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:tion and comparison are employed; and in the mass of 'materials
ness of expreffion, but useful to those who know their value; and
• This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his folloivers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and vårious knowledge, and by . Jonson, whose manner resembled that of Donne more in the rugged. . ness 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 successors,
of whom any remembrance can be said to remain, were Suckling, · Waller, Denham, Cowley, Cleveland, and Milton. Denham and
Waller sought another way to fame, by improving the harmony of
fashionable file remained chiefly with Cowley; Suckling could not · reach it, and Milton disdained it.
. He then proceeds to illustrate his remarks by examples, in t
• As the sweet sweat of roles in a ftill,
Rank sweaty froth thy mistress' brow defiles.'
light, by their desire of exciting admiration. * " To chuse the best, among many good, is one of the most : • "hazardous attempts of criticism.' Dr. Johnson ventures, how- ...: *? ever, tó 'recommend Cowley's first piece, which he tells us * • ought to be. infcribed To my Muse, for the want of which the
second couplet is without reference. The Ode to Wit, he pronounces to be almost without a rival.; and in the verses' upon
Crashaw, which apparently, says he, excel all that have gone . before them, there are beauties which common authors may : ... justly think not only above their attainment, but above their ..'
ambition. It were to be wished that a poet, of whom Cowley could speak in such terms of admiration as are to be met with in the verses alluded to, had been admitted into the prefent collection, or at least that some specimens of his works had been preserved in it.
In speaking of the Pindarique Ode of the last century, Dr. Sprat, the former biographer of Cowley, tells us, that the irregularity of numbers is the very thing which makes that kind of poesy fit for all manner of subje£ts. But, continues his present his torian, he should have remembered that what is fit for every thing can fit nothing well.
• The great pieasure of verse arises from the known measure of the lines, and uniform structure of the stanzas, by which the voice is regulated, and the memory relieved.
If the Pindaric file be, what Cowley thinks it, the highest and noblest kind of writing in verse, it can be adapted only to high'and noble subjects ; and it will not be easy to reconcile the poet with the critic, or to conceive how that can be the highest kind of writing in verse, which, according to Sprat, is chiefly to be preferred for its near afinity to prose.
A This lax and lawless versification so much concealed the deficiencies of the barren, and flatiered the laziness of the idle, that it immediately overspread our books of poetry; all the boys and girls caught the pleasing fashion, and they that could do nothing else could write like Pindar. The rights of antiquity were invaded, and disorder tried to break into the Latin : a poem on the Sheldonian Theatre, in which all kinds of verse are shaken together, is unhappily inserted in the Mufæ Anglicane. Pindarism prevailed above half a century; but at last died gradually away, and other imitations supply its place.'
While he was upon this subject, we could have wished to have had Dr. Johnson's sentiments on the present pedantic afa fectation of dividing the English Ode into Strophè, Antistrophè, and Epode. Had the same reasons for such division sublisted now, as prevailed in the times of Pindar, our ode-writers would certainly have had some excuse for adopting it. We may be told, indeed, that this practice has the sanction of the highest poetical authority, we mean that of the late Mr. Gray; but in answer to this we may observe, that as no authority can sanctify absurdity, neither should it prevail with us to adopt what both common sense and reason are compelled to disapprove.
The neglect and obscurity of Cowley's principal poem the Davideis, is accounted for both from the choice of his subject, and from the performance of the work.
• Sacred History has been always read with fubmiffive reverence, and an imagination over-awed and controlled. We have been accustomed to acquiesce in the nakedness and fimplicity of the authentic narrative, and to repose on its veracity with such humble confi
dence, as surpresses curiosiy, We go with the historian as he goes, and Itop with hin when he stops. All amplification is frivolous and vain ; all addition to that which is already sufficient for the purposes. of religion, seems not only useless, but in some degree profane.
"Such events as were produced by the vilble interposition of Di. vine Power are above the power of human genius to dignify. The miracle of Creation, however it may seem with images, is best described with little diffusion of language : He spake the word, and they were made.'
It is not to be supposed that in a poem labouring with these disadvantages, his critic will find much to admire. His character of the Davideis is contained in few words : In the perusal of the Davideis, as of all Cowley's works, we find wit and learning unprofitably squandered. Attention has no relief; the affections are never moved; we are sometimes surprised, but never delighted, and find much to admire, but little to approve. Still however it is the work of Cowley, of a mind capacious by nature, and replenilhed by study.
It is something singular that neither Dr. Johnson nor a former Editor * of the sele&t works of this writer take any notice of the following beautiful ode which David is supposed to fing under the windows of Michal's chamber, when he first declares his passion to her ;
" Awake, awake, my lyre!
