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such a bruise on my ribs with a fall, that I am yet unable to turn myself in my bed. This is my personal fortune to begin with. And, besides, I can get no money from my tenants, 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. ...I do hope to recover my late hurt so far within five or six days (though it be uncertain yet whether I shall ever recover it) as to walk about again. And then, methinks, you and I and the Dean might be very merry upon St. Anne's Hill. You might very conveniently come hither the way of Hampton town, lying there one night. I write this in pain, and can say no more: verbum sapienti.'”
Johnson, it will be seen, laughs at the notion of Cowley having sought happiness in 'solitude,' and his merriment has been commonly echoed by subsequent writers. It is plain that Cowley did not find the happiness he sought, but his failure is easily accounted for. He did not retire to the country till the better part of his life was past, and he then went to it a disappointed man. “ As long as he was pursuing the course of ambition in active life,” his friend Sprat tells us, “ he never wanted a constant health and strength of body : but as soon as ever he had found an opportunity of retiring from the town, his contentment was first broken by sickness, and at last his death was occasioned by his very delight in the country and the fields,*
* Spence, in his Anecdotes, has grafted on this a foolish
which he had long fancied above all other pleasures." (Life, prefixed to Works.) A man advanced in years, with all his worldly prospects blighted, removing into the country, to be there attacked by sickness, and on his recovering from that, to meet with an accident from which it is doubtful whether he will recover at all, whatever might be his honest convictions of a country life, could hardly be expected to write cheerfully; and it is rather too bad to hold up a letter written under such circumstances, as a warning " to all that may hereafter pant after solitude.” But it is not very probable that Johnson would have given much credit to the letter if it had been full off glee and described the adventures as all joyous. London, as he himself said, was the element of the Doctor, and he could not sympathize with any who professed to prefer the country. “Whoever," he told Mrs. Piozzi, " has once experienced the fullflow of London talk, when he retires to country friendships and rural sports must either be contended to turn baby again and play with the rattle, or he will pine away like a great fish in a little pond, and die for want of his usual food.” Or, as he said it with more brevity to Boswell, 6 Sir, you find no man at all intellectual who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired “ traditional" story of his death having been caused by lying out in the fields one night, owing to having missed his way in returning, along with Sprat, from the house of a friend who had plied them too liberally with wine. Spence, “a weak conceited man,” as Johnson very truly called him, may be forgiven for making up or repeating this idle tale, but it is to be regretted that men of stronger intellect should still be found ready to give currency and credit to of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."*
But while we can thus see pretty plainly how natural it was for Cowley to write gloomily under the circumstances, and for Johnson to suspect a profession of happiness in a retirement from London under any circumstances, we can only conjecture whether the poet really felt the desire he expressed for a country life, or would have enjoyed it had he been in health. A fair case might easily be made against him. He was accustomed, it might be said, to have poetic likings. In the matter of love, for example, in praise of which, as well as of the country, all poets must write, instead of paying homage by a few amatory verses, he published a whole book of them, and those addressed to or celebrating a great many different ladies ; in addition to which, he published what he called “A Chronicle," wherein he has managed to give the names of twenty mistresses in the space of fourteen stanzas, at the same time leaving “ a long et caetera” unnamed : and yet we are told he never was in love but once, and then lacked courage to declare his passion and that, notwithstanding some piteous complaints in his verses of many “ rough refusals,” as well as loud. boastings of soft compliances. And though he spoke of his longing after a country retirement in prose as wellas poetry, and reiterated hisdetermination to seek out some solitary spot, as well to his private friends as to the public, he does not seem to have made any
* Boswell's Johnson, vi. 322. He told his faithful disciple directly afterwards, with ludicrous solemnity, that“A country gentleman should bring his lady to visit London as soon as he can, that they may have agreeable topics for conversation when they are by themselves !""
serious effort to carry out his resolve while any hope remained of the fulfilment of the Royal promises.
All this must be admitted, and yet I cannot help thinking that he was sincere. His language has all the air of truth, and is quite unlike the hyperboles and frigid conceits of his amatory poems. That he did not retire sooner is accounted for by the fact of his means being insufficient for an independent maintenance; he waited in the hope of some employment or reward that would enable him to “get into some moderately convenient retreat in the country;" which he says was the only advantage he ever proposed to himself from the King's restoration, and “ which he thought in that case he might easily have compassed, as well as some others, who with no greater probabilities or pretences had arrived to extraordinary fortunes.” When at last he did attempt to carry out his design, he cast himself upon it, as he declares, “without making capitulations or taking counsel of fortune ;” and he confesses that he “ met presently not only with many little incumbrances and impediments, but with so much sickness (a new misfortune to him) as would have spoiled the happiness of an emperor as well as his." Yet, he exclaims, "I do neither repent nor alter my course ;” and he finishes the essay (that
Of Myself') by declaring, in a strain of unabated enthusiasm, “ Nothing shall separate me from a mistress which I have loved so long, and have now at last married; though she neither has brought me a rich portion, nor lived yet so quietly with me as I hoped from her :
“Nec vos dulcissima mundi
“Nor by me e'er shall you,
This essay was probably written at Chertsey ; but another (The Dangers of an honest Man in much Company'), which we know was written there, contains a passage that gives probably the nearest hint of the actual result of his country experience: “I thought, when I went first to dwell in the country, that without doubt I should have met there with the simplicity of the old poetical golden age: I thought to have found no inhabitants there but the shepherds of Sir Philip Sidney in Arcadia, or of Monsieur D'Urfey upon the banks of Lignon ; and began to consider with myself, which way I might recommend no less to posterity the happiness and the innocence of the men of Chertsey : but to confess the truth, I perceived quickly, by infallible demonstrations, that I was still in Old England, and not in Arcadia or La Forrest ; that if I could not content myself with anything less than exact fidelity in human conversation, I had almost as good go back and seek for it in the Court, or the Exchange, or Westminster Hall.” The truth probably is, that his notions of a country life were in the main of a poetic character ; but, as most in similar case do, he would soon find that if it was not the sweet scene of simplicity he had fancied, it had real charms fully sufficient to atone for the absence of the ideal.
“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 his age.” (Johnson.)