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"Thousands of notions in my brain did run,
This was not quick enough, and that was dead,
But, while I bustled, I might hear a friend
Herbert is one of the many minor poets to whom we are indebted for the sacred poetry of the seventeenth century, which is so voluminous that it has been truly said a history of it might be regarded as an elaborate preface to the "Paradise Lost."
Passing from the serious to the light poetry of the seventeenth century, we meet with strains as light in their movement as fancy ever danced to. Even in the songs, however, of that period there is a vein of reflection showing thoughtfulness in the midst of sportiveness, as in the first stanzas of that light lyric of Herrick's :
"Gather the rose-buds while ye may;
And this same flower that smiles to-day
"The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting."
It was to this poet, Robert Herrick, that English verse owes some of its most graceful and musical metrical arrangements. The music of the sweetest of Moore's melodies does not, it sounds to me, surpass the modulation of the verses entitled "The Night Piece :"
"Her eyes the glowworm lend thee;
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like the sparks of fires, befriend thee.
"No will-of-the wisp mislight thee;
Not making a stay,
Since ghost there is none to affright thee.
"Let not the dark thee cumber;
What though the moon doth slumber?
Will lend thee their light,
"Then, Julia, let me woo thee,
And, when I shall meet
My soul I'll pour into thee."
It seems to have been Herrick's pleasure to try the sound of a great variety of rhythms, to find what music the language was capable of. The musical close of the following lines is the result of one of these experiments :
"Am I despised because you say,
And I dare swear, that I am grey?
Know, lady, you have but your day;
And when (though long it comes to pass)
But find no rose-bud in your cheek,
Nor any bed to give the show
Where such a rare carnation grew,
Ah! then, too late, close in your chamber keeping,
It will be told
That you are old,
By those true tears you 're weeping!"
Of Herrick's sacred poems the most admired is his "Litany to the Holy Spirit," of which the best stanzas are perhaps these:
"In the hour of my distresse,
Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
When the house doth sigh and weep,
In tracing the progress of English poetry and endeavouring to pre serve some general reference to the course of English national history, though of necessity in a very loose way, I cannot pass by an era so memorable as the great civil war in the seventeenth century. The character of that period, its men and its events, is a theme of momentous interest if treated with reference to political and ecclesiastical considerations. Its literary interest is but small. The times were too troublous: the elements of society in wild commotion,-the feverish anxiety of domestic war, with its protracted miseries,—all were adverse to activity in the cause of letters. There was not repose enough for the meditation which is needful for all good writing. Now, I have no wish to mingle views of politics with views of poetry, when they have little, if anything, to do with each other. But there is a prevalent error touching the literature of those times, which ought to be noticed. I mean the habit of speaking of the Republican party in the civil war as the less poetical party. This is one of those prescriptive forms of speech which are handed from one author to another, so habitually repeated that its truth is not questioned; and I have observed that it has blinded the most acute and accurate of the historians. When you come to reflect upon it, why, there is one single Republican name that will outweigh the Royalist poets of the whole century. You may place in one scale the poetry of Milton, and in the other that of Cowley, the best poet of the other side, with all the effusions of every poet of kindred politics,-you may pile thereon all the antipathies and prejudices of Dr. Johnson, and the beam of the balance will still scarcely be moved to recover its equipoise. But, while I notice such an opinion for the purpose of denying its truth, I feel, at the same time, that there is something low and unworthy in bringing poetry within the range of political partisanship. What has it to do with such things? And has
it not, on the other hand, to do with a lofty enthusiasm in all its forms? If ever there was a strife in which high and pure principles and noble emotions were arrayed on both sides, it was that civil war. The general character of the struggle was, I believe, truly given in the words of one of the greatest British statesmen and orators, when Lord Chatham said of it, "There was ambition; there was sedition; there was violence : but no man shall persuade me it was not the cause of liberty on one side and of tyranny on the other." On each side there were vices: on the one, fanaticism and hypocrisy, on the other, profligacy and voluptuousness; and, on both sides, violence and tyranny. But what gives that contest its glorious interest is that the ranks of each great party of the nation contained noble spirits, in whom where embodied, on the one side, the high-minded enthusiasm of a generous loyalty, and, on the other, the equally fervid enthusiasm of the love of freedom,--happy in its hopes and its short-lived enjoyment of republicanism.
EFFECTS OF PURITANISM ON POETRY.
Swells like the bosom of a man set free!"
In contemplating that period, it should be with the large-hearted candour which can recognise and admire the strength and purity of these opposing principles, reverencing both the spotless integrity of a faithful cavalier like Derby, sealing his loyalty with his blood; and, on the other hand, the magnanimity of those who aspired to political freedom in the spirit of moral freedom,
"The later Sydney, Marvell, Harrington,
Young Vane, and others, who call'd Milton friend."
Now, when I come to the study of the poetry of that generation, I seek to know whether it may not be found in connection with those strong and generous passions which belonged to the best representatives of the times. I need not stop to observe that the Puritan system and discipline were adverse avowedly so-to poetic culture. It was vanity to their strict intellect, —a toy for the malignants. Nor need I more than state that, in the ephemeral poetry (if the political songs and satires deserved the title of poetry), the polished Cavaliers knew how to play the game better than their stern opponents, the Roundheads. I would find some poetry more enduring than those occasional things, and in sympathy with the better heart which animated the worthy portion of each party. The search, pursued in this spirit, is not in vain; for it enables me to cite, in a few noble lines of Marvell, an admirable tribute to the serenity with which the king met his fate when his undaunted enemies struck the crown from his brow, and then deliberately doomed
the discrowned head of Charles Stuart to the block,- -a bloody atonement, which should bring a charity for his errors and an admiration for the meek resignation of his last moments, such as inspires these lines, the composition of a staunch friend of the people,—the friend, too, of Milton,-telling how the royal actor was brought
"The tragic scaffold to adorn,
Did clap their bloody hands.
But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try;
Nor call'd the gods, with vulgar spite,
There are two scarcely-known poets of this period, who, being equally zealous on opposite political sides, and encountering similar misfortunes in consequence of party reverses, present excellent types of the influence on poetic character of their various modes of thought and feeling. Richard Lovelace was a fine specimen of a gallant cavalier,—a soldier with a scholar's accomplishments. He risked his life and spent his whole patrimony in the hapless cause of his king. Among his poems are two songs, perhaps as happy efforts of the kind as any in the language. I can well credit the tradition of his virtue, his modesty, his chivalrous courtesy and courage, when I reflect on the sentiment at the close of the lines I am about to repeat; for there is in it a world of the morality of love's philosophy, two or three words of wisdom which every lover should make his maxim. It was composed when he was going to the wars, and reconciles, with equal truth and grace of feeling, the soldier's and the lover's duty :