Read SIDNEY of Views and Reviews Essays in appreciation , free online book, by William Ernest Henley, on

His Expression of Life.

Sidney’s prime faults are affectation and conceit. His verses drip with fine love-honey; but it has been so clarified in meta-physics that much of its flavour and sweetness has escaped. Very often, too, the conceit embodied is preposterously poor. You have as it were a casket of finest gold elaborately wrought and embellished, and the gem within is a mere spangle of paste, a trumpery spikelet of crystal. No doubt there is a man’s heart beating underneath; but so thick is the envelope of buckram and broidery and velvet through which it has to make itself audible that its pulsations are sometimes hard to count, while to follow it throb by throb is impossible. And if this be true of that Astrophel and Stella series in which the poet outpours the melodious heyday of his youth in which he strives to embody a passion as rich and full as ever stirred man’s blood what shall be said of the Arcadia? In that ’cold pastoral’ he is trying to give breath and substance to as thin and frigid a fashion as has ever afflicted literature; and though he put a great deal of himself into the result, still every one has not the true critical insight, and to most of us, I think, those glimpses of the lofty nature of the writer which make the thing written a thing of worth in the eyes of the few are merely invisible.

His Fame.

In thinking of Sidney, Ophelia’s lament for Hamlet springs to the lips, and the heart reverts to that closing scene at Zutphen with a blessed sadness of admiration and regret. But frankly, is it not a fact that that fine last speech of his has more availed to secure him immortality than all his verse? They call him the English Bayard, and the Frenchman need not be displeasured by the comparison. But when you come to read his poetry you find that our Bayard had in him a strong dash of the pedant and a powerful leaven of the euphuist. Subtle, delicate, refined, with a keen and curious wit, a rare faculty of verse, a singular capacity of expression, an active but not always a true sense of form, he wrote for the few, and (it may be) the few will always love him. But his intellectual life, intense though it were, was lived among shadows and abstractions. He thought deeply, but he neither looked widely nor listened intently, and when all is said he remains no more than a brilliant amorist, too super-subtle for complete sincerity, whose fluency and sweetness have not improved with years.