Page images
PDF
EPUB

17

18

19

20

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 Brown3. These letters, being written 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 passage, however, seems not unworthy of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation:

'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 [the] agreement will be made: all people upon the place incline to that of union [to that opinion]. The Scotch will moderate something [somewhat] of the rigour of their demands; the mutual necessity of an accord is visible, the King is persuaded of it [, and all mankind but two or three mighty tender consciences about him]. And to tell you the truth (which I take to be an argument above all the rest), Virgil has told the same thing [me something] to that purpose *.

This expression from a secretary of the present time would be considered as merely ludicrous, or at most as an ostentatious

[blocks in formation]

where; though I was in business of
great and honourable trust; though I
ate at the best table...yet I could not
abstain from renewing my old school-
boy's wish, in a copy of verses to the
same effect:-

"Well then; I now do plainly see
This busy world and I shall ne'er
agree," &c.'
Ib. ix. 123; viii. 29.

3 Miscellanea Aulica; or a Collection of State Treatises, never before publish'd. Faithfully collected from their Originals by Mr. T. Brown. 1702. One of Cowley's letters bears date Sept. 13, 1653, p. 158.

Ib. p. 130.

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 years afterwards, 'business,' says Sprat, 'passed of 21 course into other hands'; and Cowley, 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 some mes- 22 sengers 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. Scarborow3.

This year he published his poems with a preface, in which 23 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

''Consulting the Virgilian lots, Sortes Virgilianae, 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 eyes on.' For Charles I and Falkland thus turning up in the Bodleian, as it was reported, the Aeneid, iv. 615; xi. 152 see Johnson's Works, vii. 6n. See also Diary of Dr. Edward Lake, under Jan. 29, 1677-8, quoted by Cunningham, Lives of the Poets,i. 9. 2 Hurd's Cowley, i. II.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

3 lb. In an ode addressed to him he says, with enormous and disgusting hyperbole' (post, COWLEY, 80) :'Scarce could the sword dispatch more to the grave Than thou didst save;

By wondrous art, and by successful care,

The ruins of a civil war thou dost alone repair.'

Eng. Poets, viii. 143. Aubrey tells how 'at Oxford Harvey grew acquainted with Dr. Charles Scarborough, then a young physitian; and whereas before he marched up and downe with the army, he tooke him to him, and made him ly in his

chamber and said to him:-" Prithee leave off thy gunning and stay here; I will bring thee into practice." Brief Lives, i. 299. See post, WALLER, 86.

4

Sprat writes:-'Some have endeavoured to bring his loyalty in question upon occasion of a few lines in the preface to one of his books.... Seeing his good intentions were so ill interpreted he told me, the last time that ever I saw him, that he would have them omitted in the next impression.' Hurd's Cowley, i. 12, 14.

Hearne, writing about a copy given by Cowley to the Bodleian, remarks how strongly 'he speaks for the republicans and Oliverians.' Hearne's Remains, i. 260; where, in a note, the suppressed passage is quoted. Among other things Cowley says:-'When the event of battle and the unaccountable will of God has determined the controversy, and that we have submitted to the conditions of the conqueror, we must lay down our pens as well as arms, we must march out of our cause itself, and dismantle that, as well as our towns and castles, of all the works and fortifications of wit and reason by which we defended it.'

for some days [years] past, and did still very vehemently continue, to retire himself to some of the American plantations, and to forsake this world for ever'.'

24 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 3. He then took upon himself the character of Physician, still, according to Sprat, with intention 'to dissemble the main design [intention] 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 made a copy of verses on Oliver's death ".'

25

26

27

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 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

Eng. Poets, vii. 13.

* In the Preface Cowley says that no one ought 'to envy poets the imaginary happiness' of posthumous fame,

since they find commonly so little in present that it may be truly applied to them, which St. Paul speaks of the first Christians, "If their reward be in this life, they are of all men the most miserable."" Ib. vii. 11.

3 Johnson ends his sixth Rambler,

entitled Happiness not local, with reflections on Cowley's desire 'to retire himself.'

Hurd's Cowley, i. 34. Cowley himself says:-'For to make myself absolutely dead in a poetical capacity, my resolution at present is never to exercise any more that faculty. It is, I confess, but seldom seen that the poet dies before the man.' Eng. Poets, vii. II.

5 Fasti Oxon. ii. 210.

the power of his enemy may, without any violation 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 28 does not appear that his compliance gained him confidence enough to be trusted without security, for the bond of his bail was never cancelled; nor that it made him think himself secure, for at that dissolution of government, which followed the death of Oliver, he returned into France, where he resumed his former station, and staid till the Restoration 1.

'He continued,' says his biographer, 'under these bonds till 29 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 shew 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 30 seems to imply something encomiastick, 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 3.

A doctor of physick, however, he was made at Oxford, in 31 December 1657; and in the commencement of the Royal Society, of which an account has been published by Dr. Birch, he appears

''Till near the time of the King's return.' Hurd's Cowley, i. 12.

2

Sprat wrote, 'till the general redemption.'

3 in Cowley's Discourse by Way of Vision concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell is a copy of verses written, he says, 'on the funeral day of the late man who made himself to be called Protector.' Eng. Poets, viii. 325, 7. In the same Discourse there are three other poems on Cromwell. Ib. pp. 338, 372, 375. Milton's 'Cromwell, our chief of men,' was bespattered by Cowley with such abuse as the following:-They say he invented (O Antichrist! Пovпpóv

and ó movρós!) to sell St. Paul's to the Jews for a synagogue, if their purses and devotions could have reached to the purchase. And this indeed, if he had done only to reward that nation which had given the first noble example of crucifying their King, it might have had some appearance of gratitude: but he did it only for love of their mammon; and would have sold afterwards, for as much more, St. Peter's (even at his own Westminster) to the Turks for a mosquito.' Ib. p. 364.

Hume quotes this Discourse. Hist. of Engl. vii. 287. 1754-61

32

busy among the experimental philosophers with the title of Doctor Cowley1.

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 2. He composed in Latin several books on plants, of which the first and second display the qualities of herbs, in elegiac verse; the third and fourth the beauties of flowers in various measures; and in the fifth and sixth, the uses of trees in heroick numbers. 33

At the same time were produced from the same university the two great Poets, Cowley and Milton 3, of dissimilar genius, of opposite principles, but concurring in the cultivation of Latin poetry, in which the English, till their works and May's poem appeared, seemed unable to contest the palm with any other of the lettered nations*.

He was elected on March 6, 1660-1. Birch's Hist.of the Royal Soc. ed. 1756, i. 17. I do not find him entered as taking any part in the proceedings. He is not in the list of Fellows drawn up on May 20, 1663. Ib. p. 239.

In his Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy he sets forth a plan for 'a philosophical college' with an endowment of £4,000 a year. In his Of Agriculture he anticipated our agricultural colleges by nearly 250 years, Eng. Poets, ix. 46, 133.

Johnson in 1756 reviewed Birch's History.

2 Hurd's Cowley, i. 34. Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall, iii. 249, after quoting from Claudian the description of the old man's trees, 'his old contemporary trees,' adds in

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »