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In the following odes, where Cowley chooses his own subjects, he sometimes. rises to dignity truly Pindarick; and, if some deficiencies of language be forgiven, his strains are such as those of the Theban Bard were to his contemporaries: Begin the song, and strike the living lyre:

Lo how the years to come, a numerous and well-fitted quire,

All hand in hand do decently advance,

And to my song with smooth and equal measure dance;

While the dance lasts, how long soe'er it be,

My musick's voice shall bear it company;

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After such enthusiasm, who will not lament to find the poet conclude with

lines like these:

But stop, my Muse

Hold thy Pindaric Pegasus closely in,

Which does to rage begin

-'Tis an unruly and a hard-mouth'd horse -?

'Twill no unskilful touch endure,

But flings writer and reader too that sits not sure.

The fault of Cowley, and perhaps of all the writers of the metaphysical race, is that of pursuing his thoughts to the last ramifications, by which he loses the grandeur of generality; for of the greatest things the parts are little; what is little can be but pretty, and by claiming dignity becomes ridiculous. Thus all the power of description is destroyed by a scrupulous enumeration; and the force of metaphors is lost, when the mind by the mention of particulars is turned more upon the original than the secondary sense, more upon that from which the illustration is drawn than that to which it is applied.

Of this we have a very eminent example in the ode intituled The Muse, who goes to take the air in an intellectual chariot, to which he harnesses Fancy and Judgment, Wit and Eloquence, Memory and Invention: how he distinguished Wit from Fancy, or how Memory could properly contribute to Motion, he has not explained; we are however content to suppose that he could have justified his own fiction, and wish to see the Muse begin her career; but there is yet more to be done.

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Every mind is now distinguished with this cumber of magnificence; yet! cannot refuse myself the four next lines:


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Mount, glorious queen, thy travelling throne,
And bid it to put on ;

For long though cheerful is the way,

And life alas allows but one ill winter's day.

In the same ode, celebrating the power of the Muse, he gives her prescience, or, in poetical language, the foresight of events hatching in futurity; but having once an egg in his mind, he cannot forbear to shew us that he know contains:

what an egg

Thou into the close nests of Time dost peep,

And there with a piercing eye

Through the firm shell and the thick white dost spy

Years to come a-forming lie,

Close in their sacred fecunaine asleep.

The same thought is more generally, and therefore more poetically, expressed by Casimir, a writer, who has many of the beauties and faults of Cowley: Omnibus mundi Dominator horis

Aptat urgendas per inane pennas,
Pars adhuc nido latet, & futuros
Crescit in annos.

Cowley, whatever was his subject, seems to have been carried by a kind of destiny, to the light and the familiar, or to conceits which require still more ignoble epithets. A slaughter in the Red Sea new dies the waters name; and England, during the Civil War, was Albion no more, nor to be named from white. It is surely by some fascination not easily surmounted, that a writer professing to revive the noblest and highest writing in verse, makes this address to the new year:

Nay', if thou lov'st me, gentle year,

Let not so mnch as love be there,

Vain fruitless love I mean; for, gentle year,

Although I fear,

There's of this caution little heed,

Yet, gentle year, take heed

How thou dost make

Such a mistake;

Such love I mean alone

As by thy cruel predecessors has been shewn ;
For, though I have too much cause to doubt it,

I fain would try, for once, if life can live without it.

The reader of this will be inclined to cry out with Prior

Ye Critics, say,

How poor to this was Pindar's style!

Even those who cannot perhaps find in the Isthmian or Nemean songs what Antiquity has disposed them to expect, will at last see that they are ill repre


sented by such puny poetry; and all will determine that, if this be the old Theban strain, it is not worthy of revival.

To the disproportion and incongruity of Cowley's sentiments must be added. the uncertainty and looseness of his measures. He takes the liberty of using in any place a verse of any length, from two syllables to twelve. The verses of Pindar have, as he observes, very little harmony to a modern ear; yet by examining the syllables we perceive them to be regular, and have reason enough for supposing that the ancient audiences were delighted with the sound. The imitator ought therefore to have adopted what he found, and to have added what was wanting; to have preserved a constant return of the same numbers, and to have supplied smoothness of transition and continuity of thought.

It is urged by Dr. Sprat, that the irregularity of numbers is the very thing which makes that kind of poesy fit for all manner of subjects. But he should have remembered, that what is fit for every thing can fit nothing well. The great pleasure of verse arises from the known measure of the lines, and uniform structure of the stanzas, by which the voice is regulated, and the memory relieved.

If the Pindarick style be, what Cowley thinks it, the highest and noblest kind of writing in verse, it can be adapted only to high and noble subjects; and it will not be easy to reconcile the poet with the critick, or to conceive how that can be the highest kind of writing in verse, which, according to Sprat, is chiefly to be preferred for its near affinity to prose.

This lax and lawless versification so much concealed the deficiencies of the barren, and flattered the laziness of the idle, that it inmediately overspread our books of poetry; all the boys and girls caught the pleasing fashion, and they that could do nothing else could write like Pindar. The rights of antiquity were invaded, and disorder tried to break into the Latin: a poem * on the Sheldonian Theatre, in which all kinds of verse are shaken together, is unhappily inserted in the Muse Anglicana. Pindarism prevailed above half a century; but at last died gradually away, and other imitations supply its place.

The Pindarique Odes have so long enjoyed the highest degree of poetical reputation, that I am not willing to dismiss them with unabated censure; and surely though the mode of their composition be erroneous, yet many parts deserve at least that admiration which is due to great comprehension of knowledge, and great fertility of fancy. The thoughts are often new, and often striking; but the greatness of one part is disgraced by the littleness of another; and total negligence of language gives the noblest conceptions the appearance of a fabric august in the plan, but mean in the materials. Yet surely those verses are not without a just claim to praise; of which it may be said with truth, that no man but Cowley could have written them.

* First published in quarto, 1669, under the title of "Carmen Pindaricum in Theatrum "Sheldonianum in solennibus magnifici Operis Encœniis. Recitatum Julii die 9, Anno 1669, "a Corbetto Owen, A. B. Æd. Chr. Alumno Authore." E.


The Davideis now remains to be considered; a poem which the author designed to have extended to twelve books, merely, as he makes no scruple of declaring, because the Æneid had that number; but he had leisure or perseverance only to write the third part. Epick poems have been left unfinished by Virgil, Statius, Spenser, and Cowley. That we have not the whole Davideis is, however, not much to be regretted; for in this undertaking Cowley is, tacitly at least, confessed to have miscarried. There are not many examples of so great a work, produced by an author generally read, and generally praised, that has crept through a century with so little regard. Whatever is said of Cowley, is meant of his other works. Of the Davideis no mention is made; it never appears in books, nor emerges in conversation. By the Spectátor it has been once quoted; by Rymer it has once been praised; and by Dryden, in "Mac Flecknoe," it has once been imitated; nor do I recollect much other notice from its publication till now, in the whole succession of English literature. Of this silence and neglect, if the reason be inquired, it will be found partly in the choice of the subject, and partly in the performance of the work.

Sacred History has been always read with submissive reverence, and an imagination over-awed and controlled. We have been accustomed to acquiesce in the nakedness and simplicity of the authentic narrative, and to repose on its veracity with such humble confidence, as suppresses curiosity. We go with the historian as he goes, and stop with him when he stops. All amplification is frivolous and vain; all addition to that which is already sufficient for the purposes of religion, seems not only useless, but in some degree profane.

Such events as were produced by the visible interposition of Divine Power are above the power of human genius to dignify. The miracle of Creation, however it may teem with images, is best described with little diffusion of language: He spake the word, and they were made.

We are told that Saul was troubled with an evil spirit; from this Cowley takes an opportunity of describing hell, and telling the history of Lucifer, who was, he says,

Once general of a gilded host of sprites,

Like Hesper leading forth the spangled nights;

But down like lightning, which him struck, he came,
And roar'd at his first plunge into the flame.

Lucifer makes a speech to the inferior agents of mischief, in which there is something of heathenism, and therefore of impropriety; and, to give efficacy to his words, concludes by lashing his breast with his long tail. Envy, after a pause, steps out, and among other declarations of her zeal utters these lines: Do thou but treat, loud storms shall make reply, And thunder echo to the trembling sky, Whilst raging seas swell to so bold an height, As shall the fire's proud element affright, Th' old drudging Sun, from his long-beaten way, Shall at thy voice'start, and misguide the day.


The jocund orbs shall break their measur'd pace,
And stubborn poles change their allotted place.

Heaven's gilded troops shall flutter here and there,

Leaving their boasting songs tun'd to a sphere,

Every reader feels himself weary with this useless talk of an allegorical Being. It is not only when the events are confessedly miraculous, that fancy and fiction lose their effect: the whole system of life, while the Theocracy was yet visible, has an appearance so different from all other scenes of human action, that the reader of the Sacred Volume habitually considers it as the peculiar mode of existence of a distinct species of mankind, that lived and acted with manners uncommunicable; so that it is difficult even for imagination to place us in the state of them whose story is related, and by consequence their joys and griefs are not easily adopted, nor can the attention be often interested in any thing that befalls them.

To the subject thus originally indisposed to the reception of poetical em ́bellishments, the writer brought little that could reconcile impatience, or attract curiosity. Nothing can be more disgusting than a narrative spangled with conceits, and conceits are all that the Davideis supplies.

One of the great sources of poetical delight is description, or the power of presenting pictures to the mind. Cowley gives inferences instead of images, and shews not what may be supposed to have been seen, but what thoughts the sight might have suggested. When Virgil describes the stone which Turnus lifted against Æneas, he fixes the attention on its bulk and weight:

Saxum circumspicit ingens,

Saxum antiquum, ingens, campo quod forte jacebat
Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis.

Cowley says of the stone with which Cain slew his brother,

I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant

At once his murther and his monument.

Of the sword-taken from Goliah, he says,

A sword so great, that it was only fit

To cut off his great head that came with it.

Other poets describe death by some of its common appearances. Cowley says, with a learned allusion to sepulchral lamps real or fabulous,

'Twixt his right ribs deep pierc'd the furious blade,

And open'd wide those secret vessels where

Life's light goes out, when first they let in air,

But he has allusions vulgar as well as learned. In a visionary succession of kings: Joas at first does bright and glorious show,

In life's fresh morn his fame does early crow.

Describing an undisciplined army, after having said with elegance,
His forces seem'd no army, but a crowd
Heartless, unarin'd, disorderly, and loud,

he gives them a fit of the ague.

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