Immagini della pagina

and sallies of extravagance. The glare of his general character diffused itself upon his writings; the compositions of a man whose name was heard so often, were certain of attention, and from many readers certain of applause. This blaze of reputation is not yet quite extinguished; and his poetry still retains some splendour beyond that which genius has bestowed.

Wood and Burnet give us reason to believe, that much was imputed to him which he did not write. I know not by whom the original collection was made, or by what authority its genuineness was ascertained. The first edition was published in the year of his death, with an air of concealment, professing, in the titlepage, to be printed at Antwerp.

Of some of the pieces, however, there is no doubt: the Imitation of Horace's Satire, the Verses to lord Mulgrave, Satire against Man, the Verses upon Nothing, and, perhaps, some others, are, I believe, genuine; and, perhaps, most of those which the late collection exhibits.

As he cannot be supposed to have found leisure for any course of continued study, his pieces are commonly short, such as one fit of resolution would produce.

His songs have no particular character; they tell, like other songs, in smooth and easy language, of

Dr. Johnson has made no mention of Valentinian, altered from Beaumont and Fletcher, which was published after his death by a friend, who describes him in the preface, not only as being one of the greatest geniuses, but one of the most virtuous men that ever existed. J. B.

scorn and kindness, dismission and desertion, absence and inconstancy, with the commonplaces of artificial courtship. They are commonly smooth and easy; but have little nature, and little sentiment.

His Imitation of Horace on Lucilius is not inelegant or unhappy. In the reign of Charles the second began that adaptation, which has since been very frequent, of ancient poetry to present times; and, perhaps, few will be found where the parallelism is better preserved than in this. The versification is, indeed, sometimes careless, but it is sometimes vigorous and weighty.

The strongest effort of his muse is his poem upon Nothing. He is not the first who has chosen this barren topick for the boast of his fertility. There is a poem called Nihil in Latin, by Passerat, a poet and critick of the sixteenth century, in France; who, in his own epitaph, expresses his zeal for good poetry thus:

Molliter ossa quiescent
Sint modo carminibus non onerata malis.

His works are not common, and, therefore, I shall subjoin his verses.

In examining this performance, Nothing must be considered as having not only a negative, but a kind of positive signification; as I need not fear thieves, I have nothing, and nothing is a very powerful protector. In the first part of the sentence it is taken negatively; in the second it is taken positively, as an agent. In one of Boileau's lines it was a question, whether he should use " à rien faire," or "à ne rien

faire;" and the first was preferred, because it gave “rien ” a sense in some sort positive. Nothing can be a subject only in its positive sense, and such a sense is given it in the first line:

Nothing, thou elder brother ev'n to shade. In this line, I know not whether he does not allude to a curious book, De Umbra, by Wowerus, which, having told the qualities of shade, concludes with a poem, in which are these lines:

Jam primum terram validis circumspice claustris
Suspensam totam, decus admirabile mundi,
Terrasque, tractusque maris, camposque liquentes
Aeris, et vasti laqueata palatia cceli-

Omnibus UMBRA prior. The positive sense is generally preserved, with great skill, through the whole poem; though, sometimes, in a subordinate sense, the negative nothing is injudiciously mingled. Passerat confounds the two senses.

Another of his most vigorous pieces is his lampoon on sir Car Scroop, who, in a poem called the Praise of Satire, had some lines like these :

He who can push into a midnight fray
His brave companion, and then run away,
Leaving him to be murder'd in the street,
Then put it off with some buffoon conceit;
Him, thus dishonour'd, for a wit you own,

And court him as top fiddler of the town. This was meant of Rochester, whose "buffoon conceit

was, I suppose, a saying often mentioned, that “every man would be a coward, if he durst;'

+ I quote from memory. Dr. J.

and drew from him those furious verses; to which Scroop made, in reply, an epigram, ending with these lines:

Thou canst hurt no man's fame with thy ill word;

Thy pen is full as harmless as thy sword. Of the Satire against Man, Rochester can only claim what remains, when all Boileau's part is taken away.

