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LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POETS.
penury of English biography, has been fondness for his art excited by the perusal of written by Dr. Sprat, an author whose preg- Richardson's treatise. nancy of imagination and elegance of language By his mother's solicitation he was admitted have deservedly set him high in the ranks of into Westminster School, where he was soon literature; but his zeal of friendship, or am- distinguished. He was wont, says Sprat, to bition of eloquence, has produced a funeral ora- relate, “ That he had this defect in his memory tion rather than a history: he has given the at that time, that his teachers never could bring character, not the life, of Cowley; for he it to retain the ordinary rules of grammar.” writes with so little detail, that scarcely any This is an instance of the natural desire of thing is distinctly known, but all is shown con man to propagate a wonder. It is surely very fused and enlarged through the mist of pane- difficult to tell any thing as it was heard, when gyric.
Sprat could not refrain from amplifying a comABRAHAM COWLEY was born in the year one modious incident, though the book to which he thousand six hundred and eighteen. His fath-prefixed his narrative contained his confutation. er was a grocer, whose condition Dr. Sprat A memory admitting some things, and rejectconceals under the general appellation of a citi- ing others, an intellectual digestion that conzen; and, what would probably not have been cocted the pulp of learning, but refused the less carefully suppressed, the omission of his busks, had the appearance of an instinctive elename in the register of St. Dunstan's parish gance, of a particular provision made by Nature gives reason to suspect that his father was a for literary politeness. But in the author's scctary. Whoever he was, he died before the own honest relation, the marvel vanishes : he birth of his son, and consequently left him to was, he says, such “ an enemy to all constraint, the care of his mother; whom Wood represents that his master never could prevail on him to as struggling earnestly to procure him a literary learn the rules without book.” He does not education, and who, as she lived to the age of tell that he could not learn the rules ; but that, eighty, had her solicitude rewarded by seeing being able to perform his exercises without her son eminent, and, hope, by seeing him them, and being an “enemy to constraint,” he fortunate, and partaking his prosperity. We spared himself the labour. know, at least, from Sprat's account, that he Among the English poets, Cowley, Milton, always acknowledged her care, and justly paid and Pope, might be said “ to lisp in numbers ;" the dues of filial gratitude.
and have given such early proofs, not only of In the window of his mother's apartment lay powers of language, but of comprehension of Spenser's Fairy Queen; in which he very early things, as to more tardy minds seem scarcely took delight to read, till, by feeling the charms credible. But of the learned puerilities of of verse, he became, as he relates, irrecoverably Cowley there is no doubt, since a volume of his & poet.
Such are the accidents which, some. poems was not only written, but printed in his times remembered, and perhaps sometimes for- thirteenth year ;* containing, with other poetigotten, produce that particular designation of mind, and propensity for some certain science or employment, which is commonly called Cowley was fifteen years old.
* This volume was not published before 1633, when
Dr. Johnson, as well genius. The true genius is a mind of large as former biographers, seems to have been misled general powers, accidentally determined to some by the portrait of Cowley being by mistake marked particular direction. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the with the age of thirteen years.-R.
cal compositions, “ The tragical History of elegance of his conversation, that he gained the Pyramus and Thisbe," written when he was kindness and confidence of those who attended ten years old ; and “ Constantia and Philetus," the King, and amongst others of Lord Falkwritten two years after.
land, whose notice cast a lustre on all to 'whom While he was yet at school he produced a co- it was extended. medy called “ Love's Riddle,” though it was About the time when Oxford was surrender not published till he had been sometime ated to the parliament, he followed the Queen to Cambridge. This comedy is of the pastoral Paris, where he became secretary to the Lord kind, which requires no acquaintance with the Jermyn, afterwards Earl of St. Alban's, and living world, and therefore the time at which it was employed in such correspondence as the was composed adds little to the wonders of royal cause required, and particularly in cypherCowley's minority.
ing and decyphering the letters that passed beIn 1636, he was removed to Cambridge, * | tween the King and Queen ; an employment of where he continued . his studies with great in the highest confidence and honour. So wide tenseness : for he is said to have written, wbile was his province of intelligence, that, for several he was yet a young student, the greater part of years, it filled all his days and two or three his “ Davideis ;” a work, of which the materials nights in the week. could not have been collected without the study In the year 1647, his " Mistress” was publishof many years, but by a mind of the greatest vi- ed; for he imagined, as he declared in his pregour and activity.
face to a subsequent edition, that “ poets are Two years after his settlement at Cambridge scarcely thought freemen of their company he published “ Love's Riddle,” with a poetical without paying some duties, or obliging themdedication to Sir Kenelm Digby; of whose ac- selves to be true to Love." quaintance all his cotemporaries seem to have This obligation to amorous ditties owes, I bebeen ambitious; and “ Naufragium Joculare," lieve, its original to the fame of Petrarch, who, a comedy written in Latin, but without due at- in an age rude and uncultivated, by his tuneful tention to the ancient models; for it was not homage to his Laura, refined the manners of loose verse, but mere prose. It was printed, the lettered world, and filled Europe with love with a dedication in verse, to Dr. Comber, mas- and poetry. But the basis of all excellence is ter of the college; but, having neither the facil- truth : he that professes love ought to feel its ity of a popular nor the accuracy of a learned power. Petrarch was a real lover, and Laura work, it seems to be now universally neglect- doubtless deserv his tenderness. Of Cowley, ed.
we are told by Barnes,* who had means At the beginning of the civil war, as the enough of information, that, whatever he may Prince passed through Cambridge in his way to talk of his own inflammability, and the variety York, he was 'entertained with a representation of characters by which his heart was divided, he of the “Guardian," a comedy which Cowley says in reality was in love but once, and then never was neither written nor acted, but rough-drawn had resolution to tell his passion.' by him, and repeated by the scholars. That This consideration cannot but abate, in some this comedy was printed during his absence measure, the reader's esteem for the work and from his country, he appears to have considered the author. To love excellence, is natural; it? as injurious to his reputation; though during is natural likewise for the lover to solicito recithe suppression of the theatres, it was some-procal regard by an elaborate display of his own times privately acted with sufficient approba- qualifications. The desire of pleasing has in tion.
different men produced actions of heroism, and In 1643, being now master of arts, he was, by effusions of wit; but it seems as reasonable to the prevalence of the parliament, ejected from appear the champion as the poet of an airy Cambridge, and sheltered himself at St. John's nothing," and to quarrel as to write for what College, in Oxford ; where, as is said by Wood, Cowley might have learned from his master he published a satire, called “ The Puritan and Pindar to call “ the dream of a shadow.” Papist,” which was only inserted in the last col It is surely not difficult in the solitude of a lection of his Works ;t and so distinguished college, or in the bustle of the world, to find himself by the warmth of his loyalty and the useful studies and serious employment. No
man needs to be so burdened with life as to * He was a candidate this year at Westminster squander it in voluntary dreams of fictitiqus og School for election to Trinity College, but proved uns
currences. The man that sits daign to suppose successful.N.
himself charged with treason of peculation, and + In the first edition of this Life, Dr. Johnson
heats his mind to an elaborate purgation of his wrote," which was never inserted in any collection character from crimes which he was never withof his works ;" but he altered the expression when in the possibility of committing, differs only the Lives were collected into volumes. The satire was added to Cowley's Works by the particular direction of Dr. Johnson.--N.
• Barnesii Anacreontem.- Dr. J.
by the infrequency of his fully from him who Some years afterwards, “ business," says praises beauty which he never saw; complains Sprat, “ passed of course into other hands; and of jealousy which he never felt; supposes him- Cowley, being no longer useful at Paris, was in self sometimes invited, and sometimes for- 1656, sent back into England, that " under presaken ; fatigues his fancy, and ransacks his me tence of privacy and retirement, he might take mory, for images which may exhibit the gayety occasion of giving notice of the posture of things of hope, or the gloominess of despair; and dres- in this nation." ses his imaginary Chloris or Phyllis, some Soon after his return to London, he was times in flowers fading as her beauty, and some- seized by some messengers of the usurping times in gems lasting as her virtues.
