Verse > Anthologies > Seccombe and Arber, eds. > An English Garner > Elizabethan Sonnets
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Seccombe and Arber, comps.  Elizabethan Sonnets.  1904.
 
Introduction
VI. The Earliest Elizabethan Sonneteers—Sidney and Watson
 
The promise of a poetic revival in England, which the effort of Wyatt and Surrey gave, was not fulfilled. Surrey’s death in 1547 1 was followed by a barren quarter of a century, and only at the close of that period did a great literary era dawn on England. In that interval the Pléiade school of France inaugurated and brought to maturity the first golden age of modern French literature. Throughout the same epoch Italian literature was still bearing rich fruit, and it was Italian literary energy that dominated the new French outburst. To Elizabethan literature, however, the primary impulse seems to have come from the new French activity, and not from the continuous flow of Italian poetry. The sonnet was reintroduced, for the second time in the century, into England mainly from France. 2 Petrarch quickly reasserted over the Elizabethan sonnet that supremacy which Wyatt and Surrey had acknowledged. The best Elizabethan sonneteers—men like Sidney, Watson, and Spenser—were not content to practise the sonneteering art on any large scale until they had steeped themselves in Petrarch’s text. But even they studied with equal thoroughness the writings of the Pléiade masters, while the majority of the Elizabethan sonneteers concentrated their attention on contemporary France, and derived their chief knowledge of Petrarch and of his Italian followers from the French adaptations of Italian work by Ronsard and Desportes rather than by more direct approach. The wholesale loans which the Elizabethan sonneteers invariably levied on foreign literature did not always succeed in extinguishing the buoyant native fire. But genuine originality of thought and expression was rare. Indeed, some of the Elizabethan sonneteers (whose literary morality and whose claim to the honours of poetic invention have not hitherto been impugned) prove, when their work is compared with that of foreign writers, to have been verbatim translators, and almost sink to the level of literary pirates.  1
  Thomas Watson, Edmund Spenser, and Sir Philip Sidney, who were all in tender years of infancy when Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, divide among themselves the parentage of the Elizabethan sonnet. In early youth Sidney and Watson visited France, and Sidney extended his travels into Italy, making the acquaintance of the painters there as well as of the poets. Spenser seems also to have gone abroad in early life, while he was serving in a secretarial capacity his patron, the Earl of Leicester. In all these men the recent literary revival in France first stirred the poetic impulse. 3  2
  Probably Spenser’s earliest poetic effort was an act of homage to Ronsard’s counsellor, Joachim du Bellay. Fifteen of the Frenchman’s sonnets on the theme of the Apocalypse were rendered by Spenser, while a schoolboy, into English, under the title of The Visions of Bellay. Subsequently he revised this youthful venture, and combined with it a translation of the longer series of sonnets by Du Bellay called Les Antiquités de Rome. In the ‘envoy’ in sonnet form to his rendering of Du Bellay’s Antiquités, Spenser apostrophised the Frenchman in language that plainly acknowledges his literary influence:
        ‘Bellay, first garland of free Poesie,
That France brought forth, though fruitfull of brave wits,
Well worthie thou of immortalitie.’
But Spenser also learned much that was of pressing importance to him from the greatest of the French poets who preceded the Pléiade. It was not, it proves, from the masters of that new French school, it was from that school’s eminent predecessor, Clément Marot, two of whose eclogues he silently imitated in his Shepherd’s Calendar (Nos. xi. and xii.), that Spenser gained his earliest knowledge of Petrarch. Shortly before his death, Marot had translated into six twelve-lined stanzas, with a four-line envoy, an ode or canzone (No. xlii.), which figures among Petrarch’s sonnets. The Italian poet gave this poem no separate designation, but Marot invented for it the title of Les Visions de Petrarque, which harmonises with its subject-matter. Spenser’s earliest experiments in verse include, besides the sonnets from Du Bellay, seven others which bear Marot’s invented name of The Visions of Petrarch. These seven sonnets reproduce in English Marot’s French verses word for word. The expansion of the French twelve-line stanzas into quatorzains, and of the four lines of the French envoy into fourteen lines, fails in any material respect to differentiate the English and French renderings of Petrarch’s ode. There can be no doubt that Spenser only knew the ode at the time of writing in Marot’s version. Subsequently he read Petrarch in the Italian text, and at a much later date devised a new sonnet-sequence on the Petrarchan plan; but it is clear that it was through the study of French that Spenser passed to the study of Italian.
  3
  The evidence that Sidney and Watson drew their first literary sustenance from France is less complete, but there is positive evidence that very early in their career both came under the impressive influence of Ronsard, Du Bellay’s chief. It was claimed for Watson that he did for the progress of English poetry what Ronsard did for French poetry. With no less eagerness than Spenser did Sidney and Watson seek, in years of adolescence, direct acquaintance with the Frenchmen’s Italian masters. Watson translated into Latin Petrarch’s whole collection of sonnets. 4 The ‘Stella’ of Sidney’s adoration was avowedly modelled on Petrarch’s ‘Laura.’ But there is little question that it was through France that both Sidney and Watson travelled to the Italian shrine.  4
  Thus were the foundations laid for the edifice of sonnet-sequences in Elizabethan England. Spenser only in later life continued those experiments in the adaptations of foreign sonnets which he began in youth. But about 1580, more than a decade before Spenser resumed his labours, Sidney and Watson both set to work simultaneously on the construction of a sonnet-sequence in the Petrarchan vein. The main part of Sidney’s work, which is known under the title of Astrophel and Stella, circulated among his friends in manuscript for eleven years before it was printed posthumously in 1591. Watson’s first effort in the like direction came from the press in 1582. The publication of Watson’s collection gave the cue to the sonneteering movement in Elizabethan England. His volume sheds a flood of light on the biology of Elizabethan sonnet-literature.  5
  Watson’s book is entitled The Hecatompathia, or Passionate Centurie of Love. It consists of one hundred separate poems, few of which are quite regular sonnets; the lines usually number eighteen instead of fourteen. But the work illustrates at every point the method and spirit of the nascent sonneteering vogue.  6
  The inaugural poem (a regular sonnet) is addressed to the author by an admiring friend, and places Petrarch in the centre of the stage. The lines opening thus:—
        ‘The stars which did at Petrarch’s birthday reign
Were fixed again at thy nativity,
Destining thee the Tuscan’s poesy,
Who scaled the skies in lofty quatorzain.
The Muses gave to thee thy fatal vain,
The very same, that Petrarch had, whereby
Madonna Laura’s fame is grown so high,
And that whereby his glory he did gain.’
  7
  Another enthusiastic friend of the English poet, writing in Latin verse, declared how France was now at length fast garnering the wealth of Parnassus and luxuriating in the new achievements of Ronsard:
        ‘Gallica Parnasso coepit ditescere lingua,
Ronsardique operis luxuriare nouis.’ 5
Of all countries of Europe only England, Watson’s panegyrist proceeds, was still awaiting the advent of great poetry, and Watson had arisen to satisfy her yearning.
