A Poem by Sir Philip Sidney in a Seventeenth-Century Album Amicorum



[Images from the manuscript will appear here in the new year — Technical Editor.]

  1. Seventeenth-century travel albums, known also by the German name Stammbuch or by the Latin Album Amicorum, are an important source for the reception history of English literature abroad. Ever since Philip Melanchthon recommended that travelling scholars should keep such books for the inscriptions of famous persons and/or friends, large numbers of Protestant students took to heart his instructions. This habit was only occasionally taken up by English and Scottish students but hundreds of German, Dutch, Swiss, Czech and Hungarian scholars owned such albums of which there is a great collection in the British Library. A seventeenth-century album which contains a very early recognition of English poetry, in the shape of a poem from Sidney's Arcadia which has been copied into it, is at present in the Karolinska Library of Uppsala and is listed under MS Y 132/d. 1 It belonged to a German-speaking Bohemian scholar Daniel Stolz von Stolzenberg, a medical doctor and editor of alchemistic texts.

  2. Stolz von Stolzenberg was a well-travelled man. Though we do not know much about his politics, as a Protestant he would leave Prague soon after the defeat of Frederick of Pfalz (the Winter King) in 1621 to travel all over Europe. During his travels he visited different parts of Germany as well as Switzerland and England (he was in London during the summer of 1623) meeting fellow alchemists and medical men everywhere. He was also the editor of an emblem book published by Lucas Jennis in Frankfurt in 1624; Viridiarum Chymicum is often referred to as one of the best alchemical emblem books of the period. The Sidney poem that appears in his album on fol. 78-9 was inscribed at Kassel in Germany by another member of the medical profession, Johannes Rhenanus on March 7, 1623. Rhenanus was himself a poet and a good linguist, taking his cue from Prince Maurice the Learned, who was hailed by John Dowland in 1597 as 'a miracle of this Age for virtue and magnificence' (Bullen 1903, 83) and a language virtuoso. Rhenanus, who obtained his M.D. in Marburg in 1610 (Moran 1991, 77), served Prince Maurice in various capacities, working first in his chemical laboratory and towards the end of his life as the Prince's family doctor. He was also the author of a number of Paracelsian and iatrochemical texts (e.g. Urocriterium Chymiatricum, Marburg, 1609) and clearly a practising alchemist. He visited England at least once, maybe several times; one of his biographers maintains that he could have been accompanying Prince Otto, Maurice's son, who travelled to England in 1611 (Losch 1895, 13). It was during this visit, if not earlier, that Rhenanus got hold of a copy of Sidney's Arcadia, probably the 1598 'composite' edition.

  3. The poem which Rhenanus inscribed in Stolz von Stolzenberg's album is in fact Number 34 of the 'Poems from the Old Arcadia' in William A. Ringler's edition of Sidney's poems, where it is entitled '[Dorus]' (Ringler 1962, 68-9). Starting with the words 'O sweet woods the delight of solitarines!', it is 42 lines long both here and in Katherine Duncan-Jones's selection of Sidney's poems, where it is entitled 'Asclepiadics', indicating the verse form in which the piece was written (Duncan-Jones 1973, 43). However, in Rhenanus's handwriting, which fills up two pages of Stolz von Stolzenberg's small album, it comes to only thirty-two lines. Of these, two stanzas, that is twenty-eight lines, follow Sidney's original text, but the next two lines are an insertion by Rhenanus before he completes the poem with a version of the last two lines of Sidney's original third stanza. The first two words of the insertion are almost illegible, so some guesswork is necessary to read Rhenanus's 'completion' of Sidney's text: 2

    [Happy at?] Morien such solitarinesse
    Loved in his loving live [i.e. life] with sober philosophie,
    And thought not she dith [i.e. doth] hurt his solitarinesse,
    For such companie deck'd such solitarinesse.

    This version of the Sidney poem is ended with an alchemistic formula: 'SOLVE. COAGULA. IGNIS ET AZOTH TIBI SUFFICIUNT.' [Dissolve. Coagulate. Fire and Azoth Are Sufficient for You.] Rhenanus then completes his inscription with a Latin commendation to the visitor (which includes two Greek words, transcribed here in Roman letters):

    Paucos hos asclepiadici generis versiculos in memoriam Morieni solitudinis et possessoris hujus libri doctissimi Dn. M. Danielis Stolzii Medicinarum candidati, amici suavissimi tesseram [tes philias] lubens apponebat Casselis Hassorum 7 Martii ns 1623.

    [He [Johannes Rhenanus] put with pleasure, as a token of friendship, these few little verses of an asclepiadic kind in memory of the solitude of Morien and of the owner of this book, the most learned Mr. M. Daniel Stolz, student of medicine, most sweet friend[.] Kassel in Hessen 7 March, n[ew] s[tyle] 1623.]

    It was therefore in Prince Maurice's gardens, known as 'Morien', that Rhenanus entertained his young Bohemian visitor. What links them is not only the love of poetry (and solitude) but also a more than cursory interest in alchemy.

  4. This is probably the first known reference indicating German interest in Sir Philip Sidney's poetry. The opening of this particular poem had been given wider circulation by John Dowland who in his Second Book of Song and Ayres (London, 1600) reproduced the first two lines of 'O sweet woods . . .' (Beal 1980, 481), repeating them four times at the opening of each stanza (Ringler 1962, 404). While Dowland was known in Germany at the time, he did not indicate in his song-book the original source of the couplet he took from Sidney, and I therefore doubt any direct influence of Dowland on Rhenanus. As is well known, it was only in 1629 that the first German translation of Sidney's was published in Frankfurt (Waterhouse 1944, 21) and while Martin Opitz clearly appreciated Sidney's poetry which he got to know in Heidelberg (Waterhouse 1944, 20), there is no evidence that the translator's pseudonym 'Valentinus Theocritus von Hirschberg' was ever used by him or that he ever tried to translate the English poet. John Barclay, who wrote in Latin, appealed more to him. So the Rhenanus version of 'O sweet woods . . .' in Stolz's album is a unique, early document of the appreciation of English poetry on the continent.


  1. I am grateful to the Library for permission to quote from the manuscript and to reproduce an image of it. [These images will be posted at the top of this page in the new year — Technical Editor.]


  2. The archivists at Uppsala do not in fact agree with my conjecture for the first two words.


List of Works Cited

Beal, Peter. Compiler. 1980. The Index of English Literary Manuscripts, Vol.I, Pt.2. London: Mansell Shorter.

Bullen, A.H. Ed. 1903. Elizabethan Poems. Westminster: Constable.

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Ed. 1973. Selected Poems [of] Sir Philip Sidney. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Losch, Phillip. 1895. Johannes Rhenanus: Ein Cassele Poet des Siebenzehnten. Warburg in Hessen: E.A. Huth.

Moran, Bruce T. 1991. The Alchemical World of the German Court: Occult Philosophy and Chemical Medicine in the Circle of Moritz of Hessen (1572-1632). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.

Stump, Donald V. 1994. Sir Philip Sidney: An Annotated Bibliography of Texts and Criticism (1554-1984). New York: G.K. Hall.

Waterhouse, Gilbert. 1914. The Literary Relations of England and Germany in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Contents © Copyright 2003 George Gömöri.
Format © Copyright 2003 Renaissance Forum. ISSN 1362-1149. Volume 6, Number 2, Winter 2003.
Technical Editor: Andrew Butler. Updated 18 December 2003.