Page images
PDF
EPUB

a Preface to the Works of each Author; an undertaking, as it was then presented to my mind, not very extensive' or difficult.

My purpose was only to have allotted to every Poet an Advertisement, like those which we find in the French Miscellanies, containing a few dates and a general character; but I have been led beyond my intention, I hope, by the honest desire of giving useful pleasure.

In this minute kind of History the succession of facts is not easily discovered, and I am not without suspicion that some of Dryden's works are placed in wrong years 3. I have followed Langbaine, as the best authority for his plays; and if I shall hereafter obtain a more correct chronology will publish it, but I do not yet know that my account is erroneous*.

Dryden's Remarks on Rymer have been somewhere printed

sellers spontaneously added a third hundred; on this occasion Dr. Johnson observed to me-"Sir, I have always said the booksellers were a generous set of men. Nor, in the present instance, have I reason to complain. The fact is, not that they have paid me too little, but that I have written too much." The Lives were soon published in a separate edition; when, for a few corrections, he was presented with another hundred guineas.' Nichols's Lit. Anec. viii. 416. In Mr. Morrison's Collection of Autographs, &c., vol. ii, 'is Johnson's receipt for £100 from the proprietors of The Lives of the Poets for revising the last edition of that work.' It is dated Feb. 19, 1783. Underneath, in Johnson's autograph, are these words: "It is great impudence to put Johnson's Poets on the back of books which Johnson neither recommended nor revised. He recommended only Blackmore on the Creation, and Watts. How then are they Johnson's? This is indecent." Boswell's Johnson, iv. 35.

The poets whom Johnson recommended were Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden. Post,WATTS,i.]

Mrs. Boscawen wrote to Mrs. Delany on Nov. 16, 1779: 'I hope you will get Dr. Johnson's Prefaces to

the Lives, &c., of the Poets, which however is not easy, because they are not to be bought unless you buy also a perfect litter of poets in fillagree (that is very small print, whereas one already possesses said poets in large letter) therefore I could not possibly give ten guineas for this smaller edition, but a friend of mine, to whom Dr. Johnson presented them, was so kind as to lend them to me.' Mrs. Delany's Auto. and Corres. v. 493.

2

In the first edition,-' tedious.'

[Johnson on May 3, 1777, wrote to Boswell, who had seen the forthcoming work advertised, 'I am engaged to write little Lives, and little Prefaces to a little edition of The English Poets. Boswell's Johnson, iii. 109.]

3

Johnson does not always give Dryden's plays in their chronological order. See post, DRYDEN, 64 n. 4.

In the first edition a passage follows here relating to Dryden's funeral. See post, DRYDEN, 154 n. 2, where this passage is given and the subject discussed.

[In Colman's Beaumont and Fletcher, 1778. Eng. Poets, 1790, vol. i. p. 4 n. In the first edition of the Lives the sentence runs-'I have been told that Dryden's Remarks,' &c.]

TO THE THIRD EDITION

before. The former edition I have not seen. scribed for the press from his own manuscript1.

xxvii

This was tran

As this undertaking was occasional and unforeseen I must be supposed to have engaged in it with less provision of materials than might have been accumulated by longer premeditation 2. Of the later writers at least I might, by attention and enquiry, have gleaned many particulars, which would have diversified and enlivened my Biography. These omissions, which it is now useless to lament, have been often supplied by the kindness of Mr. STEEVENS and other friends; and great assistance has been given me by Mr. SPENCE'S Collections, of which I consider the communication as a favour worthy of publick acknowledgement 3.

The Advertisement of the first edition ends here.

2 Malone writing of the Lives says, 'Dr. Johnson having, as he himself told me, made no preparation for that difficult and extensive undertaking, not being in the habit of extracting from books and committing to paper those facts on which the accuracy of literary history in a great measure depends, and being still less inclined to go through the tedious and often unsatisfactory process of examining ancient registers, &c.; he was under the necessity of trusting much to his own most retentive memory,' &c. Malone's Dryden, i, 2.

The errors Johnson often makes

in quoting verses and other passages are those of a man who had such a stock of words at his command that in copying he substituted one for another-sometimes for the better. They show that vast as were the powers of his memory, they were not always strictly accurate.

3 This valuable collection is the property of the Duke of Newcastle, who, upon the application of Sir Lucas Pepys, was pleased to permit it to be put into the hands of Dr. Johnson, who I am sorry to think made but an awkward return.' Johnson did not own 'to whom he was obliged; so that the acknowledgement is unappropriated to his Grace.' Boswell's Johnson, iv. 63.

THE

COWLEY'

HE Life of Cowley, notwithstanding the penury of English 1 biography, has been written by Dr. Sprat, an author whose pregnancy of imagination and elegance of language have deservedly set him high in the ranks of literature; but his zeal of friendship, or ambition of eloquence, has produced a funeral oration rather than a history: he has given the character, not the life of Cowley; for he writes with so little detail that scarcely any thing is distinctly known, but all is shewn confused and enlarged through the mist of panegyrick 3.

ABRAHAM COWLEY was born in the year one thousand 2 six hundred and eighteen. His father was a grocer, whose condition Dr. Sprat conceals under the general appellation of a citizen; and, what would probably not have been less carefully

'On July 27, 1778, Johnson wrote to John Nichols, the printer of the Lives: 'You have now all Cowley. I have been drawn to a great length, but Cowley or Waller never had any critical examination before.' Letters of Johnson, ii. 68.

The Life of Cowley Johnson himself considered as the best of the whole, on account of the dissertation which it contains on the Metaphysical Poets. Boswell's Johnson, iv. 38.

"Talking of biography, Dr. Johnson said he did not think that the life of any literary man in England had been well written.' Boswell's Johnson, v. 240. See also ib. ii. 40.

Post, SPRAT, 7, 21. Sprat's Life of Cowley is given in Hurd's Select Works of Cowley, i. I.

Addison, in an early poem, absurdly praises Sprat. Addressing Cowley he says:

'Blest man! who now shalt be for ever known

In Sprat's successful labours and thy own.' Addison's Works, i. 24.

[blocks in formation]

'What literary man has not regretted the prudery of Sprat, in refusing to let his friend Cowley appear in his slippers and dressinggown?' COLERIDGE, Biog. Lit. 1847, 59; post, COWLEY, 45 n.

"His parents were citizens of a virtuous life and sufficient estate.' SPRAT, Hurd's Cowley, i. 4. 'He was borne in Fleet-street, near Chancery-lane; his father a grocer.' AUBREY, Brief Lives, i. 189. See also Wood's Fasti Oxon. ii. 209.

'His father, Thomas Cowley, was a citizen and stationer of the parish of St. Michael at Querne, a church in Cheapside, destroyed in the Great Fire, and not rebuilt. He died in Aug. 1618, and left £140 apiece to his six living children and his posthumous child.' Lives of the Poets, ed. Cunningham, i. 3. 'There is no reason why Cowley's father should not have been a grocer, and yet have held the freedom of the Stationers' Company. James I was a clothworker. N. & 2. 7 S. iii. 438.

suppressed, the omission of his name in the register of St. Dunstan's parish' gives reason to suspect that his father was a sectary. Whoever he was, he died before the birth of his son, and consequently left him to the care of his mother, whom Wood represents as struggling earnestly to procure him a literary education, and who, as she lived to the age of eighty, had her solicitude rewarded by seeing her son eminent, and, I hope, by seeing him fortunate, and partaking his prosperity. We know at least, from Sprat's account, that he always acknowledged her care, and justly paid the dues of filial gratitude 3.

8 In the window of his mother's apartment lay Spenser's Fairy Queen, in which he very early took delight to read, till, by feeling the charms of verse, he became, as he relates, irrecoverably a poet. Such are the accidents, which, sometimes remembered, and perhaps sometimes forgotten, produce that particular designation of mind and propensity for some certain science or employment, which is commonly called Genius. The true Genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great Painter of the present age, had the first fondness for his art excited by the perusal of Richardson's treatise 6.

St. Dunstan's is in Fleet Street, 2 Fasti Oxon, ii. 209. 3 Hurd's Cowley, i. 45.

* 'I believe I can tell the particular little chance that filled my head first with such chimes of verse as have never since left ringing there; for I remember, when I began to read and to take some pleasure in it, there was wont to lie in my mother's parlour. Spenser's works; this

and

happened to fall upon, and was infinitely delighted with the stories of the knights, and giants, and monsters, and brave houses, which I found everywhere there; by degrees, with the tinkling of the rhyme and dance of the numbers; so that I think I had read him all over before I was twelve years old, and was thus made a poet as immediately as a child is made an eunuch. Eng. Poets, ix. 122.

Lamb, describing an old great house' in which part of his childhood was spent, mentions 'the cheerful store-room, in whose hot window

seat I used to sit and read Cowley.' Essays of Elia, p. 206.

[ocr errors]

Cowley, according to Dryden, looked upon Chaucer as a dry oldfashioned wit, not worth reviving. Having read him over at the Earl of Leicester's request, he declared he had no taste of him.' Dryden's Works, xi. 232.

5'Every age has a kind of universal genius which inclines those that live in it to some particular studies.' DRYDEN, ib. xv. 293.

'I am persuaded,' wrote Cowper (Works, vi. 94), 'that Milton did not write his Paradise Lost, nor Homer his Iliad, nor Newton his Principia, without immense labour. Nature gave them a bias to their respective pursuits, and that strong propensity, I suppose, is what we mean by Genius. The rest they gave themselves.' See also Boswell's Johnson, ii. 437; John. Misc. i. 314; ii. 287; and Gibbon's Memoirs, pp. 143, 303. Two Discourses on the Art of Criticism as it relates to Painting,

« PreviousContinue »