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appropriate to the subjects of the essays, and a number of translations and imitations, chiefly of Horace. The prose Essays take their place more fittingly in a discussion of the development of English prose1: their value in connection with the poetry of Cowley is that they give us, in language of great refinement and beauty, the key to his scholarly and sensitive nature. While thoroughly conscious of his own art, he obtruded himself but little into the text of his poems. Once, in his later years, disappointed of his hopes of court favour, he blamed himself, 'the melancholy Cowley,' through the lips of his muse, for his 'unlearn'd Apostacy' from poetry, and the devotion to affairs which had left him 'gaping... upon the naked Beach, upon the Barren Sand,' while his fellow-voyagers pressed inland to their reward. He consoled himself by rebuking his mentor, and representing the favour of the king as still possible. This, however, is his one strictly autobiographical poem. The true ambition and devotion of his life was centred in literature. In his own day, his reputation was very high. The influence of Donne, lord of the universal monarchy of Wit,' was still powerful: its finer qualities were hidden by the passion for flights of artificial fancy which it had provoked, and one who surpassed Donne in outlandish variety of conceits might well be hailed as his legitimate successor and even superior. If the reputation of Cowley declined with surprising rapidity, while that of Waller and Denham remained undiminished3, it was because, instead of pursuing, with them, the natural direction of poetry, he chose to limit his taste within the compass of fashions that were outworn, and to exhaust the last resources with which those fashions could supply their followers. Yet his influence on the verse of the younger generation of poets must not be judged entirely by the eclipse which overtook his fame within half a century of his death. That influence was summed up by Johnson at the end of the searching criticism of the fantastic school of poetry, and of Cowley as 'the last of that race, and undoubtedly the best,' with which he concluded his Life of Cowley:
It may be affirmed, without any encomiastic fervour, that he brought to his poetic labours a mind replete with learning, and that his pages are embellished with all the ornaments which books could supply; that he was the first who imparted to English numbers the enthusiasm of the greater ode, and the gaiety of the less; that he was equally qualified for spritely sallies, 2 The Complaint, stt. 3, 8.
1 See volume VIII of the present work.
3 Contrast, e.g. Pope, Essay on Criticism, 11. 360, 361, with Imitations of Horace, cp. 1, 11. 75-79.
and for lofty flights; that he was among those who freed translation from servility, and, instead of following his author at a distance, walked by his side; and that, if he left versification yet improveable, he left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence, as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.
The general inclination to restrain poetic fluency within definite bounds, which led to the adoption of the self-contained couplet as the standard form of verse after the restoration, prompted Sir William D'Avenant to write his epic poem, Gondibert, in a series of quatrains with alternate rimes. The first two books of Gondibert were written at Paris, where D'Avenant was the guest of lord Jermyn in his rooms at the Louvre. The whole poem was intended to consist of five books, corresponding to the five acts of a play, each divided into a number of cantos. D'Avenant, according to Aubrey, was much in love with his design; and his preoccupation with it excited the ridicule of Denham and other courtiers then at Paris. In 1650, the two finished books were published, prefaced by a long letter from the author to Hobbes, who had read the work as it advanced, and by a complimentary answer from Hobbes himself. Gondibert was never completed. Early in 1650, Sir William left Paris for Virginia: his voyage was intercepted by a parliamentary ship, which took him prisoner. He wrote six cantos of the third book during his imprisonment in Cowes castle, but, finding that the sorrows of his condition begat in him 'such a gravity, as diverts the musick of verse,' he abandoned the poem, and, during the remaining eighteen years of his life, added to it but one fragment, which was printed in the collected edition of his works in 1673. The unfinished poem, with a postscript dated from Cowes castle, 22 October 1650, was published in 1651.
In his epistle to Hobbes, D'Avenant elaborately explained his theory of poetry, his choice of the epic form, and his conduct of the various parts of the poem. He was much in earnest in defending the moral value of poetry, and in indicating the salutary influence which 'princes and nobles, being reformed and made angelicall by the heroick' form of verse, may exercise on their subjects who, by defect of education, are less capable of feeling its advantages. His aim was to give his readers a perfect picture of virtue, avoiding the snares into which critics had found that previous epic poets, from Homer to Spenser and Tasso, had fallen. His stage was to be filled with characters remarkable for noble birth or greatness of mind, whose schools of morality were courts or camps. The 'distempers' chosen as objects of warning were
not to be vulgar vices, but the higher passions of love and ambition. As for his 'interwoven stanza of four'
I believed [he says] it would be more pleasant to the reader, in a work of length, to give this respite or pause, between every stanza (having endeavoured that each should contain a period) than to run him out of breath with continued couplets. Nor doth alternate rime by any lowliness of cadence make the sound less heroick, but rather adapt it to a plain and stately composing of musick; and the brevity of the stanza renders it less subtle to the composer, and more easie to the singer, which in stilo recitativo, when the story is long, is chiefly requisite.
The stanza itself was no novelty: D'Avenant's innovation consisted in his adaptation of it to an epic poem, and in his attempt to give to each quatrain an individual completeness, to which he felt the couplet unequal. Gondibert, even had it been finished, would hardly have achieved the place among epics which its author designed it to fill; and the compliments paid to it by Hobbes, in a letter which contains much sound criticism, flattered it excessively. The characters of Gondibert himself and the virtuous and highly educated Birtha, a Miranda instructed by another Prospero in the shape of her father Astragon, fail to inspire much interest: Rhodalind, the rival of Birtha for the love of Gondibert, is a mere lay figure; and the subtle Hermegild, the haughty Gartha and the rest, merely threaten complications in the plot, the development of which we are spared. The descriptions are long, and the speeches of the characters are intolerably prolix: Gondibert declares his love to Birtha in nine stanzas, and explains his intentions to her father in two speeches, extending over thirty stanzas more. The language, however, is uninvolved, although D'Avenant, who set much store by wit in poetry, indulges constantly in images dear to the fantastic poets, such as those drawn from the mandrake or from the details of alchemy. If he placed too high a hope in the future of his work, he yet strove in it consistently for directness of expression and succinctness of sense. The virtues of his quatrain were proved by the admiration of Dryden, who chose it as the stanza of Annus Mirabilis; and the practice, which Dryden, by its use, gained in clear and pointed writing, gives it a place as a link in the development of the couplet form, of which he became the most accomplished master.
LESSER CAROLINE POETS
WE have to deal in this chapter with a group of poets in regard to the treatment of whom opposite dangers present themselves. Most, if not all of them, from a time immediately succeeding their own, have been very little known, and there are literary histories of repute which contain none, or hardly one, of their names. The school to which, almost without exception, they belong has been constantly attacked and rarely defended. Some of them came in for early ridicule at the hands of the two greatest satirists of their own later yearstwo of the greatest in English literature-Dryden and Butler. Another generation saw their school as illustrating the 'false wit' of Addison; and, in yet another, that school provided subjects for Johnson's dissection of 'metaphysical' poetry. They received little, though they did receive some, attention from the greater critics and poets of the romantic revival; and no one has ever bestowed upon their class-very seldom has any one bestowed upon an individual member of it-the somewhat whimsical and excessive, but by no means impotent, and sometimes rather contagious, enthusiasm which, for instance, was bestowed by Charles Lamb upon Wither. Until very recently, none of the group has been easily accessible to the general reader-while some have been absolutely inaccessible, except to those who have time, energy and opportunity to frequent the largest public libraries, or time and means to procure them in the second-hand book-market. Indeed, it is believed that neither the British Museum, nor either of the libraries of the two great English universities, possesses a complete collection of the work which forms the subject of this survey.
There is a certain type of critic who is apt to say, in such circumstances, that neglect proves worthlessness; but this is always a begging of the question, and it can be easily shown that, in the present case, the questions begged are not unimportant.
That the poets here grouped are not worthless can be affirmed with confidence by one who has impartially examined them; indeed, the affirmation is made almost unnecessary, or, from another point of view, is strongly corroborated, by the fact that all anthologists of competence, from Ellis and Campbell downwards, have drawn, to some extent, upon them. That, as a class, they have numerous faults, may be granted without the slightest difficulty. But it so happens that their faults as well as their merits are of the greatest historical value. It may fearlessly be laid down that, without some study of these poets, neither the characteristics of the great Elizabethan period which preceded them and of which, in fact, they were the twelfth hour, nor those of the reaction which, rising with and against them, overcame and stifled their kind, can be fully comprehended. The cast of thought and style and feeling which, when the genius of the man is at its height and the fostering of the hour at its full, produces Spenser and Shakespeare, turns out, when the genius is abated and the hour at its wane, the work of Chamberlayne and Kynaston. The revulsion (sometimes after actual indulgence in them) from the extravagances of Benlowes and of Cleiveland shapes and confirms the orderly theory and practice of Dryden and of Pope.
Nor, though this, of itself, would suffice to warrant treatment of these poets here, is it their only claim thereto. It so happens that they include authors of almost every example (the chief exception being D'Avenant's Gondibert) of the English heroic romance in verse. It is impossible, therefore, without taking them into account, to appreciate the effect of the very curious, and far too little studied, heroic influence on our literature. It is further the case that they contribute very largely to the illustration of one form of the great decasyllabic couplet-the form which, partly from its own weakness, but partly, also, from its association with their extravagances of diction and thought and narrative ordonnance, succumbed to its rival-the closer knit and robuster distich of Waller and Dryden. And this leads to yet another point of historical interest about them-the fact, sometimes denied but fairly certain for all that, of their having served as models and teachers to Keats in his revival of their own form. Helots and caricatures of the great poetry of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; gibbeted warnings, who prescribed to the late seventeenth and the eighteenth the ways they should not go; ancestors of some of the most characteristic, and not the least charming, features of the poetry of the nineteenth-these curious persons