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Some Sonnets Of Sir Philip Sydney
by [?]

Highway, since you my chief Parnassus be;
And that my Muse, to some ears not unsweet,
Tempers her words to trampling horses’ feet,
More soft than to a chamber melody,–
Now blessed You bear onward blessed Me
To Her, where I my heart safe left shall meet,
My Muse and I must you of duty greet
With thanks and wishes, wishing thankfully.
Be you still fair, honour’d by public heed,
By no encroachment wrong’d, nor time forgot;
Nor blam’d for blood, nor shamed for sinful deed.
And that you know, I envy you no lot
Of highest wish, I wish you so much bliss,
Hundreds of years you STELLA’S feet may kiss.

[Footnote 1: Press.]

Of the foregoing, the first, the second, and the last sonnet, are my favourites. But the general beauty of them all is, that they are so perfectly characteristical. The spirit of “learning and of chivalry,”–of which union, Spenser has entitled Sydney to have been the “president,”–shines through them. I confess I can see nothing of the “jejune” or “frigid” in them; much less of the “stiff” and “cumbrous”–which I have sometimes heard objected to the Arcadia. The verse runs off swiftly and gallantly. It might have been tuned to the trumpet; or tempered (as himself expresses it) to “trampling horses’ feet.” They abound in felicitous phrases–

O heav’nly Fool, thy most kiss-worthy face–

8th Sonnet.

–Sweet pillows, sweetest bed;
A chamber deaf to noise, and blind to light;
A rosy garland, and a weary head.

2nd Sonnet.

–That sweet enemy,–France–

5th Sonnet.

But they are not rich in words only, in vague and unlocalised feelings–the failing too much of some poetry of the present day–they are full, material, and circumstantiated. Time and place appropriates every one of them. It is not a fever of passion wasting itself upon a thin diet of dainty words, but a transcendent passion pervading and illuminating action, pursuits, studies, feats of arms, the opinions of contemporaries and his judgment of them. An historical thread runs through them, which almost affixes a date to them; marks the when and where they were written.

I have dwelt the longer upon what I conceive the merit of these poems, because I have been hurt by the wantonness (I wish I could treat it by a gentler name) with which W.H. takes every occasion of insulting the memory of Sir Philip Sydney. But the decisions of the Author of Table Talk, etc., (most profound and subtle where they are, as for the most part, just) are more safely to be relied upon, on subjects and authors he has a partiality for, than on such as he has conceived an accidental prejudice against. Milton wrote Sonnets, and was a king-hater; and it was congenial perhaps to sacrifice a courtier to a patriot. But I was unwilling to lose a fine idea from my mind. The noble images, passions, sentiments, and poetical delicacies of character, scattered all over the Arcadia (spite of some stiffness and encumberment), justify to me the character which his contemporaries have left us of the writer. I cannot think with the Critic, that Sir Philip Sydney was that opprobrious thing which a foolish nobleman in his insolent hostility chose to term him. I call to mind the epitaph made on him, to guide me to juster thoughts of him; and I repose upon the beautiful lines in the “Friend’s Passion for his Astrophel,” printed with the Elegies of Spenser and others.

You knew–who knew not Astrophel?
(That I should live to say I knew,
And have not in possession still!)–
Things known permit me to renew–
Of him you know his merit such,
I cannot say–you hear–too much.

Within these woods of Arcady
He chief delight and pleasure took;
And on the mountain Partheny.
Upon the crystal liquid brook,
The Muses met him every day,
That taught him sing, to write, and say.

When he descended down the mount,
His personage seemed most divine:
A thousand graces one might count
Upon his lovely chearful eyne.
To hear him speak, and sweetly smile,
You were in Paradise the while,

A sweet attractive kind of grace;
A full assurance given by looks;
Continual comfort in a face,
The lineaments of Gospel books–

I trow that count’nance cannot lye,
Whose thoughts are legible in the eye.

* * * * *

Above all others this is he,
Which erst approved in his song,
That love and honour might agree,
And that pure love will do no wrong.
Sweet saints, it is no sin or blame
To love a man of virtuous name.

Did never Love so sweetly breathe
In any mortal breast before:
Did never Muse inspire beneath
A Poet’s brain with finer store.
He wrote of Love with high conceit,
And beauty rear’d above her height.

Or let any one read the deeper sorrows (grief running into rage) in the Poem,–the last in the collection accompanying the above,–which from internal testimony I believe to be Lord Brooke’s,–beginning with “Silence augmenteth grief,”–and then seriously ask himself, whether the subject of such absorbing and confounding regrets could have been that thing which Lord Oxford termed him.