Page images

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 " The Puritan and Papift," which was only in lerted in the last collection of his works*; and to 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, wiose notice cast a luftre 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 Farl of St. Albans, and was employed in such correspondence as the royal cause required, and particularly in cyphering and decyphering the letters that pafled 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 scarcely thought


* In the first edition of this Life, Dr. Johnson wrote, " which was never interted in any collection of his works;" but he altered the exprellion when the lives were collected into volumes, The fatire was added to Cowley's works by the particular direction of Dr. Johnson. N.

B 3

or free

“ freemen of their company without paying somo “ 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 inflamınability, 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 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 6 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 col. lege, or in the bustle of the world, to find useful ftudies and serious einployment. No man needs to be so burthened with life as 10 squander it in yolun

* Barnesii Anacreontem. Dr. .



[ocr errors]

tary dreams of fictitious occurrences. The man that fits 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 faw; complains of jealousy which he never felt; suppofes himself some. times 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 drefles his imaginary Chloris or Phyllis sometimes in flowers fading as her beauty, and sometimes in gems latting as her virtues.

At Paris, as secretary to lord Jermyn, 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 Brown. These letters, being written like thofe of other men whose minds are more on things than words, contribute no otherwise to his reputation than as they fhew hiin to have been above the affectation of unfeasonable elegance, and to have known that the bufinels of a statelian 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;

B 4

si The

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

“ The Scotch treaty," says he, “is the only thing “ now in which we are vitally concerned; I “ of the last hopers, and yet cannot now abstain from “ believing that an agreement will be inade; all “ people upon the place incline to that of union. - The Scorch will moderate something of the rigour .“ of their demands; the mutual necessity of an acos cord is visible, the King is persuaded of it. And " to tell you the truth (which I take to be an argu« ment 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 the manners of that time were so tinged with superTtition, that I cannot but suspect Cowley of having consulted on this great occafion the Virgilian lots *,


+ Consulting the Virgilian Lots, Sortes Virgilianæ, is a method of Divination by the opening of Virgil, and applying to the circumstances of the peruter the first passage in either of the two pages that he accidentally fixes his eye on. It is said, that king Charles I, and Lord 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:

At bello audacis populi vexatus & armis,
Finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Juli,
Auxilium imploret, videatque indigna suorum
Funera, nec, cum se fub leges pacis iniquie
Tradiderit, regno aut optata luce fruatur :
Sed cadat ante diem, mediaque inhumatus arena.

Eneid IV. 615.
Yet let a race untam'd, and haughty foes,
His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose,


and to have given some credit to the answer of his oracle.

Oppress'd with numbers in th' unequal field,
His men discourag'd, and himself expellid:
Let him for succour sue from place to place,
Torn from his subjects and his son's ernbrace.
First let him see his friends in battle Nain,
And their untimely fate lament in vain :
And when, at length, the cruel war shall cease,
On hard conditions may he buy his peace;
Nor let him then enjoy supreme cominand,
But fall untimely by some hoftile hand,
And lie unbury'd on the barren sand.


Non hæc, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti,
Cautius ut fævo velles te credere Marti.
Haud ignarus eram, quantum nova gloria in armis,
Et prædulce decus primo certamine poffet.
Primitiæ juvenis miseræ, bellique propinqui
Dura rudimenta, & nulli exaudita Deorum,
Vota precesque meæ!

Æneid XI. 152;
O Pallas, thou has fail'd thy plighted word,
To fight with caution, not to tempt the sword;
I warn'd thee, but in vain, for well I knew
What perils youthful ardour would pursue ;
That boiling blood would carry thee too far,
Young as thou wert to dangers, raw to war.
O curft effay of arms, disastrous doom,
Prelude of bloody fields and fights to come!
Hard elements of unauspicious war,
Vain vows to Heaven, and unavailing care!

DRYDEN. Hoffman, in his Lexicon, gives a very satisfactory account of this pra&ice of seeking fates in books: and says, that it was used by the Pagans, the Jewish Rabbins, and even the early Christians ; the latter taking the New Tettament for their oracle. H.

Some ,

« PreviousContinue »