Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

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. Of a 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 hie 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, mucli 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 resemblances, glowing, 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 ornment. It taught them, in short, all that has rendered their productions so surpassingly and exquisitely delightful— never, 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 to 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 distantages, 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!

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

Ego cur acquirere pauca
Sipossim invidear?

The Sirth 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 small 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 Āshton.” 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 ..". 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 shew 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 comprized 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 o 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

in quaintness—it proceeds on an almost uniform balance of antithesis—but his observations are, at once, acute, deep, and practical. We have thrown the following short meditations together.

"It is some hope of goodness not to grow worse: it is a part of badness not to grow better. I will take heed of quenching the sparke, and strive to kindle a fire. If I have the goodness I should, it is not too much, why should I make it less? If 1 keepe the goodness I have, 'tis not enough: why do I not make it more? He ne're was so good as he should be, that doth not strive to be better than he is: He never will be better than he is, that doth not feare to be worse than he was. 1st part, p. 11.

"It is the usuall plea of poverty to blame misfortune, when the ill-finished cause of complaint is a worke of their owne forging. I will either make my fortunes good, or be content they are no worse. If they are not so good as I would they should have beene, they are not so bad as I know they might have beene. What though I am not so happy as I desire, 'tis well I am not so wretched as I deserve, p. 14.

"There is nothing to be gotten by the world's love, nothing to be lost (but its love) by its hate. Why then should I seeke that love that cannot profit mee, or feare that malice that cannot hurt mee? If I should love it for loving mee, God would hate mee for loving it—if I loath it for hating mee, it cannot hurt mee for loathing it. Let it then hate mee and I will forgive it, but if it love mee I will never requite it. For since its love is hurtfull, and its hate harmelesse, I will contemne its hate, and hate its love. p. 16.

"There is nothing more certaine than death, nothing more uncertaine than the time of dying. I will therefore be prepared for that at all times, which may come at any time, must come at one time or another. I shall not hasten my death by being still ready, but sweeten it. It makes me not die the sooner, but the better, p. 19.

"The commendation of a bad thing is its shortnesse, of a good thing its continuance: it were happy for the damned if their torments knew end, 'tis happier for the saints that their joys are eternall. If man, that is borne of a woman, be full of misery, 'tis well that he hath but a short time to live: if his life be a walke of paine, its a blessing, that his dayes are but a spanne long. Happy miseries that end in joy: happy joyes that know no end: happy end that dissolves to eternity, p. 21.

"There is no estate of life so happy in this world as to yeeld a Christian the perfection of content: and yet there is no state of life so WTetched in this world, but a Christian must be content with it. Though I have nothing here that may give me true content, yet I will tearne to bee truely contented here with what I have. What care I though I have not much, I have as much as I desire, if I have as much as 1 want; I have as much as the most, if I have as much as I desire, p. 24.

« ПредишнаНапред »