ePub 版

such, which, though of their own coin, they would have called in themselves, for the baseness of the allay: whether this proceed froin the in:liscretion of their friends, who think a vast heap of stones or rubbish a better monument than a little tomb of marble ; or by the unworthy avarice of some stationers, who are content to diminish the value of the author, so they may increase the price of the book ; and, like rinteers, with sophisticate mixtures, spoil the whole vessel of wine, to make it yield more profit. This has been the case with Shakespeare, Fletcher, Jonson, and many others; part of whose poems I should take the boldness t. prune and lop away, if the care of replanting them in print did belong to me: neither would I make any s ruple to cut off from some the unnecessary young suckers, and from others the old withered branches ; for a great wit is no more tied to live in a vast volume, than in a gigantic body ; on the contrary, it is commonly more vigorous, the less space it animates. And, as Statius says of little Tydeus',

-Tetos infusa per artus
Major in exiguo regnabat corpore virtus,

I am not ignorant, that by saying this of others, I expose myself to some raillery, for not using the same serere discretion in my own case, where it concerns me nearer: but though I publish here more than in strict wisdom I ought to have dune, yet I have supprest and cast away more than I publish ; and, for the ease of myself and others, have lost, I believe too, more than both. And upon these considerations I have been persuaded to overcome all the just repugnancies of my own modesty, and to produce these poems to the light and view of the world; not as a thing that I approved of in itself, but as a less eril, which I chose rather than to stay till it were done for me by some body else, either surreptitiously before, or arowedly after, my death: and this will be the more excusable, when the reader shall know in what respects he may look upon me as a dead, or at least a dying person, and upon my muse in this action, as appearing, like the emperor Charles the Fifth, and assisting at her own funeral.

For, to make myself absolutely dead in a poetical capacity, my resolution at present is, never to exerrise any more that faculty. It is, I confess, but seldom seen, that the poet dies before the man ; for, when we once fall in love with that bewitching art, we do not use to court it as a mistress, but marry it as a wife, and take it for better or worse, as an inseparable companion of our whole life. But, as the marriages of infants do but rarely prosper, so no man ought to wonder at the diminution or decay of my affection to presy; to which I had contracted myself so much under age, and so much to my own prejudice in regard of those more profitable matches, which I might have made among the richer sciences. As for the portion which this brings of fame, it is an estate (if it be any, for men are not oftener deceived in their hopes of widows, than in their opinion of exegi monumentum ære perennius) that, hardly ever comes in whilst we are living to enjoy it, but is a fantastical kind of reversion to our own-selves : neither ought any man to envy poets this posthumous and imaginary happiness, since they find commonly so little in present, that it may be truly applied to them, which St. Paul speaks of the first Christians, “ If their reward be in this life, they are of all men the most miserable.”

And, if in quiet and flourishing times they meet with so small encouragement, what are they to expect in rough and troubled ones ? If wit be such a plant, that it scarce receives heat enough to preserve it alive eren in the summer of our cold climate, how can it choose but wither in a long and a sharp winter? Awarlike, various, and a tragical age is best to write of, but worst to write in. And I may, though in a very unequal proportion, assume that to myself, which was spoken by Tully to a much better person, upon occasion of the civil wars and revolutions in his time: Sed in te intuens, Brute, doleo: cujus in adolescentiam, per medias laudes, quasi quadrigis vehentem, transversa incurrit misera fortuna reipublicæ.3

Neither is the present constitution of my mind more proper than that of the times for this exercise, or rather divertisement. There is nothing that requires so much serenity and chcarfulness of spirit; it must not be either overwhelmed with the cares of life, or overcast with the clouds of melancholy and sore row, or shaken and disturbed by the storms of injurious fortune; it must, like the halcyon, have fair weather to breed in. The soul must be filled with bright and delightful ideas, when it undertakes to . communicate delight to others; which is the main end of poesy. One may see through the style of Ovid

[blocks in formation]

de Trist. the humble and dejected eondition of spirit with which he wrate it; there scarce remains any footstep of that genius,

-quem nec Jovis ira, nec ignes 4, &c.

The cold of the country had strucken through all his faculties, and benumbed the very feet of his versos. He is himself, methius, like one of the stories of his own Metamorphosis ; and, though there remain soine wcak resemblances of Ovid at Rome, it is but, as he says of Niobe, s

In vultu color est sine sanguine: lumina moestis
Stant immota genis : nihil est in imagine vivum.-
Flet tamen-

The truth is, for a man to write well, it is necessary to be in good humour; neither is wit less eclipsed with the unquietness of mind, than beauty with the indisposition of body. So that it is almost as hard a thing to be a poet in despite of fortune, as it is despite of nature. For my own part, neither iny obligations to the Muses, nor expectations from them, are so great, as that I should suffer myself on no considerations to be divorced, or that I should say like Horace, 6

Quisquis erit vitæ, scribam, color.

