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possessed any fixed political principles at all; but to have been guided all his life, either by what he selfishly considered his own interest, or by certain floating prejudices accidentally contracted, or resulting from an imperfect education. With none of his father's obstinacy, or the self-conceited pedantry of his grandfather, he was imbued with all their arbitrary notions and love of absolute power; but fortunately he loved his ease yet better, and could never be brought to persevere in any scheme for rendering his prerogative uncontroulable. It was not, however, for want of evil counsellors—" those vermin wriggling in a (sovereign's) ear"—to remind him of the far happier condition of the continental despots. They used to inculcate, that it was an easy thing to shake off the restraints of law, if he would but set about it—and they would instance Denmark, where the crown had formerly been elective and subject to a senate, and yet was changed in one day, without any visible force, into an hereditary and absolute government.* He liked the project well enough; and, probably, it often formed the vision of his waking dreams, when some refusal of the commons to grant supplies, or some infernal Brook-house committee, prying into his accounts, had sent him in an ill-humour to his daily lounge in the park. But though his apprehension was quick, and his judgement sound, his views never extended to remote consequences, or embraced any grand scheme of political operations. "As he scarce ever thought twice on any one subject, every appearance of advantage was apt to seduce him; and when he found his way obstructed by unlooked for difficulties, he readily turned aside into the first path, where he expected more to gratify the natural indolence of his disposition."+ This is what North has called " taking a short turn on his toe"—and it was a turn that often baffled and put his ministers to fault, when, in full career, in pursuit of arbitrary power. It was thus that the dangerous schemes of the cabal were broken up, and that Shaftesbury—their grand architect, who valued himself on performing this evolution at the properest occasion, and in the cleverest manner,J was obliged, in order to anticipate his majesty, to face about, without even attempting to save appearances. When the precipice, on the brink of which their violent counsels had placed him, was full before his eyes, he started back; and Shaftesbury well knew, that from the same facility of temper which had led him to retract the " declaration of indulgence," to which he had emphatically assured parliament, he "was resolved to stick," he would not scruple to abandon his ministers to their
* Burnet. t Hume. X Burnet.
vengeance also. It suited better with his versatile and pliant genius, to which he himself was inclined to, trust, to go on balancing party against party, and getting money from the commons, by pledging himself to support alliances which he had firmly resolved to break. And for some time he had such success in this royal method of swindling, that money bills passed easily in the lower house, and, by a strange reverse, were opposed in the lords, who complained, that the bills came so thick, there was no end of their giving. But occasionally his resentments—or the specious reasoning of his advisers stimulated him to play a deeper game, and to try an experiment for enlarging his authority. Such was the desperate one made by the cabal, when having broken the triple league—the only glorious or honest measure of foreign policy he was ever led to entertain, he fortified himself by an alliance with France, and began to act in all things like a monarch who was never more to be subject to the control of a national assembly.* But the ministers—who commenced with two such unusual stains to the honour of the crown, as the attack upon the Smyrna fleet in time of peace, and.stopping the bank; though they succeeded admirably in the honours they proposed to themselves, failed in elevating their master to the rank of a despotic prince. And thus instead of making so great a king as they pretended, by the declaration of war against Holland —than which no clap of thunder on a fair frosty day could have more astonished the world, and the French alliance, they had the honour of making only four great subjects.f When Sir W. Temple, in his usual frank and honest manner, took occasion to reflect upon their counsels and conduct—observing "how ill his majesty had been advised, to break measures and treaties so solemnly taken and agreed upon—how ill he had been served, and how ill succeeded :—the king said, 'twas true he had succeeded ill, but if he had been well served, he might have made a good business enough of it; and so went on a good deal to justify what was passed." In the course of the conversation, Sir William told him, " that he never knew but one foreigner that understood England well, and that was Gourville, (whom he knew the king esteemed the soundest head of any Frenchman he had ever seen)—that when he was at Brussels in the first Dutch war, and heard the parliament grew weary of it, he said, the king had nothing to do but to make peace—that he had been long enough in England—seen enough of our court, and people, and parliament, to conclude, "Qu'unRoy d' Angleterre qui veut etre l'homme de son peuple,
Hume. t Sir W. Temple. Memoirs 1672—1679.
est le plus grand Roy du monde; mais s'il veut etre quelque chose davantage, par Dieu il n'est plus rien." The king shewed symptoms of impatience at first, but listened attentively, and at length said—" he had reason in all—and so had Gourville;" and affecting an emotion, which he did not feel, the royal dissembler, laying his hand upon Temple's, added, "Et je veux etre l'homme de mon peuple!"* But though he could so well put on an air of sincerity, and was beyond doubt the most dexterous dissembler that ever wore a crown, he could not escape the suspicions of his people, or prevent their drawing inferences from facts only too glaring and palpable. It was observed, that he never had any favourite—that his ministers never really governed him—scarce even his mistresses;—the conclusion required no depth of sagacity—he must be himself the chief spring of all public counsels, and the root of all the iniquitous measures of his government. And, in truth, as some persons are thought to possess an inherent propensity to appropriating whatever is not their own, so Charles appears to have had a constant lurking predisposition to arbitrary measures. But he himself could have assigned a much better reason for his love of power. He told Burnet, that he thought " government was a much safer and easier thing where the authority was believed to be infallible, and the faith and submission of the people were implicit." Besides, there was such an inviting simplicity in a despotical form! It was so much easier and pleasanter to levy money for his pleasures, like his brother Louis, by the royal prerogative, than to have all the trouble—a thing he hated worse than aught in the world besides, which the strict limitations of the English constitution imposed upon him—of humouring a set of discontented men, and resorting to unkingly contrivances to procure it. His observations on the French government had been such, that he thought" a king who might be checked, or have his ministers called to account by a parliament, was but a king in name."f Opinions of this sort seldom failed to meet with the ready assent of the court flatterers—" those bell-wethers of royalty" as some uncivil writer terms them, who were always reflecting upon the insolence of the house of commons. He once said to Lord Essex, as that nobleman told Burnet, " that he did not wish to be like a grand sultan, with some mutes about him, and bags of bowstrings to strangle men. But he did not think he was a king, as long as a company of fellows were looking into all his actions, and examining his ministers, as well as his accounts."
