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"He that of such a height hath built his mind,
His settled peace, or to disturb the same,—
"And with how free an eye doth he look down
Where greatness stands upon as feeble feet
"And while distraught ambition compasses
And is encompass'd,-whilst as craft deceives
And the inheritance of desolation leaves
To great-expecting hopes,-he looks thereon,
Knowing the heart of man is set to be
Still roll; where all the aspects of misery
Erect himself,-how poor a thing is man!"
I can stop to notice only one other passage, having a double interest, as expressing his thoughtful pride in the power of the English language, and as prophetic of the spread of that language over the vast regions of America :
"Should we, careless, come behind the rest
Is able greater wonders to bring forth?
And who (in time) knows whither we may vent
The treasure of our tongue ?-to what strange shores
T'enrich unknowing nations with our stores ?—
What worlds in the yet unformed Occident
May come refined with the accents that are ours?"
The other poet I have alluded to-Michael Drayton-deserves a better fame than the world has given him, were it to rest only on his most elaborate work,--the "Polyolbion," the most extraordinary production, in some respects, that ever issued from poetic imagination. It was the first, and probably will be the last, topographical poem on the records of poetry. He is the panegyrist of his native country, the main subject of his poem being the rivers of England; and, as Charles Lamb has said of him, "he has gone over the soil with the fidelity of a herald and the painful love of a son; he has not left a rivulet, so narrow that it may be stepped over, without honourable mention, and has animated hills and streams with life and passion above the dreams of old mythology." The poem, which is one of the longest in the language, is composed in the rarely-used verse of twelve syllables known by the name of Alexandrine," and, while combining a most elaborate accumulation of historic, legendary, and fabulous tradition, is distinguished for a higher strain of imagination than might at first be expected from a theme so unpromising for the purposes of poetry as topography. But it should be remembered that with the rivers of a country a thousand associations-actual and mythical—are for ever flowing. At the mere mention of such names as the Jordan, the Nile, the Tiber, the Rhine, the Thames, the Tweed, or the mournful Yarrow, or the history-honoured, blood-stained waters of our own land, how do thoughts and feelings rise up in our minds as unceasing as their springs! Among these early poets there are few to whose neglected memory the student will feel, on acquaintance, more disposed to render affectionate and dutiful homage than Michael Drayton; and let us part with him, holding in our recollections one of his smaller pieces, which would bear comparison with the best of that species of poetry in which there has been so much of worthless effusion;-I mean amatory poetry ;-for, from Anacreon down to Moore, I know of no lines on the old subject of lovers' quarrels, distinguished for equal tenderness of sentiment and richness of fancy. Especially may be observed the exquisite gracefulness in the transition from the familiar tone in the first part of the sonnet to the deeper feeling and the higher strain of imagination at the close :—
"Since there's no help, come, let us kiss and part.
That we one jot of former love retain.
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes,
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
While Daniel and Drayton preserved in their poetry-if not in high elevation, at least in just proportions-the various elements of thought and feeling and fancy, the early and middle parts of the seventeenth century produced two other poets whose influence was wider and more abiding. It is usual to regard Donne, the Dean of St. Paul's, as the first, and Cowley as the chief, of the metaphysical poets, as they have been styled. The irredeemable sin of this school of poetry was its sacrifice of nature, and, consequently, of poetic truth. The rule of its inspiration was abandonment of simplicity. Natural imagery, natural feeling, and passion,-natural expression,—all were insufficient to reach the standardmark of its extravagance. It was deemed the perfection of poetry so to entangle every poetic image or impulse in a maze of scholastic allusions, in forced and arbitrary turns of thought, paradoxes, antitheses, quaintnesses, subtleties, that the reader's chief pleasure must have been the exercise of a correspondent and inappropriate ingenuity in discovering the path of the labyrinth. It could have been no more than the negative satisfaction in unravelling a riddle. Still, to readers of acutelyintellectual habits of mind, the exercise of reading this poetry, we can readily understand, brought a certain kind and a considerable amount of mental satisfaction, which became a substitute for the imaginative delight imparted by true poetry, and perhaps mistaken for it. The feeling was much more akin to a mathematician's pleasure in some achievement in his severe abstractions, or to that of an adroit chess-player. Let me not for one moment be understood as condemning this poetry because it demands thought; for, if there be any one principle I am more anxious to inculcate than another in this course of lectures, it is that all the highest and purest poetry can be appreciated only by studi
THE POETRY OF DONNE AND COWLEY.
