Page images

and strongly-allied family; to do all this under the name and wa^es of a parliament; to tmmple upon them too as he pleased, and spum them out of doors when he grew weary of them; to raise up a new and unheard-of monster out of their ashes; to stifle that in the very infancy, and set up himself above all things that ever were called sovereign in England; to oppress all his enemies by arms, and all his friends afterwards by artifice; to serve all parties patiently for awhile, and to command them victoriously at last; to over-run each corner of the three nations, and overcome with equal facility both the riches of the south and the poverty of the north; to be feared and courted by all foreign princes, and adopted a brother to the gods of the earth; to call together parliaments with a word of his pen, and scatter them again with the breath of his mouth; to be humbly and daily petitioned that he would please to be hired, at the rate of two millions a year, to be the master of those who had hired him before to be their servant; lo have the estates and lives of three kingdoms as much at his disposal as was the little inheritance of his father, and to be as noble and liberaJ in the spending of them; and lastly (for there is no end of all the particulars of his glory,) to bequeath all this with one word to his posterity; to die with peace at home, and triumph abroad; to be buried among kings, and with more than regal solemnity; and to leave a name behind him, not to be extinguished, but with the whole world; which, as it is now too little for his pmises, so might have been too for his conquests, if the short line of his human life could have been stretched out to the extent of his immortal designs?


Sih William DavenAnT, though now read chiefly by the antiquary in English litemture, had, in his lifetime, considemble celebrity as a writer. He was born in 1605 at Oxford, where his father kept an inn, and was edncated at that university. He early began to write lor the stage, and on Ben Jonson's death was made Poet-Laureate.1 In the civil wars he held a considerable post in the army, and was knighted by the king; but on the decline of the royalists, whose cause he had espoused, he sought refuge in Fmnce, where

1 From the Latin Laureatut, "crowned with laurel." Under the Roman emperors, poets contended at the public games, and the prize was a cro ain of oak. or olive leaves. From this custom, most of the European sovereigns assumed the privilege of nominatinga court poet with various titles. Iu En*tsnd, tmces of this office are found as early as the reign of Henry III., (1210—1272,) but the express he wrote two books of his poem for which he is most known—his "Gondibert"—under the patronage of Henrietta Alar in, that "ill-fated, ill-advised queen1' of Charles I. By her he was despatched with a colony of artificers for Virginia. He had scarcely cleared the French coast when his vessel was taken by a parliamentary ship, and he was sent prisoner to Cowes Castle. Here, with great composure and manliness of mind, he continued his poem till he had carried through about one-half of what he designed, when he suddenly broke oti^ expecting immediately to be led to execution. His life, however, was spared, through the intercession of two aldermen of York, (whom Davenant had rescued from great peril in the civil wars,) united to the ihen all-powerful influence of Milton. After his release he supported himself by writing plays till the Restoration, when, beautiful to relate, it is believed that Wilton himself was spared at his intercession, in return for his own preservation. picture of most absolute loveliness and dove-like simplicity. Never was that delightful passion portrayed with a more chaste and exquisite pencil.'''

The fame of Sir William Davenant rests principally on his heroic poem, Gondibert; the main story of which, as far as developed, is as follows. Duke Gondibcrt and Prince Oswald were renowned knights, in the reign of Aribert, king of Lombardy, 003—061. Oswald sought the hand of Rhodalind, the only daughter of Aribcrt, and heiress to the crown: but the king preferred Gondibert,—a choice in which Rhodalind fully concurred. It happened that

