Page images
PDF
EPUB

tally to exclude diffidence and shame by a haughty consciousness of his own excellence,

For the rejection of this play it is difficult now to find the reason: it certainly has, in a very great degree, the power of fixing attention and exciting merriment. From the charge of disaffection he exculpates himself in his preface, by observing how unlikely it is that, having followed the royal family through all their distresses," he should chuse the s time of their restoration to begin a quarrel with " them.” It appears, however, from the Theatrical Register of Downes, the Prompter, to have been popularly considered as a satire on the Royalists.

That he might shorten this tedious suspense, he published his pretensions and his discontent, in an ode called “ The Complaint;" in which he styles himself the melancholy Cowley. This met with the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited more contempt than pity.

These unlucky incidents are brought, maliciously enough, together in some stanzas, written about that time, on the choice of a laureat; a mode of satire, by which, since it was first introduced by Suckling, perhaps every generation of poets has been teazed.

Savoy-missing Cowley came into the court,

Making apologies for his bad play; Every one gave him so good a report,

That Apollo gave heed to all he could say:
Nor would he have had, 'tis thought, a rebuke,

Unless he had done some notable folly :
Writ verses onjuftly in praise of Sam Tuke, ***

Or printed his pitiful Melancholy,

W can

His vehement desire of retirement now came again upon him. Not finding," says the morose Wood, " that preferment conferred upon him which he ex“ pected, while others for their money carried “ away most places, he retired disconiented into “ Surrey."

“ He was now," says the courtly Sprat, “ weary “ of the vexations and formalities of an active con“ dition. He had been perplexed with a long com" pliance to foreign manners. He was satiated 6 with the arts of a court; which fort of life, though “ his virtue made it innocent to him, yet nothing " could make it quiet. Those were the reasons that « made hiin to follow the violent inclination of his “ own mind, which, in the greatest throng of his “ former business, had still called upon him, and “ represented to him the true delights of folitary -“ studies, of temperate pleasures, and a moderate 66 revenue below the malice and flatteries of for" tune."

So differently are things seen! and so differently afe they shewn! but actions are visible, though motives are secret. Cowley certainly retired; first to Barn-elms, and afterwards to Chertsey, in Surrey. He seems, however, to have lost part of his dread of the hum of men *, He thought himself now safe enough from intrusion, without the defence of moun. tains and oceans; and, instead of seeking shelter in America, wisely went only so far from the bustle of life as that he might easily find his way back, when folitude should grow tedious. His retreat was

* L'Allegro of Milton. Dr. J.

at first but slenderly accommodated; yet he soon obtained, by the interest of the earl of St. Alban's and the duke of Buckingham, such a lease of the Queen's lands as afforded hiin an ample income.

By the lovers of virtue and of wit it will be solicitously asked, if he now was happy. Let them peruse one of his letters accidentally preserved by Peck, which I recommend to the confideration of all that may hereafter pant for solitude.

[blocks in formation]

“ Chertsey, May 21, 1665. “ The first night that I came hither I caught so great a cold, with a defluxion of rheum, as made me keep my chamber ten days. And, two after, “ had such a bruise on my ribs with a fall, that I am “ yet unable to move or turn myself in my bed. “ This is my personal fortune here to begin with. “ And, besides, I can get no money from my te“ nants, and have my meadows eaten up every night " by cattle put in by my neighbours. What this “ signifies, or may come to in time, God knows; “ if it be ominous, it can end in nothing less than “ hanging. Another misfortune has been, and stranger than all the rest, that you have broke “ your word with me, and failed to come, even “ though you told Mr. Bois that you would. This “ is what they call Monftri fimile. I do hope to re“ cover my late hurt so farre within five or six days. “ (though it be uncertain yet whether I shall ever Vol. IX.

“re

[ocr errors]

“ recover it) as to walk about again. And then, mea thinks, you and I and the Dean might be very “merry upon St. Ann's Hill. You might very con66 veniently come hither the way of Hampton Town, “ lying there one night. I write this in pain, and can say no more : Verbum fapienti.

O more

He did not long enjoy the pleasure or suffer the uneasiness of solitude ; for he died at the Porchhouse * in Chertsey, in 1667, in the 49th year of hiss age.

He was buried with great pomp near Chaucer and Spenser; and king Charles pronounced, “That Mr. * Cawley had not left behind him a better man in “ England.” He is represented by Dr. Sprat as the nioft amiable of mankind; and this posthumous praise may safely be credited, as it has never been contradicted by envy or by faction.

Such are the remarks and memorials which I have been able to add to the narrative of Dr. Sprat; who, writing when the feuds of the civil war were yet recent, and the minds of either party were easily irritated, was obliged to pass over many transactions in genera! expressions, and to leave curiosity often unsatisfied, What he did not tell, cannot however now be known; I must therefore recommend the perusal of his work, to which my narration can be considered only as a flender supplement.

W

* Now in the possession of Mr. Clark, Alderman of London. Dr. J.-Mr. Clark was, in 1798, elected Chamberlain of London, N.

cow:

COWLEY, like other poets who have written with narrow views, and, instead of tracing intellectual pleasures in the minds of men, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one time too much praised, and too much neglected at another. . Wit, like all other things subject by their nature to the choice of man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times takes different forms. About the beginning of the seventeenth century, appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets; of whom, in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not improper to give some account.

The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to shew their learning was their whole endeavour: but, unluckily resolving to shew it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.

If the father of criticism has rightly denominated poetry téyyn Merevlen, an imitative art, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the name of poets ; for they cannot be said to have imitated any thing; they neither copied nature for life; neither painted the forms of matter; nor represented the operations of intellect.

Those however who deny them to be poets, allow them to be wits. Dryden confeffes of himself and his contemporaries, that they fall below Donne in wit; but maintains, that they surpafs him in poetry.

« PreviousContinue »