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No. IV. COWLEY'S PREFACE TO HIS POEMS, 1656. It has been already observed that Cowley had scarcely opportunity to become acquainted with the early poems of Milton; and his party attachments prevented even a wish for personal intimacy; he was engaged besides on active, sometimes foreign service, and, if he read the “ Defensio ” of the great republican, in all probability read it with horror.

Yet we find on authority not to be questioned, that Milton spoke of Cowley as a poet whom he valued, and named him with Spenser and Shakspeare. This is the more surprising, as Cowley was by ten years the younger man, and his writings had never appeared in body till 1656, when he returned to England from the Continent, and published them in folio. This volume was, there can be no question, read to Milton in his blindness : the congeniality of their studies, and their religious feelings, led him to estimate highly the only rival that Cambridge had bred to him in Latin verse ; and though unnoticed in the volume upon his table, the PREFACE spoke to him, as by the inspiration of Urania herself. Let the reader imagine the blind bard listening to the following exquisite admonitions, which he alone fully comprehended ; and the expectations which of all mankind he only could gratify ; and upon which he was then earnestly and silently meditating :

“When I consider how many bright and magnificent subjects the holy Scripture affords and proffers, as it were, to poesy, in the wise managing and illustrating whereof, the glory of God Almighty might be joined with the singular utility and noblest delight of mankind; it is not without grief and indignation that I behold that divine science employing all her inexhaustible riches of wit and eloquence, either in the wicked and beggarly flattery of great persons, or the unmanly idolizing of foolish women, or the wretched affectation of scurril laughter, or at best on the confused antiquated dreams of senseless fables and metamorphoses. Amongst all holy and consecrated things, which the devil ever stole and alienated from the service of the Deity; as altars, temples, sacrifices, prayers, and the like ; there is none that he so universally, and so long usurped, as poetry. It is time to recover it out of the tyrant's hands, and to restore it to the kingdom of God, who is the father of it. It is time to baptize it in Jordan, for it will never become clean by bathing in the water of Damascus. There wants, methinks, but the conversion of that, and the Jews, for the accomplishment of the kingdom of Christ. And as men, before their receiving of the faith, do not without some carnal reluctancies apprehend the bonds and fetters of it, but find it afterwards to be the truest and greatest liberty ; it will fare no otherwise with this art, after the regeneration of it : it will meet with wonderful variety of new, more beautiful, and more delightful objects ; neither will it want room, by being confined to heaven. There is not so great a lie to be found in any poet, as the vulgar conceit of men, that lying is essential to good poetry. Were there never so wholesome nourishment to be had (but alas, it breathes nothing but diseases) out of these boasted feasts of love and fables ; yet, methinks, the unalterable continuance of the diet should make us nauseate it : for it is almost impossible to serve up any new dish of that kind, They are all but the cold meats of the ancients, new-heated, and new set forth. I do not at all wonder that the old poets made some rich crops out of these grounds ; the heart of the soil was not then wrought out with continual tillage : but what can we expect now, who come a gleaning, not after the first reapers, but after the very beggars ? Besides, though those mad stories of the gods and heroes seem in themselves so ridiculous ; yet they were in the whole body (or rather chaos) of the theology of those times. They were believed by all but à few philosophers, and perhaps some atheists, and served to good purpose among the vulgar (as pitiful things as they are), in strengthening the authority of law with the terrors of conscience, and expectation of certain rewards, and unavoidable punishments. There was no other religion ; and therefore that was better than none at all : but to us, who have no need of them ; to us, who deride their folly, and are wearied with their impertinencies; they ought to appear no better arguments for verse, than those of their worthy successors, the knights errant. What can we imagine more proper for the ornaments of wit or learning in the story of Deucalion than in that

