« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
of most of his judgments about them, namelyin his estimate of Cowley, which is much higher than that of the present day, though not too high; wherein too he has well seized his merits and defects, both of which this poem exemplifies. These are the first six lines:
'Great Cowley then (a mighty genius) wrote,
He more had pleased us, had he pleased us less;
P. 96, No. lxxxix.—It is evident that in this Prologue and in that which follows Dryden is on his good behaviour; he has indeed so much respect for his audience that in all the eighty-five lines which compose them he has not one profane, and, still more remarkable, not one indecent allusion. Neither are the compliments which he pays his hearers, as is too often the case, fulsome and from their exaggeration offensive, but such as became him to pay and them to receive, and there is an eminent appropriateness to the time and place in them all. Though no very accurate scholar, he is yet quite scholar enough to talk with scholars on no very unequal footing; while the most eminent of those who heard him must have felt that in strength and opulence of thought, and in power of clothing this thought in appropriate forms, he immeasurably surpassed them all.
P. 99, No. xci.—Barten Holyday, Archdeacon of Oxford, and translator of Juvenal, published in 1661 his Survey of the World, which contains a thousand independent distiches, of which these are a favourable sample. Nearly all which I have quoted have more or less point-to my mind the distinction between the two chief historians of Greece has never been more happily drawn-and some of them have poetry as well. Yet for all this the devout prayer of the author in his concluding distich,
'Father of gifts, who to the dust didst give
has not been, and will scarcely now, be fulfilled.
P. 103, No. xcv.— -This is nothing more than a broad-sheet ballad published in 1641, the year of Strafford's execution, with the title Verses lately written by Thomas Earl of Strafford. Two copies, of different issues, but of the same date, and identical in text, exist in the British Museum, while in The Topographer, vol. ii. p. 234, there is printed another, and in some respects an improved text. The fall of the great statesman from his pride of place has here kindled one with perhaps but ordinary gifts for ordinary occasions to a truly poetical treatment of his theme; as to a certain extent it has roused another,
whose less original ballad in the same year and on the same theme, bearing the title, The Ultimum Vale or Last Farewell of Thomas Earl of Strafford, yields as its second stanza these nervous lines:
Farewell, you fading honours which do blind
P. 108, No. xcix. - These spirited lines were found written in an old hand in a copy of Lovelace's Lucasta, 1679. We have in them no doubt a Cavalier Song of our Civil Wars.
P. 108, No. c.-Davenant is scarcely known except by his strong-thoughted but heavy poem of Gondibert; and very little known, I should suppose, by this. But three of his poems, this and Nos. cvii. and clii., show that in another vein, that of graceful half play, half earnest, few have surpassed him. I know nothing in its kind happier than clii., which by an oversight has been placed somewhat too late in this volume.
P. III, No. ci. 1. 43-48: Cicero (De Nat. Deor. 3, 28, and elsewhere) refers to the remarkable story of Jason, tyrant of Pheræ, whom one would have stabbed, but did in fact only open a dangerous ulcer in his body.-1. 59: 'Adainant' is here used in the sense of loadstone; as in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, 2, i.
'You draw me, you hard-hearted adamant,
P. 112, No. cii.—I have dealt somewhat boldly with this poem, of its twenty-four triplets omitting all but ten, these ten seeming to me to constitute a fine poem, which the entire twenty-four altogether fail to do. Few, I think, will agree with Horace Walpole that 'the poetry is most uncouth and inharmonious ;' so far from this, it has a very solemn and majestic flow. Nor do I doubt that these lines are what they profess to be, the composition of King Charles; their authenticity is stamped on every line. We are indebted to Burnet for their preservation. He gives them in his Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton, saying, A very worthy gentleman who had the honour of waiting on him then [at Carisbrook Castle], and was much trusted by him, copied them out from the original, who avoucheth them to be a true copy.'-1. 2: A word has evidently dropped out here, which is manifestly wanted by the metre, and, as it seems to me, also by the sense. I have enclosed within brackets the 'earthly' with which I have ventured to supply the want.
P. 113, No. ciii.—Marvell showed how well he understood what he
was giving to the world in this ode, one of the least known but among the grandest which the English language possesses, when he called it Horatian.' In its whole treatment it reminds us of the highest to which the greatest Latin Artist in lyrical poetry did, when at his best, attain. To one unacquainted with Horace, this ode, not perhaps so perfect as his are in form, and with occasional obscurities of expression which Horace would not have left, will give a truer notion of the kind of greatness which he achieved than, so far as I know, could from any other poem in the language be obtained.
P. 117, No. cv. -I have taken the liberty of omitting nine out of the twenty-six stanzas of which this fine hymn is composed; I believe that it has gained much by the omission. The sense that a poor stanza is not merely no gain, but a serious injury, to a poem, was not Cowley's; still less that willingness to sacrifice parts to the effect of the whole, which induced Gray to leave out a stanza, in itself as exquisite as any which remain, from his Elegy; which led Milton to omit from the Spirit's Prologue in Comus sixteen glorious lines which may still be seen in his original MSS. at Cambridge, and have been often reprinted in the notes to later editions of his Poems.-1. 45-56: Johnson has said, urging the immense improvement in the mechanism of English verse which we owe to Dryden and the little which had been done before him, 'if Cowley had sometimes a finished line, he had it by chance.' Let Dryden have all the honour which is justly his due, but not at the expense of others. There are doubtless a few weak and poor lines in this poem even as now presented, but what a multitude of others, these twelve for example, without a single exception, of perfect grace and beauty, and as satisfying to the ear as to the mind.-1. 68: This line is certainly perplexing. In all the earlier editions of Cowley which I have examined it runs thus,
'Of colours mingled, Light, a thick and standing lake.'
In the modern, so far as they have come under my eye, it is printed,
'Of colours mingled light a thick and standing lake.
The line seems in neither shape to yield any tolerable sense-not in the first, with 'Light' regarded as a vocative, which, for the line so pointed, seems the only possible construction; nor yet in the second, which only acquires some sort of ineaning when colours' is treated as a genitive plural. I have marked it as such, but am so little satisfied with the result, that, were this book to print again, I should recur to the earlier reading, which, however unsatisfactory, should not be disturbed, unless for such an emendation as carries conviction with it.
P. 120, No. cvi.—Hallam has said that 'Cowley upon the whole has had a reputation more above his deserts than any English poet,' adding, however, that 'some who wrote better had not so fine a genius.' This may have been so, but a man's contemporaries have some opportunities of judging which subsequent generations are without. They judge him not only by what he does, but by what he zs; and oftentimes a man is more than he does; leaves an impression of greatness on those who come in actual contact with him which is only inadequately justified by aught which he leaves behind him, while yet in one sense it is most true. Many a man's embodiment of himself in his writings is below himself; some men's, strange to say, is above them, or at all events represents most transient moments of their lives. But I should be disposed to question Mr. Hallam's assertion, judging Cowley merely by what he has left behind him. With a poem like this before us, so full of thought, so full of imagination, containing so accurate and so masterly a sketch of the past history of natural philosophy, we may well hesitate about jumping to the conclusion that his contemporaries were altogether wrong, rating him so highly as they did. How they did esteem him lines like these of Denham, the fragment of a larger poem, not without a worth of their own, will show :
"Old mother Wit and Nature gave
Shakespeare and Fletcher all they have;
In Spenser and in Jonson Art
Of slower Nature got the start;
But both in him so equal are,
None knows which bears the happiest share.
To him no author was unknown,
Yet what he wrote was all his own,
He melted not the ancient gold,
Nor with Ben Jonson did make bold
To plunder all the Roman stores
Of poets and of orators.
Horace's wit and Virgil's state
He did not steal but emulate!
And when he would like them appear,
Their garb, but not their clothes did wear.'
1. 19-40 Compare with these the lines, inferior indeed, but themselves remarkable, and showing how strongly Cowley felt on this matter, which occur in his Ode to Dr. Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood:
"Thus Harvey sought for truth in Truth's own book,
The creatures; which by God Himself was writ,
And wisely thought 'twas fit
Not to read comments only upon it,
But on the original itself to look.
Methinks in art's great circle others stand,
Locked up together, hand in hand,
Every one leads as he is led,
The same bare path they tread,
And dance like fairies a fantastic round,
But neither change their motion nor their ground."
The same thought reappears, and again remarkably expressed, although under quite different images, in his Ode to Mr. Hobbs. These are a few lines :
'We break up tombs with sacrilegious hands,
Old rubbish we remove.
To walk in ruins like vain ghosts we love,
We search among the dead
For treasure buried,
Whilst still the liberal earth does hold
So many virgin mines of undiscovered gold.'
Dryden in some remarkable lines addressed to Dr. Charleton expresses the same sense of the freedom with which Bacon had set free the study of nature, and the bondage from which he had delivered it:
"The longest tyranny that ever swayed,
1. 164-182: It ought not to be forgotten that this poem appeared first prefixed to Sprat's History of the Royal Society of London, London, 1667. Though not published till the year 1667, the year of Cowley's death, the book had in great part been printed, as Sprat informs us, two years before, which exactly agrees with Cowley's statement here. The position which the poem thus occupied should be kept in mind, otherwise the encomium on Sprat's History might seem dragged in with no sufficient motive, and merely out of motives of private friendship. It may be added that the praise is not at all so exaggerated as those who know Addison's tuneful prelate' only by his verse might suppose. The book has considerable merits, and Johnson speaks of it as in his day still keeping its place, and being read with pleasure. I only observed when it was too late to profit by the observation, that after 1. 143, three lines occur, on this the first publication of the poem, which, by a strange heedlessness, have dropt out of all subsequent editions. They are as follows:
'She with much stranger art than his that put
The numerous work of life does into atoms shut.'
P. 129, No. cix.-This chorus, or fragment of a chorus, from the Thyestes of Seneca, beginning
Me dulcis saturet quies,