  8
  Watson deprecates all claim to originality. To each poem he prefixes a prose introduction in which he frankly indicates, usually with ample quotation, the French, Italian, or classical poem which was the source of his inspiration. He aims at little more than paraphrasing sonnets and lyrics by Petrarch and Ronsard, or by Petrarch’s disciples, Serafino dell’ Aquila, Ercole Strozza  6 (1471–1508), or Agnolo Firenzuola, together with passages from the chief writers of Greece and Rome. 7 As a rule, his rendering is quite literal, though he now and then inverts a line or two of his original, or inserts a new sentence. In the conventional appeals to his wayward mistress, and in his exposition of amorous emotion, there is no pretence of a revelation of personal experience. Watson’s whole effort is a literary exercise from the pen of a scholiast. Appropriately enough he devotes his last page to a good rendering in Latin, in regular sonnet form, of one of Petrarch’s concluding quatorzains (cccxiii.), in which the Italian poet deplores his absorption in the vanities of love, and prays God that he may aspire to higher things.  9
  Subsequently Watson vigorously concentrated his energy not only on the more recent poetry of Italy, but also on the new birth of Italian music, which gave added impetus to lyric activity through Europe. He published a paraphrase in Latin hexameters of Tasso’s lately issued pastoral drama Aminta, and also an English rendering of a selection of Italian madrigals. The latter work was widely popular.  10
  The new Italian music was growing fashionable in Elizabethan England, especially the madrigal and part-song, to which the great contemporary Italian composers devoted their chief energies. In Italian Madrigalls Englished (1590), 8 Watson gave the earliest hint of the sustenance that the Elizabethan lyric was to derive from the recent union of Italian music with Italian poetry. He translated the Italian words which Luca Marenzio, the Venetian composer, and other Italian musicians of eminence, had set to music. The verse was for the most part derived from the Italian sonneteers. One of the most famous of Petrarch’s sonnets (cclxix.)—‘Zefiro torna, e ’l bel tempo rimena’—is the original of the fourth of Watson’s translated madrigals. 9 Watson rendered it from the reprint in Marenzio’s music-book, without any indication of its authorship. That reticence illustrates how the taste for music silently opened a new path for the admission into Elizabethan England of the Italian master’s poetry.  11
  But Watson never deserted the sonnet in its pristine simplicity. In 1593, a year after his death, there was published a second sequence of amorous sonnets by him in strict metre. These numbered sixty in all, and bore the title The Tears of Fancie, or Love Disdained. Although the writer there gave no references to his authorities, the trail of France and Italy is unconcealed. In the opening sonnets he describes a skirmish between himself and Cupid in the Anacreontic manner which Ronsard especially affected. The remaining poems re-echo, in a somewhat piping key, the tearful sighs and groans which Petrarch and his imitators had already sounded with wearisome iteration. At times he adapts a Petrarchan canzone or ode to the purposes of his sonnet-sequence. His Sonnet lii., which describes how the sun and the moon bring joy to all living creatures except the despairing lover, reproduces with little change Petrarch’s first sestina:

        
WATSON, Sonnet LII.
  
Each creature ioyes Apollo’s happy sight,
And feed themselves with his fair beams reflecting
Night wandering travellers at Cynthia’s sight,
Clere up their cloudy thoughts fond fear rejecting.
  
PETRARCH, Sestina I.
  
A qualunque animale alberga in terra,
Se non se alquanti c’ hanno in odio il Sole,
Tempo da travagliare è quanto è ’l giorno:
Ma poi, ch’ il ciel accende le sue stelle.
  12
 
  In Sonnets xix. and xx., in which the power of the heart and eye in cherishing love are fantastically contrasted, he handles a Petrarchan conceit which was universally appropriated by Petrarch’s disciples. 10 Sonnets xlvii., xlviii. and li. on Spring, Sonnets xxviii. and xxix. on Echo, are equally derivative in thought or expression.  13
