« VorigeDoorgaan »
narrow compass a complete and dignified image or reflection, every part and expression of which should preserve its due proportion. If the composition be not spiritedly sustained, the whole stanza appears languid and unpleasing; and if it be attempted to crowd too much into the poem, it consequently becomes obscure and confused. To the writers of sonnets great poetic judgment, a delicate power of balancing words and concentrating ideas are indispensable; and these properties the mind of Shakspeare instinctively possessed. An epithet from his pen is often sufficient to form a picture. He has no redundancy of expletives, no rank luxuriance of words, but his images seem thrown off in the fervor of the moment, neither dilated nor distorted, following each other in rapid and continuous succession, yet each separate and complete. He surmounted the complexity of metre and the mechanical difficulties of verse with a master hand, and gave a splendor and variety to the sonnet, unknown in our language before his time; for most of the earlier poets wanted sufficient skill to draw out its true brilliancy from that gem of verse which the Italians had wrought to its highest polish. To his absent mistress he sings,
From you have I been absent in the spring,
Nor did I wonder at the lilies white,
contrast the power and imagery of this, with the playful tenderness of the following:
Those lips that Love's own hand did make,
SIR JOHN DAVIES composed a poem on the Immortality of the soul, the Hymns of Astrea in acrostic verse, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, and Orchestra, or a Poem on Dancing-the first is not wanting in philosophical views or lively fancy, nor the others in conceit. His epitaph at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields tells us that "he was a man of fine abilities and uncommon eloquence, and a most excellent writer both in prose and verse.
tempered the severity of the lawyer with the politeness and learning of the gentleman; he was a faithful advocate, an impartial judge, and equally remarkable for a love of sincere piety, and a contempt of anxious superstition."
JOSEPH HALL, successively Bishop of Exeter and Norwich, was the first successful satirist in our language. His verses are flowing and harmonious, and have something of that regularity of metre which was introduced in the time of Dryden. He has hit off with a humorous fidelity the vices of the upstart debauchee and the spendthrift heir, and has painted with a lively pencil some of the prevailing follies of his time. There is an allusion, in the third Satire of his fourth book, to the eager desire for wealth that turned so many of his countrymen into alchymists, or led them to the golden regions of the new world.
Vent'rous Fortunio his farm hath sold,
DONNE had greater energy than Hall, but far less
power of versification; he was abstruse, and often obscure, but occasionally powerful. His lines are faulty and inharmonious, and stand the trial of the finger better than that of the ear.* "He affects," says Dryden, "the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign, and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with speculations of philosophy, where he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softness of love."
The chief poetical work of DANIEL, who succeeded Spenser as poet laureat to Queen Elizabeth in 1599, is entitled the History of the Civil Wars, written in the octave stanza.+ He was unfortunate in his subject rather than his skill. A poetical chronicle, however diversified and sustained, must often be languid and tedious, and the heroes of York and Lancaster are perhaps better qualified for the records of historic prose, than those of heroic verse. There is however a dignity and spirit in Daniel that must always rescue his works from neglect, and a purity and happiness of language superior to many of his contemporaries. His Musophilus, or defence of Learning, is eloquent and judicious, and his sonnets and minor compositions, though often tinctured with the conceit of the period, are not deficient
*So says Dr. Johnson of the metaphysical poets of the period, generally; but, however injudicious so sweeping a remark may be, there are not many readers who will disagree in its application to Donne.
+ The ottava rima of the Italians, the same stanza as that of Beppo and Don Juan.
in excellence. There is a fine poetic gloom in his sonnet:
If this be love-to draw a weary breath,
Paint on floods, till the shore cry to th' air:
If this be love to war against my soul,
Lie down to wail, rise up to sigh and grieve;
BEN JONSON, the dramatist, has left us a collection of miscellaneous verses called Forests and Underwoods, and several larger poems. They are distinguished by an occasional tenderness and voluptuous dignity, a facility of rhyme, a manliness of thought, and a turn of mind running into epigram. His epigram on the union of the English and Scottish crowns is a specimen of the highest order of that species of composition:
When was a contract better driven by fate,
The world the temple was; the priest, a king;
The song of Night, in his Masque of the Vision of Delight breathes the very soul of music and fancy: