Imatges de pÓgina
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THE Life of Cowley, notwithstanding the penury of English biography, has been written by Dr. Sprat, an author whofe pregnancy of imagination and elegance of language have defervedly fet him high in the ranks of literature, but his zeal of friendship, or ambition of eloquence, has produced a funeral oration rather than a hiftory: he has given the character, not the life of Cowley; for, he writes with fo little detail, that fcarcely any thing is diftinctly known, but all is fhewn confufed and enlarged through the mift of panegyrick.

ABRAHAM COWLEY was born in the year one thousand fix hundred and eighteen. His father was a grocer, whofe condition Dr. Sprat conceals under the general appellation of a citizen; and, what would probably not have been lefs carefully fuppreffed, the omiffion of his name in the register of St. Dunstan's parish gives reafon to fufpect that his father was a fectary. Whoever he was, he died before the birth of his fon, and confequently left him to the care of his mother, whom Wood reprefents as ftruggling carnestly to procure him a literary education, and who, as the lived to the age of eighty, had her folicitude rewarded by VOL. I.



feeing her fon eminent, and, I hope, by seeing him fortunate, and partaking his profperity. We know at leaft, 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 Spenfer's Fairy Queen; in which he very early took delight to read, till, by feeling the charms of verfe, he became, as he relates, irrecoverably a poet. Such are the accidents which, fometimes. remembered, and perhaps fometimes forgotten, produce that particular defignation of mind, and propenfity for fome certain fcience or employment, which is commonly called Genius. The true Genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to fome particular direction. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great Painter of the prefent age, had the first fondness for his art excited by the perufal of Richardfon's treatife.

By his mother's folicitation he was admitted into Weitminster-fchool, where he was foon diftinguifhed. He was wont, fays Sprat, to relate,

That he had this defect in his memory at that "time, that his teachers never could bring it to "retain the ordinary rules of graminar."

This is an inftance of the natural defire of man to propagate a wonder. It is furely 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 fome things, and rejecting others, an intellectual digeftion that concocted the pulp of learning, but refufed the hufks, had the appear ance of an inftin&tive elegance, of a particular provifion

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provifion made by Nature for literary politeness.
But in the author's own honeft relation, the mar-
vel vanishes he was, he fays, fuch "
an enemy
"to all constraint, that his mafter never could
66 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 exercifes with-
out them, and being an "enemy to conftraint,"
he fpared himself the labour.

Among the English poets, Cowley, Milton, and Pope, might be faid "to lifp in numbers;" and have given fuch early proofs, not only of powers of language, but of comprehenfion of things, as to more tardy minds feems fcarcely credible. But of the learned puerilities of Cowley there is no doubt, fince a volume of his poems was not only written but printed in his thirteenth year*; containing, with other poetical compofitions," The tragical Hiftory of Pyramus and Thisbe," written when he was ten years old; and Conftantia and Philetus," written two years after.



While he was yet at fchool he produced a comedy called "Love's Riddle," though it was not published till he had been fome time at Cambridge. This comedy is of the paftoral kind, which requires no acquaintance with the living world, and therefore the time at which it was compofed adds little to the wonders of Cowley's minority.

In 1636, he was removed to Cambridge †,

*This Volume was not published before 1633, when Cowley was fifteen years old. Dr. Johnfon, as well as former Biographers, feems to have been milled by the portrait of Cowley being by mistake marked with the age of thirteen years. R.

He was a candidate this year at Westminster-school for election to Trinity College, but proved unfuccefsful. N.

B 2


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