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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 many biographical notices of this poet make 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.
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
1 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.
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 detention of a few months, Cromwell, on his petition, allowed him to go at large. The transaction was honorable to both parties. Cleveland's character, which may be mistaken by those who 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.” Highness,” he goes on, “put some bounds to the overthrow, and clo not pursue the chase to the other world. Can
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
I beseech your
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 flattery or coaxing in this: Cromwell would read in it something 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 about to break up and vanish from the land forever.
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 vigor 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 his prose letter to Cromwell.?
The following stanzas are entitled The General Eclipse :
Ladies, that gild the glittering noon,
And by reflection mend his ray;
To dance, as upon Easter-day ;?
Courageous eagles, who have whet
Your eyes upon majestic light,
That still your looks maintain the fight;
Cavalier buds, whom nature teems
As a reserve for England's throne;
The last age, and adorns your own;
1 Many poems, it is to be noted, are found in the common editions of Cleveland's works which are known not to be his. Thus, in the edition before us, 8vo, Lon. 1687, what are entitled the Additions, from p. 200 to 265, including A Lenten Litany, Content, A Sing-song on Clarinda's Wedding, Vituperium Uxoris, and other remarkable pieces, are, it seems, copied verbatim from a volume entitled Ex Otio Negotium, or Martial his Epigrams Translated, with Sundry Poems and Fancies; by R. Fletcher. 8vo, Lon. 1656. And other pieces in the same Second Part of the Collection, entitled John Cleveland's Revived Poems, Orations, Epistles, and other of his genuine incomparable pieces, now at last published from his original copies by some of his intrusted friends, are by Denham, J. Hall, Jasper Mayne, Thomas Weaver, and others. See A Select Collection of Poems, with Notes Biographical and Historical, by 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; with 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 Cam. bridge, and Dr. Drake, vicar of Pontefract.
2 See note or Suckling's Ballad of The Wedding, ante, p. 30.
As an obstructed fountain's head
Cuts the entail off from the streams,
Honour and beauty are mere dreams,
Criminal valours ! who commit
Your gallantry ;? whose pæan brings
In this sad solstice of the king's,
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 sympathized:
The Muses' fairest light in no dark time;
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
We may read them, we ought to study thee; 1 We still use the term commit only in connection 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. • 2 This may be compared with what Corbet says in describing his landlady at Warwick. See ante, p. 23.