I shall rather use his words in another place, ?

Vixi camenis nuper idoneus,
Et militavi non sine gloriâ :
Nunc arma, defunctúmque bello

Barbiton liic paries habebit.

And this resolution of mine does the more besit me, because my desire has been for some years past (though the execution has been accidentally diverted) and does still vehemently continue, to retire myself to some of our American plantations, not to seek for gold, or enrich myself with the traffic of those parts, (which is the end of most men that travel thither; so that of these Indies it is truer than it was of the former,

Impiger extremos enrrit mercator ad Indos,
Per mare pauperiem fugiens_8

į but to forsake this world for ever, with all the vanities and vexations of it, and to bury myself there ia

some obscure retreat, (but not without the consolation of letters and philosophy)

Oblitusque mevrum, obliviscendus & illis-9

as my former author speaks too, who has enticed me here, I know not how, into the pedantry of this heap of Latin sentences. And I think Dr. Donne's sun-dyal in a grave is not more useless and ridiculous, than poetry would be in that retirement. As this therefore is in a true sense a kind of death to the Muses, and a real literal quitting of this world; so, methinks, I may make a just claim to the undoubted privilege of deceased poets, which is, to be read with more favour than the living ;

Tanti est ut placeam tibi, perire. '

Tlaving been forced, for my own necessary justification, to trouble the reader with this long discourse

4 Metam. l. xv. 871.
5 Metam. I. vi, 304.
6 Hur. 2 Sat. i. 60.
7 Hor. 3 Carm. xxvi. Vixi puellis, &c.

8 Hor. 1 lip. i. 45.
9 Hor. I Ep. xi. 9.

Martial, 8 Ep.

of the reasons why I trouble him also with all the rest of the book; I shall only add somewhat concerne ing the several parts of it, and some other pieces, which I have thought fit to reject in this publication : as, first, all those which I wrote at school, from the age of ten years, till after fifteen ; for even so far backward there remain yet some traces of me in the little footsteps of a child; which, though they were then looked upon as commendable extravagancies in a boy, (men setting a value upon any kind of fruit before the usual season of it) yet I would be loth to be bound now to read them all over myself; and therefore should do ill to expect that patience from others. Besides, they have already past through vereral e litions, which is a longer life than uses to be enjoyed by infants that are born before the ordinary terms. They had the good fortune then to find the world so indulgent (for, considering the time of their production, who could be so hard-hearted to be severe?) that I scarce yet apprehend so much to be censured for them, as for not having made advances afterwards proportionable to the speed of my setting out; and am obliged too in a manner by oliscretion to conceal and suppress them, as promises and instruments under my own hand, whereby I stood engaged for more than I have been able to perform ; in which truly, if I bave failed, I have the real excuse of the honestest sort of bankrupts, shich is, to have been made unsolvable not so much by their own negligence and ill husbandry, as hy some notorious accidents and public disasters. In the next place, I have cast away all such pieces as I #mte during the time of the late troubles, with any relation to the differences that caused them; as, among others, three books of the civil war itself, reaching as far as the first battle of Newbury, where the succeeding misfortunes of the party stopt the work.

As for the ensuing book, it consists of four parts. The first is a miscellany of several subjects, and some of them made when I was very young, which it is perhaps superfluous to tell the reader: I know not by what chance I have kept copies of them ; for they are but a very few in comparison of those which I have lost; and I think they have no extraordinary virtne in them, to deserve more care in preservation, than was bestowed upon their brethren; for which I am so little concerned, that I am ashamed of the arrogancy of the word, when I said I had lost them.

The second, is called, The Mistress, or Love-V'erses; for so it is, that poets are scarce thought freemen of their company, without paying some duties, and obliging themselves to be true to love. Sooner or later they must all pass through that trial, like some Mahometan monks, that are bound by their order, once at least in their life, to make a pilgriinage to Mecca :

In furias ignemque ruunt: amor omnibus idem3.

But we must not always make a judgment of their manncrs from their writings of this kind; as the Romanists uncharitably do of Beza, for a few lascivious sonnets composed by him in his youth. It is not in this sense that poesy is said to be a kind of painting ; it is not the picture of the poet, but of things and persons imagined by him. He may be in his own practice and disposition a philosopher, nay a stoic, and yet speak sometimes with the softness of an amorous Sappho,

ferat & rubus asper amomum4.

He professes too much the use of fables (though without the malice of deceiving) to have his testimony taken even against himself. Neither would I here be misunderstood, as if I affected so much gravity as to be ashamed to be thought really in love. On the contrary, I cannot have a good opinion of any man, who is not at least capable of being so. But I speak it to excuse some expressions (if such there be) which may happen to offend the severity of superciliyus readers: for much excess is to be allowed in love, and even more in poetry, so we avoid the two unpardonable vices in both, which are obscenity and profaneness, of which, I am sure, if ıny words be ever guilty, they have ill represented any thoughts and intentions. And if, notwithstanding all this, the lightness of the matter here displease any body, be may find wherewithal to content his more serious inclinations in the weight and height of the ensuing arguments.

: In the present collection, there are five parts; the first of which contains the juvenile poems mentioned in p. 15. Their history may be seen in the prefaces prefixed to thein,

* Virg. Georg. iii. 244. 4 Virg. Ecl. iü. 89.

For, as for the Pindarie Odes, (which is the third part) 1 an in great doubt whether they will be understood by most readers; nay, even by very many who are well enough acquainted with the common roads and ordinary tracts of poesy. They either are, or at least were meant to be, of that kind of style which Dion. Halicarnasseus calls, Melanopuês xal ità netà desvátntos, and which he attributes to Alceus. The digressions are many, and sudden, and sometimes long, according to the fashion of all lyriques, and of Pindar above all men living: the figures are unusual and bold, even to temerity, and such as í durst not have to do witha! in any other kind of poetry: the numbers are various and irregular, and sometimes (especially some of the long ones) seem harsh and uncouth, if the just measures and cadences be not observed in the pronunciation. So that almost all their sweetness and numerosity (which is to be found, if I mistake not, in the roughest, if rightly repeated) lies in a manner wholly at the mercy of the reader. I have briefly described the nature of these verses, in the Ode entituled, The Resurrection: and though the libcty of them may incline a man to believe them easy to be composed, yet the undertaker will find it otherwise

--Ut sibi quivis
Speret idem; sudet multùm, frustráque laboret

Ausus idem , I come now to the last part, which is Davideis, or an heroical poem of the troubles of David : which I designed into twelve books; not for the tribes' sake, but after the pattern of our master Virgil; and intended to close all with that most poetical and excelicnt elegy of David on the death of Saul and Jonathan : for I had no mind to carry him quite on to his anointing at Hebron, because it is the custom of heroic poets (as we see by the examples of Homer and Virgil, whom we should do ill to forsake to imitate others) never to come to the full end of their story: but only so near, that every one may see it; as men commonly play not out the game, when it is evident that they can win it, but lay down their cards, and take up what they have won. This, I say, was the whole design: in which there are many noble and fertile arguments behind; as the barbarous cruelty of Saul to the priests at Nob; the several flights and escapes of David, with the manner of his living in the wilderness; the funeral of Samuel; the love of Abigail; the sacking of Ziglag; the loss and recovery of David's wives from the Amalekites; the witch of Endor; the war with the Philistines; and the battle of Gilboa: all which I meant to interweave, upon several occasions, with most of the illustrious stories of the Old Testament, and to embellish with the most remarkable antiquities of the Jews, and of other nations before or at that age.

But I liave ha:l neither leisure hitherto, nor have appetite at present, to finish the work, or so much as to revise that part which is done, with that care which I resolved to bestow upon it, and which the dignity of the matter well deserves. For what worthier subject could have been chosen, among all the treasuries of past times, than the life of this young prince; who, from so small beginnings, through such infinite troubles and oppositions, by such miraculous virtues and excellencies, and with such incomparable variety of wonderful actions and accidents, became the greatest monarch that ever sat on the most famous throne of the whole earth? Whom should a poet more justly seek to honour, than the highest person who ever honoured his profession? whom a Christian poet, rather than a man after God's own heart, and the man who had that sacred pre-eminence above all other princes, to be the best and mightiest of that royal race from whence Christ himself, according to the flesh, disdained not to descend ?