powers who were sent out in quest of anoAt Paris, as secretary to Lord Jermyn, hether man; and, being examined, was put inwas engaged in transacting things of 'real im- to confinement, from which he was not dismisportance with real men and real women, and at sed without the security of a thousand pounds that time did not much employ his thoughts given by Dr. Scarborough. upon phantomas of gallantry. Some of his let This year he published his poems, with a preters to Mr. Bennett, afterwards Earl of Ar- face, in which he seems to bave inserted somelington, from April to December, in 1650, are thing suppressed in subsequent editions, which preserved in“ Miscellanea Aulica,” a collection was interpreted to denote some relaxation of of papers published by Brown. These letters, his loyalty. In this preface he declares, that being written like those of other men whose minds are more on things than words, contribute no otherwise to his reputation than as
Funera : nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquæ
Tradiderit, regno aut optata luce fruatur: they show him to have been above the affecta
Sed cadat ante diem, mediaque inhumatus arena. tion of unseasonable elegance, and to have
Aneid iv, 615, known that the business of a statesman can be little forwarded by flowers of rhetoric.
Yet let a race untamed, and haughty foes, One passage, however, seems not unworthy
His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose, of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty
Oppress'd with numbers in th' unequal field,
His men discouraged, and himself expell’d; then in agitation :
Let him for succour sue from place to place, “ The Scotch treaty," says he, “ is the only
Torn from his subjects and his son's embrace. thing now in which we are vitally concerned: I First let him see his friends in battle slain, am one of the last hopers, and yet cannot now ab And their untimely fate lament in vain :' stain from believing, that an agreement will be
And when, at length, the cruel war shall cease,
On hard conditions may he buy his peace; made; all people upon the place incline to that
Nor let him then enjoy supreme command, of union. The Scotch will moderate something
But fall untimely by some hostile hand, of the rigour of their demands; the mutual re
And lie anbury'd on the barren sand. cessity of an accord is visible, the King is per
DRYDEN. suaded of it. And to tell you the truth (which I take to be an argument above all the rest,)
LORD FALKLAND'S :
Non hæc, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti, Virgil has told the same thing to that pur
Cautius ut sævo velles te credere Marti. pose,
Haud ignarus eram, quantum nova gloria in arThis expression from a secretary of the pre
i mis, sent time would be considered as merely ludi Et prædulce decus primo certamine posset. crous, or at mast as an ostentatious display of Primitiæ juvenis miseræ, bellique propinqui scholarship; but the manners of that time were Dura rudimenta, et nulla exaudita Deorum so tinged with superstition, that I cannot but Vota, precesqne meæ !
Æneid xi. 152. suspect Cowley of having consulted on this great occasion the Virgilian Lots,* and to have
O Pallas, thou hast fail'a thy plighted word, given some credit to the answer of his oracle.
To fight with caution, not to tempt the sword ;
What perils youthful ardour would pursue;.
That boiling blood would carry thee too far, is a method of divination by the opening of Vir
Young as thou wert to dangers, raw to war. gil, and applying to the circumstances of the peru O curs'd essay of arms, disastrous doom, ser the first passage in either of the two pages that
Prelude of bloody fields and fights to come! he accidentally fixes his eye on. It is said that Hard elements of unauspicious war, King Charles I. and Lord Falkland being in the
Vain vows to Heaven, and unavailing care! Bodleian Library, made this experiment of their fu
DRYDEN. ture fortunes, and niet with passages equally ominous to each. That of the King was the following : Hoffman, in his Lexicon, gives a very satisfactory
account of this practice of seeking fates in books ; At bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
and says, that it was used by the Pagans, the Jewish Finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli,
Rabbins, and even the early Christians; the latter Aaxilium imploret, videatque indigna suorum taking the New Testament for their oracle.-H.
“his desire had been for some days past, and these bonds till the general deliverance;" it is did still very vehemently continue, to retire therefore to be supposed, that he did not go to himself to some of the American plantations, France, and act again for the King, without the and to forsake this world for ever.
consent of his bondsman; that he did not show From the obloquy which the appearance of his loyalty at the hazard of his friend, but by his submission to the usurpers brought upon him, friend's permission. his biographer has been very diligent to clear Of the verses on Oliver's death, in which 'him; and indeed it does not seem to have les- Wood's narrative seems to imply something ensened his reputation. His wish for retirement comiastic, there has been no appearance. There we can easily believe to be undissembled; a man is a discourse concerning his government, indeed, harassed in one kingdom, and persecuted in with verses intermixed, but such as certainly another, who, after a course of business that gained its author no friends among the abettors employed all his days and half his nights, in of usurpation. byphering and decyphering, comes to his own A doctor of physic however he was made at country, and steps into a prison, will be willing Oxford in December, 1657; and in the comenough to retire to some place of quiet and of mencement of the Royal Society, of which an safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a account has been given by Dr. Birch, he appears genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose us to busy among the experimental philosophers with forget that, if his activity was virtue, his retreat the title of Dr. Cowley. was cowardice.
There is no reason for supposing that he ever He then took upon himself the character of attempted practice; but his preparatory studies physician, still, according to Sprat, with inten- have contributed something to the honour of his tion “ to dissemble the main design of his com- country. Considering botany as necessary to a ing over ;” and, as Mr. Wood relates, “comply- physician, he retired into Kent to gather plants; ing with the men then in power (which was and as the predominance of a favourite study much taken notice of by the royal party,) he affects all subordinate operations of the intellect, obtained an order to be created doctor of physic; botany in the mind of Cowley turned into poewhich being done to his mind (whereby he try. He composed in Latin several books on gained the ill-will of some of his friends) he plants, of which the first and second display the went into France again, having made a copy of qualities of herbs, in elegiac verse; the third and verses on Oliver's death."
fourth, the beauties of flowers in various meaThis is no favourable representation, yet even sures; and the fifth and sixth, the uses of trees, in this not much wrong can be discovered. How in heroic numbers. far he complied with the men in power, is to be At the same time were produced, from the inquired before he can be blamed. It is not same university, the two great poets, Cowley said that he told them any secrets, or assisted and Milton, of dissimilar genius, of opposite them by intelligence or any other act. If he principles; but concurring in the cultivation of only promised to be quiet, that they in whose Latin poetry, in which the English, till their hands he was, might free him from confinement, works and May's poem appeared, * seemed unhe did what no law of society prohibits.
able to contest the palm with any other of the The man whose miscarriage in a just cause lettered nations. has put him in the power of his enemy may, If the Latin performances of Cowley and without any violation of his integrity, regain Milton be compared (for May I hold to be suhis liberty, or preserve his life, by a promise of perior to both,) the advantage seems to lie on neutrality: for, the stipulation gives the enemy the side of Cowley. Milton is generally content nothing which he had not before; the neutrality to express the thoughts of the ancients in their of a captive may be always secured by his im- language; Cowley, without much loss of purity prisonment or death. He that is at the disposal or elegance, accommodates the diction of Rome of another may not promise to aid him in any to his own conceptions. injurious act, because no power can compel ac At the Restoration, after all the diligence of tive obedience. He may engage to do nothing, his long service, and with consciousness not only bat not to do ill.
of the merit of fidelity, but of the dignity of There is reason to think that Cowley promis- great abilities, he naturally expected ample preed little. It does not appear that his compliance ferments; and, that he might not be forgotten gained him confidence enough to be trusted with by his own fault, wrote Song of Triumph. out security, for the bond of his bail was never But this was a time of such general hope, that cancelled: nor that it made him think himself secure; for at that dissolution of government By May's poem we are bere to understand a
continuatioa of Lucan's Pharsalia to the death of · which followed the death of Oliver, he returned
Julius Cæsar, by Thomas May, an eminent poet and into France, where he resumed his former sta
historian, who flourished in the reigns of James and tion, and staid till the Restoration.