  Sir Philip Sidney died six years before Watson, but the long series of sonnets which occupied his leisure through the last six years of his life were not published till 1591. Then for the first time, in accordance with a common practice of the age, they were produced surreptitiously by an adventurous publisher, Thomas Newman, who acquired a written copy without consultation with the author’s friends. 11 The pathetic circumstances of Sidney’s early death in the war in Holland rendered him a national hero, and his writings exerted on Elizabethan thought an overwhelming influence which owed as much to his extraneous repute as to their intrinsic merit. Although it is probable that Sidney’s pursuit of the favour of Lady Rich, a coquettish friend of his youth who married another, led him to turn sonneteer, the imitative quality that characterises Watson’s Passionate Centurie of Love is visible throughout Sidney’s ample effort, and destroys most of those specious pretensions to autobiographic confessions which the unwary reader may discern in them. 12  14
  Sidney had a far finer poetic faculty than Watson, but his reading in French and Italian was no less extended. He wrote under the glamour of Petrarchan idealism, and held that it was the function of the ‘lyrical kind of songs and sonnets’ to sing ‘the praises of the immortal beauty,’ and of no more mundane passion. 13 Detachment from the realities of ordinary passion, which comes of much reading about love in order to write on the subject, is the central feature of Sidney’s sonnets. Sidney’s masters were Petrarch and Ronsard. His admirers dubbed him ‘our English Petrarch,’ or ‘the Petrarch of our time.’ His habit was to paraphrase and adapt foreign writings rather than literally translate them. But hardly any of his poetic ideas, and few of his ‘swelling phrases,’ are primarily of his invention. Songs, in accordance with the foreign practice, were interspersed in his sonnet-sequence, and they no less than his quatorzains are founded on foreign models. 14  15
  Sonnet xli. fairly represents Sidney’s method when at its freest. He describes how he won a prize in a tournament owing to the presence of his lady-love among the spectators. The beams of her eyes lent him prowess. In like fashion Petrarch (Sonnet cci.) had described a brilliant court entertainment which was illumined by the light of Laura’s countenance. The central idea of the two poems is the same. Sidney’s tournament is the child of Petrarch’s princely banquet. Sidney follows Ronsard with greater fidelity in reproaching his mistress with showing more attention to her dog than to himself. 15 Petrarch’s addresses to the River Po (Sonnet cxlvii.) and to the River Rhone (Sonnet clxxiii.) precisely adumbrate Sidney’s address to the River Thames (Astrophel, ciii.). The apostrophe to the bed (Sonnet xcviii.), in which the English poet turns and tosses in the black horrors of the silent night, repeats the cry of whole flocks of Petrarchists in France and Italy. 16 His condolences with Stella in her sickness (ci.), and his lamentations on her absence (xci., cvi.); the appeals to sleep (Astrophel, xxxviii. and xxxix.), to the sonneteer’s favoured bird, the nightingale, to the moon, and to his mistress’s eyes, are all close echoes of his reading, even though they are at times touched by a finer feeling and music than English minds can discover in the foreign original.  16
  Sidney conspicuously emulates the extravagance of French sonneteers in his reiteration of their habitual epithet ‘sweet.’ When he wrote
        ‘Sweet kiss, thy sweets I fain would sweetly endite,
Which even of sweetness sweetest sweetner art.’
(Sonnet lxxix.)    
Sidney clearly had in mind lines like these:—
        ‘Baiser plus doux que le nectar des Dieux,
Que miel, que sucre, que manne éthérée
Baiser sucré d’une bouche sucrée.’
(Claude de Pontoux, L’Idée, Sonnet xxxii.) 17    
  17
  Like Watson, Sidney follows Petrarch in closing his sonnets of love on Petrarch’s most characteristic note. In his concluding sonnet he imitates the Italian poet’s solemn and impressive renunciation of love’s empire:—
        ‘Leave me, O love, which reachest but to dust,
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things.’
  18
  In one respect Sidney showed a loyalty to his foreign models in which he outran his sonneteering fellow-countrymen. He alone of all the sixteenth-century English sonneteers endeavoured to reproduce with any strictness the foreign metres as well as the foreign imagery and ideas. Sixteenth-century Italy, for the most part, observed the common Petrarchan scheme of a b b a, a b b a, c d e, c d e. France loyally followed the Italian formula as far as the first eight lines were concerned, while introducing into the last six the modification c c d, e d e. But neither in France nor in Italy did the number of different rhymes in a sonnet exceed five. From the first England evinced an unwillingness to obey any such intricate metrical laws. Wyatt and Surrey adopted the simplest and (in Italy) the least common of the Petrarchan variations of the regular type; they closed their sonnets with a rhyming couplet. The last six lines were consequently no longer constructed of two tercets, but of a quatrain and a couplet. The concluding couplet came, in fact, to dominate the Elizabethan sonnet, and the dozen preceding lines gradually lost the demarcations and limitations of separate quatrains and tercets that were habitual to them abroad; they developed into an unbroken string of alternately rhymed lines. The five rhymes of the foreign sonnet thus grew into seven in the Elizabethan sonnet. The Elizabethan sonneteer, indeed, often dispensed with strongly marked pauses at any point in the poem, and the poem ran continuously from the first to the twelfth, if not to the fourteenth line. George Gascoigne, in his Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the making of Verse or Ryme in English, defined the accepted Elizabethan practice when he wrote of sonnets thus:—‘Fouretene lynes, every lyne conteyning tenne syllables. The first twelve to ryme in staves of foure lynes by cross metre and the last two ryming togither, do conclude the whole’ (published in Gascoigne’s Posies, 1575). The multiplicity of rhymes in Elizabethan sonnets was deplored by Samuel Daniel, himself a sonneteer on the English pattern, whose metrical dexterity left little to be desired. But he excused the rhyming excesses of himself and other sonneteers by the reflection that ‘ryme is no impediment’ to a true poet’s ‘conceit, but gives him wings to mount … to a far happier flight.’ 18  19
  Spenser showed some familiarity with the French and Italian laws, but rarely put them into practice. Watson abandoned them altogether; and Shakespeare, like most of his contemporaries, was content to follow Watson’s example. Sidney sought no such freedom. Alone of the Elizabethans he declined to obey the anglicised rules of sonneteering. In nearly all the one hundred and eight sonnets of which his collection entitled Astrophel and Stella consists, the principle of the double quatrain is faithfully respected. He very often adopted the orthodox Petrarchan scheme a b b a, a b b a. He made smaller resistance to the rhyming couplet at the close, but in twenty-one sonnets he avoided it. When he employed it, he so diversified the rhymes of the preceding four lines as to preserve much of the effect of the double tercet.  20
  But whatever the fate of the Petrarchan metres, Petrarchan imagery completely dominated the thought of the Elizabethan circle of poets that gathered round Sidney and Spenser. The eight sonnets and the two canzone in which Petrarch pictured visions of Laura in a dream especially captivated the Elizabethan poet’s imagination, and when Sir Walter Raleigh sought to give expression to the elation with which Elizabethan England welcomed (in 1590) the first instalment of Spenser’s Faery Queen—the firstfruits of the mature Elizabethan spirit—he had recourse to a Petrarchan conceit wherewith to give his eulogy its pith and moment.
        Methought I saw the grave where Laura lay,
Within that temple where the vestal flame
Was wont to burn; and passing by that way
To see that buried dust of living fame,
Whose tomb fair Love and fairer Virtue kept,
All suddenly I saw the Fairy Queen;
At whose approach the soul of Petrarch wept;
And from thenceforth those Graces were not seen,
For they this Queen attended; in whose stead
Oblivion laid him down on Laura’s hearse.’ 19
  21
  Raleigh’s compliment to Spenser’s Faery Queen is a notable act of homage to Petrarch. The finely turned qualification of Petrarch’s influence had little significance. The prophecy that at length ‘oblivion had laid him down on Laura’s hearse’ was premature. The tide of Petrarchan inspiration was destined immediately to flow in England in fuller vigour than before.  22
 
Note 1. Surrey survived Wyatt by five years. [back]
