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His poem on the death of Cowley was his last, and, among his shorter works, his best performance: the numbers are musical, and the thoughts are just " COOPÉR's Hill" is the work that confers
upon him the rank and dignity of an original author. He seems to have been, at least among us, the author of a species of composition that may be denominated local poetry, of which the fundamental subject is some particular landscape, to be poetically described with the addition of such embellishments as may be supplied by historical retrospection or incidental meditation.
To trace a new scheme of poetry has in itself a very high claim to praise, and its praise is yet more when it is apparently copied by Garth and Pope* ; after whose names little will be gained by an enumeration of smaller poets, that have left scarcely a corner of the island not dignified either by rhyme, or blank verse.
“ Cooper's Hill,” if it be maliciously inspected, will not be found without its faults. The digressions are too long, the morality too frequent, and the sentiments sometimes such as will not bear a rigorous enquiry.
The four verses, which, since Dryden has commended them, almost every writer for a century past has imitated, are generally known:
“ O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
* By Garth, in his ~ Poem on Claremont;" and by Pope, in his “ Windsor Forest.” H.
“ Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull ;
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.”
The lines are in themselves not perfect; for most of the words, thus artfully opposed, are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison, and metaphorically on the other; and if there be any language which does not express intellectual operations by material images, into that language they cannot be translated. But so much meaning is comprized in so few words; the particulars of resemblance are so perspicaciously collected, and every mode of excellence separated from its adjacent fault by so nice a line of limitation; the different parts of the sentence are so accurately adjusted; and the flow of the last couplet is so smooth and sweet; that the passage, however celebrated, has not been praised above its merít. It has beauty peculiar to itself, and must be numbered among those felicities which cannot be produced at will by wit and labour, but must rise unexpectedly in some hour propitious to poetry.
He appears to have been one of the first that understood the necessity of emancipating translation from the drudgery of counting lines and interpreting single words. How much this servile practice obscured the clearest and deformed the most beautiful parts of the ancient authors, may be discovered by a perusal of our earlier versions; some of them are the works of men well qualified, not only by critical knowledge, but by poetical genius, who yet, by a mistaken ambition of exactness, degraded at once their originals and themselves.
Denham saw the better way, but has not pursued it with great success. His versions of Virgil are not pleasing; but they taught Dryden to please better. His poetical imitation of Tully on “Old Age” has neither the clearness of
prose, nor the spriteliness of poetry.
The “ strength of Denham,” which Pope so emphatically mentions, is to be found in
lines and couplets, which convey much meaning in few words, and exhibit the sentiment with more weight than bulk.
On the Thames.
Though with those streams he no resemblance hold, " Whose foam is amber, and their gravel gold; “ His genuine and less guilty wealth ť explore, “ Search not his bottom, but survey his shore."
“ His wisdoin such, at once it did
appear “ Three kingdoms' wonder, and three kingdoms' fear “ While single he stood forth, and seem'd, although “ Each had an army, as an equal foe, “ Such was his force of eloquence to make “ The hearers more concern'd than he that spake " Each seem'd to act that part
he came to see, “ And none was more a looker-on than he; “ So did he move our passions, some were known " To wish, for the defence, the crime their own. “ Now private pity strove with public hate, so Reason with rage, and eloquence with fate."
As one of Denham's principal claims to the regard of posterity arises from his improvement of our numbers, his versification ought to be considered. It will afford that pleasure which arises from the observation of a man of judgment naturally right, forsaking bad copies by degrees, and advancing towards a better practice, as he gains more confidence in himself.
In his translation of Virgil, written when he was about twenty-one years old, may be still found the old manner of continuing the sense ungracefully from verse to verse:
66 Then all those " Who in the dark our fury did escape, “ Returning, know our borrow'd arms, and shape, “And differing dialect; then their numbers swell “ And grow upon us ; first Chorcebus fell " Before Minerva's altar; next did bleed “ Just Ripheus, whom no Trojan did exceed “ In virtue, yet the gods his fate decreed. “ Then Hypanis and Dymas, wounded by “ Their friends; nor thee, Pantheus, thy piety, “ Nor consecrated mitre, from the same “ Ill fate could save; my country's funeral fame “ And Troy's cold ashes I attest, and call “ To witness for myself, that in their fall VOL. IX.
“ No foes, no death, nor danger, I declin'd, “ Did and deserv'd no less, my fate to find.”
From this kind of concatenated metre he afterwards refrained, and taught his followers the art of concluding their sense in couplets; which has perhaps been with rather too much constancy pursued. This
passage exhibits one of those triplets which are not unfrequent in this first essay, but which it is to be supposed his maturer judgment disapproved, since in his latter works he has totally forborn them.
His rhymes are such as seem found without difficulty, by following the sense; and are for the most part as exact at least as those of other poets, though now and then the reader is shifted off with what he can get :
"O how transformi'd! « How much unlike that Hector, who return'd « Clad in Achilles' spoils !" And again : “ From thence a thousand lesser poets sprung “ Like petty princes from the fall of Rome.”
Sometimes the weight of rhyme is laid upon a word too feeble to sustain it:
“ Troy confounded falls
And though my outward state misfortune hath “ Deprest thus low, it cannot reach my faith.”
- Thus, by his fraud and our own faith o'ercome, “ A feigned tear destroys us, against whom “ Tydides nor Achilles could prevail, “ Nor ten years conflict, nor a thousand sail.”