« ПредишнаНапред »
their hands against glory, whereto they set their names ; sophistically speaking against subtlety, and angry with a man in whom they see the foul fault of anger.”
“ The historian scarce gives leisure to the moralist to say so much, but that he, (loaden with old mouse-eaten records, authorising himself for the most part upon other histories, whose greatest authorities are built upon the notable foundation of hearsay-having much ado to accord differing writers, and to pick truth out of partiality; better acquainted with a thousand years ago than with the present age, and yet better knowing how this world goes than how his own wit runs; curious for antiquities, and inquisitive of novelties; a wonder to young folks, and a tyrant in table-talk-denieth, in a great chafe, that auy man, for teaching of virtue and virtuous actions, is comparable to him.”—“The philosopher, therefore, and the historian are they which would win the goal, the one by precept, the other by example; but both, not having both, do both halt. For the philosopher, sitting down with the thorny arguments, the bare rule is so hard of utterance, and so misty to be conceived, that one that hath no other guide but him shall wade in him until he be old, before he shall find sufficient cause to be honest. For his knowledge standeth so upon the abstract and general, that happy is that man who may understand him, and more happy that can apply what he doth understand. On the other side, the historian, wanting the precept, is so tied, not to what should be, but to what is—to the particular truth of things, and not the general reason of things—that his example draweth not necessary consequence, and therefore a less fruitful doctrine. Now doth the peerless poet perform both; for whatsoever the philosopher saith should be done, he giveth a perfect picture of it, by some one by whom he presupposeth it was done ; so as he coupleth the general notion with the particular example. A perfect picture, I say,- for he yieldeth to the powers of the mind an image of that whereof the philosopher bestoweth but a wordish description, which doth neither strike, pierce, nor possess the sight of the soul, so much as that other doth.”— “So, no doubt, the philosopher with his learned definitions, be it of virtues or vices, matters of public policy or private government, replenisheth the memory with many infallible grounds of wisdom, which, notwithstanding, lie dark before the imaginative and judging power, if they be not illuminated and figured forth by the speaking picture of poesy. Tully taketh much pains, and many times not without poetical helps, to make us know what force the love of our country hath in us : let us but hear old Anchises, speaking in the midst of Troy's flames; or see Ulysses, in the fulness of all Calypso's delights, bewailing his absence from barren and beggarly Ithaca! Anger, the Stoics said, was a short madness; let but Sophocles bring you Ajax on a stage, killing or whipping sheep and oxen, thinking them the army of the Greeks, with their chieftains Agamemnon and Menelaus; and tell me if you have not a more familiar insight into anger than finding in the school-men its genus and difference?"
; After a multiplicity of other examples of a similar kind, he adds:
“For conclusion, I say, the philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned only can understand him; that is to say, he teachetlr them that are afready taught. But the poet is the food for tender stomachs; the poet is indeed the right popular philosopher.”
· Thus far our author has been comparing the poet's power of teaching with that of the philosopher. He next examines, .' in detail, the relative pretensions of the poet and the historian. • One of his most powerful arguments in favor of the former's . infinite superiority, is set down as follows:
“But history, being captived to the truth of a foolish world, is many times a terror to well doing, and an encouragement to unbridled wickedness. For see we not valiant Miltiades rot in his fetters?' The just Phocion and the accomplished Socrates put to death like traitors? The cruel Severus living prosperously? Sylla and Marius dying in their beds ? Pompey and Cicero slain then, when they would have thought
exile a happiness? See we not virtuous Cato driven to kill himself, * and rebel Cæsar so advanced, that his name yet, after sixteen hun. dred years, lasteth in the highest honor ?".
Having gone through these particular comparisons, and added many more arguments, no less just than ingenious, in proof of his proposition, he now concludes this part of his subject by a general summary, from which we select the following admirable passages- which, for justness of thought, and curious felicity of expression, cannot well be surpassed.
