ePub 版

buffoonery, were to be allowed for to him on that consideration.

Cowley stands forward as a memorable instance of the inconstancy of fame. He was a most amiable man; and the loveliness of his mind shines out in his productions. He had a truly poetic frame of soul; and he pours out the beautiful feelings that possessed him unreservedly and at large. He was a great sufferer in the Stuart cause; he had been a principal member of the court of the exiled queen; and, when the king was restored, it was a deep sentiment among his followers and friends to admire the verses of Cowley. He was “the Poet.” The royalist rhymers were set lightly by in comparison with him. Milton, the republican, who, by his collection published during the civil war, had shewn that he was entitled to the highest eminence, was unanimously consigned to oblivion. Cowley died in 1667; and the duke of Buckingham, the author of the Rehearsal, eight years after, set up his tomb in the cemetery of the nation, with an inscription, declaring him to be at once “the Pindar, the Horace and Virgil of his country, the delight and the glory of his age, which by his death was left a perpetual mourner.”—Yet-s0 capricious is fame -a century has nearly elapsed, since Pope said,

Who now reads Cowley? If he pleases yet,
His moral pleases, not his pointed wit;
Forgot his epic, nay, Pindaric art,
But still I love the language of his heart.

As Cowley was the great royalist poet after the Restoration, Cleveland stood in the same rank during the civil war. In the publication of his works one edition succeeded to another, yearly or oftener, for more than twenty years. His satire is eminently poignant; he is of a strength and energy of thinking uncommonly masculine ; and he compresses his meaning so as to give it every advantage. His imagination is full of coruscation and brilliancy. His petition to Cromwel, lord protector of England, when the poet was under confinement for his loyal principles, is a singular example of manly firmness, great independence of mind, and a happy choice of topics to awaken feelings of forbearance and clemency. It is unnecessary to say that Cleveland is now unknown, except to such as feel themselves impelled to search into things forgotten.

It would be endless to adduce all the examples that might be found of the caprices of fame. It has been one of the arts of the envious to set up a contemptible rival to eclipse the splendour of sterling merit. Thus Crowne and Settle for a time disturbed the serenity of Dryden. Voltaire says, the Phædra of Pradon has not less passion than that of Racine, but expressed in rugged verse and barbarous language. Pradon is now forgotten : and the whole French poetry of the Augustan age of Louis the Fourteenth is threatened with the same fate. Hayley for a few years was applauded as the genuine successor of Pope; and the poem of Sympathy by

Pratt went through twelve editions. For a brief period almost each successive age appears fraught with resplendent genius ; but they go out one after another; they set, “like stars that fall, to rise no more.” Few indeed are endowed with that strength of construction, that should enable them to ride triumphant on the tide of

ages. It is the same with conquerors. What tremendous battles have been fought, what oceans of blood have been spilled, by men who were resolved that their achievements should be remembered for ever! And now even their names are scarcely preserved ; and the very effects of the disasters they inflicted on mankind seem to be swept away, as of no more validity than things that never existed. Warriors and poets, the authors of systems and the lights of philosophy, men that astonished the earth, and were looked up to as Gods, even like an actor on the stage, have strutted their hour, and then been heard of no more.

Books have the advantage of all other productions of the human head or hand. Copies of them may be multiplied for ever, the last as good as the first, except so far as some slight inadvertent errors may have insinuated themselves. The Iliad flourishes as green now, as on the day that Pisistratus is said first to have stamped upon it its present order. The songs of the Rhapsodists, the Scalds, and the Minstrels, which once seemed as fugitive as the breath of him who chaunted them, re in

libraries, and are embalmed in collections. The sportive sallies of eminent wits, and the Table Talk of Luther and Selden, may live as long as there shall be men to read, and judges to appreciate them.

But other human productions have their date. Pictures, however admirable, will only last as long as the colours of which they are composed, and the substance on which they are painted. Three or four hundred years ordinarily limit the existence of the most favoured. We have scarcely any paintings of the ancients, and but a small portion of their statues, while of these a great part are mutilated, and various members supplied by later and inferior artists. The library of Bufo is by Pope described,

where busts of poets dead,

And a true Pindar stood without a head. Monumental records, alike the slightest and the most solid, are subjected to the destructive operation of time, or to the being removed at the caprice or convenience of successive generations. The pyramids of Egypt remain, but the names of him who founded them, and of him whose memory they seemed destined to perpetuate, have perished together. Buildings for the use or habitation of man do not last for ever. Mighty cities, as well as detached edifices, are destined to disappear. Thebes, and Troy, and Persepolis, and Palmyra have vanished from the face of the earth. " Thorns and brambles have grown up in their palaces: they are habitations for serpents, and a court for the owl.”

There are productions of man however that seem more durable than any of the edifices he has raised. . Such are, in the first place, modes of government. The constitution of Sparta lasted for seven hundred years. That of Rome for about the same period. Institutions, once deeply rooted in the habits of a people, will operate in their effects through successive revolutions. Modes of faith will sometimes be still more permanent. Not to mention the systems of Moses and Christ, which we consider as delivered to us by divine inspiration, that of Mahomet has continued for twelve hundred years, and may last, for aught that appears, twelve hundred more. The practices of the empire of China are celebrated all over the earth for their immutability.

This brings us naturally to reflect upon the durability of the sciences. According to Bailly, the observation of the heavens, and a calculation of the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, in other words, astronomy, subsisted in maturity in China and the East, for at least three thousand years before the birth of Christ : and, such as it was then, it bids fair to last as long as civilisation shall continue. The additions it has acquired of late years may fall away and perish, but the substance shall remain. The circulation of the blood in man and other animals, is a discovery that shall never be antiquated. And the same may be averred of the fundamental elements of geometry and of some other sciences. Knowledge, in its most considerable branches shall

« 上一頁繼續 »