in present estimation the line that admits them, were, in the time of Cowley, little censured or avoided : how often he used them, and with how bad an effect, at least to our ears, will appear by a passage in which every reader will lament to see just and noble thoughts defrauded of their praise by inelegance of language:

Where honour or where conscience does not bind,

No other law shall shackle me;

Slave to myself I ne'er will be ;
Nor shall my future actions be confin'd

By my own present mind.
Who by resolves and vows engag'd does stand,

For days that yet belong to fate,
Does, like an unthrift, mortgage his estate
Before it falls into his hand;

The bondman of the cloister so,
All that he does receive does always owe.
And still as time comes in, it goes away,

Not to enjoy but debts to pay!

Unhappy slave, and pupil to a bell! Which his hour's work as well as hours does tell: Unhappy till the last, the kind releasing knell.

His heroic lines are often formed of monosylla. bles; but yet they are sometimes sweet and so. norous.

He says of the Messiah, Round the whole earth his dreaded name shall

sound, And reach to worlds that must not yet be


In another place, of David,
Yet bid him go securely, when he sends;
'T'is Saut that is his foe, and we' his friends.
The man who has his God, no aid can lack;
And we who bid him go, will bring him back.

Yet amidst his negligence he sometimes attempted an improved and scientific versification ; of which it will be best to give his own account subjoined to this line : Nor can the glory contain itself in the endless

space. “I am sorry that it is necessary to admonish the most part of readers, that it is not by negligence that this verse is so loose, long, and, as it were, vast; it is to paint in the number the nature of the thing which it describes, which I would have ob. served in divers other places of this poem, that else. will pass for very careless verses: as before, And over-runs the neighb'ring fields with violent

course. “ In the second book; Doun a precipice deep, down he casts them all.

“ And,

And fell adown his shoulders with loose cure. “ In the third, Brass was his helmet, his boots brass, and o'er His breast a thick plate of strong brass he wore.

“In the fourth, Like some fair pine o'er-looking all th' ignobler


"And, Some from the rocks cast themselves down head.

long. And many more: but it is enough to instance in a few. The thing is, that the disposition of words and numbers should be such, as that, out of the order and sound of them, the things themselves may be represented. This the Greeks were not so accu. rate as to bind themselves to: neither have our

English poets observed it, for aught I can find. The Latins (qui Musas colunt severiores) some. times did it; and their prince, Virgil, always: in whom the examples are innumerable, and taken notice of by all judicious men, so that it is superfluous to collect them."

I know not whether he has, in many of these instances, attained the representation or resemblance that he purposes. Verse can imitate only sound and motion. A boundless verse, a headlong verse, and a verse of brass or of strong brass, seem to comprise very incongruous and unsociable ideas. What there is peculiar in the sound of the line expressing loose care, I cannot discover; nor why the pine is taller in an Alexandrine than in ten syllables.

But, not to defraud him of his due praise, he has given one example of representative versification, which perhaps no other English line can equal : Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise : He, who defers this work from day to day, Does on a river's bank expecting stay Till the whole stream that stopp'd him shall be gone, Which runs, and as it runs, for ever shall run on.

Cowley was, I believe, the first poet that min. gled Alexandrines at pleasure with the common heroic of ten syllables; and from him Dryden borrowed the practice, whether ornamental or licen. tious. He considered the verse of twelve syllables as elevated and majestic, and has therefore deviated into that measure when he supposes the voice heard of the Supreme Being.

The author of the Dayideis is commended by Dryden for having written it in couplets, because he discovered that any staff was too lyrical for an heroic poem ; but this seems to have been known before by May and Sandys, the translators of the Pharsalia and the Metamorphoses.

In the Davideis are some hemistichs, or verses left imperfect by the author, in imitation of Virgil, whom he supposes not to have intended to complete them; that this opinion is erroneous, may be probably concluded, because this truncation is imitated by no subsequent Roman poet: because Virgil himself filled up one broken line in the heat of recitation ; because in one the sense is now unfinished; and because all that can be done by a broken verse, a line intersected by a cæsura, and a full stop, will equally effect.

Of- triplets in his Davideis he makes no use, and perhaps did not at first think them allowable ; but he appears afterwards to have changed his mind, for, in the verses on the government of Cromwell, he inserts them liberally with great happiness.

After so much criticism on his Poems, the Essays which accompany them must not be forgotten. What is said by Sprat of his conversation, that no man could draw from it any suspicion of his excellence in poetry, may be applied to these compositions. No author ever kept his verse and his prose at a greater distance from each other. His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far sought, or hard-laboured; but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar without grossness.

It has been observed by Felton, in his Essay on the Classics, that Cowley was beloved by every muse that he courted ; and that he has rivalled the ancients in every kind of poetry but tragedy.

It may be affirmed, without any encomiastic fervour, that he brought to his poetic labours a mind replete with learning, and that his pages are embellished with all the ornaments which books could supply; that he was the first who imparted to Eng. lish numbers the enthusiasm of the greater ode, and the gaiety of the less; that he was equally qualified for sprightly sallies, and for lofty fights;

that he was among those who freed translation from servility, and instead of following his author'at a distance, walked by his side; and that, if he left versification yet improvable, he left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.


Owhat is related of him by Wood, or by himself.

He was born at Dublin in 1615 ;. the only son of Sir John Denham, of Little Horseley, in Essex, then chief baron of the Exchequer in Ireland, and of Eleanor, daughter of Sir Garret More, barop of Mellefont.

Two years afterwards, his father, being made one of the barons of the Exchequer in England, brought him away from his native country, and educated him in London.

• In Hamilton's Memoirs of Count Grammont, Sir John Denham is said to have been 79 when he married Miss Brook, about the year 1664 : accord. ing to which statement he was born in 1585. But Dr. Johnson, who has followed Wood, is right. He entered Trinity College, Oxford, at the age of 16, in 1631, as appears by the following entry, which I copied from the matriculation book: Trin. Coll. “ 1631. Nov. 18. Johannes Denham, Essex, filius J. Denham, de Horsley par. và in com. prædict, militis annos natus 16."Malone,

« VorigeDoorgaan »