Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

attributed to Anacreon, or those which abound in the Anthology. In fact, here, as at the Grecian period alluded to, we are in the decline of paganism; energy departs, the reign of the agreeable begins. People do not relinquish the worship of beauty and pleasure, but dally with them. They deck and fit them to their taste; they cease to subdue and bend men, who enjoy them whilst they amuse them. It is the last beam of a setting sun; the genuine poetic sentiment dies out with Sedley, Waller, and the rhymesters of the Restoration; they write prose in verse; their heart is on a level with their style, and with an exact language we find the commencement of a new age and a new art.

Side by side with prettiness comes affectation; it is the second mark of the decadence. Instead of writing to express things, they write to say them well; they outbid their neighbors, and strain every mode of speech; they push art over on the side to which it had a leaning; and as in this age it had a leaning towards vehemence and imagination, they pile up their emphasis and coloring. A jargon always springs out of a style. In all arts, the first masters, the inventors, discover the idea, steep themselves in it, and leave it to effect its outward form. Then come the second class, the imitators, who sedulously repeat this form, and alter it by exaggeration. Some nevertheless have talent, as Quarles, Herbert, Habington, Donne in particular, a pungent satirist, of terrible crudeness,' a powerful poet, of a precise and

“Why so pale and wan, fond lover ?

Saying nothing do't ? Pr'ythee, why so pale ?

Pr’ythee, why so mute ? Will, when looking well can't move her, Quit, quit for shame: this will not move, Looking ill prevail ?

This cannot take her; · Pr'ythee, why so pale?

If of herself she will not love, Why so dull and mute, young sinner? Nothing can make her. Pr'ythee, why so mute?

The devil take her!” Will, when speaking well can't win her,

Sir John SUCKLING's Works, ed. A. Suckling, 1836, p. 70. “As when a lady, walking Flora's bower,

Picks here a pink, and there a gilly-flower,
Now plucks a violet from her purple bed,
And then a primrose, the year's maidenhead,
There nips the brier, here the lover's pansy,
Shifting her dainty pleasures with her fancy,
This on her arms, and that she lists to wear
Upon the borders of her curious hair ;
At length a rose-bud (passing all the rest)

She plucks, and bosoms in her lily breast."-QUARLES. Stanzas. See, in particular, his satire against courtiers. The following is against imitators:

“But he is worst, who (beggarly) doth chaw

Others wit's fruits, and in his favenous maw
VOL. I.

20

[ocr errors]

intense imagination, who still preserves something of the energy and thrill of the original inspiration. But he deliberately spoils all these gifts, and succeeds with great difficulty in concocting a piece of nonsense. For instance, the impassioned poets had said to their mistress that if they lost her, they should hate all other women. Donne, in order to eclipse them, says:

O do not die, for I shall hate
All women so, when thou art gone,
That thee I shall not celebrate

When I remember thou wast one. Twenty times while reading him we rub our brow, and ask with astonishment, how a man could have so tormented and contorted himself, strained his style, refined on his refinement, hit upon such absurd comparisons ? But this was the spirit of the age; they made an effort to be ingeniously absurd. A flea had bitten Donne and his mistress, and he says:

“This flea is you and I, and this
Our mariage bed and mariage temple is.
Though Parents grudge, and you, w' are met,
And cloyster'd in these living walls of Jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that selfe-murder added be,

And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.” 3
The Marquis de Mascarille 4 never found anything to equal

Rankly digested, doth those things out-spew,
As his owne things; and they 're his owne, 't is true,
For if one eate my meate, though it be knowne
The meat was mine, th' excrement is his owne.'

DONNE's Satires, 1639. Satire ii. p. 128. 1 “When I behold a stream, which from the spring

Doth with doubtful melodious murmuring,
Or in a speechless slumber calmly ride
Her wedded channel's bosom, and there chide
And bend her brows, and swell, if any bough
Does but stoop down to kiss her utmost brow;
Yet if her often gnawing kisses win
The traiterous banks to gape and let her in,
She rusheth violently and doth divorce
Her from her native and her long-kept course,
And roares, and braves it, and in gallant scorn
In flatt'ring eddies promising return,
She flouts her channel, which thenceforth is dry,

Then say I: That is she, and this am I.”—DONNE, Elegy vi.
2 Poems, 1639: A Feaver, p. 15.

3 Ibid. The Flea, p. 1. 4 A valet in Molière's Les Précieuses Ridicules, who apes and exaggerates his master's manners and style, and pretends to be a marquess. He also appears in L'Etourdi and Le dépit Amoureux, by the same author.---Tr.

this. Would you have believed a writer could invent such absurdities? She and he made but one, for both are but one with the flea, and so one could not be killed without the other. Observe that the wise Malherbe wrote very similar enormities, in the Tears of St. Peter, and that the sonneteers of Italy and Spain reach simultaneously the same height of folly, and you will agree that throughout Europe at that time they were at the close of a poetical epoch.

