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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 terrene original, and whose pure flame of affection appears rather to have been kindled at the sacrifice or the altar, than at the grosser fires of love. In short, his 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 genius extant, 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 extacy.” 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 amongst the great masters of the human mind must depend for its allowance. Like all other works of genius, it is irregularly and unequally written, diversified by occasional risings and falls, ascents to grandeur and sinkings to littleness : yet, from beginning to end, there is perceptible an air of gentle pensiveness, and of melancholy yet not gloomy moralization, which diffuses over all his work a seductive charm, and is always fascinating, from the train of mind which it brings along with it.The Arcadia is a mixture of what has been called the
heroic and the pastoral romance: it is interspersed with interludes and episodes, which, it must be acknowledged, rather encumber
than aid the effect of the work itself: the main story is worked out with much skill ; though interwoven, it is lucid and perspicuous; and, though intricate, it is far from being perplexed. From a chasm which occurs in the third book, the
of the story is not perfectly deduced to the end : this defect has been supplied by two different continuators: it, probably, arose from the difficulty the author experienced of filling up the vacancy to his satisfaction. This romance was written only for the amusement of his sister, Mary, the Countess of Pembroke, and never intended by the author for the public view : it is even said, that one of his last requests, on his death-bed, was, that it should never be published. Be this as it may, no one who has read the work will be inclined to treat with severity the violators of his injunction: and those who can praise the preservers of the Æneid may readily excuse the non-compliance with Sir Philip Sidney's demand. Were the fastidious nicety and scrupulous exactness of authors, in this respect, to be, allowed, the richest treasures of the mind would like the ring of the tyrant, be prodigally and lavishly.cast away, and more would be lost in the pursuit of perfection, than perfection itself could compensate for.
We will now give a short outline of the story, without regarding the various incidental episodes which connect themselves with it.
Musidorus and Pyrocles, the two heroes of the romance, united together in a strict league of friendship, set forth in quest of adventures, and after signalizing their valour in several courageous exploits, and killing the customary quantum of giants and monsters, set sail with
a fleet to join Euarchus, King of Macedon, the uncle of Musidorus and father of Pyrocles, then waging war at Byzantium; who, having relinquished the care of the two princes to his sister, the wife of Dorilaus, Prince of Thessaly, was become impatient to behold them who had been so long estranged from him, and of whose actions and promise the voice of Fame had spoken so loudly. Delayed by many accidents, and after encountering many perils, they are at last obliged, by a fire breaking out in the ship in which they are sailing, to commit themselves to the mercy of the waves, by which they are separated, and Musidorus is carried to the shore of Laconia in an insensible condition. Here he is seen by two shepherds, who use all their endeavours to restore animation and bring him to life again, in which, at length, they succeed. His first inquiry and consideration, when recovered, is after his friend Pyrocles; and though with little hopes of rescuing him from the watery grave, from which himself had so narrowly escaped, Musidorus immediately procures a boat, and ventures forth again upon the sea. He has not proceeded far before he
meets with the wreck of the almost consumed ship, and
upon the mast they saw a young man (at least if he were a man) bearing shew of about eighteene yeares of age, who sate (as on horsebacke) having nothing upon him but his shirt, which, being wrought with blue silke and gold, had a kind of resemblance to the sea : on which the sun (then neer his western home) did shoot some of his beams. His hair (which the young men of Greece used to weare very long) was stirred up and down with the wind, which seemed to have a sport to play with it, as the sea had to kisse his feet; himselfe, full of admirable beauty, set forth by the strangenesse both of his seat and gesture : for, holding his head up full of unmoved majestie, he held a sword aloft with his faire arme, which often he waved about his crowne, as though he would threaten the world in that extremity.”—p. 4.
This, as our readers will conceive, is the object of his search, his friend Pyrocles, who greets Musidorus with all the transports of affection and joy. Before, however, they have approached sufficiently near to Pyrocles, to give him any assistance, the vessel of a pirate appears in sight, and the master of the boat, fearing an engagement, immediately sets sail back again to the shore, notwithstanding all the entreaties and adjurations of Musidorus, who is thus obliged to return disconsolate, without accomplishing the rescue of his friend. 'On his arrival to the shore, the shepherds offer to conduct him to the house of Kalander, a wealthy and hospitable inhabitant of Arcadia ; and Musidorus, sorrowful and heavy-hearted in his apprehensions for the fate of Pyrocles, puts himself under their guidance, reckless and not caring whither they may carry him. As they enter into Arcadia, its beautiful appearance strikes the eyes of Musidorus.
“ There were hils which garnished their proud heights with stately trees : humble vallies, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of silver rivers: medowes, enamelled with all sorts of eiepleasing Powers : thickets, which being lined with most pleasant shade were witnessed so too, by the cheerfull disposition of many well-tuned birds ; each pasture stored with sheep, feeding with sober security, while the pretty lambs with bleating oratory craved the dammes' comfort: here a shepheard's boy piping, as though hee should never be old; there a yong shepheardesse knitting, and withall singing, and it seemed that her voyce comforted her hands to worke, and her hands kept time to her voice-musick.”—p. 6.
Upon their arrival at the house of Kalander, he receives Musidorus with great hospitality and kindness, and endeavours to remove the melancholy which he perceives in his guest by every exertion in his power. His own peace of mind is shortly afterwards disturbed, by the intelligence that Clitiphon, his son, has been taken prisoner by the Helots, a people conquered by the Lacedemonians, but who had rebelled from them, and who, exasperated with Clitiphon for joining the forces against them, were daily expected to put him to a cruel death. Musidorus, being made acquainted with this circumstance, compassionating the deep distress and affection of his benevolent host, and in order to repay the good offices he had received, takes the command of a force raised for the rescue of Clitiphon, and surprises the Helots, unprepared for his coming, by a sudden attack. They, however, desperate and determined, make a resolute resistance, encouraged by the example of their captain, who performs prodigies of valour. Between him and Musidorus ensues a combat,
" which was so much inferiour to the battaile in noise and number, as it was surpassing it in bravery of fighting, and (as it were) delightful terribleness. Their courage was guided with skill, and their skill was armed with courage; neither did their hardinesse darken their wit, nor their wit coole their hardinesse : both valiant, as men despising death ; both confident, as unwonted to be overcome'; yet doubtfull by their present feeling, and respectfull by what they had already seene. Their feet stedy, their hands diligent, their eyes watchfull, and their hearts resolute. The parts either not armed, or weakly armed, were well known, and according to the knowledge should have beene sharpely visited, but that the answer was as quicke as the objection., Yet some lighting, the smart bred rage, and the rage bred smart again : till both sides beginne to waxe faint, and rather desirous to die accompanied, than hopefull to live victorious ; the captaine of the Helots with a blow, whose violence grew of furie, not of strength, or of strength proceeding of furie, strake Palladius upon the side of the head, that he reeled astonied: and withall the helmet fell off, he remaining bare-headed, but other of the Arcadians were ready to shield him from any harme might rise of that nakednesse.”
No sooner is the face of Musidorus, or Palladius, seen by Pyrocles, for such the captain of the Helots turns out to be, than an instant recognition takes place between the friends. The Helots, by the persuasion of Pyrocles, consent to deliver up Clitiphon to his father, who receives back Musidorus and Pyrocles with much joy and gratitude. The young princes recount to each other their various adventures since their parting, and resume all their former habits of continual intercourse and reciprocal endearment. But this is soon interrupted: Pyrocles, by degrees, becomes enamoured of solitude, and notwithstanding the expostulations of his friend, addicts himself to solitary musing and contemplation—the first symptom of nascent love. Nothing can be more beautiful than the following passage, in which he describes the attractions of the scenes which he visited.
“ And in such contemplation, or (as I thinke) more excellent, I enjoy my solitarinesse, and my solitarinesse perchance is the nurse of these contemplations. Eagles, we see, fly alone, and they are but sheep which alwaies herd together : condemne not therefore my mind sometimes to enjoy itselfe; nor blame the taking of such times as serve most fit for it. And, alas, dear Musidorus, if I be sad, who knowes better than you the just causes I have of sadnesse? And here Pyrocles suddenly stopped, like a man unsatisfied in himselfe, though his wit might well have served to have satisfied another. And so looking with a countenance, as though he desired he should know his minde without hearing him speake, and yet desirous to speake, to breathe out some part of his inward evill, sending againe new blood to his face, hee continued his speech in this manner: and, Lord (deare cousin, said hee) doth not the pleasantnes of this place carry in it selfe sufficient reward for any time lost in it? Doe you not see how all things conspire together to make this country a heavenly dwelling? Do you not see the grasse, how in colour they excel the emeralds, every one striving to passe his fellow, and yet they are all kept of an equall height? And see you not the rest of these beautiful flowers, each of which would require a man's wit to know, and his life to expresse ? Do not these stately trees seeme to maintaine their flourishing old age with the onely happinesse of their seat, being clothed with a continuall spring, because no beauty here should ever fade: doth not the aire breathe health, which the birds (delightfull both to eare and eie) do daily solemnize with the sweet consent of their voyces? Is not every eccho there of a perfect musick; and these fresh and delightfull brooks how slowly they slide away, as loth to leave the company of many things united in perfection ? and with how sweet a murmure they lament their forced departure ? Certainly, certainly, cosin, it must needs be that some goddesse inhabiteth this region, who is the soule of this soile : for neither is any lesse than a goddesse worthy to be shrined in such a heape of pleasures ; nor any lesse than a goddesse could have made it so perfect a plot of the celestiall dwellings.”
p. 31, 32.
While Pyrocles is thus defending himself to his cousin, their good host, Kalander, comes to invite them to the hunting of a stag, which he hoped, by entertaining, would drive away some part of the melancholy which had begun to seize upon Pyrocles. The parties consent; and
“ Then went they together abroad, the good Kalander entertaining them with pleasant discoursing,-how well he loved the sport of hunting when he was a yong man, how much in the comparison thereof he disdained all chamber-delights, that the sunne (how great a journey soever he had to make) could never prevent him with earlinesse, nor the moone (with her sober countenance) disswade him from watching till midnight for the deeres feeding. O, said he, you wil never live to my age, without you keep yourselfe in breathe with exercise, and in heart with joyfulnesse : too much thinking doth consume the spirits,