The Tudor Biographers
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[ 683 The Tudor Biographers1 The Listener, 2 (17 July 1929), 94-95 The three specimens of the art of biography, with which I shall close my review of Tudor types, all come rather late in history. Fulke Greville’s life of his friend Sir Philip Sidney was not published until 1652, twenty-four years after the author’s death. Lord Herbert of Cherbury, the brother of the more famous George Herbert, is really a Caroline, born in 1583. Sir Thomas Urquhart, whose translation of Rabelais I have already mentioned, is a true anachronism, for his little biography of Crichtoun was published in 1652.2 Yet he is an Elizabethan in spirit, and in those days his native seat of Cromartie was a long way from London; and as Mr. Charles Whibley, in his essay on Urquhart reprinted in his Studies in Frankness, has vindicated his inclusion of Urquhart as a Tudor translator, I need not supply a fresh vindication of my inclusion of him as a Tudor biographer.3 And the recent appearance of an edition of The Admirable Crichtoun, by Harpers, edited by Mr. Hamish Miles – a book of which my only complaint is that it costs a guinea – makes Urquhart’s inclusion all the more desirable.4 And when we have considered the biography, I hope and believe that I shall have covered all the important types of late Tudor prose. I do not suggest that other types of prose have not been discovered later. Pepys’ Diary, for instance, represents a later stage of civilisation; for perfect specimens of letter-writing we must wait at least for Dorothy Temple;5 good parliamentary oratory is hardly possible before the eighteenth century. But nearly all the major possibilities of English prose were first exploited by Elizabethans. The informal biography is very popular at the present time, both here and abroad; witness the work of Mr. Lytton Strachey and of his semi-disciple M. André Maurois, whose lectures, called Aspects of Biography, have lately been published in England.6 It represents, of course, a reaction against the official two-volume biography – not necessarily against only the biographies of statesmen published by authority of their executors. The Elizabethans knew nothing of the official biography. Fulke Greville writes with passionate enthusiasm of a friend, Urquhart with equal enthusiasm, though not as a personal friend, of his countryman. 1929 684 ] Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, whose proud tomb you can see at Warwick, was a man of Sir Philip Sidney’s own type, and one of the set of courtly poets associated with the name of Sidney’s sister, the Countess of Pembroke. He was the author of several plays in which there is much really fine poetry; he was one of those called “Senecals” who tried unsuccessfully to impose the classicalorSenecanformuponmodernEnglishtragedy.7 Hefollowedmuch the same career as Philip Sidney, with less distinction and with less romance. He had, I think, a profounder mind, a better intellect, than Sidney; yet he survivesmoreasthebiographerofSidneythanforanyotherofhisaccomplishments . It is not wholly unjust; for Greville was not a great enough thinker or great enough poet to stand out in an age of so many great men. Neither was Sidney; but Sidney remains as the typical figure of the literary courtier and soldier of the age; and Greville as his biographer. Greville does not follow any method that the reader of any modern biography might expect. He gives no dates, says nothing of Sidney’s marriage or domestic life; and on the other hand includes, even in quite a short book, a good deal that we should not expect: reflections on the policy of Queen Elizabeth and the situation abroad; and critical remarks about his own dramatic works. Yet his enthusiastic admiration for his friend does, in the end, give us something like a portrait. There is one story of Sir Philip Sidney which every child has read, but not every adult has read it in the words in which Greville tells it. At the battle of Zutphen Sidney was mortally wounded: Howsoever, by this stand, an unfortunate hand out of those forespoken trenches, brake the bone of Sir Philip’s thigh with a musket shot. The horse he rode upon, was rather furiously choleric, than bravely proud, and so forced him to forsake the field, but not his back, as the noblest, and fittest biere to carry a martial commander to his grave. In which sad progress, passing along by the rest of the Army, where his uncle the general was...