. Nay, truly, it hath that praise that it wanteth not grammar. The poet affects feelings and does not just give examples. Homer 2 29, 9 27, 39 29, 40 6, 9, 41 17, 57 19. In our neighbor country Ireland, where truly learning goeth very bare, yet are their poets held in a devout reverence. But as the unimitable Pindar often did, so is that kind most capable and most fit to awake the thoughts from the sleep of idleness, to embrace honorable enterprises.
Who reads Æneas carrying old Anchises on his back, that wishes not it were his fortune to perform so excellent an act? But the poet, as I said before, never affirmeth. To Peacock, Shelley wrote: Your anathemas against poetry itself excited me to a sacred rage. Truly, as me seemeth, the poet; and if not a moderator, even the man that ought to carry the title from them both, and much more from all other serving sciences. Lastly, poetry is eternal for it can set down human nature in all its manifold manifestations. But as I never desired the title, so have I neglected the means to come by it; only, overmastered by some thoughts, I yielded an inky tribute unto them. But our comedians think there is no delight without laughter, which is very wrong; for though laughter may come with delight, yet cometh it not of delight, as though delight should be the cause of laughter; but well may one thing breed both together.
And so as Epaminondas is said, with the honor of his virtue to have made an office, by his exercising it, which before was contemptible, to become highly respected; so these men, no more but setting their names to it, by their own disgracefulness disgrace the most graceful poesy. Certain poets as Simonides and Pindar, had so prevailed with Heiro the First, that of a tyrant they made him a just king; where Plato could do so little with Dionysius, that he himself of a philosopher was made a slave. The English is subject to none of these defects. But, if we mark them well, we shall find that they never, or very daintily, match hornpipes and funerals. I would those on whom thou dost attend could either put thee away, or yield good reason why they keep thee! A story is based more on a certain time period or events that may not be repeated again. For as in Alexanders picture well set out we delight without laughter, and in twenty mad antics we laugh without delight; so in Hercules, painted with his great beard and furious countenance, in womans attire, spinning at Omphales commandment, it breedeth both delight and laughter; for the representing of so strange a power in love, procureth delight, and the scornfulness of the action stirreth laughter. Muchlike matter doth Livy record of Tarquinius and his son.
Sidney responds in Apology to an emerging antipathy to poetry as expressed in Stephen Gosson's The Schoole of Abuse. Who is it that ever was a scholar that doth not carry away some verses of Virgil, Horace, or Cato, which in his youth he learned, and even to his old age serve him for hourly lessons? Or a virtuous man in all fortunes, as Æneas in Virgil? Robert, King of Sicily 44 27. But what needs more in a thing so known to all men? Again, a man might ask out of what commonwealth Plato doth banish them. In that same year, Ponsonby printed the same essay with the title The Defense of Poesie. Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect another nature, in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in nature, as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chimeras, Furies, and such like: so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging only within the zodiac of his own wit. So doth the musician in times tell you which by nature agree, which not.
Usque adeone mori miserum est? The English is subject to none of these defects. At length the long line of their disputation maketh 10 a point in this,—that the one giveth the precept, and the other the example. I conclude, therefore, that he excelleth history, not only in furnishing the mind with knowledge, but in setting it forward to that which deserveth to be called and accounted good; which setting forward, and moving to well-doing, indeed setteth the laurel crown upon the poet as victorious, not only of the historian, but over the philosopher, howsoever in teaching it may be questionable. Yet had he great wants, fit to be forgiven in so revered antiquity. The poet then does not depart from external nature. Plautus 49 3, 50 13.
But both have such an affinity in the wordish consideration, that I think this digression will make my meaning receive the fuller understanding:—which is not to take upon me to teach poets how they should do, but only, finding myself sick among the rest, to show some one or two spots of the common infection grown among the most part of writers; that, acknowledging ourselves somewhat awry, we may bend to the right use both of matter and manner: whereto our language gives us great occasion, being, indeed, capable of any excellent exercising of it. But now it may be alleged that if this imagining of matters be so fit for the imagination, then must the historian needs surpass, who bringeth you images of true matters, such as indeed were done, and not such as fantastically or falsely may be suggested to have been done. You know, to fire up a debate! Now whom shall we find, since the question standeth for the highest form in the school of learning, to be moderator? Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done. Now for the outside of it, which is words, or as I may term it diction, it is even well worse, so is that honey-flowing matron eloquence apparelled or rather disguised, in a courtesan-like painted affectation: one time with so farfet words, that many seem monstersbut must seem strangersto any poor Englishman; another time with coursing of a letter, as if they were bound to follow the method of a dictionary; another time with figures and flowers extremely winter-starved. Sidney had a rigorous education at Shrewsbury School and then Christ Church, Oxford.
Like most Renaissance writers on poetry, Sidney restates and reinterprets classical doctrines. Nay, to so unbelieved a point he proceeded, as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a prince as to be a good horseman; skill of government was but a pedanteria in comparison. I dare undertake, Orlando Furioso or honest King Arthur will never displease a soldier; but the quiddity of ens, and prima materia, will hardly agree with a corselet. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural philosophy in verses; so did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral counsels; so did Tyrtæus in war matters, and Solon in matters of policy; or rather they, being poets, did exercise their delightful vein in those points of highest knowledge which before them lay hidden to the world. What is at stake then is not only the value of poetry in the sense of its utility, but also its place in a world replete with strife, the contingent and the provisional. How well store of similiter cadences doth sound with the gravity of the pulpit, I would but invoke Demosthenes soul to tell, who with a rare daintiness useth them.
One of the themes of the Apology is the insufficiency of simply presenting virtue as a precept; the poet must move men to virtuous action. Due to this interaction of forces we have a melody. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990. Truly even that, as of the one side it gives great praise to poesy, which, like Venus—but to better purpose—has rather be troubled in the net with Mars, than enjoy the homely quiet of Vulcan; so serves it for a piece of a reason why they are less grateful to idle England, which now can scarce endure the pain of a pen. If I do, I shall not do it without the testimony of great learned men, both ancient and modern.