« AnteriorContinuar »
great distance from our present habitudes of thought. Real mirth must be always natural, and nature is uniform. Men have been wise in very different modes; but they have always laughed the same way.
Levity of thought naturally produced familiarity of language, and the familiar part of language continues long the same: the dialogue of comedy, when it is transcribed from popular manners and real life, is read from age to age with equal pleasure. The artifices of inversion by which the established order of words is changed, or of innovation, by which new words or new meanings of words are introduced, is practised not by those who talk to be understood, but by those who write to be admired.
The Anacreontiques therefore of Cowley give now all the pleasure which they ever gave. If he was formed by nature for one kind of writing more than for another, his power feems to have been greatest in the familiar and the festive.
The next class of his poems is called The Mistress, of which it is not necessary to select any particular pieces for praise or censure. They have all the same beauties and faults, and nearly in the same proportion. They are written with exuberance of wit, and with copiousness of learning; and it is truly asserted by Sprat, that the plenitude of the writer's knowledge flows in upon his page, so that the reader is commonly surprised into some improvement. But, considered as the verses of a lover, no man that has ever loved will much commend them. They are neither courtly nor pathetick, have neither gallantry
nor fondness. His praises are too far-fought, and too hyperbolical, either to express love or to excite it: every stanza is crouded with darts and flames, with wounds and death, with mingled souls, and with broken hearts.
The principal artifice by which The Mistress is filled with conceits is very copiously displayed by Addison. Love is by Cowley, as by other poets, expressed metaphorically by flame and fire ; and that which is true of real fire is said of love, or figurative fire, the same word in the same sentence retaining both significations. Thus, “ observing the cold regard of “ his mistress's eyes, and at the same time “ their power of producing love in him, he “ considers them as burning-glasses made of “ ice. Finding himself able to live in the
greatest extremities of love, he concludes " the torrid zone to be habitable. Upon the “ dying of a tree, on which he had cut his “ loves, he observes, that his flames had burnt
up and withered the tree.”
These conceits Addison calls mixed wit; that is, wit which consists of thoughts true in one sense of the expression, and false in the other. Addison's representation is sufficiently indulgent. That confusion of images may entertain for a moment; but being unnatural, it foon grows wearifome. Cowley delighted in it, as much as if he had invented it ; but, not to mention the ancients, he might have found it full-blown in modern Italy. Thus Sannazaro;
Aspice quam variis distringar Velbia curis,
Sum Nilus, sumque Ætna fimul; restringit
flammas O lacrimæ, aut lacrimas ebibe flamma meas.
One of the severe theologians of that time censured him as having published a book of profane and lascivious Verses. From the charge of profaneness, the constant tenour of his life, which seems to have been eminently virtuous, and the general tendency of his opinions, which discover no irreverence of religion, must defend him; but that the accusation of lasciviousness is unjust, the perusal of his works will sufficiently evince.
Cowley's Mistress has no power of seducti. on : “ The plays round the head, but comes not at the heart." Her beauty and absence, her kindness and cruelty, her disdain and inconstancy, produce no correspondence of emotion. His poetical account of the virtues of plants, and colours of flowers, is not perused with more sluggish frigidity. The compositions are such as might have been written for penance by a hermit, or for hire by a philosophical rhymer who had only heard of another lex; for they turn the mind only on the writer, whom, without thinking on a woman but as the subject for a task, we sometimes esteem as learned, and sometimes despise as trifling, always admire as ingenious, and always condemn as unnatural.
The Pindarique Odes are now to be considered ; a species of composition, which Cowley thinks Pancirolus might have counted in bis list of the lost inventions of antiquity, and
which he has made a bold and vigorous attempt to recover.
The purpose with which he has paraphrased an Olympick and Nemeæan Ode, is by himself sufficiently explained. His endeavour was not to shew frecisely what Pindar Spoke, but bis manner of speaking. He was therefore not at all restrained to his expresfions, nor much to his sentiment: nothing was required of him, but not to write as Pindar would not have written.
Of the Olympick Ode the beginning is, I think, above the original in elegance, and the conclusion below it in strength. The connection is supplied with great perspicuity, and the thoughts, which to a reader of less skill seem thrown together by chance, are concatenated without any abruption. Though the English ode cannot be called a translation, it may be very properly consulted as a commentary.
of Pindar is indeed not every where equally preserved. The following pretty lines are not such as his deep mouth was used to pour :
Great Rhea's son,
In the Nemeæan Ode the reader must, in mere justice to Pindar, observe that whatever is said of the original new moon, ber tender forebead and her borns, is superadded by his paraphrast, who has many other plays of words and fancy unsuitable to the original, as,
The table free for every guest,
No doubt will thee admit,
He sometimes extends his author's thoughts without improving them. In the Olympionick an oath is mentioned in a single word, and Cowley spends three lines in swearing by the Caftalian Stream. We are told of Theron's bounty, with a hint that he had enemies, which Cowley thus enlarges in rhyming prose:
But in this thankless world the giver
It is hard to conceive that a man of the first rank in learning and wit, when he was dealing out such minute morality in such feeble diction, could imagine, either waking or dreaming, that he imitated Pindar.
In the following odes, where Cowley chooses his own subjects, he sometimes rises to dignity truly Pindarick; and, if some deficiencies of language be forgiven, his strains are