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the fact that at an early age Cowley was thrown amongst the cavaliers of the civil wars, sharing the exile and the return of the Stuarts, and doubtless disgusted, as so pure a writer was pretty sure to be, by a dissolute Court, with whom he would find it easier to sympathize in its misery than in its triumph. Buckingham, with the fellow-feeling of talent for talent, appears to have been kind to him ; and when he fled from the world (not very far, he found his beloved solitude at Chertsey), it is satisfactory to know that he so far escaped the proverbial ingratitude of the Restoration, to carry with him an income sufficient for his moderate wants. He did not long survive a retirement which, Sprat says, in a curious life prefixed to the edition of his works in 1719, “agreed better with his mind than his body.”
It is difficult to select from a volume so abundant in riches ; but I will begin by his opinion of theatrical audiences contained in "The Preface to the Cutter of Coleman Street :"
“ There is no writer but may fail sometimes in point of wit; and it is no less frequent for the auditors to fail in point of judgment. I perceive plainly by daily experience that Fortune is mistress of the theatre, as Tully says it is of all popular assemblies. No man can tell sometimes from whence the invisible winds rise that move them. There are a multitude of people who are truly and only
spectators of a play without any use of their understanding; and these carry it sometimes by the strength of their numbers. There are others who use their understandings too much ; who think it a sign of weakness and stupidity to let anything pass by them unattacked, and that the honour of their judgment (as some mortals imagine of their courage) consists in quarrelling with everything. We are, therefore, wonderful wise men, and have a fine business of it, we who spend our time in poetry. I do sometimes laugh, and am often angry with myself when I think on it; and if I had a son inclined by nature to the same folly, I believe I should bind him from it by the strictest conjurations of a paternal blessing. For what can be more ridiculous than to labour to give men delight, whilst they labour on their part more earnestly to take offence ? to expose oneself voluntarily and frankly to all the dangers of that narrow passage to unprofitable fame, which is defended by rude multitudes of the ignorant, and by armed troops of the malicious ? If we do ill, many discover, it, and all despise us. If we do well, but few men find it out, and fewer entertain it kindly. If we commit errors, there is no pardon ; if we could do wonders, there would be but little thanks, and that too extorted from unwilling givers."
Of course his play had been coldly received. Here is another bit of autobiography, singularly
interesting, as coming from one who, although he never could retain the rules of grammar, was an eminent scholar, and the most precocious of all poets. It forms part of the essay, headed, “Of Myself.”
" It is a hard and a nice subject for a man to write of himself. It pains his own heart to say anything of disparagement, and the reader's ears to hear anything of praise from him. There is no danger from me of my offending him in that kind; neither my mind, nor my body, nor my fortune, allow me any materials for that vanity.
“As far as my memory can return back into my past life, before I knew, or was capable of guessing, what the world, or the glories or business of it were, the natural affections of my soul gave me a secret bent of aversion from them, as some plants are said to turn away from others by an antipathy, imperceptible to themselves, and inscrutable to man's understanding. Even when I was a very young boy at school, instead of roaming about on holidays, and playing with my fellows, I was wont to steal from them, and walk into the fields, either alone with a book, or with some one companion if I could find him of the same temper. I was then, too, so much an enemy to all constraint, that my masters could never prevail on me by any persuasions or encouragements to learn without book the common rules of grammar; in which they dispensed with me alone, because they found I made a shift to do the same exercise out of my own reading and observation. That I was then of the same mind that I am now (which, I confess, I wonder at myself) may appear by the latter end of an ode, which I made when I was but thirteen years old, and which was then printed with many other verses.
The beginning of it is boyish, but of this part which I have set down (if a very corrected) I should hardly now be much ashamed :
“ This only grant me, that my means may lie,
Some honour I would have,
Rumour can ope the grave.
“Books should, as business, entertain the light,
My house, a cottage more
My garden painted o'er
Thus would I double my life's fading space,
And in this true delight,
But boldly say each night,
“You may see by it I was even then acquainted with the poets (for the conclusion is taken out of Horace); and perhaps it was the immature and immoderate love of them which stampt first, or rather engraved these characters in me: they were like letters cut into the bark of a young tree, which, with the tree, still grows proportionably. But how this love came to be produced in me so early is a hard question. I believe I can tell the particular little chance that filled my head first with such chimes of verse as have never since left ringing there : for I remember when I began to read and to take some pleasure in it, there was wont to lie in my mother's parlour (I know not by what accident, for she herself never in her life read any
book but of devotion), but there was wont to lie Spenser's works. This I happened to fall upon, and was infinitely delighted with the stories of the knights, and giants, and monsters, and brave houses, which I found everywhere there (though my understanding had little to do with all this); and by degrees with the tinkling of the rhyme and dancing of the numbers; so that I think I had read