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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 num« bers ;” 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; containing, with other poetical compositions, “ The tragi“ cal History of Pyramus and Thisbe," written when he was ten years old ; and “ Constan, tia 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 won, ders of Cowley's minority.
In 1636, he was removed to Cambridge, where he continued his studies with great in
tenseness; 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 the representation of the “ Guardian,” a comedy, which Cowley says was neither written nor acted, but roughdrawn by him, and repeated by the scholars. That this comedy was printed during his absence from his country, he appears to have confidered 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 Pu
"ritan and Papist,” which was never inferted in any collection 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 surrendered to the parliament, he followed the Queen to Paris, where he became secretary to the lord Jermin, afterwards earl of St. Albans, and was employed in such correspondence as the royal cause required, and particularly in ciphering and deciphering the letters that passed between the king and queen; an employment of the higheit confidence and honour. So wide was his province of intelligence, that, for several years, it filled all his days and two or three nights in the week.
In the year 1647, his " Mistress” was published; for he imagined, as he declared in his preface to a subsequent edition, that " poets is are scarce thought freemen of their compa“ ny without paying some duties, or oblig" ing themselves to be true to Love.”
This obligation to amorous ditties owes, I believe, its original to the fame of Petrarch, who, in an age rude and uncuitivated, by iis tuneful homage to his Laura, refined the malners of the lettered world, and filled Europe with love and poetry. But the basis of all excellence is truth: he that profefies love ought to feel its power. Petrarch was a real lover, and Laura doubtless deserved his tenderness. Of Cowley, we are told by Barnes,
who had means enough of information, that, whatever he may talk of his own inflammability, and the variety of characters by which his heart was divided, he in reality was in love but once, and then never had resolution to tell his paslion.
This consideration cannot but abate, in some measure, the reader's esteem for the work and the author. To love excellence, is natural; it is natural likewise for the lover to solicit reciprocal regard by an elaborate display of his own qualifications. The desire of plea fing has in different men produced actions of heroism, and effusions of wit; but it seems as reasonable to appear the champion as the poet of an “airy nothing,” and to quarrel as to write for what Cowley might have learned from his master Pindar to call the "? dream of a shadow." į It is surely not difficult, in the solitude of a college, or in the bustle of the world, to find useful studies and serious employment. No inan needs to be so burthened with life as to squander it in voluntary dreams of fictitious occurrences. The man that sits down to suppose himself charged with treason or peculation, and heats his mind to an elaborate purgation of his character from crimes which he was never within the possibility of committing, differs only by the infrequency of his folly from him who praises beauty which he never saw, complains of jealousy which he never felt:; fupposes himself sometimes invited, and sometimes forsaken ; fatigues his fancy, and ranlacks his memory, for images which may exhibit the gaiety of hope, or the gloominess of
despair, 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 Jermin, 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. Bennet, afterwards earl of Arlington, from April to December in 1650, are · preserved in “Miscellanea Aulica,” a collection of papers published by Brown. These letters being written like those of other men whose mind is more on things than words, contribute no otherwise to his reputation 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 forwarded by flowers of rhetorick.
One passage, however, seems not unworthy of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation : ." The Scotch treaty," says he, “ is the " only thing now in which we are vitally con“ cerned ; I am one of the last hopers, and “ yet cannot now abstain froin believing, " that an agreement will be made: all people “ upon the place incline to that of union. “ The Scotch will moderate something of the ” rigour of their demands, the mutual necessi“ ty of an accord is visible, the King is per” suaded of it. And to tell you the truth “ (which I take to be an argument above all " the rest) Virgil has told the same thing to “ that purpose.”