ous and imaginative thoughtfulness.. It is this error which greatly is the cause of false and low tastes in poetry. I have not treated, in the previous lectures, of any one poet whose genius can be approached otherwise than with due meditation. But the poetry I am now speaking of demands not so much thought as shrewdness, acuteness, ingenuity, intellectual dexterity; or perhaps it would describe it more justly, as well as more favourably, to say that it demands thought and nothing but thought,—no imagination, no passion, which are the life of real poetry. I might, for instance, select many pieces of this poetry, and before I had reached a dozen lines I should have perplexed and bewildered both you and myself. It may safely be said to be a poetry which makes it necessary for the reader to have, to use the familiar phrase, his wits about him. A short piece of Donne's, entitled " A Lecture," is as favourable a specimen as I can cite to characterize both his merits and his faults. This species of poetry prevailed for so considerable a time, and had such influence, that, in a course on English poetry, it cannot well be passed by. It is, however, only a very small amount of it I shall ask your endurance of :
"Stand still, and I will read to thee
A lecture, love, in Love's philosophy.
Along with us, which we ourselves produced.
We do those shadows tread,
And to brave clearness all things are reduced.
From us, and from our cares: now, 't is not so
Which is still diligent lest others see;
Except our loves at this noon stay,
We shall new shadows make the other way.
The morning shadows wear away;
But these grow larger all the day."
It was the remark of
On this quaint piece of poetry I have no other comment to make than to say that a courtship must have been an exceedingly formidable business when the wooing was done in this style. one of the philosophical poets of the seventeenth century, in allusion to the copiousness of his fancy, that he was forced to cut his way through a crowd of thoughts as through a wood. The remark applies to all of them. That school of poetry laboured under a very unusual difficulty,— an excess of intellectual activity; for the more frequent peril of poetry
is that its metrical music is too often made to conceal an emptiness of thought; and so it is that rhyme is sometimes taken as the antithesis of reason. These poets under consideration arrayed not only the thoughts which their strong intellect and large scholarship naturally suggested, but ingenuity was tortured to gather from all quarters all possible devices. Their poems abound with conceits wonderfully far-fetched, often worth little after all. In short, the poetry was fantastic instead of imaginative. It is instructive, however, sometimes to find nature breaking through the throng of these inventions; some strong passion bursting the bonds of a false taste,-false both in conception and expression,-and finding utterance in hearty simplicity of speech.
Of the ability of so fantastic a poet as Donne to express a simple thought in simple words, I cannot give better proof than the two admirable lines quoted in a former lecture, of his epitaph on Shakspeare :— "Under this curléd marble of thine own,
Sleep, rare tragedian, Shakspeare, sleep alone!"
The chief representative of this poetry was Cowley,-a man, however, of poetic genius, with a poet's mind and a poet's sensibility, sadly as he was shackled by the influence of a false, and of course temporary, fashion. He was the contemporary of Milton, and far more prosperous in a speedy popularity,—the poet of the Royalists, as Milton was of the Republicans. That quick success was gained at the cost of an enduring and higher fame; and it is impossible to read the poetry of Cowley without mourning over the sacrifice. No cultivation, it is true, could have made him one of the greatest poets; but it might have made him much greater than he was. From childhood he had a poet's heart. In one of his admirable prose essays,―admirable for a native simplicity greatly contrasted with the overwrought fancy of his verse,—he says, "I remember, when I began to read and to take some pleasure in it, there was wont to lie in my mother's parlour (I know not by what accident, for she herself never in her life read any book but of devotion); -but there was wont to lie Spenser's works. This I happened to fall upon, and was infinitely delighted with the stories of the knights and giants and monsters and brave houses which I found everywhere there (though my understanding had little to do with all this), and, by degrees, with the tinkling of the rhyme and dance of the numbers ; so that, I think, I had read him all over before I was twelve years old, and was thus made a poet in childhood." It would have been well for Cowley if his understanding had not had quite so much to do with his own poetry, and his imagination and native feeling more. He was involved in the turmoil of the civil war, not to come out of it, like his