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This Poet, who was flattered by his friends with the title of “Petrarch's Scholar," was a younger son of Dr. Richard Barnes, bishop of Durham, and was born about the year 1569. He left Oxford without a degree, and afterwards accompanied the expedition sent into France under the Earl of Essex, in 1591. He was then a little more than twenty-one years of age, and in the four years of his absence he wrote his “ Divine Centurie of Spiritual Sonnets,” first published in 1595.
Au! sweet Content, where is thy mild abode ?
Is it with shepherds and light-hearted swains,
Which sing upon the downs and pipe abroad,
In heaven with angels which the praises sing
Of Him that made and rolls at his behest,
Is it in churches with religious men
Which praise the Gods with prayers manifold,
Unto my spirit lend an angel's wing,
Thy grace unto my wits; then shall the sling
SIR JOHN DAVIES.
SIR John Davies was born at Tisbury in Wiltshire, in 1570. He was educated at Oxford, and after having been called to the bar, he was expelled, and returned to the University. While here, he composed his principal work, a poem entitled “ The Immortality of the Soul.” A few years after he was sent to Parliament, and restored to his rank at the bar. He filled several judicial offices in Ireland, under James I., and was finally appointed Chief Justice of the King's Bench, but he died before he could undertake the duties of the office. This happened in 1626. He was the author of several works upon historical and legal subjects, but is here noticed on account of his noble poem,“ The Immortality of the Soul,” which is remarkable for the clear and logical conduct of the argument, and, considering the age in which it was written, for the smooth and equable flow of the verse. Mr. Wilmot observes, “ While Shakspere was peopling the stage with picturesque pageantry, and Spenser, in the zenith of his reputation, was irradiating the intellectual atmosphere with the sunshine of his beautiful imagination, Davies struck into a path in which he had no forerunner, and cannot be said to have had any successor.”
FALSE AND TRUE KNOWLEDGE.
Why did my parents send me to the schools,
That I with knowledge might enrich my mind,
And did corrupt the root of all mankind ?
For when God's hand had written in the hearts
Of the first parents all the rules of good, So that their skill infused, did
all arts That ever were, before, or since the flood;
And when their reason's eye was sharp and clear,
And (as an eagle can behold the sun)
As th' intellectual angels could have done;
That they were blind because they saw not ill; And breathed into their uncorrupted breasts
A curious wish which did corrupt their will.
For that same ill they did desire to know,
Which ill being naught but a defect of good, In all God's works the devil could not show,
While man their lord in his perfection stood.
So that themselves were first to do the ill,
Ere they thereof the knowledge could attain, Like him that knew not poison's power to kill,
Until (by tasting it) himself was slain.
E’en so by tasting of that fruit forbid,
Where they sought knowledge, they did error find ; Ill they desired to know, and ill they did ; And to give passion eyes,
made reason blind.
For then their minds did first in passion see
Those wretched shapes of misery and wo— Of nakedness, of shame, of poverty,
Which then their own experience made them know.
But then grew reason dark, that she no more
Could the fair forms of good and truth discern ; Bats they became, that eagles were before,
And this they got by their desire to learn.
But we, their wretched offspring, what do we?
Do not we still taste of the fruit forbid, Whilst with fond fruitless curiosity
In books profane we seek for knowledge hid ?
What is this knowledge, but the sky-stolen fire,
For which the thief still chained in ice doth sit ? And which the poor rude satyr did admire,
And needs would kiss, but burnt his lips with it?
In fine, what is it, but the fiery coach,
Which the youth sought and found his death withal ? Or the boy's wings, which when he did approach
The sun's hot beams, did melt and let him fall ?
And yet, alas, when all our lamps are burned,
Our bodies wasted, and our spirits spent; When we have all the learned volumes turned
Which yield men's wits both help and ornament ;
What can we know ? or what can we discern,
When error chokes the windows of the mind ? The divers forms of things, how can we learn,
That have been even from our birthday blind ?
When Reason's lamp, which (like the sun in sky)
Throughout man's little world her beams did spread, Is now become a sparkle, which doth lie
Under the ashes, half extinct and dead :
How can we hope that through the eye
and ear This dying sparkle, in this cloudy place, Can recollect these beams of knowledge clear,
Which were infused in the first minds by grace ?
So might the heir, whose father hath in play
Wasted a thousand pounds of ancient rent, By painful earnings of one groat a day,
Hope to restore the patrimony spent.
The wits that dived most deep and soared most high,
powers, have found his weakness such: “Skill comes so slow, and life so fast doth fly,
We learn so little and forget so much.”
For this the wisest of all mortal men
Said, he knew naught, but that he naught did know; And the great mocking-master mocked not then
When he said truth was buried deep below.
For how may we to other things attain,
When none of us his own soul understands ? For which the devil mocks our curious brain,
When “Know thyself,” his oracle commands.
For why should we the busy soul believe
When boldly she concludes of that and this, When of herself she can no judgment give,
Nor how, nor whence, nor where, nor what she is ?
All things without, which round about we see,
We seek to know and how therewith to do; But that whereby we reason, live, and be,
Within ourselves, we strangers are thereto.
We seek to know the moving of each sphere,
And the strange cause of th' ebbs and floods of Nile; But of that clock within our breasts we bear,
The sable motions we forget the while.
We that acquaint ourselves with every zone,
And pass both tropics, and behold each pole, When we come home, are to ourselves unknown,
And unacquainted still with our own soul.
We study speech, but others we persuade ;
We leech-craft learn, but others cure with it;