The concluding part of the essay is concerned with modern poetry, that is to say the Jacobean and Caroline plays still being read, Milton, Dryden, and Pope. Campbell ends abruptly with Pope, leaving most of the eighteenth and all of the nineteenth century untouched. It might be said in Campbell's defense, that the only existing history of English poetry was the unfinished effort by Thomas Warton that concludes well before Milton. The literary canon after the death of Pope was also largely unsettled in 1819, though Campbell's selection would go some ways towards identifying the poems that others would take as the basis for literary histories. Much material that might otherwise have been included here appears in Campbell's headnotes.
Striving to redress contemporary prejudice, the classical Campbell asks readers "to recollect that Elizabeth's age had its traits of depraved fashion (witness its Euphuism), and that the first examples of the worst taste which ever infected our poetry were given in her days, and not in those of her successor." King James was not so bad for literature as he has been made out to be. Massinger is singled out for particular attention. Beaumont and Fletcher receive mixed praise and blame, being censured for their coarseness and irregularities. The lesser Jacobean and Caroline dramatists are quickly dismissed, with the exception of John Shirley: "His language sparkles with the most exquisite images. Keeping some occasional pruriencies apart, the fault of his age rather than of himself, he speaks the most polished and refined dialect of the stage; and even some of his over-heightened scenes of voluptuousness are meant, though with a very mistaken judgment, to inculcate morality."
Metaphysical poetry is hardly deemed worthy of discussion. Cowley is praised for his prose, and Herrick for his Anacreontic spirit, though "his beauties are so deeply involved in surrounding coarseness and extravagance, as to constitute not a tenth part of his poetry; or rather it may be safely affirmed, that of 1400 pages of verse which he has left, not a hundred are worth reading" (1841) lxxx.
While Milton is faulted for his handling of the war in Heaven, he is the true epic poet: "If we call diction the garb of thought, Milton, in his style, may be said to wear the costume of sovereignty. The idioms even of foreign languages contributed to adorn it. He was the most learned of poets; yet his learning interferes not with his substantial English purity. His simplicity is unimpaired by glowing ornament, like the bush in the sacred flame, which burnt but 'was not consumed'" p. lxxxii.
John Dryden's translations of Virgil are discussed at length, and he is given an elaborate character: "He is a writer of manly and elastic character. His strong judgment gave force as well as direction to a flexible fancy; and his harmony is generally the echo of solid thoughts. But he was not gifted with intense or lofty sensibility; on the contrary, the grosser any idea is, the happier he seems to expatiate upon it. The transports of the heart, and the deep and varied delineations of the passions, are strangers to his poetry. He could describe character in the abstract, but could not embody it in the drama, for he entered into character more from clear perception than fervid sympathy. This great High Priest of all the Nine was not a confessor to the finer secrets of the human breast" p. lxxxv.
Campbell speaks in defense of the Queen Anne poets, who had become unfashionable in the last half-century, and particularly Thomas Parnell. The essay concludes with the famous reaction against the strictures of Joseph Warton and William Lisle Bowles, who had faulted Pope for choosing social rather than "ppoetical" subjects for his verse: "The poet is 'creation's heir.' He deepens our social interest in existence. It is surely by the liveliness of the interest which he excites in existence, and not by the class of subjects which he chooses, that we most fairly appreciate the genius or the life of life which is in him. It is no irreverence to the external charms of nature to say, that they are not more important to a poet's study, than the manners and affections of his species. Nature is the poet's goddess; but by nature, no one rightly understands her mere inanimate face however charming it may be — or the simple landscape painting of trees, clouds, precipices, and flowers. Why then try Pope, or any other poet, exclusively by his powers of describing inanimate phenomena?" p. lxxxix.
Oliver Elton: "In his edition of Pope (1806) William Lisle Bowles, continuing Joseph Warton's argument of fifty years earlier, had striven to put Pope in his true place, as a perfect describer of 'the manners,' who had lost his hold on natural imagery, and who is therefore an artificer, a writer of the second order. Much later, Campbell, in the Essay on English Poetry, spoke warmly for the defence; whereon Bowles, in his Invariable Principles of Poetry, replied for the prosecution. A shower of leaves followed; but in the rival tracts of Bowles and Byron the contention comes to an issue; namely, whether, as Bowles put it, 'poetry be more immediately indebted to what is sublime or beautiful in works of nature, or in the works of art.' And his position proves to be that 'the descriptive poet, who paints from an intimate knowledge of external nature, is more poetical, supposing the fidelity and execution equal, not than the painter of human passion, but (than) the painter of external circumstances in artificial life; Cowper paints a morning walk, Pope a game of cards.' This statement will be denied only by those who deny that poetic pleasures, 'supposing the execution equal,' can be compared at all, or ranked in graduation; but no such modern argument was in the mind of Bowles's critics. He overreached himself, by attempting to deny that images drawn from the handiwork of man are sufficient to give the true pleasure; and inquires of Campbell, why, if they were sufficient, 'it was necessary to bring you ship off the stocks?' It was easy for Byron to rejoin that the handiwork of man counts for as much, in the picture of the ship, as nature, and 'that the poetry is at least reciprocal.' But such arguments could come to little good on either side, and in the age of Coleridge they strike us as somewhat infantile" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 70-71.
The pedantic character of James I. has been frequently represented as the cause of degeneracy in English taste and genius. It must be allowed that James was an indifferent author; and that neither the manners of his court nor the measures of his reign were calculated to excite romantic virtues in his subjects. But the opinion of his character having influenced the poetical spirit of the age unfavourably is not borne out by facts. He was friendly to the stage and to its best writers: he patronized Ben Jonson, and is said to have written a complimentary letter to Shakspeare with his own hand. We may smile at the idea of James's praise being bestowed as an honour upon Shakspeare; the importance of the compliment, however, is not to be estimated by our present opinion of the monarch, but by the excessive reverence with which royalty was at that time invested in men's opinions. James's reign was rich in poetical names, some of which have been already enumerated. We may be reminded, indeed, that those poets had been educated under Elizabeth, and that their genius bore the high impress of her heroic times; but the same observation will also oblige us to recollect that Elizabeth's age had its traits of depraved fashion (witness its Euphuism), and that the first examples of the worst taste which ever infected our poetry were given in her days, and not in those of her successor. Donne (for instance), the patriarch of the metaphysical generation, was thirty years of age at the date of James's accession; a time at which his taste and style were sufficiently formed to acquit his learned sovereign of all blame in having corrupted them. Indeed, if we were to make the memories of our kings accountable for the poetical faults of their respective reigns, we might reproach Charles I., among whose faults bad taste is certainly not to be reckoned, with the chief disgrace of our metaphysical poetry; since that school never attained its unnatural perfection so completely as in the luxuriant ingenuity of Cowley's fancy, and the knotted deformity of Cleveland's. For a short time after the suppression of the theatres, till the time of Milton, the metaphysical poets are forced upon our attention for want of better objects. But during James's reign there is no such scarcity of good writers as to oblige us to dwell on the school of elaborate conceit. Phineas Fletcher has been sometimes named as an instance of the vitiated taste which prevailed at this period. He, however, though musical and fanciful, is not to be admitted as a representative of the poetical character of these times, which included Jonson, Beaumont and John Fletcher, Ford, Massinger, and Shirley. Shakspeare was no more; but there were dramatic authors of great and diversified ability. The romantic school of the drama continued to be more popular than the classical, though in the latter Ben Jonson lived to see imitators of his own manner, whom he was not ashamed to adept as his poetical heirs. Of these Cartwright and Randolph were the most eminent. The originality of Cartwright's plots is always acknowledged; and Jonson used to say of him, "My son Cartwright writes all like a man."
