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cessity of an accord is visible, the King is persuaded of it. And to tell you the truth (which I take to be an argument above all the rest,) Virgil has told the same thing to that purpose."
This expression from a secretary of the present time would be considered as merely ludicrous, or at most as an ostentatious display of scholarship; but the manners of that time were so tinged with superstition, that I cannot but suspect Cowley of having consulted on this great occasion the Virgilian Lots, and to have given some credit to the answer of his oracle.
Some years afterwards, "business," says Sprat, "passed of course into other hands; and Cowley, being no longer useful at Paris, was in 1656, sent back into England, that under pretence of privacy and retirement, he might take occasion of giving notice of the posture of things in this nation."
Soon after his return to London, he was seized by some messengers of the usurping powers who were sent out in quest of another man; and, being examined, was put into confinement, from which he was not dismissed without
* Consulting the Virgilian Lots, Sortes Virgilianae, is a method of divination by the opening of Virgil, and ap. plying to the circumstances of the peruser the first pas sage in either of the two pages that he accidentally fixes bis eye on. It is said that King Charles I. and Lord Falkland being in the Bodleian Library, made this experiment of their future fortunes, and met with passages equally ominous to each. That of the king was the following:
At bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
Yet let a race untamed, and haughty foes,
the security of a thousand pounds given by Dr. Scarborough.
This year he published his poems with a preface, in which he seems to have inserted something suppressed in subsequent editions, which was interpreted to denote some relaxation of his loyalty. In this preface he declares, that "his desire had been for some days past, and did still very vehemently continue, to retire himself to some of the American plantations, and to forsake this world for ever."
From the obloquy which the appearance of submission to the usurpers brought upon him, his biographer has been very diligent to clear him; and indeed it does not seem to have lessened his reputation. His wish for retirement we can easily believe to be undissembled; a man harassed in one kingdom, and persecuted in another, who, after a course of business that employed all his days and half his nights, in cyphering and decyphering, comes to his own country, and steps into a prison, will be willing enough to retire to some place of quiet and of safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose us to forget that, if his activity was virtue, his retreat was cowardice.
He then took upon himself the character of a physician, still, according to Sprat, with intention "to dissemble the main design of his coming over;" and, as Mr. Wood relates, "complying with the men then in power, (which was much taken notice of by the royal party,) he obtained an order to be created doctor of physic; which being done to his mind, (whereby he gained the ill-will of some of his friends,) he went into France again, having made a copy of verses on Oliver's death.
This is no favourable representation, yet even in this not much wrong can be discovered. How far he complied with the men in power, is to be inquired before he can be blamed. It is not said that he told them any secrets, or assisted them by intelligence or any other act. If he only promised to be quiet, that they in whose hands he was, might free him from confinement, he did what no law of society prohibits.
The man whose miscarriage in a just cause has put him in the power of his enemy, may, without any violation of his integrity, regain his liberty, or preserve his life, by a promise of neutrality: for, Dryden. the stipulation gives the enemy nothing which he had not before; the neutrality of a captive may be always secured by his imprisonment or death. He that is at the disposal of another may not promise to aid him in any injurious act, because no power can compel attive obedience. He may engage to do nothing, but not to do ill.
Non hæc, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti,
neid xi. 152. little.
O Pallas, thou hast fail'd thy plighted word,
Dryden. Hoffman, in his Lexicon, gives a very satisfactory account of this practice of seeking fates in books; and says, that it was used by the Pagans, the Jewish Rabbins, and even the early Christians; the latter taking the New Testament for their oracle.-H.
There is reason to think that Cowley promised It does not appear that his compliance gained him confidence enough to be trusted without security, for the bond of his bail was never cancelled: nor that it made him think himself secure; for at that dissolution of government which followed the death of Oliver, he returned into France, where he resumed his former station, and staid till the restoration.
"He continued," says his biographer, "under these bonds till the general deliverance;" it is therefore to be supposed, that he did not go to France, and act again for the king, without the consent of his bondsman; that he did not show his loyalty at the hazard of his friend, but by his friend's permission.
Of the verses on Oliver's death, in which | It was treated on the stage with great severity, Wood's narrative seems to imply something en- and was afterward censured as a satire on the comiastic, there has been no appearance. There King's party. is a discourse concerning his government, indeed, with verses intermixed, but such as certainly gained its author no friends among the abettors of usurpation.
A doctor of physic, however, he was made at Oxford, in December, 1657; and in the commencement of the Royal Society, of which an account has been given by Dr. Birch, he appears busy among the experimental philosophers with the title of Dr. Cowley.
