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ABRAHAM COWLEY was born in London in the year 1618. His father who who was a grocer, dying before his biruli, his mother procured his admission as a king's scholar, at Westminster school. While here the accidental perusal of Spencer's “ Fairy Queen,” gave impulse to his natural propensity of composing poetry. When at school such was his deficiency in memory that his teachers could not bring it to retain the ordinary rules of grammar, and were obliged to allow him to make up this deficiency by perpetual reference. It was in this way that he attained the Greek and Roman languages. Besides writing a comedy called“ Love's Riddle,” he gave to the world, in the 15th year of his age, a volume of poems, containing among other pieces, a tragical history of “ Pyramus and Thisbe,” produced in his tenth year, and his “ Constantia and Philetus," written two years afterwards. In 1636 he was removed to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he composed the greater part of his “ Davideis,” the materials for which required great application; yet the subject was so ill conducted that the piece never rose into esteem, and is utterly neglected. The prince of Wales happening to pass through Cambridge at the breaking out of the civil war, he was amused by the scholars with a play called the “ Guardian,” sketched out by Cowley. This play, after the restoration, was brought upon the stage, under the title of the “Cutter of Coleman-street;" but it was damned for being a supposed satire on the royalists! The piece is now scarcely known.
The loyalty and independence of Cowley proving displeasing to the re
Literary Miscellany, No. 77. 1
publicans of his college, he was, with some others, ejected from the university, and went to St. John's college, Oxford. His attachment to the royal cause, added to his literary talents, introduced him to the favour of the great. He was intimate with lord Falk. land, and engaged in the confidental service of the king. During the civil wars, he was settled in the duke of St. Alban's family, and was absent from England above 10 or 12 years; during which time he performed some very dangerous journies, to Jersey, Scotland, Flanders, Holland, and other places, while he conducted the correspondence between the king and his consort, and the various bodies of loyalists dispersed through the kingdom.
In 1647 he published his “Mistress," consisting of amorous effusions to an ideal fair-one. Of these pieces it has been observed that they “ have as little real love in them as if they were written on a system of logic; they are exercises of wit, which might have been composed by an academic or monk in a cloyster, who had never known the far sex but from books.”—Dr. Aikin on English Poetry. In 1656, Cowley ventured to return into his native country, but he remained concealed. He was notwithstanding this caution arrested through mistake; yet after his examination, was put into confinement, from which he was not liberated, till doctor Scarborough gave bail in 10001. Soon after this period he published his poems, and took out a degree in physic at Oxford, tho'he never practised medicine as a profession.
After Cromwell's death, he returned to France, and at the restoration he determined to retire to solitude and learned ease. This design was rendered practicable by the liberality of the duke of Buckingham and lord St. Alban, who gave him an estate, and the last 8 years of his life were spent in that secluded retirement for which he had long sighed. The plan to which he had been most partial was that of emigrating to America, but now he was enabled to retire from the “ busy hum of men,” to a rural abode at Barn Elms in Surry. The situation, however, proved damp and unhealthy. He then removed to Chertsey, but his constitution, previously weakened by a slow fever, was unable to resist a severe defluxion of the lungs, occasioned by a neglected cold, which hurried him off the stage of life, after a fortnight's confinement, on the 281h of July, 1667, aged 49. His funeral was sumptuously attended to Westminster Abbey, where his remains were deposited between those of Chaucer and his beloved Spencer.
An edition of Cowley's works was published by doctor Spratt, afterwards bishop of Rochester, who prefixed to it an account of the author's life. Cowley's moral character, from this account, is excellent. He is represented by doctor Spratt as the most amiable of mankind; and “this posthumous praise may be safely credited,” says Johnson, as it has never been contradicted by either envy or faction. He wrote with abundant fertility, but negligent or unskilful selection; with much thought, but with little imagery; he was never pathetic, and rarely sublime; but always either ingenious or learned, either acute or profound.”
Tho' many of Cowley's productions are by some esteemed scarcely worth a perusal, yet others esteem him, or, rather, esteem sonething that is in his genius and turn of mind, with a degree of sensibility that is very delightful. Hii pleasant, easy manners, the enthusiasm of his imagi nation have many charms in them; and when he