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words, which disappoint the ear, and destroy the energy of the line.
His combination of different measures is sometimes dissonant and unpleasing ; he joins verses together, of which the former does not side 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 ufed 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
Şlave to myself I ne'er will be ;
By my own present mind.
Before it falls into his hand,
The bondman of the cloister fo,
Not to enjoy, but debts to pay.
Unhappy till the last, the kind releasing
His heroick lines are often formed of monosyllables; but yet they are sometimes sweet and sonorous.
He says of the Messiah,
Round the whole earth his dreaded name shall
sound, And reach to worlds that must not yet be found.
In another place, of David,
Yet bid him go securely, when he sends ;
He did not write without attempting an improved and scientifick versification ; of which it will be best to give his own account subjoined to this line,
Nor can the glory contain itself in th*
“ I am sorry that it is necessary to admo“ nish 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 for very careless verses: as before, And over-runs the neighb'ring fields with violent
" In the second book ;
Down a precipice deep, down be cast them all
" In the third,
Brass was his helmet, his boots brass, and o'er
" In the fourth,
Like some fair pine o'er-looking all th’ ignobler
And, Some from the rocks cast themselves down head
“ And many more: but it is enough to in“ stance in a few. The thing is, that the dif
position of words and numbers should be “ such, as that, out of the order and sound “ of them, the things themselves may be re
presented. This the Greeks were not so ac“ curate as to bind themselves to; neither “ have our English poets observed it, for aught “ I can find. The Latins (qui mufas volunt
severiores) fometimes 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 purposes. Verse can imitate only sound and motion. A boundless verse, a beadlong 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 equal :
Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise.
Which runs, and as it runs, for ever shall run
Cowley was, I believe, the first poet that mingled Alexandrines at pleasure with the common heroick of ten fyllables, 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 lyșical for an heroic poem; but this seems to
have been known before by May and Sandys, the translators of the Pharfalia 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: that 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 cesura 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 Cromwel 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, may be applied to these compositions. No author ever kept his verse and his profe at a greater distance from each other. His thoughts are natural, and his stile has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-fought, 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 2