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Sir Philip Sidney and his editor

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Sir Philip Sidney. Daring soldier, fine poet, gallant man, 1576. National Portrait Gallery.

In February, a merry, Bombadil-like figure entered the house, charming us with his voice and wit, his genius for languages and love of poetry.

The man is Roger Kuin. He has worked for forty years on the letters of Sir Philip Sidney, recently published by Oxford University Press in the first full edition of Sidney's correspondence. The book numbers 1,464 pages.

Roger has accomplished much else in his life, but this book is special. It is a work of love, and Sir Philip Sidney is an extraordinary man.

Oxford (and Amazon) note: Sir Philip Sidney died at the age of 31. By then he had written the first great English novel, the Arcadia; the first major Petrarchan sonnet-sequence in English, the Astrophil and Stella; and the first important English critical text, the Defence of Poesy. His short life was eventful.

The son of the Viceroy of Ireland and the nephew and heir of the Queen's favourite, the Earl of Leicester, at 17 he began a three-year tour of Europe, during which he was received at the Court of France, decorated by the French King, and got caught up in the St Bartholomew's Massacre. At 22 he was chosen by the Queen as her representative on a diplomatic mission to the new Emperor, Rudolph II, in Vienna. At 30 he nearly left with Drake for the New World, but went instead to the Netherlands, part of an English effort to help the Dutch defend their freedom against the Spaniards, who had trampled on Dutch independence and freedom and had demanded that the Dutch worship as they did.

In the Netherlands Sidney became Governor of Flushing, one of the three Dutch cautionary towns granted to England. At 31, in 1586, he took the field and captured the town of Axel in a spectacular raid. A few months later he was wounded in a battle outside Zutphen. Sidney died of gangrene in October.

During his lifetime he corresponded with a large number of learned and public figures all over Europe, from Clusius the Imperial botanist to Ralph Lane the Governor of Virginia (who wanted Sidney to succeed him), from Dom Antonio the Portuguese pretender to Hubert Languet, Sidney's guide and mentor. This correspondence, which has never been published in full before, provides a fascinating glimpse of the workings of Elizabethan life and politics.

Nearly four hundred letters are included here, with translations where necessary. The letters are accompanied by a detailed introduction discussing Sidney's life and the writing, sending, receiving, and reading of personal letters in the sixteenth-century, a textual introduction, biographical sketches of the correspondents, and explanatory notes.

According to legend, while lying wounded Sidney gave his water to another wounded soldier, saying, 'Thy necessity is yet greater than mine'.

Sidney was laid to rest in London, borne up the river by his Black Pinnace, rigged with black sails for the occasion. It is not pleasant to recall the fact that the national ceremony was delayed for several months whilst creditors squabbled over their claims. His body reached London in November. He was buried in February, at St. Paul's. An inscription on the tomb read:

England, Netherlands, the Heavens and the Arts
The Soldiers and the World have made six parts
Of noble Sidney; for none will suppose
That a small heap of stones can Sidney enclose.
His body hath England, for she it bred
Netherlands his Blood in her defence shed,
The Heavens have his Soule, the Arts have his fame
All soldiers the grief, the World his good name.

(The account comes from Beresford Chancellor's St. Paul's & Southwark, 1925)

Now Sidney has an editor worthy of him.

Oxford has set the princely sum of £250 on this great volume, so if needs must, ask your library to order it.

Comments (1)

Cat and David, thank you: I'm glad you like Philip too. He was a good egg, and a few blokes like him would be a present help in trouble. And nobody has ever before compared me to Bombadil: I feel flattered, and warm and cheerful all over. Lang may yer lum reek!

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