Thy Necessity Is Greater Than Mine

Today is the birthday of Sir Philip Sydney, one of the constellation of the great Christian "renaissance men" of the Elizabethan era. This man was a model of what men ought to be, a hero in a heroic time whose life was cut short at the age of thirty-two. Sydney is best known as the author of A Defense of Poesy, a work that took on the important task of calling Plato a dumb-ass. I mean, seriously, if you fear and hate poets you're one of the bad guys. Sydney wrote beautiful poetry, spoke several languages, was known for his elegant manners, danced and sang well, and was a knight and warrior.

No man ought to be a coward of a weakling. But no man ought to be a brute. It is fashionable to think that centuries ago, when a man could die from the infection of a light wound to the leg, or could lose all his teeth early in adulthood, or could expect half his children to die before reaching adulthood, then was a brutish time for brutal people. But it seems that these folk were alive to life because death was near. Today we put off death, pretend the day is not coming, all the while frantically trying to extend our lives for as long as possible. This is a brutish age, and we are a brutal people. The only dynamic a modern people can understand is that of power.

But you can fight that. You can write poetry, and take up your sword for the underdog. There's nothing wrong with the sword; but be a true knight about it.
In 1586 [Sir Philip Sydney] joined the English army which Elizabeth sent in that year to help the Protestants of Holland against Philip II. The Low Countries, once the possession of the Dukes of Burgundy, now belonged to Spain, and the people had been fighting for many years for their liberty, especially the liberty to hold the Reformed faith. They were at this time in great straits. Philip had conquered the western part of the State (now known as Belgium), and had procured that the great leader of the Dutch, William of Orange, should be assassinated. Queen Elizabeth, who had before allowed her subjects to help the Dutch, now openly took their part; she saw that she and they had a common enemy in Philip of Spain, and that if she allowed them to be destroyed the turn of England would come next. So she sent 7000 men under the command of the Earl of Leicester, who was son of Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and so Philip Sidney's uncle. Sidney was already in the country, for in 1585 he had been sent as Governor to Flushing. In July of the next year he joined Maurice of Nassau in attacking the Spaniards, and some weeks later the united forces of English and Dutch besieged the town of Zutphen in the province of Quelderland. The Spanish commander sent a convoy of provisions for the town, and a force of English cavalry was sent to intercept it. Philip Sidney with various young noblemen and gentlemen, went with it as volunteers. It was a foggy morning, and for a time nothing could be seen, only the wheels of the waggons in which the provisions were carried could be heard. Then the sun came out, and the Englishmen saw that the convoy was well guarded. There were 3000 Spaniards in all, among them some of the best of the Spanish cavalry and spearmen. The Englishmen, overmatched as they were, did not hesitate for a moment. They charged the enemy, the young Earl of Essex leading them, broke through the lines of the Spaniards, and then, turning round, charged them again. Philip Sidney's horse was shot under him in this second charge. He mounted another and rode on. Meanwhile the convoy which they were trying to capture went on getting nearer and nearer to the town, for the English, with their scanty numbers, could not stop it. Then Sidney and his companions charged a third time, and this time he got as far as the town itself. Then he was hit by a musket-ball on the leg above the knee. Commonly this part would have been protected by armour, but Sidney had put off his cuisses, or thigh-pieces, because a companion, an older man than himself, had none to wear. The ball made a bad wound, breaking the bone of the thigh. Sidney rode back to camp, for he could no longer manage his horse in battle. As he went along, he asked for a drink of water. When it was given him, he saw, while raising it to his lips, a dying soldier who looked at the cup with eyes of longing. He handed the water to him with the words, "Thy necessity is greater than mine."

It was not thought at first that the wound was mortal. Very likely, had the surgeons of that day been as skilful in treating wounds as are the surgeons of ours, he might have lived. But this was not to be. He lingered for rather more than a fortnight, dying on October 17, 1586.

The above is from The Perfect Knight, an account in Alfred J. Church's English History Stories.

So there it is. This man died from the infection of a light wound to the leg. And we are conditioned to think that this sort of death was a waste. But his death was poetic, and would be whether the story of the water is true or not. And yes, there are such things as poetic deaths. Let us prefer a beautiful life with a dirty death to a brutish life with a clean death. But let's not seek either.

Let us ask God for long beautiful life and death at home.