Notes of Lessons: Literature, Class IV

Notes of Lessons: Literature, Class IV

[We have thought that it might be of use to our readers (in their own families) to publish from month to month during the current year, Notes of Lessons prepared by students of the House of Education for the pupils of the Practising School. We should like to say, however, that such a Lesson is never given as a tour de force, but is always an illustration or an expansion of some part of the children’s regular studies (in the Parents’ Review School), some passage in one or other of their school books.—Ed.]

Subject: Literature • Group: English • Class IV • Time: 35 minutes

By Frieda Judd
The Parents’ Review, 1906, pp. 468-470


I. To introduce the girls to the hero of the poems dedicated to “Astrophel.”

II. To interest them in the life and times of Sir Philip Sidney.

III. To give them an insight into his exceptionally noble character.

IV. To develop the pupils’ power of appreciation, by letting them read some of the poems written to “Astrophel.”

V. To quicken the heroic impulse.


Step I.—Draw from the girls the knowledge they have gained of Sir Philip Sidney from history. Write his name and dates (1554-1586).

Step II.—Find out what they know of his literary merits and achievements.

Step III.—Give a slight account of his parentage to shew the influences which were at work during his earliest years. His father was Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord President of Wales, and his mother, was Mary Dudley, daughter of the Duke of Northumberland, executed for treason (1553). Sketch Sir Philip’s descent by a table, to make his relations more clear to the girls’ minds.

Philip was sent to school at Shrewsbury, and there met Fulke Greville his life-long friend. During this time his father was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Step IV.—Read Lady Sidney’s letter to her boy when at school (from Story of English Literature).

Step V.—Give the story of Sidney’s life, asking the girls for what they are likely to know. When he left Shrewsbury, he  went to Christ Church, Oxford, and studied there for some time; leaving, to go with the English Ambassador’s company to France, to forward the proposed marriage between Queen Elizabeth and the Duc d’Anjou. While in Paris he must have seen or at least heard of the massacre on St. Bartholomew’s Eve (’72) and this would strengthen his championship of the reformed religion. He then travelled on the Continent and met Hugh Languet, one of the leading Protestants, who had a great influence on his life. As courtier, under the care of the Earl of Leicester, Sidney went to Court, and when in Elizabeth’s train met Penelope Devereux, then twelve years of age, the daughter of the Earl of Essex, whom they were visiting.

Sir Henry Sidney was most ungratefully treated for his Irish government, and his son wrote in his defence;this annoyed Elizabeth, and with a letter Sidney wrote her condemning her proposed marriage with the Duc d’Alençon, was sufficient to put him into disfavour with the Queen. Philip’s sister Mary had married the Earl of Pembroke and was living at Wilton; here he joined her and they composed a great part of his Arcadia together.

When restored to favour Sidney joined the Court, and was made known as a writer of sonnets; he choosing Penelope Devereux as the central figure, under the name of “Stella,” after the Italian method. This lady had meantime married Lord Rich, not having been told of Sidney’s great love for her, and the latter’s disappointment seems to have had a solemnizing, though ennobling effect upon him. Read Leave me, O Love, a sonnet he wrote after this event. In his sonnets Sidney calls himself “Astrophel.”

Step VI.—Read Lamb’s criticism of Sonnets, in Last Essays of Elia; also, two of the most beautiful of Sidney’s sonnets. In answer to a Puritan attack on poetry, he wrote his Apologie for Poetry. He finally overcame his passion for Lady Rich sufficiently to marry Frances, the daughter of the Earl of Walsingham, who proved a devoted wife. He was sent with the Earl of Leicester to help the Netherlanders against Spain, and in a brilliant and brief exploit, received his death wound before the walls of Tutphen in 1586.

Step VII.—Tell the girls to find Tutphen in Guelderland on the Yssel.

Step VIII.—Give a very short account of the Arcadia. A pastoral romance, written in prose, with some poems in Sidney’s characteristic style. Slightly euphuistic (explain), his style was copied by many later writers. In it his serious and chivalric nature is shewn.

Step IX.—Ask the girls for what they think are the chief points in his character; and let them read poems (III. Poetry Book), dedicated to him by some of his friends, Spenser, Raleigh, etc.

Step X.—Recapitulate, by asking for the most important features of Sidney’s life. Recommend Mrs. Marshall’s Penshurst Castle to the girls if they have not read it.