Wikipedia

This text was copied from Wikipedia on 28 August 2015 at 3:24PM.

Abraham Cowley, portrait by Peter Lely

Abraham Cowley (/ˈkli/;[1] 1618 – 28 July 1667) was an English poet born in the City of London late in 1618. He was one of the leading English poets of the 17th century, with 14 printings of his Works published between 1668 and 1721.[2]

Early life and career

His father, a wealthy citizen, who died shortly before his birth, was a stationer. His mother was wholly given to works of devotion, but it happened that there lay in her parlour a copy of The Faerie Queene. This became the favourite reading of her son, and he had read it twice before he was sent to school.

As early as 1628, that is, in his tenth year, he composed his Tragicall History of Piramus and Thisbe, an epic romance written in a six-line stanza, a style of his own invention. It is not too much to say that this work is the most astonishing feat of imaginative precocity on record; it is marked by no great faults of immaturity, and possesses constructive merits of a very high order.

Two years later the child wrote another and still more ambitious poem, Constantia and Philetus, being sent about the same time to Westminster School. Here he displayed extraordinary mental precocity and versatility, and wrote in his thirteenth year the Elegy on the Death of Dudley, Lord Carlton. These three poems of considerable size, and some smaller ones, were collected in 1633, and published in a volume entitled Poetical Blossoms, dedicated to the head master of the school, and prefaced by many laudatory verses by schoolfellows.

The author at once became famous, although he had not, even yet, completed his fifteenth year. His next composition was a pastoral comedy, entitled Love's Riddle, a marvelous production for a boy of sixteen, airy, correct and harmonious in language, and rapid in movement. The style is not without resemblance to that of Randolph, whose earliest works, however, were at that time only just printed.

In 1637 Cowley was elected into Trinity College, Cambridge,[3] where he betook himself with enthusiasm to the study of all kinds of learning, and early distinguished himself as a ripe scholar. Portraits of Cowley, attributed to William Faithorne and Stephen Slaughter, are in Trinity College's collection.[4]

It was about this time that he composed his scriptural epic on the history of King David, one book of which still exists in the Latin original, the rest being superseded in favour of an English version in four books, called the Davideis, which were published after his death. The epic deals with the adventures of King David from his boyhood to the smiting of Amalek by Saul, where it abruptly closes.

Abraham Cowley

In 1638 Love's Riddle and a Latin comedy, the Naufragium Joculare, were printed, and in 1641 the passage of Prince Charles through Cambridge gave occasion to the production of another dramatic work, The Guardian, which was acted before the royal visitor with much success. During the civil war this play was privately performed at Dublin, but it was not printed till 1650. It is bright and amusing, in the style common to the "sons" of Ben Jonson, the university wits who wrote more for the closet than the public stage.

Royalist in exile

The learned quiet of the young poet's life was broken up by the Civil War; he warmly espoused the royalist side. He became a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, but was ejected by the Parliamentarians in 1643. He made his way to Oxford, where he enjoyed the friendship of Lord Falkland, and was tossed, in the tumult of affairs, into the personal confidence of the royal family itself.

After the battle of Marston Moor he followed the queen to Paris, and the exile so commenced lasted twelve years. This period was spent almost entirely in the royal service, "bearing a share in the distresses of the royal family, or labouring in their affairs. To this purpose he performed several dangerous journeys into Jersey, Scotland, Flanders, the Netherlands, or wherever else the king's troubles required his attendance. But the chief testimony of his fidelity was the laborious service he underwent in maintaining the constant correspondence between the late king and the queen his wife. In that weighty trust he behaved himself with indefatigable integrity and unsuspected secrecy; for he ciphered and deciphered with his own hand the greatest part of all the letters that passed between their majesties, and managed a vast intelligence in many other parts, which for some years together took up all his days, and two or three nights every week."

In spite of these labours he did not refrain from literary industry. During his exile he met with the works of Pindar, and determined to reproduce their lofty lyric passion in English. However, Cowley misunderstood Pindar's metrical practice and therefore his reproduction of the Pindaric Ode form in English does not accurately reflect Pindar's poetics. But despite this problem, Cowley's use of iambic lines of irregular length, pattern, and rhyme scheme was very influential and is still known as English "Pindarick" Ode, or Irregular Ode. One of the most famous odes written after Cowley in the Pindaric tradition is Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality."

During this same time, Cowley occupied himself in writing a history of the Civil War (which did not get published in full until 1973). In the preface to his 1656 Poems, Cowley mentioned that he had completed three books of an epic poem on the Civil War, but had left it unfinished after the First Battle of Newbury when the Royalist cause began to lose significant ground. In the preface Cowley indicated that he had destroyed all copies of the poem, but this was not precisely the truth. In 1697, twelve years after Cowley's death, a shortened version of the first book of the poem, called A Poem on the Late Civil War was published. It was assumed that the rest of the poem had indeed been destroyed or lost until the mid-20th century when scholar Allan Pritchard discovered the first of two extant manuscript copies of the whole poem among the Cowper family papers. Thus, the three completed books of Cowley's great (albeit unfinished) English epic, The Civill Warre (otherwise spelled "The Civil War"), was finally published in full for the first time in 1973.[5]

In 1647 a collection of his love verses, entitled The Mistress, was published, and in the next year a volume of wretched satires, The Four Ages of England, was brought out under his name, with the composition of which he had nothing to do.

In spite of the troubles of the times, so fatal to poetic fame, his reputation steadily increased, and when, on his return to England in 1656, he published a volume of his collected poetical works, he found himself without a rival in public esteem. This volume included the later works already mentioned, the Pindarique Odes, the Davideis, the Mistress and some Miscellanies. Among the latter are to be found Cowley's most vital pieces. This section of his works opens with the famous aspiration:

"What shall I do to be for ever known,
And make the coming age my own?"

It contains elegies on Wotton, Vandyck, Falkland, William Hervey and Crashaw, the last two being among Cowley's finest poems, brilliant, sonorous and original; the amusing ballad of The Chronicle, giving a fictitious catalogue of his supposed amours; various gnomic pieces; and some charming paraphrases from Anacreon. The Pindarique Odes contain weighty Lines and passages, buried in irregular and inharmonious masses of moral verbiage. Not more than one or two are good throughout, but a full posy of beauties may easily be culled from them. The long cadences of the Alexandrines with which most of the strophes close, continued to echo in English poetry from Dryden down to Gray, but the Odes themselves, which were found to be obscure by the poet's contemporaries, immediately fell into disesteem.

The Mistress was the most popular poetic reading of the age, and is now the least read of all Cowley's works. It was the last and most violent expression of the amatory affectation of the 17th century, an affectation which had been endurable in Donne and other early writers because it had been the vehicle of sincere emotion, but was unendurable in Cowley because in him it represented nothing but a perfunctory exercise, a mere exhibition of literary calisthenics. He appears to have been of a cold, or at least of a timid, disposition; in the face of these elaborately erotic volumes, we are told that to the end of his days he never summoned up courage to speak of love to a single woman in real life. The "Leonora" of The Chronicle is said to have been the only woman he ever loved, and she married the brother of his biographer, Sprat.

Return to England

Soon after his return to England he was seized in mistake for another person, and only obtained his liberty on a bail of £1000. In 1658 he revised and altered his play of The Guardian, and prepared it for the press under the title of The Cutter of Coleman Street, but it did not appear until 1661. Late in 1658 Oliver Cromwell died, and Cowley took advantage of the confusion of affairs to escape to Paris, where he remained until the Restoration brought him back in Charles's train. He published in 1663 Verses upon several occasions, in which The Complaint is included. He is also known for having provided the earliest reference to coca in English literature, in a poem called "A legend of coca" in his 1662 collection of poems "Six Books of Plants".[6]

Abraham Cowley's Chertsey house

Cowley obtained permission to retire into the country; and through his friend, Lord St Albans, he obtained a property near Chertsey, where, devoting himself to botany and books, he lived in comparative solitude until his death. He took a practical interest in experimental science, and he was one of those advocating the foundation of an academy for the protection of scientific enterprise. Cowley's pamphlet on The Advancement of Experimental Philosophy, 1661, immediately preceded the foundation of the Royal Society; to which Cowley, in March 1667, at the suggestion of John Evelyn, addressed an ode. He died in the Porch House, in Chertsey, in consequence of having caught a cold while superintending his farm-labourers in the meadows late on a summer evening. On 3 August, Cowley was buried in Westminster Abbey beside the ashes of Chaucer and Spenser, where in 1675 the duke of Buckingham erected a monument to his memory. His Poemata Latina, including six books "Plantarum," were printed in 1668. The poetry of Cowley rapidly fell into neglect.

Frontispice and titlepage to a 1678 edition of the collected works of Abraham Cowley

The works of Cowley were collected in 1668, when Thomas Sprat brought out an edition in folio, to which he prefixed a life of the poet. There were many reprints of this collection, which formed the standard edition till 1881, when it was superseded by Alexander Balloch Grosart's privately printed edition in two volumes, for the Chertsey Worthies library. The Essays have frequently been revived.

A Satire Against Separatists, printed in 1675, has been variously attributed to Cowley and to Peter Hausted.

References

  1. ^ Alan Hager (ed.), The Age of Milton: An Encyclopedia of Major 17th-Century British and American Authors, ABC-CLIO, 2004, p. 89.
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography "Abraham Cowley"
  3. ^ "Cowley, Abraham (CWLY636A)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  4. ^ "Trinity College, University of Cambridge". BBC Your Paintings. 
  5. ^ Ed. Allan Pritchard. Abraham Cowley, The Civil War, Toronto,(UTPress: 1973) p.3
  6. ^ Peru. History of coca, "the divine plant" of the Incas; with an introductory account of the Incas, and of the Andean Indians of to-day. W. Golden Mortimer, M.D. Ed. J. H. Vail & Co, 1901. Abraham Cowley's poem "A Legend of Coca" : in chapter I An introduction to the history of coca, pp. 25-27.

Sources

External links

8 Annotations

Bill  •  Link

Cowley, who helped to corrupt the taste of the age in which he lived, and had himself been corrupted by it, was a remarkable instance of true genius, seduced and perverted by false wit. But this wit, false as it was, raised his reputation to a much higher pitch than that of Milton. There is a want of elegance in his words, and of harmony in his versification; but this was more than atoned for, by his greatest fault, the redundancy of his fancy. His Latin poems, which are esteemed the best of his works, are written in the various measures of the ancients, and have much of their unaffected beauty. He was more successful in imitating the ease and gayety of Anacreon, than the bold and lofty flights of Pindar. He had many humble imitators in his Pindarics, whose verses differ as widely from his own, as the first and the last notes of a multiplied echo. His "Burning-Glasses of Ice," and other metaphors, which are not only beyond, but contrary to nature, were generally admired in the reign of Charles II. The standard of true taste was not then established. It was at length discovered, after a revolution of many ages, that the justest rules and examples of good writing are to be found in the works of ancient authors; and that there is neither dignity, nor elegance of thought or expression, without simplicity. Ob. 28 July, 1667, Æt. 49.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1775.

Bill  •  Link

COWLEY, ABRAHAM (1618-1667), poet: king's scholar at Westminster; published 'Poetical Blossoms,' 1633, and 'Sylva,' 1636; scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1637; fellow, 1640; M.A.,1642; published 'Love's Riddle,' a pastoral drama, 1638; brought out, at Cambridge, 'Naufragium Joculare,' a Latin comedy, 1638, and 'The Guardian,' a comedy, 1641; ejected by the parliament, 1644; resided in St. John's College, Oxford; went to France, 1646; published 'The Mistress,' poems, 1647, and 'Miscellanies,' with other poems, including four books of the 'Davideis,' a sacred epic, 1656; cipher secretary to Queen Henrietta Maria, c.1647; royalist spy in England, 1656; M.D. Oxford, 1657; withdrew to France; published odes on the Restoration and against Cromwell, 1660-1; was refused the mastership of the Savoy, 1661; F.R.S.; published 'Verses upon several Occasions,' 1663; a competence provided for him by Earl of St. Albans and Duke of Buckingham; his collected works published 1668.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Bill  •  Link

COWLEY, Abraham, an English poet, born in London 1618. He was educated at Westminster school, and the accidental perusal of Spenser's works, so much roused his poetical genius, that he published his "poetical blossoms," before he was removed to the university. He entered at Trinity college, Cambridge, where he wrote some poems, and planned the design of those masculine pieces, which have immortalized his name, The loyalty of his sentiments, and the noble independence of his conduct, however, proved displeasing to the republicans of his college, and he was with some others ejected from the university, and came to St. John's college, Oxford, where he published his satire of the Puritan and Papist. His attachment to the royal cause, as well as his literary merits recommended him to the notice of the great; he was intimate with lord Falkland, and confidently engaged in the king's service. During the civil wars, he was settled in the duke of St Alban's family, and was absent from England about 10 to 12 years, and during that time, performed some very dangerous journeys to Jersey, Scotland, Flanders, Holland, and other places, while he managed the correspondence between the king and his consort, and the various bodies of loyalists dispersed through the kingdom. In 1656 he ventured to come into England with great secrecy, but he was arrested, though by mistake, and was restored to liberty only by giving bail for 1000l. After Cromwell's death be returned to France, and at the restoration be determined to retire to solitude and learned ease. His intentions were favored by the liberality of the duke of Buckingham and lord St. Alban's, who gave him an estate, and the last eight years of his life were spent in that comfortable retirement, which he so much admired. He lived some time at Barn-Elms, but as the situation was not healthy, he removed to Chertsey where in consequence of exposing himself too long to the cold air, he was attacked by a violent defluxion and stoppage in his breast and throat, which by being at first disregarded, in a fortnight proved fatal. He died 28th July 1667, aged 49, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, near Chaucer, and Spenser, and a monument was erected to his honor, by George duke of Buckingham, 1675.

Bill  •  Link

[continued]
Cowley took his doctor's degree in medicine at Oxford, 1657, and as it was under the republican government, some have doubted the sincerity of his attachment to the royal cause, but his object was not of a political nature. He wished to study medicine as a science, and for that purpose a degree was necessary. His books of plants were published in 1662, and as he had employed himself not only in anatomical dissection, but to the laborious consideration of simples, and the deep researches of botany, his works on those subjects are the thoughts of a master. Besides the works already mentioned, he published a new edition of his poems, miscellanies, the Mistress - Pindaric odes - Davideis - the Cutler of Coleman street, a comedy, &c. Besides poems, he wrote in prose, a proposition for the advancement of experimental philosophy - and a discourse on the government of Cromwell. Cowley is very respectable as a poet, and his verse though sometimes uncouth anil inelegant, does not want fire and majesty. He abounded, as Addison observed, above all others in genuine wit. Dr Johnson places him at the head of metaphysical poets.
---Universal biography. J. Lempriere, 1810.

Log in to post an annotation.

If you don't have an account, then register here.

References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

1661

1663

1666

  • Dec

1667