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NIN T H VOL U M E.
THE LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POET S.
THE Life of Cowley, notwithstanding the penurý
of English biography, has been written by Dr. Sprat, an author whose pregnancy of imagination and elegance of language have deservedly let 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 confuled and enlarged through the mist of panegyrick.
ABRAHAM COWLEY was born in the year one thousand fix 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 paris 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 repreVOL.IX.
sents sents 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 rememnbered, 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 fond. ness for his art excited by the perusal of Richardson's treatise.
By his mother's solicitation he was admitted into Westinin/ter-school, where he was soon diftinguished. He was wont, says Sprat, to relate, “ That he had " this defect in his meinory at that time, that his os 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