Abbildungen der Seite

was not her only lover. It also appears, during the latter years of the time she spent under the roof of her first husband, that he was not so much the tyrant as tyrannized over; for she, at her own option, sometimes left her husband's roof, and returned again to it; and upon her first fit of love for Mountjoy, she left her husband to live with him, and upon his being sent, by order of the Queen, to Ireland to aid Essex to suppress the rebellion, she returned to her husband, though but to leave him on Mountjoy's return ; and as remarked, she was not indifferent to the proffered love of others, though in a more guarded way. So, taking ber for all in all, possibly no woman ever presented two such contrasted pictures, both in feature and in morals : she was radiant fair, yet intensely dark in the lustrous depth of her black eyes ; she was, while Sidney lived, an example of virtue; after his death, blot upon blot darkened her illicit loving, till she sunk, like a luminous star, from dazzling radiance to oblivious infamy.

Among the dedication Sonnets appended to the “Microcosmos,” I find one that has long nestled in its hiding-place, written by that prolific penman, John Davies of Hereford, and as it relates to Stella, and is interesting, it is put before the reader. In the opening lines he alludes to the manner in which Sidney had descanted upon her name :

“TO THE RIGHT NOBLE LADY, LADY RICH. " To descant on thy name as others do

(Since it is fit t express thine excellence),
I should, dear lady, but attend unto

That which to it compared is indigence.
Yet to be rich was to be fortunate,

As all esteem'd ; and yet, though so thou art,

Thou wast much more than most unfortunate,

Though richly well thou playd’st that hapless part;
Thou didst


what art could never show,
The soul's true grief for loss of her love's soul,
Thine action speaking passion made ; but oh !

It made thee subject to a jail's controul :
But such a jail-bird, heavenly nightingale,

For such a cause sings best in greatest bale.” Davies in the opening lines makes allusion to her unfortunate marriage, and in the closing lines to her soul's deep grief for the loss of her beloved, though also unfortunate, brother Essex, who in 1601 paid the penalty of his rash rebellious act; and she, in her urgent endeavour to obtain his pardon and liberty, was herself detained in prison for a brief period, where she, Davies tells us, made, like the nightingale with its breast against a thorn, a doleful sweet lamentation. Both brother and sister were equally unfortunate, though each had received the highest honours; one as the favourite mistress of a great poet, the other as the favourite courtier of a great queen.

In the poem by Anne Bradstreet, already mentioned she looks upon Sidney's sonnetting Lady Rich as a blot on his fair fame, though she offers no excuse for her idol ; but as beautiful poems, she gives them high praise. She

, undoubtedly reports the current opinion as to Sidney and Stella. She speaks of England's halcyon days, when Sidney wore the laurel crown, an honour to our British soil

— “ Witness Arcadia, penn'd in his youth." Having spoken fully of all to his praise, she refers to “ his love for Stella as his dispraise. She says she * honours him for what is honourable, but leaves the rest as most unprofitable.” His wiser days condemned his “ witty works.” It is interesting to know that Sidney repented of his folly. She says of his love for Lady Rich :

“ Which makes severe eyes but scorn thy story,
And modest maids and wives blush at thy glory;
Yet he's a little head that can't desery

A world of treasure in that rubbish, lye.”
She has only grave doubts about Stella :

“ Illustrious Stella, thou didst shine full well

If thine aspect was mild to Astrophel.” She will but slightly blame her idol Sidney ; since, as the reader has seen (ante p. 163), the utmost blame is given to his poor mistress. She was to him a comet of ill omen, and afterwards proved the shame of her sex. The poetess declares she had thought better of Sidney, but as others have fallen, gods and men, he must be forgiven. She asks of him :

“How could this Stella so confine thy will

To wait till she her influence distill ?But as he loved truly but one, that must be sufficient apology.

The reader will now see Shakespeare's scope for satire, and his object in feigning futilely and sinfully to claim his friend's mistress as his own, and why he assumed her darker and darker in act and deed. It was Sidney's misfortune to become infected with the Petrarchian element, but lacking that great master's wisdom and forbearance, he wove his thoughts into Sonnets, and rendered himself miserable and ridiculous in vainly pursuing a futile love. Sidney pictured Stella (the Lady Rich) for his sister, in her early prime of beauty and virtue ; Shakespeare pictured, for her son, the same lady late in life, as Lady Rich and the mistress of Mountjoy. Shakespeare takes his key note partly from a Sonnet in which Sidney asks Stella, in allusion to her eyes, why nature made her so black, and yet so bright ? was it to please

