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To-morrow's business, when the labourers have
Thou at this midnight seest me,
Hope, whose weak being ruin'd is,
Alike if it succed, and if it miss ;
Vain shadow, which dost vanquish quite,
Of blessing thee;
Hope, thou bold taster of delight,
If it take air before, its spirits waste.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
As stiff twin-compasses are two,
To move, but doth, if chother do.
And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roar,
And grows erect, as tha: comes home.
Like th other foot obliquely run.
DONNE. In all these exam les it is apparent, that whatever is improper or vitious, is prodeced by a voluntary deviation from nature in pursuit of something new and strange; and that the writers fail to give delight, by their desire of exciting admiration.
HAVING thus endeavoured to exhibit a general representation of the style and sentiments of the metaphysical poets, it is now proper to examine particularly the works of Cowley, who was almost the last of that race, and uncoubtedly the best.
His Miscellanies contain a collection of short compositions, written some as they were dictated by a mind at leisure, and some as they were called forth by different occasions; with great variety of style and sentiment, from burlesque ksity to awful grandeur. Such an assemblage of diversified excellence no other poet has hitherto afforded. To choose the best, among many good, is one of the most hazardous attempts of criticism. I know not whether Scaliger Limself has persuaded many readers to join with him in his preference of the two farourite odes, which he estimates in his raptures at the value of a kingcom. I will however venture to recommend Cowley's first piece, which ought to he inscribed To my muse, for want of which the second couplet is without seterence. When the title is added, there will still remain a defect; for every piece ought to contain in itself whatever is necessary to make it intelligible. Pope has some epitaplis without names; which are therefore epitaplıs to be le, occupied indeed for the present, but hardly appropriated.
The ode on Wit is almost without a rival. It was about the time of Cowley that Wit, which had been till then used for Intellection, in contradistinction to Will took the meaning, whatever it be, which it now bears.
Of all the passages in which poets have exemplified their own precepts, none
Rather than all things wit, let none be there.
If there be nothing else between.
In his verses to Lord Falkland, whom every man of liis time was proud praise, there are, as there must be in all Cowley's compositions, some striking thoughts; but they are not well wrought. His elegy on Sir Henry Wottory is vi gorous and happy, the series of thoughts is easy and natural, and the conclusion though a little weakened by the intrusion of Alexander, is elegant and forcible
It may be remarked, that in this Elegy, and in most of his encomiastic poems he has forgotten or neglected to name his heroes.
In his poem on the death of Harvey, there is much praise, but little passion.. very just and ample delineation of such virtues as a studious privacy admits, an such intellectual excellence as a inind not yet called forth to action can d'is play. He knew how to distinguish, and how to commend the qualities of bi companion ; but when he wishes to make us weep, he forgets to weep himsel! and diverts his sorrow by imagining how his crown of bays, if he had it, woul crackle in the fire. It is the odd fate of this thought to be worse for being true The bay-leaf crackles remarkably as it burns; as therefore this property wa not assigned it by chance, the mind must be thought sufficiently at ease tha could attend to such minuteness of physiology. But the power of Cowley i not so much to move the affections, as to exercise the understanding.
The Chronicle is a composition unrivalled and alone : such gaiety of fancy such facility of expression, such varied siinilitude, such a succession of images and such a dance of words, it is in vain to expect except from Cowley. Hi strength always appears in his agility, his volatility is not the flutter of a light but the bound of an elastic mind. Flis levity never leaves his learning behin it; the moralist, the politician, and the critisk, mingle their influence even ii this airy frolick of genius. To such a performance Suckling could have brough the gaiety, but not the knowledge; Dryden could have supplied the knowledge but not the gaiety. The verses to Davenant, which are vigorously begun, and liappily con
, cluded, contain some hints of criticism very justly conceived and happily ex pressed. Cowley's critical abilities have not been sufficiently observed: th: few decisions and remarks which his prefaces and his notes on the 'Davide supply, were at that time accessions to English literature, and shew such skil as raises our wish for more examples.
The lines from Jersey are a very curious and pleasing specimen of the familiar descending to the burlesque.
His two metrical disquisitions for and against Reason, are no mcan specimen: of metaphysical poctry. The stanzas against knowledge produce little conviction. In those which are intended to exalt the human faculties, Reason la its proper task assigned it; that of judging, not of things revealed, but of the reality of revelation, In the verses for Reason is a passage which Bentley, in the only English verscs which he is known to have written, eems to have copied, though with the inferiority of an imitator.
The holy Cock like the eighth sphere do:h shine
With thousand lights of truth divine,
Vet Reason must assist too; for in :ë 18
So vast and dangerous as these,
Without the compass too below.
Who travels in religious jats,
In ocean wide or sinks or strays. Cowley seems to have had, what Milton is believed to have wanted; the skill to rate liis own performances by their just value, and has therefore closed his Miscellanies with the verses upon Crashaw, which apparently excell all that have gone before them, and in which there are beauties which common authors mav justly think not only above their attainment, but above their ambition.
To the Miscellanies succeeded the Anacreontiques, or paraphrastical translations of some little poems, which pass, however justly, under the name of Anacreon. Of those songs dedicated to festivity and gaiety, in which even the morality is voluptuous, and which teach nothing but the enjoyment of the present day, he has given rather a pleasing than a faithful representation, having retained their sprightliness, but lost their simplicity. The Anacreon of Cowley, like the Homer of Pope, hias adinitted the decoration of some inodern graces, by which he is undoubtedly more amiable to common readers, and pere traps, if they would honestly declare their own perceptions, to far the greater part of those whom courtesy and ignorance are content to style the Learned.
These little pieces will be found more finished in their kind than any other of Cowley's works. The diction shews nothing of the mould of time, and the sentiments are at no great distance from our present liabitades of thought. Real mirth must be always natural; and nature is uniform. Men have been wise in very different modes; but they have always laughed the same way.
Levity of thought naturally produced familiarity of language, and the familiar part of language continues long the same: the dialogue of comedy, when it is transcribed from popular manners and real life, is read from age to age with equal pleasure. The artifices of inversion, by which the established order of words is changed, or of innovation, by which new words or new meanings of words are introduced, is practised, not by those who talk to be understood, bat by those who write to be admired.
The Anacreontiques therefore of Cowley give now all the pleasurd which they ever gave. If he was formed by nature for one kind of writing inore 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 samic proportion. They are written with
Dodsley's Collection of Poems, vol. V. E.
cxuberance 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 versos of a lover, no man that has ever loved will much commend them. They are neither courtly nor pathetiek, 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 described by Adelison. Love is by Cowley, as by other poets, expressed metaphorically by flame 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 wbich he had cut his loves, he observes, that " his flames had burnt up and withered the tree.
These conceits Addison calls mixt 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 invented 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, & heu! nostro manat ab igne liquor;
O lacrime, aut lacrimas ebibe famma meas. One of the severe theologians of that time censured him as having published a book of profane and lascivicus Verses. From the charge of profaneness, the con
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 perusal of his works will sufficiently evince.
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 ciueity. 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 sometimes despise as trifling, always admire as ingenious, and always condemn as unnatural.