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In all these examples it is apparent, that whatever is improper or vitious is produced by a voluntary deviation from nature in pursuit of something new and strange; and that the writers fail to give delight by their desire of exciting admiration. A J I
Having thus endeavoured to exhibit a general representation of the style and sentiments of the metaphysical poets, it is now proper to examine particularly the works of Cowley, who was alfflggtjfae. last, i x_ of that race, and undoubtedly jtheJiest.X
JdLis Miscellanies contain a collection of short compositions, written some as they were dictated by a mind at leisure, and some as they were called forth by different occasions; with great variety_of style and sentiment, from burlesque levity to awful grandeur. Such an assemblage of diversified excellence no other --\-. poetliairTiitherto ajfbrjled. To choose the best, among many good, is one of the most hazardous attempts of criticism. I know not whether Scaliger himself has persuaded many readers to join with him in his preference of the two favourite odes, which he estimates in his raptures at the value of a kingdom. I will, however, venture to recommend Cowley's first piece, which ought to be inscribed To my Muse, for want of which the second couplet is without reference. When the title is added, there will still remain a defect; fog jevejy piece ought to contain in itself whatever is necessary tcTmake it intelligible^ Pdpe~ has some epitaphTwithout names; which are therefore epitaphs to be lett, occupied indeed for the present, but hardly appropriated.
The ode on Wit is almost without a rival. It was about the time of Cowley that Wit, which had been till then used for Intellection, in contradistinction to lyitij took the meaning, whatever it be. which it now bears. .
Of all the passages in which poets have exempli', fied their bwiTprecepts, none will easily be found of grealer_excellence than that in which Cowley condemns exuberance of wit:
Yet 'tis not to adorn and gild each part,
That shews more cost than art.
Rather than all things wit, let none be there.
Several lights will not be seen,
If there be nothing else between.
In his verses to Lord Falkland, whom every man of his time was proud to praise, there are, as there must be in all Cowley's compositions, some striking thoughts, but they are not well wrought. His Elegy on SirtHenry Wotton is vigorous and happy; the series of thoughts is easy and natural; and the conclusion, though a little weakened by the intrusion of Alexander, is elegant and forcible.
It may be remarked, that in this Elegy, and in most of his encomiastic poems, he has forgotten or neglected to name his heroes.
In his poem on the death of Hervey. there is much praise, but little passion; a very just and ample delineation of such virtues as a studious privacy admits, and such intellectual excellence as a mind not yet called forth to action can display. He knew how to distinguish, and how to commend, the qjialities of his compaliionT~^ut, when he wishes to make us weep, heforgets to weep himself, and diverts his sorrow by imagining how his crown of bays, if he hajLit, would crackle in the fire. It is the odd fate of this thought to be the worse for being true. The bay-leaf crackles remarkably as it burns; as therefore this property was not assigned it by chance, the mind must be thought sufficiently at ease that could attend to such minuteness of physiology. ButJJJfi^" > power of Cowley is not so much to moye_tlie~affec-| / tibmva* to elterelsethe understanding.
rTl[ie~Ch?~onicle~is a composition unrivalled and alone: such gaiety of fancy, such facility of expression, such varied similitude, such a succession of images, and such a dance of words, it is in vain to expect except from Cowley. His strength always appears in his agility; his volatility is not the flutter of a light, buFthe bound of an elastick mind* His levity never leaves his learning behind it; the moralist, the politician, and the critick, mingle their influence even in this airy frolick of genius. To such a performance Suckling could have brought the gaiety, but not the knowledge; Dryden could have supplied the knowledge, but not the gaiety.
The verses to Davenant, which are vigorously begun, and happily concluded, contain some hints of criticism very justly conceived and happily expressed. Cowley's critical abilities have not been sufficiently observed: the few decisions and remarks, which his prefaces and his notes on the Davideis supply, were at that time accessions to English literature, and shew such skill as raises our wish for more examples.
The lines from Jersey are a very curious and pleasing specimen of the familiar descending to the burlesque.
His two metrical disquisitions ^2£_and against Reason are no mean specimens of metaphysical poetry. The stanzas against knowledge produce little conviction. In those which are intended to exalt the human faculties, Reason has its proper task assigned it; that of judging, not of things revealed, but of the reality of revelation. In the verses for Reason is a passage which Bentley, in the only English verses which he is known to have written, seems to have copied, though with the inferiority of an imitator.
The Holy Book like the eighth sphere doth shine
With thousand lights of truth divine,
It makes all but one galaxy.
So vast and dangerous as these,
Without the compass too below.
After this says Bentley*:
Who travels in religious jars,
Truth mix'd with error, shade with rays, Like Whiston wanting pyx or stars,
Cowley seems to have had what Milton is believed to have wanted, the skill to rate, bis own performances by their just value, and has therefore closed his Miscellanies with the verses upon Crashaw, which apparently excel all that have gone before them, and in which there are beauties which common authors may justly think not only above their attainment, but above their ambition.
* Dodsley's Collection of Poems, Vol.V. R.
To the Miscellanies succeed the AnacreontiQues.y or paraphrastical translations of some little poems, which pass, however justly, under the name of Anacreon. Of these songs dedicated to festivity and gaiety, in which even the morality is voluptuous, and which teach nothing bit the enjoyment of the pre. sent day, he has given rather a pleasing than a faithful representation, having retained their spriteliness, but lost their simplicity. Tjjp_ Annrrerm nf Cowley., like trie HflmfiLflZ "P^ Vi^s admitted the decoration of some modern graces, by which he is undoubtedly more amiable to common readers, and perhaps, if they would honestly declare their own perceptions, to far the greater part of those whom courtesy and ignorance are content to style the Learned.
These little pieces will be found more finished in their kind than any other of Cowley's works. The diction shews nothing of the mould of time, and the sentiments are at no great distance from our present habitudes of thought. Ileal mirth must be always \ natural, and nature is uniform. Men have been wise in very different modes; but they have plwaya. laughed the same way.
Levity of thought naturally produced familiarity of language, and the familiar part of language continues long the same; the dialogue of comedy, when it is transcribed from popular manners and real life,