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(1625 to 1649.)
It is difficult to peruse the annals of this turbulent and calamitous reign, without feeling some astonishment at the contrast which is exhibited between their literary and their political character. It is true that the preceding reign, however inglorious to the monarch, and disgraceful to the military reputation of the country, had been highly favourable to the growth of our national wealth and prosperity, to the increase of comforts, and even of luxury, as well as to the diffusion of knowledge..
The minds of men, continually irritated by the pretensions, and emboldened by the weakness of the crown, had been habituated to discuss the most important interests of society; and in the progress of the dispute under Charles I., every passion was awakened, and an enthusiastic love of liberty was opposed to a spirit of loyalty almost equally enthusiastic. Such a period, therefore, might reasonably be expected to be propitious to the growth of genius ; and we are not surprised that the scholastic pedantry of the former age should have given place to a more rational and manly style, equally adapted to the sublime conceptions of Milton, to the various and sparkling imagination of Cowley, and to the wit and sagacity of Butler.
But it is very remarkable, that the general characteristics of the poetry composed during this period are such as indicate a very high degree of refinement; a curious and elaborate selection of words and images, a nice arrangement of versification, and a tone of gallantry so easy and
playful, that we should suspect the writers of having formed their compositions amidst the peaceful splendour and luxury of Versailles, rather than at the court or in the camp of a prince, who passed from the throne to the scaffold through a continued series of anxiety and struggle.
In fact, Charles I., though generally in embarrassed, and often in necessitous circumstances, was always the active and liberal patron of literature, as well as of the fine arts, all of which he loved, and perfectly understood. “ During the prosperous state of the king's affairs," says Lord Orford, Hist. Paint. vol. ii. p. 147, “the pleasures of the court were carried on with much taste and magnificence. Poetry, painting, music, and architecture, were all called in to make them rational amusements; and I have no doubt but the celebrated festivals of Louis XIV. were copied from the shows exhibited at Whitehall in its time THE MOST POLITE COURT IN EUROPE. Ben Jonson was the laureat ; Inigo Jones, the inventor of the decorations ; Laniere and Ferabosco composed the symphonies ; the king, the queen, and the young nobility, danced in the interludes.” Taste, and wit, and gaiety, disappeared during the subsequent reign of republicanism ; and the general gloom was seldom interrupted, except by the compositions of a few cavaliers, who amused themselves by harassing with ridicule the dull and insipid manners of their puritanical enemies.
The reader will find in Bishop Percy's “ Reliques of ancient English Poetry,” (vol. ii. p. 338, fourth ed.) some verses by Charles I., which Lord Orford has, rather too hastily, condemned as “ most uncouth and unharmonious," at the same time that he has recognized in them “strong thoughts, some good sense, and a strain of majestic piety."
“ Younger brother,” says Wood, “to Sir Matthew Carew, a great Royalist in the time of the Rebellion," of a Gloucestershire family, but descended from an ancient one in Devonshire of the same name, was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, though never matriculated. “ Afterwards improving his parts by travelling and conversation with ingenious men in the metropolis,” “ he was made gentleman of the privy chamber and sewer in ordinary to Charles I., who always esteemed him, to the last, one of the most celebrated wits in his court.” Mr. Headley, in his Biographical Sketches, p. 39, has very justly observed, that “ Carew has the ease, without the pedantry of Waller, and perhaps less conceit. He reminds us of the best manner of Lord Lyttleton. Waller is too exclusively considered as the first man who brought versification to any thing like its present standard. Carew's pretensions to the same merit are seldom sufficiently either considered or allowed.” Lord Clarendon, however, has remarked of his poems, that, “ for the sharpness of the fancy, and the elegancy of the language in which that fancy was spread, they were at least equal, if not superior, to any of that time. But his glory was that, after fifty years of his life spent with less severíty or exactness than they ought to have been, he died with the greatest remorse for that license, and with the greatest manifestation of Christianity that his best friends could desire."
Carew is generally supposed to have died young in 1639, and I have therefore placed his birth about 1600, though, from the preceding passage from Clarendon, it seems probable that his birth ought to be placed earlier,
or his death later. The earliest edition of his works that I have seen was printed in 1642, which, however, is called in the title the second edition.
SWEETLY breathing Vernal Air,
Thou, if stormy Boreas throws
Persuasions to love.
Think not, 'cause men flattering say, You're fresh as April, sweet as May, Bright as is the morning star, That you are so; or though you are, Be not therefore proud, and deem All men unworthy your esteem :: For, being so, you lose the pleasure Of being fair, since that rich treasure Of rare beauty and sweet feature Was bestow'd on you by nature To be enjoy’d, and ’twere a sin There to be scarce, where she hath been So prodigal of her best graces : Thus common beauties, and mean faces, Shall have more pastime, and enjoy The sport you lose by being coy. Did the thing for which I sue Only concern myself, not you; Were men so fram'd as they alone Reap'd all the pleasure, women none; Then had you reason to be scant ; But, 'twere a madness not to grant That which affords (if you consent) To you, the giver, more content, Than me, the beggar. Oh then be Kind to yourself, if not to me!