Page images

HAD Cowley written nothing but his prose, it would have stamped him a man of genius, and an improver of our language.

Campell's Essay on English Poetry.

No author ever kept his verse and his prose at a greater distance from each other. His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-sought, or hardlaboured; but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar without grossness.

Dr. Samuel Johnson.




In these discourses (as in every thing, indeed, which Mr.

Cowley wrote in prose) we have a great deal of good sense, embellished by a lively, but very natural expression. The sentiments flow from the heart, and generally, in a vein of pure and proper English. What a force must he have put on himself, when he complied with the false taste of his age, in his poetical, which he too modestly thought, his best works!--But the pieces of poetry, inserted in these Essays, whether originals or translations, are, with all their seeming negligence of style and numbers, extremely elegant. The prevailing character of them is that of the author, a sensible reflecting melancholy. On occasion, however, this character gives way to another, not so natural to him, yet sustained with equal grace, that of an unforced gaiety; which breaks out, every where, in many delicate sallies of wit and humour, but is most conspicuous in his imitations of Horace.--Hurd.

[blocks in formation]

The liberty of a people consists in being governed by laws which they have made themselves, under whatsoever form it be of government: the liberty of a private man, in being master of his own time and actions, as far as may consist with the laws of God and of his country. Of this latter only we are here to discourse, and to inquire what estate of life does best seat us in the possession of it. This li. berty of our own actions is such a fundamental privilege of human nature, that God himself, notwithstanding all his infinite power and right over us, permits us to enjoy it, and that too after a forfeiture made by the rebellion of Adam. He takes so much care for the entire preservation of it to us, that he suffers neither his providence nor eternal decree to break or infringe it. Now for our time, the same God to whom we are but tenants-at-will for the whole, requires but the seventh part to be paid to him as a small quit-rent in acknowledgment of his title. It is man only that has the impudence to demand our whole time, though he never gave it, nor can restore it, nor is able to pay any considerable value for the least part of it. This birth-right of mankind above all other creatures, some are forced by hunger to sell, like Esau, for bread and broth: but the greatest part of men make such a bargain for the delivery-up of themselves, as Thamar did with Judah ; instead of a kid, the necessary pro. visions for human life, they are contented to do it for rings and bracelets. The great dealers in this world may be divided into the ambitious, the covetous, and the voluptuous; and that all these -men sell themselves to be slaves, though to the vulgar it may seem a Stoical paradox, will appear to the wise so plain and obvious, that they will scarce think it deserves the labour of argumentation.

Let us first consider the ambitious; and those, both in their progress to greatness, and after the attaining of it. There is nothing truer than what Sallust* says,

Dominationis in alios servitium suum mercedem dant :" they are content to pay so great a price as their own servitude, to purchase the domination over others. The first thing they must resolve to sacrifice, is their whole time; they must never stop, nor ever turn aside whilst they are in the race of glory; no, not like Atalanta, for golden apples. Neither indeed can a man stop himself if he would, when he is in this career :

Fertur equis auriga, neque audit currus habenas. t Pray, let us but consider a little what mean servile things men do for this imaginary food. We cannot fetch a greater example of it, than from the chief men of that nation which boasted most of liberty. To what pitiful baseness did the noblest Romans submit themselves, for the obtaining of a prætorship, or the consular dignity! They put on the habit of suppliants, and ran about on foot, and in dirt, through all the tribes, to beg voices ; they flattered the poorest artisans; and carried a nomenclator with them, to whisper in their ear every man's name, lest they should mistake it in their salutations; they shook the hand, and kissed the cheek, of every popular tradesman; they stood all day at every market in the public places, to show and ingratiate themselves to the rout; they employed all their friends to solicit for them, they kept open tables in every street, they distributed wine and bread and money, even to the vilest of the people. “En Romanos rerum dominos !"I Behold

• Fragm. ed. Maittaire, p. 116. | Virg. Georg. i. 514.

# Virg. Æn. i. 282.

« PreviousContinue »