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“ Slide soft, fair Forth, and make a chrystal plaiu,
Cut your white locks, and on your foamy face
embrace The boat that earth's perfections doth contain. Winds wonder, and through wondering hold your peace, Or if that you your hearts cannot restrain From sending sighs, feeling a lover's case, Sigh, and in her fair hair yourselves enchain. Or take these sighs, which absence makes aris) From my oppressed breast, and fill the sails, Or some sweet breath new brought from Paradise. The floods do smile, love o'er the winds prevails, And yet huge waves arise ; the cause is this, The ocean strives with Forth the boat to kiss."
This to the English reader will express the very soul of Petrarch, the molten breath of sentiment converted into the glassy essence of a set of glittering but still graceful conceits.
“ The fly that sips treacle is lost in the sweets,” and the critic that tastes poetry,“his ruin meets." His feet are clogged with its honey, and his eyes blinded with its beauties; and he forgets his proper vocation, which is to buz and sting. I am afraid of losing my way in Drummond's “sugar'd sonnetting;" and have determined more than once to break off abruptly; but another and another tempts the rash hand and curious eye, which I am loth not to give, and I give it accordingly: for if I did not write these Lectures to please myself, I am at least sure I should please nobody else. In fact, I conceive that what I have undertaken to do in this and former cases, is merely to read over a set of authors with the audience, as I would do with a friend, to point out a favourite passage, to explain an objection; or if a remark or a theory occurs, to state it in illustration of the subject, but neither to tire him nor puzzle myself with pedantic rules and pragmatical formulas of criticism that can .do no good to any body. I do not come to the task with a pair of compasses or a ruler in my pocket, to see whether a poem is round or square, or to measure its mechanical dimensions, like a meter and alnager of poetry: it is not in my bond to look after exciseable articles or contraband wares, or to exact severe penalties and forfeitures for trifling oversights, or to give formal notice of violent breaches of the three unities, of geography and chronology; or to distribute printed stampsand poetical licences (with blanksto be filled up) on Mount Parnassus. I do not come armed from top to toe with colons and semicolons, with glossaries and indexes, to adjust the spelling or reform the metre, or to prove by everlasting contradiction and querulous impatience, that former commentators did not know the meaning of their author, any more than I do, who am angry at them, only because I am out of humour with myself—as if the genius of poetry lay buried under the rubbish of the press; and the critic was the dwarf-enchanter who was to release its airy form from being stuck through with blundering points and misplaced commas; or to prevent its vital powers from being worm-eaten and consumed, letter by letter, in musty manuscripts and black-letter print. I do not think that is the way to learn “the gentle craft” of poesy or to teach it to others :-to imbibe or to communicate its spirit; which if it does not disentangle itself and soar above the obscure and trivial researches of antiquarianism is no longer itself, “ a Phenix gazed by all.” At least, so it appeared to me (it is for others to judge whether I was right or wrong). In a word, I have endeavoured to feel what was good, and to "give a reason for the faith that was in me” when necessary, and when in my power. This is what I have done, and what I must continue to do.
To return to Drummond.-I cannot but think that his Sonnets come as near as almost any others to the perfection of this kind of writing, which should embody a sentiment and every shade of a sentiment, as it varies with time and place and humour, with the extravagance or lightness of a momentary impression, and should, when lengthened out into a series, form a history of the wayward moods of the poet's mind, the turns of his fate; and imprint the smile or
frown of his mistress in indelible characters on the scattered leaves. I will give the two following, and have done with this author.
“ 'In vain I haunt the cold and silver springs,
To quench the fever burning in my veins :
but vain ; My life lies in those eyes which have ine slain.”
The other is a direct imitation of Petrarch's description of the bower where he first saw Laura. “ Alexis, bere she stay'd, among these pines,
Sweet hermitress, she did alone repair :
But ah! what serves to have been made happy so,
I should, on the whole, prefer Drummond's Sonnets to Spenser's; and they leave Sidney's, picking their way through verbal intricacies and “ thorny queaches*,” at an immeasurable distance behind. Drummond's other poems have great, though not equal merit; and he may be fairly set down as one of our old English classics.
Ben Jonson's detached poetry I like much, as indeed I do all about him, except when he degraded himself by “the laborious foolery” of some of his farcical characters, which he could not deal with sportively, and only made stupid and pedantic. I have been blamed for what I have said, more than once, in disparagement of Ben Jonson's comic humour; but I think he was himself aware of his infirmity, and has (not improbably) alluded to it in the following speech of Crites in Cynthia’s Revels.
« Oh, how despised and base a thing is man,
If he not strive to erect his groveling thoughts
* Chapman's Hymn to Pan.