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Our two fouls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
As stiff twin-compasses are two,
To move, but doth, if th' other do.
Yet when the other far doth roam,
And grows erect, as that comes home,
Like th' other foot obliquely run.
DONNE. In all these examples it is apparent, that whatever is improper or vitious, is produced by a voluntary deviation from nature in pursuit of something new and strange; and that the writers fail to give delight, by their desire of exciting admiration.
HAVING thus endeavoured to exhibit a general representation of the style and sentiments of the metaphysical poets, it is now proper to examine particularly the works of Cowley, who was almost the last of that race, and undoubtedly the best.
His Miscellanies contain a collection of short compofitions, written fome as they were dictated by a mind at leisure, and some as they were called forth by different occasions ; with great variety of style and sentiment, from burlesque levity to awful grandeur. Such an affemblage of diversified excellence no other poet has hitherto afforded. To choose the best, among many good, is one of the most hazardous attempts of
criticisin. I know not whether Scaliger himself has persuaded many readers to join with him in his preference of the two favorite odes, which he estimates in his raptures at the value of a kingdom. I will however venture to recommend Cowley's first piece, which ought to be inscribed To my muse, for want of which the second couplet is without reference. When the title is added, there will still remain a defect; for every piece ought to contain in itself whatever is neceffary to make it intelligible. Pope has fome epitaphs without names; which are therefore epitaphs to be let, occupied indeed for the present, but hardly appropriated.
The ode on Wir is almost without a rival. It was about the time of Cowley that Wit, which had been till then used for Intellection, in contradistinction to Will, took the meaning, whatever it be, which it now bears.
Of all the passages in which poets have exemplified their own precepts, none will easily be found of greater excellence than that in which Cowley condems exuberance of Wit :
Yet 'tis not to adorn and gild each part,
That shews more cost than art.
Rather than all things wit, let none be there.
If there be nothing else between.
If those be ftars which paint the galaxy. In his verses to Lord Falkland, whom every man of his time was proud to praise, there are, as there must be in all Cowley's compofitions, some striking thoughts ;
but they are not well wrought. His elegy on Sir Henry Wotton is vigorous and happy, the series of thoughts is eafy and natural, and the conclusion, though a little weakened by the intrusion of Alexander, is elegant and forcible.
It may be remarked, that in this Elegy, and in most of his encomiastic poems, he has forgotten or ne: glected to name his heroes.
In his poem on the death of Harvey, there is much praise, but little passion, a very just and ample delineation of such virtues as a studious privacy admits, and fuch intellectual excellence as a mind not yet called forth to action can display. He knew how to distinguish, and how to commend the qualities of his companion; but when he wishes to make us weep, he forgets to weep himself, and diverts his sorrow by imagining how his crown of bays, if he had it, would crackle in the fire. It is the odd fate of this thought to be worse for being true. The bay-leaf crackles remark, ably as it burns; as therefore this property was not afsigned it by chance, the mind must be thought sufiiciéntly at ease that could attend to such minuteness of physiology. But the power of Cowley is not so much to move the affections, as to exercise the understanding,
The Chronicle is a composition unrivalled and alone ; fuch gaiety of fancy, such facility of expression, such varied similitude, such a succession of images, and such a dance of words, it is vain to expect except from Cowley. His strength always appears in his agility; his volatility is not the fiutter of a light, but the bound of an elakic mind, His levity never leaves his learning behind it; the moralist, the politician, and the critick, mingle their influence even in this airy frolick of genius, To such a performance Suckling could have
brought the gaiety, but not the knowledge; Dryden çould have supplied the knowledge, but not the gaiety,
The verses to Davenant, which are vigorously begun, and happily concluded, contain some hints of criticism very justly conceived and happily expressed. Cowley's critical abilities have not been sufficiently obferved : the few decisions and remarks which his
prefaces and his notes on the Davideis supply, were at that time accessions to English literature, and thew such skill as raises our wish for more examples.
The lines from Jersey are a very curious and pleasing specimen of the familiar descending to the burlesque.
His two metrical disquisitions for and againf Reason, are no mean specimens of metaphysical poetry. The ftanzas against knowledge produce little conviction. In those which are intended to exalt the human faculties, Reafon has its proper task assigned it; that of judging, pot of things revealed, but of the reality of revelation In the verses for Reason is a passage which Bentley, in the only English vesses which he is known to have written, seems to have copied, though with the info riority of an imitator,
The holy Book like the eighth sphere doth shinc
With thousand lights of truth divine,
It makes all but one galaxy :
So vaft and dangerous as these,
Without the compa?s too below.
Who travels in religious jars,
With Whiston wanting pyx and stars,
Cowley seems to have had, what Milton is believed to have wanted, the skill to rate his own performances by their just value, and has therefore closed his Mifcellanies with the verses upon Crashaw, which apparently excel all that have gone before them, and in which there are beauties which common authors may justly think not only above their attaininent, but above their ambition.
To the Miscellanies succeed the Anacreontiques, or paraphrastical translations of some little poems, which pass, however justly, under the name of Anacreon. Of those songs dedicated to festivity and gaiety, in which even the morality is voluptuous, and which teach nothing but the enjoyment of the present day, he has given rather a plealing than a faithful representation, having retained their spriteliness, but lost their simplicity. The Anacreon * of Cowley, like the Homer of Pope, has admitted the decoration of some modern graces, by which he is undoubtedly more amiable to
* I have reason to think that Dr. Johnson knew not that a complete tranfation of Anacreon, other than the late one of Fawkes, who himself was ignorant of the fact, was extant in our language ; such a one, however, there is by Stanley, the author of " the Lives of the Philosophers, 8vo.” 1651; remarkable in respect both of its elegance and conciseness, of which qualities the following, being the twentyfixth ode, may serve as a speciinen:
When fenfe in wine I steep,