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Then launch and hoist the mast: indulgent gales,
Till now the Grecian camp appear'd in view. POPE. The principal remaining poets, of whom it is necessary for me to take some notice, are, I think, Cowley, Waller, Thomson, and Young. Had Cowley's judgment borne any proportion to his genius, he would unquestionably have been entitled to a very high rank in the public estimation, which indeed, while the public judgment was as yet immature, he actually enjoyed. In the present improved state of Versification, we have few productions of the English muse more soft, more gay, more airy, than his Anacreontics, his Acmé and Septimius, or his Chronicle. On the other hand, in the pathetic and plaintive stile, few pieces exhibit a more mournful flow of numbers than his elegy on Harvey, the poem called the Complaint, and some others. He knew how to express, as well as feel, the most tender as well as the most lively emotions of soul.
“ Forgot his Epic, nay, Pindaric, art ;
“ Yet still we love the language of his heart.” Waller I regard as greatly inferior to Cowley in genius ; but he possessed a more correct taste and truer judgment. His Versifica. tion, when compared with that of the majority of his predecessors, is eminently smooth and har. monious; and he contributedmuch to polish and refine the elegant art which he cultivated. Thom. son's celebrated poem, I mean the Seafons, I think, enjoys a reputation at least equal to its merit. As Pope has been called the Poet of Reason, Thomson may, with equal justice, be stiled the Poet of Nature. He surveyed her various scenes with a curious and attentive eye ; and he describes them with warmth, accuracy, and fidelity; and in this the real excellence of his work consists. When Thomson is not describing or moralizing, he is no poet ; when he aims at elevation, he is always turgid; when he wishes to be splendid, he is only gaudy.
“ From bright'ning fields of ether fair disclos’d,
Averts her blushful face." Such mechanical poetry as this is calculated merely for grown children. The tales he interweaves are very indifferently narrated. His diction is either artificially strained, or disgustingly familiar; and his Versification is such, that for twenty or thirty lines together, I frequently find a great difficulty to distinguish it from profe. In a word, it is a poem in which description too much holds the place of sense. We read, and we commend, and pretend to admire, and at last we drop asleep over it. Nevertheless, it is upon the whole a pleasing popular performance, and I believe it will long
remain so; though I greatly doubt whether it will always retain its present degree of reputation. His poem, entitled “ Liberty,” I never yet could fummon up resolution enough toread fairly through. His smaller pieces merit little attention, the “Castle of Indolence" excepted, which is indeed a very elegant and beautiful allegory.
Young's Night Thoughts may not improperly be considered as a good poetical contrast to Thomson's Seasons. One delighted as much to exhibit the gloomy, as the other the cheerful face of things. Young's genius was without doubt of a rank much fuperior to that of Thomson; he possessed, as Addison, I think, says of Lee, true poetic fire, though clouded and obscured by thick volumes of smoke. In the article of fublimity, the Night Thoughts may vie with Paradise Lost itself, though in every other respect it would be absurd to attempt a comparison between them. The general character of Young's Versification is that of harshness and ruggedness, though many passages may be produced as exceptions. Of the earlier poetical productions of Young I am no admirer : it is to a work begun after he was fixty years of age, when, if we will give any credit to his own declaration,
“ He long had buried what gives life to live,
“ Firmness of nerve, and energy of thought.” that he derives, and will continue to derive, his reputation: for certainly such poems as the Last Day, and the Paraphrafe on Job, or even his fatires and tragedies, could never entitle
him to a permanent mansion in the temple of Fame.
It would be doing great injustice to living merit, after enumerating so many illustrious names who have done honour to our age and country, to omit to mention a celebrated poetess of our own times : I mean Mrs. Barbauld, who, in the elegant miscellaneous collection with which she has favoured the world, has exhibited the most beautiful examples of Versification happily diversified, and accommodated to the greatest va. riety of subjects that I recollect to have met with in any one author. In the poem stiled “ Corsica,” her blank verse makes a very near approach to the Miltonic majesty, and the SummerEvening Meditation is in the best manner of Young.--Delia breathes the very foul of Hammond! and the Address to Wisdom is written in the true spirit of Prior. The poem on the Origin of Song-Writing might have done honour to Waller; and the Ode to Spring is entitled at least to “divide the crown" with Collins's exquisite Ode to Evening. I have seen an allegorical poem also in manuscript, by the same fair and elegant writer, which Spenser would readily have acknowledged as the work of a kindred mind.
This lady, certainly, if England had produced no Carters, Montagues, or Sewards, might alone safely be put in competition with the most admired writers of her own sex abroad; with a De Sevigné, a Des Houlieres, a Du Bocage,