« AnteriorContinuar »
“ Horace's wit, and Virgil's state, " He did not steal, but emulate! “ And when he would like them appear, « Their garb, but not their cloaths, did wear.”
As one of Denham's principal claims to the regard of posterity arises from his improvement of our numbers, his versification ought to be considered. It will afford thát pleasure which arises from the observation of a man of right natural judgement forsaking bad copies by degrees, and advancing towards a better practice, as he gains more confidence in himself.
In his translation of Virgil, written when he was about twenty-one years old, may be still found the old manner of continuing the sense ungracefully from verse to verse.
« Then all those “ Who in the dark our fury did escape, “ Returning, know our borrow'd arms, and
« shape, “ And differing dialect: then their numbers
“ swell “ And grow upon us; first Chorcebus fell “ Before Minerva's altar; next did bleed “ Just Ripheus, whom no Trojan did ex- i
“ ceed “ In virtue, yet the gods his fate decreed. j “ Then Hypanis and Dymas, wounded by “ Their friends; nor thee, Pantheus, thy
“ piety, “ Nor consecrated mitre, from the same “ Ill fate could save; my country's funeral
« Aame. “ And Troy's cold ashes I attest, and call “ To witness for myself, that in their fall
“ No foes, no death, no danger I declin'd, “ Did, and deserv'd no less, my fate to find.”
From this kind of concatenated metre he afterwards refrained, and taught his followers the art of concluding their sense in couplets ; which has perhaps been with rather too much constancy
This passage exhibits one of those triplets which are not infrequent in this first essay, but which it is to be supposed his maturer judgement disapproved, since in his latter works he had totally forborn them,
His rhymes are such as seem found without difficulty, by following the sense; and are for the most part as exact at least as those of other poets, though now and then the reader is shifted off with what he can get.
“ O how transform'd! “ How much unlike that Hector who re
“ turn'd “ Clad in Achilles' spoils!” And again, “ From thence a thousand lesser poets sprung,
Like petty princes from the fall of Rome.* Sometimes the weight of rhyme is laid upon a word too feeble to sustain it;
« Troy confounded falls “ From all her glories: if it might have
“ stood “ By any power, by this right hand it
“ mou'd. “ –And though my outward state misfor
“ tune bath “ Deprest thus low, it cannot reach my “ faith."
“ –Thus - - Thus by his fraud and qur own faith
“ o'ercome, ” A feigned tear destroys us, against whom “ Tydides nor Achilles could prevail, “ Nor ten years conflict, nor a thousand fail."
He is not very careful to vary the ends of his verses : in one passage the word die rhymes three couplets in lix.
Most of these petty faults are in his first productions, when he was less skilful, or at least less dexterous in the use of words; and though they had been more frequent, they could only have lessened the grace, not the strength, of his composition. He is one of the writers that improved our taste, and advanced our language, and whom we ought therefore to read with gratitude, though, hav, ing done much, he left much to do.
THOMAS SPRAT was born in 1636, at Tallaton in Devonshire, the son of a clergyman; and having been educated, as he tells of himself, not at Westminster or Eton, but · at a little school by the churchyard fide, be, came a commoner of Wadham College in Oxford in 1651; and, being chosen scholar next year, proceeded through the usual academical course, and in 1657 became master of arts, He obtained a fellowship, and commenced poet.
In 1659, his poem on the death of Oliver was published, with those of Dryden and Waller. In his dedication to Dr. Wilkins he appears a very willing and liberal encomiast, both of the living and the dead. He implores his patron's excuse of his verses, both as falling sa infinitely below the full and sublime genius of that excellent poet who made this way of writing free of our nation, and being so little equal and proportioned to the renown of the prince on whom they were written; such great a&tions and lives deferving to be the subject of the noblest pens and most divine phansies. He proceeds : Having so long experienced your care and indulgence, and been for. med, as it were, by your own hands, not to entitle you to any thing which my meanness produces, would be not only injustice but facrilege."
He published the same year a poem on the Plague of Athens; a subject of which it is not easy to say what could recommend it. To these he added afterwards a poem on Mr. Cowley's death.
After the Restoration he took orders, and by Cowley's recommendation was made chaplain to the duke of Buckingham, whom he is faid to have helped in writing the Rebearsal. He was likewise chaplain to the king.
As he was the favourite of Wilkins, at whose house began those philosophical conferences and enquiries, which in time produced the Royal Society, he was consequently engaged in the fame studies, and became one of the fellows; and when, after their incorporation, fomething seemed necessary to reconcile the publick to the new institution, he undertook to write its history, which he published in 1667. This is one of the few books which selection of sentiment and elegance of diction have been able to preserve, though written upon a fubject flux and transitory, The History of the Royal Society is now read not with the wish to know what they were then doing, but how their transactions are exhibited by Sprat.
In the next year he published Observations on Sorbiere's Voyage into England, in a Letter to Mr. Wren. This is a work not ill performed ; but perhaps rewarded with at least its full proportion of praise.
In 1668 he published Cowley's Latin poems, and prefixed in Latin the Life of the Author; which he afterwards amplified, and placed before Cowley's English works, which were by will committed to his care. .