One of the great friendships of literary history began in the middle of November 1574. Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville, Sidney's distant relation, entered Shrewsbury School that month and began a life-long friendship. Grevill, in fact, kept the association alive long after Sidney died, spending "his life in mourning for" Sidney, as David Norbrook puts it, and leaving literary historians with an abundance of resources, a fact that prompted John Addington Symonds, the nineteenth-century English poet and critic, to write in his Sidney biography, "To the sincere attachment which sprang up between them [Sidney and Greville], and strengthened with their growing age, we owe our most valuable information regarding Philip's character and opinions. Fulke Greville survived his friend, became Lord Brooke, and when he died in 1628 the words 'Friend to Philip Sidney' were inscribed upon his tomb.'"
Greville has often been remembered more for his friendship with Sidney and his serving as a sort of literary executor of Sidney's estate--as Greville, for example, edited the first edition of Sidney's Arcadia, now sold under the title The Old Arcadia--than he is for his own literary work, though an updated version of the poet Thom Gunn's Selected Poems of Fulke Greville was reissued earlier this year. Greville's homosexuality has also sparked the interest of critics who are interested in building upon the rich growth in criticism that has developed around the topic of sexuality over the last 30 years or so.
I'd like to turn our attention to Greville's poetry, specifically Sonnet XXXIX of the sonnet sequence Caelica, which I reproduce here on the assumption that many of you have not read it, and a particular verb that Greville coins that shows something of his imaginative abilities. I'd also like to note, at the risk of stating the obvious, that the name of the eponymous mistress comes from the Latin for sky, something that is very relevant to the meaning of Greville's forgotten verb.
The pride of flesh by reach of human wit
Did purpose once to over-reach the sky;
And where before God drowned the world for it,
Yet Babylon it built up, not to die.
God knew these fools, how foolishly they wrought,
That destiny with policy would break:
Straight none could tell his fellow what he thought:
Their tongues were changed, and men not taught to speak.
So I that heavenly peace would comprehend
In mortal seat of Caelica's fair heart,
To Babylon myself there did intend
With natural kindness and with passion's art;
But when I thought myself of herself free,
All's changed; she understands all men but me.
Greville here develops a macrocosm-microcosm analogy between the builders of the tower of Babel and the speaker. As the inhabitants of the city of Babylon were attempting to penetrate the sky with their tower, the speaker desires to penetrate Caelica with his, something that suggests that she is not simply the "cold ideal" that the critic George Klaywitter finds her to be. That is not to say that the speaker has any hope of achieving his goal, but he does see and have an interest in his mistress's flesh as well as the ideal she represents. It is, in fact, in the process of illustrating the speaker's desire that Greville coins his verb, writing that he "To Babylon myself there [that is, into Caelica] did intend" and thereby transforming, it seems, the name of the infamous city into yet another verb for to copulate. The proliferation of language in Babylon, however, becomes, in its microcosmic version, the loss of the speaker's ability to communicate to Caelica and therefore the loss of his ability to employ "natural kindness" and "passion's art."