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Progress of the Nation. page 7


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Sir John Denham was a popular poet of the time, and his "Cooper's Hill" is still retained in our collections, and finds readers amongst admirers of descriptive poetry. Writers of much more sterling poetry were Sir John Davis, Drummond of Hawthornden, bishop Hall, and Donne. Sir John Davis was long attorney-general, and chief justice of the King's Bench at the time of his death. He is author of a poem on dancing called the "Orchestra," but his great work is his "Nosce Teipsum," or "Know Thyself," a work which treats on human knowledge and the immortality of the soul. It is written in quatrains, or four-lined stanzas, and is unquestionably one of the finest philosophical poems in our language, as it was one of the first. There are a life and feeling in the poem which make it always fresh, like the waters of a pure and deep fountain. Speaking of the soul, he says: -

Yet under heaven she cannot light on aught,
That with her heavenly nature doth agree;
She cannot rest, she cannot fix her thought,
She cannot in this world contented be.
For who did ever yet in honour, wealth,
Or pleasure of the sense, contentment find?
Who ever ceased to wish when he had wealth,
Or, having wisdom, was not vexed in mind?
Then as a bee which among weeds doth fall,
Which seem sweet flowers with lustre fresh and gay,
She lights on that and this and tasteth all;
But pleased with none, doth rise and soar away.

Drummond of Hawthornden, a Scotch gentleman who wrote in English, besides considerable prose, wrote some exquisite poems and sonnets formed on the Italian model; and bishop Hall, in his satires, presents some of the most graphic sketches of English life, manners, and scenery. Dr. Donne, who was dean of St. Paul's, and the most fashionable preacher of his day, was also the most fashionable poet - we do not except Shakespeare. He was the rage, in fact, of all admirers of poetry, and was the head of a school of which Cowley was the most extravagant disciple, and of which Crashaw, Withers, Herrick, Herbert, and Quarles, had more or less of the characteristics. In all these poets there was a deep feeling of spirituality, religion, and wit, and in some of them of nature, dashed and marred by a fantastic style, full of quaintnesses and conceits. In some of them these were so tempered as to give them an original and piquant air, as in Herrick, Herbert, and Quarles; in others, as Donne and Cowley, they degenerated into disfigurement and absurdity. Donne, at the same time, had great and shining qualities, keen, bold satire, profound and intellectual thoughts, and a most sparkling fancy, embedding rich touches of passion and pathos, yet so disfigured by uncouth and strange conceits, that one scarcely knows how to estimate these compositions. In a word, they are the exact antipodes of the natural style, and this fashion was carried to its utmost extravagance by Cowley. A stanza or two from a parting address of a lover to his mistress, may show something of Donne's quality and manner

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go;
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
The breath goes now, - and some say, no.
So let us melt and make no noise,
No tear-floods nor sigh-tempests move;
Twere profanation of our joys,
To tell the laity of our love.
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

George Withers has much less of what a contemporary happily styled the "Occult School." He says himself that he took "little pleasure in rhymes, fictions, or conceited compositions for their own sakes," but preferred "such as flowed forth without study;" and indeed, he has far more nature. He was confined for years in the Marshalsea prison, for publishing a biting satire called "Abuses Stripped and Whipped," and there he wrote a long allegorical poem, called "The Shepherd's Hunting," in which his description of poetry is a perfect gem of fancy and natural feeling. He says: -

By the murmur of a spring,
Or the least boughs rustling,
By a daisy, whose leaves spread,
Shut when Titan goes to bed;
Or a shady bush or tree,
She could more infuse in me
Than all Nature's beauties can
In some other wiser man.
Two songs of Withers', quoted in Percy's Reliques, "The Steadfast Shepherd," and the one beginning -

Shall I, wasting in despair,
Die because a woman's fair?
Or make pale my cheeks with care
Cause another's rosy are?
Be she fairer than the day,
Or the flowery meads in May;
If she be not so to me,
What care I how fair she be?

are exquisite lines, that no reader ever again forgets.

Of Crashaw's poems, Nicol, of Edinburgh, has published a new edition in his "English Poets," edited by Gilfillan, who speaks rapturously of them. Crashaw was of a deeply religious tone of mind, and became a catholic. His finest poems are his religious ones, and they are full of music and passionate reveries, yet greatly marred by the Donne fashion, which Dryden, and after him Johnson, most inaccurately termed the Metaphysic School, instead of the fantastic or singularity school. His very first poem, called "The Weeper," shows how he treated even sacred subjects: -

Hail, sister springs!
Parents of silver-forded rills,
Ever-bubbling things!
Thawing crystal, snowy hills,
Still spending, never spent, I mean
Thy fair eyes, sweet Magdalene.
Heavens thy fair eyes be,
Heavens of ever-falling stars;
Tis seed-time still with thee,
And stars thou sow'st, whose harvest dares
Promise the earth to countershine,
Whatever makes heaven's forehead shine.

Carew, Suckling, Lovelace are poets whose merits, in their various styles, would deserve a separate examination, but we must pass on to three other poets, who have been more known to modern readers, and who would of them selves have stamped their age as one of genuine inspiration - Herbert, Herrick, and Quarles. Herbert and Herrick, like Donne, were clergymen, and in their quiet country parsonages poured forth some of the most exquisite lyrics which enrich any language. Herrick maybe said to be the born poet of nature - Herbert of devotion. Herrick was of an old family of Leicestershire, which yet remains. Had his poems not been familiar to modern readers, and purchasable in cheap editions, we should lament the space which confines us to a mere mention. His lyrics are the very soul of nature's melody and rapture. He revels in all the charms of the country - flowers, buds, fairies, bees, the gorgeous blossoming May, the pathos and antique simplicity of rural life; its marriages, its churchyard histories, its imagery of awaking and fading existence. The free, joyous, quaint, and musical flow and rhythm of his verse has all that felicity and that ring of woodland cadences which mark the snatches of rustic verse that Shakespeare scatters through his dramas. His "Night Piece to Juliet," beginning –

Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,
The shooting stars attend thee,
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like sparks of fire, befriend thee!

is precisely of that character. His "Daffodils" express the beautiful but melancholy sentiment which he so frequently found in nature: -

Fair daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early rising sun
Has not attained his noon.
< Stay, stay,
Until the hastening day
Has run
But to the even song,
And having prayed together, we
Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay as you,
We have as short a spring,
As quick a growth to meet decay
As you, or anything.
We die,
As your hours do; and dry
Away
Like to the summer rain,
Or as the pearls of morning dew,
Ne'er to be found again.

Herrick's works are his "Hesperides" and his "Noble Numbers," the latter being religious, and not equal to the former. In religious tone, intensity, and grandeur, Herbert is infinitely his superior. Herbert was in early life a courtier; his eldest brother was the celebrated sceptical writer, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Herbert's hopes of court preferment fortunately ceasing with the death of king James, he took orders, grew extremely religious, married an admirably suited wife, and retired to Bemerton parsonage, about a mile from Salisbury, where he died of consumption at the age of thirty-six. Herbert was the very personification of Chaucer's "Good Parson." His life was one constant scene of piety and benevolence. Beloved by his parishioners, happy in his congenial wife, and passionately fond of music and his poetry, his days glided away as already in heaven. The music which he loved was found poured livingly into his poetry, which is solemn, overflowing with tender and profound feeling, with the most chaste and seraphic imagination, with the most fervent devotion. James Montgomery, in our own time, is the only poet who resembles him in his pure and beautiful piety; but there is in Herbert a greater vigour, dignity of style, and felicity of imagery than in Montgomery. There is a gravity, a sublimity, and a sweetness which mingle in his devotional lyrics, and endear them forever to the heart that has once imbibed them. His "Temple" is a poetic fabric worthy of a Christian minstrel, and stands as an immortal refutation of the oft repeated theory, that religious poetry cannot be at once original and attractive. What can be more noble than the following stanzas from his poem entitled "Man:" -

For us the winds do blow;
The earth doth rest, heavens move, and fountains flow.
Nothing we see but means our good,
As our delight, or as our treasure:
The whole is either our cupboard of food
Or cabinet of pleasure.
The stars have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain which the sun withdraws,
Music and light attend our head.
All things to our flesh are kind
In their descent and being; to our mind
In their ascent and cause.
Each thing is full of duty:
Waters united are our navigation;
Distinguished, our habitation;
Below, our drink - above, our meat:
Both are our cleanliness.
Hath one such beauty?
Then how are all things neat!
More servants wait on man
Than he'll take notice of: in every path
He treads down that which doth befriend him
When sickness makes him pale and wan.
Oh I mighty love! man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him.

