« 前へ次へ »
and to have given some credit to the answer of his oracle.
Oppress'd with numbers in th' unequal field,
Dryden. Lord Falkland's:
Non haec, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti,
iEneid XI. 152.
0 Pallas, thou hast fail'd thy plighted word,
1 warn'd thee, but in vain, for well I knew
Vain vows to Heaven, and unavailing care!
Hoffman, in his Lexicon, gives a very satisfactory account of this practice of seeking fates in books: and says that it was used by the Pagans, the Jewish_i£ahbins, antl even the early Christians; the latter taking the New Testament for_their oracle. H.
10 COWLEY.Some years afterwards, "business," says SpiaJ,, "passed of course into other hands;" and Cowley, being no longer useful at Paris, was in 1656 sent back into England, that, "under pretence of privacy "and retirement, he might take occasion of giving "notice of the posture of things in this nation."
Soon after his return to London, he was seized by some messengers of the usurping powers who were sent out in quest of another man; and being examined, was put into confinement, from which he was not dismissed without the security of a thousand pounds given by Dr. Scarborough.
This year he published his Poems, with a preface, in which he seems to have inserted something suppressed in subsequent editions, which was interpreted to denote some relaxation of his loyalty. In this preface he declares, that " his desire had been for some days past, and did still very vehemently continue, to retire himself to some of the American "plantations, and to forsake this world for ever."
From the obloquy which the appearance of submission to the usurpers brought upon him, his biographer has been very diligent to clear him, and indeed it does not seem to have lessened his reputation. His wish for retirement we can easily believe to be undissembled; a man harassed in one kingdom, and persecuted in another, who, after a course of business that employed all his days and half his nights, in cyphering and decyphering, comes to his own country and steps into a prison, will be willing enough to retire to some place of quiet and of safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose us to forget, that, if his activity was virtue, his retreat was cowardice.
He then took upon himself the character of Physician, still, according to Sprat, with intention "to dissemble the main design of his coming over;" and, as Mr. Wood relates, "complying with the "men then in power (which was much taken notice of by the royal party), he obtained an order to be created Doctor of Physick; which being done to "his mind (whereby he gained the ill-will of some of his friends), he went into France again, having made a copy of verses on Oliver's death."
This is no favourable representation, yet even in this not much wrong can be discovered. How far he complied with the men in power, is to be enquired before he can be blamed. It is not said that he told them any secrets, or assisted them by intelligence or any other act. If he only promised to be quiet, that they in whose hands he was might free him from confinement, he did what no law of society prohibits.
The man whose miscarriage in a just cause has put him in the power of his enemy may, without any violation of his integrity, regain his liberty, or preserve his life, by a promise of neutrality: for, the stipulation gives the enemy nothing which he had not before: the neutrality of a captive may be always secured by his imprisonment or death. He that is at the disposal of another may not promise to aid him in any injurious act, because no power can compel active obedience. He may engage to do nothing, but not to do ill. \
There is reason to think that Cowley promised little. It does not appear that his compliance gained him confidence enough to be trusted without security, for the bond of his bail was never cancelled; nor that it made him think himself secure, for, at that dissolution of government which followed the death of Oliver, he returned into France, where he resumed his former station, and staid till the Restoration.
"He continued," says his biographer, "under these bonds, till the general deliverance ;" it is therefore to be supposed, that he did not go to France, and act again for the King, without the consent of his bondsman; that he did not shew his loyalty at the hazard of his friend, but by his friend's permission. Of the verses on Oliver's death, in which Wood's narrative seems to imply something encomiastick, there has been no appearance. There is a discourse concerning his government, indeed, with verses intermixed, but such as certainly gained its author no friends among the abettors of usurpation.
A doctor of physick however he was made at Oxford in December 1657; and in the commencement of the Royal Society, of which an account has been given by Dr. Birch, he appears busy among the experimental philosophers with the title of Dr. Cowley.
There is no reason for supposing that he ever attempted practice: but his preparatory studies have contributed something to the honour of his country. Considering Botany as necessary to a physician, he retired into Kent to gather plants; and as the predominance of a favourite study affects all subordinate operations of the intellect, Botany in the mind of Cowley turned into Poetry. He composed in Latin several books on Plants, of which the first and second display the qualities of Herbs, in elegiac verse; the third and fourth, the beauties of Flowers in various measures; and the fifth and sixth, the uses of Trees, in heroic numbers.
At the same time were produced, from the same University, the two great Poets, Cowley and Milton, of dissimilar genius, of opposite principles; but concurring in tliecultivation of Latin Poetry, in which the English, till their works and May's Poem appeared*, seemed unable to contest the palm with any other of the lettered nations*
If the Latin performances of Cowley and Milton be compared (for May I hold to be superior to both), the advantage seems to lie on the side of Cowley. Milton is generally content to express the thoughts of the ancients in their language; Cowley, without muchloss of purity or elegance, accommodates the diction of Rome to his own conceptions.
At the Restoration, after all the diligence of his long service, and with consciousness not only of the merit of fidelity, but of the dignity of great abilities, he naturally expected ample preferments; and, that he might not be forgotten by his own fault, wrote a Song of Triumph. But this was a time of such
* By May's Poem we are here to understand a continuation of Lucan's Pharsalia to the death of Julius Ca?sar, by Thomas May, an eminent poet and historian, who flourished in the reigns of James and Charles I. and of whom a life is given in the Biographia Britannica. H.