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THE WENERABLE ARCHDEACON POTT, M.A.,
An EARLY AND ZEALOUS Frien d or
THE soci ETY Foh PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNow LEDGE, THIS volu ME, witH FEELINGs of THE since REs.T REs PEcT AND Est EEM,
HIs obligED AND FAITH FUL serv ANT,
THE present work completes the survey of English Sacred Poetry, which was proposed and commenced in the preceding volume. The various paths, sometimes verdant and sunny, sometimes entangled and gloomy, through which the reader's footsteps, so to speak, have been conducted, seem all to terminate before that magnificent structure which Milton conseerated to poetry and religion. The history of our verse during the greater portion of the seventeenth century, may be regarded as an elaborate preface to Paradise Lost; and the admirer of our great Epic will attain to a livelier perception of its beauties, after a careful examination of the poet's predeCeSSOts. The characteristic qualities of the sacred poetry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were, fervour of sentiment, and melody of language; the fervour often degenerating into fantastic enthusiasm; the melody often running into grotesque extravagance of rhythm and expression. The laborious ingenuity of Ken frequently destroys the simplicity of his devotion; and the zeal of Crashaw kindles his fancy into too intense a flame. That intellectual eye-sight to which criticism has given the appellation of TASTE, seldom attains to its perfect vision either in the youth or the manhood of literature, Homer undergoes the polishing refinement of Virgil; and Pindar catches a sweeter note from his Latin imitator; and the orator of the Bema is suppled in the Forum; before they assume the form of grace, and shine with the subdued lustre, and speak with the harmonious accents, of intellectual beauty. The file, however, when it ceases to polish, begins to weaken; and modern poetry has declined in strength, while it has increased in flexibility. But the calm diffusion of light is more agreeable than the uncertain blazes of a livelier invention; and we can read a Grahame with satisfaction which the sublimer genius of Quarles will not always afford; and recollect the humble rhymes of Watts, when the more passionate songs of Herbert sound harshly upon the ear.
In the former volume, my inquiries led me among books forgotten by all but the antiquary and the diligent student of our literature; and the sympathy of the heart was awakened by the contemplation of so many poetic graves, overgrown and neglected. The ridicule of Dryden transmitted the name of Shirley to the contempt of posterity; and we have seen Pope and Butler embalming Quarles and Wither for perpetual disgrace. But as the dramatist has risen from the scorn of Dryden, so Quarles and his companions have shaken off the missiles of their satirists. In the present volume, the same demand has not been made upon the feelings. Of the individuals who occupy the following pages, not one has gone down to the tomb unrewarded by a just measure of public approbation; praise has been offered liberally where it was due; and to the memory of the most unhappy of English poets, a monument has recently been reared by the genius and the affection of Southey. My own memoir of Cowper, although subsequently revised, had been delivered to the Publisher before the appearance of the Laureate’s biography; and in two or three instances my inquiries had anticipated both his treatment and illustration of the subject.
The history of Milton has been so frequently written, and under so many diversified forms, that a biographer finds it difficult to escape from occasional identity both of thought and expression; but I have advanced no opinion which has not been suggested and confirmed by a careful perusal of the works of the poet.
Of the remaining lives it is unnecessary to speak; but I may be allowed to refer to the account of Young, because it contains more evidence than had been previously adduced to sustain the truth of his piety, and the general excellence of his character. It would, indeed, have been a theme for melancholy reflection, if he, who, to charm the thoughtless, had arrayed our Holy Faith in such beautiful apparel, had himself passed by, indifferent, on the other side; if he, who so anxiously laboured to impress the hearts of others, had been insensible in his own to the voice of Truth and the exhortations of the Gospel.
I have briefly indicated the same sentiments respecting Young's sincerity, in an article upon the Character and Progress of Religious Poetry, to which allusion has been made in the following pages.
KENSINGTON, October 9th, 1838. .