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An essay by George William Curtis

Sir Philip Sidney

Title:     Sir Philip Sidney
Author: George William Curtis [More Titles by Curtis]

Wearied of the world and saddened by the ruin of his fortunes, the Italian Count Maddalo turned from the street, which rang with tales of disaster and swarmed with melancholy faces, into his palace. Perplexed and anxious, he passed through the stately rooms in which hung the portraits of generations of ancestors. The day was hot; his blood was feverish, but the pictures seemed to him cool and remote in a holy calm. He looked at them earnestly; he remembered the long history of which his fathers were parts, he recalled their valor and their patience, and asked himself whether, after all, their manhood was not their patent of nobility; and stretching out his hands towards them, exclaimed: "Let me feel that I am indeed your son by sharing that manhood which made you noble."

We Americans laugh at ancestors; and if the best of them came back again, we should be as likely to laugh at his wig as listen to his wisdom. And in our evanescent houses and uneasy life we would no more have ancient ranges of family pictures than Arabs in their tents. Yet we are constantly building and visiting the greatest portrait gallery of all in the histories we write and read; and the hour is never lost which we give to it. It may teach a maid humility to know that her mother was fairer. It may make a youth more modest to know that his grandsire was braver. For if the pictures of history show us that deformity is as old as grace, and that virtue was always martyred, they also show that crime, however prosperous for a time, is at last disastrous, and that there can be no permanent peace without justice and freedom.

Those pictures teach us also that character is inherited like name and treasure, and that all of us may have famous or infamous ancestors perhaps without knowing it. The melancholy poet, eating his own heart out in a city garret, is the child of Tasso. Grinding Ralph Nickleby, the usurer, is Shylock's grandson. The unjust judge, who declares that some men have no rights which others are bound to respect, is a later Jeffries on his bloody assizes, or dooming Algernon Sidney to the block once more for loving liberty; while he whose dull heart among the new duties of another time is never quickened with public spirit, and who as a citizen aims only at his own selfish advantage, is a later Benedict Arnold whom every generous heart despises.

From this lineage of character arises this great convenience--that as it is bad manners to criticise our neighbors by name, we may hit them many a sly rap over the shoulders of their ancestors who wore turbans, or helmets, or bagwigs, and lived long ago in other countries. The Church especially finds great comfort in this resource, and the backs of the whole Hebrew race must be sore with the scorings they get for the sins of Christian congregations. The timid Peter, the foolish Virgins, the wicked Herod, are pilloried every Sunday in the pulpit, to the great satisfaction of the Peters, Virgins, and Herods dozing in the pews. But when some ardent preacher, heading out of his metaphors, and jumping from Judea and the first century into the United States and the nineteenth, disturbs Peter's enjoyment of his ancestor's castigation by saying vehemently to his face with all the lightning of the law in his eye, and its thunders in his voice, "Thou art the man!" Peter recoils with decorous horror, begs his pastor to remember that he and Herod are sheep who were to be led by still waters; warns him not to bring politics into the pulpit, to talk not of living people, but of old pictures. So the poor shepherd is driven back to his pictures, and cudgels Peter once more from behind a metaphor.

But the fairest use of these old pictures is to make us feel our common humanity, and to discover that what seems to us a hopelessly romantic ideal of character is a familiar fact of every day. Heroism is always the same, however the fashion of a hero's clothes may alter. Every hero in history is as near to a man as his neighbor, and if we should tell the simple truth of some of our neighbors, it would sound like poetry. Sir Philip Sidney wore doublet and hose, and died in Flanders three hundred years ago. His name is the synonym of manly honor, of generous scholarship, of the finest nobility, of the spiritual light that most irradiates human nature. Look at his portrait closely; it is no stranger that you see; it is no far-off Englishman. It is your friend, your son, your brother, your lover. Whoever knew Wendell Phillips knew Philip Sidney. It is the same spirit in a thousand forms; a perpetual presence, a constant benediction: Look at his portrait and

"The night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away."

