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· Whilst raging seas swell to so bold an height,
As shall the fire's proud element affright.
Every reader feels himself weary with this useless talk of an allegorical being.
It is not only when the events are confessedly miraculous, that fancy and fiction lose their effect: the whole system of life, while the theocracy was yet visible, has an appearance so different from all other scenes of human action, that the reader of the Sacred Volume habitually considers it as the peculiar mode of existence of a distinct species of mankind, that lived and acted with manners un. communicable ; so that it is difficult even for ima. gination to place us in the state of them whose story is related, and by consequence their joys and griefs are not easily adopted, nor can the attention be often interested in any thing that befals them.
To the subject thus originally indisposed to the reception of poetical embellishments, the writer brought fittle that could reconcile impatience, or attract curiosity. Nothing can be more disgusting than a narrative spangled with conceits; and con ceits are all that the Davideis supplies.
One of the great sources of poetical delight is description,* or the power of presenting pictures to the mind. Cowley gives inferences instead of images, and shews not what may be supposed to have been seen, but what thoughts the sight might have suggested. When Virgil describes the stone
• Dr. Warton discovers some contrariety of opi. nion between this,'and what is said of description in p. 43.-C.
which Turnus lifted against Æneas, he fixes the attention on its bulk and weight:
Saxum circumspicit ingens, Saxum antiquum, ingens, campo quod forte
jacebat • Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis.
Cowley says of the stone with which Cain slew his brother,
I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant
Of the sword taken from Goliah, he says
A sword so great, that it was only fit
Other poets describe death by some of its com. nion appearances. Cowley says, with a learned allusion to sepulchral lamps, real or fabulous, 'Twixt his right ribs deep pierc'd the furious
blade, And open'd wide those secret vessels where
's light goes out, when first they let in air. But he has allusions vulgar as well as learned. In a visionary succession of kings,
Joas at first does bright and glorious shew,
Describing an undisciplined army, after having said with elegance,
His forces seem'd no army, but a crowd
Heartless, unarm’d, disorderly, and loudhe gives them a fit of the ague.
The allusions, however, are not always to vulgar things; he offends by exaggeration as much as by diminution:
The king was plac'd alone, and o'er his head
spread. Whatever he writes is always polluted with some conceit:
Where the sun's fruitful beams give metals birth,
In one passage he starts a sudden question to the confusion of Philosophy:
Ye learned heads, whon ivy garlands grace, Why does that twining plant the oak embrace The oak for courtship most of all unfit, And rough as are the winds that fight with it? His expressions have sometimes a degree of meanness that surpasses expectation : Nay, gentle guests, he cries, since now you're in, The story of your gallant friend begin.
In a simile descriptive of the Morning ::
The dress of Gabriel deserves attention:
of a new rainbow ere it fret or fade,
This is a just specimen of Cowley's imagery : what might in general expressions be great and for. cible, he weakens and makes ridiculous by branch. ing it into small parts. That Gabriel was invested with the softest or brightest colours of the sky, we might have been told, and been dismissed to im. prove the idea in our different proportions of conception; but Cowley could not let us go till he had related where Gabriel got first his skin, and then his mantle, then his lace, and then his scarf, and related it in the terms of the mercer and tailor.
Sometimes he indulges himself in a digression, always conceived with his natural exuberance, and commonly, even where it is not long, continued till it is tedious:
l'th' library a few choice authors stood, Yet 'twas well stor’d, for that small store was
good : Writing, man's spiritual physic, was not then Itself, as now, grown a disease of men. Learning (young virgin) but few suitors knew; The common prostitute she lately grew, And with the spurious brood loads now the press; Laborious effects of idleness.
As the Davideis affords only four books, though intended to consist of twelve, there is no opportu. nity for such criticism as epic poems commonly supply. The plan of the whole work is very imperfectly shewn by the third part. The duration of an unfinished action cannot be known. Of characters either not yet introduced, or shewn but' upon few occasions, the full extent and the nice discriminations cannot ascertained. The fable is plainly implex, formed rather from the Odyssey than the Iliad: and many artifices of diversifica
tion are employed, with the skill of a man acquainted with the best models. The past is recalled by narration, and the future anticipated by vision: but he has been so lavish of his poetical art, that it is difficult to imagine how he could fill eight books more without practising again the same modes of disposing his matter: and perhaps the perception of this growing incumbrance inclined him to stop. By this abruption, posterity lost more instruction than delight. If the continuation of the Davideis can be missed, it is for the learning that had been diffused over it, and the notes in which it had been explained.
Had not his characters been depraved like every other part by improper decorations, they would have deserved uncommon praise. He gives Saul both the body and mind of a hero:
His way once chose, he forward thrust outright, Nor turn'd aside for danger or delight.
And the different beauties of the lofty Merah and the gentle Michol are very justly conceived and strongly painted.
Rymer has declared the Davideis superior to the Jerusalem of Tasso, “which," says he, “the poet, with all his care, has not totally purged from pedantry.” If by pedantry is meant that minute knowledge which is derived from particular sciences and studies, in opposition to the general notions supplied by a wide survey of life and nature, Cowley certainly errs, by introducing pedantry far more frequently than Tasso. I know not, indeed, why they should be compared; for the resemblance of Cowley's work to Tasso's is only that they both exhibit the agency of celestial and infernal spirits, in which however they differ widely; for Cowley supposes them commonly to operate upon the mind by suggestion; Tasso represents them as promoting or obstructing events by external agency.