"In a fair forest, near Verona's plain,

Fresh, as if Nature's youth chose there a shade, The duke, with many lovers in his train, Loyal and young, a solemn hunting made."' The duke, on his return from the chase, is surprised by an ambush, laid by the jealous Oswald. A parley succeeds, and it is finally agreed that the quarrel shall be decided by the two leaders and three of the chief captains on each side. The combat accordingly takes place. Oswald and two of his friends are slain, and a third wounded and disarmed. Oswald's men are therefore so enraged that they immediately commence a general attack upon Gondibert, who is victorious, though severely wounded. He retires to the house of Astragon, a famous physician, where he is scarcely recovered from his wounds before he receives odicrs of a more gentle kind from the eyes of Birtha, the daughter of Astragon, by whose permission he becomes her professed but secret lover. While the friends of Oswald are forming schemes of revenge for their recent defeat, n messenger arrives from Aribert to signify his intention of honoring Gondibert with the hand of Rhodalind; and he and his daughter follow shortly afterwards. The duke is therefore obliged to accompany them bac k to the court, and leave behind that which is far more precious to him than a crown or Rhodalind. On parting from Birtfia, be gives her an emerald ring, which had been for ages the token of his ancestors to their betrothed brides; and which, by its change of color, would indicate any change in his affection. The arrival of some of the party at the capital concludes this singular and original fragment of a poem,—for a fragment it must be called, and we cannot but deeply regret that the author did not finish it1 "In the character and love of Birtha," remarks an able critic, "we have a

1 Tills poem tins divided the criUcs. Bishop Hard, In his "Letters on Chivalry and Romance," finds fault with Davenant because he rejects nil machinery and supernatural njrency. On the other hand, Dr. Aikin ably deffcnds him. Read—" Miscellanies in Prose, by John Alktn, M. D., and Letilia Barbauld:" also, the prefatory remarks in the fourth volume of Anderson's "British Poets;" also, some criticisms of Head ley in his "Select Beauties," p. xlvt.: also, "Retrospective Review," 11. 304: and a few good remarks in "Campbell's specimens," iv. 97.

[ocr errors]


To Ash-agon, heaven for succession gave

One only pledge, and Birtha was her name;
Whose mother slept, where flowers grew on her grave,

And she succeeded her in face and fame.

She ne'er saw courts, yet courts could have undone
With untaught looks and an unpractised heart;

Her net*, the most prepared could never shun;
For nature spread them in the scorn of art.

She never had in busy cities been,

Ne'er warm'd with hopes, nor e'er allay'd with fears;
Not seeing punishment, could guess no sin;

And sin not seeing, ne'er had use of tears.

But here her father's precepts gave her skill,
Which with incessant business fill'd the hours;

In Spring, she gather'd blossoms for the still;
In Autumn, berries; and in Summer, flowers.

And as kind nature with calm diligence

Her own free virtue silently employs,
Whilst she, unheard, does ripening growth, dispense

So were her virtues busy without noise.

Whilst her great mistress, Nature, thus she tends,

The busy household waits no less on her;
By secret law, each to her beauty bends;

Though all her lowly mind to that prefer.
• ••••••

The just historians Birtha thus express,

And tell how, by her sire's example taught,
She served the wounded duke in life's distress,

And his fled spirits back by cordials brought;

Black melancholy mists, that fed despair

Through wounds' long rage, with sprinkled vervain clear'd;
Strew'd leaves of willow to refresh the air,

And with ricli fumes his sullen senses cheer'd.

Ho that had served great Love with reverend heart,
In these old wounds worse wounds from him endures;

Fur Love makes Birtha shift with Death his dart,
And she kills faster than her father cures.

Her heedless innocence as little knew

The wounds she gave, as those from Love she took;

■ "The longer we dwell npon this noble bnt unfinished monament of the genius of Sir William Divenant, the more does our admiration of it increase, and we regret that the unjust attacks which were made against it at the Ume, (or whatever else was the cause,) prevented its completion. It aJ?ht then, notwithstanding the prophetical oblivion to which Bishop Hurd has, with some acrimony, condemned It, have been entiUed to a patent of nobility, and had its name inscribed upon the roll of epk aristocracy."— Ret. Rev. U. SM.

And Lore lifts high each secret shaft he drew;
Which at their stars he first in triumph shook!

