Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE LOVES OF THE POETS.

CHAPTER I.

CAREW'S CELIA.-LUCY SACHEVEREL.

FROM the reign of Charles the First may be dated that revolution in the spirit and form of our lyric poetry, which led to its subsequent degradation. The first Italian school of poetry, to which we owed our Surreys, our Spensers, and our Miltons, had now declined. The high contemplative tone of passion, the magnanimous and chivalrous homage paid to women, gradually gave way before the French taste and French gallantry, introduced, or at least encouraged and

[blocks in formation]

gay household.

rendered fashionable, by Henrietta Maria and her

The muse of amatory poetry (I presume there is such a Muse, though I know not to which of the Nine the title properly applies,) no longer walked the earth star-crowned and vestal-robed, “ col dir pien d' intelletti, dolci ed alti,”—“ with love upon her lips, and looks commercing with the skies ;"—she suited her garb to the fashion of the times, and tripped along in guise of an Arcadian princess, half regal, half pastoral, trailing a sheep-hook crowned with flowers, and sparkling with foreign ornaments,

Pale glistering pearls and rainbow-coloured gems.

Then in the “ brisk and giddy paced times” of Charles the Second, she flaunted an airy coquette, or an unblushing courtezan, (“unveiled her eyesunclasped her zone ;") and when these sinful doings were banished, she took the hue of the new morals -new fashions--new manners, -and we find her a court prude, swimming in a hoop and red-heeled shoes, “conscious of the rich brocade,” and ogling behind her fan; or else in the opposite extreme, like a bergère in a French ballet, stuck over with sentimental common-places and artificial flowers.

This, in general terms, was the progress of the lyric muse, from the poets of Queen Elizabeth's days down to the wits of Queen Anne's. Of course, there are modifications and exceptions, which will suggest themselves to the poetical reader; but it does not enter into the plan of this sketch to treat matters thus critically and profoundly. To return then to the days of Charles the First.

It must be confessed that the union of Italian sentiment and imagination with French vivacity and gallantry, was, in the commencement, exceedingly graceful, before all poetry was lost in wit, and gallantry sunk into licentiousness.

Carew, one of the first who distinguished himself in this style, has been most unaccountably eclipsed by the reputation of Waller, and deserved

better than to have had his name hitched into

line between Sprat and Sedley ;

Sprat, Carew, Sedley, and a hundred more.*

As an amatory poet, he is far superior to Waller : he had equal smoothness and fancy, and much more variety, tenderness, and earnestness ; if his love was less ambitiously, and even less honourably placed, it was, at least, more deep seated, and far more fervent. The real name of the lady he has celebrated under the poetical appellation of Celia, is not known—it is only certain that she was no “ fabled fair,”—and that his love was repaid with falsehood.

Hard fate! to have been once possessed

As victor of a heart,
Achieved with labour and unrest,

And then forced to depart!

From the irregular habits of Carew, it is possible he might have set the example of inconstancy; and yet this is but a poor excuse for her.

* Pope.

« PreviousContinue »