I Dare appeal to that Learned University, that at present enjoys the Honor of being under Your Graces Patronage, to justifie me in presenting these Remains of their ever Celebrated COWLEY to your Graces Protection. I have long had the Ambition of Addressing some part of my Endeavours to your Grace, that might come recommended to a following Age, by being devoted to a Patron that was the Glory and Ornament of his own. But while I despair'd of performing what could merit Encouragement from a Person of your Graces Worth and Honor, I was obliged to Fortune, for this Opportunity of gratifying my Wishes in a way that renders my Application a just Homage and Duty, that otherwise had been Presumption. The best Products of my Invention must have proved too mean an Offering for your Graces Acceptance: But coming embarqu'd in COWLEY's rich Bottom, laden with the Treasures of his Divine Fancy, I can with the more assurance approach your Altar. The Author sufficiently obliged the World with his Latin Original of this Work, and how he would have approved the Translation here attempted, I must leave others to determine; but am certain, that if he had lik'd the Undertaking, he would consequently have allowed me in ascribing this Version to the Illustrious Duke of SOMERSET. I dare not attempt your Graces Character which would have been a proportioned Task for the mighty Genius of Cowley himself; I will only presume to say (and have all Mankind to abet me) that your Grace is accomplish'd with all those noble Qualifications which his elevated Muse would have chosen to celebrate. Virtue and Honor were the Themes he delighted in, and would have been transported to have seen in his own Age and Climate an Example that might compare with the most noble of the Ancient Romans. Besides the Advantages of Birth and Quality, your Grace is endow'd with such greatness of Soul, such Piety of Mind, such Generosity of Temper, with all those Charms of condescending Goodness and Courtesie, as have even in your blooming Years procur'd you an universal Love and Admiration. It is upon these Accounts that the Muses claim a share in your Favour. It has in all times been the Province of the most worthy to patronize Wit and Learning.
Carmen amat quisquis carmine dignus. [Claudian, De consulatu Stilichonis 3 praef. 5]It is from thence I am encouraged (at least, in behalf of my Fellow-Undertakers) to entitle your Grace to the Version of this Latin Volumn, which we hope is not so much dispirited by the Transfusion, but that a modest Censure may in a manner allow it to be COWLEY's still. Could we have done him that Right which he performed to the best of the Latin Poets, it might confidently take Sanctuary under your Graces Name. However I may conclude my self safer in this Translation than in any Original which I was capable of designing. I proposed in setting forward this Work, that every English Man, as far as was possible, should be master of their beloved COWLEY entire; and hope your Grace will approve my Zeal, if not the performance: At least, I will have recourse to that Indulgence you never fail of extending to your Petitioners, and beg the Honour of subscribing my self, with all sincerity,
BEing obliged before we speak of this Translation, to give some prefatory Account of the Original; it will be necessary to resume what has been delivered on that Subject by the incomparable Dr. Sprat, the present [image] Bishop of Rochester, in the Account he has given us of [image] the Life and Writings of Mr. COWLEY. Concerning these Six Books of Plants, he has thus express'd his Sentiments with that strength of Judgment and freedom of Ingenuity which was requisite.
"The occasion (says he) of his choosing the Subject of his Six Books of Plants, was this: When he returned into England, he was advised to dissemble the main intention of his coming over, under the disguise of applying himself to some setled Profession. And that of Physick was thought most proper. To this purpose, after many Anatomical Dissections, [image] [image] he proceeded to the consideration of Simples; and having furnish'd himself with Books of that Nature, he retir'd into a fruitful part of Kent, where every Field and Wood might shew him the real Figures of those Plants, of which he read. Thus he speedily master'd that part of the Art of Medicine. But then, as one of the Ancients did before him in the Study of the Law, instead of employing his Skill for Practice and Profit, he presently digested it into that form which we behold.