The gray walls, the red and peaked roof of the old house of Penshurst, stand in the pleasant English valley of the Medway, in soft and showery Kent. Kent is all garden, and there, in November, 1554, Philip Sidney was born. His father, Sir Henry Sidney, was a wise and honest man. Bred at court, his sturdy honor was never corrupted. King Edward died in his arms, and Queen Mary confirmed all his honors and offices three weeks before the birth of his oldest son, whom, in gratitude, he named Philip, for the queen's new Spanish husband. Philip's mother was Mary Dudley, daughter of the Duke of Northumberland, sister of the famous Earl of Leicester, sister also of Lord Guildford Dudley and sister-in-law of Lady Jane Grey. The little Philip was born into a sad household. Within fifteen months his grandfather and uncle had been beheaded for treason; and his sorrowing mother, a truly noble and tender woman, had been the victim of small-pox, and hid her grieving heart and poor scarred face in the silence and seclusion of Penshurst. On the south side of the house was the old garden or plaisance, sloping down to the Medway, where, in those English summers of three hundred years ago, when the cruel fires of Mary were busily burning at Smithfield, the lovely boy Philip, fair-featured, with a high forehead and ruddy brown hair, almost red--the same color as that of his nephew Algernon-- walked with his shy mother, picking daisies and chasing butterflies, and calling to her in a soft, musical voice; while within the house the grave father, when he was not away in Wales, of which he was lord- president, mused upon great events that were stirring in Europe--the abdication of Charles V., the fall of Calais, and the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne of England. The lordly banqueting-hall, in which the politics of three centuries ago were discussed at Penshurst, is still standing. You may still sit upon the wooden benches where Burleigh, Spenser, Ben Jonson, James I., and his son Prince Charles have sat, and where, a little later, the victim of Prince Charles's cruel son, Algernon Sidney, dreamed of noble manhood and went forth a noble man; while in those shady avenues of beech and oak outside, smooth Edmund Waller bowed and smirked, and sighed compliments to his Sacharissa, as he called Dorothy Sidney, Algernon's sister.

At the age of eleven Master Sidney was put to school at Shrewsbury, on the borders of Wales, of which country his father was lord-president. His fond friend, Fulke Greville, who was here at school with him, and afterwards wrote his life, says that even the masters found something in him to observe and learn. Study probably cost him little effort and few tears. We may be sure he stood at the head of his class, and was a grave, good boy--not good as calves and blanc-mange are, but like wine and oak saplings. "My little Philip," as his mother tenderly calls him, was no Miss Nancy. When he was older he wrote to his brother Robert, then upon his travels, that "if there were any good wars he should go to them". So, at Shrewsbury he doubtless went to all the good wars among his school-mates, while during the short intervals of peace he mastered his humanities, and at last, when not yet fifteen years old, he was entered at Christ Church, Oxford.

Great good-fortune is the most searching test of character. If a man have fine friends, fine family, fine talents, and fine prospects, they are very likely to be the sirens in whose sweet singing he forgets everything but the pleasure of listening to it. If most of us had come of famous ancestry--if our father were a vice-regal governor--if the sovereign's favorite were our uncle, who intended us for his heir--if a marriage were proposed with the beautiful daughter of the prime-minister, and we were ourselves young, handsome, and accomplished--and all this were three hundred years ago, before the rights of men and the dignity of labor had been much discussed, we should probably have come up to Oxford, of which our famous uncle was chancellor, in a state of what would be called at Oxford to-day extreme bumptiousness. But Philip Sidney was too true a gentleman not to be a simple-hearted man; and although he was even then one of the most accomplished as well as fortunate youths in England, he writes to Lord Burleigh to confess with "heavy grief" that in scholarship he can neither satisfy Burleigh's expectation nor his own desire.

In the month of May, 1572, Philip Sidney left Oxford, and after staying a short time with his parents, following the fashion of young gentlemen of rank, he crossed over into France in the train of the Earl of Lincoln, who was Queen Elizabeth's extraordinary ambassador upon the subject of her marriage with the brother of Charles IX. of France. The young king immediately made Sidney a gentleman of the bedchamber, and Henry of Navarre found him a fit companion for a future king. The Paris that Sidney saw had then twice as many inhabitants as Boston has to-day. Montaigne called it the most beautiful city in the world, and it had a delusive air of peace. But the witch Catherine de' Medici sat in the smooth-tongued court like a spider in its web, spinning and spinning the meshes in which the hope of liberty was to be entangled. The gay city filled and glittered with the wedding guests of Henry and the king's sister Margaret--among others, the hero of St. Quentin,

Admiral Coligny. Gayer and gayer grew the city--smoother and smoother the court--faster and faster spun the black Italian spider--until on the 23d of August, the Eve of St. Bartholomew, the bloodiest deed in all the red annals of that metropolis was done, and the young Sidney looked shuddering from Walsingham House upon the streets reeking with the blood of his fellow Huguenots.

