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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 husks, 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 sectary. 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, I 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 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 a 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.
he "Among the English poets, Cowley, Milton,
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 surrendernot published till he had been sometime at ed 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,* than 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, while 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 them. dedication to Sir Kenelm Digby; of whose ac- selves to be true to Loye.” 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 Dş. 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 por the accuracy of a learned power. Petrarch was a real lover, and Laura work, it seems to be now universally neglect- doubtle deserved 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 bad 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 solicit 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 a candidate this year at Westminster squander it in voluntary dreams of fictitious ocSchool for election to Trinity College, but proved un
The man that sits down to suppose successful.--N.
himself cha:ged with treason or peculation, and.. + In the first edition of this Live, 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 Cullected into volumes. The satire was added to Cowley's Works by the particular direction of Dr. Johnson.--N.
. Barnevii Anacreontem.Dr. J.
by the infrequency of his folly 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, he ther 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 phantoms 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 have inserted some lington, 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, contri
Funera : nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquæ bute no otherwise to his reputation than as
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
Æneid 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,
Oppress’d with numbers in th' unequal field, of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty
His men discouraged, and himself expell’d; then in agitation :
Let him for succour sue from place to place, Y“ 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 : štain 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 ne
And lie unbury'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 Į take to be an argument above all the rest,)
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 present time would be considered as merely ludi- Et prædulce decus primo certamine posset. crous, or at most as an ostentatious display of Primitiæ Juvenis miseræ, bellique propinqui scholarship; but the manners of that time were Dura rudimenta, et nulla exaudita Deorum 80 tinged with superstition, that I cannot but Vqta, precesque meæ !
Æneid xi. 152. suspect Cowley of having consulted on this great occasion the Virgilian Lots,* and to have
O Pallas, thou hast faila 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;. Consulting the Virgilian Lots, Sortes Virgilia
That boiling blood would carry thee too far, næ, 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!
DRYDEN. ture fortunes, and met 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 Fipibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli,
Rabbins, and even the early Christians; the latter Auxilium imploret, videatque indigna suorum taking the New Testament for their oracle.--H.