The two first Books treat of Herbs, in a Style resembling the Elegies of Ovid and Tibullus, in the sweetness and freedom of the Verse; but excelling them in the strength of the Fancy, and vigour of the Sence. The third and forth discourse of Flowers in all the variety of Catullus and Horace's Numbers; for the last of which Authors he had a peculiar Reverence, and imitated him, not only in the stately and numerous pace of his Odes and Epodes, but in the familiar easiness of his Epistles and Speeches. The two last speak of Trees, in the way of Virgil's Georgicks: Of these the sixth Book is wholly Dedicated to the Honor of his Country. For making the British Oak to preside in the Assembly of the Forest Trees, upon that occasion he enlarges on the History of our late Troubles, the King's Affliction and Return, and the beginning of the Dutch Wars; and manages all in a Style, that (to say all in a word) is equal to the Valor and Greatness of the English Nation. -- -
This was as much as could be expected in a transient and general Account, and what has left but little room for a more particular Essay. As the nature of the Subject has sometimes furnish'd our Author with great and beautiful occasions of Wit and Poetry, so it must be confess'd, that in the main he has but a barren Province to cultivate, where the Soil was to be enrich'd by the Improvements of Art and Fancy. He must so frequently descend to such minute Descriptions of Herbs and Flowers, which administer so feeble occasions for Thought, and unfurnished of Variety, that since the enumerations are no where tedious, but every thing made beautiful and entertaining, it must be wholly ascribed to the Faculty of the Artist, with a Materiem superavit Opus [ Ovid , Met. 2.5].
This wonderful Performance put me on a consideration, by what Artifices of Ingenuity he could possibly effect it: I was sensible that the smallest Subjects were capable of some Ornament in the hands of a good Poet,
In tenui labor at tenuis non gloria, siquem
Numina læva sinant auditque vocatus Apollo [Georg. 4.6-7]
This was actually hinted by Virgil when he came to his Description of Bees, to raise the credit of his own Performance; whereas those Manners, Politicks and Battels with which he has adorn'd his Poem, were for the most part true in Fact, and the rest lay obvious to Invention; but our Author was oblig'd to animate his silent Tribe of Plants, to inspire them with Motion and Discourse, in order to lighten his Descriptions with Story: But where he is confin'd to the descriptive part it self, where he is to register them standing mute in their Beds, divested of that imaginary Life which might beautifie the Work, Hic labor, hoc opus [cf. Virgil , Aen. 6.129], it is there it seems worth our while to observe the sagacious Methods of his Fancy, in finding Topicks for his Wit, and Instances of amiable Variety. He had the Judgment to perceive, that where the Subjects he was to treat of in their own naked Nature, and simply consider'd, could afford but slender Matter; yet that many things were greater in their Circumstances than they are in themselves: Accordingly he has most nicely fastened upon each minute Circumstance of the places where his Plants and Herbs delight to spring, the Seasons of their Flowering, Seeding, and Withering, their long or short Duration, their noxious or healthful Qualities, their Figures and Colouring; all which he has managed with such dexterity of Fancy and unexhausted Conceit, that each Individual (as he has dress'd and set them out) appears with a different Aspect and peculiar Beauty: The very agreeableness or disagreeableness of their Names to those Dispositions wherewith Nature has indued them, are frequently the surprizing and diverting occasion of his Wit.
Yet in all this Liberty, you find him no where diverted from his Point, Judgment, that is to say, a just regard to his Subject is every where conspicuous, being never carried too remote by the heat of his Imagination and quickness of his Apprehension. His Invention exerts its utmost Faculties, but so constantly over-rul'd by the Dictates of Sense, that even those Conceits which are so unexpectedly started, and had lain undiscover'd by a less piercing Wit, are no sooner brought to light, but they appear the result of a genuine Thought, and naturally arising from his Matter. Antiquity had been before-hand, in furnishing him with diverting Fables relating to several Plants, which he never suffers to escape his hands, of which he is not a cold and dull Reciter, but delivers them with so new a Grace, such an ingenious connexion and application to his Design, that in every one, instead of a stale Tradition, we have the pleasure of a Story first told.
