Meanwhile Rudolph II had succeeded to the imperial throne; and the “magnificently provided” Envoy who was sent to Prague, bearing the congratulations of Queen Elizabeth, was none other than Sir Philip Sidney. Sidney’s mind was set upon seeing his old friend Campion, and talking with him; but he managed only with difficulty to carry out his wishes. He went officially in the Emperor’s train to hear his friend (not yet in priest’s orders) preach, and on his return to England unguardedly spoke with delight of the sermon. Whenever Sidney visited the Continent he was supposed to become tainted with a hankering after Catholicism, though in all his public actions he was conspicuously Protestant.
Campion, who knew him from boyhood and was not given to misjudgment, believed that he had almost won over the star of English chivalry: “this young man so wonderfully beloved and admired,” he calls him in 1576; a testimony doubly interesting, when we remember that Philip Sidney was then but three-and-twenty, to the effect which his short life made upon all his contemporaries. “He had much conversation with me,” Campion’s letter goes on, “and I hope not in vain, for to all appearances he was most keen about it. I commend him to your remembrances at Mass, since he asked the prayers of all good men, and at the same time put into my hands alms to be distributed to the poor for him; this trust I have discharged.” He ends by hoping that some of the missionaries then going back to England from Douay will have “opportunity of watering this plant . . . poor wavering soul!” Fr. Parsons in his Life of Campion tells us that Sidney “professed himself convinced, but said that it was necessary for him to hold on the course which he had hitherto followed.” Such was the sad answer of Felix to St. Paul.
Campion’s thoughts had turned often of late to another friend, Gregory Martin, who had left overcrowded Douay for the Seminary newly founded in the heart of Rome, in the ancient English hospice for pilgrims. Campion longed to turn his fellow-priest into a Jesuit, for he loved his own Society in the extreme; but that was not to be. A letter to Martin, glowing with that interior fire which was shed out from Edmund Campion upon everything he touched, ends most tenderly. “Since for so many years we two had in common our College, our meals, our studies, our friends and our enemies, let us for the rest of our lives make a more close and binding union, that we may have the fruit of our friendship in heaven. For there also I will, if I can, sit at your feet.”
After years filled with literary and academic labour in two Colleges, and blessed with marked growth in holiness, Edmund Campion was ordained priest by the Archbishop of Prague. His first Mass was said on the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, September 8, 1578. Following his General’s express command, he dismissed the old unhappy scruple about his Oxford diaconate, and it troubled him no more. He was made Professor of Philosophy. “You are to know,” he pleasantly says, “that I am foolishly held to be an accomplished sophist!” During the course of this year 1578, he wrote his last and most famous drama, now lost, on St. Ambrose and the Emperor Theodosius, which, when acted, made a tremendous stir. He became ever more and more noted as a preacher, a “sower of eternity” in the popular heart, as well as the favourite orator when grandees died and were buried in state. But all this time his mind and heart were far away.