« 上一頁繼續 »
The king was plac'd alone, and o'er his head
Whatever he writes is always polluted with some conceit:
Where the Sun's fruitful beams give metals birth,
In one passage he starts a sudden question to the confusion of philosophy:
Ye learned heads, whom ivy garlands grace,
Flis expressions have sometimes a degree of meanness that surpasses expectation:
Nay, gentle guests, he cries, since now you're in,
In a simile descriptive of the morning:
As glimmering stars just at th' approach of day,
The dress of Gabriel deserves attention :
He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright,
This is a just specimen of Cowley's imagery: what might in general expressions be great and forcible, he weakens and makes ridiculous by branching it into small parts. That Gabriel was invested with the softest or brightest colours of the sky, we might have been told, and been dismissed to improve the idea in our different proportions of conception; but Cowley could not let us go till he hail related where Gabriel got first his skin, and then his mantle, then his lace, and then his scarfe, and related it in the terms of the mercer and taylor.
Sometimes he indulges himself in a digression, always conceived with his natural exuberance, and commonly, even where it is not long, continued till it is tedious :
l'th' library a few choice authors stood,
Writing, man's spiritual physic, was not then
As the Davideis aflords only four books, though intended to consist of twelve, there is no no opportunity for such criticism as epic poems commonly supply. The plan of the whole work is very imperfectly shown by the third part. The duration of an unfinished action cannot be known. Of characters either not yet introduced, or shown but upon few occasions, the full extent and the nice discrimina. tions cannot be ascertained. The fable is plainly implex, formed rather from the Odyssey than the Iliad : and many artifices of diversification are employed, with the skill of a man acquainted with the best models. The past is recalled by narration, and the future anticipated by vision : but he has been so lavish of his poeti. cal art, that it is difficult to imagine how he could fill eight books more without practising agaiu the same modes of disposing his matter; and perhaps the perception of this growing incumbranceinclined him to stop. By this abruption, posterity lost more instruction than delight. If the continuation of the Davideis can be missed, it is for the learning that had been diffused over it, and the notes in which it had been explained.
Had not his characters been depraved, like every other part, by improper decorations, they would have deserved uncommon praise. He gives Saul both the body and mind of a hero :
His way once chose, he forward thrust outright,
And the different beauties of the lofty Merah and the gentle Michol justly conceived and strongly painted.
Rymer has declared the Davideis superior to the Jerusalem of Tasso, “which,” says he, “ the post, with all his care, has not totally purged from pedantry.” If by pedantry is meant that minute knowledge which is derived from particular sciences and studies, in opposition to the general notions supplied by a wide survey of life and nature, Cowley certainly errs, by introducing pedantry, far more frequently than Tasso. I know not, indeed, why they should be compared; for the resemblance of Cowley's work to Tasso's, is only that they both exhibit the agency of celestial and infernal spirits, in which however they differ widely; for Cowley supposes them commonly to operate upon the mind by suggestion ; Tasso represents them as promoting or obstructing events by external agency.
of particular passages that can be properly compared, I remember only the de. scription of Heaven, in which the different manner of the two writers is sufficiently discernible. Cowley's is scarcely description, unless it be possible to describe by negatives ; for he tells us only what there is not in Heaven. Tasso endeavours to represent the splendours and pleasures of the regions of happiness. Tasso af. fords iniages, and Cowley sentiments. It happens, however, that Tasso's description affords some reason for Rymer's censure. He says of the Supreme Being,
Ha sotto i piedi e fato e la natura
The second line has in it more of pedantry than perhaps can be found in any other stanza of the poem.
In the perusal of the Davideis, as of all Cowley's works, we find wit and learn. ing unprofitably squandered. Attention has no relief; the affections are never moved; we are sonietimes surprised, but never delighted, and find much to admire, but little to approve. Still however, it is the work of Cowley, of a mind capacious by nature, and replenished by study.
In the general review of Cowley's poctry it will be found, that he wrote with abundant fertility, but negligent or unskilful selection; with much thought, but with little imagery; that he is never pathetic, and rarely sublime; but always either ingenious or learned, either acute or profound.
It is said by Denham in his elegy,
To him no author was unknown,
This wide position requires less limitation, when it is afirmed of Cowley, than per. haps of any other poet. He read much, and yet borrowed little.
His character of writing was indeed not his own: he unhappily adopted that which was predominant. He saw a certain way to present praise; and, not sufficiently inquiring by what means the ancients have continued to delight through all the changes of human manners, he contented himself with a deciduous laurel, of which the verdure in its spring was bright and gay, but which time has been continually stealing from his brows.
