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LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POETS
THE Life of COWLEY, notwithstanding the pen-time, that his teachers never could bring it to reury of English biography, has been written by tain the ordinary rules of grammar." Dr. Sprat, an author whose pregnancy of imagin- This is an instance of the natural desire of man ation and elegance of language have deservedly to propagate a wonder. It is surely very difficult set him high in the ranks of literature; but his to tell any thing as it was heard, when Sprat zeal of friendship, or ambition of eloquence, has could not refrain from amplifying a commodious produced a funeral oration rather than a history: incident, though the book to which he prefixhe has given the character, not the life, of Cow-ed his narrative contained his confutation. A ley; for he writes with so little detail, that scarcely memory admitting some things, and rejecting any thing is distinctly known, but all is shown others, an intellectual digestion that concocted confused and enlarged through the mist of pane- the pulp of learning, but refused the husks, had gyric. the appearance of an instinctive elegance, of a ABRAHAM COWLEY was born in the year one particular provision made by Nature for literary thousand six hundred and eighteen. His father was politeness. But in the author's own honest relaa grocer, whose condition Dr. Sprat conceals un- tion, the marvel vanishes: he was, he says, such der the general appellation of a citizen; and, what "an enemy to all constraint, that his master would probably not have been less carefully sup-never could prevail on him to learn the rules pressed, the omission of his name in the register without book." He does not tell that he could of St. Dunstan's parish gives reason to suspect not learn the rules; but that, being able to perthat his father was a sectary. Whoever he was, forin his exercises without them, and being an he died before the birth of his son, and conse-"enemy to constraint,” he spared himself the quently left him to the care of his mother; whom Wood represents as struggling earnestly to procure him a literary education, and who, as she lived to the age of eighty, had her solicitude rewarded by seeing her son eminent, and, I hope, by seeing him fortunate, and partaking his prosperity. We know, at least, from Sprat's account, that he always acknowledged her care, and justly paid the dues of filial gratitude.
Among the English poets, Cowley, Milton, and Pope, might be said "to lisp in numbers," "and have given such early proofs, not only of powers of language, but of comprehension of things, as to more tardy minds seem scarcely credible. But of the learned puerilities of Cowley there is no doubt, since a volume of his poems was not only written, but printed in his thirteenth year ;* containing, with other poetical compositions, "The tragical History of Pyramus and Thisbe," written when he was ten years old; and "Constantia and Philetus," written two years after.
In the window of his mother's apartment lay Spenser's Fairy Queen; in which he very early took delight to read, till, by feeling the charms of verse, he became, as he relates, irrecoverably a poet. Such are the accidents which, sometimes While he was yet at school he produced a coremembered, and perhaps sometimes forgotten, medy called "Love's Riddle," though it was not produce that particular designation of mind, and published till he had been some time at Campropensity for some certain science or employ-bridge. This comedy is of the pastoral kind, ment, which is commonly called genius. The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great painter of the present age, had the first fondness for his art excited by the perusal of Richardson's treatise.
By his mother's solicitation he was admitted into Westminster School, where he was soon distinguished. He was wont, says Sprat, to relate, "That he had this defect in his memory at that
which requires no acquaintance with the living world, and therefore the time at which it was composed adds little to the wonders of Cowley's minority.
This volume was not published before 1633, when Cowley was fifteen years old. Dr. Johnson, as well as portrait of Cowley being by mistake marked with the former biographers, seems to have been misled by the age of thirteen years.-R.
In 1636, he was removed to Cambridge, where | homage to his Laura, refined the manners of the he continued his studies with great intenseness: lettered world, and filled Europe with love and for he is said to have written, while he was yet a poetry. But the basis of all excellence is truth; young student, the greater part of his "Davideis; "he that professes love ought to feel its power. a work, of which the materials could not have Petrarch was a real lover, and Laura doubtless been collected without the study of many years, deserved his tenderness. Of Cowley, we are but by a mind of the greatest vigour and activity. told by Barnes, who had means enough of inTwo years after his settlement at Cambridge formation, that, whatever he may talk of his own he published "Love's Riddle," with a poetical inflammability, and the variety of characters by dedication to Sir Kenelm Digby; of whose ac- which his heart was divided, he in reality was quaintance all nis contemporaries seem to have in love but once, and then never had resolution been ambitious; and "Naufragium Joculare," to tell his passion. a comedy written in Latin, but without due attention to the ancient models; for it was 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 "Guardian," 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 theatres, it was sometimes privately acted with sufficient approbation.
This consideration cannot but abate, in some measure, 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 dream of a shadow."
It is surely not difficult in the solitude of a college, or in the bustle of the world, to find useful studies and serious employment. No man needs to be so burdened with life as to squander it in voluntary dreams of fictitious occurrences. The man that sits down to suppose himself charged In 1643, being now master of arts, he was, by with treason or peculation, and heats his mind to the prevalence of the parliament, ejected from an elaborate purgation of his character from Cambridge, and sheltered himself at St. John's crimes which he was never within the possibility College, in Oxford; where, as is said by Wood, of committing, differs only by the infrequency of he published a satire, called "The Puritan and his folly from him who praises beauty which he Papist," which was only inserted in the last col-never saw; complains of jealousy which he never lection of his Works; and so distinguished felt; supposes himself sometimes invited, and himself by the warmth of his loyalty and the ele-sometimes forsaken; fatigues his fancy, and rangance 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.
sacks his memory, for images which may exhibit the gayety of hope, or the gloominess of despair; and dresses his imaginary Chloris or Phyllis, sometimes in flowers fading as her beauty, and sometimes in gems lasting as her virtues.
About the time when Oxford was surrendered At Paris, as secretary to Lord Jermyn, he was to the parliament, he followed the queen to Paris, engaged in transacting things of real importance where he became secretary to the Lord Jermyn, with real men and real women, and at that time afterwards Earl of St. Alban's, and was employ-did not much employ his thoughts upon phaned 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 several years, it filled all his days and two or three nights in the week.
toms of gallantry. Some of his letters to Mr. Bennett, 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 show him to have In the year 1647, his "Mistress" was publish- been above the affectation of unseasonable cleed; for he imagined, as he declared in his pre-gance, and to have known that the business of a face to a subsequent edition, that "poets are statesman can be little forwarded by flowers of scarcely thought freemen of their company with- rhetoric. out paying some duties, or obliging themselves to be true to Love."
One passage, however, seems not unworthy of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation:
"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 ne
Barnesii Anacreontem.-Dr. J.