« НазадПродовжити »
Lord of Northumberland on the death of his wife, a pretty thing on a lady "passing through a crowd of people," an answer, verse for verse, to some rhymes of Sir John Suckling. He seizes anything frivolous, new, or becoming on the wing; and his poetry is only a written conversation, I mean the conversation which goes on at a ball, when people speak for the sake of speaking, lifting a lock of one's wig, or twisting about a glove. Gallantry holds the chief place here, as it ought to do, and we may be pretty certain that the love is not over-sincere. In reality, Waller sighs on purpose (Sacharissa had a fine dowry), or at least for the sake of good manners: that which is most evident in his tender poems is, that he aims at a flowing style and good rhymes. He is affected, he exaggerates, he strains after wit, he is always an author. Not venturing to address Sacharissa herself, he addresses Mrs. Braughton, her attendant, “his fellow-servant":
“So, in those nations which the Sun adore,
And, graced with his beam, outshines the rest.” 1 A fine comparison! That is a well-made courtesy; I hope Sacharissa responds with one equally correct. His despairs bear the same flavor; he pierces the groves of Penshurst with his cries, “reports his flame to the beeches," and the well-bred beeches “bow their heads, as if they felt the same." It is probable that, in these mournful walks, his greatest care was lest he should wet the soles of his high-heeled shoes. These transports of love bring in the classical machinery, Apollo and the Muses. Apollo is annoyed that one of his servants is ill-treated, and bids him depart; and he departs, telling Sacharissa that she is harder than an oak, and that she was certainly produced from a rock.3
1 The English Poets, ed. A. Chalmers, 21 vols., 1810; Waller, vol. viii. 44.
Attend my passion, and forget to fear;
There is one genuine reality in all this—sensuality; rot ardent, but light and gay. There is a certain piece, “The Fall,” which an abbé of the court of Louis XV. might have written:
“Then blush not, Fair! or on him frown,
How could the youth, alas! but bend
'Twas that he let you rise so soon.”ı Other pieces smack of their surroundings, and are not so pol. ished:
“ Amoret! as sweet as good,
As the most delicious food,
Life and gladness to the heart." ; I should not be pleased, were I a woman, to be compared to a beef-steak, though that be appetizing; nor should I like any more to find myself, like Sacharissa, placed on a level with good wine, which flies to the head :
“Sacharissa's beauty's wine,
That is mortal can sustain." This is too much honor for port' wine and meat. The English background crops up here and elsewhere; for example, the beautiful Sacharissa, having ceased to be beautiful, asked Waller if he would again write verses for her: he answered, “Yes, madame, when you are once more as young and as handsome as you were.” Here is something to shock a Frenchman. Nevertheless Waller is usually amiable; a sort of brilliant light floats like a halo round his verses; he is always elegant, often graceful. His gracefulness is like the perfume exhaled from the world; fresh toilettes, ornamented drawing-rooms, the abundance and the pursuit of all those refined and delicate comforts give to the mind a sort of sweetness which is breathed forth in
To thee a wild and cruel soul is givin,
Dainage to one whom he had taught to sing."-Ibid. p. 44-5. ! English Poets, Waller, viii. 32.
2 lbid. 45.
3 Ibid. 45
obliging compliments and smiles. Waller has many of these compliments and smiles, and those most flattering, apropos of a bud, a girdle, a rose. Such bouquets become his hands and his art. He pays an excellent compliment "To young Lady Lucy Sidney” on her age. And what could be more attractive for a frequenter of drawing-rooms, than this bud of still unopened youth, but which blushes already, and is on the point of expanding?
“Yet, fairest blossom! do not slight
which you may know so soon.
And milder glory to the noon."} All his verses flow with a continuous harmony, clearness, facility, though his voice is never raised, or out of tune, or rough, nor loses its true accent, except by the worldling's affectation, which regularly changes all tones in order to soften them. His poetry resembles one of those pretty, affected, bedizened women, busy in inclining their head on one side, and murmuring with a soft voice commonplace things which they can hardly be said to think, yet agreeable in their be-ribboned dress, and who would please altogether if they did not dream of always pleasing.
It is not that these men cannot handle grave subjects; but they handle them in their own fashion, without gravity or depth. What the courtier most lacks is the genuine sentiment of a true and original idea. That which interests him most is the correctness of the adornment, and the perfection of external form. They care little for the matter itself, much for the outward shape. In fact, it is form which they take for their subject in nearly all their serious poetry; they are critics, they lay down precepts, they compose Arts of Poetry. Denham in his “ Preface to the Destruction of Troy" lays down rules for translating, whilst Roscommon teaches in a complete poem, an Essay on translated Verse, the art of translating poetry well. The Duke of Buckinghamshire versified an Essay on Poetry and an Essay on Satire. Dryden is in the first rank of these pedagogues. Like Dryden again, they turn translators, amplifiers. Roscommon translated the Ars Poetica of Horace; Waller the first act of Pompée, a tragedy by Corneille; Denham some fragments of Homer and Virgil, and two poems, one of Prudence and another of Justice. Rochester composed a satire against Mankind, in the style of Boileau, and also an epistle upon Nothing; the amorous Waller wrote a didactic poem on The Fear of God, and another in six cantos on Divine Love. These are exercises of style. They take a theological thesis, a commonplace subject of philosophy, a poetic maxim, and develop it in jointed prose, furnished with rhymes; invent nothing, feel little, and only aim at expressing good arguments in classical metaphors, in noble terms, after a conventional model. Most of their verses consist of two nouns, furnished with epithets, and connected by a verb, like college Latin verses. The epithet is good: they had to hunt through the Gradus for it, or, as Boileau wills it, they had to carry the line unfinished in their heads, and had to think about it an hour in the open air, until at last, at the corner of a wood, they found the right word which they could not hit upon before. I yawn, but applaud. After so much trouble a generation ends by forming the sustained style which is necessary to support, make public, and demonstrate grand things. Meanwhile, with their ornate, official diction, and their borrowed thought they are like formal chamberlains, in embroidered coats, present at a royal marriage or an imperial baptism, empty of head, grave in manner, admirable for dignity and bearing, with the punctilio and the ideas of a dummy.
1 English Poets, Waller, viii. 45.
V. One of them only (Dryden always excepted) showed talent, Sir John Denham, Charles the First's secretary. He was employed in public affairs, and after a dissolute youth, turned to serious habits; and leaving behind him satiric verse and party broad-jokes, attained in riper years a lofty oratorical style. His best poem, Cooper's Itill, is the description of a hill and its surroundings, blended with the historical ideas which the sight recalls, and the moral reflections which its appearance naturally suggests. All these subjects are in accordance with the nobility and the limitation of the classical spirit, and display his vigor without betraying his weaknesses; the poet could show off his whole talent without forcing it. His fine language exhibits all its beauty, because it is sincere. We find pleasure in following the regular progress of those copious phrases in which his ideas, opposed or combined, attain for the first time their definite place and full clearness, where symmetry only brings out the argument more clearly, expansion only completes thought, antithesis and repetition do not induce trifling and affectation, where the music of verse, adding the breadth of sound to the fullness of sense, conducts the chain of ideas, without effort or disorder, by an appropriate measure to a becoming order and movement. Gratification is united with solidity; the author of “Cooper's Hill," knows how to please as well as to impress. His poem is iike a king's park, dignified and level without doubt, but arranged to please the eye, and full of choice prospects. It leads us by casy digressions across a multitude of varied thoughts. It shows us here a mountain, yonder a memorial of the nymphs, a classic memorial, like a portico filled with statues, further on a broad stream, and by its side the ruins of an abbey; each page of the poem is like a distinct alley, with its distinct perspective. Further on, our thoughts are turned to the superstitions of the ignorant middle ages, and to the excesses of the recent revolution ; then comes the picture of a royal hunt; we see the trembling stag make his retreat to some dark covert :
“He calls to mind his strength, and then his speed,
His winged heels, and then his armed head;
Has lost the chasers, and his ear the cry.” 1 These are the worthy spectacles and the studied diversity of the grounds of a nobleman. Every object, moreover, receives here, as in a king's palace, all the adornment which can be given to it; elegant epithets are introduced to embellish a feeble substantive; the decorations of art transform the commonplace of nature: vessels are “floating towers;" the Thames is “the most loved of all the Ocean's sons;" the airy mountain hides its proud head among the clouds, whilst a shady mantle clothes its sides. Among different kinds of ideas, there is one kingly, full of stately and magnificent ceremonies of self-contained and studied gestures, of correct yet commanding figures, uniform and imposing like the appointments of a palace; hence the classic writers, and Denham amongst them, draw all their poetic tints. From this every object and event takes its coloring, because
1 English Poets, vii. 237.