Imágenes de páginas

much in all these pieces to be regretted and pardoned by the correct and classical reader. To his latin poems, however, of the same date, no such observation is in any degree applicable. Immediately conversant with the great masters of composition, he adopts their taste with their language; and, with the privilege, as with the ease of a native, assumes his station in their ranks. For fluency and sweetness of numbers; for command and purity of expression; for variety and correctness of imagery, we shall look in vain for his equal among the latin poets of his age and his country. May, the continuator and imitator of Lucan; and Cowley,' whose taste ånd thought are English and metaphysical while his verse walks upon Roman feet, will never, as I am confident, be placed in competition with our author by any adequate and unprejudiced judge. I speak with more direct reference to his elegies, which were all written in that interval of his life immediately under our review, and which, evidently composed with the most entire affection, are executed on the whole with the most com

That Cowley was capable of writing latin poetry with classical purity would be attested by his beautiful epitaph on himself, if even this short composition were not injured by the intrusion of one line of Cowleian quaintness and conceit. " Nam vita gaudet mortua foribus."

plete success. He was particularly fond, in his youth, as he tells us himself, of the smooth elegiac poets, whom, both for the pleasing sound of their numerous writing, which in imitation I found most easy and most agreeable to nature's part in me; and for their matter, which what it is there be few who know not, I was so allured to read, that no recreation came to me better welcome.”

But of the elegiac writers, Ovid seems to have been his favourite and his model. We may sometimes discover Tibullus in his pages,

but Ovid is diffused over them. He will not, however, suffer his respect for the Roman models, as Mr. Warton has justly remarked, to oppress his powers, or to deprive him of his own distinct and original character. He wields their language with the most perfect mastery, and, without wishing, like Cowley, to compel it to any unclassical service, employs it as an obedient instrument.

Of these poems, which are nearly equal in merit, the fifth, written in the author's twentieth year on the return of spring, and the sixth, addressed in his twenty-first year to his friend Deodati, seem to be entitled to the praise of superior excellence. In these ele

5 Apol. for Smect. P. W. v. 1. 223.

gies there appears to be a more inasterly arrangement, and a greater variety of

poetic imagery and allusion than in their fellows: though the fourth, written in his eighteenth year to his former preceptor Young; and the seventh, in which the poet, at the age of nineteen, describes, with tenderness and sensibility, the transient effects of love upon his bosom, must be admitted to very high and distinguished praise. The object, as it may be proper to mention, of the love, which he has thus commemorated, was a lady, whom he accidentally saw in one of the publick walks near the metropolis, and of whom, on her sudden disappearance among

the crowd, he could never obtain any further intelligence.

A critical eye may sometimes detect in these compositions an expression, which an Augustan writer would not, perhaps, acknowledge as authentic; and a reader of taste may sometimes wish for more compression in the style; and may be sorry that the youthful poet did not occasionally follow some model of more nerve than the diffuse and languid Ovid. On the whole, however, these productions must be regarded as possessing rare and pre-eminent merit. To England, indeed, they are peculiarly interesting, as they were

the first pieces which extended her fame for latin poetry to the continent; and as they evince the various power of her illustrious bard, by showing, that he, who afterwards approved himself to be her Æschylus and her Homer, could once flow in the soft numbers, and breathe the tender sentiments of Ovid and Tibullus.

The only prose compositions of this date, which we possess of our author's, are some of ļiis college and University exercises, under the title of “ Prolusiones oratoriæ,” and five of his familiar letters; four of them in latin to his old preceptors, Young and Gill; and one in English, forming his answer to a friend, who had censured him for wasting his life in literary pursuits, and had urged him to forsake his study for some of the active occupations of the world. This letter, of which Dr. Birch has published the rough and the corrected draught from the author's MSS. in the library of Trinity college, Cambridge, concludes with a very impressive sonnet; and is particularly interesting for the view, which it gives to us of the writer's delicacy of principle, and of the high motives which actuated his bosom. The reader, as I persuade myself, will thank me for communicating it.

[ocr errors]

“ Besides that in sundry other respects I must acknowledge me to profit by you, whenever wee meet, you are often to me, and were yesterday especially, as a good watchman to admonish, that the howres of the night passe on, (for so I call my life as yet obscure and unserviceable to mankind) and that the day with me is at hand, wherein Christ commands all to labour, while there is light. Which because I am persuaded you doe to no other purpose then out of a true desire, that God should be honoured in every one, I therefore thinke myselfe bound, though unaskt, to give you account, as oft as occasion is, of this my tardie moving, according to the præcept of my conscience, which, I firmely trust, is not without God. Yet now I will not streine for any set apologie, but only referre myself to what my mind shall have at any tyme to declare her selfe at her best ease. But if you thinke, as you said, that too much love of learning is in fault, and that I have given up myselfe to dreame away my yeares in the armes of studious retirement, like Endymion with the moone, as the tale of Latmus goes; yet consider, that if it were no more but the meere love of learning, whether it proceed from a

« AnteriorContinuar »