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The excellence of these lines is greater, as the truth which they contain was not, at that time, generally known.
His poem on the death of Cowley was his last, and, among his shorter works, his best performance: the numbers are musical, and the thoughts are just.
Cooper's Hill is the work that confers upon him the rank and dignity of an original author. He seems to have been, at least among us, the author of a species of composition that may be denominated local poetry, of which the fundamental subject is some particular landscape, to be poetically described with the addition of such embellishments as may be supplied by historical retrospection, or incidental meditation.
To trace a new scheme of poetry, has, in itself, a very high claim to praise, and its praise is yet more, when it is apparently copied by Garth and Pope"; after whose names little will be gained by an enumeration of smaller poets, that have left scarcely a corner of the island not dignified either by rhyme or blank verse.
Cooper's Hill, if it be maliciously inspected, will not be found without its faults. The digressions are too long, the morality too frequent, and the sentiments, sometimes, such as will not bear a rigorous inquiry.
The four verses, which, since Dryden has comd By Garth, in his poem on Claremont: and by Pope, in his Windsor Forest.
mended them, almost every writer for a century past has imitated, are generally known:
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
The lines, are, in themselves, not perfect; for most of the words, thus artfully opposed, are to be understood simply on one side of the comparison, and metaphorically on the other; and, if there be any language which does not express intellectual operations by material images, into that language they cannot be translated. But so much meaning is comprised in so few words; the particulars of resemblance are so perspicaciously collected, and every mode of excellence separated from its adjacent fault by so nice a line of limitation; the different parts of the sentence are so accurately adjusted; and the flow of the last couplet is so smooth and sweet; that the passage, however celebrated, has not been praised above its merit. It has beauty peculiar to itself, and must be numbered among those felicities which cannot be produced at will by wit and labour, but must rise unexpectedly in some hour propitious to poetry.
He appears to have been one of the first that understood the necessity of emancipating translation from the drudgery of counting lines, and interpreting single words. How much this servile practice obscured the clearest, and deformed the most beautiful parts of the ancient authors, may be discovered
by a perusal of our earlier versions; some of them are the works of men well qualified, not only by critical knowledge, but by poetical genius, who yet, by a mistaken ambition of exactness, degraded, at once, their originals and themselves.
Denham saw the better way, but has not pursued it with great success. His versions of Virgil are not pleasing; but they taught Dryden to please better. His poetical imitation of Tully on Old Age has neither the clearness of prose, nor the sprightliness of poetry.
The “strength of Denham,” which Pope so emphatically mentions, is to be found in many lines and couplets, which convey much meaning in few words, and exhibit the sentiment with more weight than bulk.
On the Thames.
To him no author was unknown,
As one of Denham's principal claims to the regard of posterity arises from his improvement of our numbers, his versification ought to be considered. It will afford that pleasure which arises from the observation of a man of judgment naturally right, forsaking bad copies by degrees, and advancing towards a better practice, as he gains more confidence in himself.
In his translation of Virgil, written when he was about twenty-one years old, may be still found the old manner of continuing the sense ungracefully from verse to verse:
Then all those
From this kind of concatenated metre he afterwards refrained, and taught his followers the art of concluding their sense in couplets; which has, perhaps, been with rather too much constancy pursued.
This passage exhibits one of those triplets which are not unfrequent in this first essay, but which it is to besupposed his maturer judgment disapproved, since, in his latter works, he has totally foreborne them.
His rhymes are such as seem found without difficulty, by following the sense; and are, for the most part, as exact, at least, as those of other poets, though now and then the reader is shifted off with what he can get:
O how transform'd!
Clad in Achilles' spoils!
From thence a thousand lesser poets sprung
Like petty princes from the fall of Rome. Sometimes the weight of rhyme is laid upon a word too feeble to sustain it:
Troy confounded falls
And though my outward state misfortune hath
- Thus, by his fraud and our own faith o'ercome,
Nor ten years' conflict, nor a thousand sail. He is not very careful to vary the ends of his verses; in one passage the word die rhymes three couplets in six.