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of Noah! Why will not the actions of Samson afford as plentiful matter as the labours of Hercules? Why is not Jephthah's daughter as good a woman as Iphigenia ? and the friendship of David and Jonathan more worthy celebration than that of Theseus and Pirithous ! Does not the passage of Moses and the Israelites into the Holy Land yield incomparably more poetical variety than the voyages of Ulysses or Æneas ? Are the obsolete thread-bare tales of Thebes and Troy half so stored with great, heroical, and supernatural actions (since verse will needs find or make such) as the wars of Joshua, of the Judges, of David, and divers others ? Can all the transformatims of the gods give such copious hints to flourish and expatiate on, as the true miracles of Christ, or of his prophets and apostles ? What do I instance in these few particulars ? All the books of the Bible are either already most admirable and exalted pieces of poesy, or are the best materials in the world for it. Yet, though they be in themselves so proper to be made use of for this purpose ; none but a good artist will know how to do it: neither must we think to cut and polish diamonds with so little pains and skill as we do marble : for if any man design to compose a sacred poem, by only turning a story of the scripture, like Mr. Quarles's, or some other godly matter, like Mr. Heywood of angels, into rhyme ; he is so far from elevating of poesy, that he only abases divinity. In brief, he who can write a profane poem well, may write a divine one better ; but he who can do that but ill, will do this much worse. The same fertility of inven. tion ; the same wisdom of disposition ; the same judgment in observance of decencies; the same lustre and vigour of elocution ; the same modesty and majesty of number; briefly, the same kind of habit is required to both : only this latter allows better stuff, and therefore would look more deformedly ill dressed in it. I am far from assuming to myself to have fulfilled the duty of this weighty- undertaking : but sure I am, there is nothing yet in our language (nor perhaps in any) that is in any degree answerable to the idea that I conceive of it. And I shall be ambitious of no other fruit from this weak and imperfect attempt of mine, but the opening of a way to the courage and industry of some other persons, who may be better able to perform it thoroughly and successfully."

Such were the suggestions of that amiable and excellent writer, and such the soil on which this broad-cast celestial seed was thrown. What a subject of regret that he should have died, without seeing the work he was so modest as to expect from another and superior Muse! He died on the 28th of July, 1667, in the 49th year of his age ; and the “ Paradise Lost” was then just issuing from the press.


Qui legis Amissam Paradisum, grandia magni

Carmina Miltoni, quid nisi cuneta legis ?
Res cunctas, et cunctarum primordia rerum,

Et fata, et fines continet iste liber.
Intima panduntur magni penetralia mundi,

Scribitur et toto quicquid in orbe latet :
Terræque, tractusque maris, cælumque profundum,

Sulphureumque Erebi, flammivomumque specus :
Quæque colunt terras, pontumque et Tartara cæca ;

Quæque colunt summi lucida regna poli :
Et quodcunque ullis conclusum est finibus usquam,

Et sine fine Chaos, et sine fine Deus ;
Et sine fine magis, si quid magis est sine fine,

In Christo erga homines conciliatus amor.
Hæc qui speraret quis crederet esse futurum ?

Et tamen hæc hodie terra Britanna legit.
0, quantos in bella duces ! quæ protulit arma !

Quæ canit, et quanta, prælia dira tuba!
Cælestes acies ! atque in certamine cælum !

Et quæ cælestes pugna deceret agros !
* In Paradisum Amissam Summi Poetæ Johannis Miltoni.

Quantus in æthereis, tollit se Lucifer armis !

Atque ipso graditur vix Michaele minor ! Quantis et quam funestis concurritur iris,

Dum ferus hic stellas protegit, ille rapit ! Dum vulsos montes ceu tela reciproca torquent,

Et non mortali desuper igne pluunt :
Stat dubius cui se parti concedat Olympus,

Et metuit pugnæ non superesse suæ.
At simul in cælis Messiæ insignia fulgent,

Et currus animes, armaque digna Deo,
Horrendumque rota strident, et sæva rotarum

Erumpunt torvis fulgura luminibus,
Et flammæ vibrant, et vera tonitrua rauco

Admistis flammis insonuere polo ;
Excidit attonitis mens omnis, et impetus omnis,

Et cassis dextris irrita tela cadunt.
Ad poenas fugiunt ; et, ceu foret Orcus asylum

Infernis certant condere se tenebris.
Cedite, Romani scriptores ; cedite, Graii;

Et quos fama recens vel celebravit anus.
Hæc quicunque leget tantum cecinisse putabit
Maonidem ranas, Virgilium culices.

When I beheld the poet blind, yet bold,
In slender book bis vast design unfold,
Messiah crown'd, God's reconciled decree,
Rebelling angels, the forbidden tree,
Heaven, hell, earth, chaos, all; the argument
Held me awhile misdoubting his intent,
That he would ruin (for I saw him strong)
The sacred truths to Fable and old song ;
(So Samson groped the temple's posts in spite)
The world o’erwhelming to revenge his siglit.

Yet as I read, still growing less severe,
I liked his project, the success did fear ;
Through that wide field how he his way should find
O'er which lame faith leads understanding blind ;
Lest he perplex'd the things he would explain,
And what was easy he should render vain.
Or if a work so infinite he spann’d,
Jealous I was, that some less skilful hand
(Such as disquiet always what is well,
And by ill imitating, would excel,)
Might hence presume the whole Creation's day
To change in scenes, and show it in a play.

