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nor what forms of government shall be adopted; but he has unalterably decreed, that there shall be some; and therefore, though no particular governors can lay claim to a divine right of ruling, yet government itself is of divine institution, as much as eating, and for the same reason, because we cannot subsist without it.”
This lively little work was written at the advanced age of seventy-eight. It met with considerable attention on its appear-, ance, and a few answers were excited by the paradoxical nature of some of its opinions. Since which time, we believe this specimen of pure and animated English has been classed with the ephemeral publications which die with the sensation they produce.
A Rt. VII.-Gondibert, an Heroick Poem. Written by Sir William Davenant, 12mo. London, 1651, pp. 243.
It is not our intention in this place to give any biographical account of the eventful life of Sir William Davenant. Our sole design is to consider the heroic fragment on which his fame as a poet chiefly depends. The two first books of it were ushered into the world by a long preface, developing the plan of the poem, which the author addressed to Mr. Hobbes; and by the answer of that philosopher, together with commendatory verses by Waller and Cowley. Its appearance excited the raillery of the wits of the day, who o the author in a pamphlet of satirical verses, to which he replied with equal wit and some temper.” Davenant's rejection of all supernatural machine has given rise to a great deal of discussion and inconsistent criticism. His audacity in choosing to think for himself, and write an epic poem on a principle contrary to the ancient and approved receipt for its construction, has been treated as a high crime against the laws of Parnassus, and himself deemed worthy of banishment from its domains. It is not our wish to revive this controversy, more especially after the ample though tardy justice which has been rendered to Davenant on this subject, by an elegant critict of the present day. His scheme of construct
* Mr. D'Israeli differs from all preceding critics, and considers this second publication a continuation of the satirical attack of the ‘Club of Wits,' the irony deriving additional bitterness from being concealed under the disguise of a pretended defence.—Quarrels of Authors, v. 2, p. 231.
t Miscellanies in Prose, by John Aikin, M.D. and Letitia Barbauld.
ing it on the exact model of a drama, the five books being parallel to the five acts, and the cantos to the scenes, was more plausible in theory, than feasible in execution. To think of making a poem, which is in its nature essentially narrative, bear any strict resemblance to a drama, which is the converse, was a vain attempt. And the author's hope, that he had not only observed the symmetry of the drama as a whole, but exactly followed all the shadowings, happy strokes, secret graces, and even the drapery which constitute the second beauty of those compositions, may be pronounced to have been entirely fallacious. Gondibert is framed on a rigid principle, and executed in a chaste and severe style. It is in fact too didactic, and is written with such curious and elaborate study, as not only incumbers, but in some degree hides, the progress of the story. There is a want of earnestness and vital heat about it, of
"The flash and outbreak of a fiery mind."
To compensate for this, however, there is a chivalrous spirit and grandeur in the sentiments—a deep perception of the noble and majestic qualities of human nature, and a reach of philosophical thought which is truly admirable. It might indeed, with almost as much propriety, be termed a philosophical as an epic poem.—The diction displays an extraordinary power of compressed and vigorous expression, but it is rather the result of rude strength shaping his language to his ideas by the force of will, than that comprehensive command over it which enables a writer to express his thoughts with facility and grace.—Although it possesses power, it wants flexibility,—arising probably from his extreme labour and scrupulousness to convey his sentiments with the utmost possible force and brevity; the consequence is, that he is sometimes affected and not unfrequently obscure. This defect is increased by the elegiac stanza which Davenant has selected; a choice which, notwithstanding a great master of versification has professedly followed it, we do not think judicious, nor our author's reasons for it sufficient.—But on such a subject, Davenant has a right to be heard in his own words.
"I believed, it would be more pleasant to the reader, in a work of length, to give this respite or pause between every stanza (having endeavour'd that each should contain a period) than to run him out of breath with continu'd couplets. Nor doth alternate rhyme, by any lowliness of cadence, make the sound less heroick, but rather adapt it to a plain and stately composing of musick; and the brevity of the stanza renders it less subtile to the composer, and more easie to the singer; which in stilo recitativo, when the story is long, is chiefly requisite. And this was indeed (if I shall not betray vanity in my con
VOL. II. PART II. x
fession) the reason that prevail'd most towards my choice of this stanza, and my division of the main work into cantos, every canto including a sufficient accomplishment of some worthy design or action; for I had so much heat (which you, sir, may call pride, since pride may be allow'd in Pegasus, if it be a praise to other horses) as to presume they might, like the works of Homer ere they were joyn'd together, and made a volume by the Athenian king, be sung at village-feasts; though not to monarchs after victory, nor to armies before battel. For so, as an inspiration of glory into the one, and of valour into the other, did Homer's spirit, long after his bodie's rest, wander in musick about Greece."