Having mention'd our Authors Design in this Work, we must speak something of the Oeconomy thereof, the most important part of a Poem, and from whence it properly takes its Character; for without that artificial cast and drift, it can never be able to support it self, the boldest Efforts of Wit and Fancy being otherwise but extravagant Excursions. This it is that has compleated the Georgicks of Virgil, where each Book is concluded with a surprising and natural Turn. Nor does our Author here fall short of him in Contrivance and artificial Periods. For having in his First and Second of these Books taken in the Species of Herbs, the First is a promiscuous Account (not without poetical Starts upon all Occasions.) The Second is an Assembly of such chiefly as come under the Female Province, and are serviceable in Generation or Birth: The Scene which he has chosen for calling this Council is the Physick Garden at Oxford, which having adjusted Matters for the benefit of the teeming Sex, they are not at last tumultuously dissolved, but artificially broke up by the approach of the Gardiner, whom our Author fancies to have entered that Morning more early than usual, to gather such Herbs as he knew would be of assistance to his Wife who was fallen in Labour. The Third and Fourth Books treat of Flowers; in the Third he ranges those that appear in the Spring, in the Fourth he musters up the Tribes of Summer and Autumn Flowers, which together with the former, are assembled before Flora, to offer their respective Claims for the Precedency; the Goddess at last being doubtful how to determin amongst such noble Competitors, and to decline the Odium of a Decision, she puts them in mind of the Insolence of Tarquin, the dangerous Consequences of a single and arbitrary Principality; that she was a Roman Deity, and they themselves were Flowers of a Roman Breed; she therefore advises them to follow the Model of the Roman Government, and resolve themselves into a Common-Wealth of Plants, where the Preferments or Offices being annual and successive, there would be room left to gratifie their several Merits. Here we see the utmost force of Judgment and Invention in most Happy Conjunction, what more beautiful Cast or Turn could the Poet have given to the Subject before him, or where can we see the Drama it self wind up with a more artificial close. In his Fifth Book, the Competition is between the Trees of the American World and ours. Pomona seated in one of the fortunate Islands between the two Worlds, the Convention from each is assembled before; the Author finding the Preference to be in truth due to the Indian Plants, yet unwilling to determin for the Savage Climate, prevents the Decision by a quarrel between Omelochilus the Indian Bacchus, and the European: The Powers of both Countries are thereupon drawn into Parties, and ready to engage. When Apollo disarms the barbarous Deity by the Charms of his Musick, which is so beautiful and artificial a Turn, that an ordinary Poet would have rested satisfied with the Discovery. Our Author pursues his Advantage, and besides the Conquest of his Harp, puts a Song into Apollo's Mouth, and fastens upon the most noble as well as agreeable Subject that the Nature could afford, of Columbus his Discovery of America. The drift of his last Book, which yet seems to top upon the rest, is described to our Hands in the forementioned Preface, where the impartial Reader may judge if Virgil himself has better designed for the Glory of Rome and August, than Cowley for his Country and the Monarch of his time.
As for the Translation we have here presented, I fear I shall be thought too much a Party to speak with any great Freedom: I will only presume to say, that if the Reader considers the difficulty of the Task, he will not think the Version altogether unworthy of the Original: He that takes the pains to compare them, will at least find a justness to the Authors Sense, and I hope that the performance of the rest that were engaged with me in the Attempt, will not only support their Parts of the Undertaking, but make amends for the Defects of mine. If in the main you meet with that Diversion I proposed, it is all that is expected by
COnsidering the incredible Veneration which the best Poets always had for Gardens, Fields, and Woods, insomuch that in all other Subjects they seem'd to be banished from the Muses Territories, I wondered what evil Planet was so malicious to the Breed of Plants, as to permit none of the inspired Tribe to celebrate their Beauty and admirable Virtues. Certainly a copious Field of Matter, and what would yield them a plentiful return of Fruit; where each particular, besides its pleasant History (the extent whereof every body, or to speak more truly, no body, can sufficiently understand) which contains the whole Fabrick of humane Frame, [image] and a complete Body of Physick: From whence I am induced to believe, that those great Men did not so much think them improper Subjects of Poetry, as discouraged by the greatness and almost inexplicable Variety of the Matter, and that they were unwilling to begin a Work which they despaired of finishing. I therefore who am but a Pigmy in Learning, and scarce sufficient to express the Virtues of the vile Sea Weed, attempt that Work which those Giants declin'd: Yet wherefore should I not attempt? Forasmuch as they disdained to take up with less than comprehending the whole, and I am proud of conquering some part. I shall think it Reputation enough for me to have my Name carved on the Barks of some Trees, or (what is reckon'd a Royal Prerogative) inscribed upon a few Flowers. You must not therefore expect to find so many Herbs collected for this Fardle, as sometimes go to the compounding of one single Medicine. These Two little Books are therefore offer'd as small Pills made up of sundry Herbs, and gilt with a certain brightness of Stile; in the choice whereof I have not much labour'd, but took them as they came to Hand, there being none amongst them which contain'd not plenty of Juice, if it were drawn out according to Art, none so insipid that would not afford Matter for a whole Book, if well extracted. The Method which I judged most genuine and proper for this Work, was not to press out their Liquor crude in a simple enumeration, but as it were in a Lymbeck, by the gentle Heat of Poetry, to distil and extract their Spirits. Nor [image] [image] have I chosen to put them together which had affinity in Nature, that might create a disgust for want of Variety; I rather connected those of the most different Qualities, that their contrary Colours, being mixt, might the better set off each other.
I have added short Notes, not for ostentation of Learning (whereof there is no occasion here offered; for what is more easie than to turn over one or two Herbalists?) but because that beside Physicians (whom I pretend not to instruct, but divert) there are few so well vers'd in the History of Plants, [image] as to be acquainted with the Names of them all. It is a part of Philosophy that lies out of the common Road of Learning; to such Persons I was to supply the place of a Lexicon. But for the sake of the very Plants themselves, lest the treating of them in a Poetical way might derogate from their real Merit, and that should seem not to attribute to them those Faculties wherewith Nature has indued them, (who studies what is best to be done, not what is most capable of verbal Ornaments) but to have feigned those Qualities which would afford the greatest Matter for Pomp and empty Pleasure. For, because Poets are sometimes allowed to make fictions, and some have too excessively abused that Liberty, Trust is so wholly denied to us, that we may not without hesitation be believed when we say,
O Laertiade quicquid dicam, aut erit, aut non. Hor. Serm. 2.5.
I was therefore willing to cite proper Witnesses, that is, such as writ in loose and free Prose, which compared with Verse, bears the Authority of an Oath. I have yet contented my self with Two of those, (which is the Number required by Law) Pliny and Fernelius I have chiefly made choice of, the first being an Author of unquestion'd Latin, and the latter amongst the Moderns of the truest Sentiments, and no ill Master of Expression. If any except against the former, as too credulous of the Greekish idle Tales, that he may not safely be credited, he will find nothing in this Subject mention'd by him, which is not represented by all that write of Herbs. Nor would I have the Reader, because I have made my Plants to discourse, [image] [image] [image] forthwith (as if he were in Dodona's Grove) to expect Oracles, which, I fear, my Verses will only resemble in this, that they are as bad Metre as what the Gods of old delivered from their Temples to those that consulted them.
Having given you this Account, if any shall light upon this Book who have read my former, published not long since by me in English, I fear they may take occasion from thence, of reprehending some things, concerning which it will not be impertinent briefly to clear my self before I proceed. In the first place, I foresee that I shall be accused by some of too much Delicacy and Levity, in that having undertaken great Subjects, and after a day or two's journey, I have stopt through Lazyness and Despondency, of reaching home, or possess'd with some new frenzy, have started into some other Road, insomuch, that not only the half (as they say) but the third part of the Task has been greater than my whole performance: Away (they cry) with this Desultory Writer. Yet with what Spirit, what Voice threatning mighty Matters; he begins
Of War and Turns of Fate I sing.Thou sing of Wars, thou Dastard, who throwest away thy Arms so soon, or betakest thy self to the Enemy's Camp, a Renegade, before the first Charge is sounded? or if at any time thou adventurest to engage, it is like the Ancient Gauls, making the Onset with more than the Courage of a Man, and presently retreating with more than that of the Coward: Whereas, he that has once applyed himself to a Poem, as if he had married a Wife, should stick to it for better for worse, whether the Matter be grateful and easie, or hard and almost intractable, ought neither to quit it for tiresomeness, nor be diverted by new Loves, nor think of a Divorce, or at any time relinquish, till he has brought it to a conclusion, as Wedlock terminates with Life. This is imputed to me as a Fault; and since I cannot deny the Charge, whether I am therein to be blamed or not, let us examine.
In the first place therefore, that which is most truly asserted of Human Life, is too applicable to my Poetry; that it is best never to have been born, or being born, forthwith to die; And if my Essays should be carried on to their Omega (to which the Works of Homer by a peculiar Felicity were continu'd vigorous) there would be great danger of their falling into Dotage before that time. The only thing that can recommend Trifles, or make them tolerable is, that they give off seasonably, that is suddenly; for that Author goes very much too far, who leaves his Reader tired behind him. These Considerations, if I write ill, will excuse my brevity, though not so easily excuse the Undertaking; nor shall my Inconstancy in not finishing what I have begun, be so much blamed as my Constancy in ceasing not continually to begin, and being like Fortune, constant in Levity. But if Reader (as is my desire) we have furnished you with what is agreeable to your Appetite, you ought to take it in good part, that we have used such moderation, as neither to send you away hungry, nor cloy your Stomach with too much satiety: To this you must add, that our Attempts, such as they are, may excite the Industry of others who are enabled by a greater genius and strength to undertake the very same or more noble Subjects. As Agesilaus of old, who though he made no great progress into Asia, yet being the first in that Adventure, he opened the way to Alexander for a glorious and entire Conquest. [image] [image] Lastly (to confess to thee as a Friend, for such I will presume thee) I thus employed my self, not so much out of Counsel as the Fury of my Mind; for I am not able to do nothing, and had no other diversion of my Troubles; therefore through a wearisomeness of humane Affairs to these more pleasing Solaces of Literature (made agreeable to me by Custom and Nature) my sick Mind betakes itself; and not long after from an irksomeness of the self same things, it changes its course and turns off to some other Theme. But they press more dangerously upon, and as it were stab me with my own Weapon, who bring those things to my mind, which I have declaimed so vehemently against, the use of exolete and interpolated repetitions of old Fables in Poetry, when Truth it self in the sacred Books of God and awful Registers of the Church has laid open a new more rich and ample World of Poetry, for the Wits of Men to be exercised upon.
When thou thy self (say they) hast thus declared with the Approbation of all good Men, and given an Example in thy Davideis for others to imitate; dost thou, like an Apostate Jew loathing Manna, return to the Leeks and Garlick of Egypt? After the appearance of Christ himself in thy Verse, and imposing silence on the Oracles of Demons, shall we again hear the voice of Apollo from thy profane Tripod? After the Restauration of Sion, and the Purgation of it from Monsters, shall it be again possessed by the drery Ghosts of antiquated Deities. [image] [image] [image] And what the Prophet threatned as the extremity of Evils; Your Muse is in this no less an Object of Shame and Pity, than if Magdalen should backslide again to the Brothel. Behold how the just punishment does not (as in other Offenders) follow your Crime, but even accompanies it: The very lowness of your Subject has retrenched your Wings. You are fastned to the ground with your Herbs, and cannot soar as formerly to the Clouds; nor can we more admire at your halting than at your fabulous Vulcan, when he had fallen from the Skies.
A heavy Charge indeed, and terrible at the first sight; but I esteem that which celebrates the wonderful Works of Providence, not to be far distant from a Sacred Poem. [image] Nothing can be found more admirable in Nature than the Virtues of several Plants; therefore amongst other things of a more noble strain, the Divine Poet upon that account praises the Deity, Who brings forth grass upon the mountains, and herbs for the use of man. Psal. cxli. 8. Nor do I think the Liberty immodest, where I introduce Plants speaking, [image] to whom the Sacred Writ it self does speak, as to intelligent Beings: Bless the Lord, all ye green things upon the earth, praise and exalt him for ever. Dan. iii.53. Apocr. Those Fictions are not to be accounted for Lies, which cannot be believed, nor desire to be so. But that the Names of Heathen Deities and fabulous Transformations are sometimes intermixt, the Matter it self compell'd me against my Will, being no other way capable of embellishment, and it is well if by that means they are so. No painted Garb is to be preferred to the native Dress and living Colours of Truth; yet in some Persons, and on some Occasions it is more agreeable. There was a time when it did not misbecome a King, to dance, yet it had certainly been indecent for him to have danced in his Coronation Robes. You are not therefore to expect in a Work of this nature the Majesty of an Heroick Style (which I never found any Plant to speak in) for, I propose not here to fly, but only to make some Walks in my Garden, partly for Health's sake, and partly for Recreation.
There remains a third Difficulty which will not perhaps so easily be solved. I had some time since been resolved in my self to write no more Verses, and made thereof such publick and solemn protestation, as almost amounts to an Oath:
Si quidem hercle possum nil prius, neque fortius. Eunuch. Scen. I.
When behold I have set in anew. Concerning which matter, because I remember my self to have formerly given an account in Metre: I am willing (and Martial affirms it to be a Poets Right) to close my Epistle therewith; they were written to a learned and most ingenious Friend who laboured under the very same Distemper, though not with the same dangerous Symptoms.
The Author's EPITAPH upon himself,
yet alive, but withdrawn from the busie
World to a Country-Life; to be supposed
written on his House.
The EPITAPH in the Frontispiece of
this Book transcrib'd from the Author's
Tomb in WESTMINSTER-ABBEY,
attempted in English.
Here under lies
The Pindar, Horace, and the Virgil
Of the English Nation.
Book I. and II. Of Herbs, by J. O.
III. Of FLowers, by C. Cleve.
IV. Of Flowers, by N. Tate.
V. Of Trees, by N. Tate.
VI. Of Trees, by Mrs. A. Behn.
Except where otherwise stated the first reading is 1689