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suit of something new and strange; and that the writers fail to give delight, by their desire of exciting admiration.
Aving thus endeavoured to exhibit a general representation of the stile 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 undoubtedly 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 stile and sentiment, from burlesque levity 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 himself has persuaded many readers to join with him in his preference of the two favourite odes, which he estimates in his raptures at the value of a kingdom. I will however venture to recommend Cow· ley's first piece, which ought to be inscribed To my Muse, for want of which the second couplet is without reference. When the title is added, there will still remain a defect, for every piece ought to contain in itielf whatever is necessary to make it intelligible. Pope has some epitaphs without names, which are therefore epitaphs to be let, 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 will easily be found of greater excellence than that in which Cowley condemns exuberance of Wit :
Yet 'tis not to adorn and gild each part,
That shews more cost than art.
i th' sky,
In his verses to lord Falkland, whom every man of his time was proud to 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 Wotton is vigorous and happy, the series of thoughts is easy and natural, and the conclufion, 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 encomiastick poems, he has forgotten or neglected to name his heroes.
In his poem on the death of Hervey, there is much praise, but little passion, a very just and ample delineation of such virtues as a studious privacy admits, and such intellectual excellence as a mind not yet called forth to action can display. He knew how to distinguish, and how to commend the qualities of his companion ; but when he wishes to make us weep, he forgets to weep himself, and diverts his forrow by imagining how his crown of bays, if he had it, would 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 was not assigned it by chance, the mind must be thought sufficiently at ease that could attend to such minuteness of physiology. But the power of Cowley is not to move the affections, but to exercise the understanding.
The Chronicle is a composition unrivalled and alone: such gaiety of fancy, such facility of expression, such varied fimilitude, such a succession of images, and such a dance of words, it is vain to expect except from Cowley:. His strength always appears in his agility; his volatility is not the flutter of a light but the bound of an elastick mind. His levity never leaves his learning behind it; the moralist, the politician, and the critick, mingle their influence even in this airy frolick of genius. To such a performance Suckling could have brought 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 happily concluded, contain
some hints of criticism very justly conceived and happily expressed. Cowley's critical abilities have not been sufficiently observed: the few decisions and remarks which his prefaces and his notes on the Davideis supply, were at that time accessions to English literature, and Thew such skill 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 mean specimens of metaphysical poetry. The stanzas against knowledge produce little conviction. In those which are intended to exalt the human faculties, Reason has its proper talk assigned it ; that of judging, not of things revealed, but of the reality of revelation. In the verses for Reason is a pafsage which Bentley, in the only English verses which he is known to have written, seems to have copied, though with the inferiority of an imitator.
The holy Book like the eighth sphere does
It makes all but one galaxy :
So vast and dangerous as these,
Without the compass too below.
Who travels in religious jars, Truth mix'd with error, clouds with
rays, With Whiston wanting pyx and stars, In the wide ocean sinks or strays.
Cowley seems to have had, what Milton is believed to have wanted, the skill to rate his own performances by their just value, and has therefore closed his Miscellanies with the verses upon Crashaw, which apparently excel all that have gone before them, and in which there are beauties which common authors may justly think not only above their attainment, but above their ambition.
To the Miscellanies succeed 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 spriteliness, but lost their fimplicity. The Anacreon of Cowley, like the Homer of Pope, has admitted the decoration of some modern graces, by which he is undoubtedly made more amiable to common readers, and perhaps, if they would honestly declare their own perceptions, to far the greater part of those whom courtesy and ignorance are content to stile 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