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I know not whether he has, in many of these instances, attained the representation or resemblance that he purposes. Verse can imitate only sound and motion. A boundless verse, a headlong verse, and a verse of brass or of strong brass, seem to comprise very incongruous and unsociable ideas. What there is peculiar in the found of the line expressing loose care, I cannot discover; nor why the pine is taller in an Alexandrine than in ten syllables.
But, not to defraud him of his due praise, he has given one example of representative versification, which perhaps no other English line can equal:
Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise.
Which rum, and as it runs, for ever shall run
Cowley was, I believe, the first poet that mingled Alexandrines at pleasure with the common heroick of ten syllables, and from him Dryden borrowed the practice, whether ornamental or licentious. He considered the verse of twelve syllables as elevated and majestick, and has therefore deviated into that measure when he supposes the voice heard of the Supreme Being.
The Author of the Davideis is commended by Dryden for having written it in couplets, because he discovered that any staff was too lyrical for an heroic poem j but this seems to have been known before by May and Sandys, the translators of the Pharsalia and the Metamorphoses.
In the Davideis are some hemistichs, or verses left imperfect by the author, in imitation of Virgil, whom he supposes not to have intended to complete them: that this opinion is erroneous may be probably concluded, because this truncation is imitated by no subsequent Roman poet; because Virgil himself filled up one broken line in the heat of recitation; because in one the sense is now unfinished j and because all that can be done by a broken verse, a line intersected by a cefura and a full stop will equally effect.
Of triplets in his Davideis he makes no use, and perhaps did not at first think them allowable; but he appears afterwards to have changed his mind, for in the verses on the government of Cromwel he inserts them liberally with great happiness.
After so much criticism on his Poems, the Essays which accompany them must not be forgotten. What is said by Sprat of his conversation, that no man could draw from it any suspicion of his excellence in poetry, may be applied to these compositions. No author «ver kept his verse and his prose at a greater distance from each other. His thoughts are .natural, and his stile has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-fought, or ward-laboured 5 but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar without grossness.
It has been observed by Felton, in his Essay
on the Classicks, that Cowley was beloved by
2 every every Muse that he courted; and that he has rivalled the Ancients in every kind of poetry but tragedy.
It may be affirmed, without any encomiastick fervour, that he brought to his poetick labours a mind replete with learning, and that his pages are embellished with all the ornaments which books could supply; that he was the first who imparted to English numbers the enthusiasm of the greater ode, and the gaiety of the less; that he was equally qualified for spritely sallies, and for lofty flights; that he was among those who freed translation from servility, and instead of following his author at a distance, walked by his side; and that if he left versification yet improvable, he left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.
-lldmund WALLER was born on the third of March, 1605, at Colshill in Hertfordshire. His father was Robert Waller, Esquire, of Agmondesham in Buckinghamshire, whose family was originally a branch of the Kentish Wallers; and his mother was the daughter of John Hampden, of Hampden in the same county, and sister to Hampden, the zealot of rebellion.
His father died while he was yet an infant, but left him an yearly income of three thousand five hundred pounds; which, rating together the value of money and the customs of life, we may reckon more than equivalent to ten thousand at the present time.
He was educated, by the care of his mother, at Eton j and removed afterwards to King's College in Cambridge. He was sent to parliament in his eighteenth, if not in his sixteenth, year, and frequented the court of James the First, where he heard a very remarkable conversation, which the writer of the Life prefix* ed to his Works, who seems to have been well informed of facts, though he may some3 times