« PreviousContinue »
all lyriques, and of Pindar above all men living: the figures are unufual and bold, even to temerity, and fuch as I durft not have to do withal in any other kind of poetry: the numbers are various and irregular, and fometimes (efpecially fome of the long ones) feem harsh and uncouth, if the juft measures and cadences be not obferved in the pronunciation. So that almost all their fweetnefs and numerofity (which is to be found, if I mistake not, in the rougheft, if rightly repeated) lies in a manner wholly at the mercy of the reader. I have briefly defcribed the nature of these verses, in the Ode intituled, "The Refurrection:" and though the liberty of them may incline a man to believe them easy to be composed, yet the undertaker will find it otherwife—
"-Ut fibi quivis
"Speret idem; fudet multùm, fruftráque laboret
I come now to the laft part, which is " Davideis," or an heroical poem of the tronbles of David: which I defigned into twelve books; not for the tribes' fake, but after the pattern of our master Virgil; and intended to clofe all with that most poetical and excellent elegy of David on the death of Saul and Jonathan: for I had no mind to carry him quite on to his anointing at Hebron, because it is the custom of heroic poets (as we fee by the examples of Homer and Virgil, whom we should do ill to forfake to imitate others) never to come to the full end of their story: but only fo near, that every one may fee it; as men commonly play not out the game, when it is evident that they can win it, but lay down their cards, and take up what they have won. This, I fay, was the whole defign: in which there are many noble and fertile arguments behind; as the barbarous cruelty of Saul to the priests at Nob; the feveral flights and escapes of David, with the manner of his living in the Wilderness; the funeral of Samuel; the love of Abigail; the facking of Ziglag; the lofs and recovery of David's wives from the Amalekites; the witch of Endor; the war with the Philistines; and the battle of Gilboa all which I meant to interweave, upon feveral occafions, with most of the illuftrious ftories of the Old Teftament, and to embellish with the most remarkable antiquities of the Jews, and other nations before or at that age.
But I have had neither leisure hitherto, nor have appetite at prefent, to finish the work, or fo much as to revife that part which is done, with that care which I refolved to beftow upon it, and which the dignity of the matter well deferves. For what worthier fabject could have been chofen, among all the treafuries of past times, than the life of this young prince; who, from fo fmall beginnings, through fuch infinite troubles and oppofitions, by fuch miraculous virtues and excellencies, and with fuch incomparable variety of wonderful actions and accidents, became the greateft monarch that ever fat on the most famous throne of the whole earth? Whom fhould a poet more justly feck to honour, than the highest perfon who ever honoured his profeffion? whom a Christian poet, rather than the man after God's own heart, and the man who had that facred pre-eminence above all other princes, to be the beft and mightiest of that royal race from whence Chrift himfelf, according to the flesh, difdained not to defcend?
When I confider this, and how many other bright and magnificent fubjects of the like nature the holy Scripture affords and proffers, as it were, to poefy; in the wife managing and illuftrating whereof the glory of God Almighty might be joined with the fingular utility and nobleft delight of mankind; it is not without gef and indignation that I behold that divine science employing all her inexhauftible riches of wit and cloquence either in the wicked and beggarly flattery of great perfons, or the unmanly idolizing of foolish women, or the wretched affectation of fcurril laughter, or at beft on the confufed antiquated dreams of fenfelefs fables and metamorphofes. Amongit all holy and confecrated things, which the devil ever ftole and alienated from the fervice of the Deity; as altars, temples, facrifices, prayers, and the like; there is none that he fo Liverfally, and fo long, ufurpt, as poetry. It is time to recover it out of the tyrave's hands, and to restore it to the kingdom of God who is the Father of it. It is time to
Hor. A. P. 240.
baptize it in Jordan, for it will never become clean by bathing in the water of Damafcus. There wants methinks, but the converfion of that, and the Jews, for the accomplishment of the kingdom of Chrift. And as men, before their receiving of the faith, do not without fome carnal reluctancies apprehend the bonds and fetters of it, but find it afterwards to be the trueft and greatest liberty; it will fare no otherwife with this art, after the regeneration of it; it will meet with wonderful variety of new, more beautiful, and more delightful objects; neither will it want room, by being confined to heaven.
