The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets/Volume 1/Cowley

THE Life of Cowley, notwithstanding the penury of English biography, has been written by Dr. Sprat, an author whose pregnancy of imagination and elegance of language have deservedly set him high in the ranks of literature; but his zeal of friendship, or ambition of eloquence, has produced a funeral oration rather than a history: he has given the character, not the life of Cowley; for, he writes with so little detail, that scarcely any thing is distinctly known, but all is shewn confused and enlarged through the mist of panegyrick.

ABRAHAM COWLEY was born in the year one thousand six hundred and eighteen. His father was a grocer, whose condition Dr. Sprat conceals under the general appellation of a citizen; and, what would probably not have been less carefully suppressed, the omission of his name in the register of St. Dunstan's parish gives reason to suspect that his father was a sectary. Whoever he was, he died before the birth of his son, and consequently 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.

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 remembered, and perhaps sometimes forgotten, produce that particular designation of mind, and propensity for some certain science or employment, 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 time, that his teachers never could bring it to retain the ordinary rules of grammar."

This is an instance of the natural desire of man to propagate a wonder. It is surely very difficult to tell any thing as it was heard, when Sprat could not refrain from amplifying a commodious incident, though the book to which he prefixed his narrative contained its confutation. A memory admitting some things, and rejecting others, an intellectual digestion that concocted the pulp of learning, but refused the husks, had the appearance of an instinctive elegance, of a particular provision made by Nature for literary politeness. But in the author's own honest relation, the marvel vanishes: he was, he says, such "an enemy to all constraint, that his master never could prevail on him to learn the rules without book." He does not tell that he could not learn the rules, but that, being able to perform his exercises without them, and being an "enemy to constraint," he spared himself the labour.

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 seems 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[1]; 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.

While he was yet at school he produced a comedy called "Love's Riddle," though it was not published till he had been some time at Cambridge. This comedy is of the pastoral kind, 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.

In 1636, he was removed to Cambridge[2], where he continued his studies with great intenseness; for, he is said to have written, while he was yet a young student, the greater part of his "Davideis;" a work of which the materials could not have been collected without the study of many years, but by a mind of the greatest vigour and activity.

Two years after his settlement at Cambridge he published "Love's Riddle," with a poetical dedication to Sir Kenelm Digby; of whose acquaintance all his contemporaries seem to have been ambitious; and "Naufragium Joculare," a comedy written in Latin, but without due attention to the ancient models; for, it is 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.

In 1643, being now master of arts, he was, by the prevalence of the parliament, ejected from Cambridge, and sheltered himself at St. John's College in Oxford; where, as is said by Wood, he published a satire, called "The Puritan and Papist," which was only inserted in the last


tion of his works”; and so distinguished himself by the warmth of his loyalty, and the elegance 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. About the time when Oxford was sur rendered to the parliament, he followed the Queen to Paris, where he became fe cretary to the Lord Jermyn, afterwards Earl of St. Albans, and was employed in such correspondence as the royal cause re quired, 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 a l l his days and two o r three nights i n the week. I n the year 1647, his “Mistress” was published; for h e imagined, a s h e declared i n his preface t o a subsequent edition, that

In the first edition offii. Life, Dr. Johnson wrote, “which “was never inserted i n any collečtion o f his works;” but h e altered the expression when the Lives were collected into volumes. The satire was added t o Cowley’s works b y the particular direétion o f Dr. Johnson. N. - - B 4 “ poets

  • 8

COWLEY. “poets are scarcely thought freemen of “their company without paying some “duties, or obliging themselves to be true

    • to Love.”

This obligation to amorous ditties owes, I believe, i t s original t o the fame o f Pe trarch, who, i n a n age rude and unculti vated, b y his tuneful homage t o his Laura, refined the manners o f the lettered world, and filled Europe with love and poetry. But the basis of all excellence i s truth: he that professes love ought t o feel i t s power. Petrarch was a real lover, and Laura doubtless deserved his tenderness. Of Cow 1ey, we are told b y Barnes

, who had means enough o f information, that, what ever h e may talk o f his own inflammabi lity, and the variety o f charaćters b y which his heart was divided, h e i n reality was i n love but once, and then never had resolution t o tell his passion. This consideration cannot but abate, i n forme measure, the reader's esteem for the work and the author. To love excellence i s natural; i t i s natural likewise for the lover t o solicit reciprocal regard b y an

Barnefii Anacreontem. Dr. J . elaborate s COWLEY. 9 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 ap pear 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 employ ment. No man needs to be so burthened with life as to squander it in voluntary dreams of fićtitious occurrences. The man that fits down to suppose himself charged with treason or peculation, and heats his mind to an elaborate purgation of his charaćter from crimes which he was never within the possibility of committing, dif fers only by the infrequency of his folly from him who praises beauty which he never saw ; complains of jealousy which he never felt;. supposes himself sometimes invited, and sometimes forsaken ; fatigues his fancy, and ransacks his memory, for images which may exhibit the gaiety of . hope, IO COWLEY. 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. At Paris, as secretary to lord Jermyn, he was engaged in transacting things of real importance with real men and real women, and at that time did not much employ his thoughts upon phantoms of gallantry. Some of his letters to Mr. Ben net, afterwards Earl of Arlington, from April to December in 1650, are preserved in “Miscellanea Aulica,” a colle&tion 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 re putation than as they shew him to have been above the affectation of unseasonable elegance, and to have known that the , business of a statesman can be little for warded by flowers of rhetorick. One passage, however, seems not unwor thy of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation : - 4. The < COWLEY. II. £4- &4 £6 &4 &4

&4 &4 &4 &4 &4 $4 &4 46 “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 be lieving, that an agreement will be made: a l l people upon the place incline t o that of union. The Scotch will moderate something o f the rigour o f their de mands; the mutual necessity o f an ac cord i s visible, the King i s persuaded o f i t . And t o tell you the truth (which I take t o b e a n argument above all the rest), Virgil has told the same thing t o that purpose.” This expression from a secretary o f the present time, would b e considered a s mere l y ludicrous, o r a t most a s a n ostentatious display o f scholarship

but the manners o f that time were s o tinged with supersti tion, that I cannot but suspect Cowley o f having consulted o n this great occasion the Virgilian lots

, and t o have given a some credit t o the answer o f his oracle. to Some

Consulting the Virgilian Lots, Sortes Virgilianæ, i s a method o f Divination b y the opening o f Virgil, and applying the circumstances o f the peruser the first passage i n either o f the two pages that h e accidentally fixes his eye on. I t i s said, that

COWLEY. Some years afterwards, “business,” says Sprat, “ Rossed of course into other hands;” and that king Charles I. and lord Falkland, being in the Bodleian library, made this experiment of their future fortunes, and met with passages equally ominous to each. That of the king was the following: At bello audacis populi vexatus & armis, Finibus extorris, complexu avulsus Iuli, Auxilium imploret, videatgue indigna suorum Funera, nec, cum se sub leges pacis iniquae Tradiderit, regno autoptata luce fruatur: Sed cadat ante diem, mediaque inhumatus arena. AEneid, book IV, line 615. Yet l e t a race untary'd, and haughty foes? His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose, Oppress'd with numbers i n th’ unequal field, His men discourag'd, and himself expell'd: Let him for succour sue from place t o place, Torn from his subjećts and his son's embrace. First l e t him see his friends i n battle slain, And their untimely fate lament i n vain

And when, a t length, the cruel war shall cease, On hard conditions may h e buy his peace; Nor l e t him then enjoy supreme command, But fall untimely b y some hostile hand, } And l i e unbury'd o n the barren sand. DRY DEN. Lord Falkland's

Non haec, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti, Cautius u t savo velles t e credere Marti. Haud ignarus eram, quantum nova gloria i n armis, E t praedulce decus primo certamine posset. Primitiae juvenis miserae, bellique propinqui - Dura

  • COWLE-Y.

f3 o and Cowley, being no longer useful at Paris, was in 1656 sent back into Eng land, that, “under pretence of privacy “ and retirement, he might take occasion “ of giving notice of the posture of things '** in this nation.” Soon after his return to London, he was seized by some messengers of the usurp ing powers, who were sent out in quest of another man; and, being examined, was put into confinement, from which he was not dismissed without the security of a thousand pounds given by Dr.Scarborough. Dura rudimenta, & nulli exaudita Deorum, Vota precesque mea: 1 AEneid, book XI. line 152. O Pallas, thou hast fail'd thy plighted word, To fight with caution, not to tempt the sword; I warn'd thee, but in vain, for well I knew What perils youthful ardour would pursue : That boiling blood would carry thee too far,

O curst essay of arms, disastrous doom, Prelude of bloody fields and fights to come; Hard elements of unauspicious war, Vain vows to Heaven, and unavailing care. DRYDEN. Hoffman, in h i s Lexicon, gives a very satisfačtory account o f this practice o f seeking fates i n books; and says, that i t was used b y the Pagans, the Jewish Rabbins, and even the early Christians; the latter taking the New Testament f o r their oracle. H. This 14 COWLEY. This year he published h i s poems, with a preface, i n which h e seems t o have in ferted something, suppressed i n subsequent editions, which was interpreted t o denote some relaxation o f his loyalty. I n this preface h e declares, that “his desire had “ been for some days past, and did still “very vehemently continue, t o retire him “self t o some o f the American planta “tions, and t o forsake this world for “ ever.” - From the obloquy which the appearance o f submission t o the usurpers brought upon him, his biographer has been very diligent t o clear him, and indeed i t does not seem t o have lessened his reputation. His wish for retirement we can easily believe t o b e undissembled

a man harrassed i n one kingdom, and persecuted i n another, who, after a course o f business that employed all his days and half his nights i n cypher ing and decyphering, comes t o his own country and steps into a prison, will b e willing enough t o retire t o some place o f quiety and o f safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose u s t o forget that, i f his . . . - aćtivity < COwLEY. I5 aćtivity was virtue, his retreat was cow ardice. - - He then took upon himself the charaćter of Physician, still, according to Sprat, with intention, “to dissemble the main “ design of his coming over;” and, as Mr. Wood relates, “ complying with the “men then in power (which was much “taken notice of by the royal party), he “ obtained an order to be created Dočtor “ of Physick, which being done to h i s “mind (whereby h e gained the ill-will o f “ some o f his friends), h e went into “France again, having made a copy o f “ verses on Oliver’s death.” This i s n o favourable representation, yet even i n this not much wrong can b e dis covered. How far h e complied with the men i n power, i s t o b e enquired before h e can be blamed. I t i s not said that he told them any secrets, o r assisted them b y in telligence, o r any other ačt. I f h e only promised t o b e quiet, that they i n whose hands h e was might free him from con finement, h e did what no law o f society prohibits. - - - - - - The 16 COWLEY. The man whose miscarriage in a just cause has put him in the power of his ene my may, without any violation of his in tegrity, regain his liberty, or preserve his life, by a promise of neutrality : for, the stipulation gives the enemy nothing which he had not before ; the neutrality of a captive may be always secured by h i s im prisonment o r death. He that i s a t the disposal o f anothor may not promise t o aid him i n any injurious ačt, because n o power can compel aćtive obedience. He may engage t o d o nothing, but not t o do ill. - There i s reason t o think that Cowley promised little. I t does not appear that his compliance gained him confidence enough t o b e trusted without security

for, the bond o f his bail was never cancelled

nor that i t made him think himself secure, for, a t that dissolution o f government, which followed the death of Oliver, he re turned into France, where he resumed his former station, and staid till the Resto ration. o ^ “He continued,” says his biographer, “under these bonds till the general deliver “ ance;” COWLEY. 17 o “ance;” it is therefore to be supposed, that he did not go to France, and act again for the King, without the consent of his bondsman; that he did not shew h i s loyalty a t the hazard o f his friend, but b y his friend's permission. Of the verses on Oliver's death, i n which Wood's narrative seems t o imply something encomiastick, there has been n o appearance. There i s a discourse concerning his go vernment, indeed, with verses intermixed, but such a s certainly gained i t s author no friends among the abettors o f usurpation. A doćtor o f physick however h e was made a t Oxford, i n December, 1657; and i n the commencement o f the Royal So ciety, o f which a n account has been given b y Dr. Birch, h e appears busy among the 9 experimental philosophers with the title o f “Dr. Cowley.” There i s n o reason for supposing that h e ever attempted practice

but his pre paratory studies have contributed some thing t o the honour o f his country. Con sidering Botany a s necessary t o a physician, h e retired into Kent t o gather plants; and, a s the predominance o f a favourite study Vol. I . C affects 18 COWLEY.

affects a l l subordinate operations o f the intelle&t, Botany i n the mind o f Cowley turned into Poetry. He composed i n La tin several books on Plants, o f which the first and second display the qualitics o f Herbs, i n elegiac verse

the third and fourth, the beauties o f Flowers i n various measures; and i n the fifth and sixth, the uses of Trees i n heroick numbers. At the same time were produced, from the same university, the two great Poets, Cowley and Milton, o f dissimilar genius, o f opposite.principles; but concurring i n the cultivation o f Latin Poetry, i n which the English, till their works and May's poem appeared “ , seemed unable t o contest the palm with any other o f the lettered nations. I f the Latin performances o f Cowley and Milton b e compared (for May I hold t o b e superior t o both), the advantage seems t o l i e o n the side o f Cowley. Milton i s generally content t o express the thoughts o f the ancients i n their language; Cowley,

- s -

, , , , " -

B y May’s Poem, we are here t o understand a continuation o f Lucan's Pharsalia t o the death o f Julius Cæsar, b y Thomas May, a n eminent poct and historian, who flourished i n the reigns o f James and Charles I , and o f whom a life i s given i n the Biographia Britanuica. H . - without o cowLEY. 19 without much loss of purity or elegance, accommodates the dićtion of Rome to his own conceptions. At the Restoration, after all the dili gence of his long service, and with con sciousness not only of the merit of fidelity, but of the dignity of great abilities, he naturally expected ample preferments : and, that he might not be forgotten by his own fault, wrote a Song of Triumph. But this was a time of such general hope, that great numbers were inevitably dis appointed; and Cowley found his reward very tediously delayed. He had been pro mised, by both Charles the First and Se cond, the Mastership of the Savoy; “but “he lost it,” says Wood, “by certain “persons, enemies to the Muses.” The neglect of the court was not his only mortification; having, by such al teration as he thought proper, fitted his old Comedy of the “Guardian” for the stage, he produced it * under the title of “The Catter of Coleman street +.” It WaS

  • 1663.
  • .

+ Here is an error in the designation of this comedy, which eur author copied from the title-page of the latter editions of C2 Cowley's 2O COWLEY. was treated on the stage with great severity, and was afterwards censured as a satire on the king's party. Mr. Dryden, who went with Mr. Sprat to the first exhibition, related to Mr. Den nis, “that, when they told Cowley how “little favour had been shewn him, he “received the news of his i l l success, not “with s o much firmness a s might have “been expe&ted from s o great a man.” What firmness they expected, o r what weakness Cowley discovered, cannot b e known. He that misses his end will never b e a s much pleased a s h e that attains i t , even when h e can impute n o part o f his failure t o himself; and, when the end i s t o please the multitude, n o man, perhaps, has a right, i n things admitting o f grada tion and comparison, t o throw the whole blame upon his judges, and totally t o ex clude diffidence and shame b y a haughty consciousness of his own excellence. For the rejection o f this play, i t i s diffi cult now t o find the reason

i t certainly Cowley's works; the title o f the play itself i s without the arti cle, “ Cutter o f Coleman-street,” and that, because a merry sharking fellow about the town, named Cutter, i s a principal charaćter i n i t . H. has, COWLEY. 2I r - has, in a very great degree, the power of fixing attention and exciting merriment. From the charge of disaffection he excul pates himself in his preface, by observing how unlikely it is that, having followed the royal family through a l l their distresses, “ he should chuse the time of their restora “tion t o begin a quarrel with them.” I t appears, however, from the Theatrical Register o f Downes the Prompter, t o have been popularly considered a s a satire o n the Royalists. That h e might shorten this tedious sus pense; h e published his pretensions and his discontent, i n an ode called “The “Complaint;” i n which h e styles himself the melancholy Cowley. This met with the usual fortune o f complaints, and seems t o have excited more contempt than pity. These unlucky incidents are brought, maliciously enough, together i n some stanzas, written about that time, on the choice o f a laureat; a mode o f satire, b y which, since i t was first introduced b y Suckling, perhaps every generation o f poets has been teazed. C 3 Savoy 22. cowLEY.

Savoy misfing Cowley came into the court, Making apologies for his bad play; Every one gave him so good a report, That Apollo gave heed to a l l h e could say; Nor would h e have had, ' t i s thought, a rebuke, Unless h e had done some notable folly; Writ verses unjustly i n praise o f Sam Tuke, O r printed h i s pitiful Melancholy.

His vehement desire o f retirement novy came again upon him. “ Not finding,” - fays the morose Wood, “that preferment & 4 & 6 & 4 & 4 & 4 & 4 & & & 4 & 4 & 4 4 & & 6 & 4 6 & conferred upon him which h e expected, while others for their money carried away most places, h e retired discontent e d into Surrey.” “He was now,” says the courtly Sprat, weary o f the vexations and formalities o f a n active condition. He had been perplexed with a long compliance t o foreign manners. He was satiated with the arts o f a court; which sort o f life, though h i s virtue made i t innocent t o him, yet nothing could make i t quiet. Those were the reasons that made him t o follow the violent inclination o f his own mind, which, i n the greatest throng o f his former business, had still called - - “upon COWLEY. 23 o

  • upon him, and represented to him the

“true delights of solitary studies, of tem “perate pleasures, and a moderate re “ venue below the malice and flatteries of “ fortune.”

- So differently are things seen 1 and so differently are they shewn! but ačtions are visible, though motives are secret. Cow Jey certainly retired; first to Barn-elms, and afterwards to Chertsey, in Surrey. He seems, however, to have lost part of his dread of the * hum of men. He thoughthim self now safe enough from intrufion, with out the defence of mountains and oceans; and, instead of seeking shelter in Ame rica, wisely went only so far from the bustle of life as that he might easily find his way back, when solitude should grow tedious. His retreat was at first but slenderly ac commodated; yet he soon obtained, by the interest of the earl of St. Alban's and the duke of Buckingham, such a lease of the Queen's lands as afforded him an am ple income. - By the lover of virtue and of wit it will be solicitously asked, if he now was happy.

  • L'Allegro of Milton. Dr. J.

C4 Let 24 cowLEY. Let them peruse one of his letters acciden tally preserved by Peck, which I recom. mend to the consideration of all that may hereafter pant for solitude. “To Dr. THOMAS SPRAT. “Chertsey, 21 May, 1665. “The first night that I came hither I “caught so great a cold, with a defluxion “ of rheum, as made me keep my chamber “ten days. And, two after, had such a “bruise on my ribs with a fall, that I am “yet unable to move or turn myself in my “bed. This is my personal fortune here “to begin with. And, besides, I can get “no money from my tenants, and have “my meadows eaten up every night by “cattle put in by my neighbours. What “this signifies, or may come to in time, “God knows; if it be ominous, it can “end in nothing less than hanging. Ano “ther misfortune has been, and stranger - “ than a l l the rest, that you have broke “your word with me, and failed t o come, “even though you told Mr. Bois that you “would. This i s what they call Monsiri “smile. I d o hope t o recover my late - - - . . . • “ hurt COWLEY. 25 “ hurt so farre within five or s i x days “ (though i t b e uncertain yet whether I “shall ever recover it) a s t o walk about “ again. And then, methinks, you and “I and the Dean might b e very merry “upon St. Anne's Hill. You might very “conveniently come hither the way o f “Hampton Town, lying there one night. “I write this i n pain, and can say no “ more

Verbum sapienti.” He did not long enjoy the pleasure o r fuffer the uneasiness o f solitude; for he died a t the Porch-house” i n Chertsey i n 1667, i n the 49th year o f his age. He was buried with great pomp near Chaucer and Spenser; and king Charles pronounced, “That Mr. Cowley had not “left behind him a better man i n Eng “land.” He i s represented b y Dr. Sprat a s the most amiable o f mankind

and this posthumous praise may safely b e credited, a s i t has never been contradićted b y envy o r b y faction. Such are the remarks and memorials which I have been able t o add t o the narra

Now i n the possession o f Mr. Clarke, Alderman o f Lon don. Dr. J . - 2 . tive 26 COWLEY. tive of Dr. Sprat; who, writing when the feuds of the civil war were yet recent, and the minds of either party were easily irri tated, was obliged to pass over many transačtions in general expressions, and to leave curiosity often unsatisfied. What he did not tell, cannot however now be known. I must therefore recommend the perusal of his work, to which my narra tion can be considered only as a slender supplement. COWLEY, like other poets who have written with narrow views, and, instead of tracing intelle&tual pleasures in the minds of man, paid their court to temporary pre judices, has been at one time too much praised, and too much neglected at another. Wit, like other things subjećt by their nature to the choice of man, has i t s changes and fashions, and a t different times takes different forms. About the beginning o f the seventeenth century appeared a race o f writers that may b e termed the metaphy sical s COWLEY. 2; fical poets; of whom, in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not improper to give some accóunt. The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to shew their learning was their whole endeavour; but, unluckily resolving to shew it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.

. . . . If the father of criticism has rightly de nominated poetry réxyn upolizī, an imitative art, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the name of poets; for they cannot be said to have imitated any thing ; they neither copied nature for life; neither painted the forms of matter; nor represented the operations of intelle&t. Those however, who deny them to be poets, allow them to be wits. Dryden, confesses of himself and his contemporaries, that they fall below Donne in wit; but maintains, that they surpass him in poetry. If 28 cowLEY. If Wit be well described by Pope, as being “ that which has often thought, but “was never before so well expressed,” they certainly never attained, nor ever sought i t

for, they endeavoured t o b e singular i n their thoughts, and were careless o f their dićtion. But Pope's account o f Wit i s undoubtedly erroneous: h e depresses i t below i t s natural dignity, and reduces i t from strength o f thought t o happiness o f language. I f b y a more noble and more adequate conception that b e considered a s Wit which i s a t once natural and new, that which, though not obvious, i s , upon i t s first pro dućtion, acknowledged t o b e just; i f i t be that which he that never found i t won ders how he missed; t o wit of this kind the metaphysical poets have seldom risen. Their thoughts are often new, but seldom natural

they are not obvious, but neither are they just; and the reader, far from wondering that h e missed them, wonders more frequently b y what perverseness o f industry they were ever found. But Wit, abstraćted from i t s effects upon the hearer, may b e more rigorously and philosophically considered a s a kind o f dis cordia COWLEY. 29 r cordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances, in things apparently unlike. Of wit, thus defined, they have more than enough. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ran sacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instrućts, and their subtilty surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

From this account of their compositions it will be readily inferred, that they were not successful in representing or moving the affections. As they were wholly emi ployed on something unexpected and sur prising, they had no regard to that uni formity of sentiment which enables us to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasure of other minds: they never en quired what, on any occasion, they should have said or done; but wrote rather as beholders than partakers of human nature; as Beings looking upon good and evil, im= passive and at leisure; as Epicurean deities, making remarks on the actions of men, - and 36 COWisE.Y. and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondness, and their lamenta tion of sorrow. Their with was only to fay what they hoped had been never said before. - Nor was the sublime more within their reach than the pathetick; for they never attempted that comprehension and expanse of thought which at once fills the whole mind, and of which the first effect is sud den astonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by ag gregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always general, and confist in positions not limited by excep tions, and in descriptions not descending to minuteness. It is with great propriety that Subtlety, which in i t s original import means exility o f particles, i s taken i n i t s metaphorical meaning for nicety o f distinc tion. Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty could have little hope o f great ness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation. Their attempts were always analytick; they broke every image into fragments; and could n o more re 7 present, { COWLE.Y. 3? present, by their slender conceits and la boured particularities, the prospects of mature, or the scenes of life, than he, who - dissects a sun-beam with a prism, can ex hibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon. What they wanted however of the sub lime, they endeavoured to supply by hy perbole; their amplification had no limits; they left not only reason but fancy behind them; and produced combinations of con fused magnificence, that not only could not be credited, but could not be imagined. Yet great labour, direéted by great abi lities, is never wholly lost; if they fre quently threw away their wit upon false conceits, they likewise sometimes struck out unexpected truth: if their conceits were far-fetched, they were often worth the carriage. To write on their plan, it was at last necessary to read and think. No man could be born a metaphysical poet, nor assume the dignity of a writer, by descriptions copied from descriptions, by imitations borrowed from imitations, by traditional imagery, and hereditary similies, by readiness of rhyme, and volu bility of syllables. - In 32 COWLEY. In perusing the works of this race of authors, the mind is exercised either by recollection or inquiry; either something already learned is to be retrieved, or some thing new is to be examined. If their greatness seldom elevates, their acuteness often surprises; if the imagination is not always gratified, at least the powers of reflexion and comparison are employed; and in the mass of materials which inge nious absurdity has thrown together, ge nuine wit and useful knowledge may be sometimes found buried perhaps in gross ness of expression, but useful to those who know their value; and such as, when they are expanded to perspicuity, and polished to elegance, may give lustre to works which have more propriety, though less copiousness of sentiment. - This kind of writing, which was, I be lieve, borrowed from Marino and his fol lowers, had been recommended by the ex ample of Donne, a man of a very exten five and various knowledge; and by Jonson, whose manner resembled that of Donne more in the ruggedness of his lines than in the cast of his sentiments. o - When COWLEY. 33 When their reputation was high, they had undoubtedly more imitators than time has left behind. Their immediate succes sors, of whom any remembrance can be said to remain, were Suckling, Waller, Denham, Cowley, Cleiveland, and Milton. Denham and Waller sought another way to fame, by improving the harmony of our numbers. Milton tried the metaphy sick style only in his lines upon Hobson the Carrier. Cowley adopted i t , and excelled his predecessors, having a s much sentiment and more musick. Suckling neither im proved versification, nor abounded i n con ceits. The fashionable style remained chiefly with Cowley; Suckling could not reach i t , and Milton disdained i t . Critical REMARKs are not easily un derstood without examples; and I have therefore colle&ted instances o f the modes o f writing b y which this species o f poets, for poets they were called b y themselves and their admirers, was eminently distinguished. AS the authors o f this race were per haps more desirous o f being admired than understood, they sometimes drew their Vol. I . D much 34 C-OWI,E.Y., conceits from recesses of learning not very much frequented by common readers of poetry. Thus Cowley on Know/edge: The sacred tree midst the fair orchard grew; The phoenix Truth did on it rest, . . . And built his perfum’d nest, - That right Porphyrian tree which did true logic shew. . . - o Each leaf did learned notions give, And t h ’ apples were demonstrative: . So clear their colour and divine, The very shade they cast d i d other lights outshine. On Anacreon continuing a lover i n his old age

. . . - Love was with thy life entwin'd, Close a s heat with fire i s join'd, A powerful brand prescrib'd the date Of thine, like Meleager's fate. Th’ antiperistasis o f age More enslam'd thy amorous rage. I n the following verses we have a n al lusion t o a Rabbinical opinion concerning Manna

Variety I ask not

give me one To live perpetually upon. The Person Love does t o u s fit, Like manna, has the taste o f a l l i n i t . 7 . - - Thus


35 Thus Donne shews his medicinal know ledge in some encomiastick verses: - In every thing there naturally grows A Balsamum to keep it fresh and new, If 'twere not injur'd by extrinsique blows; , Your youth and beauty are this balm in you. But you, of learning and religion, And virtue and such ingredients, have made A mithridate, whose operation Keeps off, or cures what can be done or said. Though the following lines of Donne, on the last night of the year, have some thing in them too scholastic, they are not inelegant: This twilight of two years, not past nor next, Some emblem is of me, or I of this, Who, meteor-like, of stuff and form perplext, Whose what and where in disputation i s , I f I should call me any thing, should miss. I sum the years and me, and find me not Debtor t o th’ old, nor creditor t o th’ new, That cannot say, my thanks I have forgot, Nor trust I this with hopes; and yet scarce true This bravery i s , since these times shew'd me yo: i . - DoNNE. r D 2 Yet 36 COWLEY.

Yet more abstruse and profoundis Donne's reflection upon Man as a Microcosm: If men be worlds, there is in every one Something to answer in some proportion All the world's riches: and in good men, this Virtue, our form's form, and our soul's soulis. OF thoughts so far fetched, as to be not only unexpe&ted, but unnatural, all their books are full. To a Lady, who wrote poesies for rings. They, who above do various circles find, Say, like a ring th’ aequator heaven does bind. When heaven shall be adorn'd by thee, (Which then more heaven than 'tis, will be) 'Tis thou must write the poesy there, For it wanteth one as yet, Then the sun pass through't twice a year, The sun, which is esteem'd the god of wit. CowLEY. The difficulties which have been raised about identity in philosophy, are by Cow ley, with still more perplexity, applied to Love: - Five years ago (says story) I lov'd you, For which you call me most inconstant now; Pardon me, madam, you mistake the man; For I am not the same that I was then; N

No flesh is now the same 'twas then in me,

And that my mind is chang'd yourself may see. The same thoughts to retain still, and intents, Were more inconstant far: for accidents Must of a l l things most strangely inconstant prove, I f from one subjećt they t'another move: My members then, the father members were From whence these take their birth, which now are here. I f then this body love what th'other did,

  • Twere incest, which

b y nature i s forbid. The love o f different women i s , i n geo graphical poetry, compared t o travels through different countries: Hast thou not found each woman's breast (The land where thou hast travelled) Either b y savages possest, Or wild, and uninhabited 2 What joy could'st take, o r what repose, In countries s o uncivilis'd a s those? Lust, the scorching dog-star, here Rages with immoderate heat; Whilst Pride, the rugged Northern Bear, I n others makes the cold too great. And where these are temperate known, The soil's a l l barren sand, o r rocky stone. CowLEY. D 3 A Lover, 38 COWLEY. A Lover, burnt up by his affection, is compared to Egypt: The fate of Egypt I sustain, And never feel the dew of rain From clouds which in the head appear; But a l l my too much moisture owe To overflowings o f the heart below. - CowLE”. The lover supposes his lady acquainted with the ancient laws o f augury and rites of sacrifice: - - And yet this death o f mine, I fear, Will ominous t o her appear

- When sound i n every other part, Her sacrifice i s found without an heart. For the last tempest o f my death Shall figh out that too, with my breath. That the chaos was harmonised, has been recited o f old; but whence the dif ferent sounds arose remained for a modern t o discover: Th’ ungovern'd parts n o correspondence knew; An artless war from thwarting motions grew

Till they t o number and fixt rules were brought. Water and air h e for the Tenor chose, Earth made the Bass; the Treble, flame arose. CowLEY. The COWLEY. 39 The tears of lovers are always of great poetical account; but Donne has extended them into worlds. If the lines are not easily understood, they may be read again: - On a round ball A workman, that hath copies by, can lay An Europe, Afric, and an Asia, " . And quickly make that, which was nothing, all. So doth each tear, Which thee doth wear, - A globe, yea world, by that impression grow, Till thy tears mixt with mife do overflow This world, by waters sent from thee my heaven dissolved s o . "

On reading the following lines the rea der may perhaps cry out—Confusion worse confounded ! • - Here lies a she son, and a h e moon here, She gives the best light t o his sphere, Or each i s both, and all, and s o They unto one another nothing owe. Don NE. Who but Donne would have thought that a good man i s a telescope; - t - 2 or - , Though God b e our true glass through' which n -

we see . . . . . . . [ "

All, fince the being o f a l l things i s fie,

G - D 4 Yet 4o CowLEY. Yet are the trunks, which do to us derive Things in proportion f i t , b y perspective Deeds o f good men; for b y their living here, Virtues, indeed remote, seem t o b e near. Who would imagine i t possible that i n a very few lines s o many remote ideas could b e brought together? Since ’tis my doom, Love's undershrieve, Why this reprieve? Why doth my she-advowson f l y Incumbency

To sell thyself dost thou intend By candle's end, And hold the contrast thus i n doubt, Life's taper out? Think but how soon the market fails, Your sex lives faster than the males; And i f t o measure age's span, The sober Julian were th' account o f man, Whilst you live b y the fleet Gregorian. CLE1 velAND. OF enormous and disgusting hyperboles, these may b e examples: By every wind that comes this way, Send me a t least a sigh o r two, Such and s o many I’ll repay - As shall themselves make winds t o get t o you. CowLEY. In COWLEY. 4!. In tears I'll waste these eyes, By Love so vainly fed; - - So lust of old the Deluge punished. CowLEY. All arm'd in brass the richest dress of war, (A dismal glorious fight) he shone afar. The sun himself started with sudden fright, To see his beams return so dismal bright. CowLEY. An universal consternation: His bloody eyes he hurls round, his sharp paws Tear up the ground; then runs he wild about, Lashing his angry tail and roaring out. Beasts creep into their dens, and tremble there; Trees, though no wind is stirring shake with fear; Silence and horror fill the place around; Echo itself dares scarce repeat the sound. - CowLEY. THEIR fićtions were often violent and unnatural. - Of his Mistress bathing: The fish around her crowded, as they do To the false light that treacherous fishes shew, And a l l with a s much ease might taken be, As she a t first took me

For ne'er did light s o clear Among the waves appear, - Though every night the sun himself s e t there. CowLEY. The The poctical effect of a lover's name upon glass: - My name engrav'd herein Doth contribute my firmness to this glass; Which, ever since that charm, hath been As hard as that which grav'd it was. Donne. THEIR conceits were sentiments slight and trifling. On an inconstant woman; He crjoys the calmy sunshine now, And no breath stirring hears, In the clear heaven of thy brow, No smallest cloud appears. - He sees thee gentle, fair and gay, - And trusts the faithless April of thy May. - CowLEY. Upon a paper written with the juice of lemon, and read by the fire : Nothing yet in thee is seen, But when a genial heat warms thee within, A new-born wood of various lines there grows; Here buds an L, and there a B, Here spouts a V, and there a T, And a l l the flourishing letters fland i n rows.

CowLEY. As i COWLEY. 43 As they sought only for novelty, they did not much enquire whether their allusions were to things high or low, elegant or gross; whether they compared the little to the great, or the great to the little. Physick and Chirurgery for a Lover: Gently, ah gently, madam, touch The wound, which you yourself have made; That pain must needs be very much, Which makes me of your hand afraid, Cordials of pity give me now, For I too weak of purgings grow. CowLEY. The World and a Clock: Mahol, th’inferior world's fantastic face, Thro' all the turns of matter’s maze did trace; Great Nature's well-set clock in pieces took; On a l l the springs and smallest wheels did look Of life and motion, and with equal art Made u p the whole again o f every part, CowLEY. A coal-pit has not often found i t s poet; but that i t may not want i t s due honour, Cleiveland has paralleled i t with the Sun: The moderate value o f our guiltless ore Makes n o man atheist, and n o woman whore; Yet why should hallow’d vestal's sacred shrine Deserve more honour than a slaming mine 2 These 44 COWLEY. These pregnant wombs of heat would fitter be, Than a few embers, for a deity. Had he our pits, the Persian would admire No sun, but warm's devotion at our fire: He'd leave the trotting whipster, and prefer Our profound Vulcan 'bove that waggoner. For wants he heat, or light? or would have store, Or both? 'tis here; and what can suns give more? Nay, what's the sun but, in a different name, A coal-pit rampant, or a mine or flame ! Then l e t this truth reciprocally run, The sun's heaven's coalery, and coals our sun, Death, a Voyage: No family E'er rigg’d a soul f o r heaven's discovery, With whom more venturers might boldly dare Venture their stakes, with him i n joy to share. DoNNE. THEIR thoughts and expressions were sometimes grossly absurd, and such a s n o figures o r licence can reconcile t o the un derstanding. A Lover neither dead nor alive: Then down I laid my head Down on cold earth; and for a while was dead, And my freed soul t o a strange somewhere fled; Ah, UOWI,E.Y. 45 Ah, sottish soul, said I, When back to i t s cage again I saw i t fly; Fool t o resume her broken chain And row her galley here again! Fool, t o that body t o return Where i t condemn’d and destin'd i s t o burn! Once dead, how can i t be, Death should a thing s o pleasant seem t o thee, That thou should'st come t o live i t o'er again in me 2 A Lover's heart, a hand grenado: Wo t o her stubborn heart, i f once mine come Into the self same room, w

  • Twill tear and blow up

a l l within, Like a grenado shot into a magazin. Then shall Love keep the ashes, and torn parts, Of both our broken hearts: - Shall out o f both one new one make; From her’s th’ allay; from mine, the metal take. CowLEY. The poetical Propagation o f Light: The prince's favour i s diffus'd o'er all, From which a l l fortunes, names, and natures fall; Then from those wombs o f stars, the Bride's bright eyes, A t every glance a constellation flies And sowes the court with stars, and doth prevent I n light and power, the all-ey'd firmament: First 46. COWLEY. First her eye kindles other ladies' eyes, Then from their beams their jewels lustres rise; And from their jewels torches do take fire, And a l l i s warmth, and light, and good desire. DONNE. THEY were i n very little care t o clothe their notions with elegance o f dress, and therefore miss the notice and the praise which are often gained b y those, who think less, but are more diligent t o adorn their thou ghts. That a Mistress beloved i s faircr i n idea than i n reality, i s b y Cowley thus expressed: Thou i n my fancy dost much higher stand, Than women can b e plac’d b y Nature's hand; And I must needs, I'm sure, a loser be, To change thee, a s thou'rt there, for very thee. That prayer and labour should co-ope rate, are thus taught b y Donne: I n none but u s are such mixt engines found, A s hands o f double office; for the ground We till with them; and them t o heaven w e raise; Who prayerless labours, or, without this, prays, Doth but one half, that’s none. By the same author, a common topick, the danger o f procrastination, i s thus


- —— That C..OWLEY. 47. —— That which I should have begun In my youth's morning, now late must be done; And I, as giddy travellers must do, - Which stray or sleep a l l day, and having lost Light and strength, dark and tir’d, must then ride post. - - - All that man has t o do i s t o live and die; the sum o f humanity i s comprehended b y Donne i n t h e following lines: Think i n how poor a prison thou didst lic; After enabled but t o suck and cry. Think, when 'twas grown t o most, 'twas a poor inn, . . - A province pack'd u p i n two yards o f skin, And that usurp'd, o r threaten’d with a rage Of ficknesses, o r their true mother, age. But think that death hath now enfranchis’d thee; Thou hast thy expansion now, and liberty; Think, that a rusty piece discharg'd i s flown I n pieces, and the bullet i s his own, And freely flies: this t o thy soul allow, Think thy shell broke, think thy soul hatch'd but now. THEY were sometimesindelicate and dis gusting. Cowley thus apostrophises beauty: — Thou tyrant, which leav'st n o man free! Thousubtle thief, from whom nought safe can bel Thou murtherer, which hast kill'd, and devil, which would'st damn me ! - Thus 48 cowLEY. Thus he addresses his Mistress: Thou who, in many a propriety, So truly art the sun to me, Add one more likeness, which I'm sure you cari, And l e t m e and m y sun beget a man. Thus h e represents the meditations o f a Lover: Though i n thy thoughts scarce any trađts have been - S o much a s o f original fin, Such charms thy beauty wears a s might Desires i n dying confest saints excite. Thou with strange adultery Dost i n each breast a brothel keep

Awake, a l l men do lust for thee, And some enjoy thee when they sleep. The true taste of Tears: Hither with crystal vials, lovers, come, And take my tears, which are love's wine, And t r y your mistress' tears a t home; For a l l are false, that taste not just like mine. DoNNE. This i s yet more indelicate

As the sweet sweat o f roses i n a still, As that which from chaf’d musk-cat's pores doth trill, As cowLEY. 49 As the almighty balm of th’ early East; Such are the sweet drops of my mistress’ breast. And on her neck her skin such lustre sets, They seem no sweat drops, but pearl coronets: , Rank, sweaty frothothy mistress' brow defiles. to. . . . . . . . DoNNE. THEIR expressions sometime raise hor ror, when they intend perhapstober athetic: As men in hell are from diseases free, So from a l l other ills am I , Free from their known formality: But a l l pains eminently l i e i n thee. Cowley. THEY were not always strićtly curious, whether the opinions from which they drew their illustrations were true, i t was enough that they were popular. Bacon remarks, that some falsehoods are continued b y tradition, because they supply commodious allusions. . I t gave a piteous groan, and s o i t broke: - I n vain i t something would have spoke: The love within too strong for't was, Like poison put into a Venice-glass. CowLEY. IN forming descriptions, they looked out not for images, but for conceits. Night has been a common subješt, which poets have contended t o adorn. Dryden's Night i s well known; Donne’s i s a s follows: Vol. I . E Thou 5o cowLEY. Thou seest me here at midnight, now a l l rest: Time's dead low-water; when all minds divest To-morrow's business, when the labourers have Such rest i n bed, that their last church-yard grave, Subjećt t o change, will scarce b e a type o f this, Now when the client, whose last hearing i s To-morrow, sleeps; when the condemned man, Who, when h e opes his eyes, must shut them then Again b y death, although sad watch h e keep, Doth pračtise dying b y a little sleep, Thou a t this midnight seest me. IT must be however confessed of these writers, that i f they are upon common sub jećts often unnecessarily and unpoetically subtle, yet where scholastick speculation can b e properly admitted, their copious ness and acuteness may justly b e admired. What Cowley has written upon Hope shews a n unequalled fertility o f invention: Hope, whose weak being ruin’d i s , Alike i f i t succeed, and i f i t miss; Whom good o r i l l does equally confound, And both the horns o f Fate's dilemma wound; Wain shadow ! which dost vanquish quite, Both a t full noon and perfect night! The stars have not a possibility O f blesfing thee; - Hs cOwLEY. 31 If things then from their end we happy call, 'Tis Hope is the most hopeless thing of all. Hope, thou bold taster of delight, Who, whilst thou should'st but taste, devour’st it quite Thou bringst us an estate, y e t leav'stus poor,

B y clogging i t with legacies before 1 The joys which w e entire should wed, Come deflower'd virgins t o our bed; Good fortunes without gain imported be, Such mighty custom's paid t o thee: For joy, like wine kept close, does better taste; I f i t take air before i t s spirits waste. To the following comparison o f a man Zoo. 2......

