Imágenes de páginas

of the tournament, and the voice of the pastoral pipe and oaten reed was joined with the sound of the trumpet and the clashing of the lance.

It has been remarked, that the comic parts of the Arcadia, which relate to Dametas and his family, are amongst the worst parts of the book. This is in some measure true, and yet the dislike which we feel in reading them arises not so much out of their own inferiority, as from their unsuitableness and unfitness to form part of such a work. There is an incongruity in their association with the true and natural pictures of his genius, which cannot but excite our displeasure. Our feeling is the same as in seeing the ale-house paintings of Teniers by the Transfiguration of Raphaël. Besides this, we feel it a kind of debasement in the mind of Sir Philip Sidney, to descend from its native height and dignity to the low subjects of burlesque and humour. We feel that he was designed for other purposes than to make us laugh, and that such an attempt is little better than a prostitution of his powers. In so doing, he dissipates all the enchantment which rivetted us to him: he mortifies and wounds our sensibility, by destroying the train of feelings which before had possessed us: he weakens and diminishes our faith, by destroying our confidence and arousing our judgement: and when these great foundations are removed, when the heart is hardened to their illusions and the belief convinced of their fallacy, what have the fairy palaces of imagination, and the bright structures of fancy, to support them or to rest on ?

We cannot close our article, without paying a tribute of respect to Sir Philip Sidney on the ground of his diction. Perhaps we may venture to pronounce him, notwithstanding his occasional blemishes, the best, the most happy, the most powerful prose writer of the time in which he flourished. Certain we are, that none of his contemporaries ever equalled him in his best specimens of composition, in his most finished and consummate productions. There is a certain point, indeed, beyond which language can go no farther; and which, whosoever has attained, has as little

need to dread a rival, as to expect a superior; and that this point has been frequently reached by Sir Philip Sidney, no one, who has read his Arcadia, will doubt or deny. The period in which he wrote was one which presented peculiar advantages and disadvantages, it was one which afforded opportunities of advancing our language to unapproachable perfection, or lowering it to unparalleled degradation. No model being then established, our national dialect was at the mercy of every bold and piratical marauder, who might think fit to shape its form and marshal its riches; and it was left to the caprice or judgement of every writer, to introduce such new combinations or additions to its phraseology, as his own unbounded desire might direct. That this excess of license should be attended with many of the perversions of bad taste, was easy to be imagined; but, at the same time, it was the cause and fountain of many surpassing excellencies, such as could never have been produced under the withering power of constraint. The writers, indeed, of that age had almost a power, similar to Adam's, of giving names to all that lay before them in the animate or intellectual creation, and of suiting and modifying the energies of language to all the various operations of nature and exigencies of mind. Ofa power so unlimited, great might have been the abuse, and great the contaminating influence over all our succeeding literature. This happily did not, or did but partially, take place; and while we find amongst the writers of that time innumerable pieces of exquisite composition, the instances of a contrary kind are very rare, and of those, the principal and efficient cause was the imitation of the bad models of other countries. The conceits and quaintnesses of Sir Philip Sidney's language had their origin from the Italian school; and, indeed, whatever was bad or unworthy of him in his writings was occasioned by imitation. When he gives free play to his own power of expression, he never disgusts or disappoints his readers. Then he delights us with passages of such unrivalled and inexpressible beauty, that all petty censures and preconceived disgusts are in a moment overwhelmed, and we are compelled to acknowledge him as a great and unequalled master of language, who had the power to modify and mould it to every degree of passion and thought, and unlock and open all its diversified resources and inexhaustible'stores.

It would not, perhaps, be over-rating the merit of Sir Philip Sidney, or doing injustice to the memory of any of the writers of his time, to ascribe to him and his agency the formation of that peculiar and characteristic style, which pervades the English literature at the close of the sixteenth century, and which has so great a share in rendering the productions of our dramatic writers, of that period, of inestimable worth and value. We certainly do not know any other writer who has so fair a title to that distinction, from priority of date or superiority of desert. It would, indeed, be ridiculous to affirm that a book of such celebrity, in its time, as the Arcadia, should be of inconsiderable weight in shaping the public taste, and giving a character and impression to our language. Every work, much read and much admired, must have an influence over its native literature, and, if it does not openly and immediately affect it, will, however, sooner or later insensibly deteriorate or improve it. This could not but be the case with Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, and therefore we may regard the whole literary character of that age as, in some sort, derived and descended from him, and his work as the fountain from which all the vigorous shoots of that period drew something of their verdure and strength. It was, indeed, the Arcadia which first taught to the contemporary writers, that inimitable interweaving and contexture of words—that bold and unshackled use and application of them—that art of giving to language, appropriated to objects the most common and trivial, a kind of acquired and adscititious loftiness; and to diction, in itself noble and elevated, a sort of superadded dignity; that power of ennobling the sentiments by the language, and the language by the sentiments, which so often excites our admiration in perusing the writers of the age of Elizabeth. It taught them to transcribe their own thoughts, and give to the transcription all the working animation of its original; to paint the varieties of nature, and to make their paintings not copies from the strainers of imitation, but actual and living resemblan

lowing, as in the reflections of a mirror, with all the fidelity of verisimilitude and all the reality of truth. It taught them to give utterance to the simple and enchanting emotions of the heart, which always find or make for themselves language worthy to express them, and the more beautiful for the less it has of adornment. It taught them, in short, all that has rendered their productions so surpassingly and exquisitely delightfulnever, then, ought we to forget, while perusing the works of his contemporaries, that it is to Sidney their greatest excellencies are owing—to Sidney, the protecting planet of Spenser, and morning star of Shakspeare.

