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of men, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one time too much praised, and too much neglected at another.

Wit, like all other things subject by their nature to the choice of man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times takes different forms About the beginning of the seventeenth century, appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets; of whom, in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not improper to give some account.

The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavour: but unluckily resolv. ing to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.

If the father of criticism has rightly denominated poetry Te Xun Mar Merlism, an imitative art, these writers will without great wrong, lose their right to the name of poets; for they cannot be said to have imitated any thing; they neither copied nature nor life; neither painted the forms of matter, nor represented the operations of intellect.

Those however who deny them to be poets, allow them to be wits. Dryden confesses of himself and his contemporaries, that they fall below Donne in wit; but maintains, that they surpass him in poetry.

If wit be well described by Pope, as being “ that which has been often thought, but was never before so well expressed," they certainly never attained, nor never sought it; for they endeavoured to be singular in their thoughts, and were careless of their diction. But Pope's account of wit is undoubtedly erroneous : he depresses it below its natural dignity, and reduces it from strength of thought to happiness of language.

If by a more noble and more adequate conception that be considered as wit which is at once natural and new, that which, though not obvious, is, upon its first production, acknowledged to be just; if it be that which he that never found it wonders how he missed ; to wit of this kind the metaphysical poets have seldom risen. Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural; they are not obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader, far from wondering that he missed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found.

But wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more rigorously and philosophically considered as a kind of discordia concors ; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. Of wit,

thus defined, they have more than enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

From this account of their compositions it will be readily inferred that they were not successful in representing or moving the affections. As they were wholly employed on something unexpected or surprising, they had no regard to that uniformity of sentiment which enables us to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasure of other minds: they never inquired what, on any occasion, they should have said or done; but wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature; as beings looking upon good and evil, impassive and at leisure; as Epicurean deities, making remarks on the actions of men, and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondness, and their lamentation of sorrow. Their wish was only to say what they hoped had never been said before.

Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetic; for they never attempted that comprehension and expanse of thought which at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is sudden astonishment and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always general, and consist in positions not limited by exceptions, and in descriptions not descending to minuteness. It is with great propriety that subtlety, which in its original import means exility of particles, is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of distinction. Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty, could have little hope of greatness ; for great things cannot have escaped former observation. Their attempts were always analytic; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more represent, by their slender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature or the scenes of life, than he who dissects a sun-beam with a prism, can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon.

What they wanted, however, of the sublime, they endeavoured to supply by hyperbole; their amplification had no limits; they left not only reason but fancy behind them; and produced combinations of confused magnificence, that not only could not be credited, but could not be imagined.

Yet great labour, directed by great abilities, is never wholly lost: if they frequently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth : if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage.

To write on their plan it was at least necessary to read and think. No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similies, by readiness of rhyme, and volubility of syllables.

In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry : either something already learned is to be retrieved, or something new is to be examined. If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises ; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflection and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which ingenious absurdity has thrown together, genuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in grossness of expression, but useful to those who know their value ; and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuity, and polished to elegance, may give lustre, to works which have more propriety though less copiousness of sentiment.

This kind of writing, which was, I believe, borrowed from Marino and his followers, had been recommended by the example of Donne, a man of very extensive and various knowledge ; and by Jonson, whose manner resembled that of Donne more in the ruggedness of his lines than in the cast of his sentiments.

When their reputation was high, they had undoubtedly more imitators than time has left behind. Their immediate successors, of whom any remembrance can be said to remain, were Suckling, Waller, Denham, Cowley, Cleiveland, and Milton. Denham and Waller sought another way to fame, by improving the harmony of our numbers. Milton tried the metaphysie style only in his lines upon Hobson the Carrier. Cowley adopted it, and excelled his predecessors, having as much sentiment and more music. Suckling neither improved versification, nor abounded in conceits. The fashionable style "remained hiefly with Cowley; Suckling could not reach it, and Milton disdained it.

Critical remarks are not easily understood without examples; and I have therefore collected instances of the modes of writing by which this species of poets (for poets they were called by themselves and their admirers) was eminently distinguished.

As the authors of this race were perhaps more desirous of being admired than understood, they sometimes drew their conceits from recesses of learning not very much frequented by common readers of poetry. Thus Cowley on Knowledge :

The sacred tree 'midst the fair orchard grew;

The phænıx Truth did on it rest,

And built his perfum'd nest,
That right Porphyrian tree which did true logic show.

Each leaf did learned notions give,

And th' apples were demonstrative :
So clear their colour and divine,

That every sbade they cast did other lights outshine:
On Anacreon continuing a lover in his old age :

Love was with thy life entwin'd,
Close as heat with fire is join'd; •
A powerful brand prescrib'd the date
Of thine, like Meleager's fate.
Th’antiperistasis of age

More inflam'd thy amorous rage. In the following verses we have an allasion to a Rabinical opinion concerning Manua :

Variety I ask not : give me one
To live perpetually upon.
The person Love does to us fit,

Like manna, has the taste of all in it. Thus Donne shows his medicinal knowledge in some encomiastic verses :

In every thing there naturally grows
A balsamum to keep it fresh and new,

If 'twere not injured by extrinsique blows;
Your youth and beauty are this balm in you.

But you of learning and religion,
And virtue and such ingredients have made

A mithridate, whose operation

Keeps off, or cures, what can be done or said. Though the following lines of Donne, on the last night of the year, have something in them too scholastic, they are not in. elegant :

This twilight of two years, nor past nor next,

Some emblem is of me, or 1 of this,
Who, meteor-like of stuff and form perplext,

Whose what and where in disputation is,

If I should call me any thing should miss.
I sum the years and me, and find me not

Debtor to th' old, nor creditor to th' new,
That cannot say, my thanks I have forgot,

Nor trust I this with hopes ; and yet scarce true

This bravery is, since these times shewed me you. DOINE. Yet more abstruse and profound is Donne's reflection uppa man as a microcosm :

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If men be worlds, there is in every one
Something to answer in some proportion;
All the world's riches : and in good men, this
Virtue, our form's form, and our soul's soul, is.

of thoughts so far fetched, as to be not only unexpected, but unnatural, all their books are full.

To a lady who wrote poesies for rings.

They who above the various circles find,
Say, like a ring, th’ equator heaven does bind.
When heaven shall be adorn'd by thee,
(Which then more heav'n than 'tis will be)

'Tis thou must write the poesy there,

For it wanteth one as yet
Then the sun pass through't twice a year,

The sun, which is esteem'd the god of wit.

COWLEY.

The difficulties which have been raised about identity in philosophy, are by Cowley with still more perplexity applied to love :

Five years ago (says story) I lov'd you,
For which you call me most inconstant now;
Pardon me, Madam, you mistake the man ;
For I am not the same that I was then;
No flesh is now the same 'twas then in me,
And that my mind is chang'd yourself may see.
The same thoughts to retain still, and intents,
Were more inconstant far: for accidents
Must of all things most strangely inconstant prove,
If from one subject they t' another move :
My members then the father members were,
From whence these take their birth which now are here.
If then this body love what th' other did,
*Twere incest, which by nature is forbid.

The love of different women is, in geographical poetry, compared to travels through different countries :

Hast thou not found each woman's breast

(The land where thou bast travelled)
Either by savages possest,

Or wild, and uninhabited ?
What joy could'st take, or what repose,
In countries so unciviliz'd as those ?
Lust, the scorching dog star, here

Rages with immoderate heat ;
hilst pride, the rugged northern bear,
In others makes the cold too great.
And where these are temperate known,
The soil's all barren sand, or rocky stone.

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