Obrazy na stronie

the palm or date tree. Nor is the story of the fig-tree being bestowed, according to Pausanias, by Ceres upon Phytalus, who kindly entertained the goddess, forgotten.

Such are a few specimens of the subjects treated of in Cowley's “ Plantarium” and of their treatment there. They serve at least to show the vast stride taken 'twixt then and this in medical science, the most empirical of all the departments of human knowledge ; and whilst provoking a smile at the semi-superstitious credulity that trusted the restoration of health to the “ culling of simples;" they, perhaps, provoke a query, too, regarding our more ingenious practice of physic, “ secundum artem,”—whether its principles be even as well ascertained.

The “ Plantarium," as a poem, is destitute neither of elegance nor invention, although the obsolete character of its topics deprives it of present toleration and future popularity. There can be no doubt that, with its fund of felicitous allusions to the wellknown vegetation of the old world by comparison with the vegetable marvels of the new; with its numerous and striking references to the leading incidents of the moment, to past or passing events, such as the concealment of King Charles in the Royal Oak; this poem must have been the favourite of its age and party. Its composition in Latin offered no obstacle to its success; the learned as yet knew little but through this medium; and for the mere English reader, able translators had been found, by whom it was rendered into English verse after that approved fashion of which English literature, incited by“ Roscommon's lays” began to be as proud as of original vernacular compositions :

“ When France had breath'd after intestine broils,
And peace and conquest crown'd her foreign toils,
Then (cultivated by a Royal hand)
Learning grew fast, and spread and blest the land ;
The choicest books that Rome or Greece have known,
Her excellent translators made their own:
And Europe still considerably gains,
Both by their good example and their pains,
From hence our generous emulation came,
We undertook and we perform’d the same ;
But now we shew the world a nobler way,
And in translated verse do more than they,
Serene and clear harmonious Horace flows
With sweetness not to be exprest in prose,” &c. &c.

Roscommon : Essay on Transl. verse. The freest translator of Cowley's Latin was Mrs. Afra or Aphara Behn; but Tate was the more exact; for the lady sometimes deviates so far from the original test, as to put in a word for herself in the capacity of translator, or, as she has it," the

translatress in her own person speaks.” For example, apostrophising the cypress, she had better have held her tongue-particularly about Sappho :

“ I, by a double right, thy bounties claim

Both from my sex ; and in Apollo's name.
Let me with Sappho and Orinda be,
Oh! ever sacred nine, adorned by thee,

And give my verses immortality.” Few English poets, and, indeed, few modern ones, have merited more than Cowley the honour of being “ translated” into their native tongue-an honour reserved almost exclusively for those whose names are venerable by antiquity as well as sacred to fame; for apart from all the hyperbolical compliments of his contemporaries, few have so successfully caught and re-echoed the spirit of the classics. Even the fastidious Lord Byron recurs, long after Cowley was as well nigh forgotten as possible, to his imitation of " the Old Man of Verona"-one of Claudiau's epigrams:—The story of Aglaüs embraces the same idea.

“ Thy good old man whose word was all within
Thy wall, nor knew the country held him in.”

Byron's Age of Bronze, C. ix. 6 Claudian's famous old man of Verona," says Byron, qui suburbium nunquam egres susest.' The Latin verses are beautifully imitated by Cowley:"

Happy the man who his whole life doth bound
Within the enclosure of his little ground:
Happy the man whom the same humble place
(Th' hereditary cottage of his race)
From his first rising infancy has known,
And by degrees, sees gently bending down
With natural propension to that earth
Which both preserved his life and gave him birth.
Him no false distant lights by fortune set
Could ever into foolish wanderings get;
No change of consuls make to him the year,—
The change of seasons is his calendar:
The cold and heat winter and summer shews ;
Autumn by fruits and spring by flowers he knows:
He measures time by landmarks, and has found
For the whole day the dial of his ground;
A neighb’ring wood, born with himself, he sees,
And loves his old contemporary trees :
H'as only heard of near Verona's name,
And knows it like the Indies but by fame :
Does with a like concernment notice take
Of the Red Sea and of Benacus' Lake:

Thus health and strength he t' a third age enjoys,
And sees a long posterity of boys.
About the spacious world let others l'oam,

The voyage life is longest made at home !" This elegant version is almost literal, and if not rendered line for line, is extended to only thirty lines of English from twentytwo of Claudian's Latin, which, for convenience, we also cite. It is curious to notice that Lord Byron has reversed the meaning of the author, and shut the old man up within the town wall of Verona, instead of without it :“Felix, qui patriis aevum transegit in agris,

Ipsa domus puerum quem videt, ipsa senem ;
Qui baculo nitens, in qua reptavit arena,

Unius numerat secula longa casae.
Illum non vario traxit fortuna tumultu,

Nec bibit ignotas mobilis hospes aquas :
Non freta mercator tremuit, non classica miles,

Non rauci lites pertulit ille fori.
Indocilis rerum, vicinae nescius urbis,

Adspectu fruitur liberiore poli.
Frugibus alternis non consule, computat annum;

Autumnum pomis, ver sibi flore notat.
Idem condit ager soles, idemque reducit

Metiturque suo rusticus orbe diem.
Ingentem meminit parvo qui germine quercum,

Æquaevumque videt consenuisse nemus.
Proxima cui nigris Verona remotur Indis,

Benacumque putat littora rubra lacum.
Sed tamen indomitae vires, firmisque lacertis

Ætas robustum tertia cernit avum.
Erret et extremos alter scrutetur Iberos.

Plus habet hic vitae, plus habet ille viae.” The celebrity Cowley's reading of this passage obtained was doubtless traditionary, and as such found countenance with Byron, who recklessly discloses his ignorance of its merits. Cowley's admiration of it did not stop short at a simple translation. As already hinted, he has distinctly borrowed it in the fourth book of the Plantarium, in the story of Aglais, of which we have already presented his own and Tate's English translations. This story had the honour of being celebrated by the most judicious of all our English critics-Addison. Cowley, indeed, must have found it much admired ere he thought of separately doing it the justice of translation. Though fallen upon evil tiines--the spirit of political machination rather than its tool—we cannot suspect Cowley of being soured by misfortune; but look


him as a man who had long attempered his mind to the opinion that the true sphere of earthly happiness was in retirement from the

turmoil of the world. Thus it is, that, alive to the evils and annoyance that surround and beset us, we fly on the wings of imagination to imparadise our hopes in a visionary future, the scenery of which is as widely different as possible from that by which we find ourselves surrounded. Supposing the cast of Cowley's mind in reality not mournful whilst he was habitually writing in disparagement of riches and splendour, and even twice in the same poem calling himself “ the melancholy Cowley" -it was scarcely possible, save with those to whom his disposition was intimately known, to determine whether the lamentations of his “ complaint” and his “ destiny" were or were not as counterfeit as the

passions simulated in his “ Mistress.” Thus Sprat, his intimate friend and biographer, is altogether at a loss to know why Cowley called himself" the melancholy Cowley.” Otway, who knew less of him, includes his name in that melancholy catalogue of unhappy genius, to which succeeding writers have annexed Otway's own. We refer to a singular passage in the prologue written by Otway for Nat Lee's “ Constantine the Great"

-a play to which Dryden wrote the epilogue :-“ Therefore,” says Otway :

“ Therefore all you who have male issue born

Under the starving sign of Capricorn,
Prevent the malice of their stars in time,
And warn them early from the sin of rhyme,
Tell 'em how Spenser starv'd, how Cowley mourn'd,

How Butler's faith and service was return'd." Mr. D'Israeli in his “ Calamities of Authors," with his usual lack of purpose, sets out by questioning Cowley’s melancholy; but, as it was natural to expect he would, in “only tracing his (Cowley's) literary history for the purpose of that work," i.e. for the purpose of recording the Calamities of Authors, he ended by adducing proofs of it. He has, however, succeeded in preserving a letter written by Cowley in the ordinary intercourse of life, in opposition to the extraordinary, and rather unfortunate specimen of the Poet's correspondence preserved by Johnson. D'Israeli's letter, which is from Astle's collection, is a cheerful one, and derives no small portion of its value from the circumstance of its being addressed to Evelyn, the gentle author of

Sylva," -a man after Cowley's own heart. It is a note of thanks and good wishes in return for kindness experienced, from one for whom the writer entertains great esteem and respect. It speaks of such kindness manifested in this instance by the present of seeds for culture—as even more pleasant than the sight of Evelyn's garden in May, or even the having such a garden as Evelyn's, of which Cowley, in his fine fragment " The Garden,"

This passage,

--a fragment bearing all the marks of an incipient poem, intended for future amplification-has spoken thus :

“ In books and gardens thou has placed aright

(Things well which thou dost understand-
And both dost make with thy laborious hand)

Thy noble innocent delight,
And in thy virtuous wife, where thou again dost meet
Both pleasures more refined and sweet;
The fairest garden in her looks,
And in her mind the wisest books.”

if any quotation from Cowley can be called so, is somewhat hackneyed. Evelyn's garden and lady are done no more than justice. His retreat at Saye's Court, Deptford, was a beautiful one. His lady was most accomplished. She it was who designed the frontispiece to his version of Lucretius. Hardly can we conceive a tone of discontent lingering on a mind thus habituated like Cowley's, to know and appreciate such scenes and sources of felicity. Concentrating his happiness on expectations essentially moderate, he was, of all men, the least likely to be at heart a " disappointed” one. “ The Complaint,” one of the poems most frequently cited to shew the reverse, has certainly been dealt with unjustly by Johnson. It merits not “the usual fortune of complaints;" and how it can be said to have excited “ more contempt than pity," seems inexplicable ; since, notwithstanding the recurrence, once and again, of that expression of which so much has been made—“ the melancholy Cowley”--the piece is manifestly a patient, nay playful, memorial to the court, and neither an expression of the bitterness of disappointment, nor the heart-sickness of hope deferred.

Cowley was probably aware of having afforded scope for court disfavour. An anecdote has been somewhere fished up, that the * Ode on Brutus” was the cause : this ode is signalized by some striking passages. Here is one that ends in Shakspere's vein:

66 Il fate assum'd a body thee t'fright,
And wrapt itself i' th' terrors of the night ;
• I'll meet thee at Philippi !' said the sp’rit;
• I'll meet thee there!' said'st thou,
With such a voice and such a brow
As put the trembling ghost to sudden flight;
It vanished as a taper's light
Goes out, when spirits appear in sight.
One would have thought it had heard the morning crow,
Or seen her well-appointed star

Come marching up the eastern hill afar.” An ode on the subject of Brutus, written in the best style of a court poet, was certainly not calculated to advance his fortunes

« PoprzedniaDalej »