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mer observation. Their attempts were always analytick; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more represent, by their flender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature, or the scenes of life, than he, who diffects a sun-beam with a prism, can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summerWhat they wanted however of the sublime, they en.
to deavoured to supply by hyperbole; their amplification had no limits; they left not only reason but fancy be. hind 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 loft: 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 descriptións, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary fimilies, 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 be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is 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 ufeful 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 a 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 fucceffors, of whom any remembrance can be said to remain, were Suckling, Waller, Denham, Cowley, Cleiveland, and Milton. Denham and Waller fought another way to fame, by improving the harmony of our numbers. Milton tried the metaphysick style only in his lines upon Hobson the Carrier. Cowley adopted it, and excelled his predecessors, having as much sentiment, and more musick. Suckling neither improved versification, nor abounded in conceits. The falhionable 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 eminently distinguished.
A S the authors of this race were perhaps more defirous of being admired than understood, they sometimes drew their conceits from recefles of learning not
very much frequented by common readers of poetry,
The phenix Truth did on it reft,
And built his perfum'd nest,
Each leaf did learned notions give,
So clear their colour and divine,
Love was with thy life entwin'd,
More enflam'd thy amorous rage.
Variety I ask not: give me one
Like manna, has the taste of all in it.
In every thing there naturally grows
If 'twere not injur'd by extrinsique blows ;
But you, of learning and religion,
A mithridate, whose operation
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,
Some emblem is of me, or I of this,
Whose what and where in disputation is,
If I should call me any thing, should miss.
Debtor to th' old, nor creditor to th' new,
Nor truft I this with hopes , and yet scarce true
DONNE, 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 una expected, but unnatural, all their books are full.
To a Lady, who wrote poesies for rings,
The difficulties which have been raised about iden- 73 tity in philosophy, are by Cowley with still more perplexity applied to Love :
Five years ago (says story) I lov'd you,
call me most inconftant now;
'Twere incest, which by nature is forbid.
Haft thou not found, each woman's breast
(The land where thou hast travelled) Either by savages posseft,
Or wild, and uninhabited ?
What joy could'st take, or what repofs,
Rages with immoderate heat ;
In others makes the cold too great.