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sected by a casura and a full stop will equally effect.
Of triplets in his Davideis he makes no use, and perhaps did not at first think them allowable; but he appears afterwards to have changed his mind, for in the verses on the government of Cromwell he inserts them liberally with great happiness.
After so much criticism on his Poems, the Essays which accompany them must not be forgotten. What is said by Sprat of his conversation, that no man could draw from it any suspicion of his excellence in poetry, may be applied to these compositions. No author ever kept his verse and his prose at a greater distance from each other. His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-sought, or hard-laboured; but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar without grossness.
It has been observed by Felton, in his Essay
on the Classicks, that Cowley was beloved by every Muse that he courted; and that he has rivalled the Ancients in every kind of poetry but tragedy,
It may be affirmed, without any encomiastick fervour, that he brought to his poetick labours a mind replete with learning, and that his pages are embellished with all the ornaments which books could supply; that he was the first who imparted to English numbers the enthusiasm of the greater ode, and the gaiety of the less; that he was equally qualified for spritely sallies, and for lofty flights; that he was among those who freed translation from servility, and, instead of following his author at a distance, walked by his side; and that, if he left versification yet improvable, he left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.
DR. Johnson in his observations upon Cowley's poetry has put forth all his strength; and it would be difficult in the whole compass of critical writing to find an example of more acuteness and comprehension than he has displayed in his account of the Metaphysical Poets. The exact appropriation of the epithet (which he borrowed from Dryden) may, however, be called in question. Metaphysical notions exclusively belong to intellect, and stand in opposition to the images derived from sensible objects. But these writers, although they made great use of the abstract ideas and speculations of the schools —which was particularly the case with Donne, the most learned of the class—yet by no means rejected any object of similitude or illustration that came in their way, whencesoever derived. The perpetual search after such objects was, indeed, their distinguishing characteristic, as Dr. Johnson has well observed; while he has at the same time fully remarked the baneful effect of this propensity in precluding every natural sentiment or image which their subjects might have suggested. In this enumeration of these poets, it seems extraordinary that the name of Milton should be inserted merely on account of his sportive lines upon Hobson. The catalogue might easily have been enlarged; and even Dryden might with justice have been included, since he was long under the dominion of a fondness for dazzling conceits and far-fetched
In his defence of Cowley from the charge brought against him by a rigid theologian, of having published “A book of profane and lasci“ vious verses,” the critic appears to have been somewhat swayed by that spirit of contradiction which at times influenced his argumentation. For he himself has afterwards censured the poet for a “light allusion to sacred things, by which
“readers far short of sanctity are frequently “offended, and which would not be borne in “ the present age.” This, surely, is justifying the epithet profane in the sense in which that writer probably used it. It may be added, that if the amorous poems of Cowley are too subtle and ingenious to be inflammatory, they are by no means free from licentious ideas and expressions.
The sentence Dr. Johnson has pronounced concerning the unfitness of scripture subjects for poetical embellishment, on account of the awe and submissive reverence with which the sacred writings are perused, seems rather to be dictated by the spirit of scrupulous and mistaken piety, than by just and philosophical thinking. It evidently adopts for its principle the notion of the full and equal divine inspiration of every part of the writings composing the canon of scripture, whether historical, preceptive, of prophetic; —a notion which few men of learning and liberal inquiry can now be supposed to hold. That all curiosity respecting these topics is suppressed, because there is already what is “sufficient for