Sir W. Temple. Memoirs 1672—1679. t Burnet.
Art. II.—Poems, &>c. by John Donne, late Dean of St. Paul's, with Elegies on the Author's Death. To which is added, Divers Copies under his own hand, never before printed. In the Savoy. Printed by T. N. for Henry Herringman, at the sign of the Anchor, in the Lower Walk of the New Exchange, 1669.
Theobald, in his egregious preface to Shakspeare, calls Donne's Poems "nothing but a continued heap of riddles."— We shall presently show that he knew as little about Donne as he himself has shewn that he knew about Shakspeare. If he could have written such " riddles," or even expounded them, Pope might have put him into the Dutuiad in vain.
Donne was contemporary with Shakspeare, and was not unworthy to be so. He may fairly be placed, in point of talent, at the head of the minor poets of that day. Imbued, to saturation, with all the learning of his age—with a most active and piercing intellect—an imagination, if not grasping and comprehensive, most subtle and far-darting—a fancy rich, vivid, picturesque, and, at the same time, highly fantastical,— if we may so apply the term—a mode of expression singularly terse, simple, and condensed—an exquisite ear for the melody of versification—and a wit, admirable as well for its caustic severity as its playful quickness; all he wanted to make him an accomplished poet of the second order was, sensibility and taste: and both of these he possessed in a certain degree; but neither in a sufficient degree to keep them from yielding to the circumstances in which he was placed. His sensibility was by nature strong, but sluggish and deep-seated. It required to be roused and awakened by the imagination, before it would act; and this process seldom failed to communicate to the action which it created, an appearance of affectation (for it was nothing more than the appearance), which is more destructive to the effect of sentimental poetry than any thing else. We do not mind the images and illustrations of a sentiment being recondite and far-fetched; and, indeed, this has frequently a good effect; but if the sentiment itself has any appearance of being so, we doubt the truth of it immediately; and if we doubt its truth, we are disposed to give it any reception rather than a sympathetic one. The scholastic habits of Donne's intellect also, without weakening his sensibility, contributed greatly to . deform and denaturalize its outward manifestations. It was not the fashion of his time for a scholar and a poet to express himself as other people would; for if he had done so, what advantage would he or the world have derived from his poetry or his scholarship? Accordingly, however intense a feeling might be, or however noble a thought, it was to be heightened and illustrated, in the expression of it, by clustering about it a host of images and associations (congruous or not, as it might happen),- which memory or imagination, assisted by the most quick-eyed wit, or the most subtle ingenuity, could in any way contrive to link to it: thus pressing the original thought or sentiment to death, and hiding even the form of it, beneath a profusion of superfluous dress. This was the crying fault of all the minor poets of the Elizabethan age; and of Donne more than of any other: though his thoughts and feelings would, generally speaking, bear this treatment better than those of any of his rivals in the same class. These persons never acted avowedly, (though they sometimes did unconsciously) on the principle that an idea or a sentiment may be poetical per se; for they had no notion whatever of the fact. They considered that man was the creator of poetry, not Nature; and that any thing might be made poetical, by connecting it, in a certain manner, with something else. A thought or a feeling was, to them, not a thing to express, but a theme to write variations upon—a nucleus, about which other thoughts and feelings were to be made to crystallize. A star was not bright to their eyes till it had been set in a constellation; a rose was not sweet till it had been gathered into a bouquet, and its hue and odour contrasted and blended with a thousand others. In fact, they had little simplicity of feeling, and still less of taste. They did not know the real and intrinsic value of any object, whether moral or physical; but only in what manner it might be connected with any other object, so as to be made subservient to their particular views at the moment. They saw at once how far it was available to them, but nothing whatever of the impression it was calculated to make for itself.
We are speaking, now, of a particular class or school of poets of that day; for they differed as much from all others, and were as much allied by a general resemblance of style among themselves, as the Della Cruscan school in our own day. Indeed, in some particulars, there is no slight resemblance between the two styles; inasmuch, as both are purely artificial, and are dependent for their effect on a particular manner of treating their subject: at least, their intended effect is dependent on this—for the school to which Donne belongs often delights us in the highest degree, not in consequence of this manner, but in spite of it. There is also this other grand difference in favour of the latter,—that, whereas the Della Cruscans tried to make things poetical by means of tcords alone, they did it by means of thoughts and