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And let the airy footmen, running all beside,
Every mind is now disgusted with this cumber of magnificence; yet I cannot refuse myself the four next lines :
Mount, glorious queen, thy travelling throne,
And bid it to put on;
In we same ode, celebrating the power of the Muse, he gives her prešcience, or, in poetical lan. guage, the foresight of events hatching in futurity; but, having once an egg in his mind, he cannot for. bear to shew us that he knows what an egg contains :
Thou into the close nests of Time dost
peep, And there with piercing eye Through the firm shell and the thick white dost spy
Years to come a-fori ing lie,
The same thought is more generally, and there. fore more poetically expressed by Casimir, a writer who has many of the beauties and faults of Cow. ley:
Omnibus Mundi Dominator horis
Crescit in annos.
Cowley, whatever was his subject, seems to have been carried, by a kind of destiny, to the light and
the familiar, or to conceits which require still more ignoble epithets. A slaughter in the Red Sea new dies the water's name; and England, during the civil war, was Albion no more, nor to be named from white.
It is surely by some fascination pot easily surmounted, that a writer, professing to revive the noblest and highest writing in verse, makes this address to the new year:
Nay, if thou lov'st me, gentle year,
Although I fear
Yet, gentle year, take heed
Such a mistake;
The reader of this will be inclined to cry out with Prior,
Ye critics, say,
Even those who cannot perhaps find in the Isth. mian or Nemæan songs what antiquity has disposed them to expect, will at least see that they are ill-represented by such puny poetry; and all will determine that if this be the old Theban strain, it is not worthy of revival.
To the disproportion and incongruity of Cowley's sentiments must be added the uncertainty and looseness of his measures. He takes the liberty of using in any place a verse of auy length, from two syllables to twelve. The verses of Pindar have, as he observes, very little harmony to a modern
ear; yet, by examining the syllables, we perceive them to be regular, and have reason enough for sup. posing that the ancient audiences were delighted with the sound. The imitator ought therefore to have adopted what he found, and to have added what was wanting; to have preserved a constant return of the same numbers, and to have supplied smoothness of transition and continuity of thought.
It is urged by Dr. Sprat, that the irregularity of numbers is the very thing which makes that kind of poesy fit for all manner of subjects. But he should have remembered, that what is fit for every thing can fit nothing well. The great pleasure of verse arises from the known measure of the lines, and uniform structure of the stanzas, by which the voice is regulated, and the memory relieved.
If the Pindaric style be, what Cowley thinks it, the highest and noblest kind of writing in verse, it can be adapted only to high and noble subjects; and it will not be easy to reconcile the poet with the critic, or to conceive how that can be the highest kind of writing in verse, which, according to Sprat, is chiefly to be preferred for its near affinity to prose.
This lax and lawless versification so much con. cealed the deficiencies of the barren, and flattered the laziness of the idle, that it immediately overspread our books of poetry; all the boys and girls caught the pleasing fashion, and they that could do nothing else, could write like Pindar. The rights of antiquity were invaded, and disorder tried to break into the Latin; a poem* on the Sheldonian Theatre, in which all kinds of verse are shaken to gether, is unhappily inserted in the Musee Anglin
* First published in quarto, 1669, under the title of “ Carmen Pindaricum in Theatrum Sheldonia. num in solennibus magnifici Operis Encæniis. Recitatum Julii die 9, Anno 1669, a Crobetto Owen, A.B. Æd. Chr. Alumno Authore."-R.
cane. Pindarism prevailed about half a century; but at last died gradually away, and other imitations supply its place.
The Pindaric Odes have so long enjoyed the high. est degree of poetical reputation, that I am not willing to dismiss them with unabated censure; and surely, though the mode of their composition be erroneous, yet many parts deserve at least that admiration which is due to great comprehension of knowledge, and great fertility of fancy. The thoughts are often new, and often striking; but the greatness of one part is disgraced by the littleness of another; and total negligence of language gives the noblest conceptions the appearance of a fabric august in the plan, but mean in the materials. Yet surely those verses are not without a just claim to praise; of which it may be said with truth, that no man but Cowley could have written them.
The Davideis now remains to be considered ; a poem which the author designed to have extended to twelve books, merely, as he makes no scruple of declaring, because the Æneid had that number: but he had leisure or perseverance only to write the third part. Epic poems have been left unfinished by Virgil, Statius, Spenser, and Cowley. That we have not the whole Davideis is, however, not much to be regretted; for in this undertaking, Cowley is, tacitly at least, confessed to have miscarried. There are not many examples of so great a work, produced by an author generally read, and generally praised, that has crept through a century with.so little regard. Whatever is said of Cowley, is meant of his other works. Of the Davideis, no mention is made; it never appears in books, nor emerges in conversation. By the Spectator it has been once quoted; by Rymer it has once been praised; and by Dryden, in “Mack Flecknoe,” it has once been imitated; nor do I recollect much other notice from its publication till now in the whole succes. sion of English literature.
of this silence and neglect, if the reason be inquired, it will be found partly in the choice of the subject, and partly in the performance of the work.
Sacred History has been always read with submissive reverence, and an imagination overawed and controlled. We have been accustomed to acquiesce in the nakedness and simplicity of the authentic narrative, and to repose on its veracity with such humble confidence as suppresses curiosity. We go with the historian as he goes, and stop with him when he stops. All amplification is frivolous and vain: all addition to that which is already sufficient for the purposes of religion, seems not only useless, but in some degree profane.
Such events as were produced by the visible interposition of Divine power are above the power of human genius to dignify. The miracle of creation, however it may teem with images, is best described with little diffusion of language: He spake the word, and they were made.
We are told that Saul wus troubled with an evil spirit; from this, Cowley takes an opportunity of describing hell, and telling the history of Lucifer,
Once general of a gilded host of sprites,
Lucifer makes a speech to the inferior agents of mischief, in which there is something of heathenism, and therefore of impropriety; and, to give efficacy to his words, concludes by lashing his breast with his tong tail. Envy, after a pause, steps out, and among other declarations of her zeal utters these lines:
Do thou but threat, loud storms shall make reply,