Friend to Sir Philip Sidney
- The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke edited by John Gouws
Oxford, 279 pp, £40.00, March 1986, ISBN 0 19 812746 4
Four hundred years ago, on 17 October 1586, Sir Philip Sidney died at the age of 31 of a wound sustained in a skirmish at Zutphen, where his forces had fought for the Dutch cause against Spanish domination of the Netherlands. It was one of the great deaths of English history. His early biographers – or hagiographers – wrought a tale of battlefield heroism and deathbed stoicism that helped the myth of Sidney to become more powerful than the man had ever been. The funeral procession in London, arranged at the crippling expense of his father-in-law Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth, and preserved in the public imagination by Thomas Lant’s pictorial roll, was the grandest accorded to an English subject before Nelson: a determined show of strength by the forward Protestant party to which Sidney had belonged and in whose cause he became a martyr. Poets wrote elegies which answered to a widespread sense of waste and desolation. They were to be echoed a quarter of a century later upon a no less memorable early death, that of Henry Prince of Wales, the heir not only to the throne but to Sidney’s role of lost Protestant leader.
No one mourned Sidney’s passing more profoundly than the best qualified and most influential of those imaginative early biographers, Fulke Greville, whose life of Sidney is the more substantial of the two treatises edited by John Gouws as The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke – the other being A Letter to an Honourable Lady, where the lifelong bachelor Greville offered a mistreated wife (now unidentifiable, and perhaps imaginary) the questionable benefit of his advice and consolation. Sidney and Greville had been born in the same year, 1554; and from the day they entered Shrewsbury School together in 1564 their destinies were barely separable. In the mid-1570s they entered Elizabeth’s court under the tutelage of Sidney’s father. With Edward Dyer the young friends formed that ‘happy trinity’ of poets, Sidney
Striving with my mates in song,
Mixing mirth our songs among.
In 1577, the all too early peak of Sidney’s political career, Greville accompanied him on a mission to strengthen the co-operation of Europe’s Protestants, a journey which introduced Greville to Sidney’s mentor Hubert Languet and to his most powerful Continental champions, John Casimir and William of Orange. The years which followed produced disappointment and frustration. Sidney and Greville found their progress at court, and their plans for military service in Europe and exploration in the New World, blocked by a queen who could not be won to the aggressive foreign policy of their party.
After Sidney’s death Greville lost his way. The news of it plunged him into months of sickness and melancholy. ‘Divide me not from him,’ he implored a common friend, ‘but love his memory, and me in it.’ That memory remained ‘ever in my eyes’ as a yardstick both of his own and of his country’s loss of direction. Even when the Queen, having curbed Greville’s overseas ambitions and taught him to ‘bound my prospect within the safe limits of duty in such home services as were acceptable to my sovereign’, began to smile upon him, he knew that Sidney’s friendship had ‘carried me above my worth’. Most of Greville’s surviving works were written after Sidney’s death, but when he compared them with Sidney’s he found them laboured and prosaic. In 1615 he planned an opulent tomb in St Paul’s, where he would lie next to his friend and where a monument to Sidney would overlook ‘a more humble one’ to himself. Instead Greville was buried in St Mary’s Warwick, close to his home of Warwick Castle, a plain inscription remembering him as ‘Servant to Queen Elizabeth, Councillor to King James, and Friend to Sir Philip Sidney’.
Greville’s life of Sidney, written in the earlier part of James’s reign, is a study in failure. ‘He never was magistrate, nor possessed of any fit stage for eminence to act upon.’ For ‘want of clear vent’ his ‘extraordinary greatness lay concealed’. Like other members of the Sidney-Dudley network, Philip was persistently mistrusted by Elizabeth, whom Walsingham thought ‘very apt upon any light occasion to find fault with him’. Sidney’s Arcadia abounds in pointed allusions to the exclusion of men of merit and virtue from high office by misguided rulers, and the poems of Sidney and Greville hint at the same preoccupation. Even Sidney’s death has an air of failure, for when he was at last allowed to fight in the Netherlands he had come to believe – so Greville tells us – that the English intervention there was a futile substitute for war in the Mediterranean and the Americas. A suspicion of military and medical incompetence hovers over the story of the fatal wound at Zutphen. And it may also be doubted whether the chivalric behaviour hymned by Sidney’s biographers was appropriate to the conditions of guerrilla warfare.