“ In founds that may prevail ;
“ Though so exalted the,
“ And i lo lowly be,
« Hark! how the frings awake;
Themielves with awful fear,
“ Now all thy forces try,
“ No.v all thy charms apply,
" Weak lyre! thy virtue sure
“ To cure, but notio wound,
"! Too weak too wilt thou prove
* See Monthly Review, vol. xiviri. p. 10, where our sentiments of Cowley's poetical mețit may be seen at large.
“ Sleep, sleep again, my lyre !
“ In sounds that will prevail;
“ All thy vain mirth lay by,
“ Bid thy ftrings filent lie, ,
“ Sleep, Deep again, my lyre! and let thy master die." The elegance and harmony of this little piece ought, before this, to have intitled it to selection. Indeed there are an hun. dred and thirty lines immediately preceding it, in which the characters of the two fifters, Merab and Michal, are drawn with great happiness, that merit notice, if it were for nothing but this, that they are totally free from every characteristic fault with which this Writer is charged. But this is not all their merit: they abound with beauties which common writers may juftly think not only above their attainment, but above their ambition.
The character of Cowley, in which we perceive no marks of partiality, is thus concluded:
• It may be affirmed, without any encomialtic fervour, that he brought to his poetic labours a mind replete with learning, and that his pages are embellished with all the ornaments which books could sapply; 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 cqually qualified for spritely sallies, and for lofty Alights; that he was among those who freed translation from servility, and instead of following his author at a distance, walked by his fide; and that if he left verfification yet improvable, he left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.'
The preface to the works of Waller comes next in succession. The moral and political character of this applauded writer are developed with great skill and acuteness. Ever attentive to the more important interests of mankind, and sensible that biography ought to be a lesson of virtue, Dr. Johnson never omits to intersperse, amongst the different parts of his narration, either maxims of prudence or reflexions on the conduct of human life : something that may either direct the judgment or meliorate the heart. In the lives of Waller and his cotemporary poets he has proceeded farther; he has made them the vehicles of his political orthodoxy. As we profess the principles of universal toleration, we shall leave his political opinions to themselves. Were we, indeed, disposed to controvert them, it might be considered as an unnecessary trouble. There will never want combatants to attack a man of Dr. Johnson's reputation, when the attack is to be made on a vulnerable part.
As the limits of our Review will not permit us to accom. ; pany our Biographer through the whole extent of his criticism
on this Writer, we shall confine ourselves chiefly to that part of it which is allotted to his sacred poems, which do not please, we are told, like some of his other works. !!
It has been the frequent lamentation of good men, that verse has been too little applied to the purposes of worhip, and many attempts have been made to animare devotion by pious poetry ; that they have very seldom attained their end is sufficiently known, and it may not be improper to enquire why they have miscarried...,
Let no pious ear be offended if I advance, in opposition to many authorities, that poetical devotion cannot often please. The doctrines of religion may indeed be defcnded in a didactic poem ; and he who has the happy power of arguing in veife, will not lose it because his subject is sacred. A poet may describe the beauty and the grandeur of Nature, the flowers of the Spring, and the harvests of Ag. tumn', the viciffitudes of the Tide, and the revolutions of the Sky, and praile the Maker for his works in lines which no reader shall Jay aside. The subject of the disputation is not piery, but the motives to piciy; that of the description is not God, but the works of God.
• Contemplative piety, or the in:ercourse between God and the human soul, cannot be poetical. Man admitted to implore the mercy of his Creator, and plead the merits of his Redeemer, is alas ready in a higher Itate than poetry can confer.
The essence of poetry is invention ; such invention as, by pro. ducing something unexpected, furprises and delights. The topics, of devotion are few, and being few are universally known ; but few. as they are, they can be made no more ; they can receive no grace from novelty of sentiment, and very little from novelty of expression.
Poetry pleases by exhibiting an idea more grateful to the mind, than things themselves afford. This effect proceeds from the display of those parts of nature which attract, and the concealment of those which repel the imagination: but religion must be sewn as it is ; suppression and addition equally corrupt it; and such as it is, it is known already.
From poetry the reader juftly expects, and from good poetry always obtains, the enlargement of his comprehension and elevation of his fancy; but this is rarely to be hoped by Christians from mem, trical devotion. Whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is: comprised in the name of the Supreme Being. , Omnipotence cannot be exalted; Infinity cannot be amplified'; Perfection cannot be im, . proved.
• The employments of pious meditation are Faith, Thanksgiving, Repentance, and Supplication. Faith, invariably uniform, cannot be invested by fancy with decorations. Thankígiving, the most joyful of all holy effusions, yet addressed' to a Being without paflions, is confined to a few modes, and is to be felt rather than expressed. Repentance, trembling in the presence of the Judge, is not ac leisure for cadences and epithets. Supplication of man to man may diffuse itself through many topics of persuasion ; but fupplication to God can only cry for mercy,