Page images
PDF
EPUB

whom Dorothy, the eldest, afterwards became the wife of Lord Halifax, Sunderland's contemporary and rival ; while Penelope, the youngest, died unmarried about 1668.

With her widowhood a cloud settles down over Dorothy Sidney's life, and for many years we hear little of her. So far she has been the lovely and lovable girl and young wife, with the Sidney charm and the Sidney beauty. In the years that follow we find her still charming, still beautiful, in the eyes of those who knew her, but passing out of the brilliant splendour of youth to the more sober charm of mature life. To her neighbours around Penshurst, where she lived during the seven disturbed years which followed her husband's death, she was an ideal of womanly virtue, and she seems to have been regarded as above the common frailties and emotions of her sex. Certain it is that it was a shock and a disillusionment to them when she did what with many women would have been expected from the first, and married again. That a beautiful and charming widow of twenty-six should have admirers was only to be expected ; that in course of time she should accept one of them would certainly not have been regarded as strange in anyone of whose character a less high opinion had been formed. Yet it is hard not to see in a second marriage a failure in devotion to the first.

• Is the remainder of the way so long

Thou need'st the little solace, thou the strong ?

Watch out thy watch, let weak ones doze and dream.' Yet it is a failure which few will find it in their heart to blame severely. Lady Sunderland had been a widow for nine years, when, in July 1652, she took compassion on the long devotion of Mr. (shortly afterwards Sir) Robert Smythe, or Smith as his wife habitually spells his name. The family of the Smythes had a marriage connexion two generations back with the Sidneys; they were neighbours and intimate friends, and Robert Smythe's admiration for Dorothy had long been notorious. Still Dorothy Osborne, then writing her delightful letters to her betrothed, Sir William Temple (himself an ancient and ardent admirer of Sacharissa), feels very evidently that her lover's paragon has taken many steps nearer to common humanity by this second marriage, and shows a fine indignation at the saying, ascribed by general report to Lady Sunderland, that she had married her new husband out of pity. Temple, too, joins in the common regret at this step: ‘she has lost by it much of the repute which she had gained by keeping herself a widow. It was then believed that wit and

discretion were to be reconciled in her person that have seldom been persuaded to meet in anybody else. But we are all mortal.' 1

This is rather severe, but it must be remembered that Temple was writing a love-letter; and one feels that if Lady Sunderland wished to marry again, no one has a right to criticise her too harshly. It seems to have been admitted that the marriage was a happy one, but we know no details of it, and, like her first union, it was but of short duration. The exact date of Sir Robert Smythe's death is unknown, but it is certain that within a few years Lady Sunderland was again a widow, with one infant son as the offspring of her second marriage.

For all this period the story of Lady Sunderland's life is quite obscure. She seems to have lived mainly at Althorp until the coming of age of her eldest son, the young Lord Sunderland, in 1662, and after that date at Boundes, near Penshurst, the favourite home of her second husband. In 1659 her mother, Lady Leicester, died, her husband being with her to receive her last words of farewell to himself and of message to her absent son, Algernon, then an exile on the Continent, and her other children and the old servants of the house. The picture of the home life of the Sidney family remains perfect to the end. Lord Leicester himself lived on until 1677, his later years rendered more lonely by the exile of one child and the marriages of others; and of him we hear little more. We part with him in all kindness, as one who had been a wise and good father, even as Lady Leicester had been a careful and loving mother.

With the reign of Charles II. Lady Sunderland's life enters on its second part. We have known her as daughter and wife ; we now see her as mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother, and as taking a keen interest in the course of political affairs. She had two strong links with them in the persons of her son and her son-in-law. On the one hand her son, Robert, Lord Sunderland, was now of age and was learning to play the part to which his rank and abilities entitled him in public life. On the other, her eldest daughter, Dorothy, had in 1656 been married to Sir George Savile, subsequently (1668) created Lord Halifax. During the ascendency of Clarendon and the ministry of the Cabal, neither Sunderland nor Halifax appear prominently on the surface of politics ; but the exciting years which followed brought both to the

i Sacharissa, p. 135.

front, and we are fortunate enough to possess part of Lady Sunderland's correspondence during this period.

The virtues of the Sidneys do not seem to have descended in the female line. Certainly it is hard to realise that Sunderland, the sneak, the traitor, the renegade, was the son of Dorothy Sidney, and of the blood of Sir Philip. He was not lacking in abilities; on the contrary he had only too great a facility for dealing in politics, but he was utterly wanting in principle. He courted the favour of each of the king's mistresses in turn. He was suspected of Popish leanings in Charles's reign, and he became a pervert to Romanism under James, and yet he voted for the Exclusion Bill in obedience to the popular pressure of the moment. Halifax, at least equally able, was of very different moral temperament. Unpopularity was no deterrent to him, but rather the reverse, his leanings being habitually to the weaker side, whichever that might be for the moment. Unserviceable as a colleague, he was of great service to the nation in those days of unsettled politics and indeterminate parties; and those who had the pleasure of his intimate acquaintance might well feel pride in his independence and disinterestedness of spirit. Hence it is not surprising that Lady Sunderland's intercourse with her son-in-law was far closer than with her son; and the wife whom the latter took, as unprincipled and as tortuous as himself, was not likely to promote increased friendliness between them. Halifax lost his wife in 1670, but the common sorrow seems only to have drawn him and her mother closer together. They were congenial in temper, and Lady Sunderland took a mother's pride in watching and assisting her son-in-law's brilliant career.

