Page images
PDF
EPUB

'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 Olympick 125 and Nemexan 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 Olympick Ode the beginning is, I think, above the 126 original in elegance, and the conclusion below it in strength. The connection is supplied with great perspicuity, and the 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 pre- 127 served. The following pretty lines are not such as his 'deep mouth 3' 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 flight,

If in my verse thou take [dost] delight,
My verse, great [O] Rhea's son, which is

Lofty as that, and smooth as this".'

In the Nemeaan Ode the reader must, in mere justice to 128 Pindar, observe that whatever is said of 'the original new moon, her tender forehead and her horns", is superadded by his para

[blocks in formation]

129

130

phrast, who has many other plays of words and fancy unsuitable

to the original, as

'The table, [which is] free for every 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 Olympionick 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 [givers]
Is [Are] envied even by the receiver [receivers];
'Tis now the cheap and frugal_fashion

Rather to hide than own [pay] the obligation:
Nay, 'tis much worse than so;

It now an artifice does grow

Wrongs and injuries [outrages] to do,

Lest men should think we owe 3.'

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.

131. In the following odes, where Cowley chooses his own subjects, he sometimes rises to dignity truly Pindarick, and, if some deficiencies of language be forgiven, his strains are such as those of the Theban 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 [measures]
dance;

While [Whilst] the dance lasts, how long soe'er it be,
My musick's voice shall bear it company;

Till all gentle notes be drown'd

In the last trumpet's dreadful sound".'

132 After such enthusiasm who will not lament to find the poet

conclude with lines like these!

Eng. Poets, viii. 123.

* 76. viii. 119. O. 2. 165.]

[Pindar had written αὐδάσομαι ἐνόρκιον λόγον ἀλαθεῖ νόῳ,
Ib. viii. 120.
4 Ib. viii. 129.

'But stop, [Stop, stop] my Muse...
Hold thy Pindarick Pegasus closely in,
Which does to rage begin...

'Tis an unruly and a hard mouth'd horse...
"Twill no unskilful touch endure,

But flings writer and reader too that sits not sure'.' The fault of Cowley, and perhaps of all the writers of the 133 metaphysical race, is that of pursuing his thoughts to their 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 2. Thus all the power of description is destroyed 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 than 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 intituled 134 The Muse, who goes to 'take the air' in an intellectual chariot, to which he harnesses Fancy and Judgement, 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 postilion Nature mount, and let The coachman Art be set;

And let the airy footmen, running all beside,

Make a long row of goodly pride,

Figures, conceits, raptures, and sentences,

In a well-worded dress,

And innocent loves, and pleasant truths, and useful lies,
In all their gaudy liveries3'

Every mind is now disgusted with this cumber of magnificence; 135

yet I cannot refuse myself the four next lines:

[ocr errors]

Mount, glorious queen, thy travelling throne,

And bid it to put on;

For long though cheerful is the way,

And life alas! allows but one ill winter's day.'

Eng. Poets, viii. 130. [Johnson might have said with more exactness conclude with a stanza containing lines like these, for out of thirteen lines he does not quote six in entirety,

nor do these follow each other con-
secutively.]

2

Johnson had said much the same in The Rambler, No. 36.

3 Eng. Poets, viii. 131.

186

137

138

In the same ode, celebrating the power of the Muse, he gives her prescience or, in poetical language, the foresight of events hatching in futurity; but having once an egg in his mind he cannot forbear to shew us that he knows what an egg contains:

'Thou [There] into the close nests of Time dost peep,
And there with piercing eye

Through the firm shell and the thick white dost spy
Years to come a-forming lie,

Close in their sacred fecundine asleep.'

The same thought is more generally, and therefore more poetically, expressed by Casimir, a writer who has many of the beauties and faults of Cowley:

'Omnibus mundi Dominator horis
Aptat urgendas per inane pennas,
Pars adhuc nido latet, et futuros
Crescit in annos'.'

Cowley, whatever was his subject, seems to have been carried by a kind of destiny to the light and the familiar, or to conceits which require still more ignoble epithets. A slaughter in the Red Sea 'new dies [paints] the waters name3'; and England during the Civil War was 'Albion no more, nor to be named from white.' It is surely by some fascination not easily surmounted that a writer professing to revive 'the noblest and highest [kind of] writing in verse", makes this address to the new year:

[ocr errors]

Nay, if thou lov'st me, gentle year,

Let not so much as love be there,

Vain fruitless love I mean; for, gentle year,
Although I fear,

There's of this caution little need,

Yet, gentle year, take heed

How thou dost make

Such a mistake;

Such love I mean alone

As by thy cruel predecessors has been shewn ;

* 'Casimir Sarbiewski, whose name has been Latinised into Sarbievius (1646). His contemporaries considered him as the greatest rival of Horace that had appeared, and he received a gold medal from the Pope, who made him his laureate.' Morfill's Poland, p. 278.

Dr. Watts, who imitated some of his odes (Eng. Poets, lv. 116, 126, 127), described him (ib. p. 35) as 'that noblest Latin poet of modern ages.' 2 Odes, i. 4.

3

Eng. Poets, viii. 173.

4 Ib. viii. 143.

5 Ib. viii. III.

For, though I have too much cause to doubt it,

I fain would try, for once, if life can live without it '.'

The reader of this will be inclined to cry out with Prior'Ye Criticks, say,

How poor to this was Pindar's style '!'

Even those who cannot perhaps find in the Isthmian or Nemeæan songs what Antiquity has disposed them to expect, will at least see that they are ill represented by such puny poetry; and all will determine that if this be the old Theban strain it is not worthy of revival.

139

To the disproportion and incongruity of Cowley's sentiments 140 must be added the uncertainty and looseness of his measures. He takes the liberty of using in any place a verse of any length, from two syllables to twelve. The verses of Pindar have, as he observes, very little harmony to a modern ear3; yet by examining the syllables we perceive them to be regular, and have reason enough for supposing that the ancient audiences were delighted with the sound. The imitator ought therefore to have adopted what he found, and to have added what was wanting to have preserved a constant return of the same numbers, and to have supplied smoothness of transition and continuity of thought*.

It is urged by Dr. Sprat, that the irregularity of numbers 141 is the very thing which makes that kind of poesy fit for all manner of subjects". But he should have remembered that what is fit for every thing can fit nothing well. The great pleasure of verse arises from the known measure of the lines and uniform structure of the stanzas, by which the voice.. is. regulated and the memory relieved ❝.

I

Eng. Poets, viii. 153.

On the Taking of Namur, Ib. xxxii. 221.

3 'In effect they are little better than prose to our ears.' Ib. viii. 110. See also ib. vii. 18; viii. 130.

'Mr. Cowley has brought it as near perfection as was possible in so short a time. But, if I may be allowed to speak my mind modestly, and without injury to his sacred ashes, somewhat of the purity of English, somewhat of more equal thoughts, somewhat of sweetness in the num

bers, in one word, somewhat of a finer turn and more lyrical verse is yet wanting.' DRYDEN, Works, xii. 300. 5 Hurd's Cowley, i. 27.

6 Post, DRYDEN, 275, 349; Prior, 77; CONGREVE, 44; POPE, 321; AKENSIDE, 23.

Ruskin, in 1861, wrote to D. G. Rossetti of Miss Rossetti's poems:'Irregular measure (introduced, to my great regret, in its chief wilfulness by Coleridge) is the calamity of modern poetry.' Ruskin: Rossetti: Preraphaelitism, 1889, p. 258.

« PreviousContinue »