliginous prose, he throws out that, unlike many writers whose works are better than themselves, the Arcadia both in form and matter was inferior to Sidney's unbounded spirit. 'His end was not writing even while he wrote'; his end was 'virtuous action'. On the other side, nothing delighted Sidney more than to escape from business to his books, and his 'idle times' were filled with reading and writing; he avoided the company of noblemen who despised literature.1 It is this pull between the active and contemplative life which makes Sidney perennially attractive to statesmen and soldiers, to poets and scholars alike. Nowhere is he more eloquent in An Apology for Poetry than in his praise of poetry as the companion of camps.

There was a truly remarkable absence of hostile contemporary comment, and unparalleled mourning after his death. He was, of course, much nicer than most Elizabethans; but then his parents, to whom he owed a great deal, were unusually honest and intelligent people. As a young man, he perhaps expected too much of other people. Languet wrote a timely letter about the necessity of putting one's friends' faults out of sight: 'unless you alter your opinion you will be always meeting with persons who will excite your wrath and give you cause for complaining'. This disillusioned French protestant thought it was much in the then troubled times if men did not actually betray their friends. He would not have approved of the furious letter Sidney wrote to his father's secretary, Molyneux, when he suspected that his private letters

____________________
1
So T. Moffett, quoted by Buxton (p. 49).

-111-

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Elizabethan Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • List of Plates 6
  • Preface 7
  • Note 10
  • I - The Sonnet from Wyatt to Shakespeare 11
  • Note 30
  • II - Collections of Songs and Sonnets 31
  • Note 52
  • III - Italian and Italianate Poetry 53
  • Note 70
  • IV - A Reading of 'The Ocean's Love to Cynthia' 71
  • Note 90
  • V - Spenser's Pursuit of Fame 91
  • Note 110
  • VI - Sir Philip Sidney and his Poetry 111
  • Note 130
  • VII - Words and Music 131
  • Note 150
  • VIII - The Cave of Mammon 151
  • Note 174
  • IX - Men like Satyrs 175
  • Note 202
  • X - The Poetry of John Donne 203
  • Index 221
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