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rare display of his own qualifications. The desire of pleasing has in different men produced actions of heroism, and effufions of wit; but it seems as reasonable to appear the champion as the poet of an “airy na " thing,” and to quarrel as to write for what Cowley might have learned from his master Pindar to call the “ dream of a shadow."
It is surely not difficult, in the folitude of a college, or in the bustle of the world, to find useful studies and serious employment. No man needs to be so burthened with life as to squander it in voluntary dreams of fictitious occurrences. The man that fits down to suppose himself charged with treason or peculation, and heats his mind to an elaborate purgation of his character from crimes which he was never within the possibility of committing, differs only by the infrequency of his folly from him who praises beauty which he never saw; complains of jealousy which he never felt; supposes himself sometimes invited, and sometimes forsaken ; fatigues his fancy, and ransacks his memory, for images which may exhibit the gaiety of hope, or the gloominess of despair, and dresses his imaginary Chloris or Phyllis sometimes in flowers fading as her beauty, and sometimes in gems lasting as her virtues.
At Paris, as secretary to Lord Jermin, he was engaged in transacting things of real importance with real men and real women, and at that time did not much employ his thoughts upon phantoms of gallantry. Some of his letters to Mr. Bennet, afterwards Earl of Arlington, from April to December in 1650, are preserved in “ Miscellanea Aulica,” a collection of papers published by Brown. These letters, being wriiten like those of other men whose mind is more
on things than words, contribute no otherwise to his reputation than as they shew him to have been above the affectation of unseasonable elegance, and to have known that the business of a statesman can be little forwarded by flowers of rhetorick.
One paffage, however, seems not unworthy of some 18 notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation :
“ The Scotch treaty," says he, “ is the only thing 14 “ now in which we are vitally concerned ; I am one of “ the last hopers, and yet cannot now abstain from “ believing, that an agreement will be made : all peo“ple upon the place incline to that of union. The “ Scotch will moderate something of the rigour of “ their demands; the mutual necessity of an accord is “ visible, the King is persuaded of it. And to tell
you the truth (which I take to be an argument above “ all the rest) Virgil has told the same thing to that
This expression from a secretary of the present time, would be considered as merely ludicrous, or at most as an ostentatious display of scholarship; but the manners of that time were so tinged with superstition, that I cannot but suspect Cowley of having consulted on this great occasion the Virgilian lots *, and to have given some credit to the answer of his oracle.
Some Consulting the Virgilian Lots, Sortes Virgilianæ, is a method of Divination by the opening of Virgil, and applying to the circumstances of the peruser the first passage in either of the two pages that he accidentally fixes his eye on. It is said, that king Charles I. and lord Falkland, being in the Bodleian library, made this experiment of their future fortunes, and met with passages equally omi. nous to each. That of the king was the following:
Some years afterwards, “ business,” says Sprat, “ passed of course into other hands;" and Cowley,
At bello audacis populi vexatus & armis,
Æneid, book IV. line 615.
he buy his peace;
Non hæc, O Palla, dederas promiffa parenti,
Æneid, book XI. line 152.
being no longer useful at Paris, was in 1656 sent back into England, that, " under pretence of privacy and “ retirement, he might take occasion of giving notice “ of the posture of things in this nation.”
Soon after his return to London, he was seized by fome messengers of the usurping powers, who were sent out in quest of another man; and being examined, was put into confinement, from which he was not dismissed without the security of a thousand pounds given by Dr. Scarborough.
he published his poems, with a preface, in which he seems to have inserted something, fuppressed in subsequent editions, which was interpreted to denote some relaxation of his loyalty. In this preface he declares, that “his desire had been for some “ days past, and did still very vehemently continue, “ to retire himself to some of the American planta
tions, and to forsake this world for ever."
From the obloquy which the appearance of submission to the usurpers brought upon him, his biographer has been very diligent to clear him, and indeed it does not seem to have lefsened his reputation. His wish for retirement we can easily believe to be undisfembled; a man harrassed in one kingdom, and persecuted in another, who, after a course of business that employed all his days and half his nights in cyphering and decyphering, comes to his own country and steps
O curst essay of arms, disastrous doom,
Vain vows to Heav'n, and unavailing care. DRYDEN. Hoffman, in his Lexicon, gives a very satisfactory account of this practice of seeking fates in books : and says, that it was used by the Pagans, the Jewish Rabbins, and even the early Christians; the latter taking the New Testament for their oracle.
into a prison, will be willing enough to retire to fome place of quiet, and of safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, difpose us to forget that, if his activity was virtue, his retreat was cowardice.
He then took upon himself the character of Phyfician, still, according to Sprat, with intention“ “ diffemble the main design of his coming over,” and, as Mr. Wood relates, “ complying with the men “ then in power (which was much taken notice of by “ the royal party), he obtained an order to be created “ Doctor of Physick, which being done to his mind
(whereby he gained the ill-will of some of his “ friends), he went into France again, having inade a
copy of verses on Oliver's death."
This is no favourable representation, yet even in this not much wrong can be discovered. How far he complied with the men in power, is to be enquired before he can be blamed. It is not faid that he told them any secrets, or aslifted them by intelligence, or any other act. If he only promised to be quiet, that they in whose hands he was might free him from confinement, he did what no law of society prohibits.
The man whose miscarriage in a just cause has put him in the power of his enemy may,
without lation of his integrity, regain his liberty, or preserve his life, by a promise of neutrality: for the stipulation gives the enemy nothing which he had not before ; the neutrality of a captive may be always secured by his imprisonment or death. He that is at the difposal of another, may not promise to aid him in any injurious act, because no power can compel active obedience. He may engage to do nothing, but not to do ill.