Note 2. The student should be warned against the irregular use of the word ‘sonnet’ for ‘song’ or ‘poem,’ which might suggest the erroneous notion that the ‘sonnet’ continuously played a part in English literature through the middle years of the sixteenth century. ‘A proper sonnet,’ in Clement Robinson’s poetical anthology, A Handefull of Pleasant Delites, 1584, is a lyric in ten four-line alternatively rhymed stanzas. Neither Barnabe Googe’s Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonnettts, 1563, nor George Turbervile’s Epitaphes, Epigrams, Songs, and Sonnets, 1567, contains a single fourteen-lined poem. William Byrd published in 1587 his Psalms, Sonets, and Songs of Sadness and Pietie, but though he tells the reader that if he be disposed ‘to bee merrie, heere are Sonets,’ and heads a section of the book ‘Sonets and Pastorales,’ no poem bearing any relation to the sonnet form is included. When the true ‘sonnet’ was reintroduced into England, it was often technically designated by the French word ‘quatorzain’ rather than by ‘sonnet.’ Watson is congratulated on ‘scaling the skies in lofty quatorzains’ in verses before his Passionate Centurie, 1582; cf. crazed quatorzains, in Thomas Nashe’s preface to his edition of Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, 1591; and Amours in Quatorzains on the title-page of the first edition of Drayton’s Sonnets, 1594. [back]
Note 3. Extant catalogues of two libraries on this side of the Channel show that the works of the French poets were purchased by book-buyers through the Elizabethan period. The catalogue of the library formed by Mary Queen of Scots at the opening of the epoch includes, besides numerous translations into French of the classics and modern Italian poetry, many volumes of Clément Marot, Ronsard, and Du Bellay, including all their sonnets; Les Erreurs Amoureuses of Pontus de Tyard, one of the Pléiade sonneteers; Les Soupirs of Olivier de Magny; and a volume by Claude de Buttet. The Recueil de poësie françoise, Paris, 1555, was also included.—(Library of Queen Mary Stuart, by Julian Shannon.) William Drummond of Hawthornden, at the end of the period, notes that he read between 1606 and 1614 works by the following French authors: Ronsard, Pontus de Tyard, Le Seigneur des Bon Accords, Pasquier, Jodelle, Jean de la Peruse, Passerat, Pibrac, Du Bartas. He also studied French translations of Tasso’s Aminta, Sannazaro’s Arcadia, Montemayor’s Diana, Petrarch, Guarini’s Pastor Fido, Ariosto’s Orlando. The Italian poets read by Drummond in their own tongue in the same period only include Bembo, Luigi Groto Cieco, F. Contarini, S. Carlo Coquinato, Lodovico Paterno, Tasso, Marino, Parabosco, and Lelio Capilupi. By 1611 Drummond had collected 120 books in French, 61 in Italian, and only 50 in English. He had also some 200 Latin volumes, 35 in Greek, 11 in Hebrew, and 8 in Spanish. His French collection far exceeded all the others in modern languages put together. [back]
Note 4. Watson failed to publish his performance, but preserved two of his Latin versions of Petrarch’s sonnets in his collection called The Hecatompathia, or Passionate Centurie of Love. See Watson’s Poems, ed. Arber, 1895, pp. 42, 138. [back]
Note 5. Arber edition, p. 34. [back]
Note 6. It is a curious proof of the estimation in which the poets of sixteenth-century Italy, even those of small merit, were held by Elizabethan critics, to find Gabriel Harvey, when he seeks to pay a high compliment to a popular English writer, like George Gascoigne, telling him that he is the equal of an Italian of such restricted fame as Ercole Strozza (of Ferrara). Harvey’s eulogy of Gascoigne runs thus:—
  ‘Gascoignus solus, seipsum cum Hercule
  Strozza comparat, homine Italo
Eodemque viro generoso ac poeta nobili.’
Letter-Book of Gabriel Harvey, publ. Camden Society, 1884, p. 55.    
 [back]
Note 7. Eight of Watson’s sonnets are, according to his own account, renderings from Petrarch; twelve are from Serafino dell’ Aquila (1466–1500); four each come from Strozza, the Ferrarese poet, and from Ronsard; three from the Italian poet, Agnolo Firenzuola (1493–1548); two each from the French poet, Etienne Forcadel, known as Forcatulus (1514?–1573), the Italian Girolamo Parabosco (fl. 1548), and Æneas Sylvius; while many are based on passages from such authors as (among the Greeks), Sophocles, Theocritus, Apollonius of Rhodes (author of the epic Argonautica); or (among the Latins), Vergil, Tibullus, Ovid, Horace, Propertius, Seneca, Pliny, Lucan, Martial, and Valerius Flaccus; or (among other modern Italians), Angelo Poliziano (1454–1494), and Baptista Mantuanus (1448–1516); or (among other modern Frenchmen), Gervasius Sepinus of Saumur, writer of eclogues after the manner of Vergil and Mantuanus. [back]
