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“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,
Andover-runs the neighboring fields with violent course.
“In the second book;
Down a precipice deep, down he casts them all—
And fell a-down his shoulders with loose care.
“In the third,
Brass was his helmet, his boots brass, and o'er
“In the fourth, -
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 Musas colunt severiores) “sometimes did it; and their prince, Virgil, always: “ in whom the examples are innumerable; and taken * - “ notice
* C O W L E Y. 69 “notice of by all judicious men, so that it is super* fluous 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 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 equal:
Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise:
He, who defers this work from day to day, * Does on a river's bank expecting stay Till the whole stream that stopp'd him shall be gone, Which runs, and, as it runs, for ever shat! run on.
Cowley was, I believe, the first poet that mingled Alexandrines at pleasure with the common heroick 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 heroick 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: 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 caesura, 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, may 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 hardlaboured; 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 Antients in every kind of poetry but tragedy.
It may be affirmed, without any encomiastick 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 spritely 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 improveable, he left likewise from time to time
such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.
Of Sir JOHN DENHAM very little is known but what is related of him by Wood, or by himself. He was born 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 More, 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 dreaming young man, given more to “ dice and cafds 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 he was, three years afterwards, removed to Lincoln's Inn, he prosecuted the common law with sufficient appearance of application; yet did not lose