صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

better entitled to repeat Smollett's lines than any hack of Consta ble's :

Thy Spirit, Independence ! let me share

Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye,'" &c. “But what is the use of exposing you any farther? Sitting in among the chaps of the Edinburgh Review, you think yourself, no doubt, a big chiel; but you are far from it-and you must confess --or if you do not-all the rest of the world will that I have taken you out by the cuff of the neck-given you two or three kicks on the only part about you that can speak any ways intelligibly, and then let you go back in a great fluster to your cronies, who will be telling you, peradventure, that you have given the Shepherd a dressing, which you will try to believe in spite” * * *

He lives where the inhabitants, high and low-Scotts, Pringles, Ballantynes, Brydens, Laidlaws, and Hoggs are all (I may say all, for the exceptions are imperceptible in quantity, and in quality worthless all animated with the same belief-all born and nursed in the same principles-all ready at a moment's warning, to mount and draw for the protection of those institutions, faristocracy and monarchy] which, with unceasing pertinacity, you have assailed for twenty years, which, God be praised, you have as yet ineffectually assailed—and which, I trust, will form the happiness and glory of our children's children, long after it shall have been forgotton that such a thing as the Edinburgh Review ever existed, to say nothing of you and the like of you, that are no better. than disgraces to the Review, such as it is.”

“ Your cronies will no doubt tell you that I am in a great passion, and that you have given me a dressing. But I care no more about you than about a cross-bred colley that keeps yowling on a bit knowe by the road-side at folk going by to the kirk-till some one throws two or three chucky-stones at him that make him hide among the heather, till he comes stealing out again, perhaps, by-andby, and impotently graws the very granite that gored his hurdies.”

“But I have no intentiou to enter into general disquisition—it does not suit me; and I am aware of my own place, however different the case may be with those I am encountering." “ Yours with disgust,

“ JAMES Hogg." [After all this, the Editor of Blackwood's Magazine, Mr. Hogg's friend, speaks of “the Sampson-like style in which Mr. Hogg has quitted himself.”—This style may suit the taste of the Ballantynes, the Brydens, the Laidlaws, &c. but it will not answer for the "wilds of America.']

ART. III. The Countesse of Pembroke's Arcadia. A pastorale

Romance. By Sir Philip Sidney. The eighth edition. London, 1633; folio ; pp. 492. [Review August, 1820.]

The name of Sir Philip Sidney is associated with many pleasing and delightful recollections. We remember him as one of the greatest ornaments of the most glorious reign in our annals-as one who communicated to the court of Elizabeth that tincture of romance, which gives it to our view, when seen through the dusky distances of antiquity, a mellow and chastened richness, not unlike the variegated and brilliant colouring with which the rays of the departing sun are embued by the painted windows through which they penetrate, as they

“Illume with mellow light the brown-brow'd aisle." We remember him as the patron and friend of our English Ariosto, the author of that enchanting production, The Fairy Queen, which we are sorry to see it is now the fashion to underrate and neglect. And lastly, we remember him as the contemporary of Shakspeare, and as one of the kindred spirits of that enchanted circle, of which Shakspeare was the master magician and wizard supreme.

Few characters, indeed, appear so well fitted to excite enthusiastic admiration as that of Sir Philip Sidney. Uniting all the accomplishments wbich youthful ardour and universality of talent could acquire or bestow-delighting nations with the varied witchery of his powers, and courts with the fascination of his address leaving the learned astonished with his proficiency, and the ladies enraptured with his grace, and communicating, wherever he went, the love and spirit of gladness-he was, and well deserved to be, the idol of the age he lived in. He appeared to be a good in which all nations considered themselves to be interested--not the partial and sole property and product of one people, but an universal benefaction, given and intended for all, and in the glory and honour of which all had a right to be partakers. His death, therefore, was lamented by every court he had visited; and, to do honour to his memory, kings clad themselves in the habiliments of grief, and universities poured forth their tribute of academical sorrow. So rare an union of attractions, so unaccustomed a concentration of excellence, such a compound of military renown with literary distinction, and courtly refinement with noble frankness, gave him a passport to every heart, and secured him, at once, universal sympathy and esteem. He was, indeed, if ever there was one, a gentleman, finished and complete, in whom mildness was associated with courage, erudition mollified by refinement, and courtliness dignified by truth. He is a specimen of what the English character was VOL. II.

15

capable of producing, when foreign admixtures had not destroyed its simplicity, or politeness debased its honour. The very stiffness it then possessed had a noble original; it was the natural consequence of that state of society, when the degrees of order and subordination were universally observed and understood, when the social relations were not broken down by the encroaching power of innovation, and when each was as ready to pay as to exact his tribute of observance and respect. No lax discipline in morals had then interwoven itself with the manners of the great, nor was the court, as in the reign of Charles the Second, converted into a painted sepulchre, where the spirit, the gayety, and the gilding without, could ill disguise the darkness and rottenness within: it was not, as in that court, a great national reservoir of iniquity, where all the degrees of order, and all the barriers of principle, were levelled and overthrown. The most accomplished members of the court of Queen Elizabeth were not less distinguished for the strictness of their moral principles, than for their polish and address as courtiers. Of such a stamp was Sir Philip Sidney, and, such as he was, every Englishman has reason to be proud of him. He exalted his country in the eyes of other nations, and the country he honoured will not be ungrateful. England will ever place him amongst the noblest of her sons, and the light of chivalry, which was his guide and beacon, will ever lend its radiance to illuminate his tomb-stone, and consecrate his memory.

