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And wings it with sublime desires,
And fits it to bespeak the Deity.
The Almighty listens to a tuneful tongue,
And seems well pleased and courted with a song.
Soft moving sounds and heavenly airs
Give force to every word, and recommend our prayers.
When time itself shall be no more,
And all things in confusion hurled,
Music shall then exert its power,
And sound survive the ruins of the world:
Then saints and angels shall agree
In one eternal jubilee :
All heaven shall echo with their hymns divine,
And God himself with pleasure see
The whole creation in a chorus join.
Consecrate the place and day,
To music and Cecilia.
Let no rough winds approach, nor dare
Invade the hallowed bounds,
Nor rudely shake the tuneful air,
Nor spoil the fleeting sounds.
Nor mournful sigh nor groan be heard,
But gladness dwell on every tongue;
Whilst all, with voice and strings prepared,
the loud harmonious song,
And imitate the blest above,
In joy, and harmony, and love.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE
GREATEST ENGLISH POETS.
To MR. H. S.1 APRIL 3, 1694.
SINCE, dearest Harry, you will needs request
A short account of all the muse-possest,
1 Henry Sacheverell, whose story is well known.-Yet with all his follies, some respect may seem due to the memory of a man, who had merit in his youth, as appears from a paper of verses under his name, in Dryden's Miscellanies; and who lived in the early friendship of Mr. Addison.
2 The introductory and concluding lines of this poem are a bad imita
That, down from Chaucer's days to Dryden's times,
Have spent their noble rage in British rhymes;
Without more preface, writ in formal length,
To speak the undertaker's want of strength,
I'll try to make their several beauties known,
And show their verses' worth, though not my own.
Long had our dull forefathers slept supine,
Nor felt the raptures of the tuneful Nine;
Till Chaucer first, the merry bard, arose,
And many a story told in rhyme and prose.
But age has rusted what the poet writ,
Worn out his language, and obscured his wit;
In vain he jests in his unpolished strain,
And tries to make his readers laugh in vain.
Old Spenser next, warmed with poetic rage,
In ancient tales amused a barbarous age;
An age that yet uncultivate and rude,
Where'er the poet's fancy led, pursued
Through pathless fields, and unfrequented floods,
To dens of dragons and enchanted woods.
But now the mystic tale, that pleased of yore,
Can charm an understanding age no more;
The long-spun allegories fulsome grow,
While the dull moral lies too plain below.
We view well-pleased at distance all the sights
Of arms and palfreys, battles, fields, and fights,
And damsels in distress, and courteous knights;
But when we look too near, the shades decay,
And all the pleasing landscape fades away.
Great Cowley then (a mighty genius) wrote,
O'er-run with wit, and lavish of his thought:
His turns too closely on the reader press;
He more had pleased us, had he pleased us less.
One glittering thought no sooner strikes our eyes
With silent wonder, but new wonders rise.
As in the milky-way a shining white
O'er-flows the heavens with one continued light;
tion of Horace's manner-Sermoni propiora. In the rest, the poetry is better than the criticism, which is right or wrong, as it chances; being echoed from the common voice.
That not a single star can show his rays,
Whilst jointly all promote the common blaze.
Pardon, great poet, that I dare to name
The unnumbered beauties of thy verse with blame;
Thy fault is only wit in its excess,
But wit like thine in any shape will please.
What muse but thine can equal hints inspire,
And fit the deep-mouthed Pindar to thy fyre;1
Pindar, whom others, in a laboured strain
And forced expression, imitate in vain ?
Well-pleased in thee he soars with new delight,
And plays in more unbounded verse, and takes a nobler
Blest man! whose spotless life and charming lays
Employed the tuneful prelate in thy praise:
Blest man! who now shalt be for ever known
In Sprat's successful labours and thy own.
But Milton next, with high and haughty stalks,
Unfettered in majestic numbers walks ;.
No vulgar hero can his muse engage;
Nor earth's wide scene confine his hallowed rage.
See! see, he upward springs, and towering high,
Spurns the dull province of mortality,
Shakes heaven's eternal throne with dire alarms,
And sets the Almighty thunderer in arms.
Whate'er his pen describes I more than see,
Whilst every verse arrayed in majesty,
Bold, and sublime, my whole attention draws,
And seems above the critic's nicer laws.2
How are you struck with terror and delight,
When angel with archangel copes in fight!
When great Messiah's outspread banner shines,
How does the chariot rattle in his lines!
What sounds of brazen wheels, what thunder, scare,
And stun the reader with the din of war!
1 Cowley had great merit, but nature had formed him to manage Anacreon's lute, and not Pindar's lyre.
2 I wonder what these laws could be. Nobody understood the critic's nicest laws better than Milton, or observed them with more respect. The observation might be true of Shakspeare; but, by ill-hap, we do not so much as find his name in this account of English poets.
With fear my spirits and my blood retire,
To see the seraphs sunk in clouds of fire;
But when, with eager steps, from hence I rise,
And view the first gay scenes of Paradise,
What tongue, what words of rapture, can express
A vision so profuse of pleasantness!1
Oh, had the poet ne'er profaned his pen,
To varnish o'er the guilt of faithless men,
His other works might have deserved applause;
But now the language can't support the cause;
While the clean current, though serene and bright,
Betrays a bottom odious to the sight.
But now, my muse, a softer strain rehearse,
Turn every line with art, and smooth thy verse;
The courtly Waller next commands thy lays:
Muse, tune thy verse with art to Waller's praise.
While tender airs and lovely dames inspire
Soft melting thoughts, and propagate desire;
So long shall Waller's strains our passion move,
And Sacharissa's beauties kindle love.
Thy verse, harmonious bard, and flattering song,
Can make the vanquished great, the coward strong.
Thy verse can show ev'n Cromwell's innocence,
And compliment the storms that bore him hence.
Oh had thy muse not come an age too soon,
But seen great Nassau on the British throne,
How had his triumphs glittered in thy page,
And warmed thee to a more exalted rage!
What scenes of death and horror had we viewed,
And how had Boyne's wide current reeked in blood!
Or, if Maria's charms thou wouldst rehearse,
In smoother numbers and a softer verse,
Thy pen had well described her graceful air,
And Gloriana would have seemed more fair.
Nor must Roscommon pass neglected by, That makes ev'n rules a noble poetry:
A vision so profuse of pleasantness.] A prettily turned line. The expression (originally Milton's, P. L. iv. 243, viii. 286) pleased our poet so much, that we have it again in the letter from Italy-profuse of bliss, and elsewhere.
2 Serene and bright.] This is a strange description of Milton's language, if he means the language of his prose works. The panegyric seems made at random.
Rules, whose deep sense and heavenly numbers show
The best of critics, and of poets too.
Nor, Denham, must we e'er forget thy strains,
While Cooper's Hill commands the neighbouring plains.
But see where artful Dryden next appears,
Grown old in rhyme, but charming ev'n in years.
Great Dryden next, whose tuneful muse affords
The sweetest numbers, and the fittest words.
Whether in comic sounds or tragic airs1
She forms her voice, she moves our smiles or tears.
If satire or heroic strains she writes,
Her hero pleases and her satire bites.
From her no harsh unartful numbers fall,
She wears all dresses, and she charms in all.
How might we fear our English poetry,
That long has flourished, should decay with thee;
Did not the muses' other hope appear,
Harmonious Congreve, and forbid our fear:
Congreve! whose fancy's unexhausted store
Has given already much, and promised more.
Congreve shall still preserve thy fame alive,
And Dryden's muse shall in his friend survive.
I'm tired with rhyming, and would fain give o'er,
But justice still demands one labour more:
The noble Montague remains unnamed,
For wit, for humour, and for judgment famed;
To Dorset he directs his artful muse,
In numbers such as Dorset's self might use.
How negligently graceful he unreins
His verse, and writes in loose familiar strains
How Nassau's godlike acts adorn his lines,
And all the hero in full glory shines!
We see his army set in just array,
And Boyne's dyed waves run purple to the sea.
Nor Simois choked with men, and arms, and blood;
Nor rapid Xanthus' celebrated flood,
1 Whether in comic sounds or tragic airs.] A writer in fashion, like the stoical wise man, is everything he has a mind to be. Dryden's comedies are very indifferent, and his tragedies still worse.
2 Congreve shall still.] Another poet in fashion: but it is not safe to prophesy of such. All he had of Dryden's muse was only his quaint and ill-applied wit.