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is not loose verse, hut 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.
At the beginning of the civil war, as the Prince passed through Cambridge in his way to York, he was entertained with a representation of the “Guardian," a comedy, which Cowley says was neither written nor acted, but roughdrawn 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.
In 1643, being now master of arts, he was, by the prevalence of the parliament, ejected from Cambridge, and sheltered himself 'at St. John's College in Oxford; where, as is said by Wood, he published a satire, called “ 'I lie 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 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 Jermyn, afterwards Earl of St. Albans, 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 be imagined, as he des clared in his preface to a subsequent edition, that “ poets are scarce thought “ freemen of their company without paying some duties, or obliging them. “ selves to be true to Love." .
'I bis obligation to amorous ditties owes, I believe, its original to tlie fame of Petrarch, who, in an age rude and uncultivated, by his tonerul 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 ouglit to feel its power. Petrarch was a real lover, and Laura doubtless deserved bis'tenderness. Of Cowley, we are told by Barnest, who had means enough of information, that whatever he inay talk of his own infiammability, 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.
This consideration cannot but abate, in some measure, the reader's esteem for the work and the author. To love excellence, is natural; it is natural likewise for
* 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 wlien the Lives were collected into volumes. The satire was added to Cowley's works by his desire. N.
of Barnesii Anacreontein, Dr. J.
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 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 Phyllis sometimes in flowers fading as her beauty, and sometimes in gems lasting as her virtues.
At Paris, as secretary to Lord Jermyn, he was engaged in transacting things of rcal 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 Brown. These letters, being written like those of other men whos 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,” he says, " is the only thing now in which we are vitacij “ concerned; I am one of the last hopers, and yet cannot now abstain from be“ licving, 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 te 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 perueer the first passage in either of the two pages that h: accidentally fixes his eye on. It is said, that king Charles I. and Lord
Some years afterwards, “ business,” says Sprat,“ passed of 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 messengers of the usurping powers, who were sent out in quest of another man; and heing
examined 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:
Ac bello audacis populi vexatus et armis,
Æneid, book IV. line 615.
Non hæc, o Palla, dederas promissa parenti,
Æneid, book XI. line 152.
curst essay of arms, disastrous doom,
Vain vows to Heaven, and unavailing care. Dryden. Hoffman, in his Lexicon, gives a very satisfactory account of this practice of seekin; fates ia 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 oracie. H.
examined was put into confinement, from which lie 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 sul-sequent 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 harrassed 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 himself 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 Physick, which being done to his mind, (whereby be 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 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 wliose 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 violation of his integrity, regain bis 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 anotiser, 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 without security, for the bond of his bail was never cancelled ; nor that it made him think himself secure, for at that diffolution of government which followed the death of Oliver, he returned into France, where he resanied his former station, and staid till the Restoration.
“ He continued,” says his biographer, " under these borids 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 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 seems to imply sometliing encomiastick, there has been no appearánce: 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 physick however he wasí 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 among the experimental philosophers with-tlie tiile 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's Considering Botany as necessary to a physician, he retired into Kent to gatlier plants; and as the predominance of a favourite study affects all subordinate operations of the intellect, Botany in the mind; of. Cowley tumed into Poetry..! 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, their beauties of Flowers in various measures ; and in the fifth ard sixth; the uses of trees in heroić numbers.'
At the same time were produced from the same university, the two great;: Poets, Cowley and Milton, of dissimilar genius, of opposite principles; but concurring in the cultivation of Latii Poetty, 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.
If the Latin performances of Conley, and Milton be compared (før May I hold to be superior to both) the advantage seems to lie on the side of Cowley. Milton is generally content to express the thouglats of the ancients in their language ; Cowley, without much loss of purity of elegance, accommodates the diction of Rome to his own conceptions.
At the Restoration, after all the diligence of his long service, and with consciousness not only of the merit of fidelity, but of the dignity of great abilities, he naturally expected ample preferments; and, that he might not be forgotten by his own fault, wrote a Song of Triumph. But this was a time of such general hope, that great numbers were inevitably disappointed; and Cowley found his reward very tediously delayed. He had been promised by both Charles the first and second the Mastership of the Savoy; “. but he lost it,” says Wood," by certain persons, enemies to the Muses."
* By May's Poem, we are here to understand, a continuation of Lucan's Pharsalia, to th: death of Julio Cesar, b. Thoma Vay, an eminent poet hi torn. we four she in the reigns of James and Chadis I, amiot whun a life is gives in the blographia -ritannica. L.