Charles I. and of whom a life is given in the Bio-, “ He continued,” says his biographer, “under
* L'Allegro of Milton.-Dr.17
King's party. ous
O expected, while others for their For the rejection of this
bly has, in a lowed the royal family in
the ais- and, instead of seeking shelter einAmerica, ten about that time in
great numbers were inevitably disappointed; introduced by Suckling, perhaps every general ** and Cowley found his reward very tediously tion of poets has been teasedan ut du progu ili se bib delayed. He had been promised by both Charles
Sivoy-missing Cowley came into the court, the First and Second, the mastership of the Sa
Making apologies for his bad play ; voy ; “ but he lost it,” says Wood, “ by certain
Every one gave him so good a report, 9430TY persons, enemies to the muses,
That Apollo gare heed to all he could sayaridus The neglect of the court was not his only Nor would he have had, 'tis thought, a tebuke, d 211, mortification: having, by such alteration as he Unless he had done some notable folly :..is min thought proper, fitted his old comedy of “ The
Writ verses unjustly in praise of Sam Tukeed med
Or printed his pitiful Melancholy;" less 133 owo Guardian" for the stage, he produced it* under the title of ": The Cutter of Coleman street." His vehement desire of retirement now camo s It was treated on the stage with great severity, again upon him. “ Not finding," says the thous and was afterward censured as a satire on the rose Wood, « that p preferment conferred upowy9
him Mr. Dryden, who went with Mr. Sprat to money
places: the first exhibition, related to Mr." Dennis, contented into Surry.” de o 9:197 01 devors "That, When they told Cowley how little
** He was now," says the courtly Spratos favour had been shown him, he received weary of the vexations and formalities of any news of his ill-success, not with so much firm- active condition. He had been perplexed with ness as might have
been expected from so great Sabine do with the arts of a court ; which sort of 6 What firmness they expected, or what weak- life, though his virtue made it innocent to bimy ness Cowley discovered, cannot be known. He yet nothing could make it quiet Those were that misses his end will never,
never be as much the reasons that made him to follow the violent pleased as he that attains it, even when he can inclination of his own mind, which,rl in the impute no part of his failure to himself; and, greatest throng of his former business, hadístill when the end is to please the mu
, and represented to him the man, perhaps, has a right, in things admitting true delights of solitary studies, of temperate of gradation and comparison, to throw the whole pleasures, and a moderate tévenue below, the blame upon his judges, and totally to exclude malice and flatteries of fortune.”usta ojai tai difidence and shame by a baugh
a haughty consciousness So differently are things seen! and so differof his own excellence.
ently are they shown! but actions are visible,
play it is dificult now though motives are secreto 7 Cowley certainly to find the reason; it ce
retired : 'first to Barn-elms, and afterwards to great degree, the power of fixing attention and Chertsey, in Surry. He seems, however, to have exciting merriment. From the charge of disaf- lost part of his dread of the hum of men. He
fection he exculpates himself in his preface, by thought himself now safe enough from intrusion, observing how unlikely 'it
without the defence of mountains and oceans; tresses, « he should choose
of their wisely went only so far from the bustle of life restoration to begin a quarrel with them." It as that he might easily find his way back, when appears, however, from the Theatrical Register solitude should grow tedious. His retreat was of Downes,
to have been popularly at first bat slenderly accommodated; yet he considered as a satire on
royalists. 7 **ing
soon obtained, by the interest of the Earl of St. That he might shorten this tedious suspense, Alban's and the Duke of Buckingham, such a he published his pretensions and his discontents lease of the Queen's lands as afforded him an
ode called * The Complaint;"" in which ample income. 12 wis ad assess to he styles himself the melancholy Cowley. This By the lovers of virtue and of wit it will be met with the usual fortune of complaints, and solicitously asked, if he now was happy. Let
These unlucky incidents are brought, mali- served by Peck, which I recommend to the ciously enough, together in soine 'stanzas, writ- consideration of all that may hereafter pant for on the choice of a laureat; a
solitude. modo of satire, by which, since it was first dir:Tr 2002 fennu avio na
To DR. THOMAS SPRAT.
Ov; 0917 79 009 903010 main bsn o ISTIT9
Top It wa 1996. Pavy find it to Chertsey, May . Here is an error in the desigpation of this Co
Sec. The first night that I came hither, I caught medy, which our anthor copied from the title page so great a cold with a deflussion of rheum, -as Drof the later editions of Cowley's Works : the title made me keep my chamber ten dayssini Anda of the play itself is without the article Cutter of two'after, had sucha braise on my ribs with a Coleman street," although a merry sharking fellow
UITKT0129 f1 41+ lit binie bne. 10.... about the town, named Catter, is a principal cha
y 21, 1665
cacter in it.-H.