1797 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Aston Cokayne

Samuel Egerton Brydges, in Gentleman's Magazine 67 (July 1797) 554-59.



SIR ASTON COKAYNE was son of Thomas Cokayne, esq. by Anne, his wife, daughter of Sir John Stanhope, of Elvaston, co. Derby, knt.

He was the heir-male of a very antient and honourable family, long seated at Ashbourne hall, co. Derby. John Cokayne represented the county in the reign of Edward III. His younger son, Sir John, was chief baron of the Exchequer, temp. Henry IV. Sir John Cokayne was at the sieges of Terouenne and Tournay, temp. Henry VIII. And I have seen many splendid and curious monuments of them in Ashbourne church. The viscounts Cullen are a younger branch of this family. The poet relates in one of his poems, p. 197, that his ancestor Cokayne, a knight, was allied to the Conqueror, and lived in his reign at Henningham castle, where "lately hung his bow and arrows, his sword and buckler;" and that all this "was attested by Mr. John Cokayne, of Rushton, my lord's cousin-germane, who had an antient evidence to prove it." — P. 205, he says,

Ashbourn (where many years our Cokayne's name
Hath been, as Camden tells us, of some fame),
Though in the Peak thou stand'st, thy fertile ground,
That like a lover doth embrace thee round,
The meadows needs not envy, which the Thames
Saluteth (in his passage) with his streams.

Sir Aston's father Thomas, was son of Sir Edward Cokayne, and was born at Mapleton; but, dying in London, was buried in the church of St. Giles in the Fields.

Sir Edward Cokayne was born in 1554, and died 1606; and was son of Sir Thomas, who died 1592, son of Francis, son of Sir Thomas Cokayne, of Ashburne, knt. before mentioned for his valour at the sieges of Terouenne and Tournay, who resided chiefly at Polley, in Warwickshire; which manor-house he re-built with brick, and, in 1507, imparked the woods lying Westward of it. His curious epitaph at Ashburne says,

Three goodly houses he did build,
To his great praise and fame,
With profits great and manifold
Belonging to the same.

Three parks he did empale,
Therein to chase the deer;
The lofty lodge without this park
He also builded here.

He did his house and name renew,
And eke the same restore,
Which others had with negligence
In time decayed before.

Our poet was born at Elvaston, the seat of his mother's family, the beginning of the year 1608; spent some years for his education at Trinity college, Cambridge; whence (according to Wood) he went to the inns of court. At the age of 24, in July, 1632, he set out on his travels to France and Italy. July 16, he embarked at Rye, and the next day arrived at Dieppe. The 18th, he rode to Roan, and went thence in a coach to Paris, where he spent but a day or two, and passed to Lyons and Cambray. He employed six days in astonishment at the grandeur of the Alps; saw one of the Duke of Savoy's palaces on the top of Mount Sinses; and, after descending more than half way, first heard Italian spoken. Here he slept, and next morning rode to Susa, and came that night to Turin, where he staid but a day to see its beauties; and, taking coach thence, dined at Vercelli, lay at Novara, and staid one night at Milan, another at Crema, and dined by the stormy lake of Garda; rode through the suburbs of Bergamo, and got that night to Brescia. Having passed through Verona, he dined at Vicenza, and so through Padua, viewing many pleasant palaces on the banks of Brent, came that night to Venice. Here he staid half a year; whence he went down the Po to Ferrara, where he took coach, dined at Ravenna, lay at Rimmini, and spent the next night at Ancona. The next day's journey was long; he rode through Pelaro, dined at Fano, and passed near "well-walled Siningaglia." The day after, he dined at Loretto, viewed the famous church and house, rode through Recanati, and got in the evening to Macerata. Dined next day at Tolentia, and was in the renowned church of St. Nicholas. Passing through Foligno, Spoletto, Tevio, and Marin, he refreshed himself for the night within Otricoli. The next day dined at Rignano in the Flaminian way; and, in the evening, came through the Port del Popolo to Rome; saw there the wonders of Easter and the Holy Week; beheld its antient and modern splendour; and, after three weeks, set out for Naples; had a sight of the marvels of Frascati; rode to Velletri, and lay at Terrachina; then, passing thro' the kingdom at Mola, took a view of old Gaeta; thence rode to Capera, where he only staid to dinner, and thence to Naples, where he spent three weeks in surveying the place.