That night made Philip Sidney a man. He heard the applause of the Romish party ring through Europe--he heard the commendation of Philip of Spain--he knew that the most eloquent orator of the Church, Muretus, had congratulated the pope upon this signal victory of the truth. He knew that medals were stamped in commemoration of the brutal massacre, and he remembered that the same spirit that had struck at the gray head of Coligny had also murdered Egmont and Home in the Netherlands; had calmly gazed in the person of Philip upon De Sezo perishing in the fire, and by the hand of Philip had denounced death against all who wrote, sold, or read Protestant books; and he knew that the same spirit, in the most thriving and intelligent country of Europe, the Netherlands, was blotting out prosperity in blood, and had driven at least a hundred thousand exiles into England.

Pondering these things, Sidney left Paris, and at Frankfort met Hubert Languet. Languet was not only a Protestant, but, at heart, a Republican. He was the friend of Melanethon and of William of Orange, in whose service he died. One of the most accomplished scholars and shrewdest statesmen in Europe, honored and trusted by all the Protestant leaders, this wise man of fifty-four was so enamoured of the English youth of eighteen that they became life-long friends with the ardor of lovers, and Languet left his employment, as Fulke Greville says, "to become a nurse of knowledge to this hopeful young gentleman".

As they travelled by easy stages across Germany, where the campaign of Protestantism had begun, they knew that the decisive battle was yet to be fought. Europe was silent. The tumult of Charles V.'s reign was over, and that great monarch marched and countermarched no more from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. Charles had been victorious so long as he fought kings with words of steel. But the monk Martin Luther drew the sword of the spirit, and the conqueror quailed. Luther challenged the Church of Rome at its own door. The Vatican rained anathemas. It might as well have tried to blow out the stars; and all the fires of the furious popes who followed Leo were not sharp enough to consume the colossal heresy of free thought. But king and emperor and pope fed the fire. The reign of terror blasted the Netherlands, and when it had succeeded there, when Italy, Austria, and Holland surrounded the states of Germany, Philip knew it would be the smothering coil of the serpent around the cradle of religious liberty. But the young Hercules of free thought throttled the serpent, and leaped forth to win his victorious and immortal race.

We can see it now, but Sidney could not know it. To him the future was as inscrutable as our own to the eyes of thirty years ago. Yet he and Languet must have discussed the time with curious earnestness as they passed through Germany until they reached Vienna. There Sidney devoted himself to knightly games, to tennis, to music, and especially to horsemanship, which he studied with Pagliono, who, in praise of the horse, became such a poet that in the _Defence of Poesy_ Sidney says that if he had not been a piece of a logician before he came to him, Pagliono would have persuaded him to wish himself a horse.

At Vienna Philip parted with Languet, and arrived in Venice in the year 1573. The great modern days of Italy were passed. The golden age of the Medici was gone. Lorenzo the Magnificent had died nearly a century before, in the same year that Columbus had discovered America. His son, Pope Leo X., had eaten his last ortolan, had flown his last falcon, had listened to his last comedy, and hummed his last tune, in the frescoed corridors of the Vatican. Upon its shining walls the fatal finger of Martin Luther, stretching out of Germany, had written "Mene, Mene." Beneath the terrible spell the walls were cracking and the earth was shaking, but the splendid pope, in his scarlet cloud of cardinals, saw only the wild beauty of Raphael's Madonnas and the pleasant pages of the recovered literature of pagan Greece. When Sidney stepped for the first time into his gondola at Venice, the famous Italian cathedrals and stately palaces were already built, and the great architects were gone. Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, who had created Italian literature, lived about as long before Sidney as we live after him. Cimabue and Giotto had begun; Raphael and Michel Angelo had perfected that art in which they have had no rivals--and they were gone. Andrea Doria steered the galleys of Genoa no more, and since the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope and the West Indies, the spices of the Indian sea were brought by Portuguese ships into the Baltic instead of the Adriatic. The glory of the Lombards, who were the first merchants of Europe, had passed away to the descendants of their old correspondents of Bruges and Ghent, until, with its five hundred ships daily coming and going, and on market days eight and nine hundred; with its two thousand heavy wagons creaking every week through the gates from France and Germany and Lorraine, Antwerp reigned in the place of Venice, and the long twilight that has never been broken was settling upon the Italy that Sidney saw.

But the soft splendor of its decline was worthy its prime. The universities of Bologna and Padua, of Salerno and Pisa, had fallen from the days when at Bologna alone there were twenty thousand students; but they were still thronged with pupils, and taught by renowned professors. When the young Sidney came to Venice, Titian was just tottering into the grave, nearly a hundred years old, but still holding the pencil which Charles V. had picked up and handed to him in his studio. Galileo was a youth of twenty, studying mathematics at Pisa. The melancholy Tasso was completing his _Jerusalem Delivered_ under the cypress trees of the Villa d'Este. Palestrina was composing the masses which reformed church music, and the Christian charity of Charles Borromeo was making him a saint before he was canonized. Clad in the silk and velvet of Genoa, the young Englishman went to study geometry at Padua, where twenty years later Galileo would have been his teacher, and Sidney writes to Languet that he was perplexed whether to sit to Paul Veronese or to Tintoretto for his portrait.

But he had a shrewd eye for the follies of travellers, and speaks of their tendency to come home "full of disguisements not only of apparel but of our countenances, as though the credit of a traveller stood all upon his outside". He then adds a curious prophecy, which Shakespeare made haste to fulfil to the very letter. Sidney says, writing in 1578, "I think, ere it be long, like the mountebanks in Italy, we travellers shall be made sport of in comedies." Twenty years afterwards, Shakespeare makes Rosalind say in "As You Like It", "Farewell, Monsieur Traveller. Look you; lisp, and wear strange suits. Disable all the benefits of your own country. Be out of love with your nativity, and almost chide God for making you that countenance you are, or I will scarce think you have swam in a gondola."

But in all the gayeties and graces of his travel, Philip Sidney was not content to be merely an elegant lounger. He never forgot for a moment that all his gifts and accomplishments were only weapons to be kept burnished for his country's service. He was a boy of twenty, but his boy's warmth was tempered by the man's wisdom. "You are not over cheerful by nature," Languet writes to him; and when Sidney sat to Paul Veronese, and sent his friend the portrait, Languet replies: "The painter has represented you sad and thoughtful."

He had reason to be so. He had seen the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, as many a young Sidney among ourselves saw the horrors of Kansas thirty years ago. He did not believe that a little timely patting on the back was statesmanship. If Spain were crushing the Netherlands, and hung upon the southern horizon of Europe a black and threatening cloud, he did not believe that the danger would be averted by gagging those who said the storm was coming. He did not hold the thermometer responsible for the weather. "I cannot think," he wrote in May, 1574, "there is any man possessed of common understanding who does not see to what these rough storms are driving by which all Christendom has been agitated now these many years." He did not suppose, as so many of us in our ignoble days, that while men were the same, the tragical differences which had been washed out with blood in all other ages could be drowned in milk and water in his own.

In 1575 Sidney returned to England. Every author who writes of this period breaks out into the most glowing praises of him. Indeed, he is the choice darling of English history. The only discordant note in the chorus of praise came long afterwards in the voice of the pedantic dandy Horace Walpole, who called Goldsmith "an inspired idiot". This is not surprising, for the earnestness and heroic simplicity of Sidney were as incomprehensible to the affected trifler of Strawberry Hill as the fresh enthusiasm of his nephew Arthur to Major Pendennis. The Earl of Leicester, who seemed to love his nephew more than anything except his own ambition, presented his brilliant young relative to the queen, who made him her cup-bearer. Sidney was now twenty-one years old--the finest gentleman, and one of the most accomplished scholars in England. His learning was mainly in the classics and in languages; yet he confesses that he could never learn German, which was then hardly worth learning, and in his correspondence with Languet is very distrustful of the Latin, in which language they wrote. But in urging him to grapple with the German, Languet says to him, and it is a striking proof of the exquisite finish of Sidney's accomplishment, "I have watched you closely when speaking my own language (he was a Burgundian), but I hardly ever detected you pronouncing a single syllable wrongly."

In Sidney's time the classics had few rivals. After reading Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Boccaccio, with Sanazzaro's _Arcadia_, in Italian; Rabelais, Froissart, and Comines, in French; Chaucer, Gower, and the _Mirror for Magistrates_ in English, what remained for an ardent young student to devour? When Sidney came home, Montaigne--whom he probably saw at the French court--was just writing his _Essays_ at his chateau in the Gironde. The Portuguese Camoens had only just published his great poem, to which his own country would not listen, and of which no other had heard. The Italian Tasso's _Jerusalem_ was still in manuscript, and the Spanish Ponce de Leon was little known to Europe. All was yet to come. In Spain, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon; in France, Corneille and Racine and Moliere, Fenelon and Bossuet, Rousseau and Voltaire; in Germany, everything except the Niebelungen and Hans Sachs's rhymes. When Philip Sidney kissed Elizabeth's hand as her cup-bearer, William Shakespeare, a boy of eleven, was grinding out his trousers on the restless seats of the free grammar-school at Stratford; young Francis Bacon, a youth of sixteen, was studying in France; a poor scholar at Cambridge, Edmund Spenser was just finishing his studies, and the younger brother of an old Devonshire family, Walter Raleigh, had just returned from campaigning in France; indeed, all the literature of modern times was subsequent to Philip Sidney. The young man shone at court, fascinating men and women, courtiers, scholars, and divines; and in a few months was made special ambassador to condole with the Austrian emperor upon the death of his father. Upon this embassy he departed in great state. His mission, was supposed to be purely complimentary; but he was really the beautiful eye with which England and Elizabeth, becoming the head of the Protestant movement, watched the disposition of the Protestant princes. On his way home, Sidney passed into the Low Countries to see William of Orange. He came, resplendent with chivalric magnificence, accompanied by the flower of English nobility, and met the grave William, who had been the richest citizen in the Netherlands, clad in an old serge cloak, and surrounded by plain Dutch burghers. But it was a meeting of men of one mind and heart in the great cause, and neither was disturbed by the tailoring of the other. The interview was the beginning of a faithful friendship, and among all the compliments Sidney received, none is so lofty and touching as that of William, the greatest man in Europe, who called him in their correspondence, "Philip, my master."

In 1577 Sidney was home again. He had a right to expect conspicuous advancement, but he got nothing. This was the more disagreeable, because living at Elizabeth's court was an expensive luxury for a poor gentleman's son who had magnificent tastes. His father, Lord Henry Sidney, was lord-deputy of Ireland, but he was also an honest man, and, like most honest men in high public office, he was not rich. He wrote to Philip, begging him to remember whose son, not whose nephew, he was; for Philip's companions, the golden youth of the court, blazed in silks and velvets and jewels, until the government had to impose laws, as the subjects had brought luxury from Venice, and Elizabeth, who died the happy owner of three thousand dresses, issued a solemn proclamation against extravagance in dress.

At such a time, the brilliant nephew of Uncle Leicester would have been a quickly ruined man if he had not been Philip Sidney. He bowed and flirted at court, but he chafed under inaction. A marriage was planned for him with Penelope Devereux, sister of the famous Earl of Essex, one of the thousand fair and unfortunate women who flit across the page of history leaving only a name, and that written in tears. But Philip's father grew cool in the negotiation, and Philip himself was perfectly passive. Yet when a few years afterwards the lady vas married to Lord Rich, who abused her, Sidney loved her, and wrote the sonnets to Stella, which are his best poetry, and which Charles Lamb so affectionately praised.

But while he loitered at court, beating all the courtiers with their own weapons in wit, in riding, in games, at tournament, the tales of American discovery shed a wondrous glamour upon the new continent. Nothing was too beautiful for belief, and the fiery feet of youth burned the English soil with eagerness to tread the unutterable Tropics. Francis Drake sailed from Plymouth to follow Magellan around the world, and he went in a manner consonant with the popular fancy of the countless riches that rewarded such adventures. His cooking-vessels were of silver; his table-plate of exquisite workmanship. The queen knighted him, gave him a sword, and said, "Whoever striketh at you, Drake, striketh at us." A band of musicians accompanied the fleet, and the English sailor went to circumnavigate the globe with the same nonchalant magnificence with which in other days the gorgeous Alcibiades, with flutes and soft recorders blowing under silken sails, came idling home from victory.

Philip Sidney, his heart alive to all romance, and longing to be his companion, saw him sail away. But he turned and saw the black Italian spider, whose sting he had seen on Bartholomew's Eve in Paris, still weaving her stealthy web, and seeking to entangle Elizabeth into a match with the Duke of Anjou. The queen was forty-six, and Mounseer, as the English called him, twenty-three; and while she was coaxing herself to say the most fatal yes that ever woman said--when Burleigh, Leicester, Walsingham, all the safe, sound, conservative old gentlemen and counsellors were just ceasing to dissuade her--Philip Sidney, a youth of twenty-five, who knew that he had a country as well as a queen, that the hope of that country lay in the triumph of Protestantism, and that to marry Mounseer was to abandon that hope, and for the time betray mankind--Philip Sidney, a youth who did not believe that he could write gravely of sober things because he had written gayly of ladies' eyebrows, knowing as the true-hearted gentleman always knows that to-day it may be a man's turn to sit at a desk in an office, or bend over a book in college, or fashion a horseshoe at the forge, or toss flowers to some beauty at her window, and to-morrow to stand firm against a cruel church or a despotic court, a brutal snob or an ignorant public opinion--this youth, this immortal gentleman, wrote the letter which dissuaded her from the marriage, and which was as noble a triumph for Protestantism and human liberty as the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

I cannot follow this lovely life in detail, nor linger, as I would, upon his literary retirement.

The very name of Sidney's _Arcadia_ is aromatic in the imagination, and its traditional place in our literature is unquestioned. In our day it is very little read, nor is it a very interesting story. But under its quaint and courtly conceit its tone is so pure and lofty, its courtesy and appreciation of women so hearty and honorable; it has so fine a moral atmosphere, such noble thoughts, such stately and beautiful descriptions, that to read it is like conversing with a hero. So there is no better reading than the _Defence of Poesy_, that noble hymn of loyalty to intellectual beauty. Hallam well calls Sidney "the first good prose writer" in our language, and scarcely had he finished in his _Defence_ an exquisite criticism of English poetry to that time than the full choir of Elizabethan poets burst into

"the songs that fill
The spacious times of great Elizabeth
With sounds that echo still."

In 1582 Philip Sidney married the daughter of Walsingham, but in his retirement, whether steadfastly watching the great struggle upon the Continent or listening to the alluring music of far-off seas, he knew that the choice days of his life were passing, and if a career were not opened for him by the queen, he must make one for himself. William of Orange had been murdered; Elizabeth promptly succeeded him as the active head of the Protestant world; Philip of Spain was the great enemy. Strike him at home, said Sidney; strike him at sea, but strike him everywhere; and he arranged with Drake a descent upon Spanish America. He hurried privately to Plymouth to embark, but at the last moment a peer of the realm arrived from the queen forbidding his departure. The loyal gentleman bowed and obeyed.

But two months after his fleet sailed, on the 7th of November, 1585 (about the time that William Shakespeare first came to London), Elizabeth appointed Sidney governor of Flushing, in the Netherlands. He went thither gladly on the 18th, with three thousand men, to strike for the cause in which he believed. He had already told the queen that the spirit of the Netherlands was the spirit of God, and was invincible. His uncle, the Earl of Leicester, followed him as commander-in-chief. The earl was handsome at tournaments, but not fit for battle-fields, and Sidney was annoyed by his uncle's conduct; but he writes to his father-in-law, Walsingham, in a strain full of the music of a noble soul, and fitly precluding his end: "I think a wise and constant man ought never to grieve while he doth play, as a man may say, his own part truly."

For that he was always ready. In the misty dawn of the 22d of September, 1586, a force of three thousand Spaniards stole silently along to the relief of Zutphen, on the river Isel. Sidney, at the head of five hundred cavalry, rode forward to meet them. In the obscurity the battle was sharp and confused. Seeing his friend Lord Willoughby in special danger, Sidney spurred to the rescue. His horse was shot under him and fell. Springing upon another, he dashed forward again and succored his friend, but at the instant a shot struck him below the knee, glancing upward. His furious horse became unmanageable, and Sir Philip was obliged to leave the field. But as he passed slowly along to the rear of the soldiers, he felt faint with bleeding, and called for water. A cup was brought to him, but as he was lifting it to his month he saw a dying soldier staring at it with burning eyes. Philip Sidney paused before tasting it, leaned from the saddle, and handed it to the soldier, saying to him in the same soft, musical voice with which the boy called to his mother in the sunny garden at Penshurst, "Friend, thy necessity is yet greater than mine."

He was borne on to Araheim, and lived in suffering for twenty-six days. He conversed pleasantly and called for music, and said at last to his brother, whom he had loved as brothers seldom love: "Love my memory; cherish my friends. Their faith to me may assure you they are honest. But, above all, govern your will and affections by the will and word of your Creator, in me beholding the end of this world with all her vanities." "And so," says old Stowe, with fond particularity, "he died, the 17th day of October, between two and three of the clock in the afternoon."

"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

This is the story of Philip Sidney. A letter, a book, a battle. How little to justify his unique fame! How invisible his performance among the illustrious events of his prodigious age! Yet is not the instinct of the human heart true; and in the stately society of his time, if Bacon were the philosopher, Shakespeare the poet, Burleigh the counsellor, Raleigh the soldier, Drake the sailor, Hooker the theologian, Essex the courtier, and Gresham the merchant, was not Philip Sidney as distinctively the gentleman? Heroes stood beside him in clusters, poets in constellations; all the illustrious men of the age achieved more tangible results than he, yet none of them has carved his name upon history more permanently and with a more diamond point; for he had that happy harmony of mind and temper, of enthusiasm and good sense, of accomplishment and capacity, which is described by that most exquisite and most abused word, gentleman. His guitar hung by a ribbon at his side, but his sword hung upon leather beneath it. His knee bent gallantly to the queen, but it knelt reverently also to his Maker. And it was the crown of the gentleman that he was neither ashamed of the guitar nor of the sword; neither of the loyalty nor the prayer. For a gentleman is not an idler, a trifler, a dandy; he is not a scholar only, a soldier, a mechanic, a merchant; he is the flower of men, in whom the accomplishment of the scholar, the bravery of the soldier, the skill of the mechanic, the sagacity of the merchant, all have their part and appreciation. A sense of duty is his main-spring, and like a watch crusted with precious stones, his function is not to look prettily, but to tell the time of day. Philip Sidney was not a gentleman because his grandfather was the Duke of Northumberland and his father lord-deputy of Ireland, but because he was himself generous, simple, truthful, noble, refined. He was born with a gold spoon in his mouth, but the gold is only the test. In the mouths of the base it becomes brass and iron. George IV., called with bitter irony the first gentleman in Europe, was born with the gold spoon, but his acrid humors turned it to the basest metal, betraying his mean soul. George Stephenson was born with the pewter spoon in his mouth, but the true temper of his soul turned it into pure gold. The test of a gentleman is his use, not his uselessness; whether that use be direct or indirect, whether it be actual service or only inspiring and aiding action. "To what purpose should our thoughts be directed to various kinds of knowledge," wrote Philip Sidney in 1578, "unless room be afforded for putting it into practice so that public advantage may be the result?" And Algernon Sidney said, nearly a century later: "I have ever had it in my mind that when God cast me into such a condition as that I cannot save my life but by doing an indecent thing, he shows me the time has come wherein I should resign it." And when that time came he did resign it; for every gentleman instinctively serves justice and liberty. He feels himself personally disgraced by an insult to humanity, for he, too, is only a man; and however stately his house may be and murmurous with music, however glowing with pictures and graceful with statues and reverend with books--however his horses may out-trot other horses, and his yachts outsail all yachts--the gentleman is king and master of these and not their servant; he wears them for ornament, like the ring upon his finger or the flower in his button-hole, and if they go the gentleman remains. He knows that all their worth came from human genius and human training; and loving man more than the works of man, he instinctively shuns whatever in the shape of man is degraded, outraged, and forsaken. He does not make the poverty of others the reason for robbing them; he does not make the oppression of others the reason for oppressing them, for his gentility is his religion; and therefore with simple truth and tender audacity the old English dramatist Dekkar calls Him who gave the name to our religion, and who destroyed the plea that might makes right, "the first true gentleman, that ever breathed".

But not only is Philip Sidney's story the poem of a gentleman, it is that of a young man. It was the age of young men. No man was thought flippant, whatever his years, who could say a good thing well, or do a brave thing successfully, or give the right advice at the right moment. The great men of the day were all young. At sixteen Bacon had already sketched his _Philosophy_. At seventeen Walter Raleigh had gone to find some good wars. At seventeen Edmund Spenser had first published. Before he was twenty, Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, and the greatest general of Sidney's time, had revealed his masterly genius. At twenty-one Don John of Austria had been commander-in-chief against the Moors. The Prince of Conde and Henry of Navarre were leaders while they were yet boys. At twenty Francis Drake sailed, a captain, with John Hawkins; and at twenty-one the Washington of European history, to whom an American has for the first time paid just homage with an enthusiasm and eloquence of Sidney describing his friend--at twenty-one William of Orange commanded an army of Charles V.

When England wanted leaders in those tremendous days that shaped her destiny, it did just what America did in those recent perilous hours that determined hers--she sent young men with faith in their hearts and fire in their veins--not old men with feathers in their hats; and everywhere it is the young men who have made history. At thirty-two Alexander wept for another world to conquer. On his thirty-seventh birthday Raphael lay dead beneath his last picture. At thirty-six Mozart had sung his swan-song. At twenty-five Hannibal was commander-in-chief of the Carthaginian armies. At thirty-three Turenne was marshal of France. At twenty-seven Bonaparte was triumphant in Italy. At forty-five Wellington had conquered Bonaparte, and at forty-eight retired from active military service. At forty-three Washington was chief of the Continental army. On his forty-fifth birthday Sherman was piercing the heart of the American Rebellion; and before he was forty-three Grant had "fought it out on this line" to perfect victory. Young men! Of course they were young men. Youth is the main-spring of the world. The experience of age is wise in action only when it is electrified by the enthusiasm of youth. Show me a land in which the young men are cold and sceptical and prematurely wise; which in polite indifference is called political wisdom, contempt for ideas common-sense, and honesty in politics Sunday-school statesmanship--show me a land in which the young men are more anxious about doing well than about doing right--and I will show you a country in which public corruption and ruin overtakes private infidelity and cowardice, and in which, if there were originally a hope for mankind, a faith in principle, and a conquering enthusiasm, that faith, hope, and enthusiasm are expiring like the deserted camp-fires of a retiring army. "Woe to a man when his heart grows old! Woe to a nation when its young men shuffle in the gouty shoes and limp on the untimely crutches of age, instead of leaping along the course of life with the jubilant spring of their years and the sturdy play of their own muscles!" Sir Philip Sidney's was the age of young men: and wherever there are self-reliance, universal human sympathy, and confidence in God, there is the age of youth and national triumph; just as whenever Joan of Arc leads the army, or Molly Stark dares to be a widow, or Rosa Bonheur paints, or Hattie Hosmer carves, or Jenny Lind sings, or Mrs. Patten steers the wrecked ship to port, or Florence Nightingale walks the midnight hospital--these are the age and the sphere of woman. Queen Elizabeth's was the age of young men; but so it is always when there are young men who can make an age.

And ours is such an age. We live in a country which has been saved by its young men. Before us opens a future which is to be secured by the young men. I have not held up Sir Philip Sidney as a reproach, but only for his brothers to admire--only that we may scatter the glamour of the past and of history, and understand that we do not live in the lees of time and the world's decrepitude. There is no country so fair that ours is not fairer; there is no age so heroic that ours is not as noble; there is no youth in history so romantic and beloved that in a thousand American homes you may not find his peer to-day. It is the Sidneys we have known who interpret this Philip of three hundred years ago. Dear, noble gentleman! he does not move alone in our imaginations, for our own memories supply his splendid society. We too have seen, how often and how often, the bitter fight of the misty morning on the Isel --the ringing charge, the fatal fall. A thousand times we saw the same true Sidney heart that, dying, gave the cup of cold water to a fellow-soldier. And we, for whom the Sidneys died, let us thank God for showing us in our own experience, as in history, that the noblest traits of human character are still spanned by the rainbow of perfect beauty; and that human love and faith and fidelity, like day and night, like seed-time and harvest, shall never, never fail.

[The end]
George William Curtis's essay: Longfellow