網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

But when thou'st drunk, and danced, and sung

Thy fill, the flowery leaves among,

(Voluptuous and wise withal,

Epicurean animal!)

Sated with thy summer feast,

Thou retir'st to endless rest.

The following are four stanzas of one of his best pieces, entitled

HYMN TO LIGHT.

Hail! active Nature's watchful life and health!
Her joy, her ornament, and wealth!
Hail to thy husband, Heat, and thee 1

Thou the world's beauteous bride, the lusty bridegroom he I

Say, from what golden quivers of the sky

Do all thy winged arrows fly 1

Swiftness and Power by birth are thine;

From thy great Sire they come, thy Sire, the Word Divine.

Thou in the moon's bright chariot, proud and gay,

Dost thy bright wood of stars survey,

And all the year dost with thee bring

Of thousand flowery lights thine own nocturnal spring.

Thou, Scythian-like, dost round thy lands above

The Sun's gilt tent for ever move,

And still, as thou in pomp dost go,

The shining pageants of the world attend thy show.

Cowley's prose essays are much better than his poetry. Dr. Johnson, in speaking of them, says, " His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-sought or hard-labored; but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar witliout grossness:" and Dr. Drake, one of the most judicious of modern critics, remarks, that "to Cowley we may justly ascribe the formation of a basis on which has since been constructed the present correct and admirable fabric of our language. His words are pure and well chosen, the collocation simple and perspicuous, and the members of his sentences distinct and harmonious."

ON MYSELF.

It is a hard and nice subject for a man to write of himself; it grates his own heart to say any thing of disparagement, and the reader's ears to hear any thing of praise from him. There is no danger from me of offending him in this kind; neither my mind, nor my body, nor my fortune, allow me any materials for that vanity. It is sufficient, for my own contentment, that they have preserved me from being scandalous, or remarkable on the defective side. As far as my memory can return back into my past life, before I knew or was capable of guessing what the world, or glories, or business of it were, the natural affections of my soul gave a secret bent of aversion from them, as some plants are said to turn away from others, by an antipathy imperceptible to thei;iseivoy, and inscrutable to man's understanding. Even when I was a very young boy at school, instead of running about on holidays, and playing with my fellows, I was wont to steal from them, and walk into the fields, either alone with a book or with some one companion, if I could find any of the same temper. That I was then of the same mind as I am now, (which, I confess, I wonder at myself,) may appear at the latter end of an ode which I made when I was but thirteen years old, and which was then printed, with many other verses. The beginning of it is boyish; but of this part which I here set down, (if a very little were corrected,) I should hardly now be much ashamed.

This only grant me, that my means may Lie-
Too low for envy, for contempt too high.

Some honor I would have,
Not from great deeds, but good alone;
Th' unknown are better than ill-known.

Rumor can ope the grave:
Acquaintance I would have; but when t depends
Not on the number, but the choice of friends.

Books should, not business, entertain the light,
And sleep, as undisturb"d as death, the night.

My house a cottage, more
Than palace, and should fitting be
For all my use, no luxury.

My garden painted o'er
With Nature's hand, not art's; and pleasures yield,
Horace might envy in his Sabine field.

Thus would I double my life's fading space,
For he Uiat runs it well, twice runs his race.

And in this true delight,
These unboaght sports, that happy state,
1 would not fear nor wish my fate,

But boldly say cacli night.
To-morrow let my sun his beams display,
Or in clouds hide them; I have lived to-day.

You may see by it I was even then acquainted with the poets, (for the conclusion is taken out of Horace;) and perhaps it was the immature and immoderate love of them which stamped first, or rather engraved, the characters in nie. They were like letters cut in the bark of a young tree, which, with the tree, still grow proportionably. But how this love came to be produced in me so early, is a hard question: I believe I can tell the particular little chance that filled my head first with such chimes of verse as have never since left ringing there: for I remember when I began to read, and take some pleasure in it, there was wont to lie in my mother's parlour, (I know not by what accident, for she herself never in her life read any book but of devotion;) but there was wont to lie Spenser's works; this I happened to fall upon, and was infinitely delighted with the stories of the knights, and giants, and monsters, and brave houses, which I found everywhere there,

Sthough my understanding had little to do with all this ;) and by legrees, with the tinkling of the rhyme, and dance of the numbers; so that I think I had read him all over before I was twelve years old. With these affections of mind, and my heart wholly set upon letters, I went to the university; but was soon torn from thence by that public violent storm, which would suffer nothing to stand where it did, but rooted up every plant, even from the princely cedars to me, the hyssop. Yet I had as good fortune as could have befallen me in such a tempest; for I was cast by it into the family of one of the best persons, and into the court of one of the best princesses in the world. Now, though I was here engaged in ways most contrary to the original design of my life; that is, into much company, and no small business, and into a daily sight of greatness, both militant and triumphant, (for that wns the state then of the English and the French courts;) yet all tins was so far from altering my opinion, that it only added the confirmation of reason to that which was before but natural inclination. I saw plainly alt the paint of that kind of life, the nearer I came to it; and that beauty which I did not fall in love with, when, for aught I knew, it was real, was not like to bewitch or entice me when I saw it was adulterate. I met with several great persons whom I liked very well, but could not perceive that any part of their greatness was to be liked or desired, no more than I would be glad or content Jo be in a storm, though I saw many ships which rid safely and bravely in it. A storm would not agree with my stomach, if it did with my courage; though I was in a crowd of as good company as could be found anywhere, though I was in business of great and honorable trust, though I eat at the best table, and enjoyed the best conveniences for present subsistence that ought to be desired by a man of my condition, in banish- > merit and public distresses; yet I could not abstain from renewing my old schoolboy's wish, in a copy of verses to the same effect:

Well, then, I now do plainly see

This busy world and I shall ne'er agree, &c.

And I never then proposed to myself any other advantage from his majesty's happy restoration, but the getting into some moderately convenient retreat in the country, which I thought in that case I might easily have compassed, as well as some others, who, with no greater probabilities or pretences, have arrived to extraordinary fortunes.

THE PLEASURES OF A COUNTRY LIFE.

The first wish of Virgil was, to be a good philosopher; the second, a good husbandman; and God (whom he seemed to understand better than most of the most learned heathens) dealt with him just as he did with Solomon; because he prayed for wisdom in the first place, he added all things else which were subordinately to be desired. He made him one of the best philosophers and best husbandmen; and to adorn both those faculties, the best poet: he made him, besides all this, a rich man, and a man who desired to be no richer. To be a husbandman is but a retreat from the city; to be a philosopher, from the world; or rather, a retreat from the world as it is man's, into the world as it is God's. But since nature denies to most men the capacity or appetite, and fortune allows but to a very few the opportunities or possibility of applying themselves wholly to philosophy, the best mixture of human affairs that we can make are the employments of a country life.

We are here among the vast and noble scenes of nature; we are there (alluding to courts and cities) among the pitiful shifts of policy: we walk here in the light and open ways of the divine bounty; we grope there in the dark and confused labyrinths of human malice: our senses are here feasted with the clear and genuine taste of their objects, which are all sophisticated there, and for the most part overwhelmed with their contraries. Here pleasure looks (methinks) like a beautiful, constant, and modest wife; it is there an impudent, fickle, and painted harlot. Here is harmless and cheap plenty, there guilty and expenseful luxury.

I shall only instance in one delight more, the most natural and best natured of all others, a perpetual companion of the husbandman; and that is, the satisfaction of looking round about him, and seeing nothing but the effects and improvements of his own art and diligence: to be always gathering of some fruits of it, and at the same time to behold others ripening, and others budding; to see all his fields and gardens covered with the beauteous creations of his own industry; and to see, like God, that all his works are good.

CHARACTER OF CROMWELL.1

What can be more extraordinary than that a person of mean birth, no fortune, no eminent qualities of body, which have sometimes, or of mind, which have often, raised men to the highest dignities, should have the courage to attempt, and the happiness to succeed in, so improbable a design as the destruction of one of the most ancient and most solidly-founded monarchies upon the earth? That he should have the power or boldness to put his prince and master to an open and infamous death; to banish that numerous

1 *' Cowley's character of Oliver Cromwell, which Is Intended aa a satire, (though It certainly pro daces a very different impression on the. nilnJ,) may vie for truth of outline and force of coloring with tne maater-pleces of the Greek and Latin historians."- -HaaHU.

and strongly-allied family; to do all this under the name and wages of a parliament; to trample upon them too as he pleased, and spurn them out of doors when he grew weary of them; to raise up a new and unheard-of monster out of their ashes; to stifle that in the very infancy, and set up himself above all things that ever were called sovereign in England; to oppress all his enemies by arms, and all his friends afterwards by artifice; to serve all parties patiently for awhile, and to command them victoriously at last; to over-run each corner of the three nations, and overcome with equal facility both the riches of the south and the poverty of the north; to be feared and courted by all foreign princes, and adopted a brother to the gods of the earth; to call together parliaments with a word of his pen, and scatter them again with the breath of his mouth; to be humbly and daily petitioned that he would please to be hired, at the rate of two millions a year, to be the master of those who had hired him before to be their servant; to have the estates and lives of three kingdoms as much at his disposal as was the little inheritance of his father, and to be as noble and liberal in the spending of them; and lastly (for there is no end of all the particulars of his glory,) to bequeath all this with one word to his posterity; to die with peace at home, and triumph abroad; to be buried among kings, and with more than regal solemnity; and to leave a name behind him, not to be extinguished, but with the whole world; which, as it is now too little for his praises, so might have been too for his conquests, if the short line of his human life could have been stretched out to the extent of his immortal designs?

SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT. 1005—1GG8.

Sik William Davexaht, though now read chiefly by the antiquary in English literature, had, in his lifetime,considerable celebrity as a writer. He was born in 1605 at Oxford, where his father kept an inn, and was educated at that university. He early began to write for the stage, and on Ben Jonson's death was made Poet-Laureate.' In die civil wars he held a considerable post in the army, and was knighted by the king; but on the decline of the royalists, whose cause he had espoused, he soughtrefugo in France, where

1 From the LaUn ftrvrrarsj, "crowned with laurel." Under the Roman emperors, poets contended st the public frames, and the prize was a cro.vn of oak or olive leaves. From this custom, most of Uie European sovcreUjns assumed the privilege of notulnaUng a court poet with various UUcs. *h Enff•and, traces of this office are found as early as the reign of Henry 111, {1216—1272.) but the express lite, poet-laureate, does not occur till the rclgn of Edward IV., (1401—1483.) when John Kay received the appointment. The office was made patent by Charles I., and the salary fixed at £100 per year, srul a tierce of wine. In the relirn of Oeorgu III. the salary was Increased, and the wine dispensed srtUi, and also Uie custom of requiring annual odes. The succession of poets-laureate has been, I believe, since Davcnanl's day, John Drydcn, Xahum Tate, Nicholas Howe, Laurence Eusden. CoLey Ci.iber. WUliuni Whitehead, Thomas Warton, Henry James Pye, ami Robert Souther

« 上一頁繼續 »