Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

while not insensible of his shortcomings, pardoned them in consideration of his general greatness. It held that he had wholly succeeded in fulfilling his own aspiration :

What shall I do to be for ever known,

And make the age to come my own ? 18

It believed his Muse immortal. If an educated public now suffers moss to grow over his monumental grave, it must be that he wanted some quality which his own period could do without, and ours cannot.

Poetic inspiration has two forms, inspiration of the head, and of the heart. The brilliancy of Cowley's genius is indisputable. His fertility of ideas is inexhaustible, as is his power of developing and combining them. The children of his brain pace forth, frequently dance, in shining raiment. His own times were content to be dazzled, feeling themselves enlightened as well. Upon a new age, which Chaucer, his senior by three centuries, still warms, he strikes cold ; scarcely does he even illuminate it ; for it knows already the learning he could teach, and more. Intellect, high intellect, must be added to sympathy to win recognition for a poet anywhere. By a conjunction of the manifold resources which intellect commands, he may, without more, 'satisfy his contemporaries. Cowley satisfied his. To survive their tastes a writer needs a heart to thrill humanity. By that alone can he appeal to common emotions earmarked by no date. It has, I am afraid, to be conceded that Cowley's pulse beat too temperately for a poet thus of all time, even when some chord in himself is most stirred. His enthusiasm, when entirely genuine, when his wit most pierces, remains intellectual only. It is a pity that in consequence place may no longer be made for him by the hearth where some hardly his peers in mental loftiness sit secure. Yet his name

could not be omitted from the first rank in the Golden Roll of English poets without the sense of a wrong to literature no less than to him.

The Poems of Abraham Cowley (Johnson's Poets, vols. vii, viii, ix, 1790).

1 On the Death of Mr. William Hervey, stanzas 5-6. 2 To the Royal Society.

3 To Mr. Hobbes 4 On the Death of Mr. Crashaw. 5 To the Royal Society. • Hymn to Light, stanzas 8, 9, 16, 18, 19, 20.

? Life. Ode-Sitting and Drinking in the Chair made out of Relicks of Sir l'rancis Drake's Ship. 9 The Change, st. 1.

10 The Waiting-Maid, st. 4. 11 The Chronicle, A Ballad.

12 Of Solitude. 13 The Garden-to J. Evelyn, Esq. 14 The Wish, st. 2. 15 The Garden.

16 The Spring, st. 1. 17 Drinking (II. Anacreontiques—translated paraphrastically out of Anacreon).

18 The Motto.

SIR JOHN DENHAM

1615–1668

In what respected upper shelf can I safely sequester the poetical remains of the Honourable Sir John Denham, K.B., secure from curious eyes, which certainly, if tempted to disturb the Knight's repose, would abuse me the innocent cause of their disgust?

I can imagine that his satires, now tediously innocent, may once, especially the ironical argument attributed to Roundheads Against Peace at the Close Committee, have had a poisonous vitality :

Princes we are if we prevail,
And gallant villains if we fail ;

When to our fame 'tis told,
It will not be our least of praise,
Since a new state we could not raise,

To have destroyed the old. Some spirit diversifies the adulation, disgraceful as it is, though hardly more so than Waller's, of the description in Cooper's Hill of a royal hunt. I can feel force in the lamentation for the doom of Great Strafford ’, at whose trial

Each seem'd to act that part he came to see,

And none was more a looker-on than he ! 2 Though the heavy sermonizings by the worn man of the world on Prudence, Justice, the Progress of Learning, and the duties and pleasures of Old Age, must have palled even upon contemporaries, it is possible still to dwell respectfully -not even here enthusiastically-on the dirge for a comrade -Cowley-in perilous political intrigues, whom a 'fatal hour' had

[blocks in formation]

plucked, the fairest, sweetest flower

That in the Muses' garden grew. The elegy not only shows due appreciation of eminent genius ; incidentally, it testifies to fair critical discernment by the mourner of the special gifts of his dead friend's forerunners in the shrine, where

poets near our princes sleep,

And in one grave their mansion keep. As the funeral cavalcade passes, he lays grateful wreaths on the tombs, of 'old Chaucer', who

like the morning star,

To us discovers day from far; of Spenser,

Whose purple blush the day foreshews; and of Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, and Fletcher, exemplars in art, mother-wit, and nature.3

Unfortunately, this tribute to bygone bards is the highwater mark of Denham's poetic sensibility. With one minute exception, hereafter to be noted, it is the utmost of distinctive literary accomplishment, and then not supereminent, which I can put to his credit.

Taking his all in all, good, bad, and indifferent, and considering the load which even the Great, in their many uninspired intervals, impose upon Pegasus of verse delighting nobody, I approve most sincerely the friendly counsel of King Charles the First. Charles happened to see verses of his to Sir Richard Fanshawe, and, though he liked them well’, advised him to write no more. Young men, he said, ' with little else to do might vent the overflowings of their fancy that way', but should cease 'when they were thought fit for more serious employments'.4 Often,recently, as I laboured through Sir John's rhymes, I felt tempted to

take it for granted that he had complied with his old master's 'commands '.

In truth, I could easily, and without fear of protest, have acted as if he had, but for a singular impediment. I might have passed over the youthful Pope's laudation of him as * lofty', and 'majestic 5 Even I might have been deaf to Dryden's weightier reference to his authority, as a famous wit', 'loved living, and reverenced dead ',the standard of good writing', who, in conjunction with Waller, reformed, superfluously, in my opinion, the language of literature. But it is impossible to forget that in his sketch of the course of the Thames, incidental in fact to the account, already mentioned, of a Stag-hunt, he happened to stumble upon four deathless lines :

O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme !
Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;

Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.? How consign their author to a limbo of poets 'unbaptized for the dead'!

Yet-four lines, and hospitality for aye on Parnassus ! Such the inscrutable lottery of Fame !

Poems and Translations, by the Honourable Sir John Denham, Knight of the Bath (Johnson's Poets), vol. ix, 1790. 1 A Speech against Peace at the Close Committee, st. 17.

On the Earl of Strafford's Trial and Death, vv. 13-14. 3 On Mr. Abraham Cowley's Death, and Burial amongst the Ancient Poets. 4 Dedication to the King.

Pope, Windsor Forest. 6 Preface concerning Ovid's Epistles (Aldine British Poets, Dryden, vol. v, pp. 8 and 10).

? Cooper's Hill

5

« ПредишнаНапред »