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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, a
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 threat, 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 anything that befalls them.
To the subject thus originally indisposed to the reception of poetical embellishments, 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
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,
Cowley says of the stone with which Cain slew his brother,
I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant
Of the sword taken from Goliah, he says,
A sword so great, that it was only fit
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,
But he has allusions vulgar as well as learned. In a visionary succession of kings:
Joas at first does bright and glorious show,
Describing an undisciplined army, after hav. ing said with elegances.
His forces seem'd no army, but a crowd
he gives them a fit of the ague.
The allusions, however, are not always to vulgar things: he offends by exaggeration as much as by diminution:
The king was plac’d alone, and o'er his head
Whatever he writes is always polluted with some conceit:
Where the sun's fruitful beams give metals birth,
In one passage he starts a sudden question, to the confusion of philosophy:
Ye learned heads, whom ivy garlands grace,
His expressions have sometimes a degree of meanness that surpasses expectation:
Nay, gentle guests, he crics, since now you’re in,
In a simile descriptive of the Morning:
As glimmering stars just at th’ approach of day,
The dress of Gabriel deserves attention:
He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright,