Page images

ten years old; and his translation of the 136th psalm, which we still possess, sufficiently evinces his progress in poetic expression at the early age of fifteen. When we read in this small work of " the golden-tressed sun," of the moon shining among 66 her spangled sisters of the night;" of the Almighty smiting the first-born of Egypt with "his thunder-clasping hand," we are forced to acknowledge the buddings of the rising poet, the first shootings of the infant oak, which in later times was to overshadow the forest,

At the age, to which we have now followed him, or from the commencement of his academic career, his genius rushed rapidly to its maturity; and, like the Neptune of his favourite Homer, he may be considered as having made only three majestic strides to the summit, on which he stands and beholds no superior. If we plant his first step at the beautiful little poem on the death of his sister's child, his second may be regarded as fixed on his sublime, though unequal ode "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity;" and his third as reaching to his Comus. These compositions seem to be separated by nearly equal intervals, as well with respect to the time, as with reference to the power of their

poetic. When the poet asks whether the object of his lamentation were

that JUST MAID, who once before

Forsook the hated earth, &c.

and when he says

And thou the mother of so sweet a child
HER false imagined loss cease to lament, &c.

it is rather strange that both Tickell and Fenton should call this fair infant the NEPHEW of our author. ·

[ocr errors]

In the ode "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," written after an interval of four years, we trace the flight of a more powererful fancy, and distinguish beauties of a superior order mingled with defects, perhaps, of a greater magnitude. It discloses, indeed, in most of its parts the vitious taste of the age; but even where it is most erroneous, it discloses also the power of the poet. The fourth stanza of the hymn is the offspring, at once, of correct judgment, and of strong imagination; and its merit is not lessened by the intrusion of a thought or a word, which the nicest critic would wish to be expelled.

No war or battle's sound

Was heard the world around:

The idle spear and shield were high uphung.

The hooked chariot stood,

Unstain'd with hostile blood :

The trumpet spake not to the armed throng:
And kings sate still with awful eye,

As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was nigh.

The following stanza is not quite so unexceptionable and pure; but its errors are venial, and it closes beautifully

Who (the occan) now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.

The thirteen succeeding stanzas are disfigured by numerous conceits; but from the nineteenth,

The Oracles are dumb, &c.

to the conclusion of the ode, we are struck with the most forcible exhibition of the highest poetry. In the course of these nine stanzas we may perhaps be inclined to object to a few accidental words; but we cannot withhold our wonder from that vigour of conception, which has breathed a soul into the painting, and placed it in warm and strenuous animation before our eyes.

Besides these two little poems, which have been selected only as instances of the progress of our author's English muse, he produced some other small pieces of poetry in his native language, which are all distinguished by beauties and faults, and disco

ver strong power with an unformed taste. When in the verses written "At a solemn

[ocr errors]

Musick," we read the following lines, where,
speaking of the wedded sounds of the harmo-
nious sisters, Voice and Verse, the young poet
says that they are

Dead things with inbreathed sense able to pierce,
And to our high-raised phantasy present

That undisturbed song of pure concent,

Ay sung before the sapphire-colour'd throne,
To Him that sits thereon,

With saintly shout and solemn jubilee,
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row,
And the cherubic host in thousand quires

Touch their immortal harps of golden wires, &c.

we acknowledge some touches of the Paradise Lost; and from the following passage of the “ Vacation Exercise" we may infer some slight promise of that divine poem;

Yet I would rather, if I were to choose

Thy service (that of his native language) in some graver
subject use,

Such as may make thee search thy coffers round,
Before thou clothe my fancy in fit sound:

Such where the deep transported mind may soar
Above the wheeling poles, and at Heaven's door
Look in and see each blissful Deity

How he before the thunderous throne doth lie, &c.

But whatever emanations of genius may throw a light over his English poems, composed at this early stage of his life, there is

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

much in all these pieces to be regretted and pardoned by the correct and classical reader. To his latin poems, however, of the same date, no such observation is in any degree applicable. Immediately conversant with the great masters of composition, he adopts their taste with their language; and, with the privilege, as with the ease of a native, assumes his station in their ranks. For fluency and sweetness of numbers; for command and purity of expression; for variety and correctness of imagery, we shall look in vain for his equal among the latin poets of his age and his country. May, the continuator and imitator of Lucan; and Cowley, whose taste and thought are English and metaphysical while his verse walks upon Roman feet, will never, as I am confident, be placed in competition with our author by any adequate and unprejudiced judge. I speak with more direct reference to his elegies, which were all written in that interval of his life immediately under our review, and which, evidently composed with the most entire affection, are executed on the whole with the most com

f That Cowley was capable of writing latin poetry with classical purity would be attested by his beautiful epitaph on himself, if even this short composition were not injured by the intrusion of one line of Cowleian quaintness and conceit. "Nam vita gaudet mortua floribus."

« PreviousContinue »