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for the lover to solicit reciprocal regard by an elaborate display of his own qualifications. The desire of pleasing has in different men produced actions of heroism, and effusions of wit; but it seems as reasonable to appear the champion as the poet of an “airy nothing," and to quarrel as to write for what Cowley might have learned from his master Pindar to call " the dream of a shadow."
It is surely not difficult, in the solitude of a college, or in the bustle of the world, to find useful studies and serious employment. No man needs to be so burthened with life as to squander it in voluntary dreams of fictitious occurrences. The man that sits down to suppose himself charged with treason or peculation, and heats his mind to an elaborate purgation of his character from crimes which he was never within the possibility of committing, differs only by the infrequency of his folly from him who praises beauty which he never saw; complains of jealousy which he never felt; supposes himself sometimes invited, and sometimes forsaken; fatigues his fancy, and ransacks his memory, for images which may exhibit the gaiety of hope, or the gloominess of despair; and dresses his imaginary Chloris or Phyllis, sometimes in flowers fading as her beauty, and sometimes in gems lasting as her virtués.
At Paris, as secretary to lord Jermyn, he was engaged in transacting things of real importance with real men and real women, and at that time did not much employ his thoughts upon phantoms of gallantry. Some of his letters to Mr. Bennet, afterwards earl of Arlington, from April to December, in 1650, are preserved in “ Miscellanea Aulica,” a collection of papers published by Brown. These letters, being written like those of other men whose minds are
more on things than words, contribute no otherwise to his reputation than as they show him to have been above the affectation of unseasonable elegance, and to have known that the business of a statesinan can be little forwarded by flowers of rhetorick.
One passage, however, seems not unworthy of some notice. Speaking of the Scotch treaty then in agitation:
“ The Scotch treaty," says he “is the only thing now in which we are vitally concerned : I am one of the last hopers, and yet cannot now abstain from believing that an agreement will be made; all people upon the place incline to that of union. The Scotch will moderate something of the rigour of their demands; the mutual necessity of an accord is visible, the king is persuaded of it. And to tell you the truth (which I take to be an argument above all the rest) Virgil has told the same thing to that purpose.”
This expression from a secretary of the present time would be considered as merely ludicrous, or at most as an ostentatious display of scholarship; but the manners of that time were so tinged with superstition, that I cannot but suspect Cowley of having consulta ed on this great occasion the Virgilian lots,* and to have given some credit to the answer of his oracle.
Consulting the Virgilian lots, sortes Virgilianæ, is a method of divination by the opening of Virgil, and applying to the circumstances of the peruser the first passage in either of the two pages that he accidentally fixes his eye on It is said that king Charles I. and lord Falkland, being in the Bodleian library, made this experiment of their future fortunes, and met with passages equally ominous to each. That of the king was the following:
At bello audacis populi vexatus & armis,
Some years afterwards, “business," says Sprat, .“ passed of course into other hands;" and Cowley being no longer useful at Paris, was in 1656 sent back
Funera, nec, cum se sub leges pacis inique
Eneid IV. 615.
Yet let a race untam'd, and haughty foes,
LORD FALKLAND's :
Nou hæc, O Palla, dederas promissa parenti,
Eneid XI, 152: ..
O Pallas, thou hast failed thy plighted word,
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. set 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 pree face 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 safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose us to forget that, if his activity was virtué, his retreat was cowardice.
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 rabbins, and even the early Christians; the latter taking the New Testament for their oracle. H.
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 inquired 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 confine. ment, 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
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.