« PreviousContinue »
1. ESSAY ON THE GENIUS OF COWLEY, DONNE AND..
COWLEY owes more of his poetical No flesh is now the same 'twas then in fame to his metaphysical acuteness, me, than to any display of original poet. And that my mind is chang?d yourself ical genius. T'he fire and enthu- may see, siasm of poetry are no where to be The same thoughts to retain still, and met with in his writings. His lan
intents, is not the language of feeling. Were more inconstant far: for accidents He has neither the sublimity of Mi Must, of all things, most strangely in
constant prove, ton, the pathos of Shakspeare, the
If from one subject they to another copiousness of Dryden, the delicacy
move; of Pope, the naivete of Shenstone, My members, then, the father members or the truth and nature of Gold
were, smith. He excites no affection : he
From whence these take their birth commands no sympathy. He is so which now are bere. replete with exaggeration, hyperbole If, then, this body love what th’ other and catachrestical decorations, that did, he is frequently monstrous and dis 'Twere incest which by nature is forbid. gusting. Cowley was neither a phi- This is neither poetry, philosophy, losopher, a metaphysician, an orator,
nor common sense; for though Cownor a poet: for though his acquired ley intended nothing more than a knowledge embraced, perhaps, all shadow of excuse for inconstancy in the philosophy and metaphysics of love, we have not, in this passage, his age, he never aimed at improve
even the shadow of a shade, It ing the stock which he possessed; commences with a contradiction, and and instead of applying himself to
necessarily ends with one, as it is the discovery of new truths, he exercised himself in debasing the value web texture. If the person writing
all one thought, spun out into a cobof the old. He seldom ventures to.
those lines was not the person who think for himself; but having taken loved the lady five years before, he up some common-place thought, or should not have written,-“ Five philosophic dogma, which had been
years ago I loved you,” as he maina thousand times discussed in the
tains himself, that it was not he schools; he repeats it over again, that loved her, but another person. that he may have an opportunity of It should, therefore, have been, he displaying his wit, by viewing it in loved, and not I loved, for to write the character of a harlequin, and I loved, is to admit that he was still not of a philosopher. He has, there
the same person.
The same abfore, no originality of thought, surdity is more glaringly manifest though, like every other harlequin, in the line, he is original enough in the views
For I am not the same that I was then. which he takes of the thoughts of others, but instead of using them to for if he was not really the same, some noble end, he only brings why not write, them into contempt by the littleness of the purposes to which he applies For I am not the same that he was then. them. 'In the following absurd ap- If the reasoning, however, were even plication, for instance, of the doctrine of personal identity to love, to poetry, is neither philosophy nor
true, the application of philosophy how puerile, how unpoetical, is the poetry, and if some choose to call use to which he applies his meta
it wit, I have only to say, that wit physical knowledge :
always appears more natural in prose Five years ago (says story) I loved you,
than in poetry. The pathetic and For what you call me most inconstant
soul-moving language of poetry now;
should never be prostituted to the Pardon me, Madam, you mistake the purposes of wit. Addison very justly man,
censures a passage in the “ Paradise For I am not the same that I was then; Lost," which represents the evil
spirits rallying the angels upon the conceive a greater insult to female success of their new-invented artil-' delicacy : lery. “ This passage,” he says, Thou in my fancy dost much higher
I look upon to be the most excep- stand, tionable in the whole poem, as being Than woman can be plac'd by nature's nothing else but a string of puns. hand; Of Cowley, however, it may be said, And I must needs, I'm sure, a loser be, that the spirit of punning exercises To change thee as thou’rt there for very a perpetual and predominant influ- thee. ence over his pen, and that it can be
Cowley wrote in an age when the traced even where his subject re- English nation had advanced half quires of him to be plain and na-- her course from barbarism to civilitural. Where can a pun be so un- zation. It might therefore be thought natural and monstrous as in the that the writers of the time would language of love, or the description have been more under the dominion of ardent passion; and yet Cowley of natural feeling than the writers thus describes absent love :
of the present day, because they had By every wind that comes this way,
not removed so far as we have done Send me at least a sigh or two;
from the state of nature, a term Such and so many I'll repay,
which is generally applied to the As shall themselves make winds to
We find, however, get to you!!!
that every thing in Cowley and in This disgusting hyperbole is still most of his contemporaries is artifi
tolerable than the following cial; that the spontaneous feelings description of ardent affection :- of nature are scarcely ever recognized
in their writings; and that in fact, if The fate of Egypt I sustain,
we were to judge of them by their And never feel the dew of rain,
works, we should conclude them From clouds which in the head appear;
destitute of these feelings altogether. But all my too-much moisture owe To overflowings of the heart below.