“Now therein”—(that is to say, the power of at once teaching and enticing to do well)—" Now therein, of all sciences I speak stiil of human and according to human conceit—is our poet the monarch, For he doth not only shew the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect nto the way, as will entice any man to enter into it. Nay, he doth as if your journey should lie through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster of grapes, that, full of that taste, you may long to pass further. He beginneth not with obscure definitions, which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the memory with doubtfulness; but he cometh to you with words set in delightful proportion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of music; and with a tale, forsooth, he cometh unto you with a tale, which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney-corner;* and pretending no more, doth intend the winning of the
* We have here, undoubtedly, the origin of Shakspeare's
." That elder ears played truant at his tale,
So sweet and voluble was his discourse, &c.”
mind from wickedness to virtue, even as the child is often brought to take most wholesome things, by hiding them in such other as have a pleasant taste."-"For even those hard-hearted evil men, who think virtue a school name, and know no other good but indulgere genio, and therefore despise the austere admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reason they stand upon, yet will be content to be delighted; which is all the good-fellow poet seems to promise ; and so steal to see the form of goodness - which seen, they cannot but love ere themselves be aware, as if they had taken a medicine of cherries." -"By these, therefore, examples and reasons, I think it may be manifest that the poet, with that same hand of delight, doth draw the mind more effectually than any other art doth. And so a conclusion not unfitly ensues, that as virtue is the most excellent resting-place for all worldly learning to make an end of, so poetry, being the most familiar to teach it, and most princely to move towards it, in the most excellent work is the most excellent workman,"
Should it occur to the reader, in the midst of his admiration of these passages, that he has met with something very like parts of them before, we can readily believe that he is not mistaken; for the truth is, that the Defence of Poesy has formed the staple of all the “thousand and one" dissertations on that art, with which our magazines and reviews have teemed during the last twenty years.
Having drawn this inference respecting poetry generally, he prepares to descend into an examination of the various species into which it is divided; for, as he says, “ though (as in man) all together may carry a presence full of majesty and beauty, perchance in some one defectuous piece we may find a blemish.”-It is unnecessary to follow him through this examination; but we cannot refuse to collect the following characteristic touch as we pass on, and also the passage in which he triumphantly sums up this division of his subject. In speaking of the lyric, he says, “ Certainly, I must confess mine own barbarousness, I never heard the old song of Piercy and Douglas”--(the ballad of Chevy Chase)—" that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet.” His summing up of this part is as follows:
" Since, then, poetry is of all human learning the most antient, and of most fatherly antiquity, as from whence other learnings have taken their beginnings ;-Since it is so universal that no learned nation doth despise it, no barbarous nation is without it;-Since both Roman and Greek gave such divine names unto it, the one of prophesying, the other of making; and that, indeed, that name of making is fit for it, considering that whereas all other arts retain themselves within their subject, and receive, as it were, their being from it,-the poet, only, bringeth his own stuff, and doth not learn a conceit out of the matter, but maketh matter for a conceit;—Since neither his de
scription nor end containing any evil, the thing described cannot be evil ;-Since his effects be so good as to teach goodness and delight the learners of it ;-Since therein (namely, in moral doctrine, the chief of all knowledge) he doth not only far pass the historian, but, for instructing, is well nigh comparable to the philosopher, and for moving leaveth him behind ;-Since the Holy Scripture (wherein there is no uncleanness) hath whole parts in it poetical, and that even our Saviour Christ vouchsafed to use the flowers of it;-Since all its kinds are not only in their united forms, but in their severed dissections fully commendable :- I think-(and I think I think rightly,)--the laurel crown appointed for triumphant captains, doth worthily, of all other learnings, honour the poet's triumph,”
It may be mentioned here, that the idle jingle of words which occurs in the closing clause of the above passage, is an example of the only fault, even of style, that can be imputed to this admirable essay ;-if it were not for some half dozen instances of this kind, the Defence of Poesy might be offered as a model of a pure and simple English style, in every respect (even in those of grammatical construction, and of euphony) infinitely superior to the boasted style of our (so called) Augustan age.
Our author now proceeds to state the objections that have been made, or that may be, against his art-doing this, however, rather as a work of supererogation, than of necessity; but giving as a reason for it, “because we have ears as well as tongues, and that the lightest reasons that may be, will seem to weigh greatly, if nothing be put in the counter-balance.” Let our modern critical wits,—who pique themselves on the pointedness of their pens, and pretend to think that ridicule is the test not only of truth but of beauty also,-hear what a real wit says of them. It should seem by what follows, that their calling has not even novelty in its favour, but was as rife three hundred years ago as it is now.
He says, he has observed, of " that kind of people who seek a. praise by dispraising others, that they do prodigally spend a great many wandering words in quips and scoffs, carping and taunting at each thing which, by stirring the spleen, may stay the brain from a thorough beholding the worthiness of the subject. These kind of objections, as they are full of a very idle easiness, since there is nothing of so sacred a majesty, but that an itching tongue may rub itself upon it so deserve they no other answer but, instead of laughing at the jest, to laugh at the jester. We know a playing wit can praise the discretion of an ass, the comfortableness of being in debt, and the jolly commodities of being sick of the plague."-"Marry, these pleasant faultfinders, who will correct the verb before they understand the nuun, and confute others' knowledge before they confirm their own, I would have them only remember that scoffing cometh not of wisdom : so as the
best title, in true English, they get with their merriments is, to be called good fools ; for so have our grave forefathers ever termed that humorous kind of jesture.”
He now, after a few remarks on versification, and the manner in which it is and is not connected with poetry, proceeds to combat the imputations that have been thrown upon poets and their art.-The only extract we can afford to make from this portion of the essay, is part of a passage relating to the alleged abuse of poetry to immoral or otherwise mischievous purposes. If the reader should find that some of the arguments in the following extract do not come upon him with the force of no- . velty, he must recollect (as before) that this is any body's fault rather than Sir Philip Sidney's.
“But what! shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious ? Nay, truly, though I yield that poesy may not only be abused, but that, being abused, by the reason of its sweet charming force it can do more hurt than any other army of words; yet shall it be so far from concluding that the abuse shall give reproach to the abused, that, contrariwise, it is a good reason that whatsoever, being abused, doth most harm, being rightly used (and upon the right use each thing receives its title) doth most good. Do we not see skill in physic, - the best rampire to our often assaulted bodies,-being abused, turn poison
the most violent destroyer ? Doth not knowledge of law,- whose
end is to even and right all things,-being abused, grow the crook* *. ed fosterer of horrible injuries? Doth not (to go to the highest) God's
word abused breed heresy, and his name abused become blasphemy? Truly, a needle cannot do much hurt; and as truly (with leave of ladies be it spoken) it cannot do much good. But with a sword thou mayest kill thy father, and with a sword thou mayest defend thy .. prince and country. So that, as in their calling poets the fathers of lies, they said nothing, so in this their argument of abuse they prove. the commendation.”
Having thus gathered a few of the flowers of this delightful essay, in the succession in which they blow, we must now pass on to the conclusion; not, however, without stooping once or twice by the way, to pick up a stray beauty that does not grow exactly in the regular path. The following critical judgment on the whole body of English poetry existing in Sir Philip Sidney's day, is highly interesting, to say the least of it.
“ Chaucer, undoubtedly, did excellently in his Troilus and Cressida; of whom truly I know not whether to marvel more either that he, in that misty time, could see so clearly, or that we, in this clear age, go so stumblingly after him. Yet had he great wants, fit to be forgiven in so great an antiquity. I account the Mirror for Magistrates meetly furnished of beautiful parts. And, in the Earl of Surrey's Lyrics are many things tasting of a noble birth and worthy of a noble mind. The ,