1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Aston Cokayne

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 2:216-19.



A Gentleman who lived in the reign of Charles I. He was son of Thomas Cokaine, esq; and descended from a very ancient family at Ashbourne in the Peak of Derbyshire; born in the year 1608, and educated at both the universities. Mr. Langbaine observes, that Sir Aston's predecessors had some evidence to prove themselves allied to William the Conqueror, and in those days lived at Hemmingham Castle in Essex. He was a fellow-commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge, as he himself confesseth in one of his books. After he had left the university, he went to the Inns of Court, where continuing awhile for fashion's sake, he travelled afterwards with Sir Kenelm Digby into France, Italy, Germany, &c. and was absent the space of twelve years, an account of which he has written to his son, but it does not appear to have been printed. He lived the greatest part of his time in a lordship belonging to him called Pooley, in the parish of Polesworth in Warwickshire, and addicted himself much to books and the study of poetry. During the civil wars he suffered much for his religion, which was that of Rome, and the King's cause; he pretended then to be a baronet, created by King Charles I. after by violence he had been drawn from the Parliament, about June 10, 1641; yet he was not deemed so by the officers of the army, because no patent was enrolled to justify it, nor any mention of it made in the docquet books belonging to the clerk of the crown in Chancery, where all Patents are taken notice of which pass the Great Seal. Sir Aston was esteemed by some a good poet, and was acknowledged by all a great lover of the polite arts; he was addicted to extravagance; for he wasted all he had, which, though he suffered in the civil wars, he was under no necessity of doing from any other motive but profusion.

Amongst our author's other poetical productions, he has written three plays and a masque, which are in print, which we shall give in the same order with Mr. Langbaine.

1. A Masque, presented at Brethie in Derbyshire, on Twelfth-Night 1639. This Entertainment was presented before the Right Honourable Philip, first earl of Chesterfield, and his Countess, two of their sons acting in it.

2. The Obstinate Lady, a Comedy, printed in 8vo. London 1650. Langbaine observes, that Sir Aston's Obstinate Lady, seems to be a cousin Jerman to Massinger's Very Woman, as appears by comparing the characters.

3. The Tragedy of Ovid, printed in 8vo. 1669. "I know not (says Mr. Langbaine) why the author calls this Ovid's Tragedy, except that he lays the scene in Tomes, and makes him fall down dead with grief, at the news he received from Rome, in sight of the audience, otherwise he has not much business on the stage, and the play ought rather to have taken the name of Bassane's Jealousy, and the dismal Effects thereof, the murder of his new Bride Clorina, and his Friend Pyrontus."

4 Trapolin creduto Principe, or Trapolin supposed a Prince, an Italian Tragi-Comedy, printed in 8vo. London 1658. The design of this play is taken from one he saw acted at Venice, during his abode in that city; it has been since altered by Mr. Tate, and acted at the Theatre in Dorset-Garden; it is now acted under the title of Duke and No Duke.

He has written besides his plays,

What he calls a Chain of Golden Poems, embellished with Mirth, Wit, and Eloquence. Another title put to these runs thus: Choice Poems of several sorts; Epigrams in three Books. He translated into English an Italian Romance, called Dianea, printed at London 1654.

Sir Aston died at Derby, upon the breaking of the great Frost in February 1683, and his body being conveyed to Polesworth in Warwickshire beforementioned, was privately buried there in the chancel of the church. His lordship of Pooley, which had belonged to the name of Cokaine from the time of king Richard II. was sold several years before he died, to one Humphrey Jennings, esq; at which time our author reserved an annuity from it during life. The lordship of Ashbourne also was sold to Sir William Boothby, baronet. There is an epigram of his, directed to his honoured friend Major William Warner, which we shall here transcribe as a specimen of his poetry, which the reader will perceive is not very admirable.

Plays, eclogues, songs, a satyr I have writ,
A remedy for those in th' amorous fit:
Love elegies, and funeral elegies,
Letters of things of diverse qualities,
Encomiastic lines to works of some,
A masque, and an epithalamium,
Two books of epigrams; all which I mean
Shall in this volume come upon the scene
Some divine poems, which when first I came
To Cambridge, I writ there, I need not name.
Of Dianea, neither my translation,
Omitted here, as of another fashion.
For Heaven's sake name no more, you say I cloy you;
I do obey you; therefore friend Godb'wy you.