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many noble lines, such as the feeble care of Waller never could produce. The bulk of his thoughts sometimes swelled his verse to unexpected and inevitable grandeur; but his excellence of this kind is merely fortuitous : he sinks willingly down to his general carelessness, and avoids with
little care either meanness or asperity.
His contractions are often rugged and harsh :
One flings a mountain, and its rivers too
His rhymes are very often made by pronouns, or particles, or the like umimportant words, which disappoint the ear, and destroy the energy of the line.
His combination of different measures is sometimes dissonant and unpleasing; he joins verses together, of which the former does not slide easily into the latter.
The words do and did, which so much degrade in present estimation the line that admits them, were in the time of Cowley little censured or avoided; how often he used them, and with how bad an effect, at least to our ears, will appear by a passage, in which every reader will lament to see just and noble thoughts defrauded of their praise by inelegance of language:
Where honour or where conscience does not bind,
No other law shall shackle me;
Slave to myself I ne’er will be;
By my own present mind.
Who by resolves and vows engag'd does stand
For days, that yet belong to fate,
Before it falls into his hand;
The bondman of the cloister so,
Not to enjoy, but debts to pay !
Unhappy slave, and pupil to a bell!
Unhappy till the last, the kind releasing knell. His heroic lines are oftenformed of monosyllables; . but yet they are sometimes sweet and sonorous.
of the Messiah, Round the whole earth his dreaded name shall sound, And reach to worlds that must not yet be found.
In another place, of David,
Yet bid him go securely, when he sends;
Yet amidst his negligence he sometimes attempted an improved and scientific versification; of which it will be best to give his own account subjoined to this line :
Nor can the glory contain itself in th’ endless space.
“I am sorry that it is necessary to admonish the “ most part of readers, that it is not by negligence " that this verse is so loose, long, and, as it were,
“ 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
“ In the second book;
Down å precipice deep, down he casts them all.
And fell a-down his shoulders with loose care.
6. In the third,
Brass was his helmet, his boots brass, and o'er
“ In the fourth,
Like some fair pine o'er-looking all th' ignobler wood.
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) 66 sometimes did it; and their prince, Virgil, always: “ in whom the examples are innumerable, and taken
“ 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 in. stances 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:
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 cæsura, 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.