“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.”
[Illustration: PHILIPPE SIDNEY. After the miniature by Isaac Oliver, Windsor Castle.]
Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) wrote for his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, a pastoral romance, entitled Arcadia (published in 1590). Unlike Lyly, Sidney did not aim at precision, emphatic contrast, and balance. For its effectiveness, the Arcadia relies on poetic language and conceptions. The characters in the romance live and love in a Utopian Arcadia, where “the morning did strow Roses and Violets in the heavenly floor against the coming of the Sun,” and where the shepherd boy pipes “as though he should never be old.”
Passages like the following show Sidney’s poetic style and as much exuberant fancy as if they had been written by a Celt:—
“Her breath is more sweet than a gentle southwest wind, which comes creeping over flowery fields and shadowed waters in the extreme heat of summer and yet is nothing compared to the honey-flowing speech that breath doth carry.”
The Arcadia furnished Shakespeare’s King Lear with the auxiliary plot of Gloucester and his two sons and inspired Thomas Lodge to write his novel Rosalynde, which in turn suggested Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
To Sidney belongs the credit of having written the first meritorious essay on criticism in the English language, The Apologie for Poetrie. This defends the poetic art, and shows how necessary such exercise of the imagination is to take us away from the cold, hard facts of life.
Richard Hooker’s (1554?-1600) Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity shows a third aim in Elizabethan prose,—to express carefully reasoned investigation and conclusion in English that is as thoroughly elaborated and qualified as the thought. Lyly’s striking contrasts and Sidney’s flowery prose do not appeal to Hooker, who uses Latin inversions and parenthetical qualifications, and adds clause after clause whenever he thinks it necessary to amplify the thought or to guard against misunderstanding. Hooker’s prose is as carefully wrought as Lyly’s and far more rhythmical. Both were experimenting with English prose in different fields, serving to teach succeeding writers what to imitate and to avoid.
Unlike Euphues and the Arcadia, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is more valuable for its thought than for its form of expression. This work, which is still studied as an authority, is an exposition of divine law in its relations to both the world and the church. Hooker was personally a compound of sweetness and light, and his philosophy is marked by sweet reasonableness. He was a clergyman of the Church of England, but he shows a spirit of toleration toward other churches. He had much of the modern idea of growth in both government and religion, and he “accepts no system of government either in church or state as unalterable.”