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DAVENANT AND COWLEY.
IT is very important that we should appreciate the temper of mind in which it is desirable to approach literature as distinguished from the history of literature, and still more poetry as distinguished from the history of poetry. Literature, in the exact sense in which I use the word here, is a somewhat rare product. It is the quintessence of good writing, in all ages, in all languages, and no single nation within one single century can be presumed to have supplied very much of it. For instance, this very seventeenth century which we are considering produced of the highest poetic literature, of the literature which is of universal importance, just the writings of Shakespeare and Milton, with some sparse pages from Ben Jonson and Dryden. We look a little closer, with eyes a little less critical, and we see a great deal more than this which is sound poetic literature; we begin to perceive Webster and Herrick, Fletcher and Marvell, Browne and Otway, with a score of lyrists, a score of playwrights, to whom the praise of genuine literary execution, in isolated bursts and fragments, must not be denied. But if we are set upon the discovery of literature alone, and not on the observation of literary history, we must then go no further. At the present day it is a great temptation to those who have made special periods and segments of the poetic produce of a nation their peculiar care, to exaggerate the value of what they have unearthed. It is human to see exotic beauties in the weed that we ourselves have discovered. But this tendency is one to be avoided, since it is commonly accompanied by an inability to enjoy what is really great in other schools than that in which the education of the taste has been conducted. I have known a scholar, who delighted to excess in Quarles, express an utter contempt for Gray, and another whose taste lay in Occleve confound his own judgment by confessing that he saw nothing praiseworthy in Pope. From this narrowness, from this provincial attitude, which may easily become a snare for those who pursue literature alone, the study of the history of literature may be recommended as an escape. In this delightful inquiry, and one of the few pleasant things that Bishop Warburton said, was his remark that the history of literature was the most charming exercise of the human mind,-we are released from the contemplation of the best, and of nothing but the best, from that communion with the quintessence of things which no taste can long endure without feeling a strain, and we are permitted to indulge that curiosity which is excited by the spectacle of motion, of evolution. A writer too crabbed or too insignificant to claim our praise on the score of his verses alone, becomes interesting at once, and important, when we see that he possessed an influence over a younger writer than himself, who attained genuine success, or when he marks a step in the range which culminated at last in a poet. It is this second attitude of mind which I have to beg from my readers in the whole course of the present argument. From the beginning to the end of it I have been and shall be beset with siren enticements to break away on this side and on that to the fields of genuine literature which lie just beyond our range. I do not deceive myself that there is much literature, of the finer sort, in Waller or in Denham, and I am about to introduce an author in whom I should be almost inclined to say that there is none at all. It would be refreshing to close such books as Madagascar and Gondibert, and listen to those Dorian strains from Milton's oaten stop, which were making the solitudes of Horton vocal. But literature just now is not our pursuit, but the history of literature, and, paradoxical as it may be, in the development of English poetical taste in the middle of the seventeenth century, Milton took a part decidedly less prominent \ than Davenant.
We have already acquainted ourselves with the pioneers of the classical transition, with Waller and with Denham. Next in honour after these names were quoted, when the transition was complete, those of Davenant and Cowley. The peculiarity in
the position of these two latter poets lay in the fact that they were both of them, but Davenant especially, perverts from the older romantic school. Waller, as we have seen, was born with a curious gift for distich, and carefully held himself aloof from the men of the age into which he was bred, and Denham more or less did the same. They had to struggle against adverse fashion, but that struggle was all without. Davenant, on the other hand, was nurtured in the very heart of romance; we shall see that he had deliberately to unlearn all he had learned, to wean himself from all he had loved. It is possible that the reason why his defection to the classical camp was considered such a triumph, and why his poems excited so much adverse