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and the materials of them sold. The very library CHAP
LXII. and medals at St. James's were intended by the generals to be brought to auction, in order to pay 1660. the arrears of some regiments of cavalry quartered near London: But Selden, apprehensive of the loss, engaged his friend Whitlocke, then lordkeeper for the commonwealth, to apply for the office of librarian. This expedient saved that valuable collection.
It is, however, remarkable, that the greatest genius by far that shone out in England during this period, was deeply engaged with these fanatics, and even prostituted his pen in theological controversy, in factious disputes, and in justifying the most vio
lent measures of the party. This was John Milton, - whose poems are admirable, though liable to some
objections; his prose writings disagreeable, though not altogether defective in genius. Nor are all his poems equal: His Paradise Lost, his Comus, and a few others, shine out amidst some flat and insipid compositions : Even in the Paradise Lost, his capital performance, there are very long passages, amounting to near a third of the work, almost wholly destitute of harmony and elegance, nay, of all vigour of imagination. This natural inequality in Milton's genius was much increased by the inequalities in his subject; of which some parts are of themselves the most lofty that can enter into human conception; others would have required the most laboured elegance of composition to support them. It is certain, that this author, when in a happy mood, and employed on a noble subject, is the most wonderfully sublime of any poet in any language; Homer and Lucretius and Tasso not excepted. More concise than Homer, more simple than Tasso, more nervous than Lucretius; had he lived in a later age, and learned to polish some rudeness in his verses; had he enjoyed better fortune, and possessed leisure to watch the returns of genius in himself,
C H A. p. he had attained the pinnacle of perfection, and
LXII. , borne away the palm of epic poetry. ... 1660.
It is well known, that Milton never enjoyed in his lifetime the reputation which he deserved. His Paradise Lost was long neglected: Prejudices against an apologist for the regicides, and against a work not wholly purged from the cant of former times, kept the ignorant world from perceiving the prodigious merit of that performance. Lord Somers, by encouraging a good edition of it, about twenty years after the author's death, first brought it into request; and Tonson, in his dedication of a smaller edition, speaks of it as a work just beginning to be known. Even during the prevalence of Milton's party, he seems never to have been much regarded ; and Whitlocke' talks of one Milton, as he calls him, a blind man, who was employed in translating a treaty with Sweden into Latin. These forms of expression are amusing to posterity, who consider how obscure Whitlocke himself, though lordkeeper and ambassador, and indeed a man of great abilities and merit, has become in comparison of Milton..
It is not strange that Milton received no encouragement after the restoration: It is more to be admired that he escaped with his life. Many of the cavaliers blamed extremely that lenity towards him, which was so honourable in the king, and so advantageous to posterity. It is said, that he had saved Davenant's life during the protectorship; and Davenant in return afforded him like protection after the restoration ; being sensible, that men of letters ought always to regard their sympathy of taste as a more powerful band of union, than any difference of party or opinion as a source of animosity: It was during a state of poverty, blindness, disgrace, danger, and old age, that Milton composed. his wonderful poem, which not only surpassed all the
in.:. .performances 'P. 633.
performances of his contemporaries, but all the c H A P. compositions which had flowed from his pen during the vigour of his age and the height of his 1660. prosperity. This circumstance is not the least remar! able of all those which attend that great genius. He died 1674, aged 66.
. WALLER was the first refiner of English poetry, at least of English rhyme; but his performances still abound with many faults, and, what is more material, they contain' but feeble and superficial beauties. Gaiety, wit, and ingenuity, are their ruling character: They aspire not to the sublime ; still less to the pathetic. They treat of love, with. out making us feel any tenderness; and abound in panegyric, without exciting admiration. The panegyric, however, on Cromwel, contains more force than we should expect from the other compositions of this poet.
WALLER was born to an ample fortune, was early introduced to the court, and lived in the best company. He possessed talents for eloquence as well as poetry; and till his death, which happened in a good old age, he was the delight of the house of commons. The errors of his life proceeded. more from want of courage, than of honour or integrity. He died in 1687, aged 82.
Cowley is an author extremely corrupted by the bad taste of his age; but, had he lived even in the purest times of Greece or Rome, he must always have been a very indifferent poet. He had no ear for harmony; and his verses are only known to be such by the rhyme which terminates them. In his rugged untuneable numbers are conveyed sentiments the most strained and distorted; long-spun allegories, distant allusions, and forced conceits. Great ingenuity, however, and vigour of thought, sometimes break out amidst those unnatural conceptions: A few anacreontics surprise us by their ease and gaiety: His prose writings please, by the ho
CH A P. nesty and goodness which they express, and even LXII. , by their spleen and melancholy. This author was 1660. much more praised and admired during his lifetime,
and celebrated after his death, than the great Mil. ton. He died in 1667, aged 49.
Sir John Denham, in his Cooper's Hill, (for none of his other poems merit attention has a loftiness and vigour, which had not before him been attained by any English poet who wrote in rhyme. The mechanical difficulties of that measure retarded its improvement. Shakespeare, whose tragic scenes are sometimes so wonderfully forcible and expressive, is a very indifferent poet when he attempts to rhyme. Precision and neatness are chiefly wanting in Denham. He died in 1688, aged 73.
No English author in that age was more celebrated both abroad and at home, than Hobbes: In our time he is much neglected: A lively instance, how precarious all reputations founded on reason: ing and philosophy! A pleasant comedy which paints the manners of the age, and exposes a faithful picture of nature, is a durable work, and is transmitted to the latest posterity. But a system, whether physical or metaphysical, commonly owes its success to its novelty; and is no sooner canvassed with impartiality than its weakness is discovered. Hobbes's politics are fitted only to promote tyranny, and his ethics to encourage licentiousness. Though an enemy to religion, he partakes, nothing of the spirit of scepticism; but is as positive and dogmatical as if human reason, and his reason in particular, could attain a thorough conviction in these subjects. Clearness and propriety of style are the chief excellencies of Hobbes's writings.' In his own person he is represented to have been a man of virtue; a cha racter nowise surprising, notwithstanding his libertine system of ethics. Timidity is the principal fault with which he is reproached: He lived to an extreme old age, yet could never reconcile himself to the thoughts of death. The boldness of his opi-C HA P. nions and sentiments forms a remarkable contrast
at LXII. to this part of his character. He died in 1679, 1660. aged 91.
HARRINGTON's Oceana was well adapted to that age, when the plans of imaginary republics were the daily subjects of debate and conversation; and even in our time, it is justly admired as a work of genius and invention. The idea, however, of a perfect and immortal commonwealth will always be found as chimerical as that of a perfect and immortal man. The style of this author wants ease and fluency; but the good matter, which his work contains, makes compensation. He died in 1677, aged 66.
HARVEY is entitled to the glory of having made, by reasoning alone, without any mixture of accident, a capital discovery in one of the most important branches of science. He had also the happiness of establishing at once his theory on the most solid and convincing proofs; and posterity has added little to the arguments suggested by his industry and ingenuity. His treatise of the circulation of the blood is farther embellished by that warmth and spirit which so naturally accompany the genius of invention. This great man was much favoured by Charles I. who gave him the liberty of using all the deer in the royal forests for perfecting his discoveries on the generation of animals. It was remarked, that no physician in Europe, who had reached forty years of age, ever, to the end of his life, adopted Harvey's doctrine of the circulation of the blood, and that his practice in London diminished extremely, from the reproach drawn upon him by that great and signal discovery. So slow is the progress of truth in every science, even when not opposed by factious or superstitious prejudices! He died in 1657, aged 79.
of scovery thout glory.
anole to the ar. His treatished by that the geniu