« ForrigeFortsett »
est le plus grand Roy du monde; mais s'il veut être quelque chose davantage, par Dieu il n'est plus rien." The king shewed symptoms of impatience at first, but listened attentively, and at length said—“ he had reason in all—and so had Gourville;" and affecting an emotion, which he did not feel, the royal dissembler, laying his hand upon Temple's, added, "Et je veux être l'homme de mon peuple!' !"* But though he could so well put on an air of sincerity, and was beyond doubt the most dexterous dissembler that ever wore a crown, he could not escape the suspicions of his people, or prevent their drawing inferences from facts only too glaring and palpable. It was observed, that he never had any favourite that his ministers never really governed him-scarce even his mistresses; the conclusion required no depth of sagacity-he must be himself the chief spring of all public counsels, and the root of all the iniquitous measures of his government. And, in truth, as some persons are thought to possess an inherent propensity to appropriating whatever is not their own, so Charles appears to have had a constant lurking predisposition to arbitrary measures. But he himself could have assigned a much better reason for his love of power. He told Burnet, that he thought "government was a much safer and easier thing where the authority was believed to be infallible, and the faith and submission of the people were implicit." Besides, there was such an inviting simplicity in a despotical form! It was so much easier and pleasanter to levy money for his pleasures, like his brother Louis, by the royal prerogative, than to have all the trouble-a thing he hated worse than aught in the world besides, which the strict limitations of the English constitution imposed upon him-of humouring a set of discontented men, and resorting to unkingly contrivances to procure it. His observations on the French government had been such, that he thought " a king who might be checked, or have his ministers called to account by a parliament, was but a king in name."+ Opinions of this sort seldom failed to meet with the ready assent of the court flatterers-" those bell-wethers of royalty" as some uncivil writer terms them, who were always reflecting upon the insolence of the house of commons. He once said to Lord Essex, as that nobleman told Burnet," that he did not wish to be like a grand sultan, with some mutes about him, and bags of bowstrings to strangle But he did not think he was a king, as long as a company of fellows were looking into all his actions, and examinhis ministers, as well as his accounts."
* Sir W. Temple. Memoirs 1672-1679.
ART. II.-Poems, &c. by John Donne, late Dean of St. Paul's, with Elegies on the Author's Death. To which is added, Divers Copies under his own hand, never before printed. In the Savoy. Printed by T. N. for Henry Herringman, at the sign of the Anchor, in the Lower Walk of the New Exchange, 1669.
Theobald, in his egregious preface to Shakspeare, calls Donne's Poems "nothing but a continued heap of riddles."We shall presently show that he knew as little about Donne as he himself has shewn that he knew about Shakspeare. If he could have written such " riddles," or even expounded them, Pope might have put him into the Dunciad in vain.
Donne was contemporary with Shakspeare, and was not unworthy to be so. He may fairly be placed, in point of talent, at the head of the minor poets of that day. Imbued, to saturation, with all the learning of his age-with a most active and piercing intellect—an imagination, if not grasping and comprehensive, most subtle and far-darting-a fancy rich, vivid, picturesque, and, at the same time, highly fantastical,if we may so apply the term-a mode of expression singularly terse, simple, and condensed-an exquisite ear for the melody of versification-and a wit, admirable as well for its caustic severity as its playful quickness; all he wanted to make him an accomplished poet of the second order was, sensibility and taste and both of these he possessed in a certain degree; but neither in a sufficient degree to keep them from yielding to the circumstances in which he was placed. His sensibility was by nature strong, but sluggish and deep-seated. It required to be roused and awakened by the imagination, before it would act; and this process seldom failed to communicate to the action which it created, an appearance of affectation (for it was nothing more than the appearance), which is more destructive to the effect of sentimental poetry than any thing else. We do not mind the images and illustrations of a sentiment being recondite and far-fetched; and, indeed, this has frequently a good effect; but if the sentiment itself has any appearance of being so, we doubt the truth of it immediately; and if we doubt its truth, we are disposed to give it any reception rather than a sympathetic one. The scholastic habits of Donne's intellect also, without weakening his sensibility, contributed greatly to deform and denaturalize its outward manifestations. It was not the fashion of his time for a scholar and a poet to express himself as other people would; for if he had done so, what ad
vantage would he or the world have derived from his poetry or his scholarship? Accordingly, however intense a feeling might be, or however noble a thought, it was to be heightened and illustrated, in the expression of it, by clustering about it a host of images and associations (congruous or not, as it might happen), which memory or imagination, assisted by the most quick-eyed wit, or the most subtle ingenuity, could in any way contrive to link to it: thus pressing the original thought or sentiment to death, and hiding even the form of it, beneath a profusion of superfluous dress. This was the crying fault of all the minor poets of the Elizabethan age; and of Donne more than of any other: though his thoughts and feelings would, generally speaking, bear this treatment better than those of any of his rivals in the same class. These persons never acted avowedly, (though they sometimes did unconsciously) on the principle that an idea or a sentiment may be poetical per se; for they had no notion whatever of the fact. They considered that man was the creator of poetry, not Nature; and that thing might be made poetical, by connecting it, in a certain manner, with something else. A thought or a feeling was, to them, not a thing to express, but a theme to write variations upon-a nucleus, about which other thoughts and feelings were to be made to crystallize. A star was not bright to their eyes till it had been set in a constellation; a rose was not sweet till it had been gathered into a bouquet, and its hue and odour contrasted and blended with a thousand others. In fact, they had little simplicity of feeling, and still less of taste. They did not know the real and intrinsic value of any object, whether moral or physical; but only in what manner it might be connected with any other object, so as to be made subservient to their particular views at the moment. They saw at once how far it was available to them, but nothing whatever of the impression it was calculated to make for itself.
We are speaking, now, of a particular class or school of poets of that day; for they differed as much from all others, and were as much allied by a general resemblance of style among themselves, as the Della Cruscan school in our own day. Indeed, in some particulars, there is no slight resemblance between the two styles; inasmuch, as both are purely artificial, and are dependent for their effect on a particular manner of treating their subject: at least, their intended effect is dependent on this-for the school to which Donne belongs often delights us in the highest degree, not in consequence of this manner, but in spite of it. There is also this other grand difference in favour of the latter, that, whereas the Della Cruscans tried to make things poetical by means of words alone, they did it by means of thoughts and
images; the one considered poetry to consist in a certain mode of expression; the other, in a certain mode of seeing, thinking, and feeling. This is nearly all the difference between them; but this is a vast difference indeed: for the one supposes the necessity of, and in fact uses, a vast fund of thoughts and images; while the other can execute all its purposes nearly as well without any of these. In short, the one kind of writing requires very considerable talent to produce it, and its results are very often highly poetical; whereas the other requires no talent at all, and can in no case produce poetry, but very frequently covers and conceals it where it is.
But it is not at present our intention to go into a general discussion of that particular school of poetry to which Donne belongs; but merely to bring to light some of the exquisite beauties which have hitherto lain concealed from the present age, among the learned as well as unlearned lumber which he has so unaccountably mixed up with them. We say unaccountably for it is impossible to give a reasonable account of any poetical theory, the perpetual results of which are the most pure and perfect beauties of every kind-of thought, of sentiment, of imagery, of expression, and of versification-lying in immediate contact with the basest deformities, equally of every kind; each given forth alternately in almost equal proportions, and in the most unconscious manner on the part of the writer as to either being entitled to the preference; and indeed without one's being able to discover that he saw any difference between them, even in kind.
Before doing this, however, it may be well to let the reader know what was thought of Donne in his own day, lest he should suppose that we are introducing him to a person little known at that time, or lightly valued.
If a prophet has little honour in his own time and country, the same can seldom be said of a poet; though he, too, is in some sort a prophet. The day in which Donne lived was the most poetical the world ever knew, and yet there can be little doubt, from the evidence of the fugitive literature of the time, that Donne was, upon the whole, more highly esteemed than any other of his contemporaries. We do not, however, mean to attribute all his fame to his published poetry. He was undoubtedly a very extraordinary person in many other respects. He possessed vast knowledge and erudition, and was highly distinguished for the eloquence of his public preaching. But the greater part of the admiration bestowed on him, was avowedly directed to the poetical writings which we are presently to examine.--We shall give a few evidences of the estimation in which Donne was held during his life; taking
them, however, (in order to avoid the charge of partiality or flattery) from what was not written till after his death...
"I cannot blame those men that knew thee well,
This is said of him by Hyde.
"Dull áge! (exclaims Izaak Walton) couldst thou
For thee and thine successively to pay
A sad remembrance to his dying day?"
The following, from an elegy by Thomas Cary, we give because it is finely thought, and nobly expressed:
"Can we not force from widow'd poetry,
"Oh, pardon me, that break with untun'd verse,
He finishes his elegy in these words:
"Here lies a king, that rul'd, as he thought fit,
Here lie two Flamens, and both these the best,
This last line alludes to his having devoted all the latter part of his life to religious studies and pursuits. What follows may perhaps, in some degree, account for his popularity. Most of his readers admired him, not in spite of his impenetrable obscurity, but because of it:
Thy careless hours brought forth