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cast a lustre on all to wbom it was ex-heats his mind to an elaborate purgation tended.
of his character from crimes which he About the time when Oxford was sur was never within the possibility of comrendered to the parliament, he followed mitting, differs only by the infrequency the Queen to Paris, where he became of his folly from him who praises beauty secretary to the Lord Jermyn, afterwards which he never saw; complains of jeaEarl of St. Albans, and was employed in lousy which he never felt ; supposes such correspondence as the royal cause himself sometimes invited, and somerequired, and particularly in ciphering times forsaken; fatigues his fancy, and and deciphering the letters that passed ransacks his memory, for images which between the King and Queen; an em- may exhibit the gaiety of hope, or the ployment of the highest confidence and gloominess of despair; and dresses his honour. So wide was his province of imaginary Chloris or Phyllis sometimes intelligence, that, for several years, it in flowers fading as her beauty, and some. filled all his days and two or three nights times in gems lasting as her virtues. in the week.
At Paris, as secretary to Lord Jermyn, In the year 1647, his Mistress' was he was engaged in transacting things of published, for he imagined, as he declared real importance with real men and real in his preface to a subsequent edition, women, and at that time did not much that poets are scarcely thought freemen employ his thoughts upon phantoms of of their company without paying some gallantry. Some of his letters to Mr. Benduties, or obliging themselves to be true net, afterwards Earl of Arlington, from to Love.'
April to December, in 1650, are preThis obligation to amorous ditties owes, served in ' Miscellanea Aulica,' a collecI believe, its original to the fame of Pe- tion of papers published by Brown. These trarch, who, in an age rude and unculti- letters, being written like those of other vated, by his tuneful homage to his men whose minds are more on things Laura, refined the manners of the let than words, contribute no otherwise to tered world, and filled Europe with love his reputation than as they show him to and poetry. But the basis of all excel have been above the affectation of unsealence is truth; he that professes love sonable elegance, and to have known ought to feel its power. Petrarch was a that the business of a statesman can real lover, and Laura doubtless deserved be little forwarded by flowers of rhe. his tenderness. Of Cowley, we are told toric. by Barnes *, who had means enough of One passage, however, seems not uninformation, that, whatever he may talk worthy of some notice. Speaking of the of his own inflammability, and the variety Scotch treaty tben in agitation : of characters by which his heart was di. The Scotch treaty,' says he, 'is the vided, he in reality was in love but once, only thing now in which we are vitally and then never had resolution to tell his concerned; I am one of the last hopers, passion.
and yet cannot now abstain from belieyThis consideration cannot but abate, in ing that an agreement will be made; all some measure, the reader's esteem for people upon the place incline to that of the work and the author. To love excel. union. The Scotch will moderate somelence is natural; it is natural likewise thing of the rigour of their demands; for the lover to solicit reciprocal regard the mutual necessity of an accord is by an elaborate display of bis own qua- visible, the King is persuaded of it. lifications. The desire of pleasing has And to tell you the truth (which I take in different men produced actions of to be an argument above all the rest), heroism, and effusions of wit; but it | Virgil has told the same thing to that seems as reasonable to appear the cham- purpose.' pion as the poet of an 'airy nothing,' This expression from a secretary of the and to quarrel as to write for what present time would be considered as Cowley might have learned from his merely ludicrous, or at most as an ostenmaster Pindar to call the dream of a tatious display of scholarship; but the shadow.'
manners of that time were so tinged with It is surely not difficult, in the solitude superstition, that I cannot but suspect of a college, or in the bustle of the world, Cowley of having consulted on this great to find useful studies and serious employ- occasion the Virgilian lots +, and to have ment. No man needs to be so burthened with life as to squander it in voluntary |
Consulting the Virgilian lots is a method dreams of fictitious occurrences. The of Divination by the opening of Virgil, and man that sits down to suppose himself applying to the circumstances of the peruser charged with treason or peculation, and
the first passage in either of the two pages that he accidentally fixes his eye on. Charles I.
and Lord Falkland, being in the Bodleian • Barnesii Anacreontem.
library, are reported to have made this exmade at Oxford in December, 1657 ; and king was Æneid IV, 615; Lord Falkland's,
given some credit to the answer of his gained the ill will of some of his friends), oracle,
he went into France again, having made Some years afterwards, business,' says a copy of verses on Oliver's death.' Sprat, passed of course into other hands;' This is no favourable representation, and Cowley, being no longer useful at yet even in this not much wrong can be Paris, was in 1656 sent back into Eng. discovered. How far he complied with land, that, under pretence of privacy the men in power, is to be inquired before and retirement, he might take occasion he can be blaned. It is not said that he of giving notice of the posture of things told them any secrets, or assisted them in this nation.'
by intelligence or any other act. If he Soon after his return to London, he was only promised to be quiet, that they in seized by some messengers of the usurp- whose hands he was might free him from ing powers, who were sent out in quest confinement, he did what no law of society of another man; and being examined, prohibits. was put into confinement, from which be The man whose miscarriage in a just was not dismissed without the security of cause has put him in the power of his a thousand pounds, given by Dr. Scar-enemy may, without any violation of his borough.
integrity, regain his liberty, or preserve This year he published his poems, with his life, by a promise of neutrality : for, a preface, in which he seems to have in the stipulation gives the enemy nothing serted something, suppressed in subse- which he had not before; the neutrality quent editions, which was interpreted to of a captive may be always secured by denote some relaxation of his loyalty. In his imprisonment or death. He that is this preface he declares, that his desire at the disposal of another may not prohad been for some days past, and did still mise to aid him in any injurious act, very vebemently continue, to retire him because no power can compel active obeself to some of the American plantations, dience. He may engage to do nothing, and to forsake this world for ever.' but not to do ill.
From the obloquy which the appear There is reason to think that Cowley ance of submission to the usurpers brought promised little. It does not appear that upon him, his biographer has been very his compliance gained him confidence diligent to clear him, and indeed it does enough to be trusted withont security, not seem to have lessened his reputation. for the bond of his bail was never canHis wish for retirement we can easily celled; nor that it made him think himbelieve to be undissembled; a man ha. self secure, for at that dissolution of rassed in one kingdom, and persecuted government, which followed the death in another, who, after a course of busi- of Oliver, he returned into France, where ness that employed all his days and half he resumed his former station, and staid his nights in ciphering and deciphering, till the Restoration. comes to his own country and steps into He continued,' says his biographer, a prison, will be willing enough to retire 'under these bonds till the general delito some place of quiet and of safety. Yet | verance;' it is therefore to be supposed, let neither our reverence for a genius, that he did not go to France, and act nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose is to again for the King, without the consent forget, that, if his activity was virtue, his of his bondsman; that he did not show retreat was cowardice.
his loyalty at the hazard of his friend, He then took upon himself the charac. but by his friend's permission. ter of physician, still, according to Sprat, of the verses on Oliver's death, in with intention to dissemble the main which Wood's narrative seems to imply design of his coming over ;' and, as Mr. something encomiastic, there has been no Wood relates, complying with the men appearance. There is a discourse conthen in power (which was much taken cerning his government, indeed, with notice of by the royal party), he obtained verses intermixed, but such as certainly an order to be created Doctor of Physic, gained its author no friends among the which being done to his mind whereby he abettors of usurpation.
A doctor of physic, however, he was periment of their future fortunes, with passages equally ominous to each. That of the
in the commencement of the Royal SoÆneid XI. 152.
ciety, of which an account has been given Hoffman, who gives a satisfactory account by Dr. Birch, he appears busy among of this practice of seeking fates in books, says, that it was resorted to by the Pagans,
the experimental philosophers with the the Jewish Rabbins, and the early Christians;
title of Dr. Cowley. the latter taking the New Testament for their There is no reason for supposing that oracle.
be ever attempted practice ; but bis However superstitious, this method of Divination is still appealed to by numbers of
preparatory Studies have contributed religious enthusiasts.
something to the honour of his country.