Davenant, having nearly completed a third book during his imprisonment at Cowes Castle, in the Isle of Wight, desisted from his design, thinking it " high time to strike sail and cast anchor, (though he had run but half his course) when at the helm he was threatened with death, who, though he can visit us but once, seems troublesome, and even in the innocent may beget such a gravity as diverts the music of verse." The hope of fame, which he had fondly cherished, was not likely to be much encouraged by the reception of his two first books; and from his postscript, which is written in a beautiful strain, he appears to have grown less sanguine, although not altogether out of heart.
"If thou art a malicious reader, thou wilt remember, my preface boldly confessed, that a main motive to this undertaking, was a desire of fame; and thou mayst likewise say, I may very possibly not live to enjoy it. Truly I have some years ago consider'd, that fame, like time, onely gets a reverence by long running; and that, like a river, 'tis narrowest where 'tis bred, and broadest afar off; but this concludes it not unprofitable; for he, whose writings divert men from indiscretion and vice, becomes famous, as he is an example to others' endeavours: and exemplary writers are wiser than to depend on the gratuities of this world; since the kind looks and praises of the present age, for reclaiming a few, are not mentionable with those solid rewards in heaven, for a long and continual conversion of posteritie.
"If thou (reader) art one of those, who has been warm'd with poetick fire, I reverence thee as my judge, and whilst others tax me with vanitie, as if the preface argued my good opinion of the work, I appeal to thy conscience, whether it be more than such a necessarie assurance, as thou hast made to thyself in like undertakings V
His ardour however was damped, and he never more resumed his task "to build the lofty rhyme." This being but the fragment of a story, it will be sufficient to give the reader a brief abstract of the main plot, so far as it is developed.
In the reign of Aribert, King of Lombardy, Prince Oswald and Duke Gondibert were the most renowned for all knightly and warlike accomplishments. Oswald, who was of a rash and impetuous courage, was openly a pretender to the hand of Rhodalind, the only daughter of Aribert, and heiress to the crown. The king, however, had in his own mind destined her for the better tempered and less ambitious valour of Gondibert— a choice in which the lady Rhodalind fully concurred. It happened that
"In a fair forrest, near Verona's plain,
Fresh, as if Nature's youth chose there a shade,
The duke, with many lovers in his train,
The Duke, on his return from the chase, is surprised by an ambush, laid by the jealous Oswald. A parley succeeds, and it is finally arranged that the quarrel shall be decided by the two leaders, and three of their chief captains on each side. The combat accordingly takes place.—Oswald and two of his friends are slain, and a third wounded and disarmed. Oswald's men are so enraged at this unexpected defeat, that they immediately prepare for a general attack upon Gondibert.—An engagement ensues, and the Duke, although himself severely wounded, is again victorious. After the battle, Gondibert retires to the house of Astragon, a famous philosopher and physician, where he is scarcely recovered from his wounds before he receives others of a more gentle kind from the eyes of Birtha, the daughter of Astragon, by whose permission he becomes her professed, but secret lover.—While the friends of Oswald are forming schemes of revenge for their recent defeat, a messenger arrives from Aribert to signify his intention of honoring Gondibert with the hand of Rhodalind, and he and his daughter follow shortly afterwards. The Duke is obliged to accompany them back to court, and leave that behind which is far more precious than a crown or Rhodalind.—On parting from Birtha, he gives her an emerald ring which had been for ages the token of his ancestors to their betrothed brides; and which by its change of colour would indicate any change in his affection.—The arrival of some of the party at the capital concludes this singular and original fragment.
The poem opens with a description of the several persons and characters of the chief actors in this heroic drama, some of which appear to us to be more elaborate than happy. There is a want of that facile and felicitous sketchiness which at once stamps on the mind an express and definite image of form and quality, and by which characters are impressed on the memory with as much accuracy and distinctness as the portraits of our ancestors which repose on the wainscots of our halls or galleries. Sir William Davenant's characters are rather an assemblage of general than individual qualities, and of the mind than the person. There is however, occasionally, a fullness and depth of colouring, which shews that he sometimes thought intensely.
We shall commence our extracts by the description of Rhodalind, whom, as the heroine of the poem, it would be unpardonable to omit, though we shall produce others which are more to our mind—it is, however, well worth quoting.
"Her father's prosp'rous palace was the sphear,
Made rigid virtue so benign appear,
Her looks, like empire shew'd, great above pride,
But Nature publish'd what she fain would hide,
To make her lowly mind's appearance less,
Esteem'd as pride the cloist'ral lowliness,
Her father (in the winter of his age)
Was, like that stormie season, froward grown,
Whom so her spring's fresh presence did asswage,
The pow'r that with his stooping age declin'd,
In her transplanted, by remove increas'd;
'Till power's decay, the throne's worst sickness, ceas'd.
Oppressors, big with pride, when she appear*d,
The lowly thought, they them in vain had fear*d;
Her mind (scarce to her feeble sex of kin)
Did as her birth, her right to empire show;
Her speech, like lovers watch'd, was kind and low.
She shew'd that her soft sex contains strong minds,
As through coarse stone elixar passage finds,