Verse > Anthologies > Hunt and Lee, eds. > The Book of the Sonnet
Hunt and Lee, comps.  The Book of the Sonnet.  1867.
IV. On the Life and Death of Sardanapalus
By Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517–1547)
THE ASSYRIAN KING, 1 in peace, with foul desire
And filthy lusts that stained his regal heart,
In war, that should set princely hearts on fire,
Did yield, vanquisht for want of martial art.
The dint of swords from kisses seeméd strange,        5
And harder than his lady’s side, his targe;
From glutton’s feasts to soldier’s fare, a change;
His helmet, far above a garland’s charge;
Who scarce the name of manhood did retain,
Drenchéd in sloth and womanish delight,        10
Feeble of spirit, impatient of pain,
When he had lost his honor and his right,
  (Proud, time of wealth; in storms, appalled with dread,)
  Murdered himself, to show some manful deed. 2
Note 1. A bitter covert satire on Henry the Eighth. [back]
Note 2. There is a want of a proper nominative case to govern the verb “murdered”; and “proud, time of wealth” is a forced way of saying “proud, during a time of wealth”; otherwise this sonnet is excellent. By murdering himself to “show some manful deed,” he means to intimate, that the only thing which was left for Henry to do, in order to show himself not inferior to Sardanapalus, was to be bold enough to commit suicide; but, as Henry failed to do this, he is here delivered up to the disgust of posterity, as a thoroughly unmanly scoundrel.
  The boldness of the sonnet is wonderful, if we consider the times and the two men. Is it not probable that it was the real death-warrant of Surrey? Henry picked an ill-founded quarrel with him on an assumption in his coat of arms; but what was that assumption, had it even been illegal, compared with this terrible invective? One imagines Henry, with wrath-white lips, putting the copy of it into his pocket, and saying internally, “I ’ll murder you, at all events.”—And he did. [back]

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