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SIR PHILIP SIDNEY.*
THIS gallant gentleman, of whom it has been justly said, that he approached more nearly to the idea of a perfect knight than any character of any age or nation,' was born Nov. 29, 1554, at Penshurst f
* AUTHORITIES. Dr. Zouch's Memoirs of Sir Philip Sidney. + From Ben Johnson's description of this place we learn that, though not embellished with works of touch or marble, with polished pillars or a roof of gold, it had better proofs of it's excellency in the fertility of it's soil, the salubrity of it's air, and it's charming scenery of wood and water;
• Thou hast thy walks for health as well as sport,
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made
Beneath the broad beech and the chesnut shade:
That taller tree, which of a nut was set
At His great birth, where all the Muses met. (Forest, ii.)
This oak, to which Waller also alludes, as
-The sacred mark
Of noble Sidney's birth-→→→
in the county of Kent. His handsome and accomplished father, Henry, the only surviving son of Sir William Sidney (Chamberlain and Steward of the Household to Henry VIII.) was, from his infancy, the bosom-friend of Edward VI.; who conferred upon him the honour of knighthood, constituted him Embassador to France, and subsequently promoted him to several appointments near his person. A sadder portion of his destiny it was, to hold his dying prince in his arms, when he exclaimed "I am faint: Lord, have mercy on me, and receive my spirit." In the reign of Queen Mary, through his discreet and cautious conduct, he was honoured with repeated instances of royal favour; being appointed Vice-Treasurer, and General Governor of all the state-revenues in the kingdom of Ireland. As a delicate acknowledgement of her Majesty's kindness, he called his eldest son by her husband's name. But it was reserved for the more auspicious æra of Elizabeth to develop his various talents. In his several capacities of soldier, statesman, Christian, husband, father, and friend-he was, indeed, most exemplary. To Ireland, of which for eleven years he held the deputyship, inhabited as it was by men addicted to violences of every species, and sunk in the deepest ignorance and superstition, he indefatigably laboured to conciliate the blessings of good order. With this view, beside favouring the learned, he first caused the statutes of the realm to be published; thus bringing them out of the shadow into the sunshine, whereas previously they had only
must now however, like the Marian oak (sata ingenio; nullius autem agricolæ cultu stirps tam diuturna quàm poetæ versu seminari potest. Cic. de Legg. I.) live only "in description and look green in song." It was cut down in 1768.
existed in manuscript, scarcely accessible to one in a hundred of those who were subjected to their operation. The simple outline of his plan for meliorating the condition of that distracted country, in his own emphatical words, was, "Your Majesty must plant justice there." He left, in short, to provincial governors an example of moderation, wisdom, and integrity, which has never been surpassed.
Nor was the mother of Sir Philip Sidney (Mary, the eldest daughter of the unfortunate Duke of Northumberland) less illustrious, or less amiable.* Devoting herself in a great degree to the instruction of her children, she had the happiness in their proficiency to find her "exceeding great reward!" To the instances of early eminence † exhibited by Bellarmin, Du Perron, Tasso, Picus Mirandula, Joseph Scaliger, Lipsius, Beza, Melanchthon, Grotius, H. Stephens, and Pascal, may be added the name of Philip Sidney; of whose youth (says his biographer) I will report no other but this, that though I lived with him and knew him from a child, yet I never knew him other than a man: with such a steadiness of mind, lovely and familiar gravity, as carried grace and reverence above greater years. His
*This was, indeed, the age of female excellence. Now flourished Lady Jane Gray, and her sisters; the Princess Elizabeth, the disciple of Ascham; Mary, the learned Countess of Arundel; the two daughters of Sir Antony Cooke; the three sisters Ladies Ann, Margaret, and Jane Seymour; and the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas More, with many others of almost equal endowments.
+ For additional instances see Baillet's Des Enfans devenus celebres, &c.'
Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, (1554-1628), justly pronounced by a very respectable critic, "one of the most extraordinary men of the age."
talk ever of knowledge, and his very play tending to enrich his mind; so as even his teachers found something in him to observe and learn, above that which they had usually read or taught. Which eminence by nature and industry made his worthy father stile him in my hearing (though I unseen) "the bright ornament of his family!"
His father, as Lord President of the Marches of Wales residing at Ludlow Castle, sent his son to school at Shrewsbury; and received from him during his stay at that seminary two letters, one in Latin and the other in French, which produced the following valuable compendium of instruction in reply.*
Sir Henry Sidney to his son Philip Sidney, at school at Shrewsbury, in 1566, then being of the age of twelve years:
'I have received two letters from you, one written in Latin, the other in French; which I take in good part, and will you to exercise that practice of learning often for that will stand you in most stead, in that profession of life that you are born to live in. And since this is my first letter that ever I did write to you, I will not that it be all empty of some advices, which my natural care of you provoketh me to wish you to follow, as documents to you in this your tender age.
* From this letter, of which the original was found among the MSS. at Penshurst, as well as from the parallelisms supplied in Sir Walter Ralegh's Admonitions to his son, and Sir Matthew Hale's Epistles to his children (the whole of the Second of which, Touching Religion,' will be given in the Extracts attached to his Life) young men may learn, that maxims of prudence were not regarded, even by these illustrious characters, as beneath the notice of first-rate genius.
Let your first action be, the lifting up of your mind to Almighty God by hearty prayer; and feelingly digest the words you speak in prayer, with continual meditation and thinking of him to whom you pray, and of the matter for which you pray, and use this at an ordinary hour: whereby the time itself will put you in remembrance to do that, which you are accustomed to do in that time. Apply your study to such hours, as your discreet master doth assign you, earnestly: and the time I know he will so limit, as shall be both sufficient for your learning, and safe for your health. And mark the sense and the matter of that you read, as well as the words. So shall you both enrich your tongue with words, and your wit
In conformity to this excellent rule, Sir Philip to the end of his life retained the deepest tincture of genuine piety.
Every morning and every evening, upon your knees humbly commend yourselves to Almighty God in prayer, begging his mercy to pardon your sins, his grace to direct you, his providence to protect you; returning him humble thanks for all his dispensations toward you, yea even for his corrections and afflic tions; entreating him to give you wisdom and grace to make a sober, patient, humble, profitable use of them, and in his due time to deliver you from them, concluding your prayer with the Lord's Prayer. This will be your certain mean to bring your mind into a right frame, to procure you comfort and blessing, and to prevent thousands of inconveniences and mischiefs, to which you will otherwise be subjected.' (Hale.)
'Serve God; let him be the author of all thy actions; commend all thy endeavours to him, that must either wither or prosper them: please him with prayer, lest if he frown, he confound all thy fortunes and labour. Like the drops of rain on the sandy ground, let my experienced advice and fatherly instructions sink deep into thy heart.' (Ralegh.)
It was the Earl of Strafford's last advice to his only son, the day before he suffered death; " Serve God diligently morning and evening, and recommend yourself unto him, and have him before your eyes in all your ways." (Letters, II. 416.)