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The allusions however are not always to vulgar things :
The king was plac'd alone, and o'er his head
Whatever he writes is always polluted with some conceit:
Where the sun's fruitful beams give metals
In one passage he starts a sudden question, to the confusion of philosophy:
Ye learned heads, whom ivy garlands grace, Why does that twining plant the oak em
brace ? The oak, for courtship most of all unfit, And rough as are the winds that fight with
His expressions have sometimes a degree of meanness that surpasses expectation:
Nay, gentle guests, he cries, since now
In a fimile descriptive of the morning : As glimm’ring stars just at th’approach of Cashierá by troops, at last drop all away.
The dress of Gabriel deserves attention : He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright, That e'er the midday sun pierc'd thro' with
light, Upon his cheeks a lively blush he spread, Wash'd from the morning beauties deepest red, An harmless flate’ring meteor shone for hair, And fell adown his shoulders with loose care: He cuts out a filk mantle from the skies, Where the most spritely azure pleas'd the
eyes ; This he with starry vapours sprinkles all, Took in their prime ere they grow ripe and
fall; Of a new rainbow, ere it fret or fade, The choicest piece cut out, a scarfe is made.
This is a juit specimen of Cowley's imagery; what might in general expressions be great and forcible, he weakens and makes ridiculous by branching it into small parts. That Gabriel was invested with the softest or brightest colours of the sky, we might have been told, and dismissed to improve the idea in our different proportions of conception; but Cowley could not let us go till he had related where Gabriel got first his skin, and then his mantle, then his lace, and then his scarfe, and related it in the terms of the mercer and the taylor.
Sometimes. he indulges himself in a' di. gression, always conceived with his natural exuberance, and commonly, even where it is not long, continued till it is tedious :
1' th' library a few choice authors stood,
was good ; Writing, man's fpiritual physic, was not
then Itself, as now, grown a disease of men. Learning (young virgin) but few suitors
As the Davideis affords only four books, though intended to consist of twelve, there is no opportunity for such criticism as Epick poems commonly supply. The plan of the whole work is very imperfectly shewn by the third part. The duration of an unfinished action cannot be known. Of characters either not yet introduced, or shewn but upon few occasions, the full extent and the nice discriminations cannot be ascertained. The fable is plainly implex, formed rather from the Odysfey than the Iliad ; and many artifices of diversification are employed, with the skill of a man acquainted with the best models. The past is recalled by narration, and the future anticipated by vision : but he has been so la. vish of his poetical art, that it is difficult to imagine how he could fill eight books more
without practising again the same modes of disposing his matter; and perhaps the perception of this growing incumbrance inclined him to stop. By this abruption, posterity loft more instruction than delight. If the continuation of the Davideis can be missed, it is for the learning that had been diffused over it, and the notes in which it had been explained.
Had not his characters been depraved like every other part by improper decorations, they would have deserved uncommon praise. He gives Saul both the body and mind of a hero : His way once chose, he forward thrust out
right, Nor turn'd aside for danger or delight.
And the different beauties of the lofty Merah and the gentle Michal are very juftly conceived and strongly painted.
Rymer has declared the Davideis fuperior to the Jerusalem of Tasso, " which, says he, the poet, with all his care, has not totally purged from pedantry.” If by pedantry is meant that minute knowledge which is derived from particular sciences and studies, in opposition to the general notions supplied by a wide survey of life and nature, Cowley certainly errs, by introducing pedantry far more frequently than Tasso. I know not, indeed, why they should be compared, for the resemblance of Cowley's work to Tasso's, is only that they both exhibit the agency of celestial and infernal spirits, in which however they differ widely; for Cowley supposes them commonly to operate upon the mind by suggestion; Taffo represents them
as promoting or obstructing events by external agency.
Of particular passages that can be properly compared, I remember only the description of Heaven, in which the different manner of the two writers is sufficiently discernible. Cowley's is scarcely description, unless it be poffible to describe by negatives ; for he tells us only what there is not in heaven; Tallo en. deavours to represent the splendours and pleasures of the regions of happiness. Taffo affords images, and Cowley sentiments. It happens, however, that Taffo's description affords fome reason for Rymer's censure. He says of the Supreme Being,
Hà sotto i piedi e fato e la natura
The second line has in it more of pedantry than perhaps can be found in any other stanza of the poem.
In the perufal of the Davideis, as of all Cowley's works, we find wit and learning una profitably squandered. Attention has no relief; thé affections are never moved ; we are sometimes surprised, but never delighted, and find much to admire, but little to approve. Still however it is the work of Cowley, of.a mind capacious by nature, and replenished by study.
In the general review of Cowley's poetry it will be found, that he wrote with abundant fertility, but negligent or unskilful selection; with much thought, but with little imagery; that he is never pathetick, and rarely sublime,