« AnteriorContinuar »
But (worse than Ætna's fires !) debate
To the poems and translations in verse are added some versions in prose, consisting of two treatises by Plutarch; the one on the “ Benefit we may get by our enemies," the other “ On the diseases of the mind and body;" and another, on the same subject, by Maximus Tyrius ; and the last, in praise of a country life, from the Spanish of Guevara. These translations are written with considerable force and freedom, and prove our author to have had as masterly a pen in the composition of prose as of verse. We will finish this article, devoted to revive the memory of a man whose genius and accomplishments have been long unfamiliarized with the light, by quoting one or two passages from “The praise of a country life.” Comparing the life of a citizen with that of a countryman, he says,
“ The day itself (in my opinion) seems of more length and beauty in the country, and can be better enjoyed, than any where else. There the years pass away calmly; and one day gently drives on the other, insomuch, that a man may be sensible of a certain satiety and pleasure from every hour, and may be said to feed upon time itself, which devours all other things. And although those that are employed in the managing and ordering of their own estates in the country have otherwise, namely, by that very employment, much more pleasure and delights than a citizen can possibly have, yet verily so it is, that one day spent in the recess and privacy of the country, seems more pleasant and lasting than a whole year at court. Justly, then, and most deservingly, shall we account them most happy with whom the sun stays longest, and lends a larger day. The husbandman is always up and drest with the morning, whose dawning light, at the same instant of time, breaks over all the fields, and chaseth away the darkness (which would hinder his early labours) from every valley. If his day's task keep him late in the fields, yet night comes not so suddenly upon him, but he can return home with the evening-star. Whereas, in towns and populous cities, neither the day, nor the sun, nor a star, nor the season of the year, can be well perceived. All which, in the country, are manifestly seen, and occasion a more exact care and observation of seasons, that their labours may be in their appointed time, and their rewards accordingly.”
He soon after adds the following beautiful piece of prose writing :
“ This privilege also, above others, makes the countryman happy,
that he hath always something at hand which is both useful and pleasant; a blessing which has never been granted, either to a courtier, or a citizen : they have enemies enough, but few friends that deserve their love, or that they dare trust to, either for counsel or action. O who can ever fully express the pleasures and happiness of the country-life; with the various and delightful sports of fishing, hunting, and fowling, with guns, greyhounds, spaniels, and several sorts of nets! What oblectation and refreshment it is to behold the green shades, the beauty and majesty of the tall and ancient groves; to be skilled in planting and dressing of orchards, flowers, and pot-herbs; to temper and allay these harmless employments with some innocent, merry song; to ascend sometimes to the fresh and healthful hills ; to descend into the bosom of the vallies, and the fragrant, dewy meadows; to hear the music of birds, the murmurs of bees, the falling of springs, and the pleasant discourses of the old ploughmen; where, without any impediment or trouble, a man may walk, and (as Cato Censorinus used to say) discourse with the dead, that is, read the pious works of learned men, who, departing this life, left behind them their noble thoughts for the benefit of posterity, and the preservation of their own worthy names; where the Christian pious countryman may walk with the learned religious minister of his parish, or converse with his familiar faithful friends, avoiding the dissimulation and windiness of those that are blown up with the spirit, and, under the pretence of religion, commit all villanies. These are the blessings which only a countryman is ordained to, and are in vain wished for by citizens and courtiers.”
This is not the only production of Henry Vaughan. There is likewise by him a larger volume consisting of religious poetry, entitled Silex Scintillans, the second edition of which bears date 1655. Of this curious little book we have just been favoured with the loan, and hope at no distant period to give our readers farther specimens of our author, in a different vein. It seems, that in the interval between the two publications, the poet's mind had undergone a most important change. He had met with the works of “that blessed man, Mr. George Herbert,” to which he attributes his happy conversion. One would think, that in such poems as we have been quoting, there was little food for bitter repentance, yet this author conceived it his duty to condemn them in a sweeping censure of all other vicious verse,' and deems his guilt to be expiated alone by his own special sorrows, and the blood of his Redeemer. The preface to the Hymns, which form part of the Siler Scintillans, contains a fierce denunciation of the idle verse-makers of the times, of whom he had unhappily been one.
“ That this kingdom hath abounded with those ingenious persons, which in the late notion are termed wits, is too well known. Many of them having cast away all their fair portion of time, in no better employments than a deliberate search, or excogitation of idle words, and a most vain, insatiable desire
to be reputed poets : leaving behind them no other monuments of those excellent abilities conferred upon them, but such as they may (with a predecessor of theirs) term Parricides, and a soul-killing issue, for that is the BeaBelov and laureate crown, which idle poems will certainly bring to their unrelenting authors. And well it were for them if those willingly studied and wilfully published vanities could defile no spirits but their own; but the case is far worse. These vipers survive their parents, and for many ages after (like epidemic diseases) infect whole generations, corrupting always, and, unhallowing the best gifted souls, and the most capable vessels.”
He proceeds with his denunciation, which, if it serve no other purpose, indicates the favorite study of the times.
