Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

104

105

106

intelligible. Pope has some epitaphs without names; which are therefore epitaphs to be let, occupied indeed for the present, but hardly appropriated 1.

The ode on Wit is almost without a rival. It was about the Vtime of Cowley that Wit, which had been till then used for Intellection in contradistinction to Will, took the meaning whatever it be which it now bears 2.

Of all the passages in which poets have exemplified their own precepts none will easily be found of greater excellence than that in which Cowley condemns exuberance of Wit:

'Yet 'tis not to adorn and gild each part;
That shews more cost than art.

Jewels at nose and lips but ill appear;
Rather than all things wit, let none be there.
Several lights will not be seen,

If there be nothing else between.

Men doubt, because they stand so thick i' th' sky,
If those be stars which paint the galaxy 3.

In his verses to lord Falkland, whom every man of his time was proud to praise 5, there are, as there must be in all Cowley's compositions, some striking thoughts; but they are not well wrought. His elegy on Sir Henry Wotton is vigorous and happy, the series of thoughts is easy and natural, and the conclusion, though a little weakened by the intrusion of Alexander, is elegant and forcible 6.

107 It may be remarked that in this Elegy, and in most of his encomiastick poems, he has forgotten or neglected to name his heroes 7.

108

2

8

In his poem on the death of Hervey there is much praise,

Post, COWLEY, 107; POPE, 396. Ante, COWLEY, 54. Johnson defines wit in its original sense as the powers of the mind; the mental faculties; the intellects.'

Mackintosh (Life, ii. 93) says:'What was the first instance of the limitation of the term wit to the modern sense of ludicrous fancy I cannot tell. It must have been after

Pope's definition.'

Eng. Poets, vii. 110.

Ib. vii. 111; ante, COWLEY, II. 5 For Waller's verses to him see Eng. Poets, xvi. 82.

There never was a stronger instance of what the magic of words

and the art of an historian can effect
than in the character of this lord,
who seems to have been a virtuous,
well-meaning man with a moderate
understanding; who got knocked on
the head early in the Civil War
because it boded ill; and yet, by the
happy solemnity of my Lord Claren-
don's diction, Lord Falkland is the
favourite personage of that noble
work.' HORACE WALPOLE, Works,
i. 501. See Clarendon's Hist. (1826),
iv. 240.

6 Post, COWLEY, 176 n.
7 Ante, COWLEY, 103.

8

Eng. Poets, vii. 129; post, MILTON, 181. 'This elegy,' writes

[blocks in formation]

but little passion, a very just and ample delineation of such virtues as a studious privacy admits, and such intellectual excellence as a mind not yet called forth to action can display'. He knew how to distinguish and how to commend the qualities of his companion, but when he wishes to make us weep he forgets to weep himself, and diverts his sorrow by imagining how his crown of bays, if he had it, would crackle in the fire2. It is the odd fate of this thought to be worse for being true. The bay-leaf crackles remarkably as it burns; as therefore this property was not assigned it by chance, the mind must be thought sufficiently at ease that could attend to such minuteness of physiology. But the power of Cowley is not so much to move the affections, as to exercise the understanding 3.

The Chronicle is a composition unrivalled and alone: such 109 gaiety of fancy, such facility of expression, such varied similitude, such a succession of images, and such a dance of words, it is vain to expect except from Cowley. His strength always appears in his agility; his volatility is not the flutter of a light, but the bound of an elastick mind. His levity never leaves his learning behind it; the moralist, the politician, and the critick, mingle their influence even in this airy frolick of genius.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

110

111

112

113

To such a performance Suckling could have brought the gaiety, but not the knowledge; Dryden could have supplied the knowledge, but not the gaiety.

The verses to Davenant', which are vigorously begun and happily concluded, contain some hints of criticism very justly conceived and happily expressed. Cowley's critical abilities have not been sufficiently observed: the few decisions and remarks which his prefaces and his notes on the Davideis supply were at that time accessions to English literature, and shew such skill as raises our wish for more examples.

3

2

The lines from Jersey 3 are a very curious and pleasing specimen of the familiar descending to the burlesque.

His two metrical disquisitions for and against Reason are no mean specimens of metaphysical poetry. The stanzas against knowledge produce little conviction. In those which are intended to exalt the human faculties, Reason has its proper task assigned it: that of judging, not of things revealed, but of the reality of revelation. In the verses for Reason is a passage which Bentley, in the only English verses which he is known to have written, seems to have copied, though with the inferiority of an imitator 5.

I

'The holy Book like the eighth sphere does shine
With thousand lights of truth divine,

So numberless the stars that to our [the] eye

It makes all but [but all] one galaxy:

Yet Reason must assist too; for in seas

So vast and dangerous as these,

Our course by stars above we cannot know
Without the compass too below '.'

