introduced, is practised, not by those who talk to be understood, but by those who write to be ad. mired.

The Anacreontics therefore of Cowley give now all the pleasure which they ever gave. If he was formed by nature for one kind of writing more than for another, his power seems to have been greatest in the familiar and the festive.

The next class of his poems is called The Mistress, of which it is not necessary to select any particular pieces for praise or censure. They have all the same beauties and faults, and nearly in the same proportion. They are written with exube. rance of wit, and with copiousness of learning: and it is truly asserted by Sprat, that the plenitude of the writer's knowledge flows in upon his page, so that the reader is commonly surprised into some improvement. But, considered as the verses of a lover, no man that has ever loved will much commend them. They are neither courtly nor pa. thetic, have neither gallantry nor fondness. His, praises are too far sought, and too hyperbolical, either to express love or to excite. it; every stanza is crowded with darts and flames, with wounds and death, with mingled souls and with broken hearts.

The principal artifice by which The Mistress is filled with conceits, is very copiously displayed by Addison. Love is by Cowley, as by other poets, expressed metaphorically by fame and fire; and that which is true of real fire, is said of love, or figurative fire, the same word in the same sentence retaining both significations. Thus, “observing the cold regard of his mistress's eyes, and at the same time their power of producing love in him, he considers them as burning-glasses made of ice. Finding himself able to live in the greatest extremities of love, he concludes the torrid zone to be habitable. Upon the dying of a tree, on which he had cut his loves, he observes that his flames bad burnt up and withered the tree.

These conceits Addison calls mixed wit; that is, wit which consists of thoughts true in one sense of the expression, and false in the other. Addison's representation is sufficiently indulgent: that confusion of images may entertain for a moment; but, being unnatural, it soon grows wearisome. Cowley delighted in it, as much as if he had in. rented it; but, not to mention the ancients, he might have found it full-blown in modern Italy. Thus Sannazaro:

Aspice quam variis distringar Lesbia curis !

Uror, et heu! nostro manat ab igne liquor: Sum Nilus, sumque Ætna simul; restringite flamma

O lacrimæ, aut lacrimas ebibe flamma meas.

One of the severe theologians of that time cen. sured him as having published a book of profune and lascivious verses. From the charge of profaneness, the constant tenor of his life, which seems to have been eminently virtuous, and the general tendency of his opinions, which discover no irreverence of religion, must defend him; but that the accusation of lasciviousness is unjust, the peru. sal of his work will sufficiently nce.

Cowley's Mistress has no power of seduction : she “plays round the head, but reaches not the heart.” Her beauty and absence, her kindness and cruelty, her disdain and inconstancy, produce no correspondence of emotion. His poetical account of the virtues of plants and colours of flowers, is not perused with more sluggish frigidity. The compositions are such as might have been written for penance by a hermit, or for hire by a philosophical rhymer who had only heard of another sex; for they turn the mind only on the writer, whom, without thinking on a woman but as the subject for his task, we sometimes esteem as learned, and imes despise as

lways admire as in. genious, and always condemn as unnatural,

The Pindaric Odes are now to be considered ; a species of composition, which Cowley thinks Pancirolus might have counted in his list of the lost inventions of antiquity, and which he has made a bold and vigorous attempt to recover,

The purpose with which he has paraphrased an Olympic and Nemæan Ode is by himself sufficiently explained. His endeavour was, not to shew precisely what Pindar spoke, but his manner of speaking. He was therefore not at all restrained to his expressions, nor much to his sentiments; nothing was required of him, but not to write as Pindar would not have written.

Of the Olympic Ode, the beginning is, I think, above the original in elegance, and the conclusion below it in strength. The connexion is supplied with great perspicuity; and thoughts, which to a reader of less skill seem thrown together by chance, are concatenated without any abruption. Though the English Ode cannot be called a translation, it may be very properly consulted as a commentary.

The spirit of Pindar is indeed not every where equally preserved. The following pretty lines are not such as his deep mouth was used to pour?

Great Rhea's son,
If in Olympus top, where thou
Sitt'st to behold thy sacred show,
If in Alpheus' silver light,
If in my verse thou take delight,
My verse, great Rhea's son, which is,
Lofty as that and smooth as this.

In the Nemæan Ode the reader must, in mere justice to Pindar, observe, that whatever is said of the original new moon, her tender forehead and her horns, is superadded by his paraphrast, who has many other plays of words and fancy unsuitable to the original, as,

The table, free for ev'ry guest,

No doubt will thee admit,
And feast more upon thee, than thou on it.

He sometimes extends his author's thoughts without improving them. In the Olympionic, an oath is mentioned in a single word, and Cowley spends three lines in swearing by the Castalian stream, We are told of Theron's bounty, with a hint that he had enemies, which Cowley thus enlarges in rhyming prose:

But in this thankless world the giver.
Is envied even by the receiver;
'Tis now the cheap and frugal fashion
Rather to hide than own the obligation;
Nay, 'tis much worse than so;
It now an artifice does grow
Wrongs and injuries to do,
Lest men should think we owe.

It is hard to conceive that a man of the first rank in learning and wit, when he was dealing out such minute morality in such feeble diction, could imagine, either waking or dreaming, that he imitated Pindar.

In the following odes, where Cowley chooses his own subjects,' he sometimes rises to dignity, truly Pindaric; and, if some deficiencies of language be forgiven, his strains are such as those of the The. ban Bard. were to his contemporaries :

Begin the song, and strike the living lyre : Lo how the years to come, a numerous and well

fitted quire, All hand in hand do decently advance, And to my song with smooth and equal measure

dance ; While the dance lasts, how long soe'er it be, My music's voice shall bear it company ;

'Till all gentle notes be drown'd In the last trumpet's dreadful sound.

After such enthusiasm, who will not lament to find the poet conclude with lines like these:

But stop, my Muse-
Hold thy Pindaric Pegasus closely in,
Which does to rage begin-

'Tis an unruly and a hard-mouth'd horse'Twill no unskilful touch endure, But Alings writer and reader too that sits not sure.

The fault of Cowley, and perhaps of all the writers of the metaphysical race, is that of pursuing his thoughts to the last ramifications, by which he loses the grandeur of generality: for of the greatest things the parts are little ; what is little can be but pretty, and by claiming dignity, becomes ridiculous. Thus all the power of description is de stroyed by a scrupulous enumeration; and the force of metaphors is lost, when the mind by the mention of particulars is turned more upon the original thán the secondary sense, more 'upon'that from which the illustration is drawn than that to which it is applied.

Of this we have a very eminent example in the ode, entitled The Muse, who goes to take the air in an intellectual chariot, to which he harnesses Fancy and Judgment, Wit and Eloquence, Memory and Invention. How he distinguished Wit from Fancy, or how Memory could properly contribute to Motion, he has not explained; we are however content to suppose that he could have justified his own fiction, and wish to see the Muse begin her career: but there is yet more to be done.

Let the postillion Nature mount, and let
The coachman Art be set;

« VorigeDoorgaan »