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05:13, 21 December 2019 (UTC) A breach, but a n expansion, • Like gold t o airy thinness beat. I f they b e two, they are two s o As stiff twin-compasses are two; Thy soul the fixt foot, makes n o show To move, but doth, i f t h ’ other do. E 2 . . . And -

    • 52

COWLEY. And though it in the centre fit, Yet, when the other far doth roam, It leans, and hearkens after i t , And grows erect, a s that comes home. Such wilt thou b e t o me, who must , Like th' other foot obliquely run. Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end, where I begun. DoNNE. I n a l l these examples i t i s apparent, that whatever i s improper o r vitious i s pro duced b y a voluntary deviation from nature i n pursuit o f something new and strange; and that the writers fail t o give delight, b y their desire o f exciting admiration. HAVING thus endeavoured t o exhibit a general representation o f the style and sentiments o f the metaphysical poets, i t i s now proper t o examine particularly the works o f Cowley, who was almost the last o f that race, and undoubtedly the best. His Miscellanies contain a colle&tion of short compositions, written some a s they were dictated b y a mind a t leisure, and forme a s they were called forth b y different occasions; with great variety o f style and sentiment, from burlesque levity t o awful gran COWLEY. 55 grandeur. Such an assemblage of diversi fied excellence no other poet has hitherto afforded. To choose the best, among many good, is one of the most hazardous at tempts of criticism. I know not whether Scaliger himself has persuaded many rea ders to join with him in his preference of the two favourite odes, which he estimates in his raptures at the value of a kingdom. I will however venture to recommend Cow ley's first piece, which ought to be inscribed To my Muse, for want of which the second couplet is without reference. When the title is added, there will still remain a de fečt; for, every piece ought to contain in itself whatever is necessary to make it in telligible. Pope has some epitaphs with out names; which are therefore epitaphs to be lett, occupied indeed for the present, but hardly appropriated. The ode on Witis almost without a rival. It was about the time of Cowley that Wit, which had been till then used for Intelle&#ion, in contradistinétion to Will, took the mean ing, whatever it be, which it now bears. Of a l l the passages i n which poets have exemplified their own precepts, none will E 3 easily o 54 COWLEY. easily be found of greater excellence than that in which Cowley condemns exube rance of Wit: - Yet 'tis not to adorn and gild each part, That shews more cost than art. Jewels at nose and lips but i l l appear; Rather than a l l things wit, l e t none b e there. Several lights will not b e seen, I f there b e nothing else between. Men doubt, because they stand s o thick i'th sky, I f those b e stars which paint the galaxy. I n his verses t o Lord Falkland, whom every man o f his time was proud t o praise, there are, a s there must b e i n a l l Cowley's compositions, some striking thoughts, but they are not well wrought. His elegy o n Sir Henry Wotton i s vigorous and happy, the series o f thoughts i s easy and natural, and the conclusion, though a little weak ened b y the intrusion o f Alexander, i s ele gant and forcible. - I t may b e remarked, that i n this Elegy, and i n most o f his encomiastic poems, h e has forgotten o r neglected t o name his heroes. I n his poem o n the death o f Harvey, there i s much praise, but little passion, a very just and ample delineation o f such - virtues


55 virtues as a studious privacy admits, and {uch intelle&tual excellence as a mind not yet called forth to ačtion can display. He knew how to distinguish, and how to commend the qualities of his companion; but when he wishes to make us weep, he forgets to weep himself, and diverts his sorrow by imagining how his crown of bays, if he had i t , would crackle i n the fire. I t i s the odd fate o f this thought t o b e worse for being true. The bay-leaf crackles remarkably a s i t burns; a s there fore this property was not assigned i t b y chance, the mind must b e thought suffici ently a t ease that could attend t o such mi nuteness o f physiology. But the power o f Cowley i s not s o much t o move the affec tions, a s t o exercise the understanding. The Chronicle i s a composition unrival led and alone: such gaiety o f fancy, such facility o f expression, such varied simili tude, such a succession o f images, and such a dance o f words, i t i s i n vain t o expe&t except from Cowley. His strength always appears i n his agility; his volatility i s not the flutter o f a light, but the bound o f a n elastic mind. His levity never leaves his - E 4 - learn 56 C6WLEY. learning behind it; the moralist, the po litician, and the critick, mingle their in fluence even in this airy frolick of genius. To such a performance Suckling could have brought the gaiety, but not the knowledge; Dryden could have supplied the knowledge, but not the gaiety. The verses to Davenant, which are vi gorusly begun, and happily concluded, contain some hints of criticism very justly conceived and happily expressed. Cow ley's critical abilities have not been suffici ently observed : the few decisions and re marks, which his prefaces and his notes on the Davideis supply, were at that time accessions to English literature, and shew such skill as raises our wish for more ex amples. The lines from jersey are a very curious and pleasing specimen of the familiar de scending to the burlesque. His two metrical disquisions for and agains; Reason are no mean specimens of metaphysical poetry. The stanzas against knowledge produce little convićtion. In those which are intended to exalt the hu man faculties, Reason has i t s proper task I . . . . . assigned ! . | CO.W.L.E.Y. 57 affigned i t

that o f judging, not o f things revealed, but o f the reality o f revelation. I n the verses for Reason i s a passage which Bentley, i n the only English verses which he i s known t o have written, seems t o have copied, though with the inferiority o f a n imitator. -- - The holy Book like t h e eighth sphere doth shine With thousand lights o f truth divine, S o numberless the stars that t o our eye I t makes a l l but one galaxy: Yet Reason must assist too; for i n seas S o vast and dangerous a s these, Our course b y stars above we cannot know Without the compass too below. After this says Bentley.

Who travels i n religious jars, Truth mix'd with error, shade with rays, Like Whiston wanting pyx o r stars, I n ocean wide o r sinks o r strays. Cowley seems t o have had, what Milton i s believed t o have wanted, the skill t o rate his own performances b y their just value, and has therefore closed his Mis cellanies with the verses upon Crashaw,

Dodsley's Colle&tion o f Poems, vol. V . R . which 58 COWLEY. which apparently excel a l l that have gone before them, and i n which there are beau ties which common authors may justly think not only above their attainment, but above their ambition. To the Miscellanies succeed the Anacre ontiques, o r paraphrastical translations o f some little poems, which pass, however justly, under the name o f Anacreon. Of those songs dedicated t o festivity and gaiety, i n which even the morality i s vo luptuous, and which teach nothing but the enjoyment o f the present day, h e has given rather a pleasing than a faithful re presentation, having retained their sprite liness, but lost their simplicity. The Ana creon o f Cowley, like the Homer o f Pope, has admitted the decoration of some modern graces, b y which h e i s undoubtedly more amiable t o common readers, and perhaps, i f they would honestly declare their own perceptions, too far the greater part o f those whom courtesy and ignorance are content t o style the Learned. These little pieces will b e found more finished i n their kind than any other o f Cowley's works. The dićtion shews no thing CO'WLEY. 59 thing of the mould of time, and the senti ments are at no great distance from our present habitudes of thought. Real mirth must be always matural, and nature is uni form. Men have been wise in very diffe rent modes; but they have always laughed the same way. - - Levity of thought naturally produced familiarity of language, and the familiar part of language continues long the same ; the dialogue of comedy, when it is tran scribed from popular manners and real life, is read from age to age with equal pleasure. The artifices of inversion, by which the established order of words is changed, or of innovation, by which new words or meanings of words are intro duced, is pračtised, not by those who talk to be understood, but by those who write to be admired. - The Anacreontiques therefore of Cowley give now a l l the pleasure which they ever gave. I f h e was formed b y nature for one kind o f writing more than for another, his power seems t o have been greatest i n the familiar and the festive. The ~ 6o cowLEY. The next class of his poems is called The Misires, of which it is not necessary to select any particular pieces for praise or censure. They have all the same beauties and faults, and nearly in the same pro portion. They are written with exube rance of wit, and with copiousness of learning; and it is truly asserted by Sprat, that the plenitude of the writer's know ledge flows in upon his page, so that the reader is commonly surprised into some improvement. But, considered as the verses of a lover, no man that has ever loved will much commend them. They are nei thercourtly nor pathetick, have neither gal lantry nor fondness. His praises are too far sought, and too hyperbolical, either to express love, or to excite it; every stanza is crowded with darts and flames, with wounds and death, with mingled souls, and with broken hearts. The principal artifice by which The Misires, is filled with conceits is very co- . piously displayed by Addison. Love is by Cowley, as by other poets, expressed me taphorically by flame and fire; and that which is true of real fire is said of love, - z OT CO.W.L.E.Y. 6t or figurative fire, the same word in the fame sentence retaining both significations. Thus, “observing the cold regard of his “ mistress's eyes, and at the same time “ their power of producing love in him, he considers them as burning-glasses made of ice. Finding himself able to live in the greatest extremities of love, “ he concludes the torrid zone to be habi “ table. Upon the dying of a tree, on which he had cut his loves, he ob serves, that his flames had burnt up “ and withered the tree.” These conceits Addison calls mixed wit: that i s , wit which consists o f thoughts true i n one sense o f the expression, and false. i n the other. Addison's representation i s sufficiently indulgent. That confusion o f images may entertain for a moment; but, being unnatural, i t soon grows wearisome. Cowley delighted i n i t , a s much a s i f h e had invented it; but, not t o mention the ancients, h e might have found i t full blown i n modern Italy. Thus Sannazaro

& 4 6.6 66 46 Aspice quam variis distringar Lesbia curis Uror, & heu! nostro manat a b igne liquor; Sum 62 COWLEY. Sum Nilus, sumque AEtna simul; restringite flammaS O lacrimae, aut lacrimas ebibe flamma meas. One of the severe theologians of that time censured him as having published a book of profane and lascivious Verses. From the charge of profaneness, the constant tenour of h i s life, which seems t o have been eminently virtuous, and the general tendency o f his opinions, which discover no irreverence o f religion, must defend him

but that the accusation o f lascivi ousness i s unjust, the perusal o f his works will sufficiently evince. Cowley's Misires has n o power o f s e dućtion: “she plays round the head, but “ reaches not the heart.” Her beauty and absence, her kindness and cruelty, her disdain and inconstancy, produce n o correspondence o f emotion. His poetical account o f the virtues o f plants, and co lours o f flowers, i s not perused with more sluggish frigidity. The compositions are such a s might have been written for pe nance b y a hermit, o r for hire b y a philo sophical rhymer who had only heard o f another sex; for they turn the mind only Osł COWLEY. 63 on the writer, whom, without thinking on a woman but as the subjećt for his task, we sometimes esteem as learned, and 'sometimes despise as trifling, always ad mire as ingenious, and always condemn as unnatural. The Pindarique Odes are now to be con sidered ; a species of composition, which Cowley thinks Pancirolus might have counted in h i s list o f the lost inventions o f antiquity, and which h e has made a bold and vigorous attempt t o recover. The purpose with which h e has para phrased a n Olympick and Nemaean Ode, i s b y himself sufficiently explained. His endeavour was, not t o shew precisely what Pindar spoke, but his manner o f sheaking. He was therefore not a t all restrained to his expressions, nor much t o his senti ments; nothing was required o f him, but not to write as Pindar would not have written. - Of the Olympick Ode the beginning i s , I think, above the original i n elegance, and the conclusion below i t i n strength. The connection i s supplied with great per spicuity, and the thoughts, which t o a reader 64 COWLEY. reader of less skill seem thrown together by chance, are concatenated without any abruption. Though the English ode can not be called a translation, it may be very properly consulted as a commentary. -- The spirit of Pindar is indeed not every. where equally preserved. The following pretty lines are not such as his deep mouth was used to pour: . .

Great Rhea's son, . . . " I f i n Olympus' top where thou - Sitt'st t o behold thy sacred show, I f i n Alpheus' filver flight, - l f i n my verse thou take delight, My verse, great Rhea's son, which i s , - . Lofty a s that, and smooth a s this. or " I n the Nemaean ode the reader must, i n mere justice t o Pindar, observe that what ever i s said o f the original new moon, her tender fore-head and her horns, i s super added b y his paraphrast, who has many other plays o f words and fancy unsuitable t o the original, as,

- - The table, free f o r every guest, No doubt will thee admit, - And feast more upon thee, than thou o n i t . - - when, COWLEY. 65 He sometimes extends his author's thoughts without improving them. In the Olympionick an oath is mentioned in a fingle word, and Cowley spends three lines in swearing by the Caffilian Stream. We are told of Theron's bounty, with a hint that he had enemies, which Cowley thus enlarges in rhyming prose : But in this thankless world the giver Is envied even by the receiver; 'Tis now the cheap and frugal fashion Rather to hide than own the obligation; Nay, 'tis much worse than so; It now an artifice does grow Wrongs and injuries to do, Lest men should think we owe. - It is hard to conceive that a man of the first rankin learning and wit, when he was dealing out such minute morality in such feeble dićtion, could imagine, either waking or dreaming, that he imitated Pindar. In the following odes, where Cowley chooses his own subjećt, he sometimes rises to dignity truly Pindarick; and, if some deficiencies of language be forgiven, his strains are such as those of the Theban Bard were to his contemporaries: vol. I. F - Begin o • 66 C-OW.L.E.Y. -

  • -

•* -


Begin the song, and strike the living lyre: Lo how the years to come, a numerous and • well-fitted quire, - All hand in hand do decently advance, And to my song with smooth and equal mea sure dance; While the dance lasts, how long soe'er it be, , My musick's voice shall bear it company; Till a l l gentle notes b e drown'd I n the last trumpet’s dreadful sound. After such enthusiasm, who will not la ment t o find the poet conclude with lines like these ! But stop, my Muse— - Hold thy Pindaric Pegasus closely in, Which does t o rage begin— —'Tis a n unruly and a hard-mouth'd horse—

  • Twill no unskilful touch endure,

But flings writer and reader too that fits not sure. The fault o f Cowley, and perhaps o f a l l the writers o f the metaphysical race, i s that o f pursuing his thoughts t o the last rami fications, b y which h e loses the grandeur o f generality; for o f the greatest things the parts are little; what i s little can b e but pretty, and b y claiming dignity be comes ridiculous. Thus a l l the power o f description i s destroyed b y a scrupulous CIll]IIl Crol COWLEY. r 67 enumeration, and the force of metaphors is lost, when the mind by the mention of particulars is turned more upon the origi nal than the secondary sense, more upon that from which the illustration is drawn than that to which it is applied. - Of this we have a very eminent example in the ode intituled The Muse, who goes to take the a i r i n a n intelle&tual chariot, t o which h e harnesses Fancy and Judgement, Wit and Eloquence, Memory and Inven ‘otion; how h e distinguished Wit from Fan cy, o r how Memory could properly con tribute t o Motion, h e has not explained: we are however content t o suppose that h e could have justified his own fiction, and wish t o s e e the Muse begin her career; but there i s y e t more t o b e done. - , Let the postilion Nature mount, and l e t | The coachman A r t b e s e t

- . And l e t t h e airy footman, running a l l beside ! II

Make a long row o f goodly pride; . .

  • Figures, conceits, raptures, and sentences,

| -

  • In

a well-worded dress, , ,

t o And innocent loves, and pleasant truths, and -93 ouseful lies, ... . . . . - s o on a l l their gaudy liveries. . . orgo s o , o

} i s F 2 o ’ s 'o. --James500 (talk) 05:15, 21 December 2019 (UTC) o ' 2.0 s so t Every 68 COWLEY. Every mind is now disgusted with this cumber of magnificence ; yet I cannot re fuse myself the four next lines: Mount, glorious queen, thy travelling throne, io, And bid it to put on; - For long though cheerful is the way, And life, alas! allows but one i l l winter's day. I n the same ode, celebrating the power o f the Muse, h e gives her prescience, or, i n poetical language, the foresight o f events hatching i n futurity

but having once a n egg i n his mind, h e cannot forbear t o shew u s that h e knows what a n egg contains

Thou into the close nests o f Time dost pop, And there with piercing eye

  • -

- Through the firm shell and the thick white dost spy Years t o come a-forming lie, Close i n their sacred fecundine asleep. The same thought i s more generally, and therefore more poetically, expressed b y Ca simir, a writer, who has many o f the beau ties and faults o f Cowley

& Omnibus mundi Dominator horis Aptat urgendas per inane pennas, - Pars adhuc nido latet, & futuros Crescit i n annos. Cowley,

  • -

C-O - WLEY. 69 Cowley, whatever was his subjećt, seems to have been carried, by a kind of destiny, to the light and the familiar, or to conceits which require still more ignoble epithets. A slaughter in the Red Sea new dies the wa ters name; and England, during the Civil War, was Albion no more, nor to be named from white. It is surely by some fascination not easily surmounted, that a writer, pro fessing to revive thenobles and highest writing in verse, makes this address to the new year: Nay, if thou lov'st me, gentle year, Let not so much as love be there, Vain, fruitless love I mean: for, gentle year, Although I fear, There's of this caution little need, Yet, gentle year, take heed How thou dost make Such a mistake; Such love I mean alone - - As by thy cruel predecessors has been shewn ; For, though I have too much cause to doubt i t , Isain would try, f o r once, i f l i f e can live without i t . The reader o f this will b e inclined t o cry out with Prior— - 2 e Critics, say, - How poor t o this was Pindar's style! ' ? . . . F 3 Even - 4. o -- --- {

  • ,

~, 70-COW,L.E.Y.Io Even those who cannot perhaps find in. the Isthmian or NemaPan songs what An-. r tiquity has disposed them to expećt, wil i: , at least s e e that they a r e i l l represented b y Is. such puny poetry; and a l l will determine that, i f this b e the old Theban strain, i t i s not worthy o f revival. To the disproportion and incongruity o f Cowley's sentiments must b e added the un certainty and looseness o f his measures. He takes the liberty o f using i n any place a verse o f any length, from two syllables t o twelve. The verses o f Pindar have, a s he observes, very little harmony t o a modern ear; yet b y examining the syllables we per ceive them t o b e regular, and have reason enough for supposing that the ancient au diences were delighted with the sound. The imitator ought therefore t o have adopted what h e found, and t o have added what was wanting

t o have preserved a constant return o f the same numbers, and t o have supplied smoothness o f transition and continuity o f thought, I t i s urged b y Dr. Sprat, that the irregu larity o f numbers i s t h e very thing which makes that kind o f possil f o r a l l manner o f

> . . . . o

- - Jubječfs. cOWLEY. 71 subjeńs. But he should have remembered, that what is f i t f o r every thing can f i t no thing well. The great pleasure o f verse. arises from the known measure o f the lines, and uniform strućture o f the stanzas, b y which the voice i s regulated, and the me mory relieved. I f the Pindarick style be, what Cowley thinks i t , the highest and nobleft kind o f wri ting i n verse, i t can b e adapted only t o high and noble subjećts; and i t will not b e easy . t o reconcile the poet with the critick, o r to, conceive how that can b e the highest kind. o f writing i n verse which, according t o Sprat, i s chiefly t o b e preferred for i t s near affinity t o prose. - This lax and lawless versification s o much concealed the deficiences o f the barren, and flattered the laziness o f the idle, that i t immediately overspread our books o f poetry; a l l the boys and girls caught the pleasing fashion, and they that could d o nothing else could write like Pindar. The rights o f antiquity were invaded, and dis. order tried t o break into the Latin: a poem

o n the Sheldonian Theatre, i n - - - which

First published i n quarto, 1669, under the title o f “Car “men Pindaricum i n Theatrum Sheldonianum i n selennibus F 4 magnifici 72 COWLE.Y. which a l l kinds o f verse are shaken toge ther, i s unhappily inserted i n the Muse Anglicanae. Pindarism prevailed about half a century; but a t last died gradually away, and other imitations supply i t s place. The Pindarick Odes have s o long enjoy e d the highest degree o f poetical reputa tion, that I am not willing t o dismiss them with unabated censure

and surely though the mode o f their composition b e errone ous, yet many parts deserve a t least that admiration which i s due t o great compre hension o f knowledge, and great fertility o f fancy. The thoughts are often new, and often striking

but the greatness o f one part i s disgraced b y the littleness o f another

and total negligence o f language gives the noblest conceptions the appear ance o f a fabric august i n the plan, but mean i n the materials. Yet surely those verses are not without a just claim t o praise; o f which i t may b e said with truth, that no man but Cowley could have written them. The Davideis now remains t o b e consi dered

a poem which the author designed “magnifici operis Encanis. Recitatum Julii d i e 9 , Anno 1669, “a Corbe.9 Owen, A . B . A.d . Chr. Alumno Authore” R . -

o: t o --to have extended to twelve books, merely, - as he makes no scruple of declaring, be cause the AEneid had that number; but he had leisure or perseverance only to write the third part. Epick poems have been left unfinished by Virgil, Statius, Spenser, ‘. . and Cowley. That we have not the whole Davideis i s , however, not much t o b e re gretted; for i n this undertaking Cowley i s , tacitly a t least, confessed t o have mis carried. There are not many examples o f s o great a work, produced b y a n author generally read, and generally praised, that has crept through a century with s o little regard. Whatever i s said o f Cowley, i s meant o f his other works. Of the Davideis n o mention i s made; i t never appears i n books, nor emerges i n conversation. B y the Spediator i t has been once quoted; b y Rymer i t has once been praised

and b y ' Dryden, i n “Mac Flecknoe,” i t has once been imitated; nor do I recolle&t much other notice from i t s publication till now i n the whole succession o f English literature. Of this silence and neglect, i f the reason b e inquired, i t will b e found partly i n the choice o f the subject, and partly i n the performance o f the work. Sacred 74 cowLEY. Sacred History has been always read with fubmissive reverence, and an imagination - over-awed and controlled. We have been, accustomed to acquiesce in the nakedness and simplicity of the authentic narrative, and to repose on i t s veracity with such humble confidence a s suppresses curiosity. We g o with the historian a s h e goes, and stop with him when h e stops. All ampli fication i s frivolous and vain; a l l addition t o that which i s already sufficient for the purposes o f religion, seems not only use less, but i n some degree profane. Such events a s were produced b y the visible interposition o f Divine Power are above the power o f human genius t o dig nify. The miracle o f Creation, however i t may teem with images, i s best described with little diffusion o f language: He spake the word, and they were made. We are told that Saul was troubled with a n evil spirit

from this Cowley takes a n opportunity o f describing hell, and telling the history o f Lucifer, who was, h e says, Once general o f a gilded host o f sprites, Like Hesper leading forth the spangled nights; But down like lightning, which him struck, hecame, And roar'd a t his first plunge into the flame. I Lucifer COWLEY. 75 Lucifer makes a speech to the inferior agents of mischief, in which there is some-. thing of heathenism, and therefore of im propriety; and, to give efficacy to his words, concludes by lashing h i s breaft with h i s long tail. Envy, after a pause, steps out, and among other declarations o f her zeal utters these lines: - Do thou but threat, loud storms shall make reply, And thunder echo t o the trembling sky. Whilst raging seas swell t o s o bold a n height, As shall the fire's proud element affright. Th' old drudging Sun, from his long-beaten way, Shall a t thy voice start, and misguide the day. The jocund orbs shall break their measur’d pace, And stubborn poles change their allotted place. Heaven's gilded troops shall flutter hereand there, Leaving their boasting songs tun'd t o a sphere. Every reader feels himself weary with this useless talk o f a n allegorical Being. I t i s not only when the events are con feffedly miraculous, that fancy and fićtion lose their effect: the whole system o f life, while the Theocracy was yet visible, has a n appearance s o different from a l l other scenes o f human action, that the reader o f the Sacred Volume habitually considers i t

- - aS 76 cowLEY. as the peculiar mode of existence of a dis. tinét species of mankind, that lived and aćted with manners uncommunicable; so that it is difficult even sor imagination to place us in the state of them whose story is related, and by consequence their joys and griefs are not easily adopted, nor can the attention be often interested in any thing that befalls them. To the subjećt thus originally indisposed to the reception of poetical establishments, the writer brought little that could recon cile impatience, or attract curiosity. No thing can be more disgusting than a narra tive spangled with conceits; and conceits are a l l that the Davideis supplies. One o f the great sources o f poetical de light i s description, o r the power o f pre fenting pićtures t o the mind. Cowley gives inferences instead o f images, and shews not what may b e supposed t o have been seen, but what thoughts the sight might have suggested. When Virgil de scribes the stone which Turnus lifted a gainst Æneas, h e fixes the attention o n i t s bulk and weight: Saxum - - - - --- --> or C-O - WLE*Y. 77 `s circumfori, incario - Saxum circumspicit ingens, Saxum antiquum, ingens, campo quod forte jacebat - -

  • -soR,

Limes agro positus, litem ut discerneret arvis. Cowley says of the stone with whichi Cain slew his brother, - -- I saw him fling the stone, as if he meant At once his murther and his monument. Of the sword taken from Goliah, he says, A sword so great that it was only f i t To cut off his great head that came with i t . Other poets describe death b y some o f i t s common appearances. Cowley says, with a learned allusion t o sepulchral lamps real o r fabulous,

  • Twixthis right ribs deep pierc'd the furious blade,

And open'd wide those secret vessels where Life's light goes out, when first they let-in air. But h e has allusions vulgar a s well a s learned. I n a visionary succession o f kings: Joas a t first does bright and glorious show, - I n life's fresh morn his fame does early crow. , Describing a n undisciplined army, after having said with elegance, . . . . . His forces seem'd n o army, but a crowd - Heartless, unarm’d, disorderly, and loud, h e gives them a f i t o f the ague. 5 The ,78 cowLEY. The allusions, however, are not always to vulgar things: he offends by exaggera tion as much as by diminution: - The king was plac'd alone, and o'er his head A well-wrought heaven of silk and gold was spread. Whatever he writes is always polluted with some conceit: w -

  • ! Where the sun's fruitful beams give metals birth,

Where he the growth of fatal gold does see, Gold, which alone more influence has than he. In one passage he starts a sudden question, to the confusion of philosophy: Ye learned heads, whom i v y garlands grace, Why does that twining plant the oak embrace; The oak f o r courtship most o f a l l unfit, And rough a s are the winds that fight with it? His expressions have sometimes a degree o f meanness that surpasses expectation

Nay, gentle guests, h e cries, fince now you're i n , The story o f your gallant friend begin. I n a fimile descriptive o f the morning: As glimmering stars just a t t h ' approach o f day, Cashier'd b y troops, a t last drop a l l away. The , C-O W L.E .Y. 79

The dress of Gabriel deserves attention: He took for skin a cloud most soft and bright, That e'er the mid-day sun pierc'd through with light; - - Upon h i s cheeks a lively blush h e spread, , Wash'd from t h e morning beauties’ deepest red; An harmless flattering meteor shone for hair, And fell adown his shoulders with loose care; He cuts out a filk mantle from the skies, Where the most sprightly azure pleas'd the eyes; This h e with starry vapours sprinkles all, Took i n their prime e r e they grow ripe and fall; Of a new rainbow ere i t fret o r fade, The choicest piece cut out, a scarfe i s made. o f This i s a just specimen o f Cowley's ima gery

what might i n general expressions b e great and forcible, h e weakens and makes ridiculous b y branching i t into small parts. That Gabriel was invested with the softest o r brightest colours o f the sky, we might have been told, and been dismissed t o improve the idea i n our different pro portions o f conception; but Cowley could not let u s g o till h e had related where Ga briel got first his skin, and then his mantle,

- f then h i s lace, and then his scarfe, and related i t i n the terms o f the mercer and taylor. - Some 86 cowLEv.

  • ~:

. .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. ."§4o' Sometimes he indulges himself in a di. gression, always conceived with h i s natural exuberance, and commonly, even where i t i s not long, continued t i l l i t i s tedious

I t h ’ library a few choice authors stood, Yet 'twas well stor'd, forthatsmall flore was good; Writing, man's spiritual physic, was n o t then Itself, a s now, grown a disease o f men. Learning (young virgin) but few suitors knew; The common prostitute she lately grew, And with the spurious brood loads now the press; Laborious effects e f idleness. . ! .

As the Davideis affords only four books, though intended t o consist o f twelve, there i s n o opportunity f o r such criticisms a s Epick poems commonly supply. The plan o f the whole work i s very imperfeótly shewn b y the third part. The duration o f a n un finished action cannot b e known. Of cha raēters either not yet introduced, o r shewn but upon few occasions, the full extent and the nice discriminations cannot be ascertained. The fable i s plainly implex, formed rather from the Odyssey than the Iliad

and many artifices o f diversification

are employed, with the skill o f a man ac quainted with the best models. The past 1S

+ J cowLEY. 81. is recalled by narration, and t h e future anticipated b y vision

but h e has been, s o lavish o f h i s poetical art, that i t i s difficult. t o imagine how h e could f i l l eight books. more without practising again the same modes o f disposing h i s matter

and per haps the perception o f this growing in cumbrance inclined him t o stop. By this abruption, posterity lost more instrućtion than delight. I f the continuation o f the Davideis can b e missed, i t i s for the learn ing that had been diffused over i t , and the notes i n which i t had been explained. , Had not this characters been depraved, like every other part b y improper decora tions, they would have deserved uncom mon praise. H e gives Saul both the body and mind o f a hero . . .

. . . . . . . . His way once chose, h e forward thrust outright, Nor turn'd aside for danger o r delight. And the different beauties o f the lofty Me-2 rah and the gentle Michol are very justly conceived and strongly painted. . . . -Rymer has declared the Davideis supe rior t o the jerusalem o f Taso, “which,” fays he, “the poet, with a l l his care, has “not totally purged from pedantry.” If - - - G by • 82 COW,LEY. o by pedantry is meant that minute know ledge which is derived from particular sci ences and studies, in opposition to the ge neral notions supplied by a wife survey of life and nature, Cowley certainly errs, by introducing pedantry far more frequently than Tasso. I know not, indeed, why they should be compared; for the resem blance of Cowley's work to Tasso's is only that they both exhibit the agency of celes tial and infernal spirits, in which however they differ widely; for Cowley supposes them commonly to operate upon the mind by suggestion; Tasso represents them as promoting or obstructing events by exter nal agency. Of particular passages that can be pro perly compared, I remember only the de feription of Heaven, in which the different manner of the two writers is sufficiently discernible. Cowley's is scarcely descrip tion, unless it be possible to describe by negatives; for he tells us only what there is not in heaven. Tasso endeavours to re present the splendours and pleasures of the regions of happiness. Tasso affords ima ges, and Cowley sentiments. It happens, however, |COWL-E -Y. 83 z - however, that Tasso's description affords some reason for Rymer's censure. He says of the Supreme Being, . . .. . . . .. Hà sotto i piedi e sato e la natura Ministri humili, el moto, e ch'il misura. -: -- The second line has in it more of pe dantry than perhaps can be found in any other stanza of the poem. In the perusal of the Davideis, as of all Cowley's works, we find wit and learning unprofitably squandered. Attention has no relief; the affections are never moved; we are sometimes surprised, but never de lighted; a n d find much t o admire, b u t l i t . tle t o approve. Still however i t i s the work o f Cowley, o f a mind capacious b y nature, and replenished b y study. I n the general review o f Cowley's poetry t = i t will b e found, that h e wrote with abun dant fertility, but negligent o r unskilful selection; with much thought, but with little imagery; that h e i s never pathetick, and rarely sublime; but always either i n genious o r learned, either acute o r pro found. o . . . - • - o s o


G 2 - - It - It is said by Denham in h i s clegy, o _* T o him n o author was unknown;

Yet what h e writ was a l l his own. o' This wide position requires less limitation, when i t i s affirmed o f Cowley, than per haps o f any other poet.— He read much, and yet borrowed little. His charaćter of writing was indeed not his own: h e unhappily adopted that which was predominant. He saw a certain way. t o present praise; and not sufficiently en quiring b y what means the ancients have continued t o delight through a l l the chan ges o f human manners, h e contented him self with a deciduous laurel, o f which the verdure i n its spring was bright and gay, but which time has been continually steal ing from his brows. . - - - - o - f - - - . . He was i n his own time considered a s of, unrivalled excellence. Clarendon repre-, sents him a s having taken a flight beyond all that went before him

and Milton i s said t o have declared, that the three great e s t English poets were Spenser, Shakspeare, and Cowley. . . .

- His manner h e had i n common with others

but h i s sentiments were h i s own. . . . Upon COwLEY. 85 Upon every subječt he thought for him self; and such was his copiousness of know ledge, that something at once remote and applicable rushed into his mind; yet it is not likely that he always rejećted a com modious idea merely because another had used it: his known wealth was so great, that he might have borrowed without loss. of credit. - - -

In his elegy on S i r Henry Wotton, the last lines have such resemblance t o the no ble epigram o f Grotius upon the death o f Scaliger, that I cannot but think them copied from i t , though they are copied b y no servile hand. - One passage i n h i s Msires; i s s o appa rently borrowed from Donne, that h e pro bably would not have written i t , had i t not mingled with h i s own thoughts, s o a s . that h e did not perceive himself taking i t from another: -

Although I think thou never found wilt be, . Yet I’m resolv'd t o search for thee; The search itself rewards the pains. So, though the chymic his great secret miss, (For neither i t i n Art o r Nature i s ) Yet things well worth his toil h e gains: G 3 And 86 cowLEY. And does h i s charge and labour pay -- With good unsought experiments b y the way. . - -- CowLEY.

Some that have deeper digg'd Love's mine than I , Say, where h i s centric happiness doth l i e

I have lov’d, and got, and told;

-- But should I love, get, tell, t i l l I were old, I should not find that hidden mystery; Oh, 'tis imposture all

And a s n o chymic yet th' elixir got, But glorifies his pregnant pot, I f b y the way t o him befal Some odoriferous thing, o r medicinal, S o lovers dream a rich and long delight, But get a winter-seeming summer's night. Jonson and Donne, a s Dr. Hurd re marks, were then i n the highest esteem. I t i s related b y Clarendon, that Cowley - always acknowledges his obligation t o the learning and industry o f Jonson; but I have found n o traces o f Jonson i n his works: t o emulate Donne, appears t o have been h i s purpose; and from Donne h e may have learned that familiarity with re ligious images, and that light allusion t o sacred things, b y which readers f a r short o f sanétity are frequently offended

and which would not b e born i n the present age, - c.owLEY. 87 age, when devotion, perhaps n o t more fervent, i s more delicate. . Having produced one passage taken by Cowley from Donne, I will recompense him b y another which Milton seems t o have borrowed from him. He says o f Goliah, His spear, the trunk was o f a lofty tree, Which Nature meant some tall ship's mast should be. - Milton of Satan

His spear, t o equal which the tallest pine Hewn o n Norwegian hills, t o b e the mast O f some great admiral, were but a wand, He walked with. - His dićtion was i n h i s own time censured aS negligent. He seems not t o have known, o r not t o have considered, that words being arbitrary must owe their power t o associa tion, and have the influence, and that only, which custom has given them. Language i s the dress o f thought

and a s the noblest - mien, o r most graceful ačtion, would b e degraded and obscured b y a garb appro priated t o the gross employments o f rus ticks o r mechanicks; s o the most heroic sentiments will lose their efficacy, and t h e . . . . . . . . G 4 •


cowLEY. most splendid ideas drop their magnifi cence, if they a r e conveyed b y words used commonly upon low and trivial occasions, debased b y vulgar mouths, and contami nated b y inelegant applications. Truth indeed i s always truth, and reason i s always reason

they have a n intrinsic and analterable value, and constitute that in telle&tual gold which defies destrućtion

but gold may b e s o concealed i n baser mat ter, that only a chymist can recover it; fense may b e s o hidden i n unrefined and plebeian words, that none but philosophers can distinguish i t

and both may b e s o buried i n impurities, a s not t o pay the cost o f their extraction. The dićtion, being the vehicle o f the thoughts, first presents itself t o the intel lečtual eye; and i f the first appearance offends, a further knowledge i s not often sought. Whatever professes t o benefit b y pleasing, must please a t once. The plea sures o f the mind imply something sudden and unexpected; that which elevates must always surprise. What i s perceived b y slow degrees may gratify u s with conscious ness o f improvement, but will never styike with the sense o f pleasure. 3 Of COwL.E.Y. 39 ...Of a l l this, Cowley appears t o have been without knowledge, o r without care. H e makes n o selection o f words, nor seeks any neatness o f phrase; h e has n o elegance e i ther lucky o r elaborate

a s h i s endeavours were rather t o impress sentences upon the understanding than images o n the fancy, h e has few epithets, and those scattered without peculiar propriety o f nice adap tation. I t seems t o follow from the neces sity o f the subject, rather than the care o f the writer, that the dićtion o f h i s heroic poem i s less familiar than that o f h i s slight e s t writings. H e has given not t h e same numbers, but the same dićtion, t o the gen t l e Anacreon and the tempestuous Pindar. His versification seems t o have had very little o f h i s care; and i f what h e thinks b e strue, and his numbers are unmusical only when they are i l l read, the a r t o f reading them i s a t present lost; f o r they a r e com monly harsh t o modern ears. H e has i n deed many noble lines, such a s the feeble care o f Waller never could produce. The y bulk o f his thoughts sometimes swelled his verse t o unexpected and inevitable gran deur; but h i s excellence o f this kind i s 90 COWLEY. merely fortuitous: he finks willingly down to his general carelessness, and avoids with very little care either meanness or asperity. His contračtions are often rugged and harsh ; One flings a mountain, and i t s rivers too Torn up with’t. His rhymes are very often made b y pro nouns, o r particles, o r the like unimpor tant words, which disappoint the ear, and destroy the energy o f the line. His combinations of different measures i s sometimes dissonant and unpleasing; h e joins verses together, o f which the former does not slide easily into the latter. The words d o and did, which s o much degrade i n present estimation the line that admits them, were i n the time o f Cowley little censured o r avoided

how often, h e used them, and with how bad an effect, a t least t o our ears, will appear b y a passage, i n which every reader will lament t o see. just and noble thoughts defrauded o f their praise b y inelegance o f language: Where honour o r where conscience does not blind, No other law shall shackle me; { Slave COW.L.E.Y. 9 1 . Slave t o myself I ne'er will be; - - . . . . . Nor shall my future ačtions b e confin'd ...' . . By my owh present mind. Who b y resolves and vows engag’d does stand. . For days, that yet belong t o fate, - - Does like a n unthrift mortgage h i s estate, ' ' Before i t falls into his hand, . . The bondman o f the cloister fo, All that h e does receive does always owe. And still a s Time comes i n , i t goes away, Not t o enjoy, but debts t o pay! ! , Unhappy slave, and pupil t o a bell ! - Which h i s hour's work a s well a s hours does tell; Unhappy t i l l the last, the kind releasing knell.

. . . . His heroick lines are often formed o f monosyllables

but yet they are sometimes sweet and sonorous. - He says o f the Mesfiah, -

Round the whole earth h i s dreaded name shall


And reach t o worlds that must not yet b e found.

- I n another place, o f David, ... . . . " Yet bid him g o securely, when h e sends; 'Tis Saul that i s h i s foe, and we h i s friends.

The man who has his God, n o aid can lack: . . . And w e who b i d him g o , will bring him back. Yet amidst his negligence h e sometimes attempted a n improved and scientific ver

--> fification;

  • 92

COWLEY. fification; of which it will be best to give his own account subjoined to this line: , Nor can the glory contain itself in t h ’ endless space. “I am sorry that i t i s necessary t o ad “ monish the most part o f readers, that “it i s not b y negligence that this verse i s “ s o loose, long, and, a s i t were, vast

i t “ i s t o paint i n the number the nature o f “ the thing which i t prescribes, which I “ would have observed in divers other “ places o f this poem, that else will pass “ for very careless verses: a s before, And over-runs t h e neighboring fields with violent - - - course. “ I n the second book; Down a precipice deep, down h e casts them all— 66 —And, - - - - And fell a-down h i s shoulders with loose care. . . . . “ I n the third,

--> - Brass was h i s helmet, h i s boots bras, and o'er His breaft a thick plate o f strong bras; h e wore. “In the fourth,

. Like some fair pine o'er-looking a l l t h ’ ignobler zwood. “And, COWLEY. 93 “And, - - os Some from the Rocks c a s themselves down headlong. “And many more: but i t i s enough t o “ instance i n a few. The thing i s , that “ the disposition o f words and numbers “should b e such, a s that, out o f the or “ der and sound o f them, the things “ themselves may b e represented. This “ the Greeks were not s o accurate a s too “ bind themselves t o

neither have our “ . English poets observed i t , for aught I “can find. The Latins (qui musas colunt “ severiores) sometimes did it; and their “ prince, Virgil, always: i n whom the “ examples are innumerable, and taken “ notice o f b y all judicious men, s o that “ i t i s superfluous t o colle&t them.” I know not whether h e has, i n many o f these instances, attained the representation o r resemblance that h e purposes. Verse - can imitate only sound and motion. A boundless verse, a head!ong verse, and a verse o f bras, o r o f strong bras, seem t o comprise very incongruous and unsociable ideas. What there i s peculiar i n the sound o f the line expressing loose care, I cannot - - dis 94 CO.W.L.E.Y. discover ; nor why the pine is taller in an Alexandrine than in ten syllables. co But, not to defraud him of his due praise, he has given one example of representative versification, which perhaps no other Eng tish line can equal: - - Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise: t He, who defers this work from day to day, Does on a river's bank expecting stay

  • Fill the whole stream that stopp'd him shall be gone,

Which runs, and, as it runs, for ever shall run o n . Cowley was, I believe, the first poet that mingled Alexandrines a t pleasure with the common heroick o f ten syllables; and from him Dryden borrowed the practice, whe ther ornamental or licentious. He consi dered the verse o f twelve syllables a s ele vated and majestick, and has therefore de viated into that measure when h e supposes the voice heard o f the Supreme Being. The Author of the Davideis i s com mended b y Dryden for having written i t i n couplets, because h e discovered that any staff was too lyrical for a n heroick poem

‘but this seems t o have been known before ‘ b y May and Sandys, the translators o f the Pharsalia and the Metamorphoses. no - In , C.O.W.L.E.Y. 95 - In the Davideis are some hemistichs, Or verses left imperfeót by the author, in imi tation of Virgil, whom he supposes not to have intended to complete them : that this opinion is erroneous, may be probably concluded, because this truncation is imi tated by no subsequent Roman poet; be cause Virgil himself filled up one broken line in the heat of recitation; because in one the sense is now unfinished; and be cause a l l that can b e done b y a broken verse, a line interse&ted by a caesura, and a full stop, will equally effect. Of triplets i n his Davideis h e makes n o use, and perhaps did not a t first think them allowable; but h e appears afterwards t o have changed his mind, for i n the verses o o on the government o f Cromwell h e inserts them liberally with great happiness. After s o much criticism on his Poems, the Essays which accompany them must not b e forgotten. What i s said b y Sprat o f his conversation, that no man could draw from i t any suspicion o f his excel lence i n poetry, may b e applied t o these compositions. No author ever kept his verse and his prose a t a greater distance - - - from from each other. His thoughts are natural, and his style has a smooth and placid equability, which has never yet obtained its due commendation. Nothing is far-sought, or hard-laboured; but all is easy without feebleness, and familiar without grossness.

It has been observed by Felton, in his Essay on the Classicks, that Cowley was beloved by every Muse that he courted; and that he has rivalled the Ancients in every kind of poetry but tragedy.

It may be affirmed, without any encomiastick fervour, that he brought to his poetick labours a mind replete with learning, and that his pages are embellished with all the ornaments which books could supply; that he was the first who imparted to English numbers the enthusiasm of the greater ode, and the gaiety of the less; that he was equally qualified for spritely sallies, and for lofty flights; that he was among those who freed translation from servility, and, instead of following his author at a distance, walked by his side; and that, if he left versification yet improveable, he left likewise from time to time such specimens of excellence as enabled succeeding poets to improve it.

  1. This Volume was not published before 1633, when Cowley was fifteen years old. Dr. Johnson, as well as former Biographers, seems to have been misled by the portrait of Cowley being by mistake marked with the age of thirteen years.R.
  2. He was candidate this year at Westminster-school for election to Trinity College, but proved unsuccessful.N.