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I trow that countenance cannot lie,
Whose thoughts are legible in the eye.” The poem (page 412,) “To Henry Wriothesly, Earl of Southampton," is a fine specimen of the manner of DANIEL.
There is a masculine energy about this, and his Epistle to the Ladie Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, which gives to Daniel a high place among the Poets, though he is deficient in imagination. The latter poem, which is said to have been a favourite with Wordsworth, commences thus —
“He that of such a height hath built his mind,
And reared the dwelling of his thoughts so strong,
The boundless wastes and wilds of man survey!" The almost inexhaustible wealth of English Poetry can hardly be better shown than by pointing out the great merit which exists in Poems almost entirely unknown to general readers.
The extract (page 108) called here “ The Pleasures of Poetry," has always been a favourite with readers of taste. It is from the “Shepherds Hunting," a poem written by Wither, during an imprisonment in the Marshalsea for a series of satires previously published.
Perhaps one of the great charms of this extract consists in its being a piece of autobiography, though much is owing to the superiority shown to the circumstances in which the author was placed. His frame of mind seems to have resembled that of Richard Lovelace, who, also writing in a prison, says, in his poem to Althea, (page 72,) –
This is one of the privileges of genius, that, out of circumstances intended to degrade, it can draw matter not only to console itself, but to furnish images of beauty and comfort to all succeed ing generations.
Some of HERRICK'S lyrics here given are beautiful specimens of that kind of writing. It is deeply to be regretted that a poet possessing so much fancy and taste as he did, should have wilfully walked through mire, when the wings of his imagination would have sustained him in the clear atmosphere of Poetry. His poems, “ To Blossoms,” (page 228,) "To Daffodils,” (page 73,) and “ Corinna's going a-Maying,” (page 423,) show what his powers were, and how true his relish was for the beauties of nature; while, at the same time, he possessed a reflective turn of mind which should have preserved him from his errors. Let us, however, attribute these (as we fairly may) to the greater license allowed when he wrote, and be thankful for what he has given us of unobjectionable and beautiful poetry.
SHIRLEY is a writer of great impressiveness ; his “Death's Final Conquest” can hardly be omitted from any volume of this description. It is like a piece of massive gold; and the solemn march of the poem is sweetly relieved by the tender tones at the close,
“ Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.” One of the most extraordinary instances of neglect experienced by any author happened to Milton, in the case of his Minor Poems. Thomas Warton, in his preface to an edition of them, published in 1785, containing a most delightful collection of Notes, says, “ The poems which compose the present Volume were published almost thirty years before the appearance of the ‘Paradise Lost. During that interval they were so totally disregarded, at least by the general reader, as scarcely to have conferred on their author the reputation of a writer of verses, much less the distinction and character of a true Poet." He goes on to say, that it was late in the 18th century before they attained their just measure of esteem and popularity.
Yet perhaps no poems are read with greater delight, or sink more deeply into the memory. Numerous passages at once crowd into the mind, and the very names of Lycidas, Comus, and Arcades, rise
- "like a steam of rich distilled perfumes." The description of the flowers in Lycidas has been often com. pared with that of Shakspeare, in the “ Winter's Tale.” It is hard to say which is the more beautiful of the two.
The whole of Lycidas, L'Allegro, and Il Penseroso, with many extracts from Milton's other Minor Poems, and from Paradise Lost, will be found in this Volume.
The question whether POPE was a poet has often been mooted, but can never be decided until all readers shall possess a taste for the same character of Poetry; which is neither to be expected, nor desired. It is certain that he had neither the creative genius of Spenser, the dramatic powers of Shakspeare, nor the epic grandeur of Milton; but as we do not complain that the rose-tree is not an oak, or that the daisy is not a lily, so we ought not, by instituting comparisons between poets different in their kind, to seek to raise one at the expense of the other. We owe to Pope
“The Rape of the Lock,” in which, though there is no grandeur, there is exquisite fancy and wit; and he has also given us, next to Dryden, the best satirical poetry in the English language. His “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” contains a magnificent vindication of himself from the attacks of his enemies, and shows at once the power of his genius, and the kindness of his heart. His attachment to his friends, and the compliments he paid them in his writings, are well known, and it is pleasing to find such an enumeration of famous names as the following :
“But why then publish ? Granville the polite,
And knowing Walsh, would tell me I could write.
No admirer of Thomson's poetry can help regretting that he should have written at a time when a conventional taste prevailed. With as fine an eye for the beauties of nature as a man ever had, the reader is continually annoyed with affected and pedantic phraseology; this is less discernible in the “ Castle of Indolence" than in the “Seasons," mainly perhaps because in the former he adopted the stanza and manner of Spenser, and so escaped from the vicious style of his own day.
In the following pages many extracts have been given from “The Seasons,” but they consist, for the most part, of descriptions of nature, and not, as has been the case in many former selections, of his episodes, which are very inferior to his delineations of scenery, and the vicissitudes of the seasons.
SHENSTONE'S “ Schoolmistress” is a poem which has always had, and will probably continue to have, many admirers. We cannot help regretting that he did not write more in the same strain, instead of wasting his time in delineating Corydons and Phillidas. His prose Essays prove him to have been a man of sound sense, and they display an acuteness and judgment so great, that we cannot help wondering at the oblivion into which they have fallen. Here are two short sentences from them,
“A man has generally the good or ill qualities which he attributes to mankind.”
“Some men are called sagacious, merely on account of their avarice; whereas a child can clench its fist the moment it is born."
GRAY'S “ Elegy” seems to have a prescriptive right of admission into even the smallest collection of English Poems. Hazlitt's remark, that “the poet's verse slides into the current of our blood," describes, better than any other words can do, the influence which this charming poem exercises over us. As it delights us, and has delighted those who have gone before us, so may it continue to charm those who shall be reading it
whene'er we lie Trodden.” His “ Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College,” and his less known, but very charming, unfinished - Ode on the Pleasures arising from Vicissitude,” are also given here. There is a passage in the last named poem, describing the feelings induced by a recovery from illness, which is almost as applicable to those who have been “long in populous cities pent,” as to him who has just risen from a bed of sickness.
56 The meanest floweret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,