« PoprzedniaDalej »
particular pieces for praise or censure. They have all the same beauties and faults, and nearly in the same proportion. They are written with exuberance of wit, and with copiousness of learning; and it is truly asserted by Sprat, that the plenitude of the writer's knowledge flows in upon his page, so that the reader is commonly surprised into some improvement. But, considered as the verses of a lover, no man that has ever loved will much commend them. They are neither courtly nor pathetick, have neither gallantry nor fondness. His praises are too far sought, and too hyperbolical, either to express love, or to excite it; every stanza is crowded with darts and flames, with wounds and death, with mingled souls, and with broken hearts.
The principal artifice by which The Mistress is filled with conceits is very copiously displayed by Addison. Love is by Cowley, as by other poets, expressed metaphorically by flame and fire; and that which is true of real fire is said of love, or figurative fire, the same word in the same sentence retaining both significations. Thus, “ observing “ the cold regard of his mistress's eyes, and at
WOL. I. G
“ the same time their power of producing love in “ him, he considers them as burning glasses made “ of ice. Finding himself able to live in the “greatest extremities of love, he concludes the “ torrid zone to be habitable. Upon the dying “ of a tree, on which he had cut his loves, he
“ observes, that his flames had burnt up and * withered the tree.”
These conceits Addison calls mixed wit ; that is, wit which consists of thoughts true in one sense of the expression, and false in the other. Addison's representation is sufficiently indulgent. That confusion of images may entertain for a moment; but, being unnatural, it soon grows wearisome. Cowley delighted in it, as much as if he had invented it; but, not to mention the ancients, he might have found it full-blown in modern Italy. Thus Sannazaro :
Aspice quam variis distringar Lesbia curis!
Sum Nilus, sumque AEtna simul; restringite flammas,
One of the severe theologians of that time cen
sured him as having published a book of profane and lascivious verses. From the charge of profaneness, the constant tenour of his life, which seems to have been eminently virtuous, and the general tendency of his opinions, which discover no irreverence of religion, must defend him; but that the accusation of lasciviousness is unjust, the perusal of his works will sufficiently evince.
Cowley's Mistress has no power of seduction: “ she plays round the head, but reaches not the “heart.” Her beauty and absence, her kindness and cruelty, her disdain and inconstancy, produce no correspondence of emotion. His poetical account of the virtues of plants, and colours of flowers, is not perused with more sluggish frigidity. The compositions are such as might have been written for penance by a hermit, or for hire by a philosophical rhymer who had only heard of another sex; for they turn the mind only on the writer, whom, without thinking on a woman but as the subject for his task, we sometimes esteem as learned, and sometimes despise as trifling, always admire as ingenious, and always condemn as unnatural.
The Pindarique Odes are now to be considered; a species of composition, which Cowley thinks Pancirolus might have counted in his list of the last inventions of antiquity, and which he has made a bold and vigorous attempt to recover.
The purpose with which he has paraphrased an Olympick and Nemaean ode, is by himself sufficiently explained. His endeavour was, not to shew precisely what Pindar spoke, but his manner of speaking. He was therefore not at all restrained to his expressions, nor much to his sentiments; nothing was required of him, but not to write as Pindar would not have written.
Of the Olympick ode the beginning is, I think, above the original in elegance, and the conclusion below it in strength. The connection is supplied with great perspicuity, and the thoughts, which to a reader of less skill seem thrown together by chance, are concatenated without any abruption. Though the English ode cannot be called a translation, it may be very properly consulted as a commentary.
The spirit of Pindar is indeed not every where equally preserved. The following pretty lines are not such as his deep mouth was used to pour:
Great Rhea's son,
In the Nemaean ode the reader must, in mere justice to Pindar, observe that whatever is said of the original new moon, her tender forehead and her horns, is superadded by his paraphrast, who has
many other plays of words and fancy unsuitable to the original, as,
The table, free for every guest,
He sometimes extends his author's thoughts without improving them. In the Olympionick an oath is mentioned in a single word, and Cowley spends three lines in swearing by the Catalian stream. We are told of Theron's bounty, with a