Cooke, Thomas (1703-1756) (DNB00)

COOKE, THOMAS (1703–1756), author, commonly called Hesiod Cooke, born 16 Dec. 1703, was the son of John Cooke, an innkeeper of Braintree, Essex, by his wife Rebeckah (Braintree Parish Reg., kindly communicated by the Rev. J. W. Kenworthy). His father, according to Pope, was a Muggletonian. Cooke was educated at Felstead, and made great progress there in classics. While a lad he obtained an introduction to the Earl of Pembroke, who gave him some employment and encouraged him in his classical studies. In 1722 he came to London to earn his living by his pen; contributed articles to the daily papers, and attached himself to the whigs. He thus came to know Tickell, Philips, Welsted, Steele, and Dennis. His earliest publication was a poem on the death of the Duke of Marlborough (1722); a translation of the poems of Moschus and Bion, and ‘Albion, or the Court of Neptune,’ a masque, followed in 1724. In 1725 he issued anonymously (in folio) a poem entitled ‘The Battle of the Poets,’ in which he attacked Pope, Swift, and their friends, and eulogised the writers of his own school. He continued the campaign by publishing in the ‘Daily Journal’ for 6 April 1728 notes on Pope's version of the Thersites episode in the second book of the ‘Iliad,’ and proved to his own satisfaction that Pope was no Greek scholar. Pope was intensely irritated, and resolved to pillory Cooke in the ‘Dunciad.’ News of Pope's intention reached Cooke, and Cooke, taking alarm, sent two letters to Pope (11 Aug. and 16 Sept. 1728) repudiating his connection with the offensive publications. With the second letter he forwarded a copy of his newly issued translation of ‘Hesiod.’ In letters to Lord Oxford Pope showed some sign of accepting Cooke's denial, but when the ‘Dunciad’ appeared at the close of the year, Cooke occupied a place in it (ii. 138), and was held up to ridicule in the notes. By way of reply, Cooke reissued his ‘Battle of the Poets’ and his letters on the Thersites episode, with new and caustic prefaces, in 1729. The volume (dedicated to Lord Carteret) was entitled ‘Tales, Epistles, Odes, Fables, &c.,’ and contained several other of Cooke's published poems, some translations from the classics, ‘proposals for perfecting the English language,’ and an essay on grammar. Pope was here described as ‘a person who with but a small share of learning and moderate natural endowments has by concurring and uncommon accidents acquired as great a reputation as the most learned and exalted genius could ever hope.’ In 1731 Cooke collected a number of letters on the political and literary controversies of the day, which he had contributed under the pseudonym of Atticus to the ‘London Journal’ in 1729 and 1730, and dedicated the book to Horace Walpole. Letter V. is on ‘the controversy betwixt the poets and Mr. Pope.’ Pope renewed his attack on Cooke in his ‘Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,’ l. 146 (1735).

Cooke tried his hand with unflagging energy at every kind of literary work. In 1726 he published (1) ‘The Bath, or the Knights of the Bath,’ a poem suggested by the revival of the order, to which was added ‘The Scandalous Chronicle, a Ballad of Characters. Written for the Use of the Poets and proper to be sung at their next Sessions,’ which is rarely met with; (2) ‘Philander and Cydippe,’ a poem, and (3) an edition of Marvell's works, with a memoir. Subsequently he issued separately a long series of odes, with dedications addressed to Lord Chesterfield and other persons of influence. Oldys says that Cooke compiled ‘Seymour's Survey of London’ in 1734. Five years later he wrote a dull poem entitled ‘The Battle of the Sexes.’ Another edition of his collected poems appeared in 1742.

By his translations from the classics Cooke achieved a wider and deserved reputation. In 1728 he translated ‘Hesiod,’ and his early patron, the Earl of Pembroke, and Theobald contributed notes. This book gave him his popular nickname of Hesiod Cooke. It was reissued in Anderson's ‘Poets’ (1793), vol. xiii.; in F. Lee's ‘English Translations from Greek Authors’ (1808) in Chalmers's ‘Poets’ (1810), vol. xx.; in the ‘Works of the Greek and Roman Poets’ (1813), vol. v.; and in the ‘British Poets’ (1822), vol. lxxxviii. An edition of ‘Terence,’ with an English translation (3 vols.)—probably the best in the language—followed in 1734, and a translation of Cicero's ‘De Natura Deorum,’ with elaborate critical apparatus, in 1737. In 1741 Cooke produced an edition of Virgil with English notes and a Latin paraphrase, and in 1754 appeared the first and only volume—a translation of the ‘Amphitruo’—of a long-promised edition of Plautus. Dr. Johnson said that Cooke was soliciting subscriptions for this book for twenty years, and that the proceeds of his canvass formed his main source of income.

Cooke also wrote for the stage. In 1728 he helped his friend John Mottley with ‘Penelope, a dramatic opera.’ The ‘Triumphs of Love and Honour,’ by Cooke, was acted at Drury Lane 18 Aug. 1731, and was published in the same year with an essay ‘on the stage, and on the advantages which arise to a nation from the encouragement of the arts.’ The essay, which included long criticisms of Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’ and Addison's ‘Rosamond,’ was also issued separately. ‘The Eunuch, or the Darby Captain,’ a musical farce adapted from Terence, was performed at Drury Lane on 17 May 1737, with Charles Macklin in the part of Captain Brag. In 1739 Cooke published a tragedy called ‘The Mournful Nuptials,’ together with ‘some considerations on satire and on the present state of our public entertainments.’ It was acted under the title of ‘Love the Cause and Cure of Grief, or the Innocent Murderer,’ at Drury Lane on 19 Dec. 1743, with a prologue by Sir Robert Henley, and republished in 1744. None of Cooke's pieces reached a second representation. He subsequently wrote songs for Vauxhall and the libretto for Rich's harlequinade. About 1742 Cooke took part in Colley Cibber's theatrical quarrel, and issued, under the pseudonym of ‘Scriblerus Quartus,’ the ‘Bays' Miscellany, or Colley Triumphant,’ which included two new satiric dialogues, ‘Petty Sessions of the Poets’ and ‘The Contention of the Laurel as it is now acting at the New Theatre at the Hay-Market,’ together with a reprint of the ‘Battle of the Poets.’ In 1743 an extravagantly eulogistic epistle in verse addressed by Cooke to the Countess of Shaftesbury appeared, together with a prologue and epilogue on Shakespeare, the former ‘spoke by Mr. Garrick’ at Drury Lane, and the latter by Mrs. Woffington. Cooke formed a fine collection of printed plays, which he sold to Mrs. Oldfield, the actress, and on her death it was purchased (1737) by Queen Caroline for 200l.

About 1741 Cooke became editor and author of the well-known ‘Craftsman,’ in succession to Nicholas Amhurst [q. v.] In 1748 his free criticisms of the Pelham administration led the Duke of Bedford, then secretary of state, to proceed against him for libel, and he was placed under the care of a parliamentary messenger for several weeks, but received no further punishment. Religious discussions interested him, and he approached them from an advanced point of view. In 1742 he published anonymously a letter (addressed before 1732 to Archbishop Wake) ‘concerning Persecution for Religion and Freedom of Debate, proving Liberty to be the support of Truth and the natural property of Mankind,’ together with ‘A Demonstration of the Will of God by the Light of Nature.’ This work was dedicated to the third Earl of Shaftesbury, and portions of it criticise the argument of Samuel Clarke (1675–1729) [q. v.], with whom Cooke was for the most part in agreement. In 1756 he supplied Dr. Leonard Howard, rector of St. Saviour's, Southwark, with some unpublished poems and old correspondence as material for the second volume of a collection of ‘Ancient Letters.’

Cooke was always in debt, and his difficulties increased with his years. He died in great poverty 20 Dec. 1756 at a small house in Lambeth, which he was in the habit of describing to casual acquaintances as a magnificent mansion. A few literary friends subscribed his funeral expenses, and contributed to the support of his widow, Anne, a sister of Charles Beckingham [q. v.], and his only child, a daughter, Elizabeth. The former died in March 1757, and the daughter took to immoral courses. Cooke, although of a convivial temper, had a cynical humour; he introduced Foote to a club as ‘the nephew of the gentleman who was lately hung in chains for murdering his brother.’ A friend, Sir Joseph Mawbey, to whom Cooke left his manuscripts, contributed a long anecdotal biography, with copious extracts from his commonplace books, to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1791, 1792, and 1797. Mawbey offered Garrick a manuscript play by Cooke entitled ‘Germanicus’ (see 11th Rep. Hist. MSS. Comm. App. pt. vii. p. 42), but Garrick declined it.

[Gent. Mag. lxi. pt. ii. 1089, 1178, lxii. pt. i. 26, 215, 313, lxvii. pt. ii. 560; Baker's Biog. Dram.; Genest's Hist. vols. ii. and iii.; Pope's Works, ed. Courthorpe and Elwin, viii. 239–45, x. 212–15; Lysons's Environs, vol. i.; Oldys's Diary; Boswell's Johnson.]

S. L. L.