« AnteriorContinuar »
general hope, that great numbers were inevitably disappointed; and Cowley found his reward very tediously delayed. He had been promised by both Charles the First and Second, the Mastership of the \ Savoy; "but he lost it," says Wood, "by certain persons, enemies tothe Muses."
The neglect of the Court was not his only mortification; having by such alteration as he thought proper, fitted his old Comedy of "The Guardian" for the stage, he produced it* under the title of "The Cutter of Coleman-street f." It was treated on the stage with great severity, and was afterwards censured as a satire on the King's party.
Mr. Drydeu, who went with Mr. Sprat to the first exhibition, related to Mr. Dennis. " that, when they told Cowley.how little favour had been shewn him, he Received the news of his ill success, not with so much firmness as might have been expected from so great a man."
What firmness they expected, or what weakness Cowley discovered, cannot be known. He that "\ misses his end will never be as much pleased as he that_ jtttains it. even when he can impute no part of / his failure.to himself; and when the end is to please the midtitude, no_man perhaps has a right, in things admitting of gradation and conrparison, to throwjthe
* 1663. *
t Here is an error in the designation of this comedy, which our author copied from the title-page of the latter editions of Cowley's Works: the title of the play itself is without the article, "Cutter of Coleman-street," and that because a merry sharking fellow about the town, named Cutter, is a principal character in it. H.
whole blame upon his judges, and totally to exclude diffidence and shame by a haughty consciousness of his own excellence.
For the rejection of this play it is difficult now to find the reason: it certainly has, in a very great degree, the power of fixing attention and exciting merriment. From the charge of disaffection he exculpates himself in his preface, by observing how unlikely it is that, having followed the royal family through all their distresses, "he should chuse the "time of their restoration to begin a quarrel with "them." It appears, however, from the Theatrical Register of Downes, the Prompter, to have been popularly considered as a satire on the Royalists.
That he might shorten this tedious suspense, he published his pretensions and his discontent, in an ode called "The Complaint;" in which he styles himself the melancholy Cowley. This met with the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited moj£_contempt than pity.
These unlucky incidents are brought, maliciously enough, together in some stanzas, written about that time, on the choice of a Laureat; a mode of satire, by which, since it was first introduced by Suckling, perhaps every generation of poets has been teazed.
Savoy-missing Cowley came into the court, Making apologies for.Ms bad play;
\ His vehement desire of retirement now came again
upon him. "Not finding," says the morose Wood, "that preferment conferred upon him which lie expected, while others for their money carried away most places, he retired discontented into Surrey."
"He was now," says the courtly Sprat, " weary of the vexations and formalities of an active condition. He had been perplexed with a long compliance to foreign manners. He was satiated with the arts of a court; which sort of life, though his virtue made it innocent to him, yet nothing could make it quiet. Those were the reasons that moved him to follow the violent inclination of his own mind, which, in the greatest throng of his former business, had still called upon him, and represented to him the true delights of solitary studies, of temperate pleasures, and a moderate revenue below the malice and flatteries of fortune."
So differently are things seen! and so differently are they shewn! But actions are visible, though motives are secret. Cowley certainly retired; first to Barn-elms, and afterwards to Chertsey, in Surrey. He seems, however, to have lost part of his dread of the hum of men *. He thought himself now safe enough from intrusion, without the defence of mountains and oceans; and, instead of seeking shelter in America, wisely went only so far from the bustle of life as that he might easily find his way back, when solitude should grow tedious. His retreat was at first but slenderly accommodated; yet he soon
• L'Allegro of Milton. Dr. J.
obtained, by the interest of the earl of St. Alban's and the Duke of Buckingham, such a lease of the Queen's lands as afforded him an ample income.
By the lovers of virtue and of wit it will be solicitously asked, if he now was happy. Let them peruse one of his letters accidentally preserved by Peck, which I recommend to the consideration of all that may hereafter pant for solitude.
TO DR. THOMAS SPRAT.
"Chertsey, May 21, 1665.
"The first night that I came hither I caught so great a cold, with a defluxion of rheum, as made "me keep my chamber ten days. And, two after, "had such a bruise on my ribs with a fall, that I am yet unable to move or turn myself in my bed. "This is my personal fortune here to begin with. "And, besides, I can get no money from my tenants, and have my meadows eaten up every night by cattle put in by my neighbours. What this "signifies, or may come to in time, God knows; if it be ominous, it can end in nothing less than "hanging. Another misfortune has been, and stranger than all the rest, that you have broke "your word with me, and failed to come, even "though you told Mr. Bois that you would. This "is what they call Monstri simile. I do hope to recover my late hurt so farre within five or six days "(though it be uncertain yet whether I shall ever recover it) as to walk about again. And then, methinks, you and I and the Dean might be
Vol. vi. c
very merry upon St. Ami's Hill. You might very conveniently come hither the way of Hampton Town, lying there one night. I write this in pain, and can say no more: Verbum sapientL"
He did not long enjoy the pleasure or suffer the uneasiness of solitude; for he died at the Porchhouse* in Chertsey, in 1667, in the 49th year of his age.
He was buried with great pomp near CJiaiicgr and Spenser; and King Charles pronounced, "That Mr. Cowley had not left behind him a better man in England." He is represented by Dr. Sprat as the most amiable of mankind; and this posthumous praise may safely be credited, as it has never been contradicted by envy or by faction.
Such are the remarks and memorials which I have been able to add to the narrative of Dr. Sprat; who, writing when the feuds of the civil war were yet recent, and the minds of either party were easily irritated, was obliged to pass over many transactions in general expressions, and to leave curiosity often unsatisfied. What he did not tell, cannot however now be known; I must therefore recommend the perusal of his work, to which my narration can be considered only as a slender supplement.
* Now in the possession of Mr. Clark, Alderman of London. Dr. J.—Mr. Clark was, in 1798, elected to the important office of Chamberlain of London; and has every year since been unanimously re-elected. N.