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Of particular passages that can be properly compared, I remember only the description of heaven, in which the different manner of the two writers is sufficiently discernible. Cowley's is scarcely description, unless it be possible to describe by negatives : for he tells us only what there is not in heaven, Tasso endeavours to represent the splen. dours and pleasures of the regions of happiness. Tasso affords images, and Cowley sentiments, It happens, however, that Tasso's description affords some reason for Rymer's censure. He says of the Supreme Being,
Hà sotto i piedi fato e la natura
The second line has in it more of pedantry than perhaps can be found in any other stanza of the poem.
In the perusal of the Davideis, as of all Cowley's works, we find wit and learning unprofitably squandered. Attention has no relief; the affections are never moved; we are sometimes surprised, but never delighted, and find much to admire, but little to approve.
Still however it is the work of Cow. ley, of a mind capacious by nature, and replenished by study.
In the general review of Cowley's poetry, it will be found that he wrote with abundant fertility, but negligent or unskilful selection; with much thought, but with little imagery; that he is never pathetic, and rarely sublime; but always either in. genious or learned, either acute or profound. It is said by Denham in his elegy,
To him no author was unknown,
Yet what he writ was all his own. This wide position requires less limitation, when it is affirmed of Cowley, than perhaps of any other poet.--He read much, and yet borrowed little,
His character of writing was indeed not his own : he unhappily adopted that which was predominant. He saw a certain way to present praise; and, not sufficiently inquiring by what means the ancients have continued to delight through all the changes of human manners, he contented himself with a deciduous laurel, of which the verdure in its spring was bright and gay, but which time has been continually stealing from his brows.
He was in his own time considered as of unri. valled excellence. Clarendon represents him as having taken a flight beyond all that went before him; and Milton is said to have declared, that the three greatest English poets were Spenser, Shakspeare, and Cowley.
His manner he had in common with others; but his sentiments were his own. Upon every subject he thought for himself; and such was his copiousness of knowledge, that something at once remote and applicable rushed into his mind; yet it is not likely that he always rejected a commodious idea merely because another had used it: his known wealth was so great that he might have borrowed without loss of credit.
In his elegy on Sir Henry Wotton, the last lines have such resemblance to the noble epigram of Grotius on the death of Scaliger, that I cannot but think them copied from it, though they are copied by no servile hand.
One passage in his Mistress is so apparently borrowed from Donne, that he probably would not have written it, had it not mingled with his own thoughts, so as that he did not perceive himself taking it from another : Although I think thou never found wilt be,
Yet I'm resolv'd to search for thee;
The search itself rewards the pains.
Yet things well worth his toil he gains:
And does his charge and labour pay
Some that have deeper digg'd Love's mine than I,
I have lov'd, and got, and told;
Oh, 'tis imposture all!
But glorifies his pregnant pot,
If by the way to him befal
So lovers dream a rich and long delight,
Jonson and Donne, as Dr. Hurd remarks, were then in the highest esteem.,
It is related by Clarendon that Cowley always acknowledges his obligation to the learning and industry of Jonson; but I have found no traces of Jonson in his works: to emulate Donne appears to have been his purpose; and from Donne he may have learned that familiarity with religious images, and that light allusion to sacred things, by which readers far short of sanctity are frequently offended; and which would not be borne in the present age, when devotion, perhaps not more fervent, is more delicate..
Having produced one passage taken by Cowley from Donne, I will recompense him by another which Milton seems to have borrowed from him, He says of Goliah,
the trunk was of a lofty tree, Which nature meant some tall ship's mast should
Milton of Satan :
His spear, to equal which the tallest pine
His diction was in his own time censured as nego ligent. He seems not to have known, or not to have considered, that words being arbitrary must owe their power to association, and have the influ. ence, and that only, which custom has given them. Language is the dress of thought: and as the noblest mien, or most graceful action, would be de. graded and obscured by a garb appropriated to the gross employments of rustics or mechanics; so the most heroic sentiments will lose their efficacy, and the most splendid ideas drop their magnificence, if they are conveyed by words used commonly upon low and trivial occasions, debased by vulgar mouths, and contaminated by inelegant applications,
Truth indeed is always truth, and reason is always reason; they have an intrinsic and unaltera. ble value, and constitute that intellectual gold which defies destruction; but gold may be so con. cealed in baser matter, that only a chymist can re. cover it; sepse may be so hidden in unrefined and plebeian words, that none but philosophers can distinguish it; and both may be so buried in impuri. ties, as not to pay the cost of their extraction.
The diction, being the vehicle of the thoughts, first presents itself to the intellectual eye: and if the first appearance offends, a further knowledge is not often sought. Whatever professes to benefit by pleasing, must please at once. The pleasures of the mind imply something sudden and unexpected; that which elevates must always surprise. What is perceived by slow degrees may gratify us with consciousness of improvement, but will never strike with the sense of pleasure.
Of all this Cowley appears to have been without knowledge, or without care. He makes no selec. tion of words, nor seeks any neatness of phrase : he has no elegances, either lucky or elaborate: as his endeavours were rather to impress sentences upon the understanding than images on the fancy; he has few epithets, and those scattered without peculiar propriety or nice adaptation. It seems to follow from the necessity of the subject, rather than the care of the writer, that the diction of his heroic poem is less familiar than that of his slightest writings. He has given not the same numbers, but the same diction, to the gentle Anacreon and the tem. pestuous Pindar.
His versification seems to have had very little of his care; and if what he thinks be true, that his numbers are unmusical only when they are ill-read, the art of reading them is at present lost; for they are commonly harsh to modern ears. He has in. deed many noble lines, such as the feeble care of Waller never could produce. The bulk of his thoughts sometimes swelled his verse to unexpected and inevitable grandeur; but his excellence of this kind is merely fortuitous: he sinks willingly down to his general careless ess, and avoids with very little care either meanness or asperity.
His contractions are often rugged and harsh :
One Alings a mountain, and its rivers too
His rhymes are very often made by pronouns, or particles, or the like unimportant words, which disappoint the ear, and destroy the energy of the line.
His combination of different measures is somē. times dissonant and unpleasing; he joins verses together, of which the former does not slide easily into the latter.
The words do and did, which so much degrade