Page images
PDF
EPUB

1554-1575 His pedigree, both on his father's side and on his mother's, is of singular interest. His paternal grandfather was Sir William Sidney, who commanded the right wing of the English forces at the Battle of Flodden Field, and was presented by Henry VIII, for this and for other services, with the estate of Penshurst in Kent, of which Ben Jonson has given so vivid and so charming a description. His father, Sir Henry Sidney, was, in Edward VI's reign, one of the four principal Gentlemen of the Royal Bedchamber, and it was in his arms that the young king died. In Elizabeth's reign Sir Henry—who had been knighted with William Cecil, afterwards Lord Burleigh, in 1550—played a most distinguished part, being Lord President of Wales, ambassador to France and Scotland, and finally Lord Deputy of Ireland at a very critical time in Irish history. In 1552 Sir Henry married Lady Mary Dudley, daughter of the Duke of Northumberland. The extraordinary interest attaching to Sidney's ancestry and relations will be apparent from the following pedigree.

JOHN DUDLEY
Duke of Northumberland

1

Mary =
Sir Henry Sidney

John, Earl
of Warwick

Lord Guildford Dudley=

Lady Jane Grey

Robert,

first Earl of Leicester

SIR WILLIAM SIDNEY

Sir Henry Sidney
=Lady Mary Dudley

Sir Philip Sidney

Mary =
Henry Herbert,
Earl of Pembroke

Robert, second

Earl of
Leicester

William Herbert,

Earl of Pembroke
(to whom some suppose
the Sonnets of Shakespeare

were dedicated)

It may be added, too, that by the marriage of his uncle with the widow of Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, he was connected with that important family.

Philip was born on St. Andrew's day, November 30th, 1554, at the family seat of Penshurst, the second child of his parents. There was gloom in the house when he first saw the light, for, only fifteen months before, his grandfather on the mother's side-the Duke of Northumberland -had suffered ignobly an ignoble death, being executed for his attempt to secure the crown for his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, having in vain tried to save his life by apostasizing to the Catholics; his grandfather on the father's side had just died; one uncle, Lord Guildford Dudley, with his wife, Lady Jane Grey, had followed his fatherin-law to the scaffold, and another uncle, John, Earl of Warwick, had also passed prematurely away.

Of Sidney's childhood and early youth no particulars have survived, though Fulke Greville tells us that he was even in those days distinguished by such staiedness of mind, lovely and familiar gravity, as carried grace and reverence above greater years', adding that ‘his very play tended to enrich his mind'. He received his early education under Thomas Ashton at Shrewsbury School, for his father, who was at that time Lord President of Wales, frequently resided at Ludlow Castle, about thirty miles distant. Sir Henry took great pains with his son's education; so that the boy while no more than twelve years of age was corresponding with his father both in Latin and in French. From Shrewsbury School young Sidney passed to Christ Church in Oxford, probably about the midsummer of 1568, though he does not appear to have been regularly matriculated. His tutor was Dr. Thomas Thornton, who directed that this fact should be recorded on his tomb, as afterwards it was in Ledbury Church, Hereford. He appears also to have received instruction from a Mr. Robert Dorset. At Oxford, where he seems to have resided, more or less occasionally perhaps, for some three years, he made the acquaintance of Edward Dyer, who afterwards became distinguished as a diplomatist and is one of the most pleasing of the Elizabethan minor poets; of Richard Hakluyt, so well known afterwards as the editor of the collection of voyages; and of William Camden, the celebrated antiquary. But his more intimate friend and companion was his old schoolfellow Fulke Greville, who, if Sidney resided in Christ Church, was his near neighbour, for Greville had joined Broadgates Hall, now Pembroke College.

Sidney left Oxford in the spring of 1571, probably in consequence of the plague then raging there, without a degree. In the spring of the following year he quitted England for a three years' visit to the Continent, it being usual for young men in those days thus to 'complete their education'. He arrived in Paris with a letter of introduction from his uncle Leicester to the English Ambassador, Francis Walsingham. It was a critical time. Catherine De Medici had recently been regarding the Huguenots with favour, and it was then being arranged that Margaret, Charles IX's sister, should marry Henry of Navarre. The marriage--at which Sidney was no doubt presentwas celebrated on the 18th of August. Six days afterwards occurred the massacre of St. Bartholomew, during which Sidney found shelter in the English Embassy. Not long afterwards he left Paris and set out for Lorraine. From Lorraine he passed to Strasburg, and thence down the Rhine through Heidelberg to Frankfort. At Frankfort he remained probably for some months; he was certainly there from March till June 1573, lodging with one Andrew Wechel, a learned and well-known printer. Here he met Hubert Languet. This remarkable man had, in 1547, been Professor of Civil Law in the University of Padua, and had long been an orthodox Catholic, but meeting with Melanchthon during a visit to Würtemberg in 1549 had been converted by him to Protestantism, and was now in the van of the Protestant party. Born in 1518, he was at this time in his fifty-sixth year, Sidney in his nineteenth, but in spite of this disparity in age a close and quite romantic friendship sprang up between them. After their separation they regularly corresponded for some years, ninety-six letters of Languet's and sixteen of Sidney's being still extant. What Sidney owed to Languet he has himself expressed in Philisides' song in the third book of the Arcadia :

The song I sang old Languet had me taught,

Languet the shepherd best swift Ister knew.
For clerkly reed, and hating what is naught,

For faithful heart, clean hands and mouth as true.

With his sweet skill my skilless youth he drew
To have a feeling taste of Him that sits
Beyond the heaven, far more beyond our wits.
He said the music best those powers pleased

Was jump accord between our wit and will
Where highest notes to godliness are raised,

And lowest sink not down to jot of ill,
With old true tales he wont mine ears to fill.

Early in the summer of 1573 Languet went with him to Vienna, and introduced him to the Court of the Emperor Maximilian the Second and to many of his friends. In the autumn the two friends parted, Sidney going on to Hungary. In October he was again with Languet in Vienna, staying with him for about a month. He was now anxious to visit Italy, and early in November he set out for Venice. In Italy one of his travelling companions was Lodowick Bryskett, afterwards an intimate friend of Spenser in Ireland, and the translator of Baptista Giraldi's Discourse of Civil Life. Of this journey in Italy Bryskett, in his Pastorall Aeglogue upon the Death of Sir Philip Sidney, gives a most charming account:

Through many a hill and dale,
Through pleasant woods and many an unknown way,
Along the banks of many silver streams,
He with him went; and with him he did scale
The craggy rocks of th' Alps and Appenine,
Still with the Muses sporting, while those beams
Of virtue kindled in his breast,

Which after did so gloriously forth shine ! He made Venice his head quarters. Whether he met there the aged Titian does not appear, but he became acquainted with the great painter's most illustrious pupils, Tintoretto and Paul Veronese.

But Sidney's life was very far from being spent in mere recreation ; how hard he read and studied is abundantly clear from the Languet correspondence. “I do beg you,' writes Languet, 'to take care of your health and see that you do not ruin yourself with over-work. A brain too much taxed cannot live long, and a healthy mind is good for nothing unless lodged in a healthy body. Before he left Italy he was master of Latin, Italian, and French, and anxious also to begin the study of Greek. He had acquainted himself minutely with the history, political as well as social, of the countries through which he had travelled, and had followed closely all that was going on in them. The winter of 1574 he spent with his friend Languet at Vienna. Here too, under the guidance of Pugliano, he made himself an accomplished horseman. On May 31st, 1575, he landed in England.

1575–1583 He now entered on Court and political life. He was at Kenilworth when Queen Elizabeth visited his uncle in

« PreviousContinue »