On this boundary line of a closing and a dawning literature a poet appeared, one of the most approved and illustrious of his time, Abraham Cowley,' a precocious child, a reader and a versifier like Pope, and who, like Pope, having known passions less than books, busied himself less about things than about words. Literary exhaustion has seldom been more manifest. He possesses all the capacity to say what pleases him, but he has precisely nothing to say. The substance has vanished, leaving in its place an empty form.' In vain he tries the epic, the Pindaric strophe, all kinds of stanzas, odes, short lines, long lines; in vain he calls to his assistance botanical and philosophical similes, all the erudition of the university, all the recollections of antiquity, all the ideas of new science: we yawn as we read him. Except in a few descriptive verses, two or three graceful tendernesses, he feels nothing, he speaks only; he is a poet of the brain. His collection of amorous pieces is but a vehicle for a scientific test, and serves to show that he has read the authors, that he knows geography, that he is well versed in anatomy, that he has a smattering of medicine and astronomy, that he has at his service comparisons and allusions enough to rack the brains of his readHe will speak in this wise:

“Beauty, thou active-passive Ill !

Which dy'st thyself as fast as thou dost kill!” Or will remark that his mistress is to blame for spending three hours every morning at her toilet, because

“They make that Beauty Tyranny,

That's else a Civil-government.” After reading two hundred pages, you feel disposed to box his

You have to think, by way of consolation, that every grand

ers.

ears.

1 1608–1667. I refer to the eleventh edition of 1710.

2 The Spring (The Mistress, i. 72).

age must draw to a close, that this one could not do so otherwise, that the old glow of enthusiasm, the sudden flood of rapture, images, whimsical and audacious fancies, which once rolled through the minds of men, arrested now and cooled down, could only exhibit dross, a curdling scum, a multitude of brilliant and offensive points. You say to yourself that, after all, Cowley had perhaps talent; you find that he had in fact one, a new talent, unknown to the old masters, the sign of a new culture, which needs other manners, and announces a new society. Cowley had these manners, and belongs to this society. He was a wellgoverned, reasonable, well-informed, polished, well-educated man, who after twelve years of service and writing in France, under Queen Henrietta, retires at last wisely into the country, where he studies natural history, and prepares a treatise on religion, philosophizing on men and life, fertile in general reflections and ideas, a moralist, bidding his executor “to let nothing stand in his writings which might seem the least in the world to be an offence against religion or good manners.” Such intentions and such a life produce and indicate less a poet, that is, a seer, a creator, than a literary man, I mean a man who can think and speak, and who therefore ought to have read much, learned much, written much, ought to possess a calm and clear mind, to be accustomed to polite society, sustained conversation, pleasantry. In fact, Cowley is an author by profession, the oldest of those who in England deserve the name. His

prose is as easy and sensible as his poetry is contorted and unreasonable. A polished man, writing for polished men, pretty much as he would speak to them in a drawing-room,—this I take to be the idea which they had of a good author in the seventeenth century. It is the idea which Cowley's Essays leave of his character; it is the kind of talent which the writers of the coming age take for their model; and he is the first of that grave and amiable group which, continued in Temple, reaches so far as to include Addison.

II. Having reached this point, the Renaissance seemed to have attained its limit, and, like a drooping and faded flower, to be ready to leave its place for a new bud which began to spring up amongst its withered leaves. At all events, a living and unexpected shoot sprang from the old declining stock. At the mo

ment when art languished, science shot forth; the whole labor of the age ended in this. The fruits are not unlike; on the contrary, they come from the same sap, and by the diversity of the shape only manifest two distinct periods of the inner growth which has produced them. Every art ends in a science, and all poetry in a philosophy. For science and philosophy do but translate into precise formulas the original conceptions which art and poetry render sensible by imaginary figures : when once the idea of an epoch is manifested in verse by ideal creations, it naturally comes to be expressed in prose by positive arguments. That which had struck men on escaping from ecclesiastical oppression and monkish asceticism was the pagan idea of a life true to nature, and freely developed. They had found nature buried behind scholasticism, and they had expressed it in poems and paintings; in Italy by superb healthy corporeality, England by vehement and unconventional spirituality, with such divination of its laws, instincts, and forms, that we might extract from their theatre and their pictures a complete theory of soul and body. When enthusiasm is past, curiosity begins. The sentiment of beauty gives way to the need of truth. The theory contained in works of imagination frees itself. The gaze continues fixed on nature, not to admire now, but to understand. From painting we pass to anatomy, from the drama to moral philosophy, from grand poetical divinations to great scientific views; the second continue the first, and the same mind displays itself in both; for what art had represented, and science proceeds to observe, are living things, with their complex and complete structure, set in motion by their internal forces, with no supernatural intervention. Artists and savants all set out, without knowing it themselves, from the same master conception, to wit, that nature subsists of herself, that every existence has in its own womb the source of its action, that the causes of events are the innate laws of things; an all-powerful idea, from which was to · issue the modern civilization, and which, at the time I write of, produced in England and Italy, as before in Greece, genuine sciences, side by side with a complete art: after da Vinci and Michel Angelo, the school of anatomists, mathematicians, naturalists, ending with Galileo; after Spenser, Ben Jonson, and Shakespeare, the school of thinkers who surround Bacon and lead up to Harvey.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »