Imatges de pÓgina

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 frequently 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 descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similies, by readiness of rhyme, and volubility of syllables.

In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection 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 elegance, may give lustre to works which have more propriety, though loss copiousness, of sentiment.

This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his followers, 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 musie. 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 have therefore collected instances of the modes of writing by which this species of poets (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 'ınidst the fair orchard grew:

The phønix Truth did on it rest,

And built his perfum'd nest,
That right porphyrian tree which did true logic shew.

Each leaf did learned notions give,

And th' apples were demonstrative:
So clear their colour and divine,

The very shade they cast did other lights outshine.
On Anacreon continuing a lover in his old age:

Love was with thy life entwin'd,
Close as heat with fire is join'd;
A powerful brand prescrib'd the date
Of thine, like Meleager's fate.
Th' antiperistasis of age

More enflam'd thy amorous rage. In the following verses, we have an allusion to a rabbinical opinion concerning manna:

Variety I ask not: give me one
To live perpetually, opon.
The person love does to us fit,
Like manna, has the taste of all in it.

Thus Donne shews his medicinal knowledge in some encomiastic verses:

In every thing there naturally grows
A balsamum, to keep it fresh and new,

If 'twere not injur'd by extrinsique blows :
Your youth and beauty are this balm in you.

But you, of learning and religion,
And virtue, and such engredients, bave made

A mithridate, whose operation

Keeps off, or cures, what can be done or said. 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,
Who, meteor-like, of stuff and form perplext,

Whose what and where in disputation is,

If I should call me any thing, should miss.
I sum the years and me, and find me not

Debtor to th’old, nor creditor to th'new.
That cannot say, my thanks I have forgot,

Nor trust I this with hopes; and yet scarce true
This bravery is, since these times shewed me you.


Yet more abstruse and profound is Donne's reflection upon man as a microcosm:

If men be worlds, there is in every one.
Something to answer in some proportion;
All the world's riches : and in good men, this
Virtue, our form's form, and our soul's sondy is.

Of thoughts so far-fetched, as to be not only unexpected, but unnatural, all their books are full.

To a lady who wrote poesies for rings.
They, who above do various circles find,
Say, like a ring, th' equator heaven does bind.
When heaven shall be adorn'd by thee,
(Which then more heaven thap 'tis will be),

*Tis thou must write the poesy there,

For it wanteth one as yet,
Then the sun pass through't twice a year,
The sun, which is esteem'd the god of wit.


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,
For which you call me most inconstant now;
Pardon me, madam, you mistake the man;
For I am not the same that I was then;
No flesh is now the same 'twas then in me,
And that my mind is chang'd yourself may see.
The same thoughts to retain still, and intents,
Were more inconstant far : for accidents
Must of all things most strangely inconstant prove,
If from one subject they t' another move;
My members then the father members were,
From whence these take their birth, which now are here.
If then this body love what thi' other did,
'Twere incest, which by nature is forbid.

The love of different women is, in geographical poetry, compared to travels through different countries :

Hast thou not found each woman's breast

(The land where thou hast travelled)
Either by savages possest,

Or wild, and uninhabited ?
What joy could'st take, or what repose,
In countries so unciviliz'd as those ?
Lust, the scorching dog-star, here

Rages with immoderate heat;
Whilst pride, the rugged northern bear,

In others makes the cold too great.
And where these are temperate known,
The soil's all barren sand, or rocky stone.


A lover, burnt up by his affection, is compared to Egypt

The fate of Egypt I sustain,

And never feel the dew of rain
From clouds which in the head appear;

But ali my too-much moisture owe
To overflowings of the heart below.


The lover supposcs his lady acquainled with the ancient laws of augury, and rites of sacrifice:

And yet this death of mine, I fear,
Will ominous to her appear:

When, sound in every other part,
Her sacrifice is found without an heart:

For the last tempest of my death
Shall sigh out that, too, with my breatli.

That the chaos was harmonized, has been recited of old; but, whence the different sounds arose, remained for a modern to discover:

Th’ungovern'd parts no correspondence kuew;
An artless war from thwarting motions grew;
Till they to number and fixt rules were brought.
Water and air he for the tenor chose;
Earth made the base; the treble, fiame, arose.


The tears of lovers are always of great poetical account; but Donne has extended them into worlds. If the lines are not easily understood, they may be read again.

On a round ball,
A workman, that hath copies by, can lay

An Europe, Afric, and an Asia,
And quickly make that, which was nothing, all.

So doth each tear,

Which thee doth wear,
A globe, yea world, by that impression grow,
Till thy tears, mixt with mine, do overflow
This world, by waters sent from thec, my heaven,

dissolved so.


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