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His combinations of different measures is sometimes dissonant and unpleasing; he joins verses together, of which the former does not slide easily into the latter.
The words do and did, which so much degrade 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 blind,
No other law shall shackle me :
Slave to myself I ne'er will be ;
By my own present mind.
For days, that yet belong to fate,
Before it falls into his hand,
The bondman of the cloister so,
Not to enjoy, but debts to pay !
Unhappy till the last, the kind releasing knell.
Round the whoʻle earth his dreaded name shall sound,
And reach to risorlds that in ust not yet be found.
Yet bid hina go securely, when he sends
And we who bid him gro; will bring him back. Yet amidst his ne.gligence he s ometimes attempted an improved and scientific versification; of which it will be best to give his own account subjoined to this line,
Na!f can the glory contain itself in th' endless space. I am sorry, that it is n'ecessary to admonish the most part of readers, that it " is not by n'agligence 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 bave obser ved 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 riolent course.
« In « In the second book ;
Doun a precipice deep, down he casts them all.. "-And,
And fell a-down his shoulders with loose care, “ In the third,
Brass was his helmet, his loots brass, and o're
His breast a thick plate of strong brass he wore. u In the fourth,
Like some fair pine o'er-looking all th' ignobler wood. “ And,
Some from the rocks cast themsclves down headlong, "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 accurate as to bind themselves to; neither have our “ English poets observed it, for aught I can find. The Latins (qui musas colunt "severiores) sometimes 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 proposes. 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 live 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 :
I'hich runs, and as it runs, for ever shall run on. Cowley was, I believe, the first poet that mingled Alexandrines at pleasure with the common heroic of ten syllables, and from him Dryden borrowed the practice, whether ornamental or licentious. He considered the verse of twelve syllables as elevated and majestick, and has therefore deviated into that measure when he supposes the voice heard of the Supreme Being.
The Author of the Davideis 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 , 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 beat 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 literally 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 froin each other. His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid. equability, which has never yet obtained its duc 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 Classicks, 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 poetick 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 English numbers the enthusiasm of the greater ode, and the gaiety of the less, that he was equally qualificd for sprightly sallies, and for lofty flights; 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, lie left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.
D E N H A M.
F Sir JOHN DENHAM very little is known but what 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 Horsely in Essex, then chief baroni of the Exchequer in Ireland, and of Eleanor, daughter of Sir Garret Moore baron 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 16zı he was sent to Oxford, where he was considered “ as a dreaming “ young man, given more to dice and cards than study;" and therefore gave no prognosticks of his future eminence; nor was suspected to conceal, under sluggishness and laxity, a genius born to improve the literature of his country.
When he was, three years afterwards, removed to Lincoln's Inn, he prosecila ted the common law with sufficient appearance of application; yet did not lose his propensity to cards and dice; but was very often plundered by gamesters.
Being severely reproved for this folly, he professed, and perhaps believed, himself reclaimed; and, to testify the sincerity of his repentance, wrote and published “ An Essay upon Gaming.'
He seems to have divided his studies between law and poetry; for, in 1636, he translated the second book of the Eneid.
Two years after, his father died; and then, notwithstanding his resolutions and professions, he returned again to the vice of gaming, and lost several thou. sand pounds that had been left him.
In 1642, he published " The Sophy.” This seems to have given him his first hold of the public attention ; for Waller remarked, “ that he broke out, “ like the Irish rebellion, threescore thousand strong when nobody was aware, “ or in the least suspected it:" an observation which could have had no propriety, had his poetical abilities been known before.
He was after that pricked for sheriff of Surrey, and made governor of Farnham Castle for the king; but he soon resigned that charge, and retreated to Oxford, where, in 1643, he published “ Cooper's Hill.”
This poem had such reputation as to excite the common artifice by which envy degrades excellence. A report was spread, that the performance was not his own, but that he had bought it of a vicar for forty pounds. The same attempt was made to rob Addison of his Cato, and Pope of his Essay on Criticism.
In 1647, the distresses of the royal family required him to engage in more dangerous employments. He was entrusted by the queen with a message to the king; and, by whatever means, so far softened the ferocity of Hugh Peters, that by his intercession admission was procured. Of the king's condescension he has given an account in the dedication of his works.
He was afterwards employed in carrying on the king's correspondence; and, as he says, discharged this office with great safety to the royalists: and being accidentally discovered by the adverse party's knowledge of Mr. Cowley's hand, he escaped happily both for himself and his friends.
He was yet engaged in a greater undertaking. In April 1648, le conveyed james the duke of York from London into France, and delivered him there to the Queen and prince of Wales. This year he published his translation of " Cato Major.”
He now resided in France, as one of the followers of the exiled king; and, *ɔ divert the melancholy of their condition, was sometimes enjoined by his master to write occasional verses; one, of which amusements was probably liis Vol. I
ode or song upon the Embassy to Poland, by which he and lord Crofts procured a contribution of ten thousand pounds from the Scotch, that wandered over that kingdom. Poland was at that time very much frequented by itinerant traders, who, in a country of very little commerce and of great extent, where every man resided on his own estate, contributed very much to the accommodation of life, by bringing to every man's house those little necessaries which it was very inconvenient to want, and very troublesome to fetch. I have formerly read, without much reflection, of the multitude of Scotchmen that travelled with their wares in Poland, and that their numbers were not small, the success of this negociation gives sufficient evidence.
About this time, what estate the war and the gamesters had left him was sold, by order of the parliament; and when, in 1652, he returned to Eng!and, he was entertained by the earl of Pembroke.
Of the next years of his life there is no account. At the Restoration he obtained that which many missed, the reward of his loyalty ; being made surveyor of the king's buildings, and dignised with the order of the Bath. He seems now to have learned some attention to money: for Wood says, that he got by this place seven thousand pounds.
After the Restoration he wrote the poem on Prudence and Justice, and perhaps some of his other pieces: and as he appears, whenever any serious question comes before him, to have been a man of piety, he consecrated his poetical powers to religion, and made a metrical version of the psalms of David. In this attempt he has failed; but in sacred poetry who has succeeded?
It might be hoped that the favour of his master and esteem of the public would now make him happy. But human felicity is short and uncertain ; 4 second marriage brought upon him so much disquiet, as for a time disordered his understanding; and Butler lampooned him for his lunacy. I know not whether the malignant lines were then made public, nor what provocation incited Butler to do that which no provocation can excuse.
His frensy lasted not long *; and he seems to have regained his full force of mind; for he wrote afterwards his excellent poem upon the death of Cowley, whom he was not long to survive; for on the 19th of March, 1668, he was buried by his side.
DENHAM is deservedly considered as one of the fathers of English poetry. " Denham and Waller," says Prior, “ improved our versification, and Dryden “perfected it.” He has given specimens of various composition, descriptive, Judicrous, didactick, and sublime.
He appears to have had, in common with almost all mankind, the ambition of being upon proper occasions a merry fellow, and in common with most of them to have been by nature, or by early habits, debarred from it. Nothing is less exhilarating than the ludicrousness of Denham: He does not fail for want
In Granmont's Memoirs inany circumstances are related both of bis marriage and his frensy very little favourable to his character. E.