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Mr. Hobbes, in a prefatory discourse, has thrown away a good deal of powerful logic and criticism in the recommendation of the plan of his friend's poem. Davenant, who was poet-laureate to Charles II, wrote several masques and plays which were well received in his time, but have not come down with equal applause to us.
Marvel (on whom I have already bestowed such praise as I could, for elegance and tenderness in his descriptive poems) in his satires and witty pieces was addicted to the affected and involved style here reprobated, as in his ‘Flecknoe' (the origin of Dryden's ‘Macflecknoe') and in his satire on the Dutch. As an instance of this forced, far-fetched method of treating his subject, he says, in ridicule of the Hollanders, that when their dykes overflowed, the fish used to come to table with them,
“And sat not as a meat, but as a guest.”
There is a poem of Marvel's on the death of King Charles I,
prose directions and commentary on the mythological story, are written with wonderful facility and elegance, in a style of familiar dramatic dialogue approaching nearer the writers of Queen Anne's reign than those of Queen Elisabeth's.
Milton's name is included by Dr. Johnson in the list of metaphysical poets on no better authority than his lines on Hobson the Cambridge Carrier, which he acknowledges were the only ones Milton wrote on this model. Indeed, he is the great contrast to that style of poetry, being remarkable for breadth and massiness, or what Dr. Johnson calls “aggregation of ideas,” beyond almost any other poet. He has in this respect been compared to Michael Angelo, but not with much reason: his verses are
“inimitable on earth
Suckling is also ranked, without sufficient warrant, among the metaphysical poets. Sir John was “of the court, courtly;” and his style almost entirely free from the charge of pedantry and affectation. There are a few blemishes of this kind in his works, but they are but few. His compositions are almost all of them short and lively effusions of wit and gallantry, written in a familiar but spirited style, without much design or effort. His shrewd and taunting address to a desponding lover will suf. ficiently vouch for the truth of this account of the general cast of his best pieces.
“Why so pale and wan, fond lover ?
Why so dull and mute, young sinner 4
Will, when speaking well, can't win her,
Quit, quit for shame, this will not move,
If of herself she will not love,
The two short poems against Fruition, that beginning, “There never yet was woman made, nor shall, but to be cursed,”—the song, “I prythee, spare me gentle boy, Press me no more for that slight toy, That foolish trifle of a heart,”—another, “'Tis now, since I sat down before That foolish fort, a heart,”—Lutea Alanson—the set of similes, “Hast thou seen the down in the air, When wanton winds have tost it,”—and his “Dream,” which is of a more tender and romantic cast, are all exquisite in their way. They are the origin of the style of Prior and Gay in their short fugitive verses, and of the songs in the ‘Beggar's Opera.” His ‘Ballad on a Wedding' is his masterpiece, and is indeed unrivalled in that class of composition, for the voluptuous delicacy of the sentiments, and the luxuriant richness of the images. I wish I could repeat the whole, but that, from the change of manners, is impossible. The description of the bride is (half of it) as follows: the story is supposed to be tol, by one countryman to another:—
“Her finger was so small, the ring
Her feet beneath her petticoat,
Her lips were red; and one was thin,
Her mouth so small, when she does speak,
There is to me in the whole of this delightful performance a freshness and purity like the first breath of morning. Its sportive irony never trespasses on modesty, though it sometimes (laughing) threatens to do so! Suckling's Letters are full of habitual gaiety and good sense. His ‘Discourse on Reason in Religion' is well enough meant. Though he excelled in the conversational style of poetry, writing verse with the freedom and readiness, vivacity and unconcern, with which he would have talked on the most familiar and sprightly topics, his peculiar powers deserted him in attempting dramatic dialogue. His comedy of the ‘Goblins' is equally defective in plot, wit, and nature; it is a wretched list of exits and entrances, and the whole business of the scene is taken up in the unaccountable seizure, and equally unaccountable escapes, of a number of persons from a band of robbers in the shape of Goblins, who turn out to be noblemen and gentlemen in disguise. Suckling was not a Grub street author; or it might be said, that this play is like what he might have written after dreaming all night of duns and a sponging house. His tragedies are no better: their titles are the most interesting part of them, ‘Aglaura.’ ‘Brennoralt, and “The Sad One.” Cowley had more brilliancy of fancy and ingenuity of thought than Donne, with less pathos and sentiment. His mode of illustrating his ideas differs also from Donne's in this—that whereas Donne is contented to analyse an image into its component elements, and resolve it into its most abstracted species, Cowley first does this, indeed, but does not stop till he has fixed upon some other prominent example of the same general class of ideas, and forced them into a metaphorical union, by the medium of the generic definition. Thus he says—
“The Phoenix Pindar is a vast species alone.”
He means to say that he stands by himself; he is then “a vast species alone;” then by applying to this generality the principium individuationis, he becomes a Phoenix, because the Phoenix is the only example of a species contained in an individual. Yet this is only a literal or metaphysical coincidence; and literally and metaphysically speaking, Pindar was not a species by himself, but only seemed so by pre-eminence or excellence; that is, from qualities of mind appealing to and absorbing the imagination, and which, therefore, ought to be represented in poetical language by some other obvious and palpable image, exhibiting the same kind or degree of excellence in other things, as when Gray compares him to the Theban eagle,
“Sailing with supreme dominion
Again, he talks in the Motto, or invocation to his Muse, of “marching the Muse's Hannibal” into undiscovered regions. That is, he thinks first of being a leader in poetry, and then he immediately, by virtue of this abstraction, becomes a Hannibal; though no two things can really be more unlike, in all the associations belonging to them, than a leader of armies and a leader of the tuneful nine. In like manner, he compares Bacon to Moses; for in his verses extremes are sure to meet. The ‘Hymn to Light,’ which forms a perfect contrast to Milton's ‘Invocation to Light, in the commencement of the third book of ‘Paradise Lost, begins in the following manner:—
* “First-born of Chaos, who so fair didst come
From the old negro's darksome womb
The melancholy mass put on kind looks, and smil’d.”
And soon after—