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Of all this, Cowley appears to have been without knowledge, or without care. He makes no selection of words, nor seeks any neatness of phrase: he has no elegance either lucky or elaborate: as his endeavours were rather to impress sentences upon the understanding than images on the fancy, he has few epithets, and those scattered without peculiar propriety of nice adaptation. It seems to follow from the necessity of the subject, rather than the care of the writer, that the diction of his heroick poem is less familiar than that of his slightest writings. He has - given not the same numbers, but the same dic
tion, to the gentle Anacreon and the tempestuous Pindar.
His versification seems to have had very little of his care; and if what he thinks be true, that his numbers are unmusical only when they are ill read, the art of reading them is at present lost; for they are commonly harsh to modern ears. He has indeed many noble lines, such as the feeble care of Waller never could produce. The bulk of his thoughts sometimes swelled his verse to unexpected and inevitable grandeur; but In another place, of David,
Yet bid him go securely, when he sends;
Yet amidst his negligence he sometimes at
tempted an improved and scientific versification; of which it will be best to give his own account subjoined to this line,
Nor can the glory contain itself in th' endless space.
“I am sorry that it is necessary to admonish the most part of readers, that it is not by negligence that this verse is so loose, long, and, as it were, vast; it is to paint in the number the nature of the thing which it describes, which I would have observed in divers other places of this poem, that else will pass
for very careless verses: as before, o
And over-runs the neighboring fields with violent course.
* In the second book;
Pown a precipice deep, down he casts them all
In the third, o
Brass was his helmet, his boots brass, and o'er
In the fourth,
And many more: but it is enough to instance in a few. The thing is, that the disposition of words and numbers should be such, as that, out of the order and sound of them, the things themselves may be represented. This the Greeks were not so accurate as to bind themselves to ; neither have our English poets observed it, for aught I can find. The Latins (qui mufas colunt reveriores) sometimes did it; and their prince, Virgil, always: in whom the examples are innumerable, and taken notice of by all judicious men, so that it is superfluous to collect them.”
I know not whether he has, in many of these instances, attained the representation or resemblance that he purposes. Verse can imitate only sound and motion. A boundless verse, a headlong verse, and a verse of brass or of strong brass, seem to comprise very incongruous and unsociable ideas. What there is peculiar in the sound of the line expressing loose care, I cannot discover; nor why the pine is taller in an Alexandrine than in ten syllables.
But, not to defraud him of his due praise, he has given one example of representative versification, which perhaps no other English line can equal:
Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise: He, who defers this work from day to day, Does on a river's bank expecting stay Till the whole stream that stopp'd him shall be gone, Which runs, and as it runs, for ever shall run on.
Cowley was, I believe, the first poet that mingled Alexandrines at pleasure with the common heroick of ten syllables, and from him
Dryden borrowed the practice, whether ornamental or licentious. He considered the verse of twelve syllables as elevated and majestick, and has therefore deviated into that measure when he supposes the voice heard of the Supreme Being.
The Author of the Davideis is commended by Dryden for having written it in couplets, because he discovered that any staff was too lyrical for an heroick poem ; but this seems to have been known before by May and Sandys, the translators of the Pharsalia and the Metamorphoses.
In the Davideis are some hemistichs, or verses left imperfect by the author, in imitation of Virgil, whom he supposes not to have intended to complete them: that this opinion is erroneous, may be probably concluded, because this truncation is imitated by no subsequent Roman poet; because Virgil himself filled up one broken line in the heat of recitation; because in one the sense is now unfinished; and because all that can be done by a broken verse, a line inter
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