The productions of such a man, were they even inferior to the expectation his renown had excited, deserve surely a better reception than the rigid severity of criticism. He, whose whole end in writing was to make his readers wiser and better men, surely has a right to other treatment from that world on which his comet-like radiance was thrown. If there was nothing else to excite our lenity, yet should his untimely fate dispose us to regard, with favour, productions which can hardly be called other than juvenile, and certainly not the fruits of maturity. There is something very touching in the premature departure of promising excellence in the cutting short of the bright course of talent, before it has reached its goal and consummation-in the striking, with the lightning of heaven, the uprising shoot of genius, while yet it has only produced the blossoms of paradise, blighted and destroyed before they are ripened into fruit. There is something very melancholy in the thoughts, how many bright ideas and noble creations, how many glowing images and emanations of fancy, have been lost for ever to the world, by the early death of those to whom a longer life would have brought everlasting renown. When we consider what they might have been, had a longer duration been allowed them, to what a blaze of splendour that flame, whose increase we were observing, might at length have shot out, had it not been for ever

Herit litt

extinguished by death, it is impossible not to feel affection and commiseration for victims so soon led to the slaughter. Such was the fate of Sir Philip Sidney; and the pity which it excites should surely prevent us from treating his works, as they have been treated, with sneering insolence and cold blooded vituperation. Let us remember that he died at the age of thirty-two ; and, if the lives of Milton and Dryden had not been prolonged beyond that period, where would have been their renown, or where the poetical renown of their country ?

But the works of Sir Philip Sidney stand in no need of indulgence from considerations of compassion. With a mind, glowing with images of heroism, and filled with the brightest creations and the fairest visions of human and more than human excellence; with a heart which ernbraced, in its wide circuit of benevolence, the universal good of his species; with an intellect, whose comprehensiveness of observation seemed to claim all arts and sciences, as within the compass of its power and the precincts of its dominion ; with a fancy which, delicately beautiful and pensively sweet, overspread the emanations of his genius with an envelope not less delightfully tinted than the covering of the yet unopened rose-bud, and which breathed over all his productions an exquisite finish and relief; he possessed all the essential qualities, from whose operation the everlasting monuments of the mind are fabricated. Unfortunately for the world, the variety of his power and the diversity of his employments prevented him from bestowing on literature the whole energy of his mind, and thus such of his compositions as remain were rather the sports of his leisure, than the full-wrought and elaborate performances of his study. He has, however, left enough to the world, to demonstrate that the name of Sir Philip Sidney has an indisputable right to a place amongst those of our country men, who have been most distinguished for virtue or memorable for genius; and that, amongst the contemporaries of Shakspeare, no one has so closely approached his peculiar excellencies, or so nearly resembled him in some of his superlative endowments, as the author of the Arcadia. Without launching out into an hyperbolical exuberance of praise, we may safely affirm, that in the art. of attracting interest and exciting compassion, in the art of ruling over and awaking the best sympathies of our pature, and of chaining the feelings of his readers to the fate and the fortunes of the personifications of his fancy--in the power of clothing and adorning every subject he treated upon, with the fairest flowers and sweetest graces of poetry, and of giving the charm of his inimitable diction to descriptions fresh from nature, and sentiments marked with the dignified and noble character of his mind-in the power of delighting and enchanting his readers, as with some strange and unearthly melody, which, once heard, is never forgotten, and whose

remembered notes still continue to entrance the senses as long as their perceptions are alive-he is inferior to no writer in his own age, or in any which has gone before or succeeded it. His great defect was the want of judgment, which led bim sometimes to adopt the forced conceits and quaintness of his contemporaries, and often induced him to desert, in the imitation of others, his own neverfailing and unequalled fountain of invention and thought. From this defect, his poetry is perhaps the least valuable part of his works, and is often little more than a jingle of words, or a collection of strange and ill-assorted ideas where the magnificent and the ridiculous, the ingenious and the mean, are mingled in one mass of incongruity together. He was not, indeed, qualified to shine in the cold and languid tameness of amatory poetry-his power lay in the representation of all that is most lovely in nature, or the resulting harmony of her productions; in the delineations of those of his species, whose high aspirations seem to point out a loftier and less terene original, and whose pure flame of affection appears rather to have been kindled at the sacrifice of the altar, than at the grosser fires of love. In short, bis forte lay in the description of beings, like himself, romantically generous and enthusiastically constant; of whom he gives us pictures, which must always please as long as high-mindedness is attractive ;-pictures, gratifying because they are exalted, and interesting because they are true.

But to proceed from his person to his works. His Defence of Poesy, which may, at some future time, form a subject for our Review, has received an universal tribute of admiration, and would be sufficient of itself, were there no other fruits of his geniusextant, to give him a very high place amongst the authors of our country. It is, perhaps, the most beautifully written prose composition of the Elizabethan age, impregnated with the very soul and spirit of poetry, and abounding with the richest adornments of fancy. It is, in truth, merum sal, “the sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge,” a production the most felicitous of its kind that ever came from Nature's mintage stampt in ecstacy." There is nothing equal to it in the whole circle of critical exposition, nothing which is at once so judicious, yet so poetical; so inimitable, yet so easy. What has been said of the criticisms of Longinus may, with much more justice, be applied to this composition, that it is itself a living exemplification of the highest excellence of the art it treats of. To those who can read it without feelings of delight and admiration, we can only apply the malediction against the contemners of poesie, with which Sir Philip Sidney concludes it.

His Arcadia, the present subject of our remarks, if not so uniformly pleasing and satisfactory, is, after all, the great foundation on which his fame must rest, and to which his right to a place

« السابقةمتابعة »