This phenomenon has not been hi
therto accounted for; and it appears Cowley has devoted a great por- to me that Lord Kames would have tion of his muse to the charms of found it more worthy of investigawoman; but no poet was worse cal- tion, and more properly forming a culated to praise her in such a man- part of the subject of his “ Elements ner as would secure her esteem.
of Criticism,” than many of the teIndeed, the woman who would not dious and trivial distinctions into spurn his compliments, and hunt which he has entered, and on which him from her society, must have he lays an importance to which they been as destitute of true feeling, or, are not certainly entitled. As the in other words, of natural feeling, question cannot be more properly inas he was himself. Every man's vestigated than in the treating of the experience informs him, that the genius of Cowley, I shall attempt to real beauties of objects fall infinitely place it in the clearest possible light. short of those which imagination Before we can venture to resolve “ leads forth ;' but how ill-timed, this question, it is necessary to ascerhow cold, how insipid, how unpoetic, tain whether the want of natural how unphilosophic, how contrary to feeling which characterizes the wrievery precept of delicacy, to every ters, and particularly the poets who feeling of nature, to apply this truth flourished at the commencement of to the beloved object of our affec- the seventeenth century, arose from tions. Yet Cowley has no hesita- the circumstance of their being placed tion to compliment his mistress on midway between the extremes of the charms, which, according to his me- state of nature and that of the most taphysical and unimpassioned feel polished refinement; for if it arose ings, could not properly belong to from any other cause, our present her. In fact, the following lines enquiry would be vain, for we should evidently tell her, that his attach- not only be tracing an effect to a ment is not credited by any charms wrong cause, but all our arguments which she actually possesses, but by would be necessarily erroneous, as those which are figured in his own they would be formed on an erroneimagination, than which, we cannot ous assumption: If the want of natural feeling in the poets of the se- rations of intellect. Their thoughts venteenth century resulted from the are often new, but seldom natural; stage which they had reached in the they are not obvious, but neither are career of science, the same cause they just; and the reader, far from must have produced the same effect in wondering that he missed them, wonall countries; and, wherever science ders more frequently by what perha's traversed halfher course, we shall verseness
of industry they were ever find the predominance of art and the found. Their courtship was void of extention of nature characterize the fondness,
and their lamentation of poetry of the age. The thing to be sorrow. Their wish was only to sąy ascertained then is, whether this be what they hoped had never been said a fact or not: whether the poetry of before,” every country present the same as- The character, which Dr. Johnson pect in the same stage of intellectual here gives of the writers who flouimprovement I believe it requires rished in England at the commencebut a slight acquaintance with the ment of the seventeenth century, is history of literature to discover, that the character of the writers of every the fact is what I have stated it to country in the middle stage of scibe, and thạt every nation is more or ence; but though the Doctor treats less under the dominion of art, by at considerable length of the promiwhich I here mean false feeling and nent features, which characterize the false perceptions of beauty, in pro- poetry of this class of writers; though portion as it more or less nearly ap- he shews them destitute of all true proaches the middle stage in the feeling, he assigns no reason for so march of intellect. We find that the remarkable a feature in the poetry eloquence and the poetry of savages of the age. Let us 'endeavour to exis always natural, and frequently plain it. sublime, though they seldom evince In the state of nature every one, either delicacy or refinement. What who has the ambition of communiwriter is more sublime than the savage cating to writing his own'unculti
. Ossian: he has even more delicacy vated ideas, indites them exactly as than Cowley and most of his contem- they arise in his mind, without art, poraries: but indeed there is great order, or inversion. The more any reason to apprehend that he has too writer neglects authority, communes much delicacy for a savage, and that with his own mind alone, and ne he owes a considerable portion of glects the information which he this amiable attribute to the mistaken might have derived from others, the generosity of his translator. But if he
pursues this mode of writnatural feeling be characteristic of ing. Of this Montaigne is a noted the savage state, we find it is equally instance No writer neglected more so of the state of extreme refinement. or perhaps despised more the aid, The eloquence of Cicero and De- which he might have acquired from mosthenes were natural and sublime, others. He always thought for himwhile it was polished and refined to self, and communicated every thought the last degree : they aimed at no to paper in the order of priority: false beauties;—they endeavoured to « First come first serve,” was always excite no false emotions in the minds his motto, and therefore the first of their auditors. The same may thought, that occurred to him, was be said of the poetry of Virgil and the first he wrote down without Horace: their feelings were at once waiting to examine whether the pro, natural and refined. But when we position it contained was liable to come to the middle state, how woe- any exceptions. Accordingly he is fully is the scene reversed. Of this perpetually raising objections to his we need no other instance than the
own arguments, because he did not literature of the middle age. To the perceive the objection when he first writers of this time, may be applied advanced the argument ; but having what Dr. Johnson says of Cowley once advanced it, he suffered it to and his contemporaries, that "they remain, and brings forward his obcannot be said to have imitated any jection afterward, the moment he thing; they neither copied nature perceives it. Hence Montaigne is nor life; neither painted the forms all nature, because he never consults of matter, nor represented the ope- any other authority than his own
immediate feelings, and this is iden- are wrong, and where they are right, tically the reason, if I mistake not, and follow them no farther than this why the poetry and eloquence of perception leads us, we are then acsavages are always natural. They tually in the state of nature, because always write and speak as they feel; ultimately we have no guide or auor, more properly, they cannot write thority but ourselves, and the conotherwise, because they have no au- sultation which we hold with our thority to consult. They have no own feelings and understanding. literary guides, no critical monitors, It is evident, at the same time, that no principles, systems, or theories we cannot reach this height, and be of elegance and propriety. They perfectly qualified to judge how far are therefore entirely their own every thing communicated to us is teachers and directors, and it is im- right or wrong, until science and possible they can write otherwise literature have reached their utmost than what their own feelings dictate. height, because, until then, we have Now as every feeling that is actually
not all the aids and means of ascerfelt is a natural feeling, (for if it taining the truth of every proposiwere otherwise it could not be felt) tion, theory, and system, to which the expression of these feelings must our assent may be required. They always be natural, and it is therefore may be right or wrong, for any in a manner impossible for men in a thing that we can discover to the state of nature to write or speak but contrary, because the means of dist what is natural. It is true indeed covery are not placed within our there is a grossness frequently in reach, while science herself is emwhat they say which shocks the de- ployed, as we are, in exploring and licacy
of more refined feelings, but investigating the nature of things, this is no argument of its being un- and even the nature of the means by natural, for it was natural to them, which this nature can be discovered. though it is not so to us, and we im- But when science has reached her mediately recognize it as such. Man utmost height, she places within our is
altogether the creature of circum- reach the means of ascertaining what stances, and so consequently are his is demonstratively true, what is confeelings. The feelings therefore jectural, and the degrees of probawhich are natural to him at one time bility on which conjecture is founded, are not natural at another, though what is merely possible, and, lastly, he perceives they would be natural what is purely ideal. The moment if he were placed under the circum- we are enabled to ascertain all this, stances that would have naturally are no longer the slaves of excited them. We therefore recoge authority, because we have the same nize the real feelings of nature in means of ascertaining, whether what the productions of the rude unculti- they teach us be true that they had vated mind, though such feelings themselves, and, consequentlý, we are no longer agreeable to ourselves revert back to the state of nature. because a more exquisite sense of We are no longer influenced by the propriety, which is in fact all that authority of others, except so far as distinguishes the savage from the this authority quadrates with our courtier, insensibly generates other own feelings and perceptions of feelings which become as natural to things; and, therefore, we stand us as those which nature herself ori- exactly upon the same ground with ginally gave us. It is different, the natural poet and orator, whose however, when we take our depar- effusions are always the emanations