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fended; and which would not be borne in the present age, when devotion, perhaps not more fervent, is more delicate.
Having produced one passage taken by Cowley from Donne, I will recompense him by another which Milton seems to have borrowed from him. He says of Goliah,
His spear, the trunk was of a lofty tree,
Which Nature meant some tall ship’s mast should be. Milton of Satan :
His spear, to equal which the tallest pine Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the mast Of some great admiral, were but a wand, He walked with His diction was in his own time censured as negligent. He seems not to have known, or not to have considered, that words being arbitrary must owe
their power to association, and have the influence, , and that only, which custom has given them.
Language is the dress of thought : and as the noblest mien, or most graceful action, would be degraded and obscured by a garb appropriated to the gross employments of rusticks or mechanicks; so the most heroick sentiments will lose their efficacy, and the most splendid ideas drop their magnificence, if they are conveyed by words used commonly upon low and trivial occasions, debased by vulgar mouths, and contaminated by inelegant applications. **
Truth indeed is always truth, and reason is always reason ; they have an intrinsic and unalterable value, and constitute that intellectual gold which defies destruction; but gold may be so concealed in baser
matter, that only a chymist can recover it; sense
Of all this, Cowley appears to have been without knowledge, or without care. He makes no seleetion of words, nor seeks any neatness of phrase: he has no elegancies either lucky or elaborate: as his endeavours were rather to impress sentences upon the understanding than images on the fancy, he has few epithets, and those scattered without peculiar propriety or nice adaptation. It seems to follow from the necessity of the subject, rather than the care of the writer, that the diction of his heroie poem is less familiar than that of his slightest writings. He has given not the same numbers, but the same diction, to the gentle Anacreon and the tempestuous Pindar.
His versification seems to have had very little of his care; and if what he thinks be true, that his numbers are unmusical only when they are ill-read, the art of reading them is at present lost ; for they
are commonly harsh to modern ears. He has indeed many noble lines, such as the feeble care of Waller never could produce. The bulk of his thoughts sometimes swelled his verse to unexpected and inevitable grandeur ; but his excellence of this kind is merely fortuitous : he sinks willingly down to his general carelessness, and avoids with very little care either meanness or asperity.
His contractions are often rugged and harsh :
One flings a mountain, and its rivers too
Torn up with 't. His rhymes are very often made by pronouns, or particles, or the like unimportant words, which disappoint the ear, and destroy the energy of the line.
His combination of different measures is sometimes dissonant and unpleasing; he joins verses together, of which the former does not 'slide easily into the tätter.
The words do and did, which so much degrade in present estimation the line that admits them, were in the time of Cowley little censured or avoided; how often he used them, and with how bad an effect, at least to our ears, will appear by a passage, in which every reader will lament to see just and noble thoughts defrauded of their praise by inelegance of language :
Where honour or where conscience does not bind,
No other law shall shackle me;
Slave to myself I ne'er will be;
By my own present mind.
Who by resolves and vows engag'd does stand
For days, that yet belong to fate,
Before it falls into his hand ;
The bondman of the cloister so,
Unhappy slave, and pupil to a bell!
His heroic lines are often formed of monosyllables; but yet they are sometimes sweet and sonorous.
He says of the Messiah,
In another place, of David,
Yet bid him go securely, when he sends;
Yet amidst his negligence he sometimes attempt ed an improved and scientific versification; of which it will be best to give his own account subjoined to this line:
Nor can the glory contain itself in th’ endless space.
“ I am sorry that it is necessary to admonish the most part of readers, that it is not by negligence that this verse is so loose, long, and, as it were, vast; it is to paint in the number the nature of the thing which it describes, which I would have observed in divers other places of this poem, that else will pass for very careless verses: as before,
And over-runs the neighb'ring fields with violent course. “ In the second book ;
Down a precipice deep, down he casts them all. “ And, And fell a-down his shoulders with loose care:
“ In the third,
“ In the fourth, Like some fair pine o'er-looking all th' ignobler wood.
“ And many more: but it is enough to instance in a few. The thing is, that the disposition of words and numbers should be such, as that, out of the order and sound of them, the things themselves may be represented. This the Greeks were not so accurate as to bind themselves to; neither have our English poets observed it, for aught I can find. The Latins (qui Musas colunt severiores) sometimes did it; and their prince, Virgil, always : in whom the examples are innumerable, and taken