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tile in itself, and however stored with acquisitions. He whose work is general and arbitrary has the choice of his matter, and takes that which his inclination and his studies have best qualified him to display and decorate. He is at liberty to delay his publication till he has satisfied his friends and himself, till he has reformed his first thoughts by subsequent examination, and polished away those faults which the precipitance of ardent composition is likely to leave behind it. Virgil is related to have poured out a great number of lines in the morning, and to have passed the day in reducing them to fewer.
The occasional poet is circumscribed by the narrowness of his subject. Whatever can happen to man has happened so often, that little remains for fancy or invention. We have been all born; we have most of us been married; and so many have died before us, that our deaths can supply but few materials for a poet. In the fate of Princes the publick has an interest; and what happens to them of good or evil, the poets have always considered as business for the Muse. But after so many inauguratory gratulations, nuptial hymns, and funeral dirges, he must be highly favoured by nature, or by fortune, who says any thing not said before. Even war and conquest, however splendid, suggest no new images; the triumphal chariot of a victorious monarch can be decked only with those ornaments that have graced his predecessors.
Not only matter but time is wanting. The poem must "'not be delayed till the occasion is forgotten. The lucky moments of animated imagination cannot be attended; elegances and illustrations cannot be multiplied by gradual accumulation ; the composition must be dispatched, while conversation is yet busy, and admiration fresh ; and haste is to be made, lest some other event should lay hold upon mankind.
Occasional compositions may however secure to a writer the praise both of learning and facility; for they cannot be the effect of long study, and must be furnished immediately from the treasures of the mind.
The death of Cromwell was the first publick event which called forth Dryden's poetical powers. His heroick stanzas have beauties and defects; the thoughts are vigorous, and, though not always proper, shew a mind replete with ideas; the numbers are smooth; and the diction, if not altogether «oiz_____ rect, is elegant and easy.
Davenant was perhaps at this time his favourite author, though Gondibert never appears to have been popular; and from Davenant he learned to please his ear with the stanza of four lines alternately rhymed.
Dryden very early formed his versification; there are in this early production no traces of Donne's or Jonson's ruggedness; but he did not so soon free his mind from the ambition of forced conceits. In his verses on the Restoration, he says of the King's exile,
He, toss'd by Fate—
And afterwards, to shew how virtue and wisdom are
Well might the antient poets then confer
His praise of Monk's dexterity comprises such a cluster of thoughts unallied to one another, as will not elsewhere be easily found:
'Twas Monk, whom Providence design'd to loose Those real bonds false freedom did impose. The blessed saints that watch'd this turning scene Did from their stars with joyful wonder lean, To see small clues draw vastest weights along, Not in their bulk, but in their order strong. Thus pencils can by one slight touch restore Smiles to that changed face that wept before. With ease such fond chimaeras we pursue, As fancy frames, for fancy to subdue: But, when ourselves to action we betake, It shuns the mint like gold that chemists make: How hard was then his task, at once to be What in the body natural we see! Man's Architect distinctly did ordain The charge of muscles, nerves, and of the brain, Through viewless conduits spirits to dispense The springs of motion from the seat of sense. 'Twas not the hasty product of a day, But the well-ripen'd fruit of wise delay. He, like a patient angler, ere he strook, Would let them play awhile upon the hook. Our healthful food the stomach labours thus, At first embracing what it strait doth crush. Wise leaches will not vain receipts obtrude, While growing pains pronounce the humours crude; Deaf to complaints, they wait upon the ill, Till some safe crisis authorize their skill, VOL. VI. 2 D
JEJe had not yet learned, indeed he never learned well, to forbear the improper use of mythology. After having rewarded the Heathen deities for their care,
With Alga who the sacred altar strows?
He tells us, in the language of religion,
Prayer storm'd the skies, and ravish^ Charles from
And afterwards mentions one of the most awful passages of Sacred History.
Other conceits there are, too curious to be quite omitted; as,
For by example most we sinn'd before,
And, glass-like, clearness mix'd with frailty bore.
How far he was yet from thinking it necessary to found his sentiments on Nature, appears from the extravagance of his fictions and hyperboles:
The winds, that never moderation knew,
It is no longer motion cheats your view;
I know not whether this fancy, however little be its value, was not borrowed. A French poet read to Malherbe some verses, in which he represents France as moving out of its place to receive the king. "Though this," said Malherbe, " was in my time, I do not remember it."
His poem on the Coronation has a more even tcnour of thought. Some lines deserve to be quoted.
You have already quench'd sedition's brand:
Here may be found one particle of that old versification, of which, I believe, in all his works, there is not another:
Nor is it duty, or our hope alone,
In the verses to the Lord Chancellor Clarendon, two years afterwards, is a conceit so hopeless at the first view, that few would have attempted it; and so successfully laboured, that though at last it gives the reader more perplexity than pleasure, and seems hardly worth the study that it costs, yet it must be valued as a proof of a mind at once subtle and comprehensive;
In open prospect nothing bounds our eye,