We will now for awhile bid farewell to the productions of this truly great man, who as certainly deserved a kingdom for his genius, as Scaliger a principality for his learning; and who, had he not been early cut off in his race of glory, would have left behind him memorials which criticism would not have dared to censure, or malignity to disturb. Yet, unequal as his writings are, to what he might have written, they will carry his name down to far distant ages, and with them will descend to posterity the traditional relations which our ancestors have delivered of his achievements and worth. Whatever transient obscuration real merit may occasionally suffer, it must, in the end, be triumphant; and true taste and true feeling, which are the same in all ages, will, at length, vindicate the praises which themselves have bestowed. This temporary eclipse some there are who might lament, yet we lament it not; for, however grateful to the eye may

be the brightness of unsullied and uninjured talent, yet never, in our opinion, does genius appear so splendid, so majestic and commanding, as when it, at length, disperses the mists which for a time obscured its face; and rises, like the mighty eagle in Milton's Areopagitica, superior to the hootings of the birds of night. And thus it will be with the works of Sir Philip Sidney: upon a candid and impartial examination, it will appear, that the man, of whom nations once rung, and courts resounded “ in the consentient harmony of praise," still deserves to retain a large portion of his former celebrity; that if the variety of his attempts and the complexity of his character, by diverting his genius into too many channels, contributed to impoverish and distract it, yet that there is still in every thing which he has written an indelible stamp of greatness; and that the edifice of his reputation was not built upon local prejudice or extrinsic regard, but founded upon reason and established upon truth, and can never, but with them, be overthrown. And here we cannot conclude, without taking notice of that blighting spirit of modern criticism which Sir Philip Sidney has, with many other worthies of old, experienced, and which has given to the literature of the present age, a character of heartless and spiritless insensibility. "There seems to be a malignant desire to reduce the great of former ages to the level of common men; to bring down their superiority, intellectual and personal, to valueless and vapid mediocrity; and to demonstrate, that the lights which shone as the directors of our forefathers were little better than momentary meteors or vapourish exhalations. Far are we from being enemies to just and distinguishing criticism ; but surely the illustrious characters of antiquity deserve some reverence at our hands, and the laurels which our ancestors have placed on their heads ought not rudely to be plucked off by the hand of the spoiler. There is a kind of prescription in fame which partakes of the sanctity and inviolability of age, and which it hurts our best feelings and excites our indignation to see infringed. It is not very often that popular judgement errs on the side of admiration; and why then should we be so eager, in this age, to withdraw the praises which an injudicious, but at the same time generous, prodigality has prompted another to bestow ?-For ourselves, we can only say, that we shall never wish to be among the number of those who would detract from patriotism its merit, or from heaven-born talent its due. Ever absent from us, and from our pages, be that ungenerous and ungentlemanlike spirit of criticism, which could induce us to speak coldly of the character of Falkland, or disdainfully of the genius of Sidney!

[ocr errors]

Art. II. Spare Minutes, or resolved Meditations and premeditated Resolutions, written by Arthur Warwick.

Ego cur acquirere pauca

Si possim invidear?
The Sixth Edition. London, printed by G. M. for Walter
Hammond, and are to be sold by Michael Sparke in Greene
Arbour, 1637.-pp. 179.

We have a few spare minutes (the reader will forgive us the pun) to dedicate to this spare volume. It purports to be a posthumous publication, and consists of two parts, to each of which there is an emblematical frontispiece; and before the second part, is prefixed a copy of English verses, by Geo. Wither, and a copy of Latin verses, by William Haydock, both explanatory of the second frontispiece. The first part is dedicated, by the author, to Sir William Dodington; and the second part, by the author's father, “ to the vertuous and religious gentlewoman, his much-esteemed friend, Mistresse Anne Ashton.” The title page indicates the nature of the book, which is a very valuable little manual. The author was a clergyman, and a pious one, whose high delight was to hold divine colloquy with his own heart—" to feed on the sweet pastures of the soul”—he was an aspirant after good, who was never less alone than when without company. The well, in which truth is hidden, he discovered to be the heart of man-he sought for it in his own heart, and he found it there. He was not without hopes of this world, and already lived in futurity. The style of his work is as singular as its spirit is excellent. Brevity was his laborious study, he has compressed as much essence as possible into the smallest space. His book is a string of proverbial meditations and meditated proverbs. He does not speak without reason, and cannot reason without a maxim. His sentiments are apposite, though opposite-his language is the appropriateness of contrariety-it is too narrow for his thoughts, which show the fuller for the constraint of their dress. The sinewy athletic body almost bursts its scanty apparel. This adds to the apparent strength of his thoughts, although it takes from their real grace. He comprised great wisdom in a small compass. His life seems to have been as full of worth as his thoughts, and as brief as his book. He considered life but his walk, and heaven his home ; and that, travelling towards so pleasant a destination, " the shorter his journey the sooner his rest.” The marrow of life and of knowledge does not indeed occupy much room. His language is quaint in conceits, and conceited

« AnteriorContinuar »