Sidney drew little public attention to his literary endeavours. Whether his few known remarks on his ‘toyful book’ or ‘idle work’ Arcadia and his enrolment among the poetic ‘paper blurrers’ (No. 2) are examples more of sprezzatura or of religious scruple, in his lifetime only ‘some few of his frends’ 1 read these comments and the manuscript works in question. With the possible exception of the two sonnets that may well be Sidney’s which appeared in Henry Goldwell’s account of The Four Foster Children of Desire in 1581 (Ringler, pp. 345-6, 518-19), he avoided the perceived ‘stigma of print’. 2 The Defence of the Earl of Leicester, with its challenge to the author of Leicester’s Commonwealth, must have been intended for wider circulation. (Print would have seemed particularly inappropriate as a vehicle for the views of a proud ‘Dudley in blood’ (MP, p. 134).) So too, its wide late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century dissemination may suggest, was A Letter to Queen Elizabeth Touching her Marriage with Monsieur (Beal, SiP 181-215). It is these works, rather than poetry and romance, that Sidney’s less intimate circle are most likely to have known if they were aware of any of his writings; he was early renowned, the commendation of Edward Waterhouse (No. 1) suggests, for the readiness of his pen in practical affairs like the defence of his father’s fiscal policies in Ireland. He was also known to his father’s secretary, Edmund Molyneux, for letters including ‘a large epistle to Bellerius a learned divine in verie pure and eloquent Latine’.
Sidney’s poetry, if it is mentioned at all during his lifetime, tends to figure as simply one aspect of the larger construct ‘Sidney’, potential Protestant leader, source of patronage, soldier or military expert. The German scholar Melissus (Paul Schede), hailing ‘Sydnee Musarum inclite cultibus’ in 1577, 3 is as likely to be