Massinger is distinguished for the harmony and dignity of his dramatic eloquence. Many of his plots, it is true, are liable to heavy exceptions. The fiends and angels of his Virgin Martyr are unmanageable tragic machinery; and the incestuous passion of his Ancient Admiral excites our horror. The poet of love is driven to a frightful expedient, when he gives it the terrors of a maniac passion breaking down the most sacred pale of instinct and consanguinity. The ancient admiral is in love with his own daughter. Such a being, if we fancy him to exist, strikes us as no object of moral warning, but as a man under the influence of insanity, in a general view, nevertheless, Massinger has more art and judgment in the serious drama than any of the other successors of Shakspeare. His incidents are less entangled than those of Fletcher, and the scene of his action is more clearly thrown open for the free evolution of character. Fletcher strikes the imagination with more vivacity, but more irregularly, and amidst embarrassing positions of his own choosing. Massinger puts forth his strength more collectively. Fletcher has more action and character in his drama, and leaves a greater variety of impressions upon the mind. His fancy is more volatile and surprising, but then he often blends disappointment with our surprise, and parts with the consistency of his characters even to the occasionally apparent loss of their identity. This is not the case with Massinger. It is true that Massinger excels more in description and declamation than in the forcible utterance of the heart, and in giving character the warm colouring of passion. Still, not to speak of his one distinguished hero in comedy, he has delineated several tragic characters with strong and interesting traits. They are chiefly proud spirits. Poor himself, and struggling under the rich man's contumely, we may conceive it to have been the solace of his neglected existence to picture worth and magnanimity breaking through external disadvantages, and making their way to love and admiration. Hence his fine conceptions of Paris, the actor, exciting by the splendid endowments of his nature the jealousy of the tyrant of the world; and Don John and Pisander, habited as slaves, wooing and winning their princely mistresses. He delighted to show heroic virtue stripped of all adventitious circumstances, and tried, like a gem, by its shining through darkness. His Duke of Milan is particularly admirable for the blended interest which the poet excites by the opposite weaknesses and magnanimity of the same character. Sforza, Duke of Milan, newly married and uxoriously attached to the haughty Marcelia, a woman of exquisite attractions, makes her an object of secret but deadly enmity at his court, by the extravagant homage which he requires to be paid to her, and the precedence which he enjoins even his own mother and sisters to yield her. As Chief of Milan, he is attached to the fortunes of Francis I. The sudden tidings of the approach of Charles V., in the campaign which terminated with the battle of Pavia, soon afterwards spread dismay through his court and capital. Sforza, though valiant and self-collected in all that regards the warrior or politician, is hurried away by his immoderate passion for Marcelia; and being obliged to leave her behind, but unable to bear the thoughts of her surviving him, obtains the promise of a confidant to destroy her, should his own death appear inevitable. He returns to his capital in safety. Marcelia, having discovered the secret order, receives bins with coldness. His jealousy is inflamed; and her perception of that jealousy alienates the haughty object of his affection, when she is on the point of reconcilement. The fever of Sforza's diseased heart is powerfully described, passing from the extreme of dotage to revenge, and returning again from thence to the bitterest repentance and prostration, when he has struck at the life which he most loved, and has made, when it is too late, the discovery of her innocence. Massinger always enforces this moral in love; — he punishes distrust, and attaches our esteem to the unbounded confidence of the passion. But while Sforza thus exhibits a warning against morbidly-selfish sensibility, he is made to appear, without violating probability, in all other respects a firm, frank, and prepossessing character. When his misfortunes are rendered desperate by the battle of Pavia, and when he is brought into the presence of Charles V., the intrepidity with which be pleads his cause disarms the resentment of his conqueror; and the eloquence of the poet makes us expect that it should do so. Instead of palliating his zeal for the lost cause of Francis, he thus pleads—
I come not, Emperor, to invade thy mercy
By fawning on thy fortune, nor bring with me
Excuses or denials; I profess,
And with a good man's confidence, even this instant
That I am in thy power, I was thins enemy,
Thy deadly and vow'd enemy; one that wish'd
Confusion to thy person and estates,
And with my utmost power, and deepest counsels,
Had they been truly follow'd, further'd it.
Nor will I now, although my neck were under
The hangman's axe, with one peer syllable
Confess but that I honour'd the French king
More than thyself and all men.
After describing his obligations to Francis, he says—
He was indeed tome as my good angel,
To guard me from all danger. I dare speak,
Nay moot and will, his praise now in as high
And loud a key as when he was thy equal.
The benefits he sow'd in me met not
Unthankful ground. * * * *
* * * * If then to he grateful
For benefits received, or not to leave
A friend in his necessities, be a crime
Amongst you Spaniards, Sforza brings his head
To pay the forfeit. Nor come I as a slave,
Pinion'd and fetter'd, in a squalid weed,
Falling before thy feet, kneeling and howling
For a forestall'd remission — that were poor,
And would but shame thy victory, for conquest
Over base foes is a captivity,
And not a triumph. I ne'er fear'd to die
More than I wish'd to live. When I had reach'd
My ends in being a Duke, I wore these robes,
This crown upon my head, and to my side
This sword was girt; and, witness truth, that now
'Tis in another's power, when I shall part
With life and them together, I'm the same—
My veins then did not swell with pride, nor now
Shrink they for fear.
If the vehement passions were not Massinger's happiest element, he expresses fixed principle with an air of authority. To make us feel the elevation of genuine pride was the master-key which he knew how to touch in human sympathy; and his skill in it must have been derived from deep experience in his own bosom.
The theatre of Beaumont and Fletcher contains all manner of good and evil. The respective shares of those dramatic partners, in the works collectively published with their names, have been stated in a different part of this volume. Fletcher's share in them is by far the largest; and he is chargeable with the greatest number of faults, although at the same time his genius was more airy, prolific, and fanciful. There are such extremes of grossness and magnificence in their drama, so much sweetness and beauty interspersed with views of nature either falsely romantic, or vulgar beyond reality; there is so much to animate and amuse us, and yet so much that we would willingly overlook, that I cannot help comparing the contrasted impressions which they make, to those which we receive from visiting some great and ancient city, picturesquely but irregularly built, glittering with spires and surrounded with gardens, but exhibiting in many quarters the lanes and hovels of wretchedness. They have scenes of wealthy and high life which remind us of courts and palaces frequented by elegant females and high-spirited gallants, whilst their noble old martial characters, with Caractacus in the midst of them, may inspire us with the same sort of regard which we pay to the rough-hewn magnificence of an ancient fortress.
