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His diction was in his own time censured as negligent, He seems not to have known, or not to have considered, that words being arbitrary must owe their power to association, and have the influence, and that only, which custom has given them. Language is the dress of thought: and as the noblest mien, or most graceful action, would be degraded and obscured by a garb appropriated to the gross employments of rusticks or mechanicks; so the most heroick sentiinents' will lose their efficacy, and the most splendid ideas drop their magnificence, if they are conveyed by words used commonly upon low and trivial occasions,' debased by vulgar mouths, and contaminated by inelegant applications.
Truth indeed is always truth, and reason is always reason; they have an intrinsick and unalterable value, and constitute that intellectual gold which defies destruction: but gold may be so concealed in baser matter, that only a chymist cap recover it; sense may be so hidden in unrefined and plebeian words, that none but philosophers can distinguish it; and both may be so boried in inpurities, as not to pay the cost of their extraction.
The diction, being the vehicle of the thoughts, first presents itself to the intellectual eye: and if the first appearance offends, a further knowledge is not often sought. Whatever professes to benefit by pleasing, must please at once. The pleasures of the mind imply something sudden and unexpected ; that which elevates must always surprise. What is perceived by slow degrees may gratify us with consciousness of improvement, but will never strike witly the sense of pleasure.
Of all this, Cowley appears to have been without knowledge, or without care. He makes no selection of words, nor seeks any neatness of phrase : he has no elegance either lucky or elaborate ; as his endeavours were rather to impress sentences upon the understanding than images on the fancy, he has fow epithets, and those scattered without peculiar propriety of nice adaption. It seems to follow from the necessity of the subject, rather than the care of the writer, that the diction of his heroic poem is less familiar than that of his slightest writings. He has given not the same numbers, but the same diction, to the gentle Anacreon and the tempestuous Pindar.
His versification seems to have had very little of his care; and if what he thinks be true, that his numbers are ụnmusical only when they are ill read, the art of reading them is at present lost ; for they are coinmonly harsh to modern ears. He has indeed many noble lines, such as the feeble care of Waller never could produce. The bulk of his thoughts sometimes swelled his verse to un, expected and inevitable grandeur; but his excellence of this kind is merelv fortuitous: he sinks willingly down to his general carelessness, and avoids with very little 'care either meanness or asperity. ammess or asperity.
. His contractions are often rugged and harsh : .. One Alings a mountain, and its rivers top
· Torn up with it." His rhymes are very often made by pronouns or particles, or the like uninpertant words, which disappoint the ear, and destroy the energy of the line.
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 debes to pay !
Unhappy till the last, the kind releasing knell..
Round the whole earth his dreaded name shall sound;
And reach to worlds that must not yet be found.
Yet bid him go securely, when he sends ; .
And wc who bid him go, will bring him back. Yet amidst his negligerice he sometimes attempted an improved and sciena tific versification; of which it will be best to give his own accouirt subjoined to this line,
Nor tan the glory contain itself in th' endless space. “ I am sorry that it is necessary to admonish the most part of readers, that it “ is not by negligence 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 have observed in divers other places of this poem, that else will pass , 6 for very careless-verses : as before,
Aud over-tuns the neighbring ficlds with violent course.
* In the second book;
Doxn a precipice deep, down he casts them all.“ -And,
And fell a-down his shoulders with loose care. “In the third,
Brass was kis helmet, his boots brass, and o're
llis breast a thick plate of strong brass he wore. " In the fourth,
Like some fair pinc o'er-looking all th' ignobler wood., “ And,
Some from the rocks cast themselves 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 n'usas 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 bounaless 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 line 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 oquad:
Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise :
Which 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 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:, tliat 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 heat 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 liberally 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, inay be applied to these compositions. No author ever kept his verse and his prose at a greater distance from each other. His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due 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 qualified 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, he left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it. .
F Sir JOHN DENHAM very little is known but what is related of his
by Wood, or by himself. He was horn at Dublin in 1615; the only son of Sir John Denham, of Little Horsely in Essex, then chief baron 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 1631 he was sent to Oxford, where he was considered “ as a dreaining “ 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 be was, three years afterwards, removed to Lincoln's Inn, he prosecuted 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 believede himself reclaimed; and, to testify the sincerity of his repentance, wrote and published “ An Essay upon Gaming."
He seems to have divided his ftudies between law and poetry; for, in 1636,he translated the second book of the Æneid.
Two years after, his father died; and then, notwithstanding his resolutions and professions, he returned again to the vice of gaming, and lost several thousand pounds that had been left him..
In 1642, be published si 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 Farn ham 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 band, he escaped happil, both for himself and his friends.
He was yet engaged in a greater undertaking. In April 1648, he conveyed James the duke of York from London into France, and delivered hiin 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, to divert the melancholy of their condition, was sometimes enjoined by his master to write occasional verses; one of which amusements was probably his Vol. I