Greville commends Sidney less for what he did, which in politics was so little, than for what he was. But what was he? Greville wrote on classical principles, according to which biography is concerned not to record ephemeral detail but to select and heighten the hero’s merits for the edification and imitation of posterity. Sidney thus becomes ‘a pattern in the practice of real virtue’. Down the centuries the pattern has had its influence. Yet the truth behind the plaster exterior is hard to reach. Fulsome as the tributes paid to Sidney in his lifetime were, they were singularly imprecise, and we must wonder about their motives. Often they came from Continental Protestants who knew that he was the heir of his uncle the Earl of Leicester. Noting his conformity from an early age to the beliefs and policies of his patrons, his Continental admirers saw him as a future Privy Councillor who would steer England into a Continental Protestant league. The habits of praise were doubtless strengthened by his way of dispensing invitations to co-religionists he met on the Continent to visit him in England, and by the patronage given by ‘that great Maecenas’ to scholars and poets. Not all those poets, to judge by the elegies on his death, knew much about his career or his writings.
The idealisation of Sidney by Greville and others is not to be scoffed at. It was untruthful in a sense which only an age of laundry-list biography finds reprehensible. Idealised public praise was held to be a principal means of incitement to virtue. We know from Sidney’s writings that the strenuous pursuit of virtue was to him the purpose of living; his understanding of virtue was close enough to Greville’s; and a whole dimension of Elizabethan politics and society is missed by historians who neglect – or plunder – the literature in which the ideals of virtue found expression. The tricks played by Greville’s didactic purpose on his memory of events are of small moment. But between an ideal and a reality, as Greville and Sidney well knew, the distance may be large. When C.S. Lewis, in the Oxford History of English Literature, called Sidney ‘that rare thing, the aristocrat in whom the aristocratic ideal is really embodied’, he provided unwitting testimony to the success of Greville’s legend. It is only recently that the gap between man and myth has become an area of fruitful inquiry, and that the inability of Sidney’s Aristotelian ethical system to meet the complexities of his experience has come to seem a source of creative tension in Arcadia.
Readers of Greville’s treatise face other challenges too. The title The Life of Sir Philip Sidney, by which the work has been known since its first publication in 1652, is – as Gouws observes – misleading. He prefers the heading of a manuscript version, ‘A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney’, for the ‘life’ was written as an introduction to Greville’s works, which he wished to dedicate to Sidney’s memory. The ‘life’ is something else as well: an essay in the new ‘civil’ or ‘politic’ history to complement the Annals of Elizabeth’s reign by Greville’s friend and client William Camden, whose foundation of a chair in history at Oxford Greville would match at Cambridge. Out of favour and of office in the years from 1604, the period dominated by his enemy Robert Cecil, Greville thought to occupy his leisure with a history of the Tudors, only to be thwarted by Cecil’s refusal to allow him access to the state papers. Cecil’s response is understandable, for historical scholarship – like historical drama, which Greville likewise wrote with an eye to the present – had become a veil for oblique but sharp criticism of authority. Material which might have appeared in Greville’s history is worked into the ‘life’ instead. Sidney, ‘our unbelieved Cassandra’, becomes a model of antique virtue to be set against ‘modern’ decadence, and a spokesman for policies and principles opposite to Cecil’s. From between the lines there step pointed criticisms of the Jacobean regime. Greville hits at ‘effeminate princes’ who chase ‘idle, I fear deceiving, shadows of peace’; at the ‘monopolous use of favourites’ and the subordination of public to private interest in a court which has become a ‘farm’; at the decline of the Privy Council and of Naval administration; and – most boldly of all – at the ‘stretching’ of the prerogative by the extended use of proclamations and by the erosion of Parliamentary liberties, a development taking England into the ‘wildernesses of will and power’ of an ‘encroaching tyranny’.
Although we do not know when Greville began the ‘life’, he seems to have worked hardest on it in 1610-12. In 1610 the assassination of Henry IV of France, the death of Archbishop Bancroft and the weakening of Cecil’s supremacy at court wrought a change in the complexion of English politics that may provide the most helpful context for an understanding of the ‘life’. From that year until his death in 1612 Henry Prince of Wales, whose image was so consciously modelled on Sidney’s, became the focus for supporters of militant Protestantism at home and abroad. Is Greville’s declaration that he writes on Sidney ‘to the end that we might once again see that ingenuity among men’ intended for Henry’s benefit? And when Greville urges reform on ‘my prince’ is it Prince Henry rather than King James whom he addresses? At all events, a series of remarks seems to allude as much to the present as to the past hero of forward Protestantism. If only Elizabeth had followed Sidney’s anti-Papal advice, Greville tells us, ‘the passage for other princes over the Alps would have been by this time more easy than Hannibal’s was.’ Such apocalyptic language attached itself to Henry in 1610-12, not least in the hope expressed to the Prince in 1611 by Samson Lennard, who had fought with Sidney at Zutphen, that he might ‘live to march over the Alps, and to trail a pike before the walls of Rome, under your highness’ standard’. In the same way, Greville’s belief that Sidney’s aggressive foreign policy might have reconciled ‘these petty dividing schisms’ among European Protestants resembles the recollection of a contemporary that Henry’s vigorous diplomatic programme was intended ‘to compound the unkind jars thereof’.
The length and the content of Greville’s account of Sidney’s views on foreign policy – of his opposition to Elizabeth’s proposal to marry the Duke of Anjou, of his belief that Rome and Spain ‘could now be withstood or balanced by no other means than a general league in religion’ – perhaps become easier to understand when we notice the sharp relevance of Greville’s comments to the debates of 1610-12 about whether Henry should marry a Catholic and whether England should commit itself to the leadership of a European Protestant union. Sidney’s ‘heroical design of invading and possessing America’, Greville lamented, had yet to be successfully emulated: but Greville must have known where to direct his hopes, for Henry, who, like Greville’s Sidney, understood the need to take on Spain both in the New World and in the Mediterranean, is reported to have planned ‘in person to become the executor of that noble attempt in the West Indies’. Equally Greville cannot have dropped his hint that Sidney’s intention to found a devout American colony should now ‘be revived by some generous undertaker’ in ignorance of Henry’s warm support for the Virginia Company as an instrument of colonisation and religious conversion. Greville’s attribution to Sidney of schemes for subverting French absolutism by aiding that crown’s enemies at home may owe something to Prince Henry’s secretive dealings with French noblemen after Henry IV’s death. So may the appearance of that king and of the Huguenot leaders Rohan and Bouillon in Greville’s text. Perhaps it is even not over-fanciful to suspect a link between Greville’s assertion that before his death Sidney had persuaded ‘thirty gentlemen’ to raise money by land sales so as to follow him to the Netherlands, and Henry’s plan, reported just after he had died, to sell land in order to lead ‘an almost infinite number of young nobles’ into Europe.
Other evidence points to Greville’s interest in Prince Henry. In revising the second scene of his play Mustapha under James I, he painted a contrast between the unhealthy court of King Solyman and the healthy one of his heir –
The ancient forms he keeps, where it is good:
His projects reformation everywhere:
His care to have diseases understood –
which is surely meant to correspond to the difference between James’s court and his son’s. Greville described flattery and other courtly evils as enemies to ‘truth’: so did Henry. Matthew Gwinne, Greville’s old friend who had helped him edit Arcadia, found favour at Henry’s court, and Greville’s commitment to Naval reform and his belief in practical education – a subject on which he can sound like a spokesman for Industry Year – were close to the Prince’s own ideas. So are views expressed in tracts which were written for Henry by Sir Walter Ralegh in the Tower in or around 1611 and which, like Ralegh’s The Prerogative of Parliaments, find many echoes in Greville’s ‘life’. Similarities of detail – such as the insistence by both writers that the ‘fame’ of all the Spanish armies save that of Flanders is undeserved – accompany broader ones of theme and argument.
The impact of Greville’s Jacobean pre-occupations on the ‘life’, although sometimes profound, is intermittent. It is Sidney who stands at the centre of the work, not Cecil or King James or Prince Henry. Even so, there are tensions between Greville’s immediate political concerns and his hagiographical intentions. The standard technique of James’s critics was to praise his predecessor and to allow the reader to notice the contrast. In the ‘life’ Elizabeth is ‘this miracle of princes’, ‘our famous Judith’. Greville’s difficulty is to square his retrospective glorification of the Queen with her refusal to acknowledge Sidney’s worth or to adopt his programme. The problem should not have been insoluble, for the Elizabethan period praised in the ‘life’ is principally the later one, when Sidney was dead and the distance between her foreign policy and his had narrowed. Greville’s conspicuous failure to solve it indicates how deeply his reservations about the Elizabethan regime had run, despite his personal affection for the Queen. The ‘life’ discloses an anxiety not only about Jacobean politics but about the emergence over a longer term of a system of Renaissance monarchy which tended to tyranny. Greville was almost as much exercised by that development during Elizabeth’s reign as after it. The danger is hinted at in the Elizabethan poems of his Caelica and in A Letter to an Honourable Lady, an Elizabethan production, and is a continuous theme of the stern Senecan plays he wrote in the Queen’s last years. In the ‘life’ it prompts anxieties about rulers who might ‘metamorphose our moderate form of monarchy into a precipitate absoluteness’ and ‘lift monarchy above her ancient legal circles by banishing all free spirits and faithful patriots ... till the idea of native freedom should be utterly forgotten’. The same threat is a theme of Arcadia, especially of the new Arcadia which Greville edited. By setting Greville’s and Sidney’s careers and writings beside each other we can glimpse something of the youthful political radicalism that they shared.
