« PreviousContinue »
To My Picture.
When age hath made me what I am not now,
To a Lady admiring herself in a Looking-glass.
Now you have what to love, you'll say, What then is left for me, I pray? My face, sweet heart, if it please thee; That which you can, I cannot see : So either love shall gain his due, Yours, sweet, in me, and mine in you.
SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT.
SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT, whose life occupies an important space in the history of the stage, preceding and after the Restoration, wrote a heroic poem entitled Gondibert, and some copies of miscellaneous verses. Davenant was born in 1605, and was the
Sir William Davenant.
son of a vintner at Oxford. There is a scandalous story, that he was the natural son of Shakspeare, who was in the habit of stopping at the Crown Tavern (kept by the elder Davenant) on his journeys between London and Stratford. This story was related to Pope by Betterton the player; but it seems to rest on no authority but idle tradition. Young Davenant must, however, have had a strong and precocious admiration of Shakspeare; for, when only ten years of age, he penned an ode, In Remembrance of Master William Shakspeare, which opens in the following strain
Beware, delighted poets, when you sing,
It is to be regretted (for the sake of Davenant, as well as of the world) that the great dramatist did not live to guide the taste and foster the genius of his youthful admirer, whose life presented some strange adventures. About the year 1628, Davenant began to write for the stage, and in 1638, on the death of Ben Jonson, he was appointed laureate. He was afterwards manager of Drury Lane, but, entering into the commotions and intrigues of the civil war, he was apprehended and confined in the Tower. He anterwards escaped to France. When the queen sent over to the Earl of Newcastle a quantity of military stores, Davenant resolved to return to England, and
he distinguished himself so much in the cause of the royalists, that he was knighted for his skill and bravery. On the decline of the king's affairs, he returned to France, and wrote part of his Gondibert. His next step was to sail for Virginia as a colonial projector; but the vessel was captured by one of the parliamentary ships of war, and Davenant was lodged in prison at Cowes, in the Isle of Wight. In 1650, he was removed to the Tower, preparatory to his being tried by the High Commission Court. His life was considered in danger, but he was released after two years' imprisonment. Milton is said to have interposed in his behalf; and as Davenant is reported to have interfered in favour of Milton when the royalists were again in the ascendant, after the Restoration, we would gladly believe the statement to be true. Such incidents give a peculiar grace and relief to the sternness and bitterness of party conflicts. At Talavera, the English and French troops for a moment suspended their conflict, to drink of a stream which flowed between them. The shells were passed across, from enemy to enemy, without apprehension or molestation. We, in the same manner, would rather assist political adversaries to drink of that fountain of intellectual pleasure, which should be the common refreshment of both parties, than disturb and pollute it with the havoc of unseasonable hostilities."* Milton and Davenant must have felt in this manner, when they waived their political differences in honour of genius and poesy. When the author of Gondibert obtained his enlargement, he set about establishing a theatre, and, to the surprise of all, succeeded in the attempt. After the Restoration, he again basked in royal favour, and continued to write and superintend the performance of plays till his death, April 7, 1668.
The poem of Gondibert, though regarded by Davenant's friends and admirers (Cowley and Waller being of the number) as a great and durable monument of genius, is now almost utterly forgotten. The plot is romantic, but defective in interest; and its extreme length (about six thousand lines), and the description of versification in which it is written (the long four-lined stanza, with alternate rhymes, copied by Dryden in his Annus Mirabilis), render the poem languid and tedious. The critics have been strangely at variance with each other as to its merits, but to general readers the poem may be said to be unknown. Davenant prefixed a long and elaborate preface to his poem, which is highly creditable to him for judgment, taste, and feeling, and may be considered the precursor of Dryden's admirable critical introductions to his plays. His worship of Shakspeare continued unabated to the last, though he was mainly instrumental, by his masques and scenery, in driving the elder bard from the stage. Dryden, in his preface to the Tempest, states, that he did not set any value on what he had written in that play, but out of gratitude to the memory of Sir William Davenant, 'who,' he adds, 'did me the honour to join me with him in the alteration of it. It was originally Shakspeare's a poet for whom he had particularly a high veneration, and whom he first taught me to admire.'
To the Queen,
Entertained at night by the Countess of Anglesey.
Fair as unshaded light, or as the day
*Edinburgh Review, vol. 47.
Smooth as the face of waters first appear'd,
The lark now leaves his watery nest, And climbing shakes his dewy wings; He takes his window for the east,
And to implore your light, he sings, Awake, awake, the moon will never rise, Till she can dress her beauty at your eyes.
The merchant bows unto the seaman's star,
The ploughman from the sun his season takes ; But still the lover wonders what they are,
Who look for day before his mistress wakes: Awake, awake, break through your veils of lawn! Then draw your curtains and begin the dawn.
[Description of the Virgin Birtha.]
To Astragon, heaven for succession gave
One only pledge, and Birtha was her name, Whose mother slept where flowers grew on her grave, And she succeeded her in face and fame.
Her beauty princes durst not hope to use,
Unless, like poets, for their morning theme; And her mind's beauty they would rather choose, Which did the light in beauty's lanthorn seem. She ne'er saw courts, yet courts could have undone With untaught looks, and an unpractised heart; Her nets, the most prepar'd could never shun,
For nature spread them in the scorn of art.
She never had in busy cities been,
Ne'er warm'd with hopes, nor ere allay'd with fears; Not seeing punishment, could guess no sin;
And sin not seeing, ne'er had use of tears.
But here her father's precepts gave her skill,
Which with incessant business fill'd the hours; In spring she gather'd blossoms for the still;
In autumn, berries; and in summer, flowers.
And as kind nature, with calm diligence,
Her own free virtue silently employs, Whilst she unheard, does ripening growth dispense, So were her virtues busy without noise.
Whilst her great mistress, Nature, thus she tends,
Though all her lowly mind to that prefer.
With morning looks; and they, when she does rise, Devoutly at her dawn in homage fall,
And droop like flowers when evening shuts her eyes.
Beneath a myrtle covert she does spend,
In maid's weak wishes, her whole stock of thought; Fond maids! who love with mind's fine stuff would mend,
Which nature purposely of bodies wrought.
She fashions him she loved of angels' kind;
As eagles, then, when nearest heaven they fly, Of wild impossibles soon weary grow; Feeling their bodies find no rest so high,
And therefore perch on earthly things below; So now she yields; him she an angel deem'd Shall be a man, the name which virgins fear; Yet the most harmless to a maid he seem'd, That ever yet that fatal name did bear. Soon her opinion of his hurtless heart,
Affection turns to faith; and then love's fire To heaven, though bashfully, she does impart, And to her mother in the heavenly quire.
'If I do love,' said she,' that love, O Heaven! Your own disciple, Nature, bred in me; Why should I hide the passion you have given, Or blush to show effects which you decree?
And you, my alter'd mother, grown above Great Nature, which you read and reverenc'd here, Chide not such kindness as you once call'd love, When you as mortal as my father were.' This said, her soul into her breast retires;
With love's vain diligence of heart she dreams Herself into possession of desires,
And trusts unanchor'd hopes in fleeting streams. She thinks of Eden-life; and no rough wind
In their pacific sea shall wrinkles make; That still her lowliness shall keep him kind,
Her ears keep him asleep, her voice awake.
She thinks, if ever anger in him sway,
(The youthful warrior's most excus'd disease), Such chance her tears shall calm, as showers allay The accidental rage of winds and seas.
JOHN CLEVELAND (1613-1658) was equally conspicuous for political loyalty and poetical conceit, and he carried both to the utmost verge. Cleveland's father was rector of a parish in Leicestershire. After completing his studies at Cambridge, the poet officiated as a college tutor, but joined the royal army when the civil war broke out. He was the loudest and most strenuous poet of the cause, and distinguished himself by a fierce satire on the Scots in 1647. Two lines of this truculent party tirade present a conceit at which our countrymen may now smile
Had Cain been Scot, God would have changed his doom;
Not forced him ander, but confined him home.
In 1655, the poet was seized at Norwich, and put in prison, being a person of great abilities, and so able to do the greater disservice.' Cleveland petitioned the Protector, stating that he was induced to believe that, next to his adherence to the royal party, the cause of his confinement was the narrowness of his estate; for none stood committed whose estate could bail them. I am the only prisoner,' he says, who have no acres to be my hostage;' and he ingeniously argues that poverty, if it is a fault, is its own punishment. Cromwell released the poor poet, who died three years afterwards in London. Independently of his strong and biting satires, which were the cause of his popularity while living, and which Butler partly imitated in Hudibras, Cleveland wrote some love verses containing morsels of
genuine poetry, amidst a mass of affected metaphors and fancies. He carried gallantry to an extent bordering on the ludicrous, making all nature-sun and shade-do homage to his mistress.
On Phillis, Walking before Sunrise. The sluggish morn as yet undress'd, My Phillis brake from out her rest, As if she'd made a match to run With Venus, usher to the sun. The trees (like yeomen of her guard Serving more for pomp than ward, Rank'd on each side with loyal duty), Wave branches to enclose her beauty. The plants, whose luxury was lopp'd, Or age with crutches underpropp'd, Whose wooden carcasses are grown To be but coffins of their own, Revive, and at her general dole, Each receives his ancient soul. The winged choristers began To chirp their matins ; and the fan Of whistling winds, like organs play'd
Unto their voluntaries, made
The waken'd earth in odours rise
To be her morning sacrifice;
These miracles had cramp'd the sun,
But what new-fashioned palsy's this,
JAMES SHIRLEY, distinguished for his talents as a dramatist, published, in 1646, a volume of miscellaneous poems, which, without exhibiting any strongly-marked features or commanding intellect, are elegant and fanciful. His muse was not debased by the licentiousness of the age. The finest production of Shirley, Death's Final Conquest, occurs in one of his dramas. This piece is said to have been greatly admired by Charles II. The thoughts are elevated, and the expression highly poetical.
