Page images

By his mother's solicitation he was admitted into West- 4 minster school', where he was soon distinguished. 'He was wont,' says Sprat, 'to relate that he had this defect in his memory at that time, that his teachers never could bring it to retain the ordinary rules of grammar ".'

This is an instance of the natural desire of man to propagate 5 a wonder3. It is surely very difficult to tell any thing as it was heard, when Sprat could not refrain from amplifying a commodious incident, though the book to which he prefixed his narrative contained its confutation. A memory admitting some things and rejecting others, an intellectual digestion that concocted the pulp of learning, but refused the husks, had the appearance of an instinctive elegance, of a particular provision made by Nature for literary politeness. But in the author's own honest relation, the marvel vanishes: he was, he says, such an enemy to all constraint, that his master never could prevail on him to learn the rules without book". He does not tell that he could not learn the rules, but that, being able to perform his exercises without them, and being an 'enemy to constraint,' he spared himself the labour.

Among the English poets, Cowley, Milton, and Pope might 6 be said 'to lisp in numbers", and have given such early proofs, not only of powers of language, but of comprehension of things, as to more tardy minds seems scarcely credible. But of the learned puerilities of Cowley there is no doubt, since a volume of his poems was not only written but printed in his thirteenth year, containing, with other poetical compositions,

&c., 1719. By Jonathan Richardson.
See Northcote's Reynolds, i. 14, and
Leslie and Taylor's Reynolds, i. 9.
Reynolds told Malone that 'the first
book that gave him a turn for painting
was the Jesuit's Perspective, a book
which happened to be in the parlour
window in the house of his father.'
Prior's Malone, p. 389. Johnson,
who must have heard Reynolds tell
the same story, transferred 'the par-
lour window' to the house of Cowley's
mother. In the first edition of the
Lives Reynolds's name is not given.
Fasti Oxon. ii. 209.
2 Hurd's Cowley, i. 6.

3 'Wonders are willingly told and willingly heard.' Post, POPE, 199.

[merged small][ocr errors]

POPE, Prol. Sat. 1. 128; post, POPE, 8.


Johnson here follows Sprat, Hurd's Cowley, i. 5. Cowley, mentioning an ode, continues:-"which I made when I was but thirteen years old and which was then printed with many other verses. Eng. Poets, ix. 120. In 1656 he writes that 'the poems he wrote at school from the age of ten till after fifteen have already past through several editions.' Ib. vii. 15. They were published in 1633, when he was fifteen. He quotes (ib. ix. 121) three stanzas of




The tragical History of Pyramus and Thisbe, written when he was ten years old, and Constantia and Philetus, written two years after '.

While he was yet at school he produced a comedy called Love's Riddle, though it was not published till he had been some time at Cambridge. This comedy is of the pastoral kind, which requires no acquaintance with the living world, and therefore the time at which it was composed adds little to the wonders of Cowley's minority.

In 1636, he was removed to Cambridge, where he continued his studies with great intenseness; for he is said to have written, while he was yet a young student, the greater part of his Davideis3, a work of which the materials could not have been collected without the study of many years but by a mind of the greatest vigour and activity.

Two years after his settlement at Cambridge he published Love's Riddle, with a poetical dedication to Sir Kenelm Digby 5, of whose acquaintance all his contemporaries seem to have been ambitious, and Naufragium Foculare', a comedy written in Latin, but without due attention to the ancient models: for it is not loose verse, but mere prose. It was printed with a dedication in verse to Dr. Comber, master of the college, but having neither the facility of a popular nor the accuracy of a learned work, it seems to be now universally neglected.

the ode written at thirteen. The title of the poems was Poeticall Blossomes.

Eng. Poets, vii. 31, 33, 56. In the third edition of Poeticall Blossomes, 1637, Cowley says of Pyramus and Thisbe:-'I hope a pardon may easily be gotten for the errors of ten years old. My Constantia and Philetus confesseth me two years older when I writ it.'

* Post, MILTON, 181; POPE, 313. 3 Hurd's Cowley, i. 29; post, COWLEY, 145.