He was in his own time considered as of unrivalled excellence. Clarendon represents him as having taken a slight beyond all that went before him; and Milton is said to have declared, that the three greatest English poets were Spenser, Shaka speare, and Cowley,
His manner he had in common with others; but his sentiments were his own. Upon every subject he thought for himself ; and such was his copiousness of know. ledige, that something at once remote and applicable rushed into his mind; yet it is not likely that he always rejected a commodious idea merely because another had used it: his known wealth was so great, that he might have borrowed without loss of credit.
In his elegy on .sir Henry Wotton, the last lines have such resemblance to the noble epigram of Grotius on the death of Scaliger, that I cannot but think them co. pied from it, though they are copied by no servile hand.
One passage in his Mistress is so apparently borrowed from Donne, that he pro. bably would not have written it, had it pot mingled with his own thoughts, so as that he did not perceive himself taking it from another :
Although I think thou never found wilt be,
Yet I'm rc.dlyd to search for thee;
The search itself rewaris the pains.
Yet things well worth his toil he gains :
And does his charge and labour pay
Some that have deeper diggd Love's mine than I,
I have lov'd, and got, and told ;
Oh, 'tis imposture all!
But glorifies his pregnant put,
If by the way to him befal
So lovers dream a rich and long delight,
Jonson and Donne, as Dr. Hurd remarks, were then in the highest esteem.
It is related by Clarendon, that Cowley always acknowledges his obligation to the learning and industry of Jouson; but I have found o traces of Jonson in his works: to emulate Donne appears to have been his purpose; and from Donne he may have learned that familiarity with religious images, and that light allusion to sacred things, by which readers far short of sanctity are frequently ofleuded; and which would not be borne in the present age, when devotion, perhaps not more fervent, is more delicate.
Having produced one passage taken by Cowley from Donne, I will recompense him by another which Milton seems to have borrowed from him. He says of Goliah,
His spear, the trunk was of a lofty tree,
Milton of Satan :
His spear, to equal which the tallest pine
His diction was in his own time censured as negligent. He seems not to have known, or not to have considered, that words, being arbitrary, must owe their power to association, and have the influence, and that only, which custom has given them. Language is the dress of thought: and as the noblest mien, or most graceful action, would be degraded and obscured by a garb appropriated to the gross employments of rustics or, mechanics; so the most heroic sentiments will lose their efficacy, and the most splendid ideas drop their magnificence, if they are conveyed by words used
eommonly upon low and trivial occasions, debased by vulgar mouths, and conta. minated by inelegant applications.
Truth indeed is always truth, and reason is always reason; they have an intrinsic and unalterable value, and constitute that intellectual gold which defies destruction; but gold may be so concealed in baser matter, that only a chymist can recover it; seuse may be so hidden in unrefined and plebeian words, that none but philosophers can distinguish it; and both may be so buried in impurities, as not to pay the cost of their extraction.
The diction, being the yehicle of the thoughts, first presents itself to the intel. lectual eye: and if the first appearance ofiends, a further knowledge is not often sought. Whatever professes to benefit by pleasing, must please at once. sures of the mind imply something sudden and unexpected ; that which elevates must always surprise. What is perceived by slow degrees may gratify us with consciousness of improvement, but will never strike with the sense of pleasure.
Of all this, Cowley appears to have been without knowledge, or without care. He makes no selection of words, nor seeks any neatness of phrase: hạ has no ele. gaucies either lucky or elaborate: as his endeavours were rather to impress sentences upon the understanding than images on the fancy; he has few epithets, and those scattered without peculiar propriety or nice adaptation. It seems to follow from the necessity of the subject, rather than the care of the writer, that the diction of his heroic poem is less familiar than that of his slightest writings. He has given not the same numbers, but the same diction, to the gentle Anacreon and the tempestu. ous Pindar.
His versification seems to have had very little of his care; and if what he thinks be true, that his numbers are unmusical only when they are ill-read, the art of reading them is at present lost; for they are commonly harsh to modern ears. He has in. deed many noble lines, such as the feeble care of Waller never could produce. The bulk of his thoughts sometimes swelled his verse to unexpected and inevitable gran. deur; but his excellence of this kind is merely fortuitous: he sinks willingly down to his general carelessness, and avoids with very little care either meanness asperity.
His contractions are often rugged and harsh :
One flings a mountain, and its rivers too
His rhymes are very often made by pronouns, or particles, or the like unimpor. tant words, which disappoint the ear, and destroy the energy of the line.
His combination of different measures is sometimes dissonant and unpleasing; he joins verses together, of which the former does not slide easily into the latter,
The words do and did, which so much degrade in present estimation the line that admits them, were in the time of Cowley little censured or avoided : how often he used thein, and with how bad an effect, at least to our ears, will appear by a passage, in which every reader will lameut to see just and noble thoughts defrauded of their praise by inelegance of language: