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The sun in figures such as these
To the sweet strains they advance,
As this nymph's dance
Sometimes a thought, which might perhaps fill a distich, is expanded and attenuated till it grows weak and almost evanescent:
Chloris ! since first our calm of
And growing mischiefs make you kind.
Her fruit, and state, while no wind blows,
And the glad earth about her strows
His images are not always distinct; as, in the following passage, he confounds Love as a person with Love as a passion :
Some other nymphs, with colours faint,
His sallies of casual flattery are sometimes elegant and happy, as that in return for the Silver Pen; and sometimes empty and trifliug, as that upon the Card torn by the Queen. There are a few lines written in the Dutchess's Tasso, which he is said by Fenton to have kept a summer under correction. It happened to Waller, as to others, that his success was not always in proportion to his labour.
of these petty compositions, neither the beauties nor the faults deserve much attention. The amorous verses have this to recommend them, that they are less hyperbolical than those of some other poets. Waller is not always at the last gasp; he does not die of a frown, nor live upon a smile. There is, however, too much love, and too many trifles. Little things are made too important; and the empire of Beauty is represented as exerting its influence farther than can be allowed by the mul. tiplicity of human passions, and the variety of human wants. Such books, therefore, may be consi, dered as shewing the world under a false appearance, and, so far as they obtain credit from the young and unexperienced, as misleading expectation, and misguiding practice.
Of his nobler and more weighty performances, the greater part is panegyrical: for of praise he was very lavish, as is observed by his imitator Lord Lansdowne: No satyr stalks within the hallow'd ground, But queens and heroines, kings and gods abound; Glory and arms and love are all the sound.
In the first poem, on the danger of the Prince on the coast of Spain, there is a puerile and ridiculous mention of Arion at the beginning; and the last paragraph, on the Cable, is in part ridiculously mean, and in part ridiculously tumid. The poem, however, is such as may be justly praised, without much allowance for the state of our poetry and language at that time.
The two next poems are upon the King's behaviour ut the death of Buckingham, and upon his Navy.
He has, in the first, used the pagan deities with great propriety :
'Twas want of such a precedent as this Made the old heathens frame their gods amiss.
In the poem on the Navy, those lines are very noble which suppose the King's power secure against a second deluge; so noble, that it were almost criminal to remark the mistake of centre for surface, or to say that the empire of the sea would be worth little if it were not that the waters terminate in land.
The poem upon Sallee has forcible sentiments; but the conclusion is feeble. That on the Repairs of St. Paul's has something vulgar and obvious; such as the mention of Amphion; and something violent and harsh : as, So all our minds with his conspire to grace The gentiles' great apostle, and deface Those state-obscuring sheds, that like a chain Seem'd to confine and fetter him again : Which the glad saint shakes off at his command, As once the viper from his sacred hand. So joys the aged oak, when we divide The creeping ivy from his injur'd side.
Of the two last couplets, the first is extravagant, and the second mean.
His praise of the Queen is too much exaggerated; and the thought, that she “saves lovers, by cutting off hope, as gangrenes are cured by lopping the limb,” presents nothing to the mind but disgust and horror.
Of“ The Battle of the Summer Islands,” it seems not easy to say whether it is intended to raise terror or merriment. The beginning is too splendid for jest, and the conclusion too light for seriousness. The versification is studied, the scenes are diligently displayed, and the images artfully amplified; but, as it ends neither in joy nor sorrow, it will scarcely be read a second time.
The “ Panegyric" upon Cromwell has obtained from the public a very liberal dividend of praise, which however cannot be said to have been un
justly lavished; for such a series of verses had rarely appeared before in the English language. Of the lines, some are grand, some are graceful, and all are musical. There is now and then a feeble verse, or a trilling thought; but its great fault is the choice of its hero,
The poem of “The War with Spain” begins with lines more vigorous and striking than Waller is accustomed to produce. The succeeding parts are variegated with better passages and worse. There is something too far-fetched in the comparison of the Spaniards drawing the English on, by saluting St. Lucar with cannon, to lambs awakening the lion by bleating. The fate of the Marquis and his Lady, who were burnt in their ship, would have moved more, had the Poet not made him die like the phenix, because he had spices about him, nor expressed their affection and their end by a conceit at once false and vulgar:
Alive, in equal flames of love they burn'd,
The verses. to Charles, on his return, were doubtless intended to counterbalance the“ Panegyric” on Cromwell. If it has been thought inferior to that with which it is naturally compared, the cause of its deficience has been already remarked.
The remaining pieces it is not necessary to examine singly. They must be supposed to have faults and beauties of the same kind with the rest. The sacred poems, however, deserve particular regard; they were the work of Waller's declining life, of those hours in which he looked upon the fame and the folly of the time past with the senti. ments which his great predecessor Petrarch bequeathed to posterity, upon his review of that love and poetry which have given him immortality.
That natural jealousy which makes every man unwilling to allow much excellence in another, al
ways produces a disposition to believe that the mind grows old with the body; and that he, whom we are now forced to confess superior, is hasten, ing daily to a level with ourselves. By delighting to think this of the living, we learn to think it of the dead; and Fenton, with all his kindness for Waller, has the luck to mark the exact time when his genius passed the zenith, which he places at his fifty-fifth year.
This is to allot the mind but a small portion. Intellectual decay is doubtless not uncommon; but it seems not to be universal. Newton was in his eighty-fifth year improving his chro. nology, a few days before his death; and Waller appears not, in my opinion, to have lost at eighty. two any part of his poetical power.
His sacred poems do not please like some of his other works; but before the fatal fifty-five, had he written on the same subjects, his success would hardly have been better.
It has been the frequent lamentation of good men, that verse has been too little applied to the purposes of worship, and many attempts have been made to animate devotion by pious poetry. That they have very seldom attained their end is suffi. ciently known, and it may not be improper to inquire why they have miscarried.
Let no pious ear be offended if I advance, in opposition to many authorities, that poetical devotion cannot often please. The doctrines of religion may, indeed, be defended in a didactic poem; and he, who has the happy power of arguing in verse, will not lose it because his subject is sacred. A poet may describe the beauty and the grandeur of Nature, the flowers of the Spring, and the harvests of Autumn, the vicissitudes of the tide, and the revolutions of the sky, and praise the Maker for his works, in lines which no reader shall lay aside. The subject of the disputation is not piety, but the motives to piety; that of the description is not God, but the works of God.