“ Nay, the more acute the author is, there is so much the more danger and death in the work. Where the sun is busy upon a dunghill, the issue is always some unclean vermine. Divers persons of eminent piety and learning (I meddle not with the seditious and schismatical) have long, before my time, taken notice of this malady; for the complaint against vicious verse, even by peaceful and obedient spirits, is of some antiquity in this kingdom. And yet, as if the evil consequence attending this inveterate error, were but a small thing; there is sprung very lately another prosperous device, to assist it in the subversion of souls. Those that want the genius of verse, fall to translating; and the people are (every term) plentifully furnished with various foreign vanities, so that the most lascivious compositions of France and Italy are here naturalized, and made English : and this (as it is sadly observed) with so much favor and success, that nothing takes (as they rightly phrase it) like a romance. And very frequently (if that character be not an ivy bush) the buyer receives this lewd ware from persons of honor, who want not reason to forbear : much private misfortune having sprung from no other seed, at first, than some infectious and dissolving legend. To continue (after years of discretion) in this vanity, is an inexcusable desertion of pious sobriety; and to persist so to the end, is a wilful despising of God's sacred exhortations, by a constant, sensual volutation or wallowing in impure thoughts and scurrilous conceits, which both defile their authors, and as many more as they are communicated to.”
He thus puts the guilt incurred by the author of immoral writings in a point of view, which, probably, is not always present to the eyes of those who indulge a warm temperament in the composition of that glowing and meretricious kind of poetry, which is but too common, we are sorry to say, in our days, as in those of Vaughan.
“If every idle word shall be accounted for, and if one corrupt communication should proceed out of our mouths, how desperate (I beseech you) is their condition, who all their life-time, and out of mere design, study lascivious fictions : then carefully record and publish them, that instead of grace and life, they may minister sin and death unto their readers! It was wisely considered, and piously said by one, that he would read no idle books; both in regard of love to his own soul, and pity unto his that made them, for (said he) if I be corrupted by them, their composer is immediately a cause of my ill; and at the day of reckoning (though now dead) must give an account for it, because I am corrupted by his bad example, which he left behind him. I will write none, lest I hurt them that come after me; I will read none, lest I augment his punishment that is gone before me. I will neither write, nor read, lest I prove a foe to my own soul: while I live, I sin too much ; let me not continue longer in wickedness, than I do in life. It is a sentence of sacred authority, that he that is dead, is freed from sin, because he cannot, in that state, which is without the body, sin any more; but he that writes idle books, makes for himself another body, in which he always lives, and sins (after death) as fast and as foul as ever he did in his life; which very consideration deserves to be a sufficient antidote against this evil disease.”
We shall close our article with this additional extract, in which our poet speaks of his own writings, and ends with one of the rarest requests we remember to have been made by an author.
« And here, because I would prevent a just censure by my free confession, I must remember, that I myself have, for many years together, languished of this very sickness; and it is no long time since I have recovered. But (blessed be God for it!) I have by his saving assistance suppressed my greatest follies, and those which escaped from me are (I think) as innoxious, as most of that vein use to be; besides, they are interlined with many virtuous, and some pious mixtures. What I speak of them is truth, but let no man mistake it for an extenuation of faults, as if I intended an apology for them, or myself, who am conscious of so much guilt in both, as can never be expiated without special sorrows, and that cleansing and precious effusion of my Almighty Redeemer; and if the world will be so charitable as to grant my request, I do here most humbly and earnestly beg that none would read them.”
How innocently have we been sinning against this pious petition, in thus recalling to light the verses which the author
fondly hoped (after his conversion) would meet with that neglect from the public, which by others is so industriously deprecated! Hitherto, in the weariness and fatigue necessarily attendant upon the nature of our task, in our frequent disappointments in exploring the spots where we had expected concealed treasure, and in our laborious sifting and separating of the good from the bad, the obsolete from the fresh and enduring, the dead branch from the vivacious sprout, our consolation has always been, that we were performing a kindly and grateful office to the neglected author, could he but look down upon us and behold the sacrifice we were celebrating to his memory. This gratification is here denied us : we have in this instance disobeyed the solemn injunctions of a dead poet; our labour is unhallowed; and we lay down the pen with the mortifying belief of having earned nothing from the manes of Henry Vaughan, save a parting malediction.
Art. IX. Memoirs of the Honourable Col. Andrew Newport,
a Shropshire Gentleman, who served as a Cavalier in the army of Gustavus Adolphus in Germany, and in that of Charles the First in England; containing Anecdotes and Characters of the principal Persons of that time: the whole forming a complete Military History of Germany and England towards the middle of the seventeenth century. A new edition, with additions, &c. London, 1792.
We avail ourselves with some satisfaction of an opportunity of introducing to our readers an old and valued acquaintance, as one, whom they may have had the misfortune to lose sight of, amidst the perplexities of life, and the competition of more obtrusive candidates for their notice. For our own part, surrounded as we are by the bustle and cares of middle age, the mere mention of our author's name falls upon us, as cool and refreshing as a drop of rain in the hot and parched midday; for it never fails to bring along with it the recollection of the morning of our life—those green and pleasant years, when the solitary inhabitant of the desert island was perpetually mingling with the day-dreams of our imagination. In general, however, we are obliged to confess, that the admirers of De Foe have too much reason to complain, that one so highly prized should be so early and so entirely neglected. Though, perhaps, we ought not to wonder, yet we must be allowed to regret, that a charm, once so powerful, should be so speedily dissolved, and that the spell-bound captives are so completely dis
neglect one smirers of generally