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to him, throw a singular contrast over his renunciations of human vanity. He abjures the world in witty metaphors, commences his poem with a sarcasm on sleep, deplores his being neglected at court, compliments a lady of quality by asking the moon if she would chuse to be called the "fair Portland of the skies”—and dedicates to the patrons of " a much indebted muse," one of whom (Lord Wilmington) on some occasion he puts in the balance of antithesis as a counterpart to heaven. He was, in truth, not so sick of life as of missing its preferments, and was still ambitious not only of converting Lorenzo, but of shining before this utterly worthless and wretched world as a sparkling, sublime, and witty poet. Hence his poetry has not the majestic simplicity of a heart abstracted from human vanities, and while the groundwork of his sentiments is more darkly shaded than is absolutely necessary either for poetry or religion, the surface of his expression glitters with irony and satire, and with thoughts sometimes absolutely approaching to pleasantry. His ingenuity in the false sublime is very peculiar. In Night IX. he concludes his description of the day of judgment by shewing the just and the unjust consigned respectively to their "sulphureous or ambrosial seats,” while
"Hell through all her glooms Returns in groans a melancholy roar;"
this is aptly put under the book of Consolation. But instead of winding up his labours, he proceeds
through a multitude of reflections, and amidst many comparisons assimilates the constellations of heaven to gems of immense weight and value on a ring for the finger of their Creator. Conceit could hardly go farther than to ascribe finery to Omnipotence. The taste of the French artist was not quite so bold, when, in the picture of Belshazzar's feast, he put a ring and ruffle on the hand that was writing on the wall.
Here, however, he was in earnest comparatively with some other passages, such as that in which he likens Death to Nero driving a phaeton in a female guise, or where he describes the same personage, Death, borrowing the "cockaded brow of a spendthrift," in order to gain admittance to "a gay circle.” Men, with the same familiarity, are compared to monkeys before a looking-glass; and, at the end of the eighth book, Satan is roundly denominated a "dunce" the first time perhaps that his abilities were ever seriously called in question.
Shall we agree with Dr. Johnson when he affirms of the Night Thoughts that particular lines are not to be regarded, that the power is in the whole, and that in the whole there is a magnificence like that which is ascribed to a Chinese plantation, the magnificence of vast extent and endless variety? Of a Chinese plantation few men have probably a very
"Nor think this sentence is severe on thee,
Satan, thy master, I dare call a dunce."
distinct conception, but,unless that species of landscape be an utterly capricious shew of objects, in which case even extent and variety will hardly constitute magnificence, it must possess amusement and vicissitude, arising from the relation of parts to each other. But there is nothing of entertaining succession of parts in the Night Thoughts. The poem excites no anticipation as it proceeds. One book bespeaks no impatience for another, nor is found to have laid the smallest foundation for new pleasure when the succeeding night sets in. The poet's fancy discharges itself on the mind in short ictuses of surprise, which rather lose than increase their force by reiteration, but he is remarkably defective in progressive interest and collective effect. The power of the poem, instead of "being in the whole," lies in short, vivid, and broken gleams of genius; so that if we disregard particular lines we shall but too often miss the only gems of ransom which the poet can bring as the price of his relief from surrounding tædium. Of any long work, where the power really lies in the whole, we feel reluctant to hazard the character by a few short quotations, because a few fragments can convey no adequate idea of the architecture; but the directly reverse of this is the case with the Night Thoughts, for by selecting particular beauties of the poem we should delight and electrify a sensitive reader, but might put him to sleep by a perusal of the whole. This character of detached felicities, unconnected with interesting progress'or
reciprocal animation of parts, may be likened to a wilderness, without path or perspective, or to a Chinese plantation (if the illustration be more agreeable), but it does not correspond with our idea of the magnificence of a great poem, of which it can be said that the power is in the whole. After all, the variety and extent of reflection in the Night Thoughts is to a certain degree more imposing than. real. They have more metaphorical than substantial variety of thought. Questions which we had thought exhausted and laid at rest in one book, are called up again in the next in a Proteus metamorphosis of shape, and a cameleon diversity of colour. Happily the awful truths which they illustrate are few and simple. Around those truths the poet directs his course with innumerable sinuosities of fancy, like a man appearing to make a long voyage while he is in reality only crossing and recrossing the same expanse of water.
He has been well described in a late poem, as one in whom
"Still gleams and still expires the cloudy day "Of genuine poetry."
The above remarks have been made with no desire to depreciate what is genuine in his beauties. The reader most sensitive to his faults must have felt, that there is in him a spark of originality which is never long extinguished, however far it may be from vivifying the entire mass of his poetry. Many and
exquisite are his touches of sublime expression, of profound reflection, and of striking imagery. It is recalling but a few of these to allude to his description, in the eighth book, of the man whose thoughts are not of this world, to his simile of the traveller at the opening of the ninth book, to his spectre of the antediluvian world, and to some parts of his very unequal description of the conflagration; above all, to that noble and familiar image,
"When final ruin fiercely drives "Her ploughshare o'er creation."
It is true that he seldom if ever maintains a flight of poetry long free from oblique associations, but he has individual passages which Philosophy might make her texts, and Experience select for her
FROM NIGHT I.
Introduction to the Night Thoughts-Uncertainty of human hap piness-Universality of human misery.
TIR'D nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep!
From short (as usual) and disturb'd reposé,