I at Puzzolo was; there cross'd the bay
(Fam'd for the bridge of proud Caligula)
To Baia, and that day a view did take
Of Aniana, and Avernus lake.
The mortal grot was in, and sepulchre,
Which murder'd Agrippina did inter.
Was in Sybilla's cave, and on the ground
Call'd Vulcan's forge, yielding an hollow sound.
At Pausalip pass'd thro' that hollow path
Which Virgil for its primest glory hath—

He spent a day or two on the top of Mount Vesuvius, that two years before had caused such dreadful effects by its erruptions. From Naples he went in a galley to Genoa, where he met the embassador to the Cardinal Infante from the viceroy, who was going to be governor of the Netherlands. He spent but a few days there, and took advantage of a vessel bound for Marseilles, for which he embarked, but landed, and dined at Savona in his way. Two days he staid at Marseilles, and thence rode to Avignon. He dined at Orange, and lay at Vienna, and so returned to Lyons, whence he remained a day or two, and then rode to Roan. He passed three days and nights on the river Loire till he came to Briack, where he left the water, and the next morning got to Mount Agis, from which he departed the morning following, and lay that night at Fountainbleau. He passed by boat on the Seine to Paris, where he spent two months except one day at St. Denis. He now left Paris for Amiens, lay one night there, and went to Calais. He says, he visited according to opportunity whatever was of fame or note wherever he went. He spent four days in Calais; and thence, after a passage of eight days, arrived at Dover.

The whole of this is taken from his poem to his son, Mr. Thomas Cokayne, who enquired where he had been in his travels.

In his Collection of Epigrams, b. I. Epig. 116, he addresses his "fellow-traveller, Mr. Maurice La Meir, alias Ardenville." But Wood says he travelled with Sir Kenelm Digby.

On his return he married Anne, daughter of Sir Gilbert Kniveton, of Murcaston, co. Derby, bart.; and, amongst his poems are many addressed to his lordship at Pooley, where he addicted himself to his books and his boon-companions. — His mother seems to have lived at Ashbourne, and probably had the seat there for her jointure-house. The 10th epigram of book III. is addressed to her, in commendation of her garden, and its excellent fruits.

He seems to have had an extensive acquaintance with the wits of his time. The 99th epigram of his 2d book is addressed to his "cousin, Mr. Charles Cotton, jun." the poet, whose mother was also a Stanhope.

Epigram 99, book II.
Donne, Suckling, Randolph, Drayton, Massinger,
Habbington, Sandys, May, my acquaintance were:
Jonson, Chapman, and Holland, I have seen,
And with them too should have acquainted been.
What needs this catalogue? Th' are dead and gone,
And to me you are all of them in one.

Epigram 54, book II.
"To my much-honoured Cousin, Sir Francis Burdet, Bart."
The honest poet, Michael Drayton, I
Must ever honour for your amity.
He brought us first acquainted, which good turn
Made me to fix an elegy on's urn:
Else I might well have spar'd my humble stuffe;
His own sweet Muse renowning him enough,
In Warwickshire your house and mine stand near;
I therefore wish we both were settled there;
So we might often meet, and I (thereby)
Your excel'nt conversation oft enjoy.
What good should you get by it? Truly none:
The profit would accrue to me alone.

I shall now transcribe two poems, however tedious, which are curious, from the information they give regarding Beaumont and Fletcher.

Epigram 35, Book II.
"To Mr. Humphrey Moseley, and Mr. Humphrey Robinson."
In the large book of playes you late did print
(In Beaumont's and in Fletcher's name), why in't
Did you not justice? Give to each his due?
For Beaumont (of those many) writ in few;
And Massinger in other few; the main
Being sole issues of sweet Fletcher's brain:
But how came I (you ask) so much to know?
Fletcher's chief bosom-friend inform'd me so.
I' th' next impression, therefore, justice do,
And print their old ones in volume too.
For, Beaumont's works and Fletcher's should come forth
With all the right belonging to their worth.

