Page images
[blocks in formation]


THE Reader needs be told no more in commenda

tion of these Poems, than that they are Mr. Waller's :

: a name that carries every thing in it that is either great, or graceful, in poetry! He was indeed the Pa. rent of English Verse, and the firit that thewed us our Tongue had Beauty, and Numbers, in it. Our language owes more to Him than the French does to Cardinal Richelieu and the whole Academy. A Poet cannot think of Him, without being in the same rapture Lucretius is in, when Epicurus comes in his way:

Tu pater, & rerum inventor; Tu patria nobis Suppeditas præcepta: tuisque ex, Inclute ! chartis, Floriferis ut


in saltibus omnia libant, Omnia nos itidem depascimur aurea di&ta ; Aurea ! perpetuâ femper digniffima vita!

Lib. lll. ver. 9.

The Tongue came into His hands, like a rough ditmond: He polished it first; and to that degree, that all artists since him have admired the workmanship, without pretending to mend it. Suckling and Carcw, I


B 4

must confess, wrote some few things smoothly enough: but, as all they did in this kind was not very considerahle; so it was a little later than the carliest pieces of Mr. Waller. He undoubtedly stands first in the list of refiners; and, for aught I know, last too; for I question, whether in Charles the second's reign, English did not come to its full perfection; and whether it has not had its Augustan Age, as well as the Latin. It feems to be already mixed with foreign languages as far as its purity will bear; and, as Chemists say of their Menstruums, to be quite fated with the infusion. But pofterity will best judge of this. In the mean time, it is a surprizing reflection, that between what Spenser wrote lart, and Waller first, there should not be much above twenty years distance : and yet the one's language, like the money of that time, is as current now as ever; whilst the other's words are like old coins, one must go to an antiquary to understand their true meaning and value. Such advances may a great Genius make, when it undertakes any thing in earnest!

Some Painters will hit the chief lines and masterftrokes of a face so truly, that through all the differences of age, the picture shall still bear a resemblance. This art was Mr. Waller's: He fought out, in this Howing Tongue of ours, what parts would last, and be of ftanding use and ornament : and this he did fo successfully, that his language is now as fresh as it was at first setting out. Were we to judge barely by the wording, we could not know what was wrote at twenty, and what at fourscore. He complains, indeed, of a tide of words that comes in upon the English Poet, and overflows whatever he builds : but this was less His case than any man's that ever wrote ; and the mischief of it is, this very complaint will last long enough to confute itself: for, though English be moul. dering stone, as he tells us there, yet he has certainly picked the best out of a bad quarry.

We are no less beholden to Him for the new turn of Verse, which he brought in, and the improvement he made in our Numbers. Before His time, men rhymed indeed, and that was all: as for the harmony of meafure, and that dance of words, which good ears are so much pleased with, they knew nothing of it. Their Poetry then was made up almost entirely of monosyllables; which when they come together in any

cluster, are certainly the most harsh untuneable things in the world, If any man doubts of this, let him read ten lines in Donne, and he will be quickly convinced. Besides, their verses ran all into one another; and hung together, throughout a whole copy, like the hooked Atoms that compose a Body in Descartes. There was no distinction of parts, no regular stops, nothing for the ear to rest upon : but, as soon as the copy began, down it went, like a larum, incessantly; and the reader was fure to be out of breath, before he got to the end of it. So that really Verse in those days was but down-right prose, tagged with rhymes. Mr. Waller removed all these faults ; brought in more polysyllables, and smoon ther measures; bound up his thoughts better; and in a cadence more agreeable to the nature of the Verse He wrote in : so that where-ever the natural stops of that were, He contrived the little breakings of His sense fo as to fall in with them. And for that reason, since the stress of our Verse lies commonly upon the last syllable, you will hardly ever find Him using a word of no force there. I would say, if I were not afraid the reader would think me too nice, that He commonly closes with Verbs; in which we know the life of language consists.


Among other improvements, we may reckon that of his rhymes : which are always good, and very often the better for being new. He had a fine ear, and knew how quickly that sense was cloyed by the same round of chiming words still returning upon it. It is a decided case by the Great Master of writing, *“ Quæ funt şi ampla, & pulchra, diu placere poffunt; quæ iepida « & concinna,” (amongst which Rhyme muft, whether it will or no, take its place) “ cito satietate afficiunt $ aurium sensum fastidiosissimum." This he understood very well: and therefore, to take off the danger of a súrfeit that way, strove to please by variety, and new founds. Had he carried this observation, among others, as far as it would go, it must, methinks, have fhown him the incurable fault of this jingling kind of Poetry; and have led his later judgment to Blank Verse. But, He continued an obftinate lover of Rhyme to the very last: it was a mistress that never appeared anhandsome in His eyes; and was courted by Him

* Cicero ad Herennium, l. iv.


long after Sacharissa was forsaken. He had raised it, and brought it to that perfection we now enjoy it in: and the Poet's temper (which has always a little vanity in it) would not suffer Him ever to fight a thing He had taken so much pains to adorn. My Lord Roscommon was more impartial: no man ever rhymed truer and evener than he: yet, he is so just as to confess, that it is but a trifle; and to with the tyrant dethroned, and Blank Verse set up in its room. There is * a third perfon, the living glory of our English Poetry, who has disclaimed the use of it upon the Stage : though no man ever employed it there so happily as he. It was the strength of his Genius, that first brought it into credit in Plays; and it is the force of his example that has thrown it out again. In other kinds of writing, it continues still; and will do so, till some excellent fpirit arises, that has leisure enough, and resolution to break the Charm, and free us from the troublesome bondage of rhyming, as Mr. Milton very well calls it; and has proved it as well, by what he has wrote in another way. But, this is a thought for times at some distance; the present age is a little too warlike; it may perhaps furnish out matter for a good Poem in the next, but it will hardly encourage one now : without prophesying, a man may easily know what sort of laurels are like to be in request.

Whilft I am talking of Verse, I find myself, I do not know how, betrayed into a great deal of prose. I in.

Mr. Dryden.


« PreviousContinue »