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commenced. The Poets of Elizabeth had attained an art of modulation, which was afterwards neglected or forgotten. Fairfax was acknowledged by him as his model; and he might have studied with advantage the poem of Davies*, which, though merely philosophical, yet seldom leaves the ear ungratified. - But he was rather smooth than strong; of the full resounding line, which Pope attributes to Dryden, he has given very few examples. The critical decision has given the praise of strength to Denham, and of sweetness to Waller.
His excellence of versification has some abatements. He uses the expletive do very frequently; and, though he lived to see it almost universally ejected, was not more careful to avoid it in his last compositions than in his first. Praise had given him confidence; and finding the world satisfied, he satisfied himself.
His rhymes are sometimes weak words : so is found to make the rhyme twice in ten lines, and occurs often as a rhyme through his book.
His double rhymes, in heroick verse, have been censured by Mrs. Phillips, who was his rival in the translation of Corneille’s Pompey; and more faults might be found, were not the enquiry below attention.
He sometimes uses the obsolete termination of verbs, as waxeth, affecteth ; and sometimes retains the final syllable of the preterite, as amazed, sup
* Sir John Davies, intituled, “ Nosce teipsum. This Oracle expounded in two Elegies; I. Of Humane Knowledge : II. Of the Soule of Man and the Immortalitie thereof, 1599.” R.
posed, of which I know not whether it is not to the detriment of our language that we have totally rejected them.
Of triplets he is sparing; but he did not wholly forbear them: of an Alexandrine he has given no example.
The general character of his poetry is elegance and gaiety. He is never pathetick, and very rarely sublime. He seems neither to have had a mind much elevated by nature, nor amplified by learning. His thoughts are such as a liberal conversation and large acquaintance with life would easily supply. They had however then, perhaps, that grace of novelty which they are now often supposed to want by those who, having already found them in later books, do not know or enquire who produced them first. This treatment is unjust. Let not the original author lose by his imitators.
Praise, however, should be due before it is given. The author of Waller's Life ascribes to him the first practice of what Erythræus and some late criticks call Alliteration, of using in the same verse many words beginning with the same letter. But this knack, whatever be its value, was so frequent among early writers, that Gascoigne, a writer of the sixteenth century, warns the young poet against affecting it; Shakspeare, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, is supposed to ridicule it; and in another play the sonnet of Holofernes fully displays it.
He borrows too many of his sentiments and illustrations from the old Mythology, for which it is vain to plead the example of ancient poets: the deities which they introduced so frequently, were considered as realities, so far as to be received by the imagination, whatever sober reason might even then determine. But of these images time has tarnished the splendor. A fiction, not only detected but despised, can never afford a solid basis to any position, though sometimes it may furnish a transient allusion, or slight illustration. No modern monarch can be much exalted by hearing that, as Hercules had had his club, he has his navy.
But of the praise of Waller, though much may be taken away, much will remain ; for it cannot be denied that he added something to our elegance of diction, and something to our propriety of thought ; and to him may be applied what Tasso said, with equal spirit and justice, of himself and Guarini, when, having perused the Pastor Fido, he cried out, “ If he had not read Aminta, he had never excelled it.”
As Waller professed himself to have learned the art of versification from Fairfax, it has been thought proper to subjoin a specimen of his work, which, after Mr. Hoole’s translation, will perhaps not be soon reprinted. By knowing the state in which Waller found our poetry, the reader may judge how much he improved it.
Erminia's steed (this while) his mistresse bore
Of her strong foes, that chas'd her through the plaine,
Yet still the fearefull Dame fled, swift as winde,
Through thicke and thinne, all night, all day, she driued,
On Iordans sandie banks her course she staid,
Her teares, her drinke; her food, her sorrowings,
And loue, his mother, and the graces kept
And that sweet noise, birds, winds, and waters sent, Prou okte againe the virgin to lament.
Her plaints were interrupted with a sound,
Sat making baskets, his three sonnes among,
Beholding one in shining armes appeare,
These dreadfull armes I beare no warfare bring