In all his works there is sprightliness and vigour, and every where may be found tokens of a mind, which study might have carried to excellence. What more can be expected from a life spent in ostentatious contempt of regularity, and ended, before the abilities of many other men began to be displayed" !

Regii in Academia Parisiensi Professoris
Ad ornatissimum virum ERRICUM MEMMIUM

Janus adest, festæ poscunt sua dona kalendæ,
Munus abest festis quod possim offerre kalendis:
Siccine Castalius nobis exaruit humor ?
Usque adeo ingenii nostri est exhausta facultas,
Immunem ut videat redeuntis janitor anni ?
Quod nusquam est, potius nova per vestigia quæram.

Ecce autem, partes dum sese versat in omnes,
Invenit mea musa NIHIL; ne despice munus:
Nam NIHIL est gemmis, NIHIL est pretiosius auro.
Huc animum, huc, igitur, vultus adverte benignos:
Res nova narratur quæ nulli audita priorum;
Ausonii et Graii dixerunt cætera vates,

Ausoniæ indictum NIHIL est, græcæque, Camænæ. u The late George Steevens, esq. made the selection of Rochester's poems which appears in Dr. Johnson's edition; but Mr. Malone observes, that the same task had been performed, in the early part of the last century, by Jacob Tonson. C.

E coelo quacunque Ceres sua prospicit arva, Aut genitor liquidis orbem complectitur ulnis Oceanus, NIHIL interitus et originis expers. Immortale NIHIL, NIHIL omni parte beatum. Quod si hinc majestas et vis divina probatur, Num quid honore deûm, num quid dignabimur aris ? Cor pectu lucis NIHIL est jucundius almæ, Vere NIHIL, NIHIL irriguo formosius horto, Floridius pratis, Zephyri clementius aura; In bello sanctum NIHIL est, Martisque tumultu: Justum in pace NIHIL, NIHIL est in foedere tutum. Felix cui NIHIL est, (fuerant hæc vota Tibullo) Non timet insidias; fures, incendia temnit; Sollicitas sequitur nullo sub judice lites. Ille ipse invictis qui subjicit omnia fatis, Zenonis sapiens, NIHIL admiratur et optat. Socraticique gregis fuit ista scientia quondam, Scire NIHIL, studio cui nunc incumbitur uni. Nec quicquam in ludo mavult didicisse juventus, Ad magnas quia ducit opes, et culmen honorum. Nosce NIHIL, nosces fertur quod Pythagoreæ Grano hærere fabæ, cui vox adjuncta negantis. Multi, Mercurio freti duce, viscera terræ Pura liquefaciunt simul, et patrimonia miscent, Arcano instantes operi, et carbonibus atris, Qui tandem exhausti damnis, fractique labore, Inveniunt, atque inventum NIHIL usque requirunt. Hoc dimetiri non ulla decempeda possit: Nec numeret Libycæ numerum qui callet arenæ. Et Phoebo ignotum NIHIL est, NIHIL altius astris: Tuque, tibi licet eximium sit mentis acumen, Omnem in naturam penetrans, et in abdita rerum, Pace tua, Memmi, NIHIL ignorare videris. Sole tamen NIHIL est, et puro clarius igne. Tange NIHIL, dicesque NIHIL sine corpore tangi. Cerne NIHIL, cerni dices NIHIL absque colore. Surdum audit loquiturque NIHIL sine voce, volatque Absque ope pennarum, et graditur sine cruribus ullis. Absque loco motuque NIHIL per inane vagatur. Humano generi utilius NIHIL arte medendi; Ne rhombos igitur, neu Thessala murmura tentet Idalia vacuum trajectus arundine pectus, Neu legat Idæo Dictæum in vertice gramen.

« IndietroContinua »