Note 8. This rare book, of which a copy is in the British Museum, is omitted from Arber’s collection of Watson’s poems. It was reprinted by Professor F. I. Carpenter, of Chicago, in the Journal of Germanic Philology (vol. ii. No. 3, p. 337), and by Wilhelm Bolle in Die gedruckten englischen Liederbücher bis 1600 (Palaestra, xxix. pp. 39–56, Berlin, 1903). In both reprints the Italian originals of the madrigals are reprinted with the English. [back]
Note 9. The whole of the same sonnet of Petrarch was set to music by Alfonso Ferabosco and Geronimo Conversi as well as by Marenzio, and is translated independently by another Elizabethan collector of words for music, Nicholas Yonge, in his Musica Transalpina (1588). (See English Garner, Shorter Elizabethan Poems, p. 77.) In like fashion, Petrarch’s sonnet on the nightingale beginning (cclxx.), ‘Quel rosignuol che sì soave piagne,’ appears in an English translation (beginning ‘O nightingale that sweetly dothe complain’) in Morley’s Madrigals to five Voices, Nos. 19, 20, 1598, which were set to music by an English composer, Peter Phillips, who spent most of his life abroad. Of the general relation between English madrigals and Petrarch’s sonnets light is thrown by the musical composer, Thomas Morley. In his Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music (1597), the first satisfactory musical treatise published in England, Morley wrote of the ‘light music’ which had lately become popular in English: ‘The best kind of it is termed madrigal, a word for the etymologie of which I can give no reason; yet use showeth that it is a kind of musicke made upon songs and sonnets, such as Petrarcha and manie Poets of our time have excelled in.’ [back]
Note 10. Petrarch’s Sonnet lxiii., ‘Occhi, piangete; accompagnate il core,’ where the poet holds dialogue with his eyes, with its complement in cxvii., ‘Che fai, alma? che pensi? avrem mai pace?’ where the poet holds dialogue with his heart, were especially favoured by the later Italian and French sonneteers as well as by the English. Cf. Desportes, Diane, Livre II. Sonnet ii. (dialogue between the poet and his heart), and the sonnet headed Dialogue (between the poet and his eyes), which follows Sonnet lxi. in the same collection. Cf. Ronsard’s Odes, Livre IV. Ode xxii., where the eyes and heart address one another. [back]
Note 11. The publisher, Thomas Newman, employed Thomas Nashe, then a young man of four and twenty, to write a preface, and he added an appendix of ‘poems and sonnets of sundry other noblemen and gentlemen,’ which included twenty-eight sonnets by the poet Samuel Daniel, and seven lyrics, one of the latter being assigned to E. O., i.e., Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, and the rest being issued anonymously. Daniel’s sonnets were published without the knowledge of the author from a manuscript copy which Newman had acquired irregularly. The publisher dedicated the volume to a mercantile friend, Francis Flower. Newman’s transaction is identical at all points with that of Thomas Thorpe when he published Shakespeare’s sonnets in 1609, and Newman’s Francis Flower stands towards Sidney’s sonnets in the same relation as Thorpe’s friend, W. H., stands towards Shakespeare’s sonnets. Protests against Newman’s piratical procedure were made to the Stationers’ Company, apparently by the poet Daniel. The first edition was suppressed, but another was immediately issued by Newman without Nashe’s preface or the appendix. A third edition was undertaken in the same year by a second adventurer publisher, Matthew Lownes; a unique copy of Lownes’ edition is in the Bodleian Library, with the title-page somewhat defaced. An authentic version of Sidney’s sonnets, with additional poems by him which were not previously in print, was appended to the third edition of his Arcadia, 1598. There the songs with which Sidney had interspersed his sonnets were rightly distributed among them; Newman had placed them together by themselves after the sonnets. [back]
Note 12. The relations described in the sonnets as subsisting between Astrophel (the title that Sidney bestowed on himself) and Stella (the name which he gave the lady of his poetic affections) closely resemble those indicated as subsisting between Petrarch and his poetic mistress, Laura, in the first series of the Italian poet’s sonnets, which were written in the lifetime of his lady-love, Laura. There is no question that Stella was Penelope, daughter of Walter Devereux, first Earl of Essex, and sister of Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth’s favourite. When she was about fourteen years old her father destined her for Sidney’s bride; but that project came to nothing. She married, in 1581, when about nineteen, Robert, second Lord Rich, and was soon the mother of a large family of children. Sidney plays upon her husband’s name of Rich in his Sonnet xxiv. in something of the same artificial way in which Petrarch plays upon the name of his mistress, who was also another’s wife, in his Sonnet v. Sidney himself married on 20th September 1583, and lived on the best possible terms with his wife, who long survived him. Lady Rich also survived Sidney’s death in 1586, but her later life, during which she proved unfaithful to her husband and was divorced from him, does not concern us here. Sidney’s poetic worship of Stella became a conventional theme in Elizabethan poetry, and enjoyed a popularity only second to that of Petrarch’s poetic worship of Laura. The locus classicus for its treatment is the collection of elegies, entitled Astrophel, to which Spenser was the chief contributor. That volume was dedicated to Sidney’s widow, and his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, wrote a poem for it. Throughout the work, Sidney’s celebration of Stella is accounted his most glorious achievement in literature. The dedication of Astrophel to Sidney’s wife deprives of serious autobiographical significance his description in the sonnets of his pursuit of Stella’s affections. [back]
Note 13. ‘If I were a mistress,’ he added, ‘sonneteers would never persuade me they were in love; so coldly they apply fiery speeches, as men that had rather read lovers’ writings, and so caught up certain swelling phrases … than that in truth they feel those passions.’—Apologie for Poetrie, ed. A. S. Cook, Boston, 1901, p. 52. [back]
Note 14. In the added sonnets and poetical translations, which were printed for the first time, as an appendix to the Astrophel and Stella collection (in the third edition of the Arcadia, 1598), two lyrics are stated to be translations from the romance Diana by the Spaniard, Montemayor, and many others are specially noted as adaptations of Italian ‘tunes,’ the titles of which are given. But Sidney’s indebtedness is far greater than these hints suggest. [back]
Note 15. Ronsard, Amours, I. lxxviii.:—
  ‘Ha! petit chien que tu es bien-heureux.’
Sidney, Astrophel and Stella, lix.:—
  ‘Dear, why make you more of a dog than me?’
  Melin de St. Gelais seems to have inaugurated such addresses to lapdogs (cf. Œuvres, ed. Blanchemain, i. 97) in his poem ‘Ha petit chien, que tu as de bonheur.’ The theme was developed in Pancharis (1588), No. v., a collection of Latin poems by the French writer Jean Bonnefons, which were published with a French translation by Gilles Durant, and were well known in England (cf. Pancharis, ed. Blanchemain, pp. 21–25). [back]
Note 16. The early sixteenth-century Italian sonneteer Tebaldeo, in Opera d’Amore, No. 15, begins a sonnet thus:—
  ‘Letto, se per quiete e dolce pace
Trovato fosti da l’ingegno humano
Hor perche il corpo mio ti colca in vano,
E senza requie in le tue piume giace?’
  Desportes adopted Tebaldeo thus (Diane, I. vii.):—
  ‘O lict! s’il est ainsi que tu sois inventé
Pour prendre un doux repos, quand la nuict est venue.
D’où vient que dedans toy ma douleur continue,
Et que je sens par toy mon tourment augmenté?
Je ne fay que tourner d’un et d’autre costé.’
  Sidney’s Sonnet xcviii. has these lines:—
  ‘Ah, bed! the field where Joy’s peace some do see …
With sweet soft shades thou oft invitest me
To steal some rest; but, wretch, I am constrained …
With Care’s hard hand, to turn and toss in thee.’
 [back]
Note 17. The epithet ‘sucré’ is of constant occurrence in French sonnets, and clearly suggested the epithet ‘sugared’ which is frequently applied by English contemporaries to Elizabethan sonnets. Francis Meres wrote of Shakespeare’s ‘sugared sonnets.’ ‘Sugared talk’ appears infra, ii. 60. [back]
Note 18. Daniel, A defence of Ryme, 1607 (ed. Grosart, iv. 44). [back]
Note 19. This sonnet proved the parent of many later English sonnets, chief among them being Milton’s Sonnet xxiii.:—
  ‘Methought I saw my late espousèd saint.’
 [back]
 
 
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