Besides his "Temple," Herbert wrote a prose work, "The Priest to the Temple; or, the Country Parson," which is charmingly full of the simple, child-like piety of the author. He also collected a great number of proverbs, under the title of "Jacula Prudentum."

The third of the trio of poets who seem to class themselves together by their quaintness, their fancy, and their piety, is Francis Quarles, a man who has been treated by many critics as a mere poetaster, but who is one of the most sterling poets which this country, prolific in poetic genius, has produced. Quarles was a gentleman and a scholar; in his youth he was cup-bearer to Elizabeth of Bohemia, and was finally ruined by taking the royal side in the civil wars. He wrote various poetical works; "Argalus and Parthenia," "A Feast for Worms," "Zion's Elegies," and a series of elegies on the death of a friend, the son of Bishop Aylmer, which probably suggested a similar poem on a similar occasion, Tennyson's "In Memoriam." But the great work of Quarles is his "Emblems," which originated in a Latin poem by Herman Hugo, a Jesuit, called "Pia Desideria." This book, condemned and overlooked by the great critics, like Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," has, from generation to generation, adorned with curious woodcuts circulated amongst the people in town and country, till it has won an extraordinary popularity: and that it has well deserved it, we need only read such verses as these to convince ourselves: -

I love, and have some cause to love, the earth:
She is my Maker's creature - therefore good;
She is my mother - for she gave me birth;
She is my tender nurse - she gives me food.
But what's a creature, Lord, compared with thee?
Or what's my mother, or my nurse, to me?
I love the air: her dainty sweets refresh
My drooping soul, and to new sweets invite me;
Her shrill-mouthed quires sustain me with their flesh,
And with their Polyphonian notes delight me.
But what's the air, or all the sweets that she
Can bless my soul withal, compared to thee?
I love the sea: she is my fellow-creature -
My careful purveyor; she provides me store;
She walls me round, she makes my diet greater;
She wafts my treasure from a foreign shore.
But, Lord of oceans, when compared to thee,
What is the ocean, or her wealth to me?
To heaven's high city I direct my journey,
Whose spangled suburbs entertain mine eye;
Mine eye, by contemplation's great attorney,
Transcends the crystal pavement of the sky.
But what is heaven, great God, compared to thee?
Without thy presence, heaven's no heaven to me.
Without thy presence, earth gives no refection;
Without thy presence, sea affords no treasure;
Without thy presence, air's a rank infection;
Without thy presence, heaven itself s no pleasure.
If not possessed, if not enjoyed in thee,
What's earth, or sea, or air, or heaven to me?

Quarles also wrote "The School of the Heart," and "The Virgin Widow," a comedy, which title has been borrowed by the author of "Philip van Artevelde" for a very different drama; and a modern critic ranks him with "Grotius, Addison, Pascal, Johnson, Coleridge, and Isaac Taylor, as one of the eminent lay-brothers in the christian church, whose testimony is above all challenge, and whose talents left their religion above all contempt." In the love of the people he may be classed with the authors of "The Pilgrim's Progress," a work also written at this period, and " Robinson Crusoe." Quarles was the author also of two prose works, "Judgment and Mercy for Afflicted Souls," republished some years ago by Sir Egerton Brydges, and his "Enchiridion," a collection of maxims, divine and moral; declared by "The Retrospective Review" to be the best collection of maxims in the English language.

William Browne's "Britannia's Pastorals," written at this period, have been much and justly celebrated for their faithful transcripts of nature and country life. They are perfect photographic sketches, abound with most striking imagery, and, as has been observed, "give you a vivid glimpse of the country, which remains miraculously preserved in its pristine hues." The enormous poetic wealth of this epoch, however, compels us to pause. There are numbers of names yet that sue for recognition as among the genuine poets of those times - -Raleigh, as a lyrical poet; Sir Henry Wotton; Henry Vaughan, the author of "Silex Scintillans" and "Olor Iscanus," a disciple of Herbert's, who would demand a notice were it only to show how freely Campbell borrowed the poem of "The Rainbow" from him: -

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