Love he had lik'd, yet never lodg'd before;

But finds him now a bold unquiet guest;
Who climbs to windows when we shut the door;

And, entcr'd, never lets the master rest

So strange disorder, now he pines for health,
Makes him conceal this reveller with shame;

She not the robber knows, yet feels the stealth,
And never but in songs had heard his name.

She, full of inward questions, walks alone,

To take her heart aside in secret shade; But knocking at her breast, it seem'd or gone

Or by confederacy was useless mode;

Or else some stranger did usurp its room;

One so remote, and new in every thought, As his behavior shows him not at home,

Nor the guide sober that him thither brought

• ••••••

With open ears, and ever-waking eyes,

And flying feet, Love's fire she from the sight

Of all her maids does carry, as from spies;

Jealous, that what burns her, might give them light

Beneath a myrtle covert now does spend

In maids' weak wishes, her whole stock of thought;

Fond maids! who love with mind's fine Btuff would mend. Which Nature purposely of bodies wrought.

She fashions him she loved of angels kind,

Such as in holy story were employ'd
To the first fathers from th' Eternal Mind.

And in short visions only are enjoy'd.

As eagles then, when nearest heaven they fly,

Of wild impossibles soon weary grow; Feeling their bodies find no rest so high,

And therefore perch on earthly tilings below:

So now she yields; him she an angel deem'd
Shall be n man, the name which virgins fear;

Yet the most harmless to a maid he seem'd,
That ever yet that fatal name did bear.

Soon her opinion of his hurtless heart,

Affection turns to faith; and then love's fire

To heaven, though bashfully, she does impart;
And to her mother in the heavenly choir.

If I do love, (said she,) that love, O Heaven!

Your own disciple, Nature, bred in me;
Why should 1 hide the passion you have given,

Or blush to show effects which you decree'

And you, my alter'il mother, (grown above

Great nature, which you read and reverenced here,)

Chide not such kindness, as you once call'd love,
When you as mortal as my lather were.

This said, her soul into her breast retires;

With Love's vain diligence of heart she dreams
Herself into possession of desires,

And trusts unanchor'd hope in fleeting streams:
Already thinks the duke her own spoused lord,

Cured, and again from bloody battle brought,
Where all false lovers perish'd by his sword,

The true to her for his protection sought

She thinks how her imagined spouse and she
So much from heaven may by her virtues gain,

That they by lime shall ne'er o'ertaken be,
No more than Time himself is ovcrta'en.

She thinks of Eden-life; and no rough wind

In their pacific sea shall wrinkles make;
That still her lowliness shall keep him kind,

Her cares keep him asleep, her voice awake.

She thinks, if ever anger in him sway,

(The youthful warrior's most excused disease,)

Such chance her tears shall cnlin, as showers aliay
The accidental rago of winds and seas.

Thus to herself in day-dreams Birtha talks:

The duke, (whose wounds of war are healthful grown,)
To cure Love's wounds, seeks Birtha where she walks:

Whose wandering soul seeks him to cure her own.
Yet when her solitude he did invade,

Shame (which in maids is unexperienced fear)
Taught her to wish night's help to make more shade,

That love (which maids think guilt) might not appear.
And she had fled him now, but that he came

So like an awed and conqucr'd enemy,
That he did seem offenceless, as her shame;

As if he but advanced for leave to fly.

Of his minor pieces, we have room but for the following beautiful

The lark now leaves his watery nest,
And, climbing, shakes his dewy wings;

He takes this window for the east;
And to implore your light, he sings,—

Awake, awake, the morn will never rise,

Till she can dress her beauty at your eyes.

The merchant bows unto the seaman's star,

The ploughman from the sun his season takes,

But still the lover wonders what they are
Who look for day before his unstress wakes.

Awake, awnkc, break through your veils of lawn;

Then draw your curtains, and begin the dawn.

« PreviousContinue »