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mity of sentiment, which enables us to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasure of other minds; they never enquired what, on any occasion, they should have said or done; but wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature, as bem ngs looking upon good and evil, impassive and at leisure, as Epicurean deities, making remarks on the actions of men, and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondness, and their lamentation of sorrow. Their wish was only to say what they hoped had never been said before.
Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetic; for they never attempted that comprehension and expanse of thought, which at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is sudden astonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always general, and consist in positions not limited by exceptions, and in descriptions not descending to minuteness.' It is with great propriety that subtlety, which in its original import means exility of particles, is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of distinction. Those writers, who lay on the watch for novelty, could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation. Their attempts were always analytic; they broke every image into fragments, and could no more represent, by their slender conceits and Jaboured particularities, the prospects of nature, or the scenes of life, than he, who dissects a sun-beam with a prism, can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon.
What they wanted however of the sublime, they endeavoured to supply by hy, perbole; their amplification had no limits; they left not only reason but fancy be. • hind them, and produced combinations of confused magnificence, that not only could not be credited, but could not be imagined.
Yet great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly lost: if they fre. quently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth: if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan it was at least necessary to read and think. No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by de. scriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similes, by readiness of rhyme, and volubility of syllables.
In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by re. collection or inquiry: either something already learned is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value, and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuity, and polished to ele. gance, may give lustre to works, which have more propriety, though less copiousness, of sentiment.
This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his fol. lowers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and various knowledge; and by Jonson, whose manner resembled that of Donne more in the ruggedness of his lines, than in the cast of his sentiments.
When their reputation was high, they had undoubtedly more imitators than time has left behind. Their immediate successors, of whom any remembrance can be said to remain, were Suckling, Waller, Denham, Cowley, Cleiveland, and Milton. Denham and Waller sought another way to fame, by improving the harmony of our numbers. Milton tried the metaphysic style only in his lines upon Hobson the carrier. Cowley adopted it, and excelled his predecessors, having as much sentiment and more music. Suckling neither improved versification, nor abounded in conceits. The fashionable style remained chiefly with Cowley ; Suckling could not reach it, and Milton disdained it.
CRITICAL remarks are not easily understood without examples; and I hare therefore collected instances of the modes of writing by which this species of pocts (for poets they were called by themselves and their admirers) was eminently distinguished.
As the authors of this race were perhaps more desirous of being admired than understood, they sometimes drew their conceits from recesses of learning not very much frequented by common readers of poetry. Thus Cowley on Knowledge.
The sacred tree 'midst the fair orchard grew,
The phænix Truth did on it rest,
And built his perfum'd nest :
Each leaf did learned notions give,
And th' apples were demonstrative:
On Anacreon continuing a lover in his old age.
Love was with thy life entwin'd,
In the following verses we have an allusion to a rabbinical opinion concerning
Variety I ask not: give me one
Thus Donne shows his medicinal knowledge in some encomiastic verses.
In every thing there naturally grows
If 'twere not injur'd by extrinsique blows
But you, of learning and religion,
A mithridate, whose operation
Though the following lines of Donne, on the last night of the year, have something in them too scholastic, they are not inelegant.
This twilight of two years, not past nor next,
Some emblem is of me, or I of this,
Whose what and where in disputation is,
If I should call me any thing, should miss.
Debtor to th' old, nor creditor to th' new.
Nor trust I this witla 110pes; and yet scarce true
Yet more abstruse and profound is Donne's reflection upon man as a microcosm.
If men be worlds, there is in every one
Of thoughts so far-fetched, as to be not only unexpected, but unnatural, all their books are full.
To a Lady who made Posies for Rings.
For it wanteth one as yet,
The difficulties, which have been raised about identity in philosophy, are by Cowley with still more perplexity applied to love.
Five years ago (says Story) I lov'd you,
The love of different women is, in geographical poetry, compared to travels through different countries,
Hast thou not found each woman's breast
Or wild, and uninhabited ?
Rages with immoderate heat;
In others makes the cold too great.
A lover, burnt up by his affection, is compared to Egypt.
The fate of Egypt I sustain,
And never feel the dew of rain
But all my too much moisture owe
The lover supposes his lady acquainted with the ancient laws of augury and rites of sacrifice.
And yet this death of mine, I fear,
That the chaos was harmonised, has been recited of old; but whence the different sounds arose remained for a modern to discover.
Th' ungovern'd parts no correspondence knew,
The tears of lovers are always of great poetical account; but Donne has es. tended them into worlds. If the lines are not easily understood, they may be read again.
On a round ball
An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,
So doth each tear,
Which thee doth wear,
On reading the following lines, the reader may perhaps cry out-Confusion worse confounded.
Who but Donne would have thought, that a good man is a telescope ?
Though God be our true glass, through which we see
Who would imagine it possible, that in a very few lines so many remote ideas could be brought together?
Since 'tis my doom, Love's undershrieve,
Why this reprieve?
By candle's end,
Life's taper out?
Of enormous and disgusting hyperboles, these may be examples :
By every wind that comes this way,
Send me at least a sigh or two,