“ Or would she her miraculous power show,

That whereas black seems beauty's contrary,

She even in black doth make all beauty flow ?"* And when Shakespeare tells her to “ buy terms divine," he but recals to her Sidney's words, in which she was told that she was

“Rich in those gifts which give the eternal crown.”+ Sidney, we are told, repented of his crime; it is to be hoped the still more unfortunate Penelope Devereux also became penitent. Their love history is summed up in

I one line :

“ The course of true love never did run smooth."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* The reason why Shakespeare speaks so vaguely of the colour of the mistress's hair, and yet mentions her eyes and brows as being black, is on account of her not being blest, as Penelope was, with that rich though rare contrast, black eyes and golden hair, or, as Sidney says

"Rather call them her beams." The colonr of the hair of Herbert's mistress being, though dark, not absolutely black, the poet avoids alluding to it (except ironically), that his satire may be more direct in its application to the mistress of Sidney. Shakespeare also in Love's Labours Lost, spends some sparkling wit on the conceit of Sidney's mistress being beyond all others the fairest, yet the darkest, and though the brightest yet the blackest. This boast of her poet lover alas proved too true. In the coinedy, the allusion to the “gracious moon” may be to Queen Elizabeth, as the “attending star ” denotes Stella.

+ The excuse Bryskett records Sidney made for others, should be accorded to Sidney hinıself:-“ Let us love men for the good is in them, and not hate them for their evil.”

It is somewhat remarkable that the letter which Sir Fulke Greville, the friend of Sidney, wrote “to a right honorable lady” should have been permitted to have lain so long unnoticed by the critics, since it is unmistakably addressed to the Laly Rich. It was not printed till after Sir Fulke's death. The letter itself, though unfinished, occupies a large number of pages. A mere outline of it will discover to whom alone it must refer. The letter was written when she was contemplating divorce from her lord, at the time Mountjoy became her lover. The epistle is throughout a moral and religious exhortation to act true to her husband, even though he fails to merit it. She is told that to leave him, according to the laws of England, would brand her with infamy; the only divorce she may


Sidney's folly is a spot upon his sun, though only observable to discerning eyes, bis Sonnets having been so seldom reprinted that few readers have met with them, and his biographers have been silent upon the subject of

[ocr errors]

virtuously look for is the divorce of death. The opening lines tell us that she had sought his advice how to act to effect a separation in the best mode :-“Right honorable Lady,—You are desirous, in regard of the trust you put in me, to understand mine opinion how you should carry yourself through that labyrinth wherein it seems time and mischance hath imprisoned you.” Her excuse to Greville was the injustice of her husband —of his having a mistress, of which Lady Rich elsewhere speaks, whom, it appears from the letter, was far inferior in beauty to the wife ; but Greville will not take part in her resolution. He exhorts her to bear all, live amicably with her lord, and leave the rest to heaven. He evidently viewed her at this time (and perhaps justly) as a virtuous, injured wife ; but for her fair name, and for the sake of her children, she is to bear all patiently. She will then gain her husband's love, the good opinion of the world, and “receive the immortality of good ;” but if she fails to take his counsel, she will receive universal shame, her errors will lead her to “ the eternal curse of sin.” He speaks emphatically of her unfortunate marriage with a rich lord, whose wealth gives him power. The description he gives of her husband is exactly the character of Lord Rich.

“ I know your husband's nature-rather weakly than strongly evil ; full of respects, desires, fears ; jealous and careless ; factious and unresolute ; rather inclining to craft than to violence ;-a tyrant (in words) valiant over a wife.” Greville wishes her to view her misfortune as an interposition of Providence, all for the best, and in this extract appears to refer to Sidney's death, and the romantic love they bore for each other. Referring to his discourse, he calls her attention to its application :-“Now, madam, if you apply this to yourself, it hath this morality in it, to let you know that without your husband's unkind dealing, you would perchance have doted too much on the worship of one man, rejecting for that one humour all other ways of honour, as bewitched affections used to do. It seems by the providence of mischance you are driven from these narrow sanctuaries of self-affections.” He apologises for his impertinent counsel, because it may lead so much to her advantage ; and though she is greatly tempted, she is to imitate Job's constancy. It appears she could not endure the grave, moral, unsympathetic tone of the letter, and acted according to her own dictates; hence the letter was left unfinished. Greville saw the inevitable consequences arising from such a course, and deserves praise for seeking to avert them. Greville imitated Sidney in all his better parts ; he even wrote the same number of sonnets, but they neither deserve the censure due to Sir Philip's as to subject, nor the praise as to merit; they are of an innocent

« ZurückWeiter »