Sidney, Algernon

, a strenuous champion for repub-­lican government, who set up Marcus Brutus for his pattern, and died like him in the cause of liberty, was second son of Robert, earl of Leicester, by Dorothy, eldest daughter of Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland; and was born about 1617, or as some say, 1622. Of his education, and how he spent the younger part of his life, we know little. It appears that his father, when he went as ambassador to Denmark in 1632, took him with him, when a mere boy, and again in 1636, when he went as ambassador to France. During the rebellion he adhered to the interest of the parliament, in whose army he was a colonel; and was nominated one of the king’s judges, and as some say, sat on the bench, but was not present when sentence was passed, nor: did he sign the warrant for his execution. His admirers, however, assure us that he was far from disapproving of that atrocious act. He was in truth such a zealous republican, that he became a violent enemy to Cromwell, after “he had made himself protector. In June 1659 he was appointed, by the council of state, to go with sir Robert Houeywood, and Bulstrode Whitelocke, esq. commissioners to the Sound, to mediate a peace between the kings of Sweden and Denmark: but Whitelocke observes, that himself was unwilling to undertake that service,” especially,“says he,” to be joined with those that would expect precedency of me, who had been formerly ambassador extraordinary to Sweden alone; and I knew well the over-ruling temper and height of colonel Sidney. I therefore endeavoured to excuse myself, by reason of my old age and infirmities; but the council pressed it upon me:" which at | last he evaded. While Sidney was at the court of Denmark, M. Terlon, the French ambassador there, had the 1 confidence to tear out of the university Album this verse; which the colonel, when it was presented to him, had written in it

" Manus hsec inimica tyraimis

Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem."

Lord Molesworth, who relates this in the preface to his spirited Account of Denmark, observes, that, “though M. Terlon understood not a word of Latin, he was told by others the meaning of the sentence; which he considered as a libel upon the French government, and upon such as was then setting up in Denmark by French assistance or example.

As Sidney adhered to the notions he had conceived of a pure republic, he refused to act under Oliver Cromwell, or Richard Cromwell, and during this period lived in a retired manner, sometimes at the family seat at Penshurst, and it is supposed that he employed some part of his leisure in composing those “Discourses on Government,” which have formed the favourite code of the republican faction in all ages since. When, however, Richard had resigned his protectorship, and the long parliament was restored, and a government without king or lords, Sidney became one of the council of state, and was sent to Denmark, as we have just noticed.

At the restoration, Sidney would not personally accept of the oblivion and indemnity generally granted to the whole nation; but continued abroad till 1677, when his father died. He then returned to England, and obtained from the king a particular pardon, upon repeated promises of constant and quiet obedience for the future. Burnet observes, “that he came back when the parliament was pressing the king into the war, the court of France having obtained leave for him to return; and that, upon his doing all he could to divert the people from that war, some took him for a pensioner of France: while he in the mean time declared, to those to whom he durst speak freely, that he knew it was a juggle; that our court was in an entire confidence with France; and had no other design in this show of a war but to raise an army, and keep it beyond sea till it was trained and modelled.” In 1683, he was accused of being concerned in the Rye-house plot; and, after lord | Eussel had been examined, was next brought before the king and council. He said, that he would make the best defence he could, if they had any proof against him, but xvould not fortify their evidence by any thing he should say; so that the examination was very short. He was arraigned for high treason before the chief justice Jeffreys, Nov. 1683; and found guilty. After his conviction he sent to the marquis of Halifax, who was his nephew by marriage, a paper to be laid before the king, containing the main points of his defence upon which he appealed to the king, and desired he would review the whole matter but this had no other effect, except only to respite his execution for three weeks. When the warrant for his execution was brought, he told the sheriff, that he would not expostulate any thing upon his own account; for, the world was nothing to him: but he desired it mig^ht be considered, how guilty they were of his blood, who had not returned a fair jury, but one packed, and as directed by the king’s solicitor. He was beheaded on Tower-hill, where he delivered a written paper to the Sheriff, Dec. 7, 1683: but his attainder was reversed in the first year of William and Mary. “The execution of Sidney,” says Hume, “is regarded as one of the greatest blemishes of the reign of Charles II. The evidence against him, it must be confessed, was not legal: and the jury, who condemned him, were, for that reason, very blameable. But that after sentence parsed by a court of judicature, the king should interpose and pardon a man, who, though otherwise possessed of merit, was undoubtedly guilty, who had ever been a most indexible and most inveterate enemy to the royal family, and who lately had even abused the king’s clemency, might be an act of heroic generosity, but can never be regarded as a necessary and indispensable duty.” Burnet, who knew Sidney personally, gives the following character of him: “He was a man of most extraordinary courage; a steady man, even to obstinacy; sincere, but of a rough and boisterous temper, that could not bear contradiction. He seemed to be a Christian, but in a particular form of his own he thought it was to be like a divine philosophy in tue mind but he was against all public worship, and every thing that looked like a church. He was stiff to all republican principles; and such an enemy to every thing that looked like monarchy, that he set himself in a high opposition against Cromwell when he was made protector. He had studied | the history of government in all its branches, beyond anv man I ever knew.

He left behind him “Discourses upon Government;” the first edition of which was in 1698, the second in 1704, folio. To the second is added the paper he delivered to the sheriffs immediately before his death; with an alphabetical table. They also formed one of the publications of Mr. Thomas Hollis, in favour of republicanism in 1763, 4to, with a life, in which the writer or writers declare that they “cannot wish a greater or more extensive blessing to the world, than that it (the volume) may be every where read, and its principles universally received and propagated.1


Biog. Brit, Hume’s Histury-.