Page images

We will add the picture of a dignified clergyman, well beneficed and well fed, whom they met in the company of Sir Fulk Greville (soon after created Lord Brooke) at Warwick Castle, and who is understood to be the Reverend Samuel Burton, Archdeacon of Gloucester :

With him there was a prelate, by his place
Archdeacon to the bishop, by his face
A greater man; for that did counterfect
Lord abbott of some covent standing yet;
A corpulent relique; marry and 'tis sin
Some puritan gets not his face called in :
Amongst lean brethren it may scandal bring,
Who seek for parity in every thing.
For us, let him enjoy all that God sends,

Plenty of flesh, of livings, and of friends. There was not a drop of gall in the merry-hearted bishop; but, as may be supposed, he had but small respect for puritans or puritanism, and he never loses an opportunity of a goodnatured gibe at them or it.



Both our poetry and our prose eloquence continued to be generally infected by the spirit of quaintness and conceit, or over-refinement and subtlety of thought, for nearly a century after the first introduction among us of that fashion of writing. Even some of the highest minds did not entirely escape the contagion. If nothing of it is to be found in Spenser or Milton, neither Shakespeare nor Bacon is altogether free from it. Of our writers of an inferior order, it took captive not only the greater number, but some of the greatest, who lived and wrote from the middle of the reign of Elizabeth to nearly the middle of that of Charles II.—from Bishop Andrews, whom we have already mentioned, in prose, and Donne both in prose and verse, to Cowley inclusive. The style in question appears to have been borrowed from Italy: it came in, at least, with the study and imitation of the Italian poetry, being caught apparently from the school of Petrarch, or rather of his later followers, about the same time that a higher inspiration was drawn from

T'asso and Ariosto. It is observable that the species or departments of our poetry which it chiefly invaded were those which have always been more or less influenced by foreign models : it made comparatively little impression upon our dramatic poetry, the most truly native portion of our literature ; but our lyrical and elegiac, our didactic and satirical verse, was overrun and materially modified by it, as we have said, for nearly a whole century. The return to a more natural manner, however, was begun to be made long before the expiration of that term. And, as we had received the malady from one foreign literature, so we were indebted for the cure to another. It is commonly assumed that our modern English poetry first evinced a disposition to imitate that of France after the Restoration. But the truth is that the influence of French literature had begun to be felt by our own at a considerably earlier date. The court of Charles I. was far from being so thoroughly French as that of Charles II. ; but the connexion established between the two kingdoms through Queen Henrietta could not fail to produce a partial imitation of French models both in writing and in other things. The distinguishing characteristic of French poetry (and indeed of French art generally), neatness in the dressing of the thought, bad already been carried to considerable height by Malherbe, Racan, Malleville, and others; and these writers are doubtless to be accounted the true fathers of our own Waller, Carew, Lovelace, and Suckling, who all began to write about this time, and whose verses may be said to have first exemplified in our lighter poetry what may be done by correct and natural expression, smoothness of flow, and all that lies in the ars celare artem—the art of making art itself seem nature. Of the four, Waller was perhaps first in the field; but he survived almost till the Revolution, and did not rise to his greatest celebrity till after the Restoration, so that he will more fitly fall to be noticed in a subsequent page. The other three all belong exclusively to the times of Charles I. and of the Commonwealth.

Thomas Carew, styled on the title-page “ One of the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, and Sewer in Ordinary to His Majesty,” is the author of a small volume of poetry first printed in 1640, the year after his death. In polish and evenness of movement, combined with a diction elevated indeed in its tone, as it must needs be by the very necessities of verse, above that of mere good conversation, but yet in ease, lucidity, and direct

ness rivalling the language of ordinary life, Carew's poetry is not inferior to Waller's; and, while his expression is as correct and natural, and his numbers as harmonious, the music of his verse is richer, and his imagination is warmer and more florid. But the texture of his composition is in general extremely slight, the substance of most of his pieces consisting merely of the elaboration of some single idea ; and, if he has more tenderness than Waller, he is far from having so much dignity, variety, or power of sustained effort. His songs beginning “He that loves a rosy cheek,” and “Ask me no more where Jove bestows, when June is past, the fading rose,” are in all the collections of extracts : the following is less hackneyed :

Amongst the myrtles as I walked,
Love and my sighs thus intertalked :
“ Tell me,” said I, in deep distress,
“ Where may I find my shepherdess ?"
“ Thou fool,” said Love, “know'st thou not this,
In every thing that's good she is ?
In yonder tulip go and seek ;
There thou may’st find her lip, her cheek.
In yon enamoured pansy by;
There thou shalt have her curious eye.
In bloom of peach, in rosy bud;
There wave the streamers of her blood.
In brightest lilies that there stand,
The emblems of her whiter hand.
In yonder rising hill there smell
Such sweets as in her bosom dwell."
“ Tis true," said I: and thereupon
I went to pluck them one by one,
To make of parts a union;
But on a sudden all was gone.
With that I stopt : said Love, “ These be,
Fond man, resemblances of thee;
And, as these flowers, thy joys shall die,
Even in the twinkling of an eye;
And all thy hopes of her shall wither,
Like these short sweets thus knit together.”

This may seem sufficiently artificial, and no doubt is so; and, when the reader comes to the streamers of the fair lady's blood waving in the peach and the rose-bud, he may be disposed to demur to the claim of Carew to be reputed above the seductions of a striking metaphor, however violent or eccentric. But the distinction of this French school of poetry is certainly not that it altogether eschews conceits and false thoughts : on the contrary, it is decidedly addicted to what is brilliant in preference to what is true and deep, and its system of composition is essentially one of point and artifice; but all this is still to a certain extent in subordination to the principles and laws of good writing; the conceit is always reduced at least to fair rhetorical sound and shape; it is not made alone the substitute for every other attraction, the apology and compensation for every other vice of style, the prime ingredient and almost only thing needful in the composition; when the thought is false and absurd it is not tortured into still greater absurdity and grotesqueness by the perpetration of all sorts of violence upon the words.

There is more quaintness, however, in the poetry of Lovelace than in that of Carew. The poems of Colonel Richard Lovelace are contained in two small volumes, one entitled Lucasta, published in 1649; the other entitled Posthume Poems, published by his brother in 1659, the year after the author's death.* They consist principally of songs and other short pieces. Lovelace's songs, which are mostly amatory, are many of them carelessly enough written, and there are very few of them not defaced by some harshness or deformity ; but a few of his best pieces are as sweetly versified as Carew's, with perhaps greater variety of fancy as well as more of vital force; and a tone of chivalrous gentleness and honour gives to some of them a pathos beyond the reach of any mere poetic art. He has written nothing else, however, nearly so exquisite as his well-known lines to Althea in prison; and therefore, familiar as that song is likely to be to most of our readers, it would be unfair to substitute any other specimen of his poetry :

When love with unconfined wings

Hovers within my gates,
And my divine Althea brings

To whisper at the grates ;
When I lie tangled in her hair,

And fettered to her eye;
The birds that wanton in the air

Know no such liberty.

* Reprints of both have been produced by Mr. Singer; 12mo. Chiswick, 1817, and 1818.

i Misprinted “ Gods” in the original edition. VOL. II.

When flowing cups run swiftly round,

With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with roses bound,

Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty grief in wine we steep,

When healths and draughts go free,
Fishes that tipple in the deep

Know no such liberty.
When, like committed linnets, I

With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, mercy, majesty,

And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good

He is, how great should be;
Enlarged winds that curl the flood

Know no such liberty.
Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage ;
Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage :
If I have freedom in my love,

And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above

Enjoy such liberty. Scattered over Lovelace's poetry are a good many single expressions struck out by a true poetical feeling. Campbell has borrowed from him the line in his Dream of the Exile,

“The sentinel stars set their watch in the sky;" which in Lovelace is, in one of his addresses to Lucasta,

“ Like to the sentinel stars, I watch all night.” Lovelace's days, darkened in their close by the loss of everything except honour, were cut short at the age of forty; his contemporary, Sir John Suckling, who moved gaily and thoughtJessly through his short life as through a dance or a merry game, died, in 1641, at that of thirty-two. Suckling, who is the author of a small collection of poems, as well as of four plays, has none of the pathos of Lovelace or Carew, but he equals them in fluency and natural grace of manner, and he has besides a sprightliness and buoyancy which is all his own. His poetry has a more impulsive air than theirs; and, while, in reference to the greater part of what he has produced, he must be classed along with

« PreviousContinue »