SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
When sickened with the petty aims of the world around — when wearied and despairing in the quest of the ideal brotherhood, it is refreshing to recognise a kinship of spirit even across the gulf of centuries — to feel that the brotherhood of love we seek for is no vain dream, and that when we are worthy to enter its ranks, comrades such as Sydney will be there to welcome us.
On reading over the life of this paragon of the Elizabethan period, though his actual achievement seems at first sight scarcely to warrant the renown he won, the aroma of his character which so captivated his contemporaries, is still felt to be the truest criterion by which to judge the man.
But the chief lesson to be learned by students of occultism from the life of Sidney is that in proportion as passion rises to intensity is its power to act as the true alchehest in the transmutation of the baser metals of our nature into the pure gold of the heart.
For the mass of men who stagnate through life without one intense-passion to fire their nature, the formula of Eliphas Levi — modified as follows would indeed seem to be appropriate — though of course referring to the ultimate destiny, not to the result of any one earth-life. "The spiritual passion towards good and the spiritual passion towards evil are the two poles of the world of souls: between these two poles vegetate and die without remembrance the useless portion of mankind."
To see that Sidney was made in a more fiery mould, it needs but to read his "Astrophel and Stella." Though the complete purging of his nature and the conquest of self is only made apparent in the concluding sonnets, the passionate outbursts of his love, and the fiery path he had to tread are manifest throughout the poem, and naturally form a bond of union — all the closer when the culmination of the desire has been identical — with those who have had analogous experience.
It is perhaps difficult at first to realize how the love of an actual living woman should have the same purging and purifying effect as a similar love idealised, but nature is not to be bound by rules of our making in her methods of drawing different souls towards perfection. Both may be taken as illustrations of the fact that whether emotion starts from a pleasurable or a painful source, on reaching a high enough degree of intensity, it enters the region where pleasure and pain are merged in one, and then it is that it becomes the solvent of the man's lower nature.
It must indeed have been a fiery ordeal that Sidney passed through, for the earthly love by its intensity so to burn itself clean out of the heart and leave only the lofty aspirations expressed in the following sonnet, which truly seem to formulate the very sum and substance of Theosophic thought.
"Thou blind man's mark, thou fool's self chosen snare,
Fond fancies' scum, and dregs of scattered thought;
Band of all evils; cradle of causeless care;
Thou web of will whose end is never wrought!
Desire, Desire! I have too dearly bought
With price of mangled mind thy worthless ware;
Too long, too long, asleep thou hast me brought,
Who shouldst my mind to higher things prepare.
But yet in vain thou hast my ruin sought;
In vain thou mad'st me to vain things aspire;
In vain thou kindlest all thy smoky fire:
For virtue hath this better lesson taught —
Within myself to seek my only hire,
Desiring naught but how to kill desire."
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