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Cowley, like other ])oets who liave written with narrow views, and, instead of tracing intellectual pleasures in the minds of men, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at Pup tifflfl too fflUfifa praised, and too much neglected at another.

Wit? like all other things subject by their nature to the choice of man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times takes different forms. About the beginning of the seventeenth century, appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphy^ sical poets; of whom, in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not improper to give some account.

The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to shew their learning was their whole endea- i vour: but, unluckily resolving to shew it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry they only wrote .verses.')and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables. ^ iS/Ofl^'

If the father of criticism has rightly denominated ^poetry ri/yn fafimioi, an imitative art, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the name of poets; for they cannot be snid jfl hftYfr iTMi-{

tated any thing; they neither copied nature nor) ljfe; neither painted the forms of matter, nor represepted the operations of intellect.

H'hose however who deny them to be poets, allow j v them to be wits.) Diyjleji. confesses of himself and his contemporaries, that they fall below Donne in / witj but maintains, thatthey surpass him in poetry.^

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If wit be well described by Pope, as being " that which has been often thought, out was never before so well expressed," they certainly never attained, nor ever sought it; for they endeavoured to be singular in their thoughts, and were care].ess^pf. their_diction. But Pope's account of wit is undoubtedly erroneous: he depresses it below its natural dignity, and reduces it from ^strength of thought to happiness of language.

If by a more noble and more adequate conception

^ that be considered as wit which is at once natural

v^f and new, that which, thougli not .obvious, is, upon

its first production, acknowledged to be just; if it be

\ that which he that never found it wondqrfl'how he

\ missed; to wit^of this kind the metaphysical poets

4 have seldom risen. \Their thoughts are often new, but

seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are

they just; and the reader, far from wondering that

he missed them, wonders more frequently by what

peryerseness of industry they were ever found.

But wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more rigorously and philosophically considered as a kind of discordicTconcors; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they have more than enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly Vthinks his improvement dearly bought, and, though \e sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

From this account of their compositions it will be readily inferred, that they were not successful in representingjjrmoving the affections. As they were wholly employed on something unexpected and surprising, they had no regard to that uniformity of sentiment which enables us to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasure of other minds: they never enquired what, on any occasion, they should have said or done; hut, wro^e rather as beholders than partakers of human naturej/as Beings looking upon good ancTevil, impassive and at leisure; as Epicurean deities,'making remarks on the actions of men, and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondness, and their lamentationjpf sorrow. Their wish was only to say whaUthey hoped had never been said before.' / Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetick; for they never attempted that comprehension and expanse of thought which at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is sudden astonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always general, and consist in positions not limited by exceptions, and in descriptions not descending to minuteness. It is with great propriety that Subtlety, which in its original import means exility of particles, is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of distinction. Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation. Their attempts were always analytick; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more represent,


by their slender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature, or the scenes of life, than he who dissects a sun-beam with a prism can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon.

What they wanted however of the sublime, they endeavoured to supply by hyperbole :'; their amplification had no limits; they left not only reason but fancy behind them; and produced combinations of confused magnificence, that not only could not be credited, but could not be imagined^)

yet great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly lost; if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth: if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan it was at least necessary to read and think. No man could be born a metanhv

—— *>.. — - - *"——= ^ *—-*sical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similies, by readiness of rhyme, and volubility of syllables.

In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry; either something already learned is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value; and such as, when they are ^?xpanded to perspicuity, and polished to elegance, may give lustre to works which have more propriety though less copiousness of sentiment.

This kind of writing, which was, E believe, borrowed from Marino and his followers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and various knowledge; and by Jonson*, whose manner resembled that of Donne more m jthe_ruggedness 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 Sickling? "Waller. Denham, Cowley. Cleiveland. and Milton.Y Denham and Waller sought another way. to fame, by improving the harmony of our numbers. Milton tried the metaphysic- style only in his lines upon Hobson the Carrier. :Cowley adopted it. and excelled his predecessors, having as much sentiment and more musick. Suckling neither improved versification, nor abounded in conceits. The fashionable style remained chiefly with Cowley;) Suckling could not reach it, and Milton disdained it.

Critical Remarks are not easily understood without examples; and I have therefore collected instances of the modes of writing by which this species of poets (for poets they were called by themselves and their admirers) was eminently distinguished.

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