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In the lines on a lady weeping, you might expect a touching picture of beauty in distress; you will be disappointed. Wit, on the present occasion, is to be preferred to tenderness; the babe in her eye is said to resemble Phaeton so much,
That heaven, the threatned world to spare,
Let not this strained affectation of striving to be witty upon all occasions, be thought exaggerated, or a caricatura of Cowley. It is painful to censure a writer of so amiable a mind, such integrity of manners, and such a sweetness of temper. His fancy was brilliant, strong, and sprightly; but his taste false and unclassical, even though he had much learning.
In his Latin compoșitions, his six books on plants, where the subject might have led him to a contrary practice, he imitates Martial rather than Virgil, and has given us more Epigrams than Descriptions. I do not remember to have seen it enough observed, that Cowley had a most happy tạlent of imitating the easy manner of Horace's epistolary writings ;
I must therefore insert a specimen of this, his excellence :
Ergo iterum versus ? dices. O Vane! quid ergo
There is another epistle also, well worthy perusal, to his friend Mat. Clifford, * at the end of the same volume. Popet in one of his imitations
* Settle was assisted in writing the Anti-Achitophel by Clifford, and others, the best wits of that time, who combined against Dryden.
of Another line likewise of Pope exactly characterises him :
The pensive Cowley's moral lay.Vol. VI. p. 37.
His general preface; his discourse concerning Cromwell; his essays on liberty; on obscurity; on agriculture; on greatness; and on himself; are full of pleasing and virtuous sentiments, expressed without any affectation; so that he appears to be one of the best prose writers of his time.
of Horace, has exhibited the real character of Cowley, with delicacy and candour:
Who now reads Cowley? If he pleases yet,
His prose works give us the most amiable idea both of his abilities and his heart. His Pindaric odes cannot be perused with common patience by a lover of antiquity. He that would see Pindar's manner truly imitated, may read Masters's noble and pathetic ode on the Crucifixion; and he that wants to be convinced that these reflections on Cowley are not too severe, may read also his epigrammatic version of it:
Η 8κ οραας ολοπορφυρον
Dost thou not see thy prince in purple clad all o'er,
Open, oh! open wide the fountains of thine eyes,
And let them call
For this will ask it all.
* Compare Cowley's ode on presenting his book to the Bod. leian Library, with one of Milton on the same subject, Ad Johannem Rouseium, 1646, written in the true spirit of the ancient Lyrics, and an excellent imitation of Pindar. One allusion to Euripides, of whom Milton is known to have been so fond, I cannot omit:
Æternorum operum custos fidelis,
Nothing can more strongly characterize the different man, ner and turn of these two writers, than the pieces in question. It is remarkable, that Milton ends his ode with a kind of prophecy, importing that, however he may be at present traduced, yet posterity will applaud his work.
Cowley being early disgusted with the perplexities and vanities of a court life, had a strong desire to enjoy the milder pleasures of solitude and retirement; he therefore escaped from the tumults of London, to a little house at Wandsworth; but, finding that place too near the metropolis, he left it for Richmond, and at last settled at Chertsey. He seems to have thought that the swains of Surrey had the innocence of those of Sydney's Arcadia ; but the perverseness and debauchery of his own workmen soon undeceived him; with whom, it is said, he was sometimes so far provoked, as even to be betrayed into an oath. His income was about three hundred pounds a year. Towards the latter part of his life, he shewed an aversion to the company of women, and would often leave the room if
any happened to enter it whilst he was present; but still he retained a sincere affection for Leonora.