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vestals and poetesses. Those who saw the Countess Perticari at Rome, such as she appeared seven or eight years ago, will not easily forget her brilliant eyes, and yet more brilliant talents. She, too, is a poetess. In her father's works
may be found a little canzone written by her about a year after the death of her husband, and with equal tenderness and simplicity, alluding to her lonely state, deprived of him who once encouraged and cultivated her talents, and deserved her love.*
Vincenzo Monti died in October, 1828 :- his widow and his daughter reside, I believe, at Milan.
* Monti, Opere, vol. iii. p. 75.
Thus, then, it appears, that love, even the most ethereal and poetical, does not always take flight "at sight of human ties;" and Pope wronged the real delicacy of Heloïse when he put this borrowed sentiment into her epistle, making that conduct the result of perverted principle, which, in her, was a sacrifice to extreme love and pride in its object. It is not the mere idea of bondage which frightens away the light-winged god;
The gentle bird feels no captivity
Within his cage, but sings and feeds his fill.* It is when those bonds, which were first decreed in heaven
To keep two hearts together, which began
Their spring.time with one love, are abused to vilest purposes :—to link together indissolubly, unworthiness with desert, truth with falsehood, brutality with gentleness; then indeed love is scared; his cage becomes a dungeon;—and either he breaks away, with plumage all impaired,—or folds up his many coloured wings, and droops and dies.
But then it will be said, perhaps, that the splendour and the charm which poetry has thrown over some of these pictures of conjugal affection and wedded truth, are exterior and adventitious, or, at best, short-lived :- the
bands were at first graceful and flowery ;-but sorrow dewed them with tears, or selfish passions sullied them, or death tore them asunder, or trampled them down. It may
but still I will aver that what has been, is :-that there is a power in the human heart which survives sorrow, passion, age, death itself.
Love I esteem more strong than ago,
And truth more permanent than time. For happiness, c'est different! and for that bright and pure and intoxicating happiness which we weave into our youthful visions, which is of such stuff as dreams are made of,—to complain that this does not last and wait upon us through life, is to complain that earth is earth, not heaven. It is to repine that the violet does not outlive the spring; that the rose dies upon the breast of June; that the gray evening shuts up the eye of day, and that old age quenches the glow of youth: for is not such the condition under which we exist? All I wished to prove was, that the sacred tie which binds the sexes together, which gives to man his natural refuge in the tenderness of woman, and to woman her natural protecting stay in the right reason and stronger powers of man, so far from being a chill to the imagination, as wicked wits would tell us, has its poetical side. Let us look back for a moment on the array of bright names and beautiful verse, quoted or alluded to in the preceding chapters: what is there among the mercurial poets of Charles's days, those notorious scoffers at decency and constancy, to compare with them ?-Dorset and Denham, and Sedley and Suckling, and Rochester," the mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease," — with their smooth emptiness, and sparkling common-places of artificial courtship, and total want of moral sentiment, have degraded, not elevated the loves they sang. Could these gallant fops rise up from their graves, and see themselves exiled with contempt from every woman's toilet, every woman's library, every woman's memory, they would choke themselves with their own periwigs, eat their laced cravats, hang themselves in their own swordknots !-" to be discarded thence !"
Turn thy complexion there,
Ay, there, look grim as hell! And such be the fate of all who dare profane the altar of beauty with adulterate incense!
For wit is like the frail luxuriant vine, Unless to virtue's prop it join; Though it with beauteous leaves and pleasant fruit be crown'd, It lies deform'd and rotting on the ground! These lines are from Cowley,-a great name among the poets of those days; but he has sunk into a name.
We may repeat with Pope, “ Who now reads Cowley ?” and this, not because he was licentious, but because, with all his elaborate wit, and brilliant and uncommon thoughts, he is as frigid as ice itself. “ A little ingenuity and artifice," as Mrs. Malaprop would say, is well enough; but Cowley, in his amatory poetry, is all artifice. He coolly sat down to write a volume of love verses, that he mighi, to use his own expression, " be free of his craft, as a poet;" and in his preface, he protests " that his testimony should not be taken against himself.” Here was a poet, and a lover! who sets out by begging his readers, in the first place, not to believe him. This was like the wea ver, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, who was so anxious to assure the audience " that Pyramus was not killed indeed, and that he, Pyramus, was not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver.” But Cowley's amatory verse disproves itself, without the help of a prologue. It is, in his own phrase, “all sophisticate.” Even his sparkling chronicle of beauties,
Margaretta first possest,
If I remember well, my breast, &c. is mere fancy, and in truth it is a pity. Cowley was once in love, after his querulous melancholy fashion; but he never had the courage to avow it. The lady alluded to in the last verse of the Chronicle, as
Eleonora, first of the name,
Whom God grant long to reign, was the object of this luckless attachment. She after.
wards married a brother of Dr. Spratt, Bishop of Rochester,* who had not probably half the poet's wit or fame, but who could love as well and speak better; and the gentle, amiable Cowley died an old bachelor.
These writers may have merit of a different kind; they may be read by wits for the sake of their wit; but they have failed in the great object of lyric poetry: they neither create sympathy for themselves, nor interest, nor respect for their mistresses: they were not in earnest;-and what woman of sense and feeling was ever touched by a compliment which no woman ever inspired ? or pleased, by being addressed with the swaggering license of a libertine? Who cares to inquire after the originals of their Belindas and Clorindas—their Chloes, Delias, and Phillises, with their pastoral names, and loves--that were any thing but pastoral? There is not one among the flaunting coquettes, or profligate women of fashion, sung by these gay cox
Those goddesses, so blithe, so smooth, so gay,
Woman's domestic honour and chief praise, who has obtained an interest in our memory, or a perma. nent place in the history of our literature; not one, who would not be eclipsed by Bonnie Jean, or Highland Mary! It is true, that the age produced several remarkable women; a Lady Russell, that heroine of heroines! a Lady Fanshawe it a Mrs. Hutchinson; who needed no poet to trumpet forth their praise: and others,—some celebrated for the possession of beauty and talents, and too many notorious for the abuse of both.
But there were no poetical heroines, properly so called,-no Laura, no Geraldine, no Saccharissa. Among the temporary idols of the day, (by which name we shall distinguish those women whose beauty, rank, and patronage, procured them a sort of poetical celebrity, very different from the halo of splendour which love and genius cast round a chosen divinity,) there are one or two who deserve to be particularized.
* Spence's Anecdotes, Sing. edit.