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“ moderate revenue below the malice and flatteries of
6 fortune." uu
So differently are things feen, and so differently 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 1o 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. Albans and the duke of Buckingham, such a lease of the Queen's lands as afforded him an ample income.
By the lover of virtue and of wit it will be solicitously asked, if he now was happy. Let them peruse one of his letters accidentally preserved by Peck, which I recommend to the consideration of all that may
" To Dr. THOMAS SPRAT.
Chertsey, 21 May, 1665. “ The first night that I came hither I caught so
great a cold, with a defluction 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, be
" fides, I can get no money from my tenants, and s 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 less than hanging. Another mis« fortune 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 fimile. I do
hope to recover my late hurt so farre within five or “ six days (though it be uncertain yet whether I shall “ ever recover it) as to walk about again. And then, “ methinks, you and I and the Dean might be very
merry upon S. Anne's Hill. You might very con“ veniently 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 un- 47 casiness of solitude ; for he died at the Porch-house * in Chertsey in 1667, in the 49th year of his
age. He was buried with great pomp near Chaucer and Spenser; 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 faction.
Such are the remarks and memorials which I have been able to add to the narrative of Dr. Sprat; who, writing when the feuds of the civil war were yet
Now in the posfellion of Mr. Clark, Alderman of London, Origo edito
recent, and the minds of either party were easily irritated, was obliged to pass 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 pleafures in the minds of man, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one time 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 century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets ; of whom, in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not improper to give some account.
The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to shew their learning was their whole endeavour ; but, unluckily resolving to fhew 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 texun Menenlenni
, 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 opera-
Those however who deny them to be poets, allow 561
If Wit be well described by Pope, as being, “ that “ which has been often thought, but was never before so “ well expressed,"they certainly never attained, nor ever fought it; for they endeavoured to be fingular 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, acknowledged 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 philosophically considered as a kind of discordia concors; a combination of diffimilar 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 by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learn
ing instructs, and their subtility 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 pleasure of other minds: they never enquired 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 viciffitudes 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 been never faid before,
Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetick; 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 aftonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by difpersion. Great thoughts are always general, and confist 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 fora