« PreviousContinue »
tters about has constituting arvel and other suonly
them and Waller as an adherent to the French school of propriety and precision, some of the happiest of his effusions are remarkable for a cordiality and impetuosity of manner which has nothing foreign about it, but is altogether English, although there is not much resembling it in any of his predecessors any more than of his contemporaries, unless perhaps in some of Skelton's pieces. His famous ballad of The Wedding is the very perfection of gaiety and archness in verse; and his Session of the Poets, in which he scatters about his wit and humour in a more careless style, may be considered as constituting him the founder of a species of satire, which Cleveland and Marvel and other subsequent writers carried into new applications, and which only expired among us with Swift. We cannot but give the Ballad, often as it has been printed. The subject is the marriage of Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill (afterwards Earl of Orrery), with the Lady Margaret Howard, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk; and the reader will admire the art with which grace and even poetry of expression is preserved throughout along with the forms of speech, as well as of thought, natural to the rustic narrator :
I tell thee, Dick, where I have been,
Oh things without compare !
Be it at wake or fair,
There is a house with stairs : 1
Vorty at least, in pairs.
Amongst the rest, one pestilent fine
Walked on before the rest :
Should he go still so drest.
1 The present Northumberland House, then called Suffolk House, the seat of the lady's father.
By all the maids i’ the town;
Or Vincent of the Crown.
The parson for him staid;
Perchance, as did the maid.
Could ever yet produce;
Nor half so full of juice.
It was too wide a peck;
About our young colt's neck.
As if they feared the light;
Is half so fine a sight.
She would not do ’t in sight;
And you shall do 't at night.
Who sees them is undone;
The side that 's next the sun.
i It was formerly believed that the sun danced on Easter-day. See Brand, Popular Antiquities (edit. of 1841), i. 95; where the present verse is strangely quoted in illustration of this popular notion from “a rare book entitled Recreation for Ingenious Head Pieces, &c., 8vo. Lon. 1667."
Her lips were red, and one was thin
Some bee had stung it newly.
Than on the sun in July.
Her mouth so small when she does speak, Thou ’dst swear her teeth her words did break
That they might passage get : But she so handled still the matter, They came as good as ours, or better,
And are not spent a whit.
Passion o'ne! how I run on!
I trow, besides the bride :
Nor was it there denied.
Just in the nick the cook knocked thrice,
His summons did obey ;
Presented and away.
When all the meat was on the table,
To stay to be entreated ?
The company was seated.
Now hats fly off, and youths carouse ; Healths first go round, and then the house;
The bride's came thick and thick ; And, when 'twas named another's health, Perhaps he made it her's by stealth,
And who could help it, Dick ?
O'the sudden up they rise and dance;
Then dance again and kiss :
And every man wished his.
By this time all were stolen aside
But that he must not know :
Above an hour or so.
"Twas time, I trow, to part:
Good bye, with all my heart.
The bride-groom ate in spite;
Which were too much that night.
To this date belongs a remarkable poem, the Cooper's Hill of Sir John Denham, first published in 1642. It immediately drew universal attention. Denham, however, had the year before made himself known as a poet by his tragedy of The Sophy, on. the appearance of which Waller remarked that he had broken out like the Irish rebellion, threescore thousand strong, when nobody was aware or in the least suspected it. Cooper's Hill may be considered as belonging in point of composition to the same school with Sir John Davies's Nosce Teipsum; and, if it has not all the concentration of that poem, it is equally pointed, correct, and stately, with, partly owing to the subject, a warmer tone of imagination and feeling, and a fuller swell of verse. The spirit of the same classical style pervades both ; and they are the two greatest poems in that style which had been produced down to the date at which we are now arrived. Denham is the author of a number of other compositions in verse, and especially of some songs and other shorter pieces, several of which are very spirited; but the fame of his principal poem has thrown everything else he has written into the shade. It is remarkable that m any biographical notices of this poet inake him to have survived nearly till the Revolution, and relate various stories of the miseries of his protracted old age; when the fact is, that he died in 1668, at the age of fifty-three.*
CLEVELAND. But, of all the cavalier poets, the one who did his cause the heartiest and stoutest service, and who, notwithstanding much carelessness or ruggedness of execution, possessed perhaps, even considered simply as a poet, the richest and most various faculty, was John Cleveland, the most popular verse-writer of his own day, the most neglected of all his contemporaries ever since. Among the one hundred and sixty-one poets, from Robert of Gloucester to Sir Francis Fane, whose choicest relics furnish out Ellis's three volumes of Specimens, the name of Cleveland does not occur. Nor is his poetry included either in Anderson's or in Chalmers's collection. Yet for nearly twenty years he was held to be the greatest among living English poets. Cleveland was the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Cleveland, vicar of Hinckley and rector of Stoke, in Leicestershire, and he was born at Loughborough in that county in 1613. Down to the breaking out of the civil war, he resided at St. John's College, Cambridge, of which he was a Fellow, and seems to have distinguished himself principally by his Latin poetry. But, when every man took his side, with whatever weapons he could wield, for king or parliament, Anthony Wood tells us that Cleveland was the first writer who came forth as a champion of the royal cause in English verse. To that cause he adhered till its ruin ; at last in 1655, after having led for some years a fugitive life, he was caught and thrown into prison at Yarmouth; but, after a de. tention of a few months, Cromwell, on his petition, allowed him to go at large. The transaction was honourable to both parties. Cleveland's character, which may be mistaken by those who
* The readers of the Mémoires de Grammont will remember the figure he makes in that work, where he is described as “Le Chevalier Denham, comblé de richesses, aussi bien que d'années," and as having for the first time entered into the marriage state, at the age of seventy-nine, with Miss Brook, a famous court beauty, then only eighteen. The fact is, that this was a second marriage, and that, whatever was the lady's age, Denham himself was then only about fifty. His load of riches is probably as much exaggerated by the lively historian of the Comte de Grammont as his load of years.