4 Loues Riddle. A Pastoral Comaedie. Written at the time of his being Kings Scholler in Westminster Schoole by A. Cowley. London, 1638. The frontispiece is a portrait of Cowley, with a cherub hovering over him, holding a pen in its right hand, and a laurel chaplet in its left. There is an inscription, Aetatis suae 13. 5 The Dedication ends :

'And if it please your tast my Muse will say,

The Birch which crown'd her then is growne a Bay.'


Jonson celebrated him in Underwoods, No. xcvi. Evelyn (Diary, i. 284) calls him 'an arrant mountebank.'

7 It was acted before the College in Feb. 1638-9. The Dedication ends:'Collegii nam qui nostri dedit ista Scholaris,

Si Socius tandem sit, meliora dabit.'

'Feb. 18, 1660-1. Spent the evening in reading of a Latin play, the Naufragium Joculare. PEPYS, Diary, i. 193.

He was Master of Trinity College 1631-1644, when he was ejected for sending the College plate to the King. As Vice-Chancellor he admitted Milton to the M.A. degree. Masson's Milton, i. 257.

At the beginning of the civil war, as the Prince passed 10 through Cambridge in his way to York, he was entertained with the representation of The Guardian, a comedy which Cowley says was neither written nor acted, but rough-drawn by him, and repeated by the scholars'. That this comedy was printed during his absence from his country, he appears to have considered as injurious to his reputation; though during the suppression of the theatres, it was sometimes privately acted with sufficient approbation 2.

In 1643, being now master of arts, he was, by the prevalence 11 of the parliament, ejected from Cambridge3, and sheltered himself at St. John's College in Oxford, where, as is said by Wood*, he published a satire called The Puritan and Papist, which was only inserted in the last collection of his works; and so distinguished himself by the warmth of his loyalty, and the elegance of his conversation, that he gained the kindness and confidence of those who attended the King, and amongst others of Lord

''It was printed in 1650.... It was neither made nor acted, but rough-drawn only, and repeated.' Hurd's Cowley, i. 65. In the Prologue he says:

'Accept our hasty zeal; a thing that's play'd

Ere 'tis a play, and acted ere 'tis made.' Eng. Poets, vii. 128.

In March, 1641-2, the Prince of Wales [Charles II], in his twelfth year, visited Cambridge. A letterwriter tells how 'he went to Trinity College, where, after dinner, he saw a comedy in English, and gave all sighnes of great acceptance which he could, and more than the University dared expect.' Cooper's Annals of Cambridge, iii. 321. In 'the Extraor

dinaries in the Senior Bursar's book for 1642 is the following:-'To Mr. Willis for Ds. [Dominus] Cooley's Comedy. lxvli. xvi s. [£65 16s.].' The spelling seems to show that Cowley was pronounced Cooley, as the poet Cowper's name was pronounced Cooper. The name also appears as 'Cooley' in the books, as Mr. W. Aldis Wright informs me.

Cowley states this in the Preface to Cutter of Coleman Street (post, COWLEY, 36). Hurd's Cowley, i. 91.

3 For the facts in the following note I am obliged to Mr. W. Aldis Wright: Cowley was admitted Minor Fellow on Oct. 30, 1640, when there was no vacancy. He received his stipend as a Scholar up to Michaelmas, 1643, in which year he took his M.A. degree. By the statutes he could have retained his Fellowship, without taking orders, for seven years from this degree; but as he was at once ejected the King, on the Restoration, got the College to allow him to count his seven years from his reinstatement as Fellow. He lived long enough nearly to exhaust his seven years.

Fasti Oxon. ii. 210, where it is stated that Cowley published this satire 'under the name of a Scholar of Oxford.'

'In the first edition of this Life Dr. Johnson wrote, " which was never inserted in any collection of his works," but he altered the expression when the Lives were collected into volumes. The satire was added to Cowley's works by the particular direction of Dr. Johnson.' NICHOLS, Johnson's Works, vii. 4. See Eng. Poets, vii. 171.




Falkland, whose notice cast a lustre on all to whom it was extended'.

About the time when Oxford was surrendered to the parliament, he followed the Queen to Paris, where he became secretary to the Lord Jermin, afterwards Earl of St. Albans 3, and was employed in such correspondence as the royal cause required, and particularly in cyphering and decyphering the letters that passed between the King and Queen; an employment of the highest confidence and honour. So wide was his province of intelligence that for several years it filled all his days and two or three nights in the week.

In the year 1647 his Mistress was published; for he imagined, as he declared in his preface to a subsequent edition, that 'poets are scarce thought freemen of their company without paying some duties, or obliging themselves to be true to Love".'

This obligation to amorous ditties owes, I believe, its original to the fame of Petrarch, who, in an age rude and uncultivated, by his tuneful homage to his Laura, refined the manners of the lettered world, and filled Europe with love and poetry. But the basis of all excellence is truth: he that professes love ought to feel its power'. Petrarch was a real lover, and Laura doubtless deserved his tenderness. Of Cowley we are told by Barnes, who had means enough of information, that, whatever he may talk of his own inflammability and the variety of characters by which his heart was divided, he in reality was in love but once, and then never had resolution to tell his passion 3.

Hurd's Cowley, i. 9; post, CowLEY, 106.

2 In 1646. Dict. Nat. Biog.

3 Created Baron Jermyn in 1643, and Earl of St. Albans in 1660. He was suspected of being the Queen's lover at this time, and her husband after the King's death. Masson's Milton, iii. 495; Clarendon's Hist. vii. 622, 633. Cowley, in his will, described him as 'my Lord and once kind Master.' Cunningham, Lives of the Poets, i. 63. See post, Waller, 231 63 n., 104.

Hurd's Cowley, i. 10; post, DENHAM, 13.

5 The folio of 1656.

6 He continues :-'Sooner or later they must all pass through that trial,

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

This consideration cannot but abate in some measure the 15 reader's esteem for the work and the author. To love excellence is natural; it is natural likewise for the lover to solicit reciprocal regard by an elaborate display of his own qualifications. The desire of pleasing has in different men produced actions of heroism and effusions of wit; but it seems as reasonable to appear the champion as the poet of an airy nothing,' 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 solitude of a college or in the 16 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 sits 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

imitatur in Oda cui titulus, The Chronicle [Eng. Poets, vii. 137], ubi plus centum amicas enumerat ; qui revera, quum unicam tantum haberet, prae nimia tamen verecundia, nunquam illam, licet in iisdem aedibus manentem, de amore compellare ausus est; quod ex certa relatione accepimus.' Barnes's Anacreon, 1705, Preface, p. 32.

'Poesy is not the picture of the poet, but of things and persons imagined by him. He may be in his own practice and disposition a philosopher, nay a Stoic, and yet sometimes speak with the softness of an amorous Sappho :

"ferat et rubus asper amomum [VIRGIL, Ecl. iii. 89].'

[ocr errors]

COWLEY, Eng. Poets, vii. 17. In his Essay of Greatness, Cowley says:-'If I were ever to fall in love again (which is a great passion, and therefore I hope I have done with it) it would be, I think, with prettiness

[ocr errors]

rather than with majestical beauty.' Eng. Poets, ix. 80.

According to Pope 'he was much in love with his Leonora [Heleonora], who is mentioned at the end of that good ballad of his on his different mistresses [The Chronicle, ib. vii. 140]. She was married to Dean Sprat's brother, and Cowley never was in love with anybody after.' Spence's Anecdotes, p. 286.

Cowley, in his Life and Fame, says to Life :

Dream of a shadow! a reflection made

From the false glories of the gay

reflected bow

Is a more solid thing than thou.' Eng. Poets, viii. 147. In a note on this in Pindarick Odes, 1674, p. 39, he writes :-'Tí dé τις, τί δ ̓ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ ἄνθρωπος. PINDAR. Quid est aliquis, aut quid est nemo? Somnium umbrae homo est. See Pindar, P. viii. 136.

« PreviousContinue »