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Contemplative piety, or the intercourse between God and the human soul, cannot be poetical. Man, admitted to implore the mercy of his Creator, and plead the merits of his Redeemer, is already in a higher state than poetry can confer.
The essence of poetry is invention; such invention as, by producing something unexpected, surprises and delights. The topics of devotion are few, and being few are universally known; but, few as they are, they can be de no more; they can receive no grace from novelty of sentiment, and very little from novelty of expression.
Poetry pleases by exhibiting an idea more grateful to the mind than things themselves afford. This effect proceeds from the display of those parts of nature which attract, and the concealment of those which repel, the imagination : but religion must be shewn as it is; suppression and addition equally corrupt it; and such as it is, it is known already.
From poetry the reader justly expects, and from good poetry always obtains, the enlargement of his comprehension and elevation of his fancy; but this is rarely to be hoped by Christians from metrical devotion. Whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprised in the name of the Supreme Being. Omnipotence cannot be exalted; Infinity cannot be amplified; Perfection cannot be improved.
The employments of pious meditation are faith, thanksgiving, repentance, and supplication. Faith, invariably uniform, cannot be invested by fancy with decorations. Thanksgiving, the most joyful of all holy effusions, yet addressed to a Being without passions, is confined to a few modes, and is ta be felt rather than expressed. Repentance, trem. bling in the presence of the Judge, is not at leisure for cadences and epithets. Supplication of man to man may diffuse itself through many topics of persuasion; but supplication to God can only cry for mercy.
Of sentiments purely religious, it will be found that the most simple expression is the most sublime. Poetry loses its lustre and its power, because it is applied to the decoration of something more excellent than itself. All that pious verse can do is to help the memory, and delight the ear, and for these purposes it may be very useful; but it supplies nothing to the mind. The ideas of Christian theology are too simple for eloquence, too sacred for fiction, and too majestic for orna ment: to recommend them by tropes and figures, is to magnify by a concave mirror the sidereal he misphere.
As much of Waller's reputation was owing to the softness and smoothness of his numbers; it is pro. per to consider those minute particulars to which à versifier must attend.
He certainly very much excelled in smoothness most of the writers who were living when his poe try commenced. The poets of Elizabeth had attained an art of modulation, which was afterwards neglected or forgotten. Fairfax was acknowledged by him as his model; and he might have studied with advantage the poem of Davies, * which, though merely philosophical, yet seldom leaves the ear udgratified.
But he was rather smooth than strong: of the full resounding line, which Pope attributes to Dryden, he has given very few examples. The critical de cision has given the praise of strength to Denham, and of sweetness to Waller.
His excellence of versification has some abate ments. He uses the expletive do very frequently; and, though he lived to see it almost universally
• Sir John Davies, entitled, “Nosce teipsum. This Oracle expounded in two Elegies : I. Of Humane Knowledge; II. Of the Soule of Man and the Immortalitie thereof, 1599."—R.
ejected, was not more careful to avoid it in his last compositions than in his first. Praise had given him confidence; and, finding the world satisfied, he satisfied himself.
His rhymes are sometimes weak words: 80 is found to make the rhyme twice in ten lines, and occurs often as a rhyme through his book.
His double rhymes, in heroic verse, have been censured by Mrs. Phillips, who was his rival in jhe translation of Corneille's“ Pompey;" and more faults might be found, were not the inquiry below attention.
He sometimes uses the obsolete termination of verbs, as waxeth, affecteth; and sometimes retains the final syllable of the preterite, as amazed, supposed, of which I know not whether it is not to the detriinent of our language that we have totally rejected them.
Of triplets he is sparing; but he did not wholly forbear them; of an Alexandrine he has given no example.
The general character of his poetry is elegance and gaiety. He is never pathetic, and very rarely sublime. He seems neither to have had a mind much elevated by nature, nor amplified by learn. ing. His thoughts are such as a liberal conversa tion and large acquaintance with life would easily supply. They had however then, perhaps, that grace of novelty, which they are now often supposed to want by those who, having already found them in later books, do not know or inquire who produced them first.
This treatment is unjust. Let not the original author lose by his imitators.
Praise, however, should be due before it is given. The author of Waller's Life ascribes to him the first practice of what Erythræus and some late critics call alliteration, of using in the same verse many words beginning with the same letter. But this knack, whatever be its value, was so frequent among early writers, that Gascoigne, a writer of
the sixteenth century, warns the young poet against affecting it: Shakspeare, in the “ Midsummer Night's Dream,” is supposed to ridicule it; and in another play the sonnet of Holofernes fully dis plays it
He borrows too many of his sentiments and illus trations from the old mythology, for, which it is vain to plead the example of ancient poets; the deities which they introduced so frequently, were considered as realities, so far as to be received by the imagination, whatever sober reason might even then determine. But of these images time has tarnished the splendour. A fiction, not only detected but despised, can never afford a solid basis to any position, though sometimes it may furnish a transient allusion, or slight illustration. No modern monarch can be much exalted by hearing that, as Hercules had his club, he has his navy,
But of the praise of Waller, though much may be taken away, much will remain; for it cannot be denied, that he added something to our elegance of diction, and something to our propriety of thought; and to him may be applied what Tasso said, with equal spirit and justice, of himself and Guarini, when, having perused the “Pastor Fido," he cried out, “If he had not read ‘Aminta, he had not excelled it."
As Waller professed himself to have learned the art of versification from Fairfax, it has been thought proper to subjoin a specimen of his work, which, after Mr. Hoole's translation, will perhaps not be soon reprinted. By knowing the state in which Waller found our poetry, the reader may judge how much he improved it.
Erminia's steed (this while) his mistresse bore Through forests thicke among the shadie treene,
Her feeble hand the bridle raines forelore,
Like as the wearie hounds at last retire,
Yet still the fearfull Dame filed, swift as winde,
III. Through thicke and thinne, all night, all day, she
driued, Withouten comfort, companie, or guide, Her plaints and teares with euery thought reuiued, She heard and saw her greefes, but naught beside. But when the sunne his burning chariot diued In Thetis waue, and wearie teame vntide,
On Iordans sandie banks her course she staid, At last, there downe she light, and downe she
Her teares, her drinke; her food, her sorrowings;