Pardon me, mighty Poet ! nor despise My causeless, yet not impious, surmise : But I am now convinced ; and none will dare Within thy labours to pretend to share. Thou hast not miss'd one thought that could be fit, And all that was improper dost omit: So that no room is here for writers left, But to detect their ignorance or theft.

That majesty which through thy work doth rcign, Draws the devout, deterring the profane : And things divine thou treat'st of in such state, As them preserves, and thee, inviolate. At once delight and horror on us seize, Thou sing'st with so much gravity and ease ;

* Address to Milton on reading Paradise Lost.

And above human flight dost soar aloft
With plume so strong, so equal, and so soft :
The bird named from that Paradise you sing,
So never flags, but always keeps on wing.

Where couldst thou words of such a compass find ?
Whence furnish such a vast expanse of mind ?
Just Heaven thee, like Tiresias, to requite,
Rewards with prophecy thy loss of sight.

Well mightst thou scorn thy readers to allure
With tinkling rhyme, of thy own sense secure ;
While the Town-Bays writes all the while and spells,
And, like a pack-horse, tires without his bells :
Their fancies like our bushy points appear ;
The poets tag them, we for fashion wear.
I too, transported by the mode, offend ;
And, while I meant to praise thee, must commend :
Thy verse created, like thy theme sublime,
In number, weight, and measure, needs not rhyme.

THREE Poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy, and England did adorn:
The first in loftiness of thought surpass'd;
The next, in majesty ; in both, the last.
The force of nature could no farther go:
To make a third, she join'd the former two.

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But Milton next, with high and haughty stalks,
Unfetter'd, in majestic numbers, walks:
No vulgar hero can his Muse engage,
Nor earth's wide scene confine his hallow'd rage.
See! see! he upward springs, and, towering high,
Spurns the dull province of mortality;
Shakes Heaven's eternal throne with dire alarms,
And sets the Almighty Thunderer in arms !
Whate'er his pen describes I more than see ;
Whilst every verse, array'd in majesty,
Bold and sublime, my whole attention draws,
And seems above the critic's nicer laws.
How are you struck with terror and delight,
When angel with archangel copes in fight!
When great Messiah's outspread banner shines,
How does the chariot rattle in his lines !
What sound of brazen wheels, with thunder, scare
And stun the reader with the din of war!
With fear my spirits and my blood retire,
To see the seraphs sunk in clouds of fire :
But when, with eager steps, from hence I rise,
And view the first gay scene of Paradise ;
What tongue, what words of rapture, can express
A vision so profuse of pleasantness!


For lofty sense,
Creative fancy, and inspection keen
Through the deep windings of the human heart,
Is not wild Shakspeare thine and Nature's boast ?

Is not each great, each amiable Muse
Epigram on Milton. † From an Account of the Greatest English Poets.

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High on some cliff, to Heaven up-piled,
Of rude access, of prospect wild,
Where, tangled round the jealous steep,
Strange shades o'erbrow the valleys deep,
And holy Genii guard the rock,
Its glooms embrown, its springs unlock;
While on its rich ambitious head
An Eden, like his own, lies spread ;
I view that oak the fancied glades among,
By which, as Milton lay, his evening ear,
From many a cloud that dropp'd ethereal dew,
Nigh sphered in Heaven, its native strains could hear,
On which that ancient trump he reach'd was hung;
Thither oft his glory greeting,
From Waller's myrtle shades retreating,
With many a vow from Hope's aspiring tongue,
My trembling feet his guiding steps pursue ;
In vain :--Such bliss to one alone
Of all the sons of Soul was known ;
And Heaven and Fancy, kindred Powers,

Have now o'erturn’d the inspiring bowers,
Or curtain’d close such scene from every future view.

Rise, hallow'd Milton! rise and say,

How, at thy gloomy close of day ;
How, when “depress'd by age, beset with wrongs ;"
When“ fallen on evil days and evil tongues :

When Darkness, brooding on thy sight,

Exiled the sovereign lamp of light;
Say, what could then one cheering hope diffuse ?
What friends were thine, save Memory and the Muse ?

Hence the rich spoils, thy studious youth

Caught from the stores of ancient Truth :
Hence all thy busy eye could pleased explore,
When Rapture led thee to the Latian shore ;
Each scene,

that Tiber's bank supplied ;
Each grace, that play'd on Arno's side :
The tepid gales, through Tuscan glades that fly;
The blue serene, that spreads Hesperia's sky;
Were still thine own : thy ample mind

Each charm received, retain'd, combined.
* Progress of Poesy. + Ode on the Poetical Character. #Ode to Memory.

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