Upon his Mistress Sad.
Melancholy, hence, and get
If not the birds, who 'bout the coverts fly,
And with their warbles charm the neighbouring air; If not the sun, whose new embroidery
Makes rich the leaves that in thy arbours are,
Favonius waits to play with thy loose hair,
Courts thy soft tread, thou child of sound and air;
Some rhetoric of thy tears to make him stay;
If neither love, thy beauty, nor thy tears, Invent some other way to make him know He need not hunt, that can have such a deer:
The Queen of Love did once Adonis woo,
Echo hath left her solitary grove;
Sits silently attending to her love;
Now do the huntsmen fill the air with noise,
And their shrill horns chafe her delighted ear, Which, with loud accents, give the woods a voice Proclaiming parley to the fearful deer: She hears the jolly tunes; but every strain, As high and musical, she returns again.
Rous'd is the game; pursuit doth put on wings;
The sun doth shine, and gild them out their way; The deer into an o'ergrown thicket springs,
Through which he quaintly steals his shine away; The hunters scatter; but the boy, o'erthrown In a dark part of the wood, complains alone. Him, Echo, led by her affections, found,
Joy'd, you may guess, to reach him with her eye; But more, to see him rise without a wound—
Who yet obscures herself behind some tree; He, vexed, exclaims, and asking, Where am I?' The unseen virgin answers,' Here am I !' 'Some guide from hence! Will no man hear?' he cries: She answers, in her passion, 'Oh man, hear!' 'I die, I die,' say both; and thus she tries,
With frequent answers, to entice his ear
Whose azure leaves do warm their naked stalks
And primroses are scattered in the walks, Whose pretty mixture in the ground declares Another galaxy embossed with stars.
Within an arbour of conspiring trees, Whose wilder boughs into the stream did look,
A place more suitable to her distress, Echo, suspecting that her love was gone, Herself had in a careless posture thrown. But Time upon his wings had brought the boy
To see this lodging of the airy queen, Whom the dejected nymph espies with joy
Through a small window of eglantine; And that she might be worthy his embrace, Forgets not to new-dress her blubber'd face. With confidence she sometimes would go out,
And boldly meet Narcissus in the way; But then her fears present her with new doubt, And chide her over-rash resolve away. Her heart with overcharge of love must break; Great Juno will not let poor Echo speak.
RICHARD CRASHAW, a religious poet, whose devotional strains and lyric raptures' evince the highest genius, was the son of a preacher at the Temple church, London. The date of his birth is not known, but in 1644 he was a fellow of Peterhouse college, Cambridge. Crashaw was, at all periods of his life, of an enthusiastic disposition. He lived for the greater part of several years in St Mary's church, near Peterhouse, engaged chiefly in religious offices and writing devotional poetry; and, as the preface to his works informs us, like a primitive saint, offering more prayers by night, than others usually offer in the day.' He is said to have been an eloquent and powerful preacher. Being ejected from his fellowship for non-compliance with the rules of the parliamentary army, he removed to France, and became a proselyte to the Roman Catholic faith. Through the friendship of Cowley, Crashaw obtained the notice of Henrietta Maria, then at Paris, and was recommended by her majesty to the dignitaries of the church in Italy. He became secretary to one of the cardinals, and a canon of the church of Loretto. In this situation, Crashaw died about the year 1650. Cowley honoured his memory with
The meed of a melodious tear.
The poet was an accomplished scholar, and his translations from the Latin and Italian possess great freedom, force, and beauty. He translated part of the Sospetto d'Herode, from the Italian of Marino; and passages of Crashaw's version are not unworthy of Milton, who had evidently seen the work. He thus describes the abode of Satan :
Below the bottom of the great abyss,
Fain would he have forgot what fatal strings
While thus Heaven's highest counsels, by the low
While resident in Cambridge, Crashaw published a volume of Latin poems and epigrams, in one of which occurs the well-known conceit, relative to the sacred miracle of water being turned into wine
The conscious water saw its God and blush'd.
In 1646 appeared his English poems, Steps to the Temple, The Delights of the Muses, and Carmen Deo Nostro. The greater part of the volume consists of religious poetry, in which Crashaw occasionally addresses the Saviour, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalen, with all the passionate earnestness and fer