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poem, from which it appears that Tasso, even at that early age, felt what a fine subject for an Epic the Crusades were: for, in the first canto, he proposes to sing the glories of the Cardinal Luigi d'Este, when, on his exaltation to the papal throne, he shall proclaim a Crusade for the deliverance of Jerusalem.
“ Ma quando il crin di tre corone cinto
C. I. st. 6.
Art. VI.—Psyche: or Love's Misterie. In Twenty Cantos: Displaying the Intercourse between Christ and the Soule.
ο Θεός 'Αγάπη εστί,
S. Greg. Naz. de Carminibus suis. By Joseph Beaumont, Master in Arts, and Ejected Fellow of S. Peter's College, in Cambridge. London, Printed by John Dawson for George Boddington, and to be sold at his Shop in
Chancery-lane, near Serjeant's-Inn. 1648.* Psyche: or Love's Mystery, in XXIV. Cantos : displaying, &c. By Joseph Beaumont, D.D. late King's Professor of Divinity,
ter of St. Peter's College in Cambridge. The Second Edition, with corrections throughout, and Four nero Cantos, never before printed. Cambridge, printed at the UniversityPress, for Thomas Bennet, at the Half-Moon in St. Paul's Church-Yard, London, 1702.
The “Psyche” of Dr. Beaumont, and the “ Philosophical Poem” of Dr. Henry More (reviewed in our Tenth Number,
* In some copies another title-page is pasted over the first, without motto or publisher's name, containing the date 1652, and the name of Francis Beaumont, without any addition, as the author. This has obviously been an artifice of the bookseller's, to pass off an
p. 223) deserve to be associated together, as the two most considerable efforts of English poetry during the era of the Commonwealth. There are, indeed, many other points of resemblance between the two poems. Both were the work of retired scholars, devout and simple-minded men, in whose minds learning and piety formed an amicable union; both were written under the inspiration of a high moral purpose, with little view to profit or reputation, or to any thing but the promotion of truth and virtue. They resemble each other, too, in their didactic prolixity, of which they are almost unique specimens. In other points, however, there is considerable difference between the two works. The tone of Beaumont's poem is more purely devotional ; in that of his contemporary, the philosophical or argumentative preponderates. More's general manner is dry and hard, with but little of that sparkling though illregulated fancy which enlivens the poetry of Beaumont. His stream rolls in a deeper channel, but it is ever and anon losing itself in the swamps of metaphysical disputation ; that of Beaumont, though somewhat shallow, is always visible, always clear, and always sparkling. On the other hand, More, in the few passages where his genius finds an unobstructed field to exercise itself in, shews himself the far higher poet. There is nothing in Beaumont equal to some of the extracts quoted in the article abovementioned, and which are not unworthy of an English Lucretius. Thus, too, in minor points; though Beaumont's language and rhyme are in general more correct than More's, yet, in select passages, the latter displays a beauty and variety of both, far surpassing that of his rival.
Psyche,” however, is deserving of notice on various accounts; among others, it possesses the singular distinction of being (to the best of our knowledge) the longest poem in the English language. The number of lines it contains is nearly forty thousand ; or rather (to speak with all possible accuracy on so important a point) 38,922, and, including the metrical arguments, 39,066 ; being considerably longer than the “ Faërie Queene,” nearly four times the length of Paradise Lost," or Henry More's poem; five or six times as long as the “ Excursion, and reducing the versified novels of modern times to utter insignificance. We have purposely limited the remark to our own language, and the range of our own personal reading : what krakens may lie in the unexplored ocean beyond, it is
unsaleable work by attributing it to the more celebrated Beaumont. There were also two other Francis Beaumonts of the same family, both poets, contemporary with the dramatist.-Some copies of “Psyche” have also the date 1651 (with some other trifling variations), probably to give the book an appearance of novelty.
impossible for us to guess. In the continental languages, which are, for the most part, more fruitful in ponderosities than ours, it is not improbable that many instances of rival, or even superior prolixity, may be found. Conrad of Würzburg, an early German poet, is said to have written an epic on the Trojan war, of which the first twenty-five thousand verses brought the action down to the sacrifice of Iphigenia. A similar story is told of Antimachus, of Colophon. And the “Shah-nameh” of Ferdusi, according to the estimate given in our account of that poet, (No. VIII, p. 204-5) contains no less than a hundred and twenty thousand verses; an aggregate sufficient, if bulk were the criterion of excellence, to weigh down the whole collective body of our western heroics.
In our own days, when brevity (at least in these matters) is so generally considered indispensable, we are apt to wonder how our forefathers could find time or patience for the perusal, much more for the composition, of such productions as the one before us. True it is, that they had much fewer books to read, and could, consequently, tolerate a greater degree of diffuseness in those which they were called upon to peruse. Moreover, copiousness was as much the fashion in those days, as brevity (we hesitate to say conciseness) is in ours; nor was extraordinary length considered objectionable in a poem, any more than in a sermon or a system of philosophy. Their taste, too, was purer-we speak of the readers of poetry as a body, and as compared with the corresponding class in our own times.
- They required no interest of story, or other adventitious aid, to make poetry palatable; it was enough for them that it was poetry. A poem, according to their ideas, (we will not say how far they were right,) was nothing more than a series of verses written under the genuine influence of the imaginative power;
it was a line, not a circle-and the line might stretch out to infinity for any thing they cared, provided only the materials were golden throughout. Among modern poems, Keate's
Endymion” is the most complete case in point; a work belonging to the seventeenth century, full of inspiration, and altogether destitute of factitious allurements. It may be safely maintained, for the reasons here mentioned, that this poem could never have attained general popularity in our own age, even had it escaped the tender mercies of the critics in office. So, too, with the writers of poetry; they felt little solicitude as to the track they should select, or the lengths to which it might lead them, so long as they proceeded under the visible guidance of the animating god; they followed whithersoever their fancies invited them, and wrote on, and on, with a tranquil and well-placed confidence in the patience of their readers. Books of such a kind possess this peculiar advan
tage, that we may lay them aside and resume them at any stage of the journey, without inconvenience. The student might browse upon a large portion, and lay up the rest in store for future occasions. To use the homely illustration of a methodist preacher on another subject, it was “ cut and come again.” Scarcely any one in these days, except a student of poetry in the abstract, or a Retrospective Reviewer, would think of toiling through the four-and-twenty immense cantos of “ Psyche; and yet we cannot doubt that its composition afforded its worthy author many thousand hours of innocent and salutary pleasure, and that it found, in its own time, a class of readers to whom it was acceptable both for the sake of its subject, and its own merits. Nor can it be denied that, in point of taste, they were (to say the least) as well employed in its perusal, as their grandchildren, in conning over Blackmore's “Creation,” or Wesley's “Life of Christ.”
Dr. Joseph Beaumont, little as his name is now remembered, was, in his own time, no undistinguished member of the literary and learned world. He was of a poetical stock, being descended from a collateral branch of the ancient family of the Beaumonts, from whence sprang Sir John Beaumont, the author of Bosworth Field; Francis, the celebrated dramatist; and others. He was born at Hadleigh, in Suffolk, and educated at the University of Cambridge, where we find him, at the time of the Civil war, fellow and tutor of Peterhouse. Being ejected from his offices by the republicans, he retired to his native place, and employed the compulsory leisure thus occasioned, in the composition of his “ Psyche.” On the return of the monarch, he was reinstated in his former dignities, with the addition of some valuable pieces of preferment which were conferred on him by his patron, the munificent Bishop Wren. He afterwards exercised, in succession, the offices of Master of Jesus and of Peterhouse, and King's Professor of Divinity, which latter situation he held from 1670 to 1699, the year of his death. One of his biographers describes his character in a long sentence of antithetical eulogy, beginning with “religious without bigotry,” and ending with humble without meanness.” We are not inclined to question the latter assertion, but the former is more than problematical ; although his bigotry was, probably, more of the heart than the head. He appears, in truth, from his writings, to have been one of a class of characters not uncommon in that age, and 'which it is impossible to contemplate without a mixture of reverence for their high worth, and regret for the human prejudices and infirmities which rendered that worth, in a great measure, useless; a truly religious and upright, though narrow-minded man, capable of 'undergoing any sacrifice in defence of principles which he, perhaps, only imper
fectly understood; tenacious, to an excess of the outward forms and observances of religion, yet strenuous in the performance of active duties to a degree not always united with this species of punctiliousness.
Besides “ Psyche,” which appeared first in 1648, and of which a second edition was published, by his son, in 1702, three years after his death, with numerous corrections and the addition of four cantos by the author, he wrote several smaller poems, English and Latin ; a polemical tract in reply to Dr. Henry More's “ Mystery of Godliness ;” and a number of theological works, the bulk of which are still in manuscript, owing to a provision in his will to that effect.
The story of “ Psyche” has little in common with the old philosophical fable of that name, except that, in both, the mystical union between God and the soul is represented by the same symbol, that of conjugal affection. It is a religious allegory, describing the progress of the divine life in man, and conducting the soul through the various trials of sensual allurement, pride, heresy, persecution, and spiritual desertion, to its final consummation in bliss. Several cantos are occupied with a poetical history of our Saviour's life and passion, by way episode. As an allegory,“ Psyche” is exceedingly meagre and inartificial; the heroine herself is a vague featureless personification, and her attendants, Logos and Thelema, (the reason and the will) are poor and lifeless, compared with the bustling and dramatic personages of our old friend Bunyan, in the Siege of Mansoul-my Lord Will-be-will, Mr. Recorder Conscience, and the rest. Phylax, the protector or guardian angel of Psyche, is the only character for whom we entertain any thing approaching to personal interest. Nor can much be said for the evil spirits, who form the adverse machinery of the poem ; except, indeed, that they afford scope for a great deal of extravagant, but sometimes striking description. The poem is, in fact, little more than a tissue of reasonings, exhortations, and devotional effusions, pervaded by a slender thread of fiction, which appears to have been inserted merely because the author fancied that something of the kind was necessary to entitle his performance to the name of the poem. The true unity of the work consists in the predominance of one animating purpose, and in the continuity of thought and feeling thence ensuing; the allegory serves merely as a frame-work.
Were we to name the qualities which, in spite of all incongruities, redundancies, and defects, sustain the poem, and effectually prevent its interest from putrifying, we should say, the enthusiasm with which it is written, and the lively fancy which overgrows all its details and reflections like an efflorescence. The former attracts the sympathies of the reader, and