And the first leaf, when it was opened,

Sang: "I am Walter the page, And the songs I sing 'neath thy window Are my only heritage."

And the second leaf sang: "But in the land That is neither on earth or sea,

My lute and I are lords of more

Than thrice this kingdom's fee."

minated poetry τέχνη μιμητική, an imitative art, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the name of poets; for they cannot be said to have imitated anything: they neither copied nature nor life; neither painted the forms of matter, nor represented the operations of intellect.

Those, however, who deny them to be poets, allow them to be wits. Dryden confesses of

And the third leaf sang: "Be mine! be mine!" himself and his contemporaries, that they fall

And ever it sang, "Be mine!"
Then sweeter it sang and ever sweeter,
And said, "I am thine, thine, thine."

At the first leaf she grew pale enough,
At the second she turned aside,
At the third, 't was as if a lily flushed
With a rose's red heart's tide.

"Good counsel gave the bird," said she, "I have my hope thrice o'er,

For they sing to my very heart," she said, "And it sings to them evermore."

She brought to him her beauty and truth, But and broad earldoms three,

And he made her queen of the broader lands He held of his lute in fee.



Cowley, like other poets who have written with narrow views, and, instead of tracing intellectual pleasure to its natural sources in the minds of men, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one time too much praised, and too much neglected at another.

Wit, like all other things subject by their nature to the choice of man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times takes different forms. About the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets.

The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavour: but, unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.

If the father of criticism had rightly deno

below Donne in wit; but maintains that they surpass him in poetry.

If wit be well described by Pope, as being "that which has been often thought, but was never before so well expressed," they certainly never attained, nor ever sought it; for they endeavoured to be singular in their thoughts, and were careless of their diction. But Pope's account of wit is undoubtedly erroneous: he depresses it below its natural dignity, and reduces it from strength of thought to happiness of language.

If by a more noble and more adequate conception, that be considered as wit which is at once natural and new, that which, though not obvious, is, upon its first production, acknowledged to be just; if it be that which he that never found it, wonders how he missed; to wit of this kind the metaphysical poets have seldom risen. Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader, far from wondering that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found.

But wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more rigorously and philosophically considered as a kind of discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they have more than enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

From this account of their compositions it will be readily inferred, that they were not successful in representing or moving the affections. As they were wholly employed on something unexpected and surprising, they had no regard to that uniformity of sentiment which enables us to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasure of other minds: they never inquired what, on any occasion, they

should have said or done; but wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature; as beings looking upon good and evil, impassive and at leisure; as epicurean deities, making remarks on the actions of men, and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondness, and their lamentation of sorrow. Their wish was only to say what they hoped had been never said before.

Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetic; for they never attempted that comprehension and expanse of thought which at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is sudden astonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always general, and consist in positions not limited by exceptions, and in descriptions not descending to minuteness. It is with great propriety that subtlety, which in its original import means exility of particles, is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of distinction. Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty, could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation. Their attempts were always analytic; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more represent, by their slender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature, or the scenes of life, than he who dissects a sunbeam with a prism can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon.

What they wanted, however, of the sublime they endeavoured to supply by hyperbole; their amplifications had no limits; they left not only reason but fancy behind them; and produced combinations of confused magnificence, that not only could not be credited, but could not be imagined.

Yet great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly lost; if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth: if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan, it was at least necessary to read and think. No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similes, by readiness of rhyme, and volubility of syllables.

In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry; something already learned is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined.

If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value; and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuity, and polished to elegance, may give lustre to works which have more propriety though less copiousness of sentiment.

This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his followers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and various know ledge; and by Jonson, whose manner resembled that of Donne more in the ruggedness of his lines than in the cast of his sentiments.

When their reputation was high, they had undoubtedly more imitators than time has left behind. Their immediate successors, of whom any remembrance can be said to remain, were Suckling, Waller, Denham, Cowley, Cleveland, and Milton. Denham and Waller sought another way to fame, by improving the harmony of our members. Milton tried the metaphysic style only in his lines upon Hobson the carrier. Cowley adopted it, and excelled his predeces sors, having as much sentiment and more music. Suckling neither improved versification nor abounded in conceits. The fashionable style remained chiefly with Cowley; Suckling could not reach it, and Milton disdained it.

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A powerful brand prescribed the date

Of thine, like Meleager's fate.

Th' antiperistasis of age

More inflam'd thy amorous rage.

In the following verses we have an allusion to a rabbinical opinion concerning manna:

"Variety I ask not: give me one

To live perpetually upon.
The person Love does to us fit,

Like manna, has the taste of all in it."

Thus Donne shows his medicinal knowledge in some encomiastic verses:

"In everything there naturally grows
A balsamum to keep it fresh and new,
If 'twere not injured by extrinsic blows:
Your youth and beauty are this balm in you.
But you, of learning and religion,
And virtue and such ingredients, have made
A mithridate, whose operation

Keeps off, or cures what can be done or said."

Though the following lines of Donne, on the last night of the year, have something in them too scholastic, they are not inelegant:

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"This twilight of two years, not past nor next,
Some emblem is of me, or I of this,

Who, meteor-like, of stuff and form perplext,
Whose what and where in disputation is,

If I should call me anything, should miss.

I sum the years and me, and find me not
Debtor to th' old, nor creditor to th' new.

That cannot say, my thanks I have forgot,
Nor trust I this with hopes; and yet scarce true
This bravery is, since these times show'd me you."
Yet more abstruse and profound is Donne's
reflection upon man as a microcosm:

"If men be worlds, there is in every one Something to answer in some proportion: All the world's riches; and in good men this Virtue, our form's form, and our soul's soul, is." Of thoughts so far-fetched as to be not only unexpected, but unnatural, all their books are full.

To a lady who wrote posies for rings: "They who above do various circles find, Say, like a ring th' equator Heaven does bind. When Heaven shall be adorn'd by thee, (Which then more Heaven than 'tis will be) Tis thou must write the poesy there, For it wanteth one as yet, Then the sun pass through't twice a year, The sun, which is esteem'd the god of wit." -(COWLEY.)

The difficulties which have been raised about identity in philosophy are by Cowley, with still more perplexity, applied to love:

"Five years ago (says story) I loved you,

For which you call me most inconstant now;
Pardon me, madam, you mistake the man;
For I am not the same that I was then:
No flesh is now the same 'twas then in me,
And that my mind is changed yourself may see.
The same thoughts to retain still, and intents,
Were more inconstant far; for accidents
Must of all things most strangely inconstant prove,
If from one subject they t' another move;
My members then the father members were,

From whence these take their birth which now are


If then this body love what th' other did,
"Twere incest, which by nature is forbid."

The love of different women is, in geographical poetry, compared to travels through different countries:

"Hast thou not found each woman's breast (The land where thou hast travelled)

Either by savages possest,

Or wild, and uninhabited?
What joy could'st take, or what repose,
In countries so unciviliz'd as those?
Lust, the scorching dog-star, here

Rages with immoderate heat;
Whilst Pride, the rugged northern bear,
In others makes the cold too great.
And where these are temperate known,
The soil's all barren sand or rocky stone."

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A lover, burned up by his affection, is compared to Egypt:

"The fate of Egypt I sustain,

And never feel the dew of rain,

From clouds which in the head appear;

But all my too-much moisture owe

To overflowings of the heart below."-(COWLEY.) The lover supposes his lady acquainted with the ancient laws of augury and rites of sacrifice:

"And yet this death of mine, I fear, Will ominous to her appear:

When, sound in every other part,

Her sacrifice is found without an heart.
For the last tempest of my death

Shall sigh out that too, with my breath."

That the chaos was harmonized, has been recited of old; but whence the different sounds arose remained for a modern to discover:

"Th' ungovern'd parts no correspondence knew;

An artless war from thwarting motions grew;
Till they to number and fixed rules were brought.
Water and air he for the tenor chose,
Earth made the base; the treble flame arose."

The tears of lovers are always of great poetical account; but Donne has extended them into worlds. If the lines are not easily understood, they may be read again:

"On a round ball

A workman, that hath copies by, can lay
An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,

And quickly make that which was nothing, all.
So doth each tear,

Which thee doth wear,

A globe, yea world, by that impression grow,
Till thy tears mixed with mine do overflow
This world, by waters sent from thee my heaven
dissolved so."

On reading the following lines the reader may perhaps cry out, "Confusion worse confounded:

"Here lies a she sun, and a he moon here,
She gives the best light to his sphere,
Or each is both, and all, and so

They unto one another nothing owe."-(DONNE.)

Who but Donne would have thought that a good man is a telescope?

"Though God be our true glass through which we see All, since the being of all things is he,

Yet are the trunks, which do to us derive
Things in proportion fit, by perspective
Deeds of good men; for by their living here,
Virtues, indeed remote, seem to be near."

Who would imagine it possible that in a very few lines so many remote ideas could be brought together?

"Since 'tis my doom, love's undershrieve,

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Of enormous and disgusting hyberboles, these may be examples:

"By every wind that comes this way,

Send me at least a sigh or two,

Such and so many I'll repay

As shall themselves make winds to get to you."

"In tears I'll waste these eyes,

By love so vainly fed:

So lust of old the deluge punished."

"All arm'd in brass, the richest dress of war, (A dismal glorious sight!) he shone afar. The sun himself started with sudden fright, To see his beams return so dismal bright." - (COWLEY.)

An universal consternation:

His bloody eyes he hurls round. his sharp paws
Tear up the ground; then runs he wild about,
Lashing his angry tail and roaring out.
Beasts creep into their dens, and tremble there;
Trees, though no wind is stirring, shake with fear;
Silence and horror fill the place around;
Echo itself dares scarce repeat the sound."


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Upon a paper written with the juice of lemon, and read by the fire:

Nothing yet in thee is seen,

But when a genial heat warms thee within,
A new-born wood of various lines there grows;
Here buds an L, and there a B

Here sprouts a V, and there a T,
And all the flourishing letters stand in rows.”

As they sought only for novelty, they d not much inquire whether their allusions were to things high or low, elegant or gross; whether they compared the little to the great, or the great to the little.

Physic and chirurgery for a lover:

"Gently, ah gently, madam, touch
The wound which you yourself have made;
That pain must needs be very much
Which makes me of your hand afraid.
Cordials of pity give me now,

For I too weak of purgings grow."—(COWLEY.)

The world and a clock:

Mahol th' inferior world's fantastic face
Through all the turns of matter's maze did trace;
Great Nature's well set clock in pieces took;
On all the springs and smallest wheels did look
Of life and motion, and with equal art
Made up the whole again of every part."

—(COWLIT ) A coal-pit has not often found its poet; but that it may not want its due honour, Clevelan. has paralleled it with the sun:

"Yet why should hallow'd vestal's sacred shrine
Deserve more honour than a flaming mine!
These pregnant wombs of heat would fitter br
Than a few embers, for a deity.

Had he our pits, the Persian would admire
No sun, but warm's devotion at our fire:
He'd leave the trotting whipster, and prefer
Our profound Vulcan 'bove that wargoner.
For wants he heat or light? or would have da
Of both? 'tis here: and what can suns give nar
Nay, what's the sun but, in a different name,
A coal-pit rampant, or a mine on flame?
Then let this truth reciprocally run,
The sun's heaven's coalery, and coals our sus
Death, a voyage:

"No family

E'er rigg'd a soul for Heaven's discovery, With whom more venturers might boldly dare Venture their stakes with him in joy to share.

Their thoughts and expressions were so times grossly absurd, and such as no figures or license can reconcile to the understanding A lover neither dead nor alive:

"Then down I laid my head

Down on cold earth; and for a while was dead.
And my freed soul to a strange somewhere tini,

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And that usurp'd or threaten'd with a rage
Of sicknesses or their true mother, age.

But think that death hath now enfranchis'd thee;
Thou hast thy expansion now, and liberty;
Think, that a rusty piece discharged is flown
In pieces, and the bullet is his own,
And freely flies: this to thy soul allow,
Think thy shell broke, think thy soul hatch'd but


These poets were sometimes indelicate and disgusting. They were not always strictly curious, whether the opinions from which they drew their illustrations were true; it was enough that they were popular. Bacon remarks that some falsehoods are continued by tradition, because they supply commodious allusions.


It gave a piteous groan, and so it broke;
In vain it something would have spoke;
The love within too strong for't was,

Like poison put into a Venice-glass."—(COWLEY.)

In forming descriptions, they looked out not for images, but for conceits. Night has been a common subject, which poets have contended to adorn. Dryden's Night is well known; Donne's is as follows:

"Thou seest me here at midnight, now all rest:

Time's dead-low water; when all minds divest
To-morrow's business; when the labourers have
Such rest in bed, that their last church-yard grave,
Subject to change, will scarce be a type of this;
Now when the client, whose last hearing is
To-morrow, sleeps: when the condemned man,
Who, when he opes his eyes, must shut them then
Again by death, although sad watch he keep;
Doth practise dying by a little sleep:
Thou at this midnight seest me."

It must be, however, confessed of these writers, that if they are upon common subjects, often unnecessarily and unpoetically subtle; yet, where scholastic speculation can be properly admitted, their copiousness and acuteness may justly be admired. What Cowley has written upon Hope shows an unequalled fertility of invention:

"Hope, whose weak being ruin'd is, Alike if it succeed and if it miss;

Whom good or ill does equally confound,
And both the horns of fate's dilemma wound;
Vain shadow! which dost vanish quite
Both at full noon and perfect night!
The stars have not a possibility
Of blessing thee;

If things then from their end we happy call,
'Tis Hope is the most hopeless thing of all.
Hope, thou bold taster of delight,

Who, whilst thou should'st but taste, devour'st it quite!

Thou bring'st us an estate, yet leav'st us poor, By clogging it with legacies before!"

To the following comparison of a man that travels and his wife that stays at home, with a pair of compasses, it may be doubted whether absurdity or ingenuity has the better claim:

"Our two souls, therefore, which are one, Though I must go, endure not yet


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