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the flushing colours of Rubens and the silvery softness of Correggio. One is more spiritual; the other more sensuous. James Montgomery has noticed the extreme beauty with which Dante describes angels. The picture in the twelfth canto of the "Purgatorio "is particularly sweet. The poet represents the spirit advancing in white raiment to greet him, with the light of the morning star upon the countenance :
E nella faccia, quale
Par, tremolando matutina stella.
But our present concern is not with the sacred poetry of Italy in its higher walks of thought, but with its humbler, though, to the Christian, still dearer contributions to the stores of praise and thanksgiving. Let the reader who is acquainted only with the grander note of the Italian lyre peruse the following penitential Psalm, and recollect our remarks on Jonson
Signor, non mi reprender con furore;
E non voler correggermi con ira;
Che senza il tuo ajuto io più non posso.
Convertimi al ben fare presto presto:
In morte; dove è loco di discordia !
per dolore se medesmo morde.
Se tu discarghi il cargo, che mi preme.
Io laverò con lagrime lo letto,
E lo mio interno e notte e giorno insieme.
Ma quando io considero l'aspetto
Della tua ira contr' a' miei peccati,
Mi si turbano gli occhi, e l'intelletto.
Però che i falli miei son-si invecchiati
Che allo mal fare già me conducesti
Ha esaudito lo pregare, e 'l pianto
De gl' inimici miei, che con vergogna
An Italian critic, Saverio Quadrio, has written copious annotations upon the penitential Psalms of Dante, some of them regarding the versification and composition. He thinks the repetition of presto, in the seventeenth line, happily introduced to express the anxious solicitude of David; and he defends the use of the word rogna, which is also found in the "Inferno," from the censure of Bembo and other Italian critics.
Without lingering any longer upon European psalmody in general-a most fruitful and interesting theme of meditation-we cannot refrain from making one observation upon a Spanish poet, who seems to have been eminently fitted to excel in sacred harmony. We allude to Luis Ponce de Leon, who was born in 1527, and died in 1591. His love of contemplative studies, the ardour of his character, and his exquisite sense of music, were qualities likely to insure excellence in any path of serious poetry. Cervantes admired him beyond measure; and there is no poet of Spain whom a Protestant would read with so much gratification. The bigotry of a corrupt Church rarely boils over in the strains of Leon. A lover of Horace, he appears to have imitated, with peculiar success, the pleasant ease and engaging sweetness of the Latin poet. But Leon had a vein of rich enthusiasm, which would only have awakened a smile in that charming villa, that once overlooked the Bandusian fountain and the verdant shades of Lucretilis. To read his religious verses is like walking through some splendid cathedral in his own land; the painted windows, the solemn pictures, the gorgeous decorations, produce a beautiful and soothing light; and the heart feels their influence even while it acknowledges the discord of the associations, and the false opinions they are intended to promote.
But in meditating upon the effect which the creed of Roman
ism exercised over the imagination of Leon, the memory naturally reverts to a far greater poet of our own country, who touched the sacred harp under a similar impulse, with a vigour and sublimity infinitely superior. Need we mention the name of Dryden? Cowper, although a master in the art, was not always a very profound or accurate critic; for he admired Prior beyond his merits, and ascribed a poetical fervour to the more amiable muse of Watts, which an unprejudiced reader looks for in vain. But with his judgment on Dryden we feel disposed completely to coincide. Writers, he said, who produce their wonders of skill by severe industry and repeated touches, are frequently chilled by the excess of caution; and he thought that Pope alone had always escaped the frost. In him the glories of Titian seemed to light up the vulgar realities of Ostade. Genius lost none of its majesty or beauty by the perpetual labour to which he subjected it. But after all, he admitted that he admired Dryden most, who, in despite of indolence and neglect, rose higher even than his famous successor, and created, by a few dashes of a hazardous and impetuous chisel, features of livelier expression, than ever grew into life beneath the hesitating hand of Pope. Let us not be misunderstood. Of Pope it could never be affirmed, in the satire of Horace,
"In vitium ducit culpæ fuga, si caret arte ;”
for art he never wanted. He could recover himself in the very act of falling, and always rose higher at the next effort. There is, however, another axiom of the Roman teacher which the English poet did not always remember or respect―
"Infelix operis summa; quia ponere totum
The unity of the subject is sometimes forgotten in the embellishment of its parts. Hurd, in his Commentary on Horace, introduces some ingenious observations on the line we have quoted. He selects the obvious and apposite example of the landscape painter, whose main care ought to be directed to the combination into one entire view" of certain beautiful or striking objects." The constituent parts may be sketched with a more careless hand. A flower by the cottage door, a goat hanging upon the hill-side, may be touched into the canvass with a quick pencil. Hurd refers for an illustration and confirmation of his argument to Casper Poussin. His animals are drawn with inferior skill; their use, he adds, consisting in the decoration of the scene which they supply, and their beauty depending, therefore, “not on the truth and correctness of the drawing, but on the elegance of their disposition only." How ineffectual, not to say how offensive, would one of Landseer's dogs appear
in the foreground of a picture by Claude, or thrust prominently forward in a lovely English landscape by Gainsborough? Johnson, in his admirable preface to Shakspeare, while refuting the criticisms of Voltaire and Rymer, takes occasion to remark that a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and condition, as a painter who, being satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.
When Sir Walter Scott was engaged to superintend an edition of the works of Dryden, he applied to Wordsworth for any critical suggestions he might be disposed to offer. The author of "The Excursion," while professing to admire the talents and genius of Dryden, ventured to affirm that "his is not a poetical genius." The assertion must have been peculiarly unpleasing to Scott, who not only loved the muscular energy and vigorous declamation of Dryden, but had offered a very beautiful tribute to his poetical character in one of the introductory Epistles of Marmion. But the examination of Mr. Wordsworth's opinion would beguile us too far from our present inquiry.
Why might not Dryden have written sacred hymns of a high and inspiring character? His most illustrious disciple has, indeed, called him "unhappy" in his destiny; and unhappy, of a truth, he was, when in all the days of Charles, the feeble lips of a Roscommon could alone pour out "unspotted lays." But let us not forget to mingle the tear with our anger. It was affirmed by Scott, with honourable enthusiasm, that the love of all things noble and worthy existed in the bosom of Dryden, and that nothing but the base allurements of an abandoned court prevented him from recalling, in immortal strains, the exploits of romantic valour, and encircling the Round Table with the chivalry of Arthur.*
We know not if any spectacle can be presented to human observation more melancholy or more terrible, than that of an intellect endowed by heaven with strength and beauty above its fellows, but shorn of its vigour by the false hands of some flattering Dalilah, and then driven by hard task-masters to display its surviving energies for their amusement, and to desecrate the glory of God into buffoonery and license. Samson among the Philistines is an emblem of the poet among corrupted parasites.
*"The mightiest chiefs of British song
Bade him toil on to make them sport."
Happily for us and for the world, the parallel fails in the horror of its catastrophe. Happy, indeed, is it for us that in the phrenzy of that fever, and with the fierce recklessness of that moral blindness, he did not bow the pillars of our literature with a mightier and more sacrilegious arm, and leave behind him the ruined temple of our poetry, as a monument of his power and of his crimes. From this fearful degradation he was fortunately preserved. He descended into the lower regions of morals, but even in that Inferno he had a guide to protect and cheer him : Dryden seems never to have been abandoned, for a long season, by that ministering angel of life whom men call Conscience. In the cloud and thunder her divine voice was heard; nor always heard in vain. We discover him, at intervals, escaping from those paths which the "flowery courtier" delighted to haunt; and laying with reverent hand his offering upon the sacred altar of nature and of truth, upon which alone the fire ever descends from heaven. Lines of exquisite moral beauty are sown through his works-lines which condense a page of didactic wisdom into a few words, and linger upon the heart and upon the lips.
Dryden committed the common error of our fallible nature; he did not steer his boat into the water of sin, but he suffered it to float with the current: he did not manfully struggle against the stream. If he had imitated rather the character than the verses of the great Latin satirist, it had been more beneficial to his own reputation. But Dryden, alas ! could not prove his unfitness for Rome by his ignorance of falsehood. How could he say, mentiri nescio, who defrauded truth of her worship, and strewed flowers before the feet of triumphant vice? From Cowley, a name dear to his heart, he might have gathered purer wisdom. He would have taught him at least how to encircle his virtue with a sacred fire from the fury of the spoiler, even if he failed in exhorting him to escape from the city of pestilence. The dangers of an honest man in much company supplied a theme to that most delightful of English writers for a beautiful essay. We question, indeed, whether in the treasury of our religious eloquence more precious pearls of wisdom will be found than in the prose works, short as they are, of the " melancholy Cowley." Let us quote-for the author of the Davideis may claim a place even in observations upon Psalmody— the exquisite paragraph with which he opens his commentary on the shortness of life and uncertainty of riches. "If you should see," are his words, "a man that were to cross from Dover to Calais run about very busy and solicitous, and trouble himself many weeks before in making provisions for his voyage, would you commend him for a cautious and discreet person, or laugh at
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