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''Twill no unskilful touch endure,
But flings writer and reader too that sits not sure.
The fault of Cowley, and perhaps of all the writers of the metaphysical race, is that ot' puTsmng""Bis thoughts to the last ramifications, by which he loses the grandeur of generality; for of the greatest things the parts are little; what is little can be but pretty. and by claiming dignity becomes ridiculous. Thus jail the'power of description is destroyed by a scrupulous enumeration, and the force of metaphors is lost, when the mind by the mention of particulars is turned more upon the original than the secondary sense, more^ upon, that from which the illustration is drawn than that to which it is applied. Of this we have a very eminent example in the ode intituled The Muse, who goes to take the air in an intellectual chariot, to which he harnesses Fancy and Judgment, Wit and Eloquence, Memory and Invention: how he distinguished Wit from Fancy, or how Memory could properly contribute to Motion, he has not explained: we are however content to suppose that he could have justified his own fiction, and wish to see the Muse begin her career; but there is yet more to be done. Nl
Let the postillion Nature mount, and let The coachman Art be set;And let the daxyjbotmen, running all beside, Make a long row of goodly pride;Figures, conceits, raptures, and sentences, In a well-worded dress,
And innocent loves, and pleasant truths, and useful
Every mind is now disgusted with this cumber of magnificence; yet I cannot refuse myself the four next lines:
Mount, glorious queen, thy travelling throne,
In the same ode, celebrating the power of the Muse, he gives her prescience, or, in poetical language, the foresight of events hatching in futurity; but, having once an egg' in his mind, he cannot forbear to show us that he knows what an ^gg.contains:
Thou into the close nests of Time dost peep,
And there with piercing eye
Years to come a-tbrming lig,
The same thought is more generally, and therefore more poetically expressed by Casimir, a writer who has many of the beauties and faults of Cowley:
Omnibus mundi Dominator horis
Cowley, whatever was his subject, seems to have been carried, by a kind of destiny, to the light and the familiar, or to conceits which require still more ignobleepithets. A slaughter in the Red Sea newdies the water's name; and England, during the Civil War, was Albion no more, norjto be named from white. It is surely by some fascination not easily surmounted, that a writer professing to revive the noblest and highest writing in verse, makes this address to the new year:
Nay, if thou lov'st me, gentle year, Let not so much as love be there, Vain, fruitless love I mean; for, gentle year,
Although I fear
Yet, gentle year, take heed How thou dost make Such a mistake;
The reader of this will be inclined to cry out with Prior— t
• Ye Criticks, say,
How poor to this was Pindar's style!
Even those who cannot perhaps find in the Isthmian or Nemaean songs what Antiquity has disposed them to expect, will at least see that they are ill-represented by such puny poetry; and all will determine thafcJLthis be the old Theban strain, it is not worthy of revival.
To the disproportion and incongruity of Cowley's sentiments must beluuled the uncertainty and looseness of his measures. He takes the liberty of using "lany place a verse of any length, from two syllables to twelve. The verses of Pindar have, as he observes, very little harmony to a modern ear; yet by examining the syllables we perceive them to be regular, and
have reason enough for supposing that the antient audiences were delighted with the sound. The imitator ought therefore to have adopted what he found, and to have added what was wanting; to have preserved a constant return of the same numbers, and to have supplied smoothness of transition and continuity of thought.
y It is urged by Dr. jjjjpiai, that the irregularity of
f lumbers is the very thing which makes that kind
^f poesy fit for all manner of subjects. But he
should have remembered, that what is fit for every
;hing can fit nothing well. The great pleasure of
1 rerse arises from the known measure of the lines,
and uniform structure of the stanzas, by which the
voice is regulated, and the memory relieved.
Tf the Pindarick style be, what Cowley thinks it,
the highest and noblest kind of writing in verse^Jt
C can be adapted only to high and noble subjects: and
it will not be easy to reconcile the poet with the criy
tick, or to conceive how that can be the highest kind
of writing in verse which, according to Sprat, is fc^jfiO*^ ^ chiefly to be preferred for its near affinity to prose.
This lax and lawless versification so much concealed the deficiencies of the barren, and flattered the laziness of the idle, that it immediately overspread our books of poetry; all the boys and girls caught the pleasing fashion, and they that could do nothing else could write like Pindar. The rights of antiquity were invaded, and disorder tried to break into the Latin: a poem * on the Sheldonian Theatre, in which all kinds of verse are shaken together, is un
* First published in quarto, 1669, under the title of " Carmen Pindarieum in Theatrum Sheldonianum in solennibus mag
happily inserted in the Musce Anglicance. Pindar*!
ism prevailed about half a century; but at last died gradually away, and other imitations supply its place.
The Pindarick Odes have so long enjoyed the highest degree of poetical reputation, that I am not willing to dismiss them with unabated censure; and surely, though the mode of their composition be erroneous, yet many parts deserve at least that admiration which is due to great comprehension of knowledge, and great fertility of fancy. The thoughts are often new, and often striking; but the greatness of one part is disgraced by the littleness of another; and total negligence of language gives the noblest conceptions the appearance of a fabrick august in the plan, but mean in the materials. Yet surely those verses are not without a just claim to praise; of which it may be said with truth, that no man but Cowley could have written them. ^
The Davideis now remains to be considered; a
mm poem which the author designed to have extended to twelve books, merely, as he makes no scruple of declaring, because the iEneid had that number; but he had leisure or perseverance only to write the third part. Epick poems have been left unfinished by Virgil, Statius, Spenser, and Cowley. That we have not the whole Davideis is, however, not much to be regretted; for in this undertaking Cowley is, tacitly at least, confessed, to^liave miscarried. There are not many examples of so great a work, produced by an author generally read, and generally praised, that has crept through a century with so little regard.
nifici Opens Encseniis. Recitatuin Julii die 9» Anno 1669,-a Corbetto Owen, A. B. JEd. Chr. Alumno, Authore." 11.