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The poet, was born in Fleet-street, London, in 1618. His father was a grocer; after whose death he was admitted a king's scholar in Westminster School. His decided taste for poetry was called forth by his accidentally reading, at a very early age, Spenser's “ Faery Queen," which lay in the window of his mother's apartment. From Westminster he was removed to Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he was elected scholar in 1636.
Having taken his degrees in arts, he was ejected by the parţiament, on account of his loyalty, from Cambridge, when he sheltered himself at St. John's College, Oxford.
From his attachment to the royal cause, too, he obtained an introduction at court, attended the king in several of his journeys and expedis tions, and became acquainted with many of the celebrated men of his time, particularly lord Falkland, then one of the principal secretaries of state.
During the heat of the civil war, he was settled in the family of the earl of St. Albans, and accompanied the queen mother, when she was forced to retire into France, and was absent from his country ten years. In 1656, he returned to England, was soon after seized by the usurpers, and obtained his liberty only on the hard terms of a thousand pounds bail.
After the restoration, through the interest of the duke of Buckingham and the earl of St, Albans, a competent estate was bestowed upon him, and he retired to Chertsey, on the banks of the Thames, to pass the remainder of his life in studious retirement. Here also he died in 1667, in the forty-ninth year of his age.
The prose works of Cowley are not numerous; in the whole they occupy not more than about sixty pages, small-sized folio ; and even these are interspersed with occasional pieces of poetry, with a few translations of Latin authors, suggested by the subjects on which he was writing. The following is a list of their titles.
1. A Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy.
2. A Discourse, by way of Vision, concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell.
Several Discourses, by way of Essays, in Verse and Prose.
1. Of Liberty.
8. The Dangers of an Honest Man in much Company
9. The Shortness of Life, and Uncertainty of Riches,
10. The Danger of Procrastination. A Letter to Mr. S. L.
11. Of Myself.
The last is by far the most interesting; it is very simply and beautifully written.
Of Myself. It is a hard and nice subject for a man to write of himself; it grates his own heart to say any thing of disparagement, and the reader's ears to hear any thing of praise from him. There is no danger from me of offending him in this kind; neither my mind; por my body, nor my fortune, allow me any materials for that vanity. It is sufficient, for my own contentment, that they have preserved me from being scandalous, or remarkable on the defective side. But, besides that, I shall here speak of myself only in relation to the subject of these precedent discourses, and shall be likelier thereby to fall into the contempt, than rise up to the estimation of most people. As far as my memory can return back into my past life, before I knew, or was capable of guessing, what the world, or glories, or business of it were, the natural affections of my soul gave a secret bent of aversion from them, as some plants are said to turn away from others, by an antipathy imperceptible to them, selves, and inserutable to man's understanding. Even when I was a very young boy at school, instead of running about on holidays, and playing with my fellows, I was wont to steal from them, and walk into the fields, either alone with a book, or with some one companion, if I could find any of the same temper, I was then, too, so much an enemy to constraint, that my masters could never prevail on me, by any persuasions or encouragements, to learn, without book, the common rules of grammar, in which they dispensed with me alone, because they found I made a shift to do the usual exercise out of my own reading and observation. That I was then of the same mind as I am now, (which I confess I wonder at myself) may appear at the latter end of an ode, which I made when I was but thirteen years old, and which was then printed, with many other verses. The beginning of it is boyish; but of this part which I here set down (if a very little were corrected), I should hardly now be much ashamed,
This only grant me, that my means may lie
Some honour I would have,
Rumour can ope' the grave: Acquaintance I would have; but when't depends Not on the number, but the choice of friends. .
Books should, not business, entertain the light,
My house a cottage, more
My garden painted o'er With Nature's hand, not Art's; and pleasures yield, Horace might enyy in his Sabine field.