Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small]

know him only from some of his unscrupulous pasquinades or other poetry, cannot be better painted than it is by himself in his address to the Protector: “I am induced,” he said, “ to believe that, next to my adherence to the royal party, the cause of my confinement is the narrowness of my estate ; for none stand committed whose estates can bail them. I only am the prisoner, who have no acres to be my hostage. Now, if my poverty be criminal (with reverence be it spoken), I implead your Highness, whose victorious arms have reduced me to it, as accessory to my guilt. Let it suffice, my Lord, that the calamity of the war hath made us poor: do not punish us for it.” “I beseech your Highness,” he goes on,“ put some bounds to the overthrow, and do not pursue the chase to the other world. Can your thunder be levelled so low as to our grovelling condition? Can your towering spirit, which hath quarried upon kingdoms, make a stoop at us, who are the rubbish of these ruins? Methinks I hear your former achievements interceding with you not to sully your glories with trampling upon the prostrate, nor clog the wheel of your chariot with so degenerous a triumph. The most renowned heroes have ever with such tenderness cherished their captives that their swords did but cut out work for their courtesies.” And again :" For the service of his Majesty, if it be objected, I am so far from excusing it, that I am ready to allege it in my vindication. I cannot conceit that my fidelity to my prince should taint me in your opinion; I should rather expect it should recommend me to your favour. . . . You see, my Lord, how much I presume upon the greatness of your spirit, that dare present my indictment with so frank a confession, especially in this, which I may so safely deny that it is almost arrogancy in me to own it; for the truth is, I was not qualified enough to serve him : all I could do was to bear a part in his sufferings, and to give myself to be crushed with his fall.” “My Lord,” he concludes, “ you see my crimes; as to my defence, you bear it about you. I shall plead nothing in my justification but your Highness's clemency, which, as it is the constant inmate of a valiant breast, if you graciously be pleased to extend it to your suppliant, in taking me out of this withering durance, your Highness will find that mercy will establish you more than power, though all the days of your life were as pregnant with victories as your twice auspicious Third of September.” There is no artful fiattery or coaxing in this : Cromwell would read in it some

thing of a spirit akin to his own. But Cleveland did not long survive his release ; he died in April, 1658, a few months before the Protector himself-like his brother loyalist poet Lovelace, who ended his days about the same time, snatched away just when the hated dominion that had been so fatal to his fortunes was a bout to break up and vanish from the land for ever.

Cleveland is commonly regarded as a mere dealer in satire and invective, and as having no higher qualities than a somewhat rude force and vehemence. His prevailing fault is a straining after vigour and concentration of expression; and few of his pieces are free from a good deal of obscurity, harshness, or other disfigurement, occasioned by this habit or tendency, working in association with an alert, ingenious, and fertile fancy, a neglect of and apparently a contempt for neatness of finish, and the turn for quaintness and quibbling characteristic of the school to which he belongs—for Cleveland must be considered as essentially one of the old wit poets. Most of his poems seem to have been thrown off in haste, and never to have been afterwards corrected or revised. There are, however, among them some that are not without vivacity and sprightliness; and others of his more solemn verses have all the dignity that might be expected from nis prose letter to Cromwell.*

A

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Su

Many poems, it is to be noted, are found in the common editions of Cleved's works which are known not to be his. Thus, in the edition before us, 9. Lon. 1687, what are entitled the Additions, from p. 200 to 265, including Lenten Litany, Content, A Sing-song on Clarinda's Wedding, Vituperium oris, and other remarkable pieces, are, it seems, copied verbatim from a ume entitled Ex Otio Negotium, or Martial his Epigrams Translated, with

dry Poems, and Fancies ; by R. Fletcher. 8vo. Lon. 1656. And other aces in the same Second Part of the Collection, entitled John Cleveland's vived Poems, Orations, Epistles, and other of his genuine incomparable

ces, now at last published from his original copies by some of his intrusted ends, are by Denham, J. Hall, Jasper Mayne, Thomas Weaver, and others. be A Select Collection of Poems, with Notes Biographical and Historical, y J. Nichols, 1780–1–2; vol. vii. pp. 50 and 376. Several of Cleveland's poems are reprinted in his seventh volume by Mr. Nichols, who has there PP: 10-13), and in vol. viii. pp. 308-311, given an account of the old poet ;

ith whom, in the Dedication of his Collection to Dr. Percy (the editor of the Reliques), he claims a relationship, stating at the same time that Percy's grandmother by the father's side was a niece of Cleveland's. The original edition of Cleveland's works is dedicated to Francis Turner, D.D., Master of St. John's College, Cambridge (afterwards bishop first of Rochester and then of Ely), by the editors J. L. and S. D., who appear to have been John Lake, D.D., vicar of Leeds (afterwards bishop of Chichester), who had been a pupil of Cleveland's at Cambridge, and Dr. Drake, vicar of Pontefract.

The following stanzas are entitled The General Eclipse :

Ladies, that gild the glittering noon,

And by reflection mend his ray;
Whose beauty makes the sprightly sun

To dance, as upon Easter-day ;

What are you, now the Queen's away?
Courageous eagles, who have whet

Your eyes upon majestic light,
And thence derived such martial heat

That still your looks maintain the fight;

What are you, since the King's good night ?
Cavalier buds, whom nature teems

As a reserve for England's throne;
Spirits whose double edge redeems

The last age, and adorns your own;

What are you, now the Prince is gone?
As an obstructed fountain's head

Cuts the entail off from the streams,
And brooks are disinherited ;

Honour and beauty are mere dreams,

Since Charles and Mary lost their beams.
Criminal valours! who commit

Your gallantry ;? whose pæan brings
A psalm of mercy after it;

In this sad solstice of the king's,
Your victory hath mewed her wings.

The following epitaph on Ben Jonson is the shortest and best of several tributes to the memory of that poet, with whose masculine genius that of Cleveland seems to have strongly sympathised :

The Muses' fairest light in no dark time;
The wonder of a learned age; the line
Which none can pass; the most proportioned wit
To nature; the best judge of what was fit;
The deepest, plainest, highest, clearest pen;
The voice most echoed by consenting men;

i See note on Suckling's Ballad of The Wedding, ante, p. 20.

? We still use the term commit only in connexion with something wrong, as to commit a crime, or an error; but it is applied much more extensively by our old writers, though also always in a bad sense.

The soul which answered best to all well said
By others, and which most requital made;
Tuned to the highest key of ancient Rome,
Returning all her music with his own;
In whom with Nature Study claimed a part,
Yet who unto himself owed all his art;
Here lies Ben Jonson: every age will look
With sorrow here, with wonder on his book.

Elsewhere he thus expresses his preference for Jonson, as a dramatist, over the greatest of his contemporaries :

Shakespeare may make griefs, merry Beaumont's style
Ravish and melt anger into a smile ;
In winter nights or after meals they be,
I must confess, very good company;
But thou exact'st our best hours' industry;
We may read them, we ought to study thee;
Thy scenes are precepts; every verse doth give

Counsel, and teach us, not to laugh, but live.
In a third elegy he rises to a more rapturous strain :-

What thou wert, like the bard oracles of old,
Without an ecstasy cannot be told :
We must be ravished first; thou must infuse
Thyself into us, both the theme and muse;
Else, though we all conspired to make thy hearse
Our works, so that it had been but one great verse;
Though the priest had translated for that time
The Liturgy, and buried thee in rhyme;
So that in metre we had heard it said,
Poetic dust is to poetic laid;
And though, that dust being Shakespeare's, thou might'st have,
Not his room, but the poet for thy grave;
So that, as thou didst prince of numbers die,
And live, so thou mightest in numbers lie;
"Twere frail solemnity :-verses on thee,
And not like thine, would but kind libels be;
And we, not speaking thy whole worth, should raise

Worse blots than they that envied thy praise. Of several elegies by this poet upon Charles I. the following is perhaps the most striking :- .

Charles !-ah! forbear, forbear, lest mortals prize
His name too dearly, and idolatrize.

This may be compared with what Corbet says in describing his landlady at Warwick. See ante, p. 13.

His name! our loss! Thrice cursed and forlorn
Be that black night which ushered in this morn.

Charles our dread sovereign!-hold! lest outlawed sense
Bribe and seduce tame reason to dispense
With those celestial powers, and distrust
Heaven can behold such treason and prove just.

Charles our dread sovereign's murdered !--tremble, and
View what convulsions shoulder-shake this land :
Court, city, country, nay three kingdoms run
To their last stage, and set with him, their sun.

Charles our dread sovereign's murdered at his cate!
Fell fiends! dire hydras of a stiff-necked state!
Strange body politic, whose members spread,
And monster-like swell bigger than their head.

Charles of Great Britain! He! who was the known
King of three realms, lies murdered in his own.
He! he! who Faith's Defender lived and stood,
Died here to rebaptize it in his blood.

No more! no more! Fame's trump shall echo all
The rest in dreadful thunder. Such a fall
Great Christendom ne'er patterned ; and 'twas strange
Earth's centre reeled not at this dismal change.

The blow struck Britain blind; each well-set limb
By dislocation was lopt off in him;
And, though she yet lives, she lives but to condole
Three bleeding bodies left without a soul.

Religion puts on black; sad Loyalty
Blushes and mourns to see bright Majesty
Butchered by such assassinates; nay both
'Gainst God, 'gainst Law, Allegiance, and their Oath.
Farewell, sad Isle! farewell! Thy fatal glory
Is summed, cast up, and cancelled in this story.

Cleveland, however, after all, is perhaps most in his element when his chief inspiration is scorn, and facit indignatio versum. The most elaborate of his satires or invectives is that which he calls The Rebel Scot. It is rather too long to be given entire ; and in truth a good deal of it is more furious than forcible; but

| Commonly printed :

“Who lived and Faith's defender stood.",

« PreviousContinue »