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THE NINTH VOLUME.
LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POETS.
The life of Cowley, notwithstanding the penury of English 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 panegyric.
ABRAHAM COWLEY was born in the year one thousand 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 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.
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 inind, and propensity for some certain science or employment, which is commonly called genius. The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally deter
i 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.
By his mother's solicitation he was admitted into Westminster-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 a wonder. It is surely very difficult