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ANDOVER-HARVARD THEOLOGICAL LIBRAF 45 Francis Avinus,
CAMBRIDGE 23, MACS., U.S.A.
IN presenting ourselves to Public notice, we wish to offer a few remarks on British Poetry in general, and to point out the distinguishing features of the following work.
If the legitimate design of Poetry is to combine instruction with pleasure, and profit with delight; to subordinate the labours of imagination and the play of fancy to the promotion of Virtue and Religion in the world, we fear that most of our Bards deserve a greater meed of censure than applause. From CHAUCER to COWPER how few Masters of Song, by making poetry the handmaid of piety, have decked themselves with an unfading wreath. Silly and affected love-ditties, praises of nature, with little reference to nature's God, absurd flattery, or malignant satire, fairy pictures of human life and happiness, or misanthropic effusions, abound in their works, and exhibit a desecration of genius, deeply, and ever to be deplored. SURRY and SACKVILLE, CAREW and SUCKLING, are mere amatory Rhymers, and pander to all the vapid sentiments of their tribe. SPENSER was a genuine Poet; but in his great work, "The Faery Queene" indulged an excess of imagination which enervates the mind; while in some of his smaller pieces he descended to adorn and circulate, sentiments unworthy of his Muse. We wish, however, to tread lightly upon his ashes, as he repented of his folly, and bequeathed to posterity, a few sacred composures of great beauty and excellence. BISHOP HALL is better known as a TheoJogian than as a Poet, though his satires do not merit the epithet "toothless," which Milton has conferred upon them, and are free from the malice and impurity, common to works of that class. Omitting DAVIES, (who has furnished us with a few lines) DONNE, DRAYTON, and others, who on account either of their tediousness, or quaintress, are little known and less read, we find much in the FLETCHERS to admire and commend. Their genius, truly Spenserian, was adorned with piety, and sacred to virtue. Though now generally neglected, they were highly lauded in their day, nor did even Milton disdain to borrow from one of them. We hope that the extracts we have given from them will be acceptable to our readers, and induce them to peruse the whole of their works. SHAKSPEARE adorned every thing he wrote with peculiar felicity of genius, but the general tendency of his poetry can not be approved by enlightened and virtuous minds. BEN JONSON was a mere trifler in His religious poems are not destitute of merit, but being found almost upon the same page with his indelicate effusions, they lose all their charm. The poetry of CRASHAW is chiefly devoted to pious subjects, and yet it is in general so extravagant as to deserve little notice. His paraphrase, however, of the twenty-third Psalm, (page 165) though a little quaint, is touching, and impressive. COWLEY is no favourite with us. Like other metaphysical Poets, he sometimes loses himself in the clouds, and has attempted sacred poetry with little success.
The times of the Commonwealth produced more Heroes than Poets; but we ought not to forget that, in strictness, MILTON belongs to them; though his immortal work was not published until after their close. In daring sublimity of thought, unsullied purity of sentiment, and sustained dignity of expression, he stands unrivalled. We have given his description of the Creation, which, though lengthy, is peculiarly happy, and the most appropriate which our language has produced. We wish to see an inexpensive edition of his works, which by means of notes should explain his numerous classical allusions, as from want of this, he is more praised than read, and more read than understood. BUTLER, that inimitable droll, wickedly endeavoured to identify Puritanism with cant, and to hold up to contempt, men whose morals were in general a libel upon his own. DRYDEN, though he excelled in command of numbers and vigour of expression, debased his Muse by employing it in defence of a corrupt system both of civil polity and Religion. The Poets connected with the court of Charles II. were like their Monarch, witty and profligate, and their writings deserved to have been committed to the flames, rather than to the press.
In what is commonly called the Augustan age of our literature, a constellation of Poets appeared. Then came ADDISON, with "attic taste" and "in holiday trim :”— POPE with his exact harmony, and “ galaxy of poetical felicities”: and ARBUTHNOT and SWIFT with their humorous and satirical vein. Though these were men of genius above their fellows, we regret that we cannot unite in all the praise which the excellent CowPER has bestowed upon them in his "Table Talk." ADDISON, we think, seldom, if ever, attained sublimity, and though his poetry may "polish or delight," it is not adapted to "furnish the mind." His Rosamond is worse than trifling, and in his Cato, by advocating, he promoted suicide*. We however not merely except from censure, but highly commend his few religious poems, and sincerely lament that he did not live to enlarge their number. We admire the Rosicrucian machinery of POPE'S " Rape of the Lock," the tender pathos of his "Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady," as well as the taste and tact displayed in some of his other pieces; yet we fear it cannot be truly said that he gave "Virtue and Morality a grace." He is not free from improper allusions, and his satire is malignant and reckless. His religious ideas, derived from the School of Bolingbroke, are worthy of that Arch-Infidel, and, as we understand from credible authority, are peculiarly adapted to Braminical taste. His Messiah, as might be expected from its merit, has found a place in our pages. O si sic omnia! The wit of SWIFT is so low and degraded, that his works ought never to be submitted to indiscriminate perusal. "PRIOR's ease" is no atonement for PRIOR's folly and impurity. PARNELL is among the least exceptionable of the Poets of his age, and could we have found room we should have derived pleasure from inserting his Hermit, as alike beautiful and instructive. The "Night Thoughts" of YOUNG are a poetical book of Ecclesiastes, with the truths of the gospel superadded. With one hand he lays bare the vanity of the world, and the disappointment attendant on human pursuits; with the other, he points to "enduring substance," and presents the healing balm of the Cross. His descriptions of the glories of Redemption have been rarely surpassed. Whatever may be the imperfections of his work, arising from the morbid character of some of its passages, we know of few that are so well adapted to impress mankind with just views of the value of time, the grandeur and immortality of the soul, and the necessity of preparation for the Eternal World. We admire THOMSON as the Painter of Nature, and the Advocate of Liberty; yet, in his "Seasons" he is not uniformly pure, and in his finest poetical work, "The Castle of Indolence," suffers his imagination to luxuriate
* The case of Eustace Budgell is here referred to.