Sir [Samuel] Egerton Brydges (1762-1837) sought to make earlier literature better known though The British Bibliographer (1810-14) and Censura Literaria (1805-9, 1815). Henry Southern, while criticizing Brydges’ works for being ‘almost entirely adapted to the purposes of the curious book-collector, or literary antiquary’ (The Retrospective Review, vol. 1, 1820, p. xiv) had to confess their usefulness.
There is some justice in the frequent contemporary claim that Brydges’ principal aim was to draw attention to his own high connections and alleged genius; in the notes to his essay on Sidney he is at pains to point out that he is related both to the Sidneys and to Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst and Earl of Dorset. His Sidney is a lofty, melancholy figure, an early nineteenth-century ‘man of genius’ with an added degree of aristocratic refinement. The ‘rude grandeur’ of Penshurst, ‘its immense hall, its castellated form, its numerous appartments, well accord with the images of chivalry, which the memory of Sydney inspires’ (p. 293).
Lord O[rford] speaks as if Sir Philip’s writings alone were considered as the basis of his fame. Does he wish us to forget him as a man of romantic gallantry, a general, a statesman, a courtier, a man of manners exquisitely refined, of a heart of the purest virtue and the nicest sensibility, and actuated by the most sublime principles of religion?
The ‘Arcadia’ is called by Lord Orford ‘a tedious, lamentable, pedantic, pastoral romance’. Had this honourable critic exercised his candour instead of his love of censure, and looked for beauties instead of faults, he might have found an abundant harvest in this work. Its tediousness to a modern reader arises in a great measure not from the fault of the writer, but from the vast change of manners