Considering Botany as necessary to al Mr. Dryden, who went with Mr. Sprat physician, he retired into Kent to gather to the first exhibition, related to Mr. plants; and as the predominance of a Dennis, 'that, when they told Cowley, favourite study affects all subordinate how little favour had been shown him, operations of the intellect, Botany in the he received the news of his ill success, mind of Cowley turned into Poetry. He not with so much firmness as might composed in Latin several books on have been expected from so great a Plants, of which the first and second dis. man.' play the qualities of Herbs, in elegiac What firmness they expected, or what verse; the third and fourth, the beauties weakness Cowley discovered, cannot be of Flowers, in various measures; and in known. He that misses his end will never the fifth and sixth, the uses of Trees, in be as much pleased as he that attains it, heroic numbers.
even when he can impute no part of his At the same time were produced, from failure to himself; and, when the end is the same university, the two great poets, to please the multitude, no man, perCowley and Milton, of dissimilar genius, haps, has a right, in things admitting of opposite principles; but concurring in of gradation and comparison, to throw the cultivation of Latin Poetry, in which | the whole blame upon his judges, and the English, till their works and May's totally to exclude diffidence and shame poem appeared *, seemed unable to con. by a haughty consciousness of his own test the palm with any other of the let- excellence. tered nations.
For the rejection of this play it is difIf the Latin performances of Cowley ficolt now to find the reason: it certainly • and Milton be compared (for May I hold has, in a very great degree, the power of
to be superior to both), the advantage fixing attention, and exciting merriment. seems to lie on the side of Cowley. Mil. From the charge of disaffection he excnl. ton is generally content to express the pates himself in his preface, by observing thoughts of the ancients in their language; how unlikely it is that, having followed Cowley, without much loss of purity or the royal family through all their diselegance, accommodates the diction of tresses, he should choose the time of Rome to bis own conceptions.
their restoration to begin a quarrel with At the Restoration, after all the dili. | them.' It appears, however, from the gence of his long service, and with con- Theatrical Register of Downes, the sciousness not only of the merit of fidelity, Prompter, to have been popularly conbut of the dignity of great abilities, he sidered as a satire on the Royalists. naturally expected ample preferments; That he might shorten this tedious sosand, that he might not be forgotten by pense, he published his pretensions and his own fault, wrote a Song of Triumph. his discontent, in an ode called The But this was a time of such general hope, Complaint ;' in which he styles himself that great numbers were inevitably dis. the melancholy Cowley. This met with appointed; and Cowley found his reward the usualfortune of complaints, and seems very tediously delayed. He had been to have excited more contempt than pity. promised, by both Charles the First and These unlocky incidents are brought, Second, the Mastership of the Savoy ; maliciously enough, together in some
but he lost it,' says Wood, by certain stanzas, written about that time, on the persons, enemies to the Muses.'
choice of a laureat; a mode of satire, by The neglect of the court was not his which, since it was first introduced by only mortification; having, by such alte- Snckling, perhaps every generation of ration as he thought proper, fitted his old poets has been teased. Comedy of The Guardian' for the stage, he produced itt under the title of The Savoy-missing Cowley came into the court, Cutter of Coleman Street 1.' It was
Making apologies for bis bad play;
Every one gave him so good a report, treated on the stage with great severity,
That Apollo gave heed to all he could say: and was afterwards censured as a satire on the King's party.
Nor would he have had, 'tis thought, a rebuke,
Unless he bad done some notable folly:
Writ verses injustly in praise of San Tike, # We are here to understand a continuation Or printed his pitiful Melancholy. of Lucan's Pharsalia to the death of Julius Cæsar, by Thomas May, an eminent poet and His vehement desire of retirement now historian, who flourished in the reigns of
came again upon him. Not finding.' James and Charles I. + 1663.
says the morose Wood, 'that preferment i Here is an error in the designation of this conferred upon him which he expected, comedy. The title of the play is without the while others for their money carried away article, Cutter of Coleman Street;' and that
most places, he retired discontented into because a merry sharking fellow about the town, named Cutter, forms a principal cha
Surrey.' racier in it.
