페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

As the Davideis affords only four books, though intended to consist of twelve, there is no opportunity for such criticism as epic poems commonly supply. The plan of the whole work is very imperfectly shewn by the third part. The duration of an unfinished action cannot be known. Of characters either not yet introduced, or shewn but upon few occasions, the full extent and the nice discriminations cannot be ascertained. The fable is plainly implex, formed rather from the Odyssey than the Iliad : and many artifices of diversification are employed, with the skill of a man acquainted with the best models. The past is recalled by narration, and the future anticipated by vision : but he has been so lavish of his poetical art, that it is difficult to imagine how he could fill eight books more without practising again the same modes of disposing his matter : and perhaps the perception of this growing incumbrance inclined him to stop. By this abruption posterity lost more instruction than delight. If the continuation of the Davideis can be missed, it is for the learning that had been diffused over it, and the notes in which it had been explained:

Had not his characters been depraved like every other part, by improper decorations, they would have deserved uncommon praise. He gives Saul both the body and mind of a hero:

His way once chose, he forward thrust outright,
Nor turn'd aside for danger or delight.

And the different beauties of the lofty Merah and the gentle Michol are very justly conceived and strongly painted.

Rymer has declared the Davideis superior to the Jerusalem of Tasso, “which,” says he, “ the poet, with all his care, has not totally purged from pedan. « try.” If by pedantry is meant that minute knowledge which is derived from particular sciences and studies, in opposition to the general notions supplied by a wide survey of life and nature, Cowley certainly errs, by introducing pedantry, far more frequently than Tasso. I know not, indeed, why they should be compared ; for the resemblance of Cowley's work to Tasso's is only that they both exhibit the agency of celestial and infernal spirits, in which however they differ widely ; for Cowley supposes them commonly to operate upon the mind by suggestion ; Tasso represents them as promoting or obstructing events by external agency.

Of particular passages that can be properly compared, I remember only the description of Heaven, in which the different manner of the two writers is sufficiently discernible. Cowley's is scarcely deseription, unless it be possible to describe by negatives; for he tells us only what there is not in Heaven. Tasso endea. vours to represent the splendours and pleasures of the regions of happiness. Tasso affords images, and Cowley sentiments. It happens, however, that Tasso's description affords some reason for Rymer's censure. He says of the Supreme Being,

Hà sotto i piedi e fato e la natura
Ministri humili, e'l moto, e ch'il misura.

The second line has in it more of pedantry than perhaps can be found in any other stanza of the poem.

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 replenished by study.

In the general review of Cowley's poetry it will be found, that he wrote with abundant fertility, but negligent or unskilful selection : with inuch thought, but with little imagery; that he is never pathetick, and rarely sublime; but always either ingenious or learned, either acute or profound.

It is said by Denham in his elegy,

To him no author was unknown,
Yet what he writ was all his own.

,

This wide position requires less limitation, when it is affirmed of Cowley, than perhaps of any other poet. -He read much, and yet borrowed little.

His character of writing was indeed not his own : he unhappily adopted that which was predominant. He saw a certain way to present praise; and, not sufficiently inquiring by what means the antients have continued to delight through all the changes of human manners, he contented himself with a deciduous laurel, of which the verdure in its spring was bright and gay, but which time has been continually stealing from his brows.

He was in his own time considered as of unrivalled excellence. Clarendon represents him as having taken a flight beyond all that went before him ; and Milton is said to have declared, that the three greatest English poets were Spenser, Shakspeare, and Cowley.

His manner he had in common with others; but his sentiments were his own. Upon every subject he thought for himself; and such was his copiousness of knowledge, that something at once remote and applicable rushed into his mind; yet it is not likely that he always rejected a commodious idea merely because another had used it: his known wealth was so great that he might have borrowed without loss of credit.

In his elegy on sir Henry Wotton, the last tines have such resemblance to the noble epigram of Grorius on the death of Scaliger, that I cannot but think them copied from it, though they are copied by no servile hand.

One passage in his Mistress is so apparently borrowed from Donne, that he probably would not have written it, had it not mingled with his own thoughts, so as that he did not perceive himself taking it from another.

Although I think thou never found wilt be,
Yet I'm resolved to search for thee ;

The search itself rewards the pains.
So, though the chymic his great secret miss
(For neither it in art or nature is,)

Yet things well worth his toil he gains :
And does his charge and labour pay
With good unsought experiments by the way.

COWLEY.

Some that have deeper digg's love's mine than ),
Say, where his centric happiness doth lie :
I have lov'd, and got, and told ;
But should I love, get, tell, till I were old,
I should not find that hidden mystery;
Oh, 'tis imposture all!
And as no chymic yet tl'elixir got,
But glorifies liis pregnant pot,
If by the way to him befal
Somc odoriferous thing, or medicinal,
So lovers dream a rich and long delight,

But get a winter-seeming summer's night. Jonson and Donne, as Dr. Hurd remarks, were then in the highest esteem.

It is related by Clarendon that Cowley always acknowledges his obligation to the learning and industry of Jonson ; but I have found no traces of Jonson in his works : to emulate Donne appears to have been his purpose ; and from Donne he may have learned

that familiarity with religious images, and that light allusion to sacred things, by which readers far short of sanctity are frequently offended; and which would not be borne in the present age, when devotion, perhaps not more fervent, is more delicate.

Having produced one passage taken by Cowley from Donne I will recompense him by another which Milton seems to have borrowed from him. He says of Goliah,

His spear, the trunk was of a lofty tree,

Which nature meant some tall ship's mast should be.
Milton of Satan :

His spear to equal which the tallest pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the mast
Of some great admiral, were but a wand,

He walked with. His diction was in his own time censured as negligent. He seems not to have known, or not to have considered, that words being arbitrary must owe their power to association, and have the influence, and that only, which custom has given them. Language is the dress of thought: and as the noblest mien, or most graceful action would be degraded and obscured by a garb appropriated to the gross employments of rusticks or mechanicks : so the most heroick sentiments will lose their efficacy, and the most splendid ideas drop their magnificence, if they are conveyed by words used commonly upon low and trivial occasions, debased by vulgar mouths, and contaminated by inelegant applications.

Truth indeed is always truth, and reason is always reason; they have an intrinsic and unalterable value, and constitute that intellectual gold which defies destruction ; but gold may be so concealed in baser matter, that only a chymist can recover it; sense may

« 이전계속 »