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“ The Scotch treaty," says he, " is the only thing 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 people 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 purpose.”
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.
* 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 ominous to each. That of the king was the following:
At bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
Æneid, book iv. line 615.
Some years afterwards, “ business," says Sprat,
passed of course into other hands;" and Cowley, being no longer useful at Paris, was in 1656 sent
Oppress'd with numbers in th' unequal field,
DRYDEN. Lord FALKLAND's:
Non hæc, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti,
Æneid, book xi. line 125.
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.
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 some 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.
This year he published his poems, with a preface, in which he seems to have inserted something suppressed 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 plantations, 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 lessened his reputation. His wish for retirement we can easily believe to be undissembled ; a man harassed 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 into a prison, will be willing enough to retire to some place of quiet and of safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose us to forget, that, if his activity was virtue, his retreat was cowardice.
He then took upon him the character of physician, still, according to Sprat, with intention “ to dissemble 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 physic; which being done to his mind (whereby he gained the ill-will of some of his friends), he went into France again, having made 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 inquired before he can be blamed. It is not said that he told them any secrets, or assisted 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 any breach 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 disposal 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.
There is reason to think that Cowley promised little. It does not appear that his compliance gained him confidence enough to be trusted with
out security, for the bond of his bail was never
16 under these bonds till the general deliverance;' it is therefore to be supposed, that he did not go to France, and act again for the king, without the consent of his bondsman: that he did not show his loyalty at the hazard of his friend, but by his friend's permission.
Of the verses on Oliver's death, in which Wood's narrative seems to imply something encomiastic, there has been no appearance. There is a discourse concerning his government, indeed, with verses intermixed, but such as certainly gained its author no friends among the abettors of usurpation.
A doctor of physic, however, he was made at Oxford in December 1657; and in the commencement of the Royal Society, of which an account has been given by Dr. Birch, he appears busy among the experimental philosophers with the title of Dr. Cowley.
There is no reason for supposing that he ever attempted practice: but his preparatory studies have contributed something to the honour of his country. Considering botany as necessary to a physician, he retired into Kent to gather plants; and as the predominance of a favourite study affects all subordinate operations of the intellect, botany in the mind of Cowley turned into poetry. He com