After this says Bentley :

'Who travels in religious jars,

Truth mix'd with error, clouds [shades] with rays,
With [Like] Whiston wanting pyx and [or] stars,

In the wide ocean [In ocean wide or] sinks or strays.'

Eng. Poets, vii. 141.

2 These notes are suppressed in

Eng. Poets.

3 Ib. vii. 142.

4 Ib. vii. 144-7.

5 'Johnson one day gave high praise to Dr. Bentley's verses, which he recited with his usual energy. Dr. Adam Smith, who was present, observed in his decisive professorial manner, "Very well-Very well."

[blocks in formation]

L

Cowley seems to have had, what Milton is believed to have 114 wanted', the skill to rate his own performances by their just value, and has therefore closed his Miscellanies with the verses upon Crashaw, which apparently excel all that have gone before them, and in which there are beauties which common authors may justly think not only above their attainment, but above their ambition 2.

To the Miscellanies succeed the Anacreontiques, or para- 115 phrastical translations of some little poems, which pass, however justly, under the name of Anacreon. Of those songs

dedicated to festivity and gaiety, in which even the morality is voluptuous, and which teach nothing but the enjoyment of the present day, he has given rather a pleasing than a faithful representation, having retained their spriteliness, but lost their simplicity. The Anacreon of Cowley, like the Homer of Pope 3, has admitted the decoration of some modern graces, by which he is undoubtedly made more amiable to common readers, and perhaps, if they would honestly declare their own perceptions, to far the greater part of those whom courtesy and ignorance are content to style the Learned.

These little pieces will be found more finished in their kind 116 than any other of Cowley's works. The diction shews nothing of the mould of time, and the sentiments are at no great distance from our present habitudes of thought*. Real mirth

1 Post, MILTON, 146.

Eng. Poets, vii. 148. The verses begin:

'Poet and Saint! to thee alone are given

The two most sacred names of Earth and Heaven.'

For Poet and Saint' see post, WEST, 5.

The following couplet :'His faith, perhaps, in some nice tenets might

Be wrong; his life, I'm sure was in
the right'

has been imitated by Pope:
"For modes of faith let graceless
zealots fight;

His can't be wrong whose life is in the
right.' Essay on Man, iii. 305.
3 Post, POPE, 352.

4 Crabbe's son tells how when a child he was taken by his father to

hear John Wesley, 'on one of the
last of his peregrinations,' preach at
Lowestoff, who quoted in his sermon
Cowley's translation from Anacreon's
Age [Eng. Poets, vii. 189]:-
'Oft am I by the women told,
Poor Anacreon! thou growest old;
Look how thy hairs are falling all
Poor Anacreon, how they fall!
Whether I grow old or no,
By th' effects I do not know;
This I know, without being told,
'Tis time to live if I grow old.'

;

'My father,' the son adds, 'was much struck by Wesley's reverend appearance and his cheerful air, and the beautiful cadence he gave to these lines.' Crabbe's Works, 1834, i. 148. This is said to have happened in Sept. 1791 (ib. p. 141); but Wesley died on March 2 of that year.

117

must be always natural, and nature is uniform. Men have been wise in very different modes; but they have always laughed the same way.

Levity of thought naturally produced familiarity of language, and the familiar part of language continues long the same: the dialogue of comedy, when it is transcribed from popular manners and real life, is read from age to age with equal pleasure'. The artifice of inversion, by which the established order of words is changed, or of innovation, by which new words or new meanings of words are introduced, is practised, not by those who talk to be understood, but by those who write to be admired.

118 The Anacreontiques therefore of Cowley give now all the pleasure which they ever gave. If he was formed by nature for one kind of writing more than for another, his power seems to have been greatest in the familiar and the festive.

119

The next class of his poems is called The Mistress, of which it is not necessary to select any particular pieces for praise or censure. They have all the same beauties and faults, and nearly in the same proportion. They are written with exuberance of wit, and with copiousness of learning; and it is truly asserted by Sprat that the plenitude of the writer's knowledge flows in upon his page, so that the reader is commonly surprised into some improvement'. But, considered as the verses of a lover, no man that has ever loved will much commend them. They are neither courtly nor pathetick, have neither gallantry nor fondness. His praises are too far-sought and too hyperbolical, either to express love or to excite it: every stanza is crouded with darts and flames, with wounds and death, with mingled souls, and with broken hearts 3.

"The polite are always catching modish innovations, and the learned depart from established forms of speech, in hope of finding or making better; those who wish for distinction forsake the vulgar, when the vulgar is right; but there is a conversation above grossness and below refinement, where propriety resides, and where this poet [Shakespeare] seems to have gathered his comick dialogue. He is therefore more agreeable to the ears of the present age than any other author equally remote.'

JOHNSON, Works, v. 114.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« VorigeDoorgaan »