Sunderland and Halifax both advanced to a front rank in politics at the same moment. When, after the fall of Danby, Charles tried Temple's scheme of a new Privy Council, or Cabinet, of thirty members, both were included in the number and both were of the inner nucleus with whom Temple most frequently consulted. The great question of the following years was that embodied in the Exclusion Bill. Sunderland, convinced by the preponderance of national feeling in its favour, adhered to Shaftesbury and voted for the bill. Halifax, disliking the bill, and disliking still more the violence of those who supported it, threw his influence into the opposite scale, and, at a great crisis in the struggle, it was his eloquence alone that persuaded the Lords to reject the bill, after the Commons had passed it by large majorities. This is the most dramatic moment of the whole contest, and it is pleasant to see Lady Sunderland's pride and delight in her son-in-law's triumph, even though her son's vote had been upon the other side, and her warm indignation when the disappointed majority in the Commons proposed to impeach the too successful orator.

- Lady Sunderland was a good letter-writer, chiefly because she let her feelings run away with her. The warmth of her emotions overflows in her correspondence, and if we only had her letters for the whole of her life, we should possess a most vivacious commentary on the course of public affairs. Unfortunately we have them only for the single year 1680, thirteen of them written to her brilliant and unprincipled' young brother, Henry Sidney, and the rest to her son-in-law, Halifax. From them we get an insight into her character which confirms all that we hear of her from other sources. She was quick and impulsive, ready alike with her joy and her indignation, but with a thoroughly warm and good heart at the bottom. At the age of sixty-three she writes with as fresh and lively interest in her friends and their affairs as if she was just entering on the enjoyment of life. The gossip of the town, political and personal, passes through her letters for the benefit of her correspondents, but it is when her deeper feelings are moved, whether by family matters, such as the marriage of her niece, or by political affairs relating to those in whom she was most interested, that the warmness of her affections and keenness of her feelings are most evident. To quote at length from her correspondence would be overlong, and short citations would give no fair idea. The reader must be referred to Mrs. Ady's book.

With the cessation of Lady Sunderland's correspondence, as preserved to us, a curtain is let down over the short remainder of her life. We would have given much to know how she spoke of the trial and execution which ended the life of her high-minded, though impracticable, brother Algernon, and to have heard her comments on the efforts which her beloved son-in-law made to save him, as he had done previously at the equally unjust condemnations of Stafford and Russell. It can hardly be a coincidence that her own death followed within little more than two months after that of her brother. On December 7, 1683, Algernon Sidney's head fell on Tower Hill. On February 25, 1684, Dorothy Sidney, Countess Dowager of Sunderland, was buried in the family chapel of the Spencers at Brington. Her second marriage and the long years of her widowhood are wiped out, and her heart rests once more beside that of the husband of her youth,

the father of the children whose careers she had watched in her age.

In this short narrative of Dorothy Sidney's life we have followed Mrs. Ady's most pleasant and attractive book. We have not cared to examine it from the standpoint of general history, but rather to treat it as a sketch of the persons and characters of the Sidneys of two generations. A contrast has recently been drawn between the personal and scientific aspects of history, between history as an accurate presentation of facts and history as a vivid delineation of character. In the ideal history both aspects are no doubt combined, but at a time when stress is especially laid on precise accuracy of detail, Professor Froude's reminder of the importance of the other side of the shield is not untimely. To most of us, the details of constitutional history are of no vital importance, but to all of us it is of importance that great and good characters should be brought vividly before us. After all, to the world in general, Plutarch is more valuable as a historian than Aristotle. Therefore, we have not attempted to check the references to general history with which Mrs. Ady's book is full. The main outlines are correct, and that is all that is required as a background to the real work which she has in hand, the portraiture of Dorothy Sidney and her friends. We may feel at the end that, after all, we know very little of Dorothy. A few poems in her honour, a few letters from her hand, and extracts from family pedigrees, sum up the whole tale, and, yet we feel that somehow the charm is there, the charm which made Sacharissa the divinity before whom poets like Waller and statesmen like Temple bowed in her youth, and the memory of which haunted the old writer in the Tatler twenty years after her death, and made him feel that by her side the beauties of a later day were nought, comparable to her neither in person nor in mind.

ART. IV.—THE HOPES OF HUMANITY.

National Life and Character: a Forecast. By CHARLES

H. PEARSON. (London, 1893.)

THIS volume is one of the most pessimistic that have appeared of late years. At the same time it is one of the most interesting. Its interest arises from the large and philosophic spirit in which the future of our race is dis

« EelmineJätka »