Page images


the time at which it was composed adds little to the wonders of Cowley's minority.

In 1636, he was removed to Cambridge *, where he continued his studies with great intenseness; for he is said to have written, while he was yet a young ftudent, the greater part of his “ Davideis;" a work of which the materials could not have been collected without the study of many years, but by a mind of the greatest vigour and activity.

Two years after his settlement at Cambridge he published “ Love's Riddle," with a poetical dedication to Sir Kenelm Digby; of whose acquaintance all his contemporaries seem to have been ainbitious; and “ Naufragium Joculare," a comedy written in Latin, but without due attention to the ancient models; for it is not loose verse, but 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 “Guar“ dian,” a comedy, which Cowley says was neither written nor acted, but rough-drawn 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

[ocr errors]

* He was a candidate this year at Westminster-school for election to Trinity College, but proved unsuccessful. N.


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 Col. lege in Oxford; where, as is said by Wood, he published a satire, called “ The 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 feveral 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 inserted in

any colleétion of his works;" but he altered the expression when the Lives were collected into volumes. The fatire was added to Cowley's works by the desire of John{on, N.

B 3

« free

“ freemen of their company without paying fome “ 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 inflammability, 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 paflion.

This consideration cannot but abate, in fome mea. fure, 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 “airy nothing,” and to quarrel as to write for what Cowley might have learned from his master Pindar to call the r dream of a shadow."

It is surely not difficult, in the folitude of a college, or in the bustle of the world, to find useful studies and serious employinent. No man needs to be lo burthened with life as to squander it in voluntary 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 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 some. times in gems lasting as her virtues.

* Barnelii Anacreontem. Dr. J.


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 those of other men whose minds are more on things than words, contribute no otherwise to his reputation than as they fhew him to have been above the affectation of unseasonable ele. gance, and to have known that the bufiness of a statesman can be little forwarded by flowers of rhe. torick.

One paffage, however, seems not unworthy of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation :

" The

B 4

“ The Scotch treaty,” says he, " is the only thing

now in which we are vitally concerned; I am one “ of the last hopers, and yet cannot now abstain from

believing, 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 neceflity of an ac“ cord is visible, the King is periuaded of it. And - to tell you the truth (which I take to be an are

gument above all the relt), Virgil has told the “ same thing to that purpose.”

This expression from a secretary of the present tinie would be considered as merely ludicrous, or at most as an oftentatious display of scholarship; but ihe manners of that time were so tinged with superstition, that I cannot but suspect Cowley of having consulted on this great occafion the Virgilian lots*,


two pages

* Consulting the Virgilian Lots, Sortes Virgilianæ, is a nie. thod of Divination by the opening of Virgil, and applying to the circumiances of the peruser the firit paisage in either of the

that he accidentally fixes his eye on. It is said, that king Charles l. and Lord Falkland, being in the Bodleian library, made this experiment of their future fortunes, and met with pallages equally ominous to each. That of the king was the following:

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

Aneid, book IV. line 615.

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


« PreviousContinue »