« ПредишнаНапред »
Shepherd's Kalendar hath much poetry in its eclogues, indeed, worthy the reading, if I be not deceived. That same framing of his style to an old rustic language, I dare not allow; since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazara in Italian, did affect it. Besides these, I do not remember to have seen but few (to speak boldly) printed, that have poetical sinews in them. For proof whereof, let but
will be found that one verse did but beget another; without ordering, at the first, what should be at the last : which becomes a confused mass of words, with a tinkling sound of rhyme barely accompanied with reason. Our tragedies and comedies are not without cause cried out against-observing rules neither of honest civility nor of skilful poetry. Excepting Gorboduc,-(again I speak of those that I have seen) which, notwithstanding it is full of stately speeches and well sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca's style, and as full of not
very end of poetry ;-yet, in truth, it is very defectuous in the circumstances; which grieves me, because it might not remain as an exact model of all tragedies. For it is faulty both in place and time—the two necessary companions of all corporal actions. For where the stage should always represent but one place, and the uttermost time pre-supposed in it should be, both by Aristotle's precept and by common reason, but one day, there is both many days and many places, inartificially imagined."*
There is great acuteness and precision in the following remarks on laughter :
“But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter; . which is very wrong. For though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter. But well may one thing 'breed two together. Nay, in themselves they have, as it were, a kind of contrariety; for delight we scarcely do, but in things that have a conveniency to ourselves and to general nature; whereas laughter almost ever cometh of things most disproportionate to ourselves and nature. Delight hath a joy in it either permanent or present; laughter hath only a scornful tickling. For example, we are ravished with delight to see a fair woman, and yet are far from being moved to laughter. We laugh at deformed creatures, wherein, certainly, we cannot delight. We delight in good chances; we laugh at mischances. We delight to hear the happiness of our friends and country; at which he were worthy to be laughed at, that would laugh. We shall, contrarily, sometimes laugh to find a matter quite mistaken, and go down the hill against the bias. In the mouth of some such men as, for the respect of them, one shall be heartily sorry, yet he cannot chuse but laugh, and so is rather · pained than delighted with laughter."
* For a notice of this Play, see Retrospective Review, vol. ii. p. 78, &c.
The following is curious, as shewing the kind of estimation in which the drama was held, immediately before the advent of Shakspeare :
“ But I have lavished out too many words on this play matter. • I do it because, as they are excelling parts of poesy, so is there none
so much used in England, and none can be more pitifully abused: which, like an unmannerly daughter, shewing a bad education, causeth her mother Poetry's modesty to be called in question."
We now pass at once to the concluding passage of this charming piece of writing; a conclusion that is in every way worthy of what has preceded it: and a greater panegyric on it cannot be pronounced.
“ So that, since the ever-praise-worthy poesy is full of virtue, breeding delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning; since the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is the fault of poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honour poesy, and to be honoured by poesy ; I conjure you all, that have had the evil luck to read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the name of the nine muses, no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy ;-no more to laugh at the name of poets, as though they were next inheritors to fools ;—no more to jest at the reverend title of a rhymer; but to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the antient treasures of the Grecians' divinity;-to believe, with Bembus, that they were the first bringers in of all civility ;-to believe, with Scaliger, that no philosopher's precepts can sooner make you an honest man than the reading of Virgil ;-to believe, with Clauserus, the translator of Cornutus, that it pleased the Heavenly Deity, by Hesiod and Homer, under the veil of fables, to give us all knowledge-logic, rhetoric, philosophy, natural and moral, and quid non?—to believe, with me, that there are many mysteries contained in poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest of profane wits they should be abused ;to believe, with Landing that they are so beloved of the gods that whatsoever they write proceeds from a divine fury ;-lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they will make you immortal by their verses. Thus doing, your names shall flourish in printers' shops ;thus doing, you shall be a-kin to many a poetical preface ;-thus doing, you shall be most fair, most rich, most wise, most all; you shall dwell among superlatives :—thus doing, though you be libertino patre natus, you shall suddenly grow Herculea proles :
Si quid mea carmina possunt. Thus doing, your soul shall be placed with Dante's Beatrix, or Virgil's Anchises.
o But if (fie of such a but !) you be born so near the dull-making cataract of Nilus that you cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry; if you have so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry, or rather, by a certain rustical disdain, will become such a Mome as to be a Momus to poetry; then, though I will not wish unto you the ass's ears of Midas, nor to be driven by a poet's verses, as Bubonax was, to hang himself, nor to be rhymed to death, as is said to be done in Ireland; yet thus much curse I must lend you in the behalf of all poets,--that, while you live, you live in love, never get favour for lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.”
We have hitherto looked at The Defence of Poesy chiefly with reference to its merits as a piece of writing ; but, perhaps, it is scarcely less interesting, when regarded as a record of the literary sentiments and opinions of its celebrated author: especially when it is considered that that author was, at the time he produced the essay before us, “ the observed of all observers”—the glass by which all, who professed to think and feel according to the ton of the day, dressed their sentiments and opinions of all that came before them.' In this point of view, The Defence of Poesy might be made to furnish forth some amusing, at least, if not instructive comparisons, with certain other opinions on similar subjects which prevail in our own day. Take, for example, the only worthy pendant that we possess for Sir Philip Sidney, in point of rank, genius, and literary fame, as well as in that errant spirit which makes him seek adventures anywhere, and at any cost, rather than confine himself within the dull circle of daily life. Of course, we mean Lord Byron. It would be difficult to find any one point in poetry about which these two distinguished poets would agree in opinion, unless it were the necessity of preserving the unities of the tragic drama; and even in the opinion which Lord Byron has expressed on this point, we can scarcely give him credit for that sincerity which may be safely attributed to all his other expressed opinions,-so utterly inconsistent is it not only with the practice of all those whom he would be the loudest and the loftiest in praise of, but with the principle on which the whole of his own poetry seems to be written: if, indeed, the latter can be said to be written on any principle at all. But the truth is, that in this, as in all things else, the two writers were at utter variance; the one (Sidney) having a regular set of principles pre-established in his mind, to which all his actions are to be made conformable, and by which all his opinions were to be dressed; and, in particular, a precise pre-conceived notion of the nature, object, and end of poetry, by which all his own, as well as all other poetry was to be tried and measured: whereas our noble bard, so far from suffering himself, or the efforts of his pen, to be “ cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in to saucy” modes, rules, and canons of this kind, would, probably, in the face of his own writings,
may not order theatender andeh-bornes and uponimens of complete
deny the existence of all principles, and of all poetry too; and, perhaps, vote his high-born predecessor a coxcomb at best, if not a pretender and a bore.
In order that our notices of Sir Philip Sidney's works may not be incomplete, we shall append to this paper a few specimens of his poetry; for we do not conceive that it is, upon the whole, of a nature to call for a separate and formal essay. We shall endeavour to characterise the various examples as we present them; merely premising, that our author's poetry is nearly all devoted to the subject of love; and that it consists of a collection of short pieces, entitled, “ Astrophel and Stella;” and another collection, of a similar nature, entitled, “ Songs and Sonnets."
The following will form an appropriate introduction to our extracts from this author; because it seems to announce his own notion of one of the principles on which poetry should be written. It must not be concealed, however, that few were ever less disposed to follow their own rule than he was in the present instance. If he really had looked into his own noble heart, and written directly from that, instead of from his somewhat too metaphysico-philosophical head, his poetry would have been as fine as his “ Defence” of it. -
“ Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to shew,
The following are examples of the manner in which he occasionally obeys the dictate of his muse. We might have chosen others that more strikingly exemplify the faults of his style: but our object is to give a characteristic notion of that style, without shewing it in its worst possible point of view:
“ Not at first sight, nor with a dribbed shot,
But known worth did in mine of time proceed,
The reader will perceive that, notwithstanding its laboured coldness, this is full of ideas, and is in parts expressed with a certain skilful simplicity. What follows has the same faults and good qualities, and nearly in the same relative proportion. It cannot be read, however, without considerable interest:
“ *It is most true that eyes are formed to serve
We now willingly, and indeed delightedly turn to examples of a different character from the above: for nothing is less grateful to us than to point out the failures of high intellects, and nothing more so than to assist in disseminating the knowledge and the love of their beauties. If Sidney had written nothing but the following exquisite sonnet, he would still de'serve to rank among the poets of his country; for none but a really poetical spirit could have conceived it, and none but a poetical hand, practically speaking, could have executed it: and it is these two joint powers which confer the name of a poet. A man may have all the mental qualities of a poet, as it regards himself, without being one. To be a poet, he must be