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" He continued,” says his biographer, “ under these bonds till the general “ deliverance;" 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 his loyalty at the hazard of his friend, but by his friend's permission.
Of the verses on Oliver's death, in which Wood's narrative seems to imply something encomiastick, there has been no appearance
There is a discourse concerning his government, indeed, with verses intermixed, but such as certainly gained its author no friends among the abettors of usurpation.
A doctor of physick however he was made at Oxford, in Decemher 1657; and in the commencement of the Royal Society, of which an account has lieen given by Dr. Birch, he appears among the experimental philosophers with the title of Dr. Cowley.
There is no reason for supposing that he ever attempted practice; but his preparatory studies have contributed something to the lionour of his country. Considering Botany as necessary to a physician, he retired into Kent to gather plants; and as the predominance of a favourite study affects all subordinate operations of the intellect, Botany in the mind of Cowley turned into Poetry. He composed in Latin several books on Plants, of which the first and second display the qualities of Herbs, in elegiac verse; the third and fourth, the beauties of Flowers in various measures; and in the fifth and sixth, the uses of trees in hieroic numbers.
At the same time were produced from the sanie university, the two great · Poets, Cowley and Milton, of dissimilar genius, of opposite principles; but concurring in the cultivation of Latin Poetry, in which the English, till their works and May's poem appeared*, seemed unable to contest the palen with any other of the lettered nations.
If the Latin performances of Cowley and Milton be compared (for May I hold to be superior to both) the advantage seems to lie on the side of Cowley. Milton is generally content to express the thoughts of the ancients in their language ; Cowley, without much loss of purity or elegance, accommodates the diction of Rome to his own conceptions.
At the Restoration, after all the diligence of his long service, and with consciousness 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 disappointed ; and Cowley found his reward very tediously delayed. He had been promised by both Charles the first and second the Mastership of the Savoy; " but he lost it, says Wood," by certain persons, enemies to the Muses.”
+ Ey May's Poem, we are here to understand a continuation of ['can's Pharsalia to the death of Juliu; Cæsar, b Thoma ày, an eminent poet n hi torn wh four she in th: reigns of James and Ubailes I. anjot whom a .ife is gi e. in the w.ographia britanica. He
The neglect of the court was not his only mortification; having, by such alteration as he thought proper, fitted his old Comedy of the “ Guardian" for the stage, he produced it * under the title of “ The Cutter of Coleman“ streett.” It was treated on the stage with great severity, and was afterwards censured as a satire on the King's party.
Mr. Dryder, who went with Mr. Sprat to the first exhibition, related to Mr. Dennis, " that when they told Cowley how little favour had been shewn bim, “ he received the news of his ill success, not with so inuch firmuess as mighe “ have been expected from so great a man."
What firmness they expected, or what weakness Cowley discovered, cannot be known. He that misses his end will never be as much pleased as he that attains it, even when he can impute no part of his failure to himself; and when the end is to please the multitude, no man, perhaps, has a right, in things admitting of gradation and comparison, to throw the whole blame upon his judges, and totally to exclude diffidence and shame by a baughty consciousness of his own excellence.
For the rejection of this play, it is difficult now to find the reason: it certainly has, in a very great degree, the power of fixing attention and exciting merriment. From the charge of disaffection he exculpates himself in his preface, by observing how unlikely it is that, having followed the royal family through all their distresses “ he should choose the time of their restoration to begin a quarrel “ with them." It appears, however, from the Theatrical Register of Downes the Prompter, to have been popularly considered as a satire on the royalists.
That he might shorten this tedious suspense, he published his pretensions and his disco-tent, in an ode called “ The Complaint ;” in which he stiles himself the melancholy Cowley. This met with the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited more contempt than pity.
These unlucky incidents are brought, maliciously cnough, together in some stanzas, written about that time, on the choice of a laureat; a mode of satire, by whichi, since it was first introduced by Suckling, perhaps every generation of poets hias been teazed.
Savoy-missing Cowley came into the court,
Making apologies for his bad play;
That Apollo gave heed to all he could say:
Unless he had done some notable folly ;.
Or printed his pitiful Melancholy.
His 1663 t bare is an error in the designation of this comedy, which our author copied from the title-page of the later editions of Cowley's works : the title of the play itself is without the article, “ Cutter of Coleman-street," and that, because a merry sharking fellow about the town, named Cutter, is a principal character in it. H.
His vehement desire of retirement now came again upon him. "finding,” says the morose Wood," that preferment conferred upon him which * he expected, while others for their money carried away most places, he retir“ ed discontented into Surrey."
“He was now," says the courtly Sprat, “ weary of the vexations and foru malities of an active condition. He had been perplexed with a long com“ pliance to foreign manners. He was satiated with the arts of a court; which " sort of life, though his virtue made it innocent to him, yet nothing could s make it quiet. Those were the reasons that made him to follow the violent “ inclination of his own mind, which, in the greatest throng of his former “ business, had still called upon him, and represented to him the true delights “ of solitary studies, of temperate pleasures, and a moderate revenue below " the malice and Natteries of fortune.”
So differently are things seen, and so differently are they shewn; but actions are visible, though motives are secret. Cowley certainly retired; first to Barnelms, and afterwards to Chertsey, in Surrey. He seems, however, to have lost part of his dread of the * hum of men. He thought himself now safe enough from intrusion, without the defence of mountains and oceans; and instead of seeking shelter in America, 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 accommodated; yet he soon obtained, by the interest of the Earl of St. Albans and the Duke of Buckingham, such a lease of the Queen's lands as afforded him an ample income.
By the lover of virtue and of wit it will be solicitously asked, if he now was happy. Let them peruse one of his letters accidently preserved by Peck, which I recommend 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 in 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. Another misfortune has been, and stranger than all the rest, that
yon have broke your word with me, and failed to come, even though you “ told Mr. Bois that you would. That is what they call Monstri simile. I do hope “ to recover my latc hurt so farre within five or six days though it be uncertain
yet whether I shall ever recover it) as to walk about again. · And, then, “n.ethinks, you and I and the Dean might be very merry upon St. Anne's Hill.
• L'Allegro of Milton. Dr. J. VOL. I.
“ You might very conveniently come hither the way of Hampton Town, lying s there one night. I write this in pain, and can say no more : Verbum sapienti."
He did not long enjoy the pleasure or suffer the uneasiness of solitude; for he died at the Porch-house * in Chertsey in 1667, in the 49th year of 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 in England.” He is represented by Dr. Sprat as the most amiable of mankind; and this posthumous praise may safely be credited, as it has never been contradicted by envy or by faction.
Such are the remarks and memorials which I have been able to add to the narrative of Dr. Sprat; who, writing when the feuds of the civil war were yet recent, and the minds of either party were easily irritated, was obliged to pass over many transactions 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 narration can be considered only as a slender supplement.
COWLEY, like other poets who have written with narrow views, and, instead of tracing intellectual pleasures in the minds of man, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one time too much praised, and too much neglected at another.
Wit, like all other things subject by their nature to the choice of man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times take different forms. About the beginning of the seventeenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets; of whom, in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not iinproper to give some account.
The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to shew their learning was their whole endeavour; but, unluckily resolving to show 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 criticim has rightly denominated poetry tíxoun fesyenlenen, an imitative art, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the nenie 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 intellect.
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 Wit be well described by Pope, as being, “ that which has been often * thought, but was never before so well expressed," they certainly never atair.ed, nor ever sought it; for they endeavoured to be singular in their thoughts, and were careless of their diction. But Pope's account of wit is • Now in the possession of Mr. Clark, Alderman of London. Dr. J.
ondoubtedly erroneous; he depresses it below its natural dignity, and reduces it from strength of thought to happiness of language.
If by a more noble and more adequate conception that be considered as Wic, which is at once natural and new, that which, though not obvious, is, upon its first production acknowledged to be just; if it be that, which he that never found it wonders how he missed; to 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 he niissed them, wonders more frequently by what perverseness of industry they were ever found.
But Wit, abstracted from its effects upon the bearer, may be more rigorously and philosophically considered as a kind of discordia 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 hetero, geneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and illusions; their learning instructs, and their subtility 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 employed on something unexpected and surprising, they had no regard to that uniformity of sentiment which enables us to conceive and to excite the pains and the pleasures of other minds: they never enquired 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, impassive and at leisure ; as Epicurean deities making remarks on the actions of men, and the vicissitudes of life, without interest and without emotion. Their courtship was void of fondness, and their lamentation of sorrow. Their wish was only to say 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 sudden astonishment, and the second rational admiration. Sublimity is produced by aggregation, and littleness by dispersion. Great thoughts are always general, and consist in positions not limited by exceptions, and in descriptions not descending to minuteness. It is with great propriety that Subtlety, which in its original inport means exility of particles, is taken in its metaphorical meaning for nicety of distinction. Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observatiou. Their attempts were always analytick; they broke every image into fragments; and could no more represent, by their slender conceits and laboured particularities, the prospects of nature, or the scenes of life, than he, who dissects a sun-beam with a prism, can exhibit the wide effulgence of a summer noon.