“ He was now,' says the courtly Sprat,
• weary of the vexations and formalities | it) as to walk about again. And then, of an active condition. He had been methinks, you and I and the Dean might perplexed with a long compliance to be very merry upon St. Ann's Hill. You foreign manners. He was satiated with might very conveniently come hither the the arts of a court; which sort of life, way of Hampton Town, lying there one though his virtue made it innocent to night. I write this in pain, and can say him, yet nothing could make it quiet. no more: verbum sapienti.' 'Those were the reasons that made him to follow the violent inclination of his own He did not long enjoy the pleasure or mind, which, in the greatest throng of suffer the uneasiness of solitude; for he his former business, had still called upon died at the Porch House in Chertsey, in him, and represented to him the true de- 1667, in the forty-ninth year of his age. lights of solitary studies, of temperate He was buried with great pomp near pleasures, and a moderate revenue, below Chaucer and Spenser; and King Charles the malice and flatteries of fortune.' l pronounced, that Mr. Cowley had not
So differently are things seen ! and so left behind him a better man in England.' differently are they shown! but actions He is represented by Dr. Sprat as the are visible, though motives are secret. most amiable of mankind; and this postCowley certainly retired; first to Barn-humous praise may safely be credited, as Elms, and afterwards to Chertsey, in it has never been contradicted by envy Surrey. He seems, however, to have lost or by faction. part of his dread of the hum of men.' Such are the remarks and memorials He thought himself now safe enough from wbich I have been able to add to the intrusion, without the defence of monn. narrative of Dr. Spral; who, writing tains and oceans; and, instead of seeking when the fends of the civil war were yet shelter in America, wisely went only so recent, and the minds of either party far from the bustle of life as that he might were easily irritated, was obliged to pass easily find his way back, when solitude over many transactions in general exshould grow tedious. His retreat was at pressions, and to leave curiosity often first but slenderly accommodated; yet he unsatisfied. What he did not tell cansoon obtained, by the interest of the Earl not however now be known; I must of St. Albans and the Duke of Bucking. therefore recommend the perusal of his ham, such a lease of the Queen's lands as work, to which my narration can be conafforded him an ample income.
sidered only as a slender supplement. By the lovers of virtue and of wit it Cowley, like other poets who have will be solicitously asked, if he now was written with narrow views, and, instead happy? Let them peruse one of his letters of tracing intellectual pleasures in the accidentally preserved by Peck, which I minds of men, paid their court to tempo. recommend to the consideration of all rary prejudices, has been at one time too that may hereafter pant for solitude.
mnch praised, and too much neglected at
another. TO DR. THOMAS SPRAT.
Wit, like all other things subject by
their nature to the choice of man, has its Chertsey, May 21, 1665. changes and fashions, and at different • The first night that I came hither I times takes different forms. About the caught so great a cold, with a defluxion beginning of the seventeenth century, of rheum, as made me keep my chamber appeared a race of writers that may be ten days. And, two after, had such a termed the metaphysical poets; of whom, bruise on my ribs with a fall, that I am in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it yet unable to move or turn myself in my l is not improper to give some account. bed. This is my personal fortune here to The metaphysical poets were men of begin with. And, besides, I can get no learning, and to show their learning was money from my tenants, and have my their whole endeavour: but, unluckily meadows eaten up every night by cattle resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of put in by my neighbours. What this sig. writing poetry they only wrote verses, nifies, or may come to in time, God and very often such verses as stood the knows; if it be ominous, it can end in trial of the finger better than of the ear; nothing less than hanging. Another mis- for the modulation was so imperfect, that fortune has been, and stranger than all they were only found to be verses by the rest, that you have broke your word
at yoll have broke your word counting the syllables. with me, and failed to come, even though If the father of criticism has rightly deyou told Mr. Bois that you would. This nominated poetry TeX m Minnlexn, an imiis what they call monstri simile. I do tative art, these writers will, without great hope to recover my late burt so farre wrong, lose their right to the name of within five or six days (though it be un poets; for they cannot be said to have certain yet whether I shall ever recover imitated any thing; they neither copied
nature nor life, neither painted the forms remarks on the actions of men, and the of matter, nor represented the operations vicissitudes of life, without interest and of intellect.
without emotion. Their courtsbip was Those however who deny them to be void of fondness, and their lamentation of poets, allow them to be wits. Dryden sorrow. Their wish was only to say what confesses of himself and his contempo- they boped had been never said before. raries, that they fall below Donne in wit; Nor was the sublime more within their but maintains, that they surpass him in reach than the pathetic; for they never poetry
attempted that comprehension and exIf wit be well described by Pope, as panse of thought which at once fills the being that which has been often thought, whole mind, and of which the first effect bnt was never before so well expressed,' is sudden astonishment, and the second they certainly never attained, nor ever rational admiration. Sublimity is prosought it; for they endeavoured to be duced by aggregation, and littleness by singular in their thoughts, and were care dispersion. Great thoughts are always less of their diction. But Pope's account general, and consist in positions not of wit is undoubtedly erroneous : he de- limited by exceptions, and in descrippresses it below its natural dignity, and tions not descending to minuteness. It reduces it from strength of thought to is with great propriety that Subtlety, happiness of language.
| which in its original import means exility If, by a more noble and more adequate of particles, is taken in its metaphorical conception, that be considered as wit meaning for nicety of distinction. Those which is at once natural and new; that writers who lay on the watch for novelty which, though not obvious, is, upon its could have little hope of greatness; for first production, acknowledged to be just; great things cannot have escaped former if it be that which he that never found it observation. Their attempts were always wonders how he missed; to wit of this analytic; they broke every image into kind the metaphysical poets have seldom fragments; and could no more represent, risen. Their thoughts are often new, but by their slender conceits and laboured seldom natural; they are not obvious, but particularities, the prospects of nature neither are they just; and the reader, far or the scenes of life, than he who dissects from wondering that he missed them, a sunbeam with a prism can exhibit the wonders more frequently by what per: wide effulgence of a summer noon. verseness of industry they were ever What they wanted however of the found.
sublime, they endeavoured to supply by But wit, abstracted from its effects hyperbole; their amplification bad no upon the hearer, may be more rigorously limits; they left not only reason but and philosophically considered as a kind fancy behind them; and produced com. of discordia concors; a combination of binations of confused magnificence, that dissimilar images, or discovery of occult not only could not be credited, but could resemblances in things apparently unlike. not be imagined. Of wit, thus defined, they have more Yet great labour, directed by great than enough. The most heterogeneous abilities, is never wholly lost: if they ideas are yoked by violence together; frequently threw away their wit upon nature and art are ransacked for illustra false conceits, they likewise sometimes tions, comparisons, and allusions; their struck out unexpected truth; if their learning instructs, and their subtlety sur. conceits were far fetched, they were often prises ; but the reader commonly thinks | worth the carriage. To write on their his improvement dearly bought, and, plan it was at least necessary to read and thongh he sometimes admires, is seldom think. No man could be born a metapleased.
physical poet, nor assume the dignity of From this account of their composi- a writer, by descriptions copied from de. tions, it will be readily inferred that they scriptions, by imitations borrowed from were not successful in representing or imitations, by traditional imagery, and moving the affections. As they were hereditary similes, by readiness of rhyme, wholly employed on something unex. and volubility of syllables. pected and surprising, they had no regard In perusing the works of this race of to that uniformity of sentiment which authors, the mind is exercised either by enables us to conceive and to excite the recollection or inquiry : either something pains and the pleasure of other minds; already learned is to be retrieved, or they never inquired what, on any occa- something new is to be examined. If sion, they should have said or done; but their greatness seldom elevates, their wrote rather as beholders than partakers acuteness often surprises; if the imagiof human nature; as Beings looking nation is not always gratified, at least the upon good and evil, impassive and at powers of reflection and comparison are Teisure; as Epicurean deities, making employed; and in the mass of materials,