Once general of a gilded host of sprites,
Like Hesper leading forth the spangled nights ;
But down like light’ning, which him struck, he came,
And roard at his first plunge into the flame.

Lucifer makes a speech to the inferior agents of mischief, in which there is something of Heathenism, and therefore of impropriety; and, to give efficacy to his words, concludes by lashing his breast with his long tail. Envy, after a pause, steps out, and among other declarations of her zeal utters these lines:

Do thou but threat, loud storms shall make reply,
And thunder echo to the treinbling sky;
Whilft raging seas swell to so bold an height,
As Thall the fire's proud element affright.
Th' old drudging Sun, from his long-beaten way,
Shall at thy voice start, and misguide the day.
The jocund orbs shall break their measur'd pace,
And stubborn poles change their allotted place.
Heaven's gilded troops shall futter here and there,
Leaving their boasting songs tun’d to a sphere.

Every reader feels himself weary with this useless talk of an allegorical Being, .

It is not only when the events are confessedly mị. raculous, 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 uncommunicable; so that it is difficult even for imagination to place us in the fiate of them whose story is re

? 4




lated, and by consequence their joys and griefs are not easily adopted, nor can the attention be often interested in any thing that befalls them.

To the subject thus originally indisposed to the reception of poetical embellishments, the writer brought little that could reconcile impatience, or attract curiosity. Nothing can be more disgusting than a narrative spangled with conceits; and conceits 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 light might have suggested. When Virgil describes the stone which Turnus lifted against Æneas, he fixes the attention on its bulk and weight :

Saxum circumspicit ingens,
Saxum antiquum, ingens, campo quod forte jacebat
Limnes agro pofitus, liten ut discerneret arvis.

Cowley says of the stone with which Cain few his brother,

I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant
At once his murther and bis monument.
Of the sword taken from Goliah, he says,
A sword so great, that it was only fit
To cut off his great lead that came with it.

Other poets describe Death by some of its common appearances. Cowley says, with a learned allusion to fepulchral lamps real or fabulous,

'Twixt his right ribs deep pierc'd the furious blade,
And open’d wide those secret vessels where
Life'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,
In life's fresh morn his fame does early crow,

Describing an undisciplined army, after having said with elegance,

His forces seem'd no army, but a crowd

Heartless, unarm’d, disorderly, and loud, he 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
A well-wrought heaven of filk and gold was spread.

Whatever he writes is always polluted with some conceit:

Where the sun's fruitful beams give metals birth,
Where he the growth of fatal gold does see,
Gold, which alone more influence has than he.

In one passage he starts a sudden question to the · confusion of philosophy:

Ye learned heads, whom 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?

[ocr errors]

His expressions have sometimes a degree of mean-
ness 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 :
As glimmering stars just at th’approach of day,
Cathier'd by troops, at lait all drop away.

The dress of Gabriel deserves attention :

He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright,
Thạt e'er the mid-day sun pierc'd through with light;
Upon his cheeks a lively bluth he spread,
Walh'd from the morning beauties' deepest red:
An harmless flate’ring meteor 1hone for hair,
And fell adown his shoulders with loose care;
He cats out a filk mantle from the skies,
Where the most sprightly azure pleas'd the eyes;
This he with starry vapours sprinkles all,
Took in their prinę ere they grow ripe and fall;
Of a new rainbow ere it fret or fade,
The choicest piece cut out, a scarfe is made.

This is a just specimen of Cowley's imagery : what might in general expressions be great and forcible, he weakens and makes ridiculous by branching 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 innprove the idea in our different proportions of conception; but Cowley could not let us go till he had related where Gabriel göt first his skin, and then his mantle, then his lace, and then his scarfe, and related it in the terms of the mercer and tailor.


Sometimes he indulges himself in a digression, always conceived with his natural exubérance, and commonly, even where it is not long, continued till it is tedious: I'th' library a few choice authors stood, Yet 'twas well stor’d, for that sinall store was good ; Writing, man's spiritual plıyfick, was not then Itself, as now, grown a disease of men. Learning (young virgin) but few suitors knew;

The common prostitute The lately grew,
And witli the fpurious 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 Epick poems commonly fupply. 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 be afcertained. The fable is plainly implex, formed rather from the Odyssey than the Iliad : and many artifices of diversification 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 Dayideis can be missed,

« VorigeDoorgaan »