Abbildungen der Seite

furnish out Ellis's three volumes of Specimens, the name of Cleveland does not occur. Nor is his poetry included either in Anderson's or in Chalmers's collection. Yet for nearly twenty years he was held to be the greatest among living English poets. Cleveland was the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Cleveland, Vicar of Hinckley and Rector of Stoke in Leicestershire, and he was born at Loughborough in that county in 1613. Down to the breaking out of the civil war, he resided at St. John's College, Cambridge, of which he was a Fellow, and seems to have distinguished himself principally by his Latin poetry. But, when every man took his side, with whatever weapons he could wield, for king or parliament, Anthony Wood tells us that Cleveland was the first writer who came forth as a champion of the royal cause in English verse. To that cause he adhered till its ruin; at last in 1655, after having led for some years a fugitive life, he was caught and thrown into prison at Yarmouth ; but, after a detention of a few months, Cromwell, on his petition, allowed him to go at large. The transaction was honourable to both parties : Cleveland's character, which may be mistaken by those who know him only from some of his unscrupulous pasquinades or other poetry, cannot be better painted than it is by himself in his address to the Protector : “ I am induced,” he said, “to believe that, next to my adherence to the royal party, the cause of my confinement is the narrowness of my estate ; for none stand committed whose estates can bail them. I only am the prisoner, who have no acres to be my hostage. Now, if my poverty be criminal (with reverence be it spoken) I implead your Highness, whose victorious arms have reduced me to it, as accessory to my guilt. Let it suffice, my Lord, that the calamity of the war hath made us poor: do not punish us for it.” “I beseech your Highness," he goes on,“ put some bounds to the overthrow, and do not pursue the chase to the other world. Can

thun. der be levelled so low as to our grovelling condition ? Can your towering spirit, which hath quarried upon kingdoms, make a stoop at us, who are the rubbish of these ruins ? Methinks I hear your former achievements interceding with you not to sully your glories with trampling upon the prostrate, nor clog the wheel of your chariot with so degenerous a triumph. The most renowned heroes have ever with such tenderness cherished their captives that their swords did but cut out work for their courtesies.” And again, “ For the service of his Majesty, if it be objected, I am so far from excusing it, that I am ready to allege it in my vindication. I cannot conceit that my fidelity to my prince should taint me in your opinion; I should rather expect it should recommend me to your favour. . . . You see, my Lord, how much I presume upon the greatness of your spirit, that dare present my indictment with so frank a confession, especially in this, which I may so safely deny that it is almost arrogancy in me to own it; for the truth is, I was not qualified enough to serve him: all I could do was to bear a part in his sufferings, and to give myself to be crushed with his fall." “My Lord," he concludes, " you see my crimes; as to my defence, you bear it about you. I shall plead nothing in my justification but your Highness's clemency, which, as it is the constant inmate of a valiant breast, if you graciously be pleased to extend it to your suppliant, in taking me out of thiş


withering durance, your Highness will find that mercy will establish you more than power, though all the days of your life were as pregnant with victories as your twice auspicious Third of September." There is no artful flattery or coaxing in this : Cromwell would read in it something of a spirit akin to his own. But Cleveland did not long survive his release ; he died in April, 1658, a few months before the Protector himself-like his brother loyalist poet Lovelace, who ended his days about the same time, snatched away just when the hated dominion that had been so fatal to his fortunes was about to break up and vanish from the land for ever.

Cleveland is commonly regarded as a mere dealer in satire and invective, and as having no higher qualities than a somewhat rude force and vehemence. His prevailing fault is a straining after vigour and concentration of expression; and few of his pieces are free from a good deal of obscurity, harshness, or other disfigurement, occasioned by this habit or tendency, working in association with an alert, ingenious, and fertile fancy, a negleet of and apparently a contempt for neatness of finish, and the turn for quaintness and quibbling characteristic of the school to which he helongs—for Cleveland must be considered as essentially one of the old wit poets. Most of his poems seem to have been thrown off in haste, and never to have been afterwards corrected or revised, There are, however, among them some that are not without vivacity and sprightliness; and others of his more solemn verses have all the dignity that might be expected from his prose letter to Cromwell.*

* Many poems, it is to be noted, are found in the common editions of Cleveland's works which are known not to be his. The following stanzas are entitled “The General Eclipse :'-

Ladies, that gild the glittering noon,

And by reflection mend his ray;
Whose beauty makes the sprightly sun

To dance, as upon Easter-day ;d

What are you, now the Queen's away?
Courageous eagles, who have

Your eyes upon majestic light,
And thence derived such martial heat

Thus, in the edition before us, 8vo. Lon. 1687, what are entitled the . Additions,' from p. 200 to 265, including A Lenten Litany,' *Content, A Sing-song on Clarinda's Wedding,' Vituperium Uxoris,' and other remarkable pieces, are, it seems, copied verbatim from a volume entitled • Ex Otio Negotium, or Martial his Epigrams Translated, with Sundry Poems and Fancies; by R. Fletcher. 8vo. Lon. 1656. And other pieces in the same Second Part of the Collection, entitled • John Cleveland's Revived Poems, Orations, Epistles, and other of his genuine incomparable pieces, now at last published from his original copies by some of his intrusted friends,” are by Denham, J. Hall, Jasper Mayne, Thomas Weaver, and others. See • A Select Collection of Poems, with Notes Biographical and Historical, by J. Nichols, 1780–1–2; vol. vii. pp. 50 and 376. Several of Cleveland's poems are reprinted in his seventh volume by Mr. Nichols, who has there (pp. 10–13), and in vol. viii. pp. 308—311, given an account of the old poet; with whom, in the Dedication of his Collection to Dr. Percy (the editor of the Reliques) he claims a relationship, stating at the same time that Percy's grandmother by the father's side was a niece of Cleveland's. The original edition of Cleveland's works is dedicated to Francis Turner, D.D., Master of St. John's College, Cambridge (afterwards Bishop first of Rochester and then of Ely), by the editors J. L. and S. D., who appear to have been John Lake, D.D., Vicar of Leeds (afterwards Bishop of Chichester), who had been a pupil of Cleveland's at Cambridge, and Dr. Drake, Vicar of Pontefract.

d See note on Suckling's Ballad of The Wedding, ante,

p. 31.

That still your looks maintain the fight;

What are you, since the King's good night?
Cavalier buds, whom nature teems

As a reserve for England's throne;
Spirits whose double edge redeems
The last age, and adorns your own;

What are you, now the Prince is gone?
As an obstructed fountain's head

Cuts the entail off from the streams,
And brooks are disinherited;

Honour and beauty are mere dreams,

Since Charles and Mary lost their beams.
Criminal valours ! who commit

Your gallantry ;e whose pæan brings
A psalm of mercy after it;

In this sad solstice of the king's,
Your victory hath mewed her wings.

The following Epitaph on Ben Jonson is the shortest and best of several tributes to the memory of that poet, with whose masculine genius that of Cleveland seems to have strongly sympathised :

The Muses' fairest light in no.dark time;
The wonder of a learned age; the line
Which none can pass; the most proportioned wit
To nature; the best judge of what was fit;
The deepest, plainest, highest, clearest pen;
The voice most echoed by consenting men;
The soul which answered best to all

well said
By others, and which most requital made ;
Tuned to the highest key of ancient Rome,
Returning all her music with his own;

• The meaning here may perhaps be illustrated by a line in one of our poet's elegies on Ben Jonson :

“No foul, loose line did prostitute thy wit;
Thou wrot'st thy comedies, did'st not commit.”

« ZurückWeiter »