There is not fo great a lye to be found in any poet, as the vulgar conceit of men, that lying is effential to good poetry. Were there never fo wholefome nourishment to be had. (but alas! it breeds nothing but difeafes) out of these boafted feafts of love and fables; yet, methinks, the unalterable continuance of the diet should make us naufeate it: for it is almost impoffible to ferve up any new difh of that kind. They are all but the cold-meats of the ancients, new-heated, and new fet forth. I do not at all wonder that the old poets made fome rich crops out of these grounds; the heart of the foil was not then wrought out with continual tillage: but what can we expect now, who come a gleaning, not after the first reapers, but after the very beggars? Besides, though thofe mad ftories of the gods and heroes feem in themselves fo ridiculous; yet they were then the whole body (or rather chaos) of the theology of thofe times. They were believed by all, but a few philofophers, and perhaps fome atheifts; and ferved to good purpose among the vulgar (as pitiful things as they are), in strengthening the authority of law with the terrors of confcience, and expectation of certain rewards and unavoidable punishments. There was no other religion; and therefore that was better than none at all. But to us, who have no need of them; to us, who deride their folly, and are wearied with their impertinencies; they ought to appear no better arguments for verse, than those of their worthy fucceffors, the knights-errant. What can we imagine more proper for the ornaments of wit or learning in the ftory of Deucalion than in that of Noah? Why will not the actions of Sampfon afford as plentiful matter as the labours of Hercules? Why is not Jeptha's daughter as good a woman as Iphigenia? and the friendship of David and Jonathan more worthy celebration than that of Thefeus and Pirithous? Does not the paffage of Mofes and the Ifraelites into the Holy Land yield incomparably more poetical variety than the voyages of Ulyffes or Æneas? Are the obfolete thread-bare tales of Thebes and Troy half fo ftored with great, heroical, and fupernatural actions (fince verfe will needs find or make such), as the wars of Joshua, of the Judges, of David, and divers others? Can all the transformations of the gods give fuch copious hints to flourish and expatiate on, as the true miracles of Chrift, or of his prophets and apoftles? What do I initance in these few particulars? All the books of the Bible are either already molt admirable and exalted pieces of poefy, or are the beft materials in the world for it.
Yet, though they be in themselves fo proper to be made ufe of for this purpofe; none but a good artift will know how to do it: neither muft we think to cut and polish diamonds with fo little pains and skill as we do marble. For, if any man defign to compofe a facred poem, by only turning a ftory of the Scripture, like Mr. Quarles's, or fome other godly matter, like Mr. Heywood of angels, into rhyme; he is fo far from elevating of poefy, that he only abafes divinity. In brief, he who can write a prophane poem well, may write a divine one better; but he who can do that but ill, will do this much worse. The fame fertility of invention; the fame wifdom of difpofition; the fame judgment in obfervance of decencies; the fame luftre and vigour of elocution; the fame modefty and majesty of number; briefly, the fame kind of habit, is required to both only this latter allows better ftuff; and therefore would look more deformedly, ill dreft in it. I am far from affuming to myself to have fulfilled the duty of this weighty undertaking but fure I am, there is nothing yet in our language (nor perhaps in any) that is in any degree anfwerable to the idea that I conceive of it. And I fhall be ambitious of no other fruit from this weak and imperfect attempt of mine, but the opening of a way to the courage and induftry of fome other perfons, who may be better able to perform it thoroughly and fuccessfully.
THE BOOKSELLERS ADVERTISEMENT
THE EDITION OF 1674.
HE following Poems of Mr. Cowley being much enquired after, and very fcarce (the Town hardly affording one Book, though it hath been four times printed) we thought this fifth edition could not fail of being well received by the world. We prefume one reason why they were omitted in the last collection, was, because the propriety of this copy belonged not to the fame perfon that published thofe : but the reception they had found appears by the feveral impreffions through which they had paffed. We dare not fay they are equally perfect with thofe written by the Au thur in his riper years, yet certainly they are fuch as deferve not to be buried in obfcurity; We prefume the Author's judgment of them is moft reasonable to appeal to; and you will find him (allowing grains of modefty) give them no small character. His words are in his Preface before his former published Poems*.
You find our excellent Author likewife mentioning and reciting part of these Poems in his "Several Difcourfes by way of Effays in Verse and Profe, in the 11th Discourse "treating of himself." Thefe we fuppofe a fufficient authority for our reviving them; and fure there is no ingenuous Reader to whom the smallest remains of Mr. Cowley, will be unwelcome. His Poems are every where the copy of his mind; fo that by this fupplement to his other volume you have the picture of that fo defervedly eminent man from almoft his childhood to his lateft years, the bud and bloom of his Spring; the warmth of his Summer; the richnefs and perfection of his Autumn. But, for the Reader's further curiofity, we refer him to the Author's. following Preface to them, published by himself.
See Author's Preface above, p. vii.
RIGHT HON. AND RIGHT REV. FATHER IN GOD,
JOH H N
LORD BISHOP OF LINCOLN, AND DEAN OF WESTMINSTER.
MIGHT well fear, left thefe my rude and unpolished lines fhould offend your
committed by a Child, than cenfure them. Howfoever I defire your Lordship's pardon, for prefenting things fo unworthy to your view; and to accept the good-will of him, who in all duty is bound to be
moft humble fervant,
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE
EADER (I know not yet whether gentle or no) fome, I know, have been angry (I dare not affume the honour of their envy) at my poetical boldness, and blamed in mine, what commends other fruits, earlinefs: others, who are either of a weak faith, or ftrong malice, have thought me like a pipe, which nevers founds but when it is blowed in, and read me, not as Abraham Cowley, but Authorem Anonymum. To the first I answer, that it is an envious froft which nips the blossoms, because they appear quickly to the latter that he is the worst homicide who ftrives to murder another's fame: to both, that it is a ridiculous folly to condemn or laugh at the ftars, because the moon and fun fhine brighter. The small fire I have is rather blown than extinguished by this wind. For the itch of Poefy, by being angered, increaseth; by rubbing, fpreads farther; which appears in that I have ventured upon this Third Edition. What though it be neglected? It is not, I am fure, the first book which hath lighted tobacco, or been employed by cooks and grocers. If in all men's judgment it fuffer fhipwreck, it shall fomething content me, that it hath pleafed myself and the Bookfeller. In it you fhall find one argument (and I hope I fhall need no more) to confute unbelievers: which is, that as mine age, and confequently experience (which is yet but little) hath increased, fo they have not left my Poefy flagging behind them. I fhould not be angry to fee any one burn my Piramus and Thisbe, nay, I would do it myself, but that I hope a pardon may easily be gotten for the errors of ten years age. My Conftantius and Philetus confeffeth me two years older when I writ it. The reft were made fince, upon several occafions, and perhaps do not belye the time of their birth. Such as they are, they were created by me: but their fate lies in your hands; it is only you can effect, that neither the Bookfeller repent himself of his charge in printing them, nor I of my labour in compofing them. Farewel.
TO THE READER. CALL'd the bufkin'd mufc Melpomene, And told her what fad story I would write : She wept at hearing fuch a tragedy, Though wont in mournful ditties to delight.
If thou diflike thefe forrowful lines, then know
And as the my unabler quill did guide,
But think her tears defac'd it, and blame then
CONSTANTIA AND PHILETUS. SING two conftant lovers' various fate, The hopes and fears that equally attend Their loves; their rivals' envy, parents' hate : I fing their woeful life and tragic end.
Aid me, ye gods, this story to rehearse, This mournful tale, and favour every verse! in Florence, for her ftately buildings fam'd, And lofty roofs that emulate the fky, There dwelt a lovely maid, Conftantia nam'd, Fam'd for the beauty of all Italy.
Her, lavish Nature did at firft adorn, With Pallas' foul in Cytherea's form: And, framing her attractive eyes fo bright, Spent all her wit in ftudy, that they might Keep earth from chaos and eternal night; But envious death destroy'd their glorious light. Expect not beauty then, fince fhe did part; For in her nature wafted all her art.
Her hair was brighter than the beams which are
Or fmelling flowers, wherewith the fpring doth
Her wit, excelling praife, even all admire;
The maiden lilies at her fight
Wax'd pale with envy, and from thence grew
She was in birth and parentage as high
With that bleft object, or her rareness fee;
Oft times, that he might fee his dearest fair,
But his poor mafter, though to fee her move