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The jocund orbs shall break their measur'd pace,
Leaving their boasting songs tun'd to a sphere,
It is not orly when the events are confessedly miraculous, that fancy an fiction lose their effect. the whole system of life, while the Theocracy was y 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 peculi mode of existence of a distinct species of mankind, that lived and acted wi' manners uncommunicable; so that it is difficult even for imagination place us in the state of them whose story is related, and by consequence the joys and griefs are not easily adopted, nor can the attention be often interest in any thing that befalls them.
To the subject thus originally indisposed to the reception of poetical em bellishments, the writer brought little that could reconcile impatience, or attrac curiosity. Nothing can be more disgusting than a narrative spangled wit conceits, and conceits are all that the Davideis supplies.
One of the great sources of poetical delight is description, or the power presenting pictures to the mind. Cowley gives inferences instead of image and shews not what may be supposed to have been seen, but what thought the sight might have suggested. When Virgil describes the stone which Turnu lifted against Æneas, he fixes the attention on its bulk and weight :
Saxum circumspicit ingens,
Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis.
I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant
At once his murther and his monument.
A sword so great, chat it was only fit
To cut off his great head that came with it.
'Twixt his right ribs deep pierc'd the furious blade,
Life's light goes out, when first they let in air,
Joas at first does bright and glorious show,
In life's fresh morn his fame does early crow.
His forces seem'd no army, but a crowd
Heartless, unarm'd, disorderly, and load, he gives them a fit of the ague.
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.
Where the sun's fruitful beams give metals birth,
Gold, which alone more influence has than he.
Ye learned heads, whom ivy garlands grace,
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 your ’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,
Cas ier'd by troops, at last drop all away.
He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright,
The choicest piece cut out, a scarfe is made. This is a just specimen of Cowley's imagery: what might in general expressions be great and forcible, he weakens and makes ridiculous by branching it into small parts. That Gabriel was invested with the softest or brightest colours
we might bave 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 lacc, and then his scarfe, and related it in the terms of the mercer and the taylor.
Sometimes he indulges bimself in' a digression, always conceived with his natural exuberance, and commoniv, even where it is not long, continued till it
of tive sky,
is tedious :
I'th' library a few choice authors stood,
press; Laborious effects of idleness, As the Dayideis affords only four books, though intended to consist of twelve, there is no opportunity for such criticis.ns as Epick poems commonly supply. I he 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 bis poetical art, that it is difficult to imagine how he could fill eight books more without practising again the same modes of disposing his matter ; and perhaps the perception of this growing incun.brance 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 de. corations, 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 hc, “ the poet, with all his care, has not totally purged from pedantry.” If liy 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 errs, by introducing pedantry far more frequently than Tasso. I know not, indeed, why they should be compared; for the resemblance of Cowley's work to Tasso's is only that they both exhibit the agency of celestial and infernal spirits, in which however they sifier widely; for Cowley supposes them to operate commonly upon the mind iny suggestion ; Tasso represents them as promoting or obstructing events by External agency.
Of particular passages that can be properly compared, I remember only the description of Heaven, in which the different manner of the two writers
is suficiently discernible. Cowley's is scarcely description, unless it be possible to describe by negatives; for he tells us only what there is not in heaven. Tasso endeavours to represent the splendours and pleasures of the regions of happiness. Tasso affords images, and Cowley sentiments. It happens, however, that Tasso's description affords some reason for Rymer's censure. He
He says of the Supreme Being,
Hà fotto i piedi e fato e la natura
Ministri humili, e'l moto, e ch'il misura. The second line has in it more of pedantry than perhaps can be found in any other stanza of the poeni.
In the perusal of the Davidcis, as of all Cowley's works, we find wit and learning unprofitably squandered. Attention was no relief, the affections are never moved; we are sometimes surprised, but never delighted, and find much so admire, but little to apptove. Still however it is tle work of Cowley, of a nind capacious by nature, and replenished by study.
In the general review of Cowley's poetry it will be found, that he wrote with abundant fertility, but negligent or unskilful selection; with much thought, but with little imagery; that he is never pathetick, and rarely subline, but always either ingenious or learna, either acute or profound. It is said by Denham in his elegy,
To him no author was unknaivn;
Yet what he writ was all his own. . This vide position requires less limitation, when it is affirmed of Cowley, than perhaps of any other poet.--He read much, and yet borrowed little.
His character of writing was indeed not his own: le unhappily adopted that which was predominant. He saw a certain way to present praise, and not sufi. ciently enquiring by what means the ancients have continued to delight through all the changes of human manners, he contented himself with a deciduous laurel, of which the verdure in its spring was bright and gay, but whichi tine las been continually stealing from his brows.
He was in lits own time considered as of unrivalled excellence. Clarendon represents him as having taking a flight beyond all that went before him; and Milton is said to have declared, that the three greatest English poets were Spencer, Shakspeare, and Cowley,
His manner lie had in conmon with others: but his sentiments were his own. Upon every subject he thought for himself: and such was his copiousness of knowledge, that something at once remote and applicable rushed into his mind; yet it is not likely that he always rejected a conimodious idca merely because another had used it: his known wealth was so great, that he miglit have borrowed without loss of credit.
In his elegy on Sir Henry Wotton, the last lines have such resemblance to the noble epigram of Grotius upon the death of Scaliger, that I cannot but think them copied from it, though they are copied by !lo scryile hand. F2
One passage in his Mistress is so apparently borrowed from Donne, that b probably would not have written it, had it not mingled with his own thoughtso as that he did not perceive himself taking it from another:
Although I think thou never found wilt be,
Yet I'm resolved to search for thee 3
The search irself rewards che pains.
Yet things well worth his coil he gains :
And does his charge and labour pay
Some that have deeper digg'd Love's mine than I,
I have lov’d, and got, and told;
Oh, 'tis imposture all :
But glorifies his pregnant pot,
If by the way to him befal
So lovers dream a rich and long delight,
But get a winter-seeming summer's night. Jonson and Donne, as Dr. Hurd remarks, were then in the highest esteem.
It is related by Clarendon, that Cowley always acknowledges his obligatior to the learning and industry of Jonson; but I have found no traces of Jonsor in his works: to emulate Donne, appears to have been his purpose ; and from Donne he may have learned that familiarity with religious images
, and tha light allusion to sacred things, by which readers far short of sanctity are frequently offonded; and which would not be borne in the present age, when devotion, perhaps not more fervent, is more delicate.
Having produced one passage taken by Cowley from Donne, I will recompense him by another which Milton seems to have borrowed from him. He
says of Goliah,
the trunk was of a lofty tree,
Which Nature meant some tall ship's mast should be.
His spear, to equal which the tallest pine