Sidor som bilder

Dryden, and Quarles has been neglected for inferior rhymers, who had not sufficient originality to fall into similar errors. Balzac excused his admiration of Tertullian by confessing the style of that Father to be obscure, yet at the same time declaring that, like the richest ebony, it was bright through the excess of darkness. I will not adapt this conceit to Quarles, but there never was an instance where more genius was destroyed, or a richer fancy misapplied. He has paid a heavy penalty for his folly. Defects which were unperceived, or unregarded during his life-time, grew into gigantic distortions beneath the microscopic criticism of a more refined age. He was elevated on the ridicule of Pope to the derision of the meanest loiterer about Parnassus. But prejudices, whose only foundation is on the shifting sands of popular opinion, must sooner or later be swept away; and for some years it has not been a disgrace to admire a few passages in the works of Quarles. His admirable Prayers and Meditations have been reprinted under the superintendence of an anonymous Editor, in whose intelligent labours we recognise the pen of Dr. Dibdin.

Quarles was not one of the butterflies of literature, whose delicate wings, to use the metaphor of Southey, must not be too rudely touched. He was a man of strongly-knit and self-relying energies, able to stand up erect and fearless against the hostility of his foes. In all real genius there dwells the power of reproduction; it is cut down only to spring up again with renewed strength. Thus the reputation of Quarles, after being crushed for a season beneath the weight of an oppres


sive criticism, has begun gradually to lift itself from its abasement.

His personal character possesses a charm in which Wither's is deficient-that of consistency. He lived and died a disciple of the Church of England, and an unflinching defender of his Sovereign.

The life of Herbert by Izaac Walton, may seem to have precluded the necessity of any future biography of that poet; but this objection is easily obviated. The Lives of Walton, although interesting in their matter, and affectionate in their tone, are often tedious and unconnected; trifling events are detailed with wearying minuteness, while others of greater importance are often condensed into a few words. They read as if they had been composed in the summer evenings, by the river-side, when the honest angler's attention Iwas divided between his rod and his memoir. This is not said with any intention of depreciating the merit of Walton, by one who has passed many a pleasant hour with him beneath the "shady mulberry tree." Much that Walton left undone, Dr. Zouch supplied, in his edition of the Lives. He was, however, restricted by the text of the author, and some of the notes bear a very remote reference to the subject. I am, however, happy to record my obligations to the information they convey.

I have collected a few pleasing facts relating to Herbert from Aubrey, of whose Lives I have availed myself whenever an opportunity occurred. The value of Aubrey's anecdotes has been sometimes underrated. Anthony Wood, in a moment of spleen, spoke of him

as "little better than crazed," and stigmatized his lapses of memory and readiness of belief by an epithet which has been invidiously preserved. But Aubrey was not more credulous than Wood, and far less intolerant. He lived, moreover, on terms of familiar intimacy with many of the eminent men of whom he wrote, and his portraits are marked by an individuality, discrimination, and life, which stamp their authenticity.

I have also endeavoured to place Herbert's poetical pretensions in a clearer light, and the specimens introduced into his Life will, I hope, in some measure vindicate his reputation from the aspersions which have been cast upon it. His opinion of the style most fitted for religious verse may be given in the words of one of his own poems.

Yet slight not these poor words;

If truly said, they may take part
Among the best in art.

The fineness which a Hymn or Psalm affords,
Is when the soul unto the line accords.

Of his private virtues, that history will be the warmest eulogy which narrates his actions with the greatest truth. The simplicity of his manners, and the unaffected sincerity of his piety, cannot be too frequently brought before our eyes. The world is apt to overlook excellence so unpretending in her

busy search

Of objects more illustrious in her view.

And he will not have toiled in vain who shall succeed in impressing on the youthful reader how infinitely precious, beyond all price, are the noiseless hours of a good man's life; and how infinitely to be preferred

before all honours, are the humble flowers which blossom upon the good man's grave.

Richard Crashaw was the most conspicuous ornament of the school of which Herbert was the unconscious founder. In the preparation of his memoir-I ought, perhaps, to say the fragment of a memoir,—I have been assisted by the MS. collections of Cole, of whose labours other traces will be found in the succeeding pages. These manuscripts, amounting to sixty volumes, were bequeathed to the British Museum, with a direction that they should remain unopened for twenty years after the death of the donor. The importance of this elaborate work, which occupied the author nearly half a century, can only be understood by those who have occasion to consult it. It remains to be seen whether this appeal in behalf of the neglected beauty of Crashaw's poetry will be received with favour.

We live in times of transition, when old feelings are passing away; ancient institutions crumbling into dust. The age of romance has vanished, the age of utility has arisen in its place. Few amongst us have now the privilege of contemplating the face of Poetry in the still air of uninterrupted studies*. On every side we are saluted with the Io! of some new triumph of science and utility. Far be it from me to affirm that the change is not a beneficial one, or to object that the philosopher should occupy the poet's seat in our commonwealth. But it may be pardoned in one who

The reader will remember the eloquent passage in Milton, from whence this thought is taken.

has drunk, albeit though a little draught, of the "milk of a better time," if he surveys this revolution with sensations of sorrow, and would gladly recall the days, gone by for ever, when poets were the objects of admiration and reverence, and the presence of the Sacred Muse was revealed in the common paths of human life, by the tranquillity and joy which were diffused around her.

The present volume conducts the reader to the threshold of the period which witnessed the production of Paradise Lost. Although a few of the poets of whom mention is made, were born subsequently to Milton, their works preceded the publication of his great poem, and the diligence of his numerous editors has shown how frequently he borrowed from their pages.

With what success the proposed outline has been filled up, the reader will determine. In the ardour of composition, some inadvertencies were unnoticed, which a less excited eye will immediately detect. These will be regarded with the greatest leniency by those who are the least likely to commit them. And if any more important mistakes should be observed, the author can only join in the petition of the industrious Strype, in the preface to the Life of Bishop Aylmer, that they may be forgiven in one "who looks upon himself as a frail and fallible man, and is apt enough to have mean conceits of his own performances, and is very ready to be set right, and thankful to be instructed."

February 17, 1834.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »