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Yet not in thoughtless slumber were they past;
Oft as he travers'd the cerulean field,
And marked the clouds that drove before the wind,
Ten thousand great ideas fill'd his mind:
But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind.
With him was sometimes join'd, in silent walk,
One shyer still', who quite detested talk;
To groves of pine and broad o'ershadowing oak;
And on himself his pensive fury wroke,
Ne ever utter'd word, save when first shone
The glittering star of eve-Thank Heaven! the day is done.
1 Probably the poet Armstrong.
JOHN ARMSTRONG was born in Liddesdale about the year 1709, and died in London in 1779. His poetical works, which here alone concern us, were The Economy of Love, 1739, The Art of Preserving Health, 1744, and some slight pieces published in volumes of miscellanies later.]
Armstrong is, beyond all doubt, the most remarkable poet of the school of Thomson. It would appear that the style in his case was not the result merely of imitation of the author of The Seasons, but came from a similar cause, the study at once of the Queen Anne men and of older writers. Both Shakespeare and Spenser were
The Economy of
sufficiently attractive to Armstrong when he was quite a boy to induce him to imitate them, and though the imitations show more zeal than appreciation, they have some merit. Love, from which no extracts can here be given, contains many stately verses, and some which exhibit considerable novelty of
On the whole Armstrong's versification and language
are Thomsonian. The blemishes of that style, such as the ridi
forth, are present in large measure.
classicism which calls a cold bath a 'gelid cistern,' and so But the merits of abundant
fancy, of surprising range of illustration, and of a certain starched grace which is not unattractive, are present likewise. It would be preserving health: yet in treating it Armstrong has managed to
to find a more unsuitable subject for poetry than the art of
cannot afford to disdain. His vigour is unquestionable, and his
many passages which lovers and students of blank verse
skill is by
deformed, not merely by the unavoidable drawbacks of its subject,
no means of an every-day order. The poem however is
obsolete technicalities, which could at no time have added to its
attractions, and which now make parts of it nearly unreadable. Here and there, too, we are offended by the defect which Armstrong shares with Swift and with Smollet, the tendency to indulge in merely nauseous details. On the whole however the merits of The Art of Preserving Health far outweigh its defects. It may indeed be urged by a devil's advocate that it is but a left-handed compliment to say that a man has done better than could be expected a task which, as sense and taste should have shown him, ought not to have been attempted at all. But Armstrong must always have, with competent judges, the praise which belongs to an author who has a distinct and peculiar grasp of a great poetical form. His rhymed verse is on the whole very inferior to his blank. The rhymes are frequently careless, and the poet's ear does not seem to have taught him how to construct couplets with the proper variety and continuity of cadence. His satire however, if a little conventional, is sometimes vigorous, and a specimen of the poem entitled Taste is therefore given here.
FROM THE ART OF PRESERVING HEALTH.'
The body, moulded by the clime, endures The equator heats or hyperborean frost: Except by habits foreign to its turn, Unwise, you counteract its forming power. Rude at the first, the winter shocks you less By long acquaintance: study then your sky, Form to its manners your obsequious frame, And learn to suffer what you cannot shun. Against the rigors of a damp cold heav'n To fortify their bodies some frequent The gelid cistern; and, where nought forbids I praise their dauntless heart: a frame so steeled Dreads not the cough, nor those ungenial blasts That breathe the tertian or fell rheumatism. The nerves so tempered never quit their tone, No chronic languors haunt such hardy breasts. But all things have their bounds: and he who makes
use the kindest regimen
Essential to his health, should never mix
With human kind, nor art, nor trade pursue.
not the safe vicissitudes of life
some shock endures; ill-fitted he
want the known, or bear unusual things.
Besides, the powerful remedies of pain
The strongest medicines lose their healing power
How to live happiest? how avoid the pains,
The precepts here of a divine old man
A graceful looseness when he pleased put on,
Versed in the woes and vanities of life
He pitied man: and much he pitied those
Forbids that we thro' gay voluptuous wilds
Let nature rest: be busy for yourself,