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But when thou'st drunk, and danced, and sung
Thou retir'st to endless rest.
HYMN TO LIGHT.
The shining pageants of the world attend thy show. Cowley's prose essays are much better than his poetry. Dr. Johnson, in speaking of them, says, “ His thoughts are natural, and his style has a sinooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-sought or hard-labored; but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar without grossness:" and Dr. Drake, one of the most judicious of modern critics, remarks, that “to Cowley we may justly ascribe the formation of a basis on wbich has since been constructed the present correct and admirable fabric of our language. His words are pure and well chosen, the collocation simple and perspicuous, and the members of his sentences distinct and harmonious.”
ON MYSELF. It is a hard and nice subject for a man to write of himself; it grates his own heart to say any thing of disparagement, and the reader's ears to hear any thing of praise from him. There is no danger from me of offending him in this kind; neither my mind, nor my body, nor my fortune, allow me any materials for that vanity. It is sufficient, for my own contentment, that they have preserved me from being scandalous, or remarkable on the defective side. As far as my memory can return back into my past life, before I knew or was capable of guessing what the world, or glories, or business of it were, the natural affections of my soul gave a secret bent of a version from them, as some plants are said to turn away from others, by an antipathy imperceptible to theme
seives, and inscrutable to man's understanding. Even when I was a very young boy at school, instead of running about on holidays, and playing with my fellows, I was wont to steal from them, and walk into the fields, either alone with a book or with some one companion, if I could find any of the same temper. That I was then of the same mind as I am now, (which, I confess, I wonder at myself,) may appear at the latter end of an ode which I made when I was but thirteen years old, and which was then printed, with many other verses. The beginning of it is boyish; but of this part which I here set down, (if a very little were corrected,) I should hardly now be much ashamed.
This only grant me, that my means may lie
Some honor I would have,
Rumor can ope the grave:
My house a cottage, more
My garden painted o'er
And in this true delight,
But boldly say each night,
Or in clouds hide them; I have lived to-day. You may see by it I was even then acquainted with the poets, (for the conclusion is taken out of Horace ;) and perhaps it was the immature and immoderate love of them which stamped first, or rather engraved, the characters in me. They were like letters cut in the bark of a young tree, which, with the tree, still grow proportionably. But how this love came to be produced in me so early, is a hard question: I believe I can tell the particular little chance that filled my head first with such chimes of verse as have never since left ringing there : for I remember when I began to read, and take some pleasure in it, there was wont to lie in my mother's parlour, (I know not by what accident, for she herself never in her life read any book but of devotion;) but there was wont to lie Spenser's works; this I happened to fall upon, and
was infinitely delighted with the stories of the knights, and giants, and monsters, and brave houses, which I found everywhere there, (though my understanding had little to do with all this ;) and by degrees, with the tinkling of the rhyme, and dance of the numbers; so that I think I had read him all over before I was twelve years old. With these affections of mind, and my heart wholly set upon letters, I went to the university ; but was soon torn fron) thence by that public violent storm, which would suffer nothing to stand where it did, but rooted up every plant, even from the princely cedars to me, the hyssop. Yet I had as good fortune as could have befallen me in such a tempest ; for I was cast by it into the family of one of the best persons, and into the court of one of the best princesses in the world. Now, though I was here engaged in ways most contrary to the original design of my life ; that is, into much company, and no small business, and into a daily sight of greatness, both militant and triumphant, (for that was the state then of the English and the French courts ;) yet all this was so far from altering my opinion, that it only added the confirmation of reason to that which was before but natural inclination. I saw plainly all the paint of that kind of life, the nearer I came to it; and that beauty which I did not fall in love with, when, for aught I knew, it was real, was not like to bewitch or entice me when I saw it was adulterate. I met with several great persons whom I liked very well, but could not perceive that any part of their greatness was to be liked or desired, no more than I would be glad or content to be in a storm, though I saw many ships which rid safely and bravely in it. A storm would not agree with my stomach, if it did with my courage; though I was in a crowd of as good company as could be found anywhere, though I was in business of great and honorable trust, though I eat at the best table, and enjoyed the best conveniences for present subsistence that ought to be desired by a man of my condition, in banish- 1 ment and public distresses ; yet I could not abstain from renewing my old schoolboy's wish, in a copy of verses to the same effect :
Well, then, I now do plainly see
This busy world and I shall ne'er agree, &c. And I never then proposed to myself any other advantage from his majesty's happy restoration, but the getting into some moderately convenient retreat in the country, which I thought in that case I might easily have compassed, as well as some others, who, with no greater probabilities or pretences, have arrived to extraordinary fortunes.
THE PLEASURES OF A COUNTRY LIFE. The first wish of Virgil was, to be a good philosopher; the second, a good husbandman; and God (whom he seemned to
understand better than most of the most learned heathens) dealt with him just as he did with Solomon; because he prayed for wisdom in the first place, he added all things else which were subordinately to be desired. He made him one of the best philosophers and best husbandmen; and to adern both those faculties, the best poet: he made him, besides all this, a rich man, and a man who desired to be no richer. To be a husbandman is but a retreat from the city ; to be a philosopher, from the world; or rather, a retreat from the world as it is man's, into the world as it is God's. But since nature denies to most men the capacity or appetite, and fortune allows but to a very few the opportunities or possibility of applying themselves wholly to philosophy, the best mixture of human affairs that we can make are the employments of a country life.
We are here among the vast and noble scenes of nature; we are there (alluding to courts and cities) among the pitiful shifts of policy: we walk here in the light and open ways of the divine bounty; we grope there in the dark and confused labyrinths of human malice: our senses are here feasted with the clear and genuine taste of their objects, which are all sophisticated there, and for the most part overwhelmed with their contraries. Here pleasure looks (methinks) like a beautiful, constant, and modest wife ; it is there an impudent, fickle, and painted harlot. Here is harmless and cheap plenty, there guilty and expenseful luxury.
I shall only instance in one delight more, the most natural and best natured of all others, a perpetual companion of the husband. man; and that is, the satisfaction of looking round about him, and seeing nothing but the effects and improvements of his own art and diligence : to be alway's gathering of some fruits of it, and at the same time to behold others ripening, and others budding ; to see all his fields and gardens covered with the beauteous creations of his own industry; and to see, like God, that all his works are good.
CHARACTER OF CROMWELL." What can be more extraordinary than that a person of mean birth, no fortune, no eminent qualities of body, which have somelimes, or of mind, which have often, raised men to the highest dig. nities, should have the courage to attempt, and the happiness to succeed in, so improbable a design as the destruction of one of the most ancient and most solidly-founded monarchies upon the earth? That he should have the power or boldness to put his prince and master to an open and infamous death; to banish that numerous
1 «Cowley's character of Ollver Cromwell, which is intended as a satire, (though it certainly pro duces a very different impression on the mind.) may vie for truth of outline and force of coloring with tne master-picces of the Greek and Latin historians.".- Harlitt.
and strongly-allied family; to do all this under the name and wages of a parliament; to trample upon them too as he pleaseid, and spurn them out of doors when he grew weary of them; to raise up a new and unheard-of monster out of their ashes; to stifle that in the very infancy, and set up himself above all things that ever were called sovereign in England; to oppress all his enemies by arms, and all his friends afterwards by artifice; to serve all parties patiently for awhile, and to command them victoriously at last; to over-run each corner of the three nations, and overcome with equal facility both the riches of the south and the poverty of the north; to be feared and courted by all foreign princes, and adopted a brother to the gods of the earth; to call together parliaments with a word of his pen, and scatter them again with the breath of his mouth; to be humbly and daily petitioned that he would please to be hired, at the rate of two millions a year, to be the master of those who had hired him before to be their servant ; to have the estates and lives of three kingdoms as much at his disposal as was the little inheritance of his father, and to be as noble and liberal in the spending of them; and lastly (for there is no end of all the particulars of his glory,) to bequeath all this with one word to his posterity; to die with peace at home, and triumph abroad; to be buried among kings, and with more than regal solemnity; and to leave a name behind him, not to be extinguished, but with the whole world; which, as it is now too little for his praises, so might have been too for his conquests, if the short line of his human life could have been stretched out to the extent of his immortal designs ?
SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT. 1605-1668. Sir William DAVEXANT, though now read chiefly by the antiquary in English literature, had, in his lifetime, considerable celebrity as a writer. He was born in 1605 at Oxford, where his father kept an inn, and was educated at that university. He early began to write for the stage, and on Ben Jonson's death was made Poet-Laureate. In the civil wars he held a considerable post in the army, and was knighted by the king; but on the decline of the royalists, whose cause he had espoused, he sought refuge in France, where
1 From the Latin laureatus, “crowned with laurel." Under the Roman emperors, poets contended at the public games, and the prize was a crown of oak or olive leaves. From this custom. most of the European sovereigns assumed the privilege of nominating a court poet with various titles, an Engand, traces of this office are found as early as the reign of Henry III. (1216-1272,) but the express ide, poet-laureate, does not occur till the reign of Edward IV., (1461-1483,) when John Kay received the appointment. The office was made patent by Charles I., and the salary fixed at £100 per year, and a tierce of wine. In the reign of George III, the salary was increased, and the wine dispensed with, and also the custom of requiring annual odes. The succession of poets-laureate has been, I be lieve, since Davenant's day, John Dryden, Nahum Tate, Nicholas Rowe, Laurence Eusden Coley Crober, Wlliam Whitehead, Thomas Warton, Henry James Pyc, and Robert Southey