Unhappily, the same simile, without being hunted down, will apply but too faithfully to the nuisances of their drama. Their language is often basely profligate. Shakspeare's and Jonson's indelicacies are but casual blots; whilst theirs are sometimes essential colours of their painting, and extend, in one or two instances, to entire and offensive scenes. This fault has deservedly injured their reputation; and, saving a very slight allowance for the fashion and taste of their age, admits of no sort of apology. Their drama, nevertheless, is a very wide one, and "has ample room and verge enough" to permit the attention to wander from these, and to fix on more inviting peculiarities — as on the great variety of their fables and personages, their spirited dialogue, their wit, pathos, and humour. Thickly sown as their blemishes are, their merit will bear great deductions, and still remain great. We never can forget such beautiful characters as their Cellide, their Aspatia, and Bellario, or such humorous ones as their La Writ and Cacafego. Awake they will always keep us, whether to quarrel or to be pleased with them. Their invention is fruitful; its beings are on the whole anactive and sanguine generation; and their scenes are crowded to fulness with the warmth, agitation, and interest of life.
In thus speaking of them together, it may be necessary to allude to the general and traditionary understanding, that Beaumont was the graver and more judicious genius of the two. Yet the plays in which he may be supposed to have assisted Fletcher are by no means remarkable either for harmonious adjustment of parts, or scrupulous adherence to probability. In their "Laws of Candy," the winding up of the plot is accomplished by a young girl commanding a whole bench of senators to descend from their judgment-seats, in virtue of an ancient law of the state which she discovers; and they obey her with the most polite alacrity. "Cupid's Revenge" is assigned to them conjointly, and is one of the very weakest of their worst class of pieces. On the other hand, Fletcher produced his "Rule a Wife and have a Wife," after Beaumont's death, so that he was able, when he chose, to write with skill as well as spirit.
Of that skill, however, he is often so sparing as to leave his characters subject to the most whimsical metamorphoses. Sometimes they repent, like methodists, by instantaneous conversion. At other times they shift from good to bad, so as to leave us in doubt what they were meant for. In the tragedy of "Valentinian" we have a fine old soldier, Maximus, who sustains our affection through four acts, but in the fifth we are suddenly called upon to hate him, on being informed, by his own confession, that he is very wicked, and that all his past virtue has been but a trick on our credulity. The imagination, in this case, is disposed to take part with the creature of the poet's brain against the poet himself, and to think that he maltreats and calumniates his own offspring unnaturally. But for these faults Fletcher makes good atonement, and has many affecting scenes. We must still indeed say scenes; for, except in "The Faithful Shepherdess," which, unlike his usual manner, is very lulling, where shall we find him uniform? If "The Double Marriage" could be cleared of some revolting passages, the part of Juliana would not he unworthy of the powers of the finest tragic actress. Juliana is a high attempt to portray the saint and heroine blended in female character. When her husband Virolet's conspiracy against Ferrand of Naples is discovered, she endures and braves for his sake the most dreadful cruelties of the tyrant. Virolet flies from his country, obliged to leave her behind him; and falling at sea into the hands of the pirate Duke of Sesse, saves himself and his associates from death, by consenting to marry the daughter of the pirate i (Martia), who falls in love and elopes with him from her father's ship. As they carry off with them the son of Ferrand, who had been a prisoner of the Duke of Sesse, Virolet secures his peace being made at Naples; but when he has again to meet Juliana, he finds that he has purchased life too dearly. When the ferocious Martia, seeing his repentance, revenges herself by plotting his destruction, and when his divorced Juliana, forgetting her injuries, flies to warn and to save him, their interview has no common degree of interest. Juliana is perhaps rather a fine idol of the imagination than a probable type of nature; but poetry which "conforms the shows of things to the desires of the soul," has a right to the highest possible virtues of human character. And there have been women who have prized a husband's life above their own, and his honour above his life, and who have united the tenderness of their sex to heroic intrepidity. Such is Juliana, who thus exhorts the wavering fortitude of Virolet on the eve of his conspiracy.
Virolet. * * Unless our hands were cannon
To batter down his walls, our weak breath mines
To blow his forts up, or our curses lightning,
Our power is like to yours, and we, like you,
Weep our misfortunes. * * * *
She replies —
* * * Walls of brass resist not
A noble undertaking — nor can vice
Raise any bulwark to make good a place
Where virtue seeks to enter.
The joint dramas of Beaumont and Fletcher, entitled "Philaster" and "The Maid's Tragedy," exhibit other captivating female portraits. The difficulty of giving at once truth, strength, and delicacy to female repentance for the loss of honour, is finely accomplished in Evadne. The stage has perhaps few scenes more affecting than that in which she obtains forgiveness of Amintor, on terms which interest us in his compassion, without compromising his honour. In the same tragedy, the plaintive image of the forsaken Aspatia has an indescribably sweet spirit and romantic expression. Her fancy takes part with her heart, and gives its sorrow a visionary gracefulness. When she finds her maid Antiphila working a picture of Ariadae, she tells her to copy the likeness from herself, from "the lost Aspatia."
Asp. But where's the lady?
Ant. There, Madam.
Asp. Fie, you have miss'd it here, Antiphila;
These colours are not dull and pale enough,
To show a soul so full of misery
As this sad lady's was. Do it by me—
Do it again by me, the lost Aspatia,
And you shall find all true. Put me on the wild island.
I stand upon the sea-beach now, and think
Mine arms thus, and my hair blown by the wind
Wild as that desert, and let all about me
Be teachers of my story. * * *
* * * * strive to make me look
Like Sorrow's monument, and the trees about me,
Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks
Groan with continual surges, and behind me
Make all a desolation. See, see, wenches,
A miserable life of this poor picture.
The resemblance of this poetical picture to Guido's Bacchus and Ariadne has been noticed by Mr. Seward in the preface to his edition of Beaumont and Fletcher. "In both representations the extended arms of the mourner, her hair blown by the wind, the barren roughness of the rocks around her, and the broken trunks of leafless trees, make her figure appear like Sorrow's monument."
Their masculine characters in tragedy are generally much less interesting than their females. Some exceptions may be found to this remark; particularly in the British chief Caractacus and his interesting nephew, the boy Hengo. With all the faults of the tragedy of Bonduca, its British subject and its native heroes attach our hearts. We follow Caractacus to battle and captivity with a proud satisfaction in his virtue. The stubbornness of the old soldier is finely tempered by his wise, just, and candid respect for his enemies the Romans, and by his tender affection for his princely ward. He never gives way to sorrow till be looks on the dead body of his nephew, Hengo, when he thus exclaims—
* * * Farewell the hopes of Britain!
Farewell then royal graft for ever! Time and Death,
Ye have done your worst. Fortune, now see, now proudly
Pluck off thy veil, and view thy triumph.
* * * * * O fair flower,
How lovely yet thy ruins show — how sweetly
Ev'n Death embraces thee! The peace of heaven,
The fellowship of all great souls, go with thee!
The character must he well supported which yields a sensation of triumph in the act of surrendering to victorious enemies. Caractacus does not need to tell us, that when a brave man has done his duty, he cannot be humbled by fortune — but be makes us feel it in his behaviour. The few brief and simple sentences which he utters in submitting to the Romans, together with their respectful behaviour to him, give a sublime composure to his appearance in the closing scene.
Dryden praises the gentlemen of Beaumont and Fletcher in comedy as the true men of fashion of "the times." It was necessary that Dryden should call them the men of fashion of the times, for they are not in the highest sense of the word gentlemen. Shirley's comic characters have much more of the conversation and polite manners, which we should suppose to belong to superior life in all ages and countries. The genteel characters of Fletcher form a narrower class, and exhibit a more particular image of their times and country. But their comic personages, after all, are a spirited race. In one province of the facetious drama they set the earliest example; witness their humorous mock-heroic comedy, The Knight of the Burning Pestle.
The memory of Ford has been deservedly revived as one of the ornaments of our ancient drama; though he has no great body of poetry, and has interested us in no other passion except that of love; but in that he displays a peculiar depth and delicacy of romantic feeling. Webster has a gloomy force of imagination, not unmixed with the beautiful and pathetic. But it is "beauty in the lap of horror:" he caricatures the shapes of terror, and his Pegasus is like a nightmare. Middleton, Marston, Thomas Heywood, Decker, and Chapman, also present subordinate claims to remembrance in that fertile period of the drama.
Shirley was the last of our good old dramatists. When his works shall be given to the public, they will undoubtedly enrich our popular literature. His language sparkles with the most exquisite images. Keeping some occasional pruriencies apart, the fault of his age rather than of himself, he speaks the most polished and refined dialect of the stage; and even some of his over-heightened scenes of voluptuousness are meant, though with a very mistaken judgment, to inculcate morality. I consider his genius, indeed, as rather brilliant and elegant than strong or lofty. His tragedies are defective in fire, grandeur, and passion; and we must select his comedies, to have any favourable idea of his humour. His finest poetry comes forth in situations rather more familiar than tragedy and more grave than comedy, which I should call sentimental comedy, if the name were not associated with ideas of modern insipidity. That he was capable, however, of pure and excellent comedy will be felt by those who have yet in reserve the amusement of reading his Gamester, Hyde-park, and Lady of Pleasure. In the first and last of these there is a subtle ingenuity in producing comic effect and surprise, which might be termed Attic, if it did not surpass anything that is left us in Athenian comedy.
I shall leave to others the more special enumeration of his faults, only observing, that the airy touches of his expression, the delicacy of his sentiments, and the beauty of his similes, are often found where the poet survives the dramatist, and where he has not power to transfuse life and strong individuality through the numerous characters of his voluminous drama. His style, to use a line of his own, is "studded like a frosty night with stars;" and a severe critic might say, that the stars often shine when the atmosphere is rather too frosty. In other words, there is more beauty of fancy than strength of feeling in his works. From this remark, however, a defender of his fame might justly appeal to exceptions in many of his pieces. From a general impression of his works I should not paint his Muse with the haughty form and features of inspiration, but with a countenance, in its happy moments, arch, lovely, and interesting both in smiles and in tears; crowned with flowers, and not unindebted to ornament, but wearing the drapery and chaplet with a claim to them from natural beauty. Of his style I subjoin one or two more examples, lest I may not have done justice to him in that respect in the body of the work.
FROM "THE GRATEFUL SERVANT."
CLEONA INFORMED BY THE PAGE DULCINO OF FOSCARI, WHOM SHE HAD THOUGHT DEAD, BRING STILL ALIVE.
Cleona. The day breaks glorious to my darken'd thoughts.
He lives, he lives yet! cease, ye amorous fears,
More to perplex me. Prithee speak, sweet youth:
How fares my lord? Upon my virgin heart
I'll build a flaming altar, to offer up
A thankful sacrifice for his return
To life and me. Speak, and increase my comforts.
Is he in perfect health?
Dulcino. Not perfect, Madam,
Until you bless him with the knowledge of
Your constancy. —
Cleon. O get thee wings and fly then:
Tell him my love doth burn like vestal fire,
Which with his memory, richer than all spices,
Dispersed odours round about my sent,
And did refresh it, when 'twas dull and sad,
With thinking of his absence—
Yet — stay,
Thou goest away too soon; where is he? speak.
Dul. He gave me no commission for that, lady;
He will soon save that question by his presence.
Cleon. Time has no feathers — he walks now on crutches.
Relate his gestures when he gave thee this.
What other words? — Did mirth smile on his brow?
I would not, for the wealth of this great world,
He should suspect my faith. What said he, prithee?
Dul. He said what a warm lover, when desire
Makes eloquent, could speak — he said you were
Both star and pilot.
Cle. The sun's loved flower, that shuts his yellow curtain
When he declineth, opens it again
At his fair rising: with my parting lord
I closed all my delight — till his approach it shall not spread itself.
FROM THE SAME.
FOSCARI, IN HIS MELANCHOLY, ANNOUNCING TO FATHER VALENTIO HIS RESOLUTION TO BECOME A MONK.
Foscari. There is a sun, ten times more glorious
Than that which rises in the east, attracts me
To feed upon his sweet beams, and become
A bird of Paradise, a religious man,
To rise from earth, and no more to mm back
But for a burial.
Valentio. My lord, the truth is, like your coat of arms,
Richest when plainest. I do fear the world
Both tired you, and you seek a cell to rest in;
As birds that wing it o'er the sea seek ships
Till they get breath, and then they fly away.
FROM "THE TRAITOR,"
THE DUKE OF FLORENCE TO HIS MURDERER, LORENZO.
* * * For thee, inhuman murderer, expect
My blood shall fly to heaven, and there enflamed,
Hang a prodigious meteor all thy life:
And when, by same as bloody hand as thine,
Thy soul is ebbing forth, it shall descend,
In flaming drops, upon thee. O! I faint!
Thou flattering world, farewell. Let princes gather
My dust into a glass, and learn to spend
Their hour of state — that's all they have — for when
That's out, Time never turns the glass again.
FROM THE SAME.
* * When our souls shall leave this dwelling,
The glory of one fair and virtuous action
Is above all the scutcheons on our tomb,
Or silken banners over us.
FROM THE COMEDY OF "THE BROTHERS."
FERNANDO DESCRIBING HIS MISTRESS TO FRANCISCO.
Fern. You have, then, a mistress,
And thrive upon her favours — but thou art
My brother: I'll deliver thee a secret:
I was at St. Sebastian's, last Sunday,
Fran. Is it a secret that you went to church?
You need not blush to tell't your ghostly father.
Fern. I prithee leave thy impertinence: there I saw
So sweet a face, so harmless, so intent
Upon her prayers; it frosted my devotion
To gaze upon her, till by degrees I took
Her fair idea, through my covetous eyes,
Into my heart, and knew not how to ease
It since of the impression.
Her eye did seem to labour with a tear,
Which suddenly took birth, but, overweigh'd
With its own swelling, dropp'd upon her bosom,
Which, by reflection of her light, appear'd
As Nature meant her sorrow for an ornament.
After, her looks grew cheerful, and I saw
A smile shoot graceful upward from her eyes,
As if they had gain'd a victory o'er grief;
And with it many beams twisted themselves,
Upon whose golden threads the angels walk
To and again from heaven.
The contempt which Dryden expresses for Shirley might surprise us, if it were not recollected that he lived in a degenerate age of dramatic taste, and that his critical sentences were neither infallible nor immutable. He at one time undervalued Otway, though he lived to alter his opinion.
The civil wars put an end to this dynasty of our dramatic poets. Their immediate successors or contemporaries, belonging to the reign of Charles I., many of whom resumed their lyres after the interregnum, may, in a general view, be divided into the classical and metaphysical schools. The former class, containing Denham, Waller, and Carew, upon the whole cultivated smooth and distinct melody of numbers, correctness of imagery, and polished elegance of expression. The latter, in which Herrick and Cowley stood at the head of Donne's metaphysical followers, were generally loose or rugged in their versification, and preposterous in their metaphors. But this distinction can only be drawn in very general terms; for Cowley, the prince of the metaphysicians, has bursts of natural feeling and just thoughts in the midst of his absurdities. And Herrick, who is equally whimsical, has left some little gems of highly-finished composition. On the other hand, the correct Waller is sometimes metaphysical and ridiculous hyperboles are to be found in the elegant style of Carew.
The characters of Denham, Waller, and Cowley, have been often described. Had Cowley written nothing but his prose, it would have stamped him a man of genius, and an improver of our language. Of his poetry Rochester indecorously said, that "not being of God, it could not stand." Had the word nature been substituted, it would have equally conveyed the intended meaning, but still that meaning would not have been strictly just. There is much in Cowley that will stand. He teems, in many places, with the imagery, the feeling, the grace, and gaiety of a poet. Nothing but a severer judgment was wanting to collect the scattered lights of his fancy. His unnatural flights arose less from affectation than self-deception. He cherished false thoughts as men often associate with false friends, not from insensibility to the difference between truth and falsehood, but from being too indolent to examine the difference. Herrick, if we were to fix our eyes on a small portion of his works, might be pronounced a writer of delightful Anacreontic spirit. He has passages where the thoughts seem to dance into numbers from his very heart, and where he frolics like a being made up of melody and pleasure; as when he sings—
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying;
And this same flower that blooms to-day,
To-morrow will be dying.
In the same spirit are his verses to Anthea, concluding—
Thou art my life, my love, my heart,
The very eyes of me;
And hast command of every part,
To live and die for thee.
But his beauties are so deeply involved in surrounding coarseness and extravagance, as to constitute not a tenth part of his poetry; or rather it may be safely affirmed, that of 1400 pages of verse which he has left, not a hundred are worth reading.
In Milton there maybe traced obligations to several minor English poets; but his genius had too great a supremacy to belong to any school. Though he acknowledged a filial reverence for Spenser as a poet, he left no Gothic irregular tracery in the design of his own great work, but gave a classical harmony of parts to its stupendous pile. It thus resembles a dome, the vastness of which is at first sight concealed by its symmetry, but which expands more and more to the eye while it is contemplated. His early poetry seems to have neither disturbed nor corrected the bad taste of his age. Comus came into the world unacknowledged by its author, and Lycidas appeared at first only with his initials. These, and other exquisite pieces, composed in the happiest years of his life, at his father's country-house at Horton, were collectively published, with his name affixed to them, in 1645; but that precious volume, which included L'Allegro and II Penseroso, did not come to a second edition, till it was republished by himself at the distance of eight-and-twenty years. Almost a century elapsed before his minor works obtained their proper fame. Handel's music is said, by Dr. Warton, to have drawn the first attention to them; but they must have been admired before Handel set them to music; for he was assuredly not the first to discover their beauty. But of Milton's poetry being above the comprehension of his age, we should have a sufficient proof, if we had no other, in the grave remark of Lord Clarendon, that Cowley had, in his time, "taken a flight above all men in poetry." Even when "Paradise Lost" appeared, though it was not neglected, it attracted no crowd of imitators, and made no visible change in the poetical practice of the age. He stood alone, and aloof above his times, the bard of immortal subjects, and, as far as there is perpetuity in language, of immortal fame. The very choice of those subjects bespoke a contempt for any species of excellence that was attainable by other men. There is something that overawes the mind in conceiving his long deliberated selection of that theme — his attempting it when his eyes were shut upon the face of nature — his dependence, we might almost say, on supernatural inspiration, and in the calm air of strength with which he opens "Paradise Lost," beginning a mighty performance without the appearance of an effort. Taking the subject all in all, his powers could nowhere else have enjoyed the same scope. It was only from the height of this great argument that he could look back upon eternity past, and forward upon eternity to come; that he could survey the abyss of infernal darkness, open visions of Paradise, or ascend to heaven and breathe empyreal air. Still the subject had precipitous difficulties. It obliged him to relinquish the warm, multifarious interests of human life. For these indeed he could substitute holier things; but a more insuperable objection to the theme was, that it involved the representation of a war between the Almighty and his created beings. To the vicissitudes of such a warfare it was impossible to make us attach the same fluctuations of hope and fear, the same curiosity, suspense, and sympathy, which we feel amidst the battles of the Iliad, and which make every brave young spirit long to be in the midst of them.
Milton has certainly triumphed over one difficulty of his subject, the paucity and the loneliness of its human agents; for no one in contemplating the garden of Eden would wish to exchange it for a more populous world. His earthly pair could only be represented, during their innocence, as beings of simple enjoyment and negative virtue, with no other passions than the fear of heaven, and the love of each other. Yet from these materials what a picture has he drawn of their homage to the Deity, their mutual affection, and the horrors of their alienation. By concentrating all exquisite ideas of external nature in the representation of their abode — by conveying an inspired impression of their spirits and forms, whilst they first shone under the fresh light of creative heaven — by these powers of description, he links our first parents, in harmonious subordination, to the angelic natures — he supports them in the balance of poetical importance with their divine coadjutors and enemies, and makes them appear at once worthy of the friendship and envy of gods.
In the angelic warfare of the poem, Milton has done whatever human genius could accomplish. But, although Satan speaks of having "put to proof his (Maker's) high supremacy, in dubious battle, on the plains of heaven," the expression, though finely characteristic of his blasphemous pride, does not prevent us from feeling that the battle cannot for a moment he dubious. Whilst the powers of description and language are taxed and exhausted to portray the combat, it is impossible not to feel, with regard to the blessed spirits, a profound and reposing security that they have neither great dangers to fear, nor reverses to suffer. At the same time it must be said that, although in the actual contact of the armies the inequality of the strife becomes strongly visible to the imagination, and makes it a contest more of noise than terror; yet, while positive action is suspended, there is a warlike grandeur in the poem, which is nowhere to be paralleled. When Milton's genius dares to invest the Almighty himself with arms, "his bow and thunder," the astonished mind admits the image with a momentary credence. It is otherwise when we are involved in the circumstantial details of the campaign. We have then leisure to anticipate its only possible issue, and can feel no alarm for any temporary check that may be given to those who fight under the banners of Omnipotence. The warlike part of Paradise Lost was inseparable from its subject. Whether it could have been differently managed, is a problem which our reverence for Milton will scarcely permit us to state. I feel that reverence too strongly to suggest even the possibility that Milton could have improved his poem, by having thrown his angelic warfare into more remote perspective; but it seems to me to be most sublime when it is least distinctly brought home to the imagination. What an awful effect has the dim and undefined conception of the conflict, which we gather from the opening of the first book There the veil of mystery is left undrawn between us and a subject which the powers of description were inadequate to exhibit. The ministers of divine vengeance and pursuit had been recalled — the thunders had ceased
To bellow through the vast and boundless deep,
Par. Lost, Book i. v. 177.
(in that line what an image of sound and space is conveyed!) — and our terrific conception of the past is deepened by its indistinctness. In optics there are some phenomena which are beautifully deceptive at a certain distance, but which lose their illusive charm on the slightest approach to them that changes the light and position in which they are viewed. Something like this takes place in the phenomena of fancy. The array of the fallen angels in hell — the unfurling of the standard of Satan — and the march of his troops
In perfect phalanx, to the Dorian mood
Of flutes and soft recorders — Book i. 1. 550;
all this human pomp and circumstance of war — is magic and overwhelming illusion. The imagination is taken by surprise. But the noblest efforts of language are tried with very unequal effect to interest us, in the immediate and close view of the battle itself in the sixth book; and the martial demons, who charmed us in the shades of hell, lose some portion of their sublimity when their artillery is discharged in the daylight of heaven.
If we call diction the garb of thought, Milton, in his style, may be said to wear the costume of sovereignty. The idioms even of foreign languages contributed to adorn it. He was the most learned of poets; yet his learning interferes not with his substantial English purity. His simplicity is unimpaired by glowing ornament, like the bush in the sacred flame, which burnt but "was not consumed."
In delineating the blessed spirits, Milton has exhausted all the conceivable variety that could he given to pictures of unshaded sanctity; but it is chiefly in those of the fallen angels that his excellence is conspicuous above everything ancient or modern. Tasso had, indeed, portrayed an infernal council, and had given the hint to our poet of ascribing the origin of pagan worship to those reprobate spirits. But how poor and squalid in comparison of the Miltonic Pandaemonium are the Scyllas, the Cyclopses, and the Chimeras of the Infernal Council of the Jerusalem! Tasso's conclave of fiends is a den of ugly incongruous monsters.
O come strane, o come orribil forme!
Quant e negli ocohi lor terror, e morte!
Stampano alcuni il suol di ferine orme
E'n fronte umana han chiome d' angui attorte
E lor s'aggira dietro immensa loda
Che quasi sferza si ripiega, e snoda.
Qui mille immonde Arpie vedresti, e mille
Contauri, e Sfingi, e pallide Gorgoni,
Molte e molte latrar voraci Scille
E fischiar Idre, e sibilar Pitoni,
E vomitar Chimere atre faville
E Polifemi orrondi, e Gerioni.
La Gerusalemme, Canto IV.
The powers of Milton's hell are god-like shapes and forms. Their appearance dwarfs every other poetical conception, when we turn out dilated eyes from contemplating them. It is not their external attributes alone which expand the imagination, but their souls, which are as colossal as their stature — their "thoughts that wander through eternity" — the pride that burns amidst the ruins of their divine natures — and their genius, that feels with the ardour and debates with the eloquence of heaven.
The subject of Paradise Lost was the origin of evil — an era in existence — an event more than all others dividing past from future time — an isthmus in the ocean of eternity. The theme was in its nature connected with everything important in the circumstances of human history; and amidst these circumstances Milton saw that the fables of Paganism were too important and poetical to be emitted. As a Christian, he was entitled wholly to neglect them; but as a poet, he chose to treat them, not as dreams of the human mind, but as the delusions of infernal existences. Thus anticipating a beautiful propriety for all classical allusions, thus connecting and reconciling the co-existence of fable and of truth, and thus identifying the fallen angels with the deities of "gay religions, full of pomp and gold," he yoked the heathen mythology in triumph to his subject, and clothed himself in the spoils of superstition.
One eminent production of wit, namely, Hudibras, may be said to have sprung out of the Restoration, or at least out of the contempt of fanaticism, which had its triumph in that event; otherwise, the return of royalty contributed as little to improve the taste as the morality of the public. The drama degenerated, owing, as we are generally told, to the influence of French literature, although some infection from the Spanish stage might also be taken into the account. Sir William Davenant, who presided ever the first revival of the theatre, was a man of cold and didactic spirit; he created an era in the machinery, costume, and ornaments of the stage, but he was only fitted to be its mechanical benefactor. Dryden, who could do even bad things with a good grace, confirmed the taste for rhyming and ranting tragedy. Two beautiful plays of Otway formed an exception to this degeneracy; but Otway was cut off in the spring-tide of his genius, and his early death was, according to every appearance, a heavy loss to our drama. It has been alleged, indeed, in the present day, that Otway's imagination showed no prognostics of great future achievements; but when I remember Venice Preserved and The Orphan, as the works of a man of thirty, I can treat this opinion no otherwise than to dismiss it as an idle assertion [Greek characters].
During the last thirty years of the seventeenth century, Dryden was seldom long absent from the view of the public, and he alternately swayed and humoured its predilections. Whatever may be said of his accommodating and fluctuating theories of criticism, his perseverance in training and disciplining his own faculties is entitled to much admiration, he strengthened his mind by action, and fertilised it by production. In his old age he renewed his youth, like the eagle; or rather his genius acquired stronger wings than it had ever spread. He rose and fell, it is true, in the course of his poetical career; but upon the whole it was a career of improvement to the very last. Even in the drama, which was not his natural province, his good sense came at last so far in aid of his deficient sensibility, that he gave up his system of rhyming tragedy, and adopted Shakspeare (in theory at least) for his model. In poetry not belonging to the drama, he was at first an admirer of Cowley, then of Davenant; and ultimately he acquired a manner above the peculiarities of either. The Odes and Fables of his latest volume surpass whatever he had formerly written. He was satirised and abused as well as extolled by his contemporaries; but his genius was neither to be discouraged by the severity, nor spoilt by the favour of criticism. It flourished alike in the sunshine and the storm, and its fruits improved as they multiplied in profusion. When we view him out of the walk of purely original composition, it is not a paradoxy, as to that though he is one of the greatest artists in language, and perhaps the greatest of English translators, he nevertheless attempted one task in which his failure is at least as conspicuous as his success. But that task was the translation of Virgil. And it is not lenity, but absolute justice, that requires us to make a very large and liberal allowance for whatever deficiencies he may show in transfusing into a language less harmonious and flexible than the Latin, the sense of that poet, who, in the history of the world, has had no rival in beauty of expression. Dryden renovates Chaucer's thoughts, and fills up Boccaccio's narrative outline with many improving touches: and though paraphrase suited his free spirit better than translation, yet even in versions of Horace and Juvenal he seizes the classical character of Latin poetry with a boldness and dexterity which are all his own. But it was easier for him to emulate the strength of Juvenal than the serene majesty of Virgil. His translation of Virgil is certainly an inadequate representation of the Roman poet. It is often bold and graceful, and generally idiomatic and easy. But though the spirit of the original is not lost, it is sadly and unequally diffused. Nor is it only in the magic of words, in the exquisite structure and rich economy of expression, that Dryden (as we might expect) falls beneath Virgil, but we too often feel the inequality of his vital sensibility as a poet. Too frequently, when the Roman classic touches the heart, or embodies to our fancy those noble images to which nothing could be added, and from which nothing can be taken away, we are sensible of the distance between Dryden's talent, and Virgil's inspiration. One passage out of many, the representation of Jupiter in the first book of the Georgics, may show this difference.
GEORGICS, lib. i. l. 323.
Ipse Pater, media nimborum in nocte, corusea
Fulmina molitur dextra: quo maxima motu
Terra tremit, fugere ferae, et mortalia corda
Per gentes humilis stravit pavor—
The father of the Gods his glory shrouds,
Involved in tempests and a night of clouds,
And from the middle darkness flashing out,
By fits he deals his fiery boils about.
Earth feels the motion of her angry God,
Her entrails tremble, and her mountains nod,
And flying beasts in forests seek abode:
Deep horror seizes every human breast,
Their pride is humbled, and their fear confessed.
Virgil's three lines and a half might challenge the most sublime pencil of Italy to the same subject. His words are no sooner read than, with the rapidity of light, they collect a picture before the mind which stands confessed in all its parts. There is no interval between the objects as they are presented to our perception. At one and the same moment we behold the form, the uplifted arm, and dazzling thunderbolts of Jove, amidst a night of clouds; — the earth trembling, and the wild beasts scudding for shelter — "fugere" — they have vanished while the poet describes them, and we feel that mortal hearts are laid prostrate with fear, throughout the nations. Drydcn, in the translation, has done his best, and some of his lines roll on with spirit and dignity, but the whole description is a process rather than a picture — the instantaneous effect, the electric unity of the original, is lost. Jupiter has leisure to deal out his fiery bolts by fits, while the entrails of the earth shake and her mountains nod, and the flying beasts have time to look out very quietly for lodgings in the forest. The weakness of the two last lines, which stand for the weighty words, "Mortalia corda per gentes humilis stravit pavor," need not be pointed out.
I cannot quote this passage without recurring to the recollection, already suggested, that it was Virgil with whom the English translator had to contend. Dryden's admirers might undoubtedly quote many passages much more in his favour; and one passage occurs to me as a striking example of his felicity. In the following lines (with the exception of one) we recognise a great poet, and can scarcely acknowledge that he is translating a greater.
AENEID, lib. xii. I. 331.
Quails spud gelidi cum flumina concitus Hebri
Sanguineus Mavors elipeo intonat atque furentes
Bella movens immittit equos, illi quore aperto
Ante Notos Zephyrumque volant, gemit ultima pulsu
Thraca pedum, circumque atrae Formidinis ora,
Ira, insidiaeque, Dei comitatus aguntur—
Thus, on the banks of Hebrus' freezing flood,
The god of battles, in his angry mood,
Clashing his sword against his brazen shield,
Lets loose the reins, and scours along the field:
Before the wind his fiery coursers fly,
Groans the sad earth, resounds the rattling sky
Wrath, terror, treason, tumult, and despair,
Dire faces and deform'd, surround the car,
Friends of the God, and followers of the war.
If it were asked how far Dryden can strictly be called an inventive poet, his drama certainly would not furnish many instances of characters strongly designed; though his Spanish Friar is by no means an insipid personage in comedy. The contrivance in The Hind and Panther of beasts disputing about religion, if it were his own, would do little honour to his ingenuity. The idea, in Absalom and Achitophel, of couching modern characters under Scripture names, was adopted from one of the Puritan writers; yet there is so much ingenuity evinced in supporting the parallel, and so admirable a gallery of portraits displayed in the work, as to render that circumstance insignificant with regard to its originahity. Nor, though his Fables are borrowed, can we regard him with much less esteem than if be had been their inventor. He is a writer of manly and elastic character. His strong judgment gave force as well as direction to a flexible fancy; and his harmony is generally the echo of solid thoughts. But he was not gifted with intense or lofty sensibility; on the contrary, the grosser any idea is, the happier he seems to expatiate upon it. The transports of the heart, and the deep and varied delineations of the passions, are strangers to his poetry. He could describe character in the abstract, but could not embody it in the drama, for he entered into character more from clear perception than fervid sympathy. This great High Priest of all the Nine was not a confessor to the finer secrets of the human breast. Had the subject of Eloisa fallen into his hands, he would have left but a coarse draught of her passion.
Dryden died in the last year of the seventeenth century. In the intervening period between his death and the meridian of Pope's reputation, we may be kept in good humour with the archness of Prior, and the wit of Swift. Parnell was the most elegant rhymist of Pope's early contemporaries; and Rowe, if he did not bring back the full fire of the drama, at least preserved its vestal spark from being wholly extinguished. There are exclusionists in taste, who think that they cannot speak with sufficient disparagement of the English poets of the first part of the eighteenth century; and they are armed with a noble provocative to English contempt, when they have it to say, that those poets belong to a French school. Indeed Dryden himself is generally included in that school; though more genuine English is to be found in no man's pages. But in poetry "there are many mansions." I am free to confess, that I can pass from the elder writers, and still find a charm in the correct and equable sweetness of Parnell. Conscious that his diction has not the freedom and volubility of the better strains of the elder time, I cannot but remark his exemption from the quaintness and false metaphor which so often disfigure the style of the preceding age; nor deny my respect to the select choice of his expression, the clearness and keeping of his imagery, and the pensive dignity of his moral feeling.
Pope gave our heroic couplet its strictest melody and tersest expression.
D'un mot mis en sa place il enseigne is pouvoir.
If his contemporaries forgot other poets in admiring him, let him not be robbed of his just fame on pretence that a part of it was superfluous. The public ear was long fatigued with repetitions of his manner; but if we place ourselves in the situation of those to whom his brilliancy, succinctness, and animation were wholly new, we cannot wonder at their being captivated to the fondest admiration. In order to do justice to Pope, we should forget his imitators, if that were possible; but it is easier to remember than to forget by an effort — to acquire associations than to shake them off. Every one may recollect how often the most beautiful air has palled upon his ear, and grown insipid from being played or sung by vulgar musicians. It is the same thing with regard to Pope's versification. That his peculiar rhythm and manner are the very best in the whole range of our poetry need not be asserted. He has a gracefully peculiar manner, though it is not calculated to be an universal one; and where, indeed, shall we find the style of poetry that could be pronounced an exclusive model for every composer? His pauses have little variety, and his phrases are too much weighed in the balance of antithesis. But let us look to the spirit that points his antithesis, and to the rapid precision of his thoughts, and we shall forgive him for being too antithetic and sententious.
Pope's works have been twice given to the world by editors who cannot be taxed with the slightest editorial partiality towards his fame. The last of these is the Rev. Mr. Bowles, in speaking of whom I beg leave most distinctly to disclaim the slightest intention of undervaluing his acknowledged merit as a poet, however freely and fully I may dissent from his critical estimate of the genius of Pope. Mr. Bowles, in forming this estimate, lays great stress upon the argument, that Pope's images are drawn from art more than from nature. That Pope was neither so insensible to the beauties of nature, nor so indistinct in describing them as to forfeit the character of a genuine poet, is what I mean to urge, without exaggerating his picturesqueness. But before speaking of that quality in his writings, I would beg leave to observe, in the first place, that the faculty by which a poet luminously describes objects of art is essentially the same faculty which enables him to be a faithful describer of simple nature; in the second place, that nature and art are to a greater degree relative terms in poetical description than is generally recollected; and, thirdly, that artificial objects and manners are of so much importance in fiction, as to make the exquisite description of them no less characteristic of genius than the description of simple physical appearances. The poet is "creation's heir." He deepens our social interest in existence. It is surely by the liveliness of the interest which he excites in existence, and not by the class of subjects which he chooses, that we most fairly appreciate the genius or the life of life which is in him. It is no irreverence to the external charms of nature to say, that they are not more important to a poet's study, than the manners and affections of his species. Nature is the poet's goddess; but by nature, no one rightly understands her mere inanimate face however charming it may be — or the simple landscape painting of trees, clouds, precipices, and flowers. Why then try Pope, or any other poet, exclusively by his powers of describing inanimate phenomena? Nature, in the wide and proper sense of the word, means life in all its circumstances — nature moral as well as external. As the subject of inspired fiction, nature includes artificial forms and manners. Richardson is no less a painter of nature than Homer. Homer himself is a minute describer of works of art; and Milton is full of imagery derived from it. Satan's spear is compared to the pine that makes "the mast of some great ammiral," and his shield is like the moon, but like the moon artificially seen through the glass of the Tuscan artist. The "spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife, the royal banner, and all quality, pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war," are all artificial images. When Shakspeare groups into one view the most sublime objects of the universe, he fixes first on "the cloud-capt towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples." Those who have ever witnessed the spectacle of the launching of a ship of the line, will perhaps forgive me for adding this to the examples of the sublime objects of artificial life. Of that spectacle I can never forget the impression, and of having witnessed it reflected from the faces of ten thousand spectators. They seem yet before me — I sympathise with their deep and silent expectation, and with their final burst of enthusiasm. It was not a vulgar joy, but an affecting national solemnity. When the vast bulwark sprang from her cradle, the calm water on which she swung majestically round gave the imagination a contrast of the stormy element on which she was soon to ride. All the days of battle and the nights of danger which she had to encounter, all the ends of the earth which she had to visit, and all that she had to do and to suffer for her country, rose in awful presentiment before the mind; and when the heart gave her a benediction, it was like one pronounced on a living being.
Pope, while he is a great moral writer, though not elaborately picturesque, is by no means deficient as a painter of interesting external objects. No one will say that he peruses Eloisa's Epistle without a solemn impression of the pomp of catholic superstition. In familiar description, nothing can be more distinct and agreeable than his lines on the Man of Ross, when he asks,
Whose causeway parts the vale with shady rows?
Whose seats the weary traveller repose?
Who taught that heaven-directed spire to rise?
The Man of Ross, each lisping babe replies.
Beheld the market-place with poor o'erspread—
The Man of Ross divides the weekly bread:
He feeds yon almshouse, neat, but void of state,
Where Age and Want sit smiling at the gate:
Him portion'd maids, apprenticed orphans blest,
The young who labour, and the old who rest.
Nor is he without observations of animal nature, in which every epithet is a decisive touch, as,
From the green myriads in the peopled grass,
What modes of sight betwixt each wide extreme,
The mole's dim curtain, and the lynx's beam;
Of smell, the headlong lioness between,
And hound sagacious, on the tainted green;
Of hearing, from the life that fills the flood,
To that which warbles through the vernal wood;
The spider's touch, how exquisitely fine,
Feels at each thread, and lives along the line.
His picture of the dying pheasant is in every one's memory, and possibly the lines of his winter piece may by this time  have crossed the recollection of some of our brave adventurers in the polar enterprise.
So Zembla's rocks, the beautious work of frost,
Rise white in air, and glitter o'er the coast;
Pale suns, unfelt at distance, roll away,
And on the impassive ice the lightnings play;
Eternal snows the growing mass supply,
Till the bright mountains prop th' incumbent sky;
As Atlas fix'd, each hoary pile appears,
The gather'd winter of a thousand years.
I am well aware that neither these nor similar instances will come up to Mr. Bowles's idea of that talent for the picturesque which he deems essential to poetry. "The true poet," says that writer, "should have an eye attentive to and familiar with every change of season, every variation of light and shade of nature, every rock, every tree, and every leaf in her secret places. He who has not an eye to observe these, and who cannot with a glance distinguish every hue in her variety, must be so far deficient in one of the essential qualities of a poet." Every rock, every leaf, every diversity of hue in nature's variety! Assuredly this botanising perspicacity might be essential to a Dutch flower-painter; but Sophocles displays no such skill, and yet he is a genuine, a great, and affecting poet. Even in describing the desert island of Philoctetes, there is no minute observation of nature's hues in secret places. Throughout the Greek tragedians there is nothing to show them more attentive observers of inanimate objects than other men. Pope's discrimination lay in the lights and shades of human manners, which are at least as interesting as those of rocks and leaves. In moral eloquence he is for ever "densus of instans sibi." The mind of a poet employed in concentrating such lines as these descriptive of creative power, which
Builds life on death, on change duration founds,
And bids th' eternal wheels to know their rounds,
might well be excused for not descending to the minutely picturesque. The vindictive personality of his satire is a fault of the man, and not of the poet. But his wit is not all his charm. He glows with a passion in the Epistle of Eloisa, and displays a lofty feeling, much above that of the satirist, and the man of the world, in his Prologue to Cato, and his Epistle to Lord Oxford. I know not how to designate the possessor of such gifts but by the name of a genuine poet—
—qualem vix repperit unum
Millibus in multis hominum consultus Apollo.