There is no reason for supposing that he ever attempted practice; but his preparatory studies have contributed something to the honour of his country. Considering botany as necessary to a physician, he retired into Kent to gather plants; and as the predominance of a favourite study affects all subordinate operations of the intellect, botany in the mind of Cowley turned into poetry. He composed in Latin several books on plants, of which the first and second display the qualities of herbs, in elegiac verse; the third and fourth, the beauties of flowers in various measures; and the fifth and sixth, the uses of trees, in heroic numbers.
At the same time were produced, from the same university, the two great poets, Cowley and Milton, of dissimilar genius, of opposite principles; but concurring in the cultivation of Latin poetry, in which the English, till their works and May's poem appeared,* seemed unable to contest the palm with any other of the lettered nations.
If the Latin performances of Cowley and Milton be compared, (for May I hold to be superior to both,) the advantage seems to lie on the side of Cowley. Milton is generally content to express the thoughts of the ancients in their language; Cowley, without much loss of purity or elegance, accommodates the diction of Rome to his own conceptions.
At the Restoration, after all the diligence of his long service, and with consciousness not only of the merit of fidelity, but of the dignity of great abilities, he naturally expected ample preferments; and, that he might not be forgotten by his own fault, wrote a Song of Triumph. But this was a time of such general hope, that great numbers were inevitably disappointed; and Cowley found his reward very tediously delayed. He had been promised by both Charles the First and Second, the mastership of the Savoy; he lost it," says Wood, "by certain persons, enemies to the muses."
The neglect of the court was not his only mortification; having, by such alteration as he thought proper, fitted his old comedy of "The Guardian," for the stage, he produced it under the title of "The Cutter of Coleman-street."
By May's poem we are here to understand a continuation of Lucan's Pharsalia to the death of Julius Cæsar, by Thomas May, an eminent poet and historian, who flourished in the reigns of James and Charles I. and of whom a life is given in the Biographia Britannica.-H. † 1663.
Here is an error in the designation of this Comedy, which our author copied from the title-page of the later editions of Cowley's Works: the title of the play itself is without the article, "Cutter of Coleman street," al though a merry sharking fellow about the town, named Cutter, is a principal character in it.-H.
Mr. Dryden, who went with Mr. Sprat to the first exhibition, related to Mr. Dennis, "That, when they told Cowley how little favour had been shown him, he received the news of his ill success, not with so much firmness as might have been expected from so great a man."
What firmness they expected, or what weakness Cowley discovered, cannot be known. He that misses his end will never be as much pleased as he that attains it, even when he can impute no part of his failure to himself; and, when the end is to please the multitude, no man, perhaps, has a right, in things admitting of gradation and comparison, to throw the whole blame upon his judges, and totally to exclude diffidence and shame by a haughty consciousness of his own excellence.
For the rejection of this play it is difficult now to find the reason; it certainly has, in a very great degree, the power of fixing attention and exciting merriment. From the charge of disaffection he exculpates himself in his preface, by observing how unlikely it is that, having followed the royal family through all their distresses, "he should choose the time of their restoration to begin a quarrel with them." It appears, however, from the Theatrical Register of Downes, the prompter, to have been popularly considered as a satire on the royalists.
That he might shorten this tedious suspense, he published his pretensions and his discontent, in an ode called "The Complaint;" in which he styles himself the melancholy Cowley. This met with the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited more contempt than pity.
These unlucky incidents are brought, maliciously enough, together, in some stanzas, written about that time, on the choice of a laureat; a mode of satire, by which, since it was first in troduced by Suckling, perhaps every generation of poets has been teased.
"Savoy-missing Cowley came into the court,
That Apollo gave heed to all he could say:
His vehement desire of retirement now came again upon him. "Not finding," says the morose Wood," that preferment conferred upon him which he expected, while others for their money carried away most places, he retired discontented into Surry."
"He was now," says the courtly Sprat, "weary of the vexations and formalities of an active condition. He had been perplexed with a long compliance to foreign manners. He was satiated with the arts of a court; which sort of life, though his virtue made it innocent to him, yet nothing could make it quiet. Those were the reasons that made him to follow the violent inclination of his own mind, which, in the greatest throng of his former business, had still called upon him, and represented to him the true delights of solitary studies, of temperate pleasures, and a moderate revenue, below the malice and flatteries of for
So differently are things seen! and so different-party were easily irritated, was obliged to pass
ly are they shown! but actions are visible, though motives are secret. Cowley certainly retired; first to Barn-elms, and afterwards to Chertsey, in Surry. He seems, however, to have lost part of his dread of the hum of men.* He thought himself now safe enough from intrusion, without the defence of mountains and oceans; and, instead of seeking shelter in America, wisely went only so far from the bustle of life as that he might easily find his way back, when solitude should grow tedious. His retreat was at first but slenderly accommodated; yet he soon obtained, by the interest of the Earl of St. Alban's and the Duke of Buckingham, such a lease of the Queen's lands as afforded him an ample income.
over many transactions in general expressions, and to leave curiosity often unsatisfied. What he did not tell, cannot however now be known; I must therefore recommend the perusal of his work, to which my narration can be considered only as a slender supplement.
Cowley, like other poets who have written with narrow views, and instead of tracing intellectual pleasures in the minds of men, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one time too much praised, and too much neglected at another.
Wit, like all other things subject by their nature to the choice of man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times takes different forms. About the beginning of the seventeenth By the lovers of virtue and of wit, it will be century, appeared a race of writers that may be solicitously asked, if he now was happy. Let termed the metaphysical poets: of, whom, in a them peruse one of his letters accidentally pre-criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not imserved by Peck, which I recommend to the con- proper to give some account. sideration of all that may hereafter pant for solitude.
"TO DR. THOMAS SPRAT.
Chertsey, May 21, 1665.
The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavour: but, unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.
If the father of criticism has rightly denominated poetry réxyn piμntikǹ, an imitative art, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the name of poets; for they cannot be said to have imitated any thing: they neither copied nature nor life; neither painted the forms of matter, nor represented the operations of intellect.
"The first night that I came hither, I caught so great a cold with a defluxion of rheum, as made me keep my chamber ten days. And, two after, had such a bruise on my ribs with a fall, that I am yet unable to move or turn myself in my bed. This is my personal fortune here to begin with. And, besides, I can get no money from my tenants, and have my meadows eaten up every night by cattle put in by my neighbours. What this signifies, or may come to in time, God knows; if it be ominous, it can end in nothing else than hanging. Another misfortune has been, and stranger than all the rest, that you have broke your word with me, and failed to come, even though you told Mr. Bois that you would. This is what they call monstri simile. I do hope to recover my late hurt so far within five or six days, (though it be If wit be well described by Pope, as being uncertain yet whether I shall ever recover it,)"that which has been often thought, but was as to walk about again. And then, me thinks, you and I and the Dean might be very merry upon St. Ann's Hill. You might very conveniently come hither the way of Hampton Town, lying there one night. I write this in pain, and can say no more: Verbum Sapienti."
He did not long enjoy the pleasure, or suffer the uneasiness of solitude; for he died at the Porch-house in Chertsey, 1667, in the 49th year of his age.
He was buried with great pomp near Chaucer, and Spencer, and King Charles pronounced, "That Mr. Cowley had not left behind him a better man in England." He is represented by Dr. Sprat as the most amiable of mankind; and this posthumous praise may safely be credited, as it has never been contradicted by envy or by
Those however who deny them to be poets, allow them to be wits. Dryden confesses of himself and his contemporaries, that they fall below Donne in wit; but maintains, that they surpass him in poetry.
never before so well expressed," they certainly never attained, nor ever sought it; for they endeavoured to be singular in their thoughts, and were careless of their diction. But Pope's account of wit is undoubtedly erroneous: he depresses it below its natural dignity, and reduces it from strength of thought to happiness of language.
If by a more noble and more adequate conception, that be considered as wit which is at once natural and new, that which, though not obvious, is, upon its first production, acknow ledged to be just; if it be that which he that never found it wonders how he missed; to wit of this kind the metaphysical poets have seldom risen. Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader far from wondering that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found.
But wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more rigorously and philosophi Ically considered as a kind of discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they have more than
enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked | be retrieved, or something new is to be examby violence together; nature and art are ran-ined. If their greatness seldom elevates, their sacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allu- acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is sions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.
From this account of their compositions it will be readily inferred, that they were not successful in representing or moving the affections. As they were wholly employed on something unexpected and surprising, they had no regard to that uniformity of sentiment which enables us to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasures of other minds; they never inquired what, on any occasion, they should have said or done; but wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature; as beings looking upon good and evil, impassive and at leisure; as Epicurean deities, making remarks on the actions of men, and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondness, and their lamentation of sorrow. Their wish was only to say what they hoped had never been said
not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection and comparison are employed; and, in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value; and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuity, and polished to elegance, may give lustre to works which have more propriety, though less copiousness of sentiment.
This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his followers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and various knowledge; and by Jonson, whose manner resembled that of Donne more in the ruggedness of his lines, than in the cast of his sentiments.
When their reputation was high, they had undoubtedly more imitators than time has left behind. Their immediate successors, of whom any resemblance can be said to remain, were Suckling, Waller, Denham, Cowley, Cleiveland, and Milton. Denham and Waller sought another way to fame, by improving the harmony of our numbers. Milton tried the metaphysic style only in his lines upon Hobson the Carrier. Cowley adopted it, and excelled his predecessors, having as much sentiment and more music. Suckling neither improved versification, nor abounded in conceits. The fashionable style remained chiefly with Cowley; Suckling could not reach it, and Milton disdained it.
CRITICAL REMARKS are not easily understood without examples; and I have therefore collected instances of the modes of writing by which this species of poets, (for poets they were called by themselves and their admirers,) was emi
Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetic, for they never attempted that comprehension and expanse of thought which at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is sudden astonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always general, and consist in positions not limited by exceptions, and in descriptions not descending to minuteness. It is with great propriety that subtlety, which in its original import means exility of particles, is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of distinction. Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty, could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former ob-nently distinguished. servation. Their attempts were always analytic; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more represent, by their slender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature, or the scenes of life, than he who dissects a sun-beam with a prism, can ex-ledge: hibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon. What they wanted, however, of the sublime,. they endeavoured to supply by hyperbole; their amplification had no limits; they left not only reason but fancy behind them; and produced combinations, of confused magnificence, that not only could not be credited, but could not be imagined.
Yet great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly lost; if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth: if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan it was at least necessary to read and think. No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrow-a ed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similes, by readiness of rhyme, and volubility of syllables.
In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry; either something already learned is to
As the authors of this race were perhaps more desirous of being admired than understood, they sometimes drew their conceits from recesses of learning not very much frequented by common readers of poetry. Thus Cowley on Know
The sacred tree 'midst the fair orchard grew,
That right Porphyrian tree which did true logic shew,
And th' apples were demonstrative:
So clear their colour and divine,
The very shade they cast did other lights outshine.
ON ANACREON CONTINUING A LOVER IN HIS OLD
Love was with thy life entwin'd,
More enflamed thy amorous rage.
In the following verses we have an allusion to
Variety I ask not: give me one
The person Love does to us fit,
Like manna, has the taste of all in it.
Thus Donne shows his medicinal knowledge in some encomiastic verses:
In every thing there naturally grows
If 'twere not injured by extrinsic blows;
Keeps off, or cures what can be done or said.
Though the following lines of Donne, on the last night of the year, have something in them too scholastic, they are not inelegant:
This twilight of two years, not past nor next,
Debtor to th' old, nor creditor to th' new.
Nor trust I this with hopes; and yet scarce true
Yet more abstruse and profound is Donne's reflection upon Man as a Microcosm :
If men be worlds, there is in every one
Of thoughts so far-fetched, as to be not only unexpected, but unnatural, all their books are full.
TO A LADY WHO WROTE POESIES FOR RINGS.
Then the sun pass through't twice a year,
The difficulties which have been raised about identity in philosophy, are by Cowley with still more perplexity applied to Love:
Five years ago, (says story,) I loved you,
The Lover supposes his Lady acquainted with the ancient laws of augury and rites of sacrifice:
And yet this death of mine, I fear,
Shall sigh out that too with my breath.
That the chaos was harmonized, has been recited of old; but whence the different sounds arose remained for a modern to discover:
Th' ungovern'd parts no correspondence knew ;
The tears of lovers are always of great poeti cal account; but Donne has extended them into worlds. If the lines are not easily understood, they may be read again.
On a round ball
Which thee doth wear,
A globe, yea world, by that impression grow,
This world, by waters sent from thee my heaven
On reading the following lines, the reader may perhaps cry out-"Confusion worse confounded:"
Here lies a she sun, and a he moon here,
Who but Donne would have thought that a good man is a telescope?
Though God be our true glass through which we see
Who would imagine it possible that in a very
From whence these take their birth which now are few lines so many remote ideas could be brought
If then this body love what th' other did,
"Twere incest, which by nature is forbid.
The love of different women is, in geographi
cal poetry, compared to travels through different countries:
Hast thou not found each woman's breast,
(The land where thou hast travelled,)
Either by savages possest,
Or wild, and uninhabited?
What joy could'st take, or what repose,
A lover, burnt up by his affection, is compared to Egypt: