« PreviousContinue »
Dr. Johnson's character of his prose style merits quotation : " No author (says he) ever kept his verse and prose at a greater distance from each other. His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-sought, or hard-laboured, but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar without grossness."
Was the second surviving son of Robert, eart of Leicester, by his wife Dorothy, eldest daughter of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland. He was born about the year 1621-2. His father, when ambassador successively to the courts of Denmark and France, took young Sidney with him, though a mere youth, to give him every opportunity of improvement.
On the breaking out of the rebellion in Ireland, 1641, he obtained a commission for a troop of horse in his father's regiment, who was then lord lieutenant of Ireland; and in 1643, had the king's permission to return to England with his brother, the lord Lisle, but with express orders, on their allegiance, to repair to his majesty at Oxford. The parliament, howa ever, getting intelligence of this arrangement; caused them to be taken into custody on their landing in Lancashire. The king suspecting this to be a concerted scheme, was greatly in= censed; from which they took occasion to join the parliament, under which Algernon accepted a command. This was at first a captaincy of a troop of horse in the regiment of the eart of Manchester. On the following year, Fair- . fax, the commander in chief, made him colonel of a regiment of horse. His other appointments and services it is unnecessary to mention. He was nominated one of the judges of Charles I. though he did not appear.
Algernon Sidney was a republican upon principle; and when Oliver Cromwell had usurped the government, he refused to act under him or his son who succeeded him in the protectorship; but as soon as the long parliament was restored, he became one of the council of state. On the restoration of Charles II. he was abroad, with others, with a view to mediate a peace between Denmark and Sweden; and as his principles were decided and well known, he could not with safety return to his own country. He employed himself therefore in moving about from one part of Europe which I found every where there : (though my triderstanding had little to do with all this) and by degrees, with the tinkling of the rhyme, and dance of the numbers, so that I think I had read him all over before I was twelve years old, and was thus made a poet as immediately as a child is made an eunuch. With these affections of mind, and my heart wholly set upon letters, I went to the university; but was soon torn from thence by that public violent storm, which would suffer nothing to stand where it did, but rooted up every plant, even from the princely cedars, to me, the hyssop. Yet I had as good fortune as could have befallen me in such a tempest; for I was cast by it into the family of one of the best persons, and into the court of one of the best princesses in the world. Now, though I was here engaged in ways most contrary to the original design of my life; that is, into much company, and no small business, and into a daily sight of greatness, both militant and triumphant, (for that was the state then of the English and the French courts; yet all this was so far from altering my opinion, that it only added the confirmation of reason to that which was before but natural inclination. I saw plainly all the paint of that kind of life, the nearer I came to it; and that beauty which I did not fall in love with, when, for aught I knew, it was real, was not like to bewitch, or intice me,
when I saw it was adulterate. I met with several great persons, whom I liked very well; but could not pere eeive that any part of their greatness was to be liked S or desired, no more than I would be glad or content
to be in a storm, though I saw many ships which rid safely and bravely in it. A storm would not agree with my stomach, if it did with my courage; though I was in a crowd of as good company as could be found any where, though I was in business of great and honourable trust, though I eat at the best table, and enjoyed the best conveniences for present subsistence that ought to be desired by a man of my condition, in banishment and public distresses; yet I could not abstain from renewing my old school-boy's wish, in a copy of verses to the same effect:
Well then; I now do plainly see,
- And I never then proposed to myself any other advantage from his majesty's happy restoration, but the getting into some moderately convenient retreat in the country, which I thought in that case I might easily have compassed, as well as some others, who, with no greater probabilities or pretences, have arrived to extraordinary fortunes. But I had before written a shrewd prophecy against myself, and I think Apollo inspired me in the truth, though not in the elegance of it: