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their composition be erroneous, yet many parts deserve at least that admiration which is due to great comprehension of knowledge, and great fertility of fancy. The thoughts are often new, and often striking; but the greatness of one part is disgraced by the littleness of another; and total negligence of language gives the noblest conceptions the appearance of a fabric august in the plan, but mean in the materials. Yet surely those verses are not without a just claim to praise; of which it may be said with truth, that no man but Cowley could have written them.

The Davideis now remains to be considered; a poem which the author designed to have extended to twelve books, merely, as he makes no scruple of declaring, because the Eneid had that number: but he had leisure or perseverance only to write the third part. Epic poems have been left unfinished by Virgil, Statius, Spenser, and Cowley. That we have not the whole Davideis is, however, not much to be regretted; for in this undertaking, Cowley is, tacitly at least, confessed to have miscarried. There are not many examples of so great a work, produced by an author generally read, and generally praised, that has crept through a century with so little regard. Whatever is said of Cowley, is meant of his other works. Of the Davideis, no mention is made; it never appears in books, nor emerges in conversation. By the Spectator it has been once quoted; by Rymer it has once been praised; and by Dryden, in "Mack Flecknoe," it has once been imitated; nor do Í recollect much other notice from its publication till now in the whole succession of English literature.

Of this silence and neglect, if the reason be inquired, it will be found partly in the choice of the subject, and partly in the performance of the work.

Sacred History has been always read with submissive reverence, and an imagination overawed and controlled. We have been accustomed to acquiesce in the nakedness and simplicity of the authentic narrative, and to repose on its veracity with such humble confidence as suppresses curiosity. We go with the historian as he goes, and stop with him when he stops. All amplification is frivolous and vain: all addition to that which is already sufficient for the purposes of religion, seems not only useless, but in some degree profane.

Such events as were produced by the visible interposition of Divine power are above the power of human genius to

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dignify. The miracle of creation, however it may teem with images, is best described with little diffusion of language: He spake the word, and they were made.

We are told that Saul was troubled with an evil spirit; from this, Cowley takes an opportunity of describing hell, and telling the history of Lucifer, who was, he says,

Once general of a gilded host of sprites,
Like Hesper leading forth the spangled nights.

But down like lightning, which him struck, he came,

And roar'd 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 trembling sky:
Whilst raging seas swell to so bold an height,
As shall 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 flutter 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 miraculous, 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 state of them whose story is related, 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 sight 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
Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis.

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

I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant

At once his murther and his monument.

Of the sword taken from Goliah, he says ·

A sword so great, that it was only fit

To cut off his great head that came with it.

Other poets describe death by some of its common appearances. Cowley says, with a learned allusion to sepulchral 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.

visionary succession of kings,

Joas at first does bright and glorious shew,

In life's fresh morn his fame does early crow.

In a

Describing an undisciplined army, after having said with elegance,

His forces seem'd no army, but a crowd
Heartless, unarm'd, disorderly, and loud

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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 silk 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?

His expressions have sometimes a degree of meanness 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,
Cashier'd by troops, at last all drop away.

The dress of Gabriel deserves attention:

He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright,
That e'er the mid-day sun pierc'd through with light
Upon his cheeks a lively blush he spread.
Wash'd from the morning beauties' deepest red:
An harmless flatt'ring meteor shone for hair,
And fell adown his shoulders with loose care;

He cuts out a silk mantle from the skies,
Where the most sprightly azure pleas'd the eyes;
This he with starry vapours sprinkles all,
Took in their prime ere they grow ripe and fall;

Of a new rainbow ere it fret or fade,

The choicest piece cut out, a scarf is made.

This is a just specimen of Cowley's imagery: what might in general expressions be great and forcible, he weakens and That makes ridiculous by branching it into small parts. Gabriel was invested with the softest or brightest colours of the sky, we might have been told, and been dismissed to improve the idea in our different proportions of conception; but Cowley could not let us go till he had related where Gabriel got first his skin, and then his mantle, then his lace, and then his scarf, and related it in the terms of the mercer and tailor.

Sometimes he indulges himself in a digression, always conceived with his natural exuberance, 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 small store was good;

Writing, man's spiritual physic, was not then

Itself, as now, grown a disease of men.

Learning (young virgin) but few suitors knew;
The common prostitute she lately grew,

And with the spurious 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 opportunity for such criticism as epic poems commonly supply. 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 ascertained. 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 now 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 Davideis can be missed, it is for the learning that had been diffused over it, and the notes in which it had been explained.

Had not his characters been depraved like every other part by improper decorations, they would have deserved uncommon praise. He gives Saul both the body and mind of a hero:

His way once chose, he forward thrust outright,
Nor turn'd aside for danger or delight.

And the different beauties of the lofty Merah and the gentle
Michol are very justly conceived and strongly painted.

Rymer has declared the Davideis superior to the Jerusalem of Tasso, "which," says he, "the poet, with all his eare, has not totally purged from pedantry." If by pedantry is meant that minute knowledge which is derived from particular sciences and studies, in opposition to the general notions supplied by a wide survey of life and nature, Cowley certainly

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