ture from the state of nature, and of his own mind and feelings, havseek to enrich our minds with the ing no other feelings or authority knowledge of others. If we can which he could possibly consult. make the knowledge of others pro- It appears, then, that the state of perly our own, if we believe that nature, and that in which science the truths which they communicate has reached her last perfection, are, to us are truths, not because they so far as regards natural feeling have taught them to us, but because exactly the same; and therefore we we perceive, on examining them can have no difficulty in explaining ourselves, that they are true, if we why Cicero and Demosthenes are, as can perceive where our authorities natural orators, as the savage chief
who animates his followers to deeds they are right, or if we reject their of heroism, and inspires them with opinion, we are apt to go into the the most perfect contempt for death, extreme of scepticism, and to suspect and all the images of horror which that there is no certainty in human follow in its train. If it should be knowledge. It is impossible, howsaid that the eloquence of the sa- ever, that we can become complete vage chief is not true or natural sceptics in the infancy of science, eloquence, I reply that the enthusi- because we are every day discoverasm which he excites in his follow- ing the cause of effects, and the reers proves it to be eloquence of the solution of problems of which we very first order, because the highest were ignorant the day before; and aim of oratory is to persuade, and we very justly conclude, that if we he who persuades us to face danger cannot understand what is taught in all its terrifying and appalling as- by others, or even if it appear doubtpects must certainly be of all other ful, the fault is in ourselves, and we men best acquainted with the art of expect that when we enlarge our persuading. To maintain that the views, and extend our enquiries fareloquence of the savage chief cannot ther, we shall perceive them as clear-' be natural, because he does not ad. ly as we do the truth which we disdress his followers with that force covered to day, but of which we of argument which Cicero was were yesterday perfectly ignorant. obliged to use in addressing a Ro- A nation must therefore be far reman audience, would be, to maintain moved from the state of nature, and what is in itself not less unnatural approach very nearly to the last than it is absurd.
stage of human knowledge before The moment however we go one it can generate sceptics. The constep beyond the state of nature, the
sequence is, that during the interhuman faculties present us with an mediate periods, we are completely aspect totally different from either the slaves of authority. The mere the state of nature or that of know- light of nature cannot enable us to ledge. By perfect knowledge I do determine whether what we are not mean that perfectability of hu- taught be true or false for the reaman reason which Madame de Stael
sons which I have already assigned, so strenuously advocates, because and therefore we are apt to devour this is a perfectability which I have greedily whatever is sanctioned by shewn in my“ Essay on Taste,"to be the authority of others. Hence it placed beyond the utmost reach of is that we seldom venture to think human attainment. I mean, there for ourselves, because every day fore, by perfect knowledge, only that makes us acquainted with the folly perfection of knowledge of which of our own opinions, with a clear the limited nature of our faculties perception of things which we could are capable. Keeping this idea of not understand before, and with the perfection in view, I say, that the difficulties which we have yet to moment we advance one step beyond surmount before we are qualified to the state of nature, we enter into a form a correct judgment. We are new world where all our faculties therefore apt to believe implicitly are enchained, and where it is im- whatever we are taught, and make possible we can display a perfect no distinction between truth and freedom of opinions. The reason is error, provided we have as good auobvious: we are thenceforth, neces- thority for the one as for the other. sarily obliged to look up to the au- The consequence is, that we view thority of others. We acknowledge every thing through the medium of at once that we are no longer qua- authority, that we feel and think as lified to judge for ouselves, that na- others feel and think for us, and ture is not sufficient to direct us, that we suspect our own feelings and that to attain to higher perfec- towards the close of life, withdrawn tion, it is necessary to become ac- from the gay illusions of society, quainted with the acquirements of and opinions whenever we find them others. The moment we adopt this at variance with those of persons creed, we necessarily abandon all whom we are in the habit of reveconfidence in ourselves, and we view rencing as our guardians and dievery object through the speculum rectors. of others, We either believe that
(To be continuell.)