‘Radical’, admittedly, need not be the appropriate term for their indictments of the effeminacy and enervation and treachery of courtly life, for even conventionally loyal courtiers could subscribe comfortably enough to such sentiments – although the association of the court’s failings in Sidney’s and Greville’s minds with a historical process involving the extinction of liberties and the emasculation of the nobility gave their criticisms a cutting edge. More distinctive is their response to the assaults on civil and religious freedom in the Europe of the Massacre of St Bartholomew (which Sidney witnessed in Paris), of the Duke of Alva and of Mary Queen of Scots. In essence, it is the response found in the theories of contract and resistance developed by Sidney’s friends and allies abroad (Languet, Mornay, Hotman, Buchanan)– and anticipated in the 1550s by the Marian exile Christopher Goodman, whom the Sidneys protected in Elizabeth’s reign, and whose revolutionary pamphlet ‘How superior powers ought to be obeyed’ seems to me to be echoed by Geron in the eclogues of Book Four of Arcadia. In editing Arcadia, Greville brought forward to Book One the Ister Bank poem – the fable of the beasts. There Sidney recounts the political philosophy he had learned in Vienna from Languet, whom Greville summons in the ‘life’ as the opening witness to Sidney’s virtues. The poem’s argument, that subjects bear responsibility for their enslavement by kings, runs through Greville’s writings, and the mysteriously urgent concluding line of the fable, where Languet urges the people to ‘know your strengths’, is echoed time and again by him: in the plays Alaham and Mustapha; in the poem ‘Of Monarchy’; in A Letter to an Honourable Lady; and in Greville’s recorded speech in the Commons in 1593.
The problems of Elizabethan England, whose Protestants enjoyed peace and were spared persecution, were not those of European countries rent by wars of religion. Yet how easily they might become so! All Protestant Europe, the Sidney circle believed, was menaced by the satanic alliance of Spain and Rome. The agents of Popery were everywhere at work. Unless England made common cause with her beleaguered co-religionists she would be drawn into the Catholic fold, either by invasion or by the subversion from within of a Church to whose Protestantism Elizabeth gave such tepid encouragement. Greville calls Sidney a ‘wakeful patriot’, but Sidney’s perspective was as much Continental as English. His apocalyptic letter to Walsingham in 1586 portrays the Queen as an expendable pawn in the hand of providence. Increasingly Sidney took his own future to lie outside England. In the New World he hoped to preside over a plantation which would be ‘an emporium for the confluence of all nations that love or profess any kind of virtue or commerce’. He contemplated marriage to William of Orange’s daughter, a move that would have seemed to Elizabeth proof of disloyalty; and at the end of his life – if Greville is right – he saw himself as the future leader of the Netherlands.
Yet the strains on his political conformity under Elizabeth were as nothing to those that would have derived from her premature death. He knew how ‘frail a thread’ was her life and compared her to ‘Meleager’s brand; when it perishes, farewell to our quietness.’ The dangers of an unresolved succession in an age of reviving Catholicism and mounting absolutism are a preoccupation of Arcadia and of Greville’s plays. In 1553, on the death of Edward VI, Sidney’s father had sought to forestall the Marian reaction by backing the rebel Protestant claimant, Lady Jane Grey. Had Elizabeth died before Sidney he would doubtless have followed a similar course – and summoned the resources and the political theory of his European friends to his cause.
Contractual and resistance theories are one principal strand in the radicalism of Sidney and Greville. The other is Italian republicanism. Sidney is steeped in Machiavelli and Guicciardini and Contarini, while Greville’s understanding of civic animation, of fortuna (‘fortune harlot-like ... is dearest unto those that use her rudely’) and of occasione is spirited in its Machiavellianism. In Arcadia we learn ‘how great dissipations monarchial governments are subject unto’; and the work shows Sidney to have grasped – as those of his European friends who merely wished to replace bad kings with good ones had not – the need for constitutions where ‘not only the governor’ but ‘the nature of the government should be no way apt to decline to tyranny.’ The comment in Arcadia that ‘most princes (seduced by flattery to build upon false grounds of government) make themselves, as it were, another thing from the people’ provides one of many occasions when Sidney anticipates the republican vocabulary of 17th-century England.
It is at once the power and the limitation of Sidney’s and Greville’s radicalism that it was expressed in works of imaginative literature rather than in tracts of political theory. In exploring what might be, rather than what was or what was likely to be, they penetrated the relationship between public activity and the private mind as no thinker began to do in the dull formal treatises of Elizabethan political thought – or indeed in the works written when the breakdown of the state in 1649 had given republican theory a practical focus. Yet the better world glimpsed in the two men’s writings could exist only in imagination. Elizabeth, whatever her failings, was the best queen the forward Protestants had got; and her death was unlikely to offer the opportunity for rational constitutional architecture. Even in Arcadia, when Basilius is thought to be dead, it is only the ‘discoursing sort of men’ who ‘cried to have the state altered and governed no more by a prince’, and who called for a republic on Spartan or Athenian lines – ‘a matter more in imagination than practice’. In the same vein, Sidney warned his brother Robert that while the republican constitution of Venice deserved admiring study, ‘its good laws and customs we can hardly proportion to ourselves, because they are quite of a contrary government.’
Sidney and Greville saw themselves not as designers but as physicians of the state, offering mirrors for princes as well as for subjects, and seeking to postpone the decline to which, in their cyclical scheme of history, all forms of government were subject. The lesson for James’s reign that Greville drew from Arcadia, where only a fairy-tale king had saved the state from collapse, was that misgovernment would lead to political dissolution and civil war – a prospect he struggled to avert. For with one half of their minds Sidney and Greville are orthodox Tudor Englishmen, frightened by the mutinous capacity of the multitude, and aware that arguments of contract and resistance can be used by Catholics as well as Protestants. The Sidney circle might welcome the formal deposition of Philip II in the Netherlands in 1581, but they believed too that, in Greville’s words, Philip was committed to the ‘deposing of kings and princes’.
The inhibitions which made Sidney’s and Greville’s attitude to resistance so ambivalent were not merely practical. They lay in the roots of an Aristotelian philosophy which saw politics as a struggle for supremacy between reason and passion. Tyranny was the victory of passion. But so might rebellion be, as the images of disorder in Arcadia testify. The two writers know how prone to self-deception is the human heart. In the new Arcadia Amphialus draws up a manifesto whose arguments for resistance might have been penned by one of Sidney’s Continental friends – only for Sidney to condemn the ‘foul treasons’ behind the document’s ‘most false applications’ of ‘true commonplaces’. Just so does Greville have the unscrupulous Alaham incite rebellion with an argument that would ‘distinguish tyrants from kings’: precisely the distinction which Greville and the Sidney circle so often put to radical use. Time and again Greville warns against the ‘distractions of fear and hope’, ‘passions’ inimical to the philosophy of stoic fortitude which flourished in Sidney’s and Greville’s time, which infiltrated their writings – and which taught the virtues of submission and resignation more often than the doctrines of resistance.
There is an essay to be written about the two faces of the word ‘obedience’ in Early Modern England. Greville knows the evils of ‘credulous obedience’ and ‘false styles of obedience’, and the oppression to which they can lead. Yet in A Letter to an Honourable Lady, where he draws ‘the comparison between a wife’s subjection to her husband and a subject’s obedience to his sovereign’, he praises obedience as the ‘inherent tribute of nature unto power’ which ‘refines man’s reason’ and ‘rectifies his will’, and as ‘that inward fabric by which we do what we think, and speak what we do’. The debate between the two positions is fought out in Greville’s plays with an intensity that indicates its relevance to his career.
Never was it more relevant to it than in 1601, when he was obliged to choose between endorsing and disowning the treason of his friend the Earl of Essex, that ‘special companion’ to whom Sidney had bequeathed his sword, who had married his widow, and who had succeeded him, as Prince Henry was in turn to succeed Essex, in the hearts of the forward Protestant party. In 1587, when Greville slipped over to France without the Queen’s permission, it was Essex alone whom he informed; and in 1599 it was to Greville that Essex confided his misery when ordered to Ireland. On Essex’s fall in 1601 Greville wrote of his own ‘broken life’. In the crisis he remained loyal to his Queen. Thereafter Essex’s memory, unlike Sidney’s, could not be unambiguously honoured. Even so, Greville has more to say about the merits than the flaws of ‘this gallant young earl’, whose presence in the ‘life’ may, like Henry’s, be larger than it appears on the surface. When Greville remarks that in Sidney’s time the Queen’s advisers ‘sit at home in their soft chairs playing fast or loose with them that ventured their lives abroad’, he may be recalling accurately his own and his friend’s sentiments at the time; he may have an eye on Prince Henry, whose poet Michael Drayton urged him to
Goe, and subdue,
Whilst loitering hinds
Lurk here at home, with shame.
But it is more likely that he is remembering Essex’s complaint about the councillors – Cecil among them – who during his Azores expedition ‘sat warm and at home and descant upon us’ and ‘lacked strength to perform more’ or ‘courage to adventure so much’.
The fall of Essex taught Greville ‘to be careful, in his own case, of leaving fair weather behind him’. His subsequent intellectual development is hard to chart, for his habit of revising his writings in manuscript provides acute problems of dating. Critics have clutched at straws, but Gouws’s scholarly scepticism shows how frail some of the straws are. The general movement, however, is clear enough. It was a progress into deepening conservatism and deepening gloom. Greville’s contractualist premises and his ideals of good government remained intact, but he despaired of bridging the gap between theory and practice. Government came to seem a necessary evil in a fallen world, whose authority must be preserved and whose failings could be at best confined, never cured. The man who in his youth had hailed the civic freedoms of the Roman Republic now praised the Empire which suppressed them. Plagued by ‘the restless working and banding of his own thoughts’, he became obsessed by the deficiencies of ‘corrupting reason’, that ‘twilight of deliberation’. The world was a place of ‘shadows’ and ‘shops of deceit’, where ‘truth’ was doomed to unending conflict with ‘power’ – a perception that alas did nothing to abate the desperation of his struggle to regain worldly influence and honour. The offices he acquired in the second half of James’s reign did nothing to quieten his spirit. In 1628 he was murdered at his London home by a servant apparently provoked by the stinginess for which Greville was known.
With political pessimism came religious pessimism. Sidney and Greville had shared a latitudinarian faith. Neither had much time for what Greville called the ‘idle theoric’ of Protestantism, a religion whose chief concern, he thought, should be ‘man’s life to amend’. Under Elizabeth, he supported those leading critics of Calvinist dogma Lancelot Andrewes, John Overall and Peter Baro. But under James, Greville’s examination of ‘the depth of mine iniquity’ drew him to the doctrine of election and persuaded him to ‘divide God’s kingdom from the rest’. Pagan philosophy now seemed barren to him, the adornments of art a snare. His involuted and densely metaphorical writing yielded to a style of dogged plainness and austerity.
In the ‘life’ Greville’s disenchantment is at a relatively early stage, but it places a question-mark against his assessment of Sidney’s literary priorities. If Greville is right, then Sidney’s description of Arcadia as a ‘trifle’ is something more than a bow to modesty and convention. The ‘life’ records of Arcadia that, as death approached, Sidney ‘discovered not only the imperfection, but vanity, of these shadows, how daintly soever limned: as seeing that even beauty itself, in all earthly complexions, was more apt to allure men to evil than fashion any goodness in them.’ The sentiment sounds characteristic less of Sidney than of the Greville of Jame’s reign, for whom ‘wit’ had become a pejorative term. Greville is not the only source for the suggestion that Sidney renounced Arcadia, but there is no 16th-century evidence to support Greville’s contention that Sidney had wished to consign his abandoned work to the fire. The playfulness of Arcadia is allied to a seriousness of purpose to which Greville would have been more sympathetic in Sidney’s lifetime than on that protracted voyage of despondency on which the loss of his friend launched him.
The editing of Greville has a tradition of contextual evasiveness from which Gouws largely escapes, even though he devotes more energy to textual questions than contextual ones and though his historical notes are occasionally more long than penetrating. It is excellent to have back in print, in an edition much superior to its predecessors, a work so important for our understanding both of the literature and of the politics of Early Modern England, and for our alertness to the relationship between them.