When I consider this, and how many other bright and magnificent subjects of the like nature the holy Scripture affords and proffers, as it were, to poesy; in the wise managing and illustrating whereof the glory of God Almighty might be joined with the singular utility and noblest delight of mankind; it is not without grief and indignation, that I behold that divine science employing all her inexhaustible riches of wit and eloquence, either in the wicked and beggarly flattery of great persons, or the unmanly idol. izing of foolish women, or the wretched affectation of scurril laughter, or at best on the confused antiquiated dreams of senseless fables and metamorphoses. Amongst all holy and consecrated things, which the Devil ever stole and alienated from the service of the Deity; as altars, temples, sacrifices, prayers, and the like; there is none that he so universally, and so long, usurpt, as poetry. It is time to recover it out of the tyrant's hands, and to restore it to the kingdom of God, who is the father of it. It is time . to baptize it in Jordan, for it will never become clean by bathing in the water of Damascus. There

^ Hor. A, P. 240.

#ants, methinks, but the conversion of that and the Jews, for the accomplishment of the kingdom of Christ. And as men, before their receiving of the faith, do not without some carnal reluctancies apprehend the bonds and fetters of it, but find it afterwards to be the truest and greatest liberty: it will fare no otherwise with this art, after the regeneration of it; it will meet with wonderful variety of new, more beautiful, and more delightful objects; neither will it want room, by being confined to Heaven.

There is not so great a lye to be found in any poet, as the vulgar conceit of men, that lying is essential to good poetry. Were there never so wholesome nourishment to be had (but alas ! it breeds nothing but diseases) out of these boasted feasts of love and fables; yet, methinks, the unalterable continuance of the diet should make us nauseate it: for it is almost impossible to serve up any new dish of that kind. They are all but the cold-meats of the ancients, new-heated, and new set forth. I do not at all wonder that the old poets male some rich crops out of these grounds; the heart of the soil was not then wrought out with continual tillage: but what can we expect now, who come a gleaning, not after the first reapers, but after the very beggars ? Besides, though those mad stories of the gods and heroes seem in themselves so ridiculous; yet they were then the whole body (or rather chaos) of the theology of those times. They were believed by all, but a few philosophers, and perhaps some atheists, and served to good purpose among the vulgar (as pitiful things as they are), in strengthening the authority of law with the terrours of conscience, and expectation of certain rewards and unavoidable punishments. There was no other religion; and therefore that was better than nuse at all. But to us, who have no need of them; to us, who deride their folly, and are wearied with their impertinencies; they ought to appear no better arguments for verso, than those of their worthy successors, the knights-errant. What can we imagine more proper for the ornaments of wit or learning in the story of Ducalion than in that of Noah? Wby will not the actions of Sampson affor: as plentiful matter as the labours of Hercules? Why is not Jeptha's daughter as good a woman as Iphigenia ? and the friendship of David and Jonathan more worthy celebration than that of Theseus and Perithous? Does not the passage of Moses and the Israelites into the Holy Land yield incomparably more poetical variety than the voyages of Ulysses or Æneas ? Are the obsolete thread-bare tales of Thebes and Troy half so stored with great, hervical, and supernatural actions (since verse will needs find or make such), as the wars of Joshua, of the Judges, of David, and divers others ? Can all the transformations of the gods give such copious hints to flourish and cxpatiate on, as the true miracles of Christ, or of his prophets and apostles ? What do I instance in these few particulars? All the books of the Bible are either already most admirable and exalted pieces of poesy, or are the best materials in the world for it.

Yet, though they be in themselves so proper to be made use of for this purpose;. none but a good artist will know how to do it ; neither must we think to cut and polish diamonds with so little pains and skill as we do marble. Por, if any man design to compose a sacred poem, by only turning a story of the Scripture, like Mr. Quarle's, or some other godly matter, like Mr. Heywood of angels, into rhyme; he is so far from elevating of poesy, that he only abases divinity. In brief, he who can write a prophane poem well, may write a divine one better; but he who can do that but ill, will do this much worse. The same fertility of invention; the same wisdom of disposition; the same judgment in observance of decencies; the same lustre and vigour of elocution; the same modesty and majesty of number; briefly, the same kind of habit, is required to both : only this latter allows better stuff, and therefore would look more deformidly, ill drest in it. I am far from assuming to myself to have fulfilled the duty of this weighty undertaking: but sure I am, there is nothing yet in our language (nor perhaps in any) that is in any degree answerable to the idea that I conceive of it. And I shall be ambitious of no other fruit from this weak and imperfect attempt of mine, but the opening of a way to the courage and industry of some other persons, who may be better able to perform it thoroughly and successfully .

« 上一頁繼續 »