Verse > Anthologies > Elizabethan Sonnets > Astrophel and Stella
Seccombe and Arber, comps.  Elizabethan Sonnets.  1904.
Astrophel and Stella
Front Matter
Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586)
Syr P. S.
His Astrophel and Stella.

Wherein the excellence of sweet
Poesy is concluded

To the end of which are added, sundry
other rare Sonnets of divers Noble
men and Gentlemen.

At London,
Printed for Thomas Newman.
Anno. Domini. 1591.

[Title-page of first (surreptitious) impression.]

Sir P. S. HIS

Wherein the excellence of sweet
Poesy is concluded.

At London,
Printed for Thomas Newman.
Anno Domini, 1591.

[Title-page of second revised impression.]
To the worshipful and his very
good friend, Master FRANCIS FLOWER Esquire:
increase of all content.

[This dedication only appears in the first (surreptitious) impression of 1591.]

IT was my fortune, Right Worshipful, not many days since, to light upon the famous device of ASTROPHEL and STELLA, which carrying the general commendation of all men of judgment, and being reported to be one of the rarest things that ever any Englishmen set abroach, I have thought good to publish it under your name; both for I know the excellency of your Worship’s conceit, above all other to be such as is only fit to discern of all matters of wit; as also for the credit and countenance your patronage may give to such a work.
  Accept of it, I beseech you, as the firstfruits of my affection, which desires to approve itself in all duty unto you: and though the argument, perhaps, may seem too light for your grave view; yet considering the worthiness of the author, I hope you will entertain it accordingly.  3
  For my part, I have been very careful in the printing of it: and whereas being spread abroad in written copies, it had gathered much corruption by ill writers; I have used their help and advice in correcting and restoring it to his first dignity, that I know were of skill and experience in those matters.  4
  And the rather was I moved to set it forth, because I thought it pity anything proceeding from so rare a man should be obscured; or that his fame should not still be nourished in his works: whom the works with one united grief, bewailed.  5
  Thus craving pardon for my bold attempt, and desiring the continuance of your Worship’s favour unto me: I end.
            Your’s always to be commanded,
Somewhat to read, for them that list.

[This preface, by Thomas Nashe, only appears in the first (surreptitious) edition of 1591.]

TEMPUS adest plausus aurea pompa venit. So ends the scene of idiots; and enter ASTROPHEL in pomp. Gentlemen that have seen a thousand lines of folly drawn forth ex uno puncto impudentiæ, and two famous mountains to go to the conception of one mouse; that have had your ears deafened with the echo of Fame’s brazen towers, when only they have been touched with a leaden pen; that have seen PAN sitting in his bower of delights, and a number of MIDASes to admire his miserable hornpipes: let not your surfeited sight—newly come from such puppet-play—think scorn to turn aside into this Theatre of Pleasure: for here you shall find a paper stage strewed with pearl, an artificial heaven to overshadow the fair frame, and crystal walls to encounter your curious eyes; whiles the tragi-comedy of love is performed by starlight.
  The chief actor here is MELPOMENE, whose dusky robes, dipped in the ink of tears [which] as yet seem to drop, when I view them near; the argument, cruel Chastity; the prologue, Hope; the epilogue, Despair. Videte quæso et linguis animisque favete.  8
  And here, peradventure, my witless youth may be taxed with a margent note of presumption, for offering to put up any motion of applause in the behalf of so excellent a poet (the least syllable of whose name sounded in the ears of judgment, is able to give the meanest line he writes, a dowry of immortality) yet those that observe how jewels oftentimes come to their hands that know not their value; and that the coxcombs of our days, like ÆSOP’s cock, had rather have a barley kernel wrapt up in a ballet, than they will dig for the wealth of wit in any ground that they know not; I hope will also hold me excused, though I open the gate to his glory, and invite idle ears to the admiration of his melancholy.
        Quid petitur sacris nisi tantum fama poetis.
  Which although it be oftentimes imprisoned in ladies caskets, and the precedent books of such as cannot see without another man’s spectacles; yet, at length, it breaks forth in spite of his keepers, and useth some private pen, instead of a pick-lock, to procure his violent enlargement.  10
  The sun, for a time, may mask his golden head in a cloud; yet in the end, the thick veil doth vanish and his embellished blandishment appears. Long hath ASTROPHEL—England’s sun—withheld the beams of his spirit from the common view of our dark sense; and night hath hovered over the gardens of the Nine Sisters: while ignis fatuus, and gross fatty flames (such as commonly arise out of dunghills) have taken occasion, in the midst eclipse of his shining perfections, to wander abroad with a wisp of paper at their tails, like hobgoblins; and lead men up and down, in a circle of absurdity a whole week, and they never know where they are. But now that cloud of sorrow is dissolved, which fiery Love exhaled from his dewy hair; and Affection hath unburdened the labouring streams of her womb in the low cistern of his grave: the Night hath resigned her jetty throne unto LUCIFER, and clear daylight possesseth the sky that was dimmed. Wherefore, break off your dance, you fairies and elves! and from the fields, with the torn carcases of your timbrels! for your kingdom is expired. Put out your rushlights, you poets and rhymers! and bequeath your crazed quatorzains to the chandlers! for lo, here he cometh that hath broken your legs.  11
  APOLLO hath resigned his ivory harp unto ASTROPHEL; and he, like MERCURY, must lull you asleep with his music. Sleep ARGUS! sleep ignorance! sleep impudence! for MERCURY hath IO: and only Io Pæan belongeth to ASTROPHEL.  12
  Dear ASTROPHEL! that in the ashes of thy love, livest again, like the Phœnix. O might thy body, as thy name, live again likewise here amongst us! but the earth—the mother of mortality—hath snatched thee too soon into her chilled cold arms; and will not let thee, by any means, be drawn from her deadly embrace: and thy divine soul, carried on angels’ wings to heaven, is installed in HERMES’ place, sole prolocutor to the gods. Therefore mayest thou never return from the Elysian fields, like ORPHEUS. Therefore must we ever mourn for our ORPHEUS.  13
  Fain would a second spring of passion here spend itself on his sweet remembrance—but Religion, that rebuketh profane lamentation, drinks in the rivers of those despairful tears, which languorous ruth hath outwelled; and bids me look back to the House of Honour: where from one and the selfsame root of renown, I shall find many goodly branches derived; and such as, with the spreading increase of their virtues, may somewhat overshadow the grief of his loss.  14
  Amongst the which; fair sister of PHŒBUS! and eloquent secretary of the Muses! most rare Countess of PEMBROKE! thou art not to be omitted: whom arts do adore as a second MINERVA, and our poets extol as the patroness of their invention. For in thee, the Lesbian SAPPHO with her lyric harp is disgraced; and the laurel garland, which thy brother so bravely advanced on his lance, is still kept green in the temple of PALLAS. Thou only sacrificest thy soul to contemplation! Thou only entertainest emptyhanded HOMER! and keepest the springs of Castalia from being dried up! Learning, wisdom, beauty and all other ornaments of nobility whatsoever, seek to approve themselves in thy sight; and get a further seal of felicity from the smiles of thy favour.
        O Jove digna viro ni Jove nata fores.
  I fear I shall be counted a mercenary flatterer, for mixing my thoughts with such figurative admiration: but general report that surpasseth my praise, condemneth my rhetoric of dulness for so cold a commendation. Indeed, to say the truth, my style is somewhat heavy-gaited, and cannot dance trip and go so lively; with “O my love!” “Ah my love!” “All my love’s gone!”—as other shepherds that have been fools in the morris, time out of mind: nor hath my prose any skill to imitate the “almond leap verse,” and sit tabering, five years together, nothing but “to be,” “to he,” on a paper drum. Only I can keep pace with Gravesend barge; and care not, if I have water enough to land my ship of fools with the Term (the tide, I should say). Now every man is not of that mind. For some, to go the lighter away, will take in their freight of spangled feathers, golden pebbles, straw, reeds, bulrushes, or anything; and then they bear out their sails as proudly, as if they were ballasted with bull beef. Others are so hardly bestead for a loading, that they are fain to retail the cinders of Troy, and the shivers of broken trunchions, to fill up their boat; that else should go empty: and if they have but a pound’s weight of good merchandise, it shall be placed at the poop, or plucked into a thousand pieces to credit their carriage.  16
  For my part every man as he likes. Mens cujusque is est quisque. ’Tis as good to go in cut-fingered pumps as cork shoes: if one wear Cornish diamonds on his toes. To explain it by a more familiar example. An ass is no great statesman in the beasts’ commonwealth, though he wear his ears, upsevant muffe, after the Muscovy fashion, and hang the lip like a cap-case half open; or look as demurely as a sixpenny brown loaf; for he hath some imperfections that do keep him from the common Council: yet, of many, he is deemed a very virtuous member, and one of the honestest sort of men that are. So that our opinion—as SEXTIUS EMPEDOCUS affirmeth—gives the name of good or ill to every thing. Out of whose works—lately translated into English, for the benefit of unlearned writers—a man might collect a whole book of this argument: which, no doubt, would prove a worthy commonwealth matter; and far better than wit’s wax kernel. Much good worship have the author!  17
  Such is this golden age wherein we live, and so replenished with golden asses of all sorts: that if learning had lost itself in a grove of genealogies; we need do no more but set an old goose over half a dozen pottle pots (which are, as it were, the eggs of invention) and we shall have such a breed of books, within a while after, as will fill all the world with the wild fowl of good wits.  18
  I can tell you this is a harder thing than making gold of quicksilver; and will trouble you more than the moral of ÆSOP’s glowworm hath troubled our English apes: who, striving to warm themselves with the flame of the philosopher’s stone, have spent all their wealth, in buying bellows to blow this false fire.  19
  Gentlemen! I fear I have too much presumed on your idle leisure; and been too bold, to stand talking all this while in another man’s door: but now I will leave you to survey the pleasures of Paphos, and offer your smiles on the altars of VENUS.
            Yours, in all desire to please,

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