« ZurückWeiter »
has been pursued, which we verily believe so far from checking the diffusion of dangerous opinions, has been among the chief causes of their increase. The new champion of loyalty and religion was arrayed indeed in a sufficiency of wig and gown; but they were those of the attorney-general. With all respect for that officer of the constitution, he has been but a sorry substitute to the natural guardians of orthodoxy, the dialectícians of the church. Will it yet be said that there is no necessity for reverting to the ancient and effective method of engaging the enemy with his own weapons, of meeting argument with reason, or repelling ridicule with satire? Shall we still hear of that extraordinary pretext, which can only be regarded as a plea for indolence or intolerance, that these works are incapable of refutation, because they are unsustained by argument, and rely on abuse, and ridicule, and mis-statement, and every species of art most calculated to mislead the judgement by means of the imagination? Let those who allege this reason in defence of their supineness, look well to the consequences of such an admission.
It will surely be no objection to these opinions that they are formed the model transmitted to us by Milton. Under one shape or another they appear to us to have been entertained by the most profound thinkers, the ablest statesmen, and the most eloquent writers of all ages, and especially in our own country; a nation," as Milton has described it, "not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious and piercing spirit, acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not beneath the reach of any point, the highest that human capacity can soar to." We are not sufficiently dogmatical to believe that our peculiar notions should regulate all the rest of mankind"no marvel, then, though some men, and some good men too, perhaps, envy them. They fret, and out of their own weakness are in agony, but these divisions and subdivisions will undo us. The adversary again applauds and waits the hour; when they have branched themselves out, saith he, small enough into parties and partitions, then will be our time. Fool! he sees not the firm root, out of which we all grow, though into branches; nor will beware until he see our small divided maniples cutting through at every angle of his ill united and unwieldy brigade. And that we are to hope better of all these supposed sects and schisms, and that we shall not need that solicitude, honest, perhaps, though over-timorous, of them that vex in this behalf, but shall laugh in the end at those malicious applauders of our differences, I have these reasons to persuade First, when a city shall be as it were besieged and blocked about, her navigable river infested, inroads and incursions round, defiance and battle oft rumoured to be marching
up even to her walls and suburb trenches, that then the people, or the greater part, more than at other times, wholly taken up with the study of highest and most important matters to be reformed, should be disputing, reasoning, reading, inventing, discoursing, even to a rarity and admiration, things not before discoursed or written of, argues first a singular good will, contentedness and confidence in your prudent foresight, and safe government, Lords and Commons; and from thence derives itself to a gallant bravery and well grounded contempt of their enemies, as if there were no small number of as great spirits among us, as his was, who when Rome was nigh besieged by Hannibal, being in the city, bought that piece of ground at no cheap rate, whereon Hannibal himself encamped his own regiment. Next it is a lively and cheerful presage of our happy success and victory. For as in a body, when the blood is fresh, the spirits pure and vigorous, not only to vital but to rational faculties, and those in the acutest and the pertest operations of wit and subtlety, it argues in what good plight and constitution the body is; so when the cheerfulness of the people is so sprightly up, as that it has not only wherewith to guard well its own freedom and safety, but to spare, and to bestow upon the solidest and the sublimest parts of controversy, and new invention, it betokens us not degenerated, nor drooping to a fatal decay, but casting off the old and wrinkled skin of corruption to outlive these pangs, and wax young again, entering the glorious ways of truth and prosperous virtue, destined to become great and honourable in these latter ages. Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks: methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam; purging and unsealing her long abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms."
ART. II.-The Works of Sir John Suckling, containing his Poems, Letters, and Plays, 18mo. London, 1719.
For a perfect specimen of those "men of wit and pleasure," who were ""about town" during the first Charles's time, com
mend us to Sir John Suckling-the gay, the graceful, the accomplished-the witty, the valiant, the wise-the scholar, the courtier, the soldier, and the gentleman.
We shall have little to say of the life of one by whom life was used as a trifle and a toy, and who lost it at an age when others scarcely begin to feel that they have found it;-who lost it, however, not without having first tasted and enjoyed all its sweets, as the bee skims over the surface of a whole garden of flowers in a single sunshiny morning.
Suckling had a court birth as well as breeding; being the son of one who had been secretary of state to Charles's predecessor, and was comptroller of the household to Charles himself, when the subject of this notice was born-in 1613, as some of his biographers insist, but more probably in 1608. The accounts which tell of the extraordinary quickness of his parts, even in childhood, are somewhat contradictory; but still there seems little doubt that his early acquirements in school learning, were very remarkable. They must have been so; for he does not appear to have pursued his studies later than the age of about seventeen years, and yet he was accomplished in much of the learning of his day. It is also uncertain in what schools he acquired it. Aubrey supposes that his initiation took place at Westminster; and he says Davenant told him that he was at Cambridge for three or four years.
At a very early age, certainly before he was twenty, Suckling had travelled over a greater portion of civilized Europe, than it was usual for the youth of the English nobility to visit; and, on his return, he seems to have been received, by universal consent, as the very mirror of a wit, a courtier, and a fine gentleman; and this at a time when the qualities necessary to support these characters were a little better understood than they are now, and not a little better practised.
In 1629 (when Suckling was probably about twenty years of age, but, according to other reckonings, when he was not more than sixteen) he became a soldier, serving a short but busy campaign, under the celebrated Gustavus Adolphus. From the period of his return till his death, (which happened not more than seven years after) he seems to have spent an active and busy, yet easy and careless sort of life-now playing, loving, and writing-now raising a troop of soldiers to fight for the king-now plotting and intriguing with the cavaliers to rescue Strafford from the hands of the covenanters-failingbeing impeached of high treason, in conjunction with his friend and brother poet, Davenant, and flying to France for safety where he died "a batchelor," at the age of either twentyeight or thirty-two years, according as the differing accounts of his birth may be correct.
Such was the brief career of the person, a bouquet from whose works we are about to gather for the reader; first, however, endeavouring to characterize them generally, but reserving any particular remarks for the passages or pieces which may call them forth.
Indulging in his friend Ben Jonson's quibble, we will mention, as the first characteristic of those works, that they are anything rather than works; ease, carelessness, and a courtly indifference being evident in every portion of them : an indifference, however, (for the truth must be spoken) begot rather by a confident self-complacency of the writer, with respect to his own powers and acquirements, than by a coxcombical and affected disregard to the opinions of others: for though Suckling was somewhat of a coxcomb, and not entirely without an affectation of contempt for anything which was not" of the court," courtly," yet he was very far from undervaluing the opinions of others. On the contrary, it was in the opinions of others, that he lived and moved, and had his being. In fact, he was a coxcomb, without being the least of an egotist; which is one of the pleasantest characters, both for itself and others, that can be met with in this motley scene of human life. He seems to have owed this character, partly to his own constitutional vivacity and good-temper; and to have picked it up partly in France, where they are all pretty much of the same description to this day; being, as a nation, the most egotistical in the world, but, as individuals, the least so. Suckling felt nothing in himself deep enough to brood over and feed upon, and speculate about; and he saw nothing without him, sufficiently serious to engage and fix, for any length of time, either his sensibility or his imagination. "Pleased let me trifle life away!" was his motto; and if pleased and pleasing he did trifle it away, who shall say that his was not as good a philosophy, as that which" troubleth itself about many things," to no visible end but that of troubling others? But the reader will say, perhaps, is not this a matter of constitution and temperament? Be it so. Be it so. We thank him for the solution, and proceed in our task. Suckling's verses, then, (for we are to speak of his verses first) are easy, careless, and debonnair; or, to print the word so that it may at once express the sense in which we use it-de bon air. They are written without any apparent effort or study; for why should he use efforts to please in his writings, who found that he could not speak, or even be silent, without pleasing? The next feature of them, and one that must be considered as entirely consequent on the foregoing, is that they are frequently ill formed in their structure, and, still more frequently, slovenly in their dress. He found that he could express himself with his tongue intelligibly and grace
fully enough, without an effort, and why should he do less with his pen? But uniform clearness and polish are the fruit of care and study alone; and these were what he would not have bestowed on any thing, even if he had thought it necessary; which, in regard to his own writings, he did not. And, moreover, what may pass very glibly off the tongue, and sound very pleasantly, when aided and illustrated by look, manner, and expression, will often make but a poor figure on paper.
Next to their easy carelessness, and polished want of polish, we shall observe that Suckling's verses are (with few exceptions) filled with that artificial sensibility, which was alone natural to the wits and minor poets of his time; for, that they possessed great sensibility, there can be no doubt; and there can be as little, that it was not capable of developing itself in a natural manner, owing to the universal prevalence of a scholastic and metaphysical taste, and in the universal influence of this taste in forming and directing the mental habits of all those who addicted themselves to literary pursuits and it was those alone who either attempted to write poetry, or were considered as competent to judge of its merits. Any one who should have written in what we should now call a natural style, would have been set down as a natural for his pains; for the faculty of writing poetry was then reckoned as an accomplishment purely, not as a gift. They had no such thing as poetical ploughboys then, and no notion of them; and of all the writings which enrich the poetical literature of the present day, none would have had the smallest chance of being popular in the days of Donne and Suckling, but some few of the shorter pieces of Moore ;-those which depend for their effect, on some ingenious turn of thought, lively play of fancy, or recondite illustration, brought to bear on some not very natural or obvious sentiment. Think of some of Mr. Wordsworth's minor poems being put forth at the period we are treating of! It would have been like walking into one of their dress parties in a plain suit of broad cloth, of the present fashion, and a Brutus crop. In fact, our style of writing would have seemed as outré, and consequently as unnatural, then, as their style of dress would now. The truth is, they had, generally speaking, as much sensibility as we have, and, at least, as much taste: but art was their nature, just as nature is our art. Which style is to be preferred, for its effect on the mind and heart of the reader, is another question, and one which we shall not venture to decide.
But even for those who prefer the simplicity of the present day, we shall have to offer examples that cannot fail to suit their taste, both in regard to sentiment and expression; the most natural thoughts and feelings flowing forth in the most