The other poem is an address, p. 91,

"To my Cousin, Mr. Charles Cotton."
I wonder (cousin) that you would permit
So great an injury to Fletcher's wit,
Your friend and old companion, that his fame
Should be divided to another's name.
If Beaumont had writ these plays, it had been
Against his merits a detracting sin;
Had they been also attributed to
Fletcher. They were two wits, and friends, and who
Robs from the one to glorify the other,
Of those great memories is a partial lover.
Had Beaumont liv'd when this edition came
Forth, and beheld his ever-living name
Before plays that he never writ, how he
Had frown'd and blush'd at such impiety!
His own renown no such addition needs
To have a fame sprung from another's deed.
And my good friend, old Philip Massinger,
With Fletcher wrote in some that we see there.
But you may blame the printers; yet you might,
Perhaps have won them to do Fletcher right,
Would you have took the pains: for, what a foul
And unexcusable fault it is (that whole
Volume of plays being almost every one
After the death of Beaumont writ) that none
Would certify them so much? I wish as free
Y' had told the printers this as you did me.
Surely you was to blame. A foreign wit
Owns in such manner what an English writ.
Joseph of Exeter's heroick piece
Of the long fatal war 'twixt Troy and Greece,
Was printed in Cornelius Nepos' name,
And robs our countryman of much of's fame.
'Tis true, Beaumont and Fletcher both were such
Sublime wits, none could them admire too much;
They were our English pole-stars, and did bear
Between them all the world of fancy clear.
But as two suns when they do shine to us,
The air is lighter, they prodigious,
So, while they liv'd and writ together, we
Had plays exceeded what we hop'd to see.
But they write few; for, youthful Beaumont soon
By death eclipsed was at his high noon.
Surviving Fletcher then did pen alone,
Equal to both (pardon comparison),
And suffer'd not the Globe and Black-friers stage
T' envy the glories of a former age.
As we in human bodies see, that lose
An eye or limb, the virtue and the use
Retreats into the other eye or limb,
And makes it double, so I say of him.
Fletcher was Beaumont's heir, and did inherit
His searching judgement, and unbounded spirit.
His plays are printed, therefore, as they were
Of Beaumont too, because his spirit's there.

Our poet's verses prefixed to Fletcher's Plays are also in his Poems, p. 101.

Sir Aston continually addresses one person with encomiums whose works and personal history I am entirely ignorant of. This is Mr. Thomas Bancroft; of whom some short poems, regarding the Pegge family, were some time since enquired after, and, I think, inserted, in the Gentleman's Magazine. Our poet commends him "for his sweet vein, and fluent elegance," and says, that Derbyshire, which "never, as he knew, afforded us a poet before," shall redeem by his means its character for wit, and Swarton become renowned by his birth, as Mantua was by Virgil's. In another poem, p. 112, he speaks of his "Book of Satyres;" and, in a third, p. 116, of his "Heroick Lover," which he welcomes as issuing from his "retired abode in Bradley town."

Nor was Sir Aston's acquaintance with the Learned confined to poets; he has a copy of verses "to his worthy and learned friend, Mr. William Dugdale, upon his Warwickshire illustrated" in which are the following lines:

E'en my beloved Pooley, that hath long
Groan'd underneath sinister Fortune's wrong,
Your courteous eyes have look'd so kindly on,
That now it is to its first splendour grown;
Shall slight Time's devastations, and o'er
The backs of Anchor flourish evermore;
For, there's such virtue in your powerful hand,
That every place you name shall ever stand.

Again, after speaking of Stratford on Avon, and Shakspeare, he says,

And sweet-tongu'd Drayton (that hath given renown
Unto a poor before, and obscure town,
Harfull), were he not fall'n into his tomb,
Would crown this work with an encomium.

The 93d Epigram of book II. is addressed to "his honoured friend, Mr. Samuel Roper," whom he advises to follow Dugdale's example, and raise the fame of Derbyshire "from dust and dark oblivion," and revive "her story from old records."

It appears, that himself had resolved, in "great and high numbers, to sing the flight of Brutus from Italy; his arrival in this island; his conquest of it; his subsequent peaceful reign for many years; and his division of the kingdom, at his death, amongst his three sons;" a theme, probably, too lofty for his genius, and which, as there are no remains of it, he scarcely attempted to execute, except 24 lines, intituled, "A Design of an Epic Poem," which seem to have been the exordium.

I sing the valiant deeds and brave exploits
Of Brutus, equal to the Worthies nine
And the adventures strange of wandering knights,
Famous in ours, and countries transmarine, &c.

Sir Aston seems now to have dedicated much of his time to reading, unless what was spent in the jovial company of a few learned and select friends. In an address to his "noble cousin, Charles Cotton the younger," he returns thanks to his library, which furnished him with "Davila, Bentivoglio, Guicciardine, and Machiavel, the subtle Forentine, allowed to be the prime historians of late times in the Italian tongue." (Epigr. 91, b. II. p. 232). And, in Epigram 108, p. 237, to his "son, Mr. Thomas Cokaine," he says, "let others glory in the hawks and hounds, their heaps of gold, and their extensive domains, their noble breed of horses, their luxurious table, their mistresses, whose beauty would tame the savages of unknown lands, and whose rich dress would seem like the splendour of heaven without a cloud; give me a study of good books, and I envy them not their happiness."

His poems have no dates; but his 75th Epigram of book II. "to his sister, Mrs. Katherine Weston," says, "they were two brothers and five sisters; but all, alas! were now dead but himself and her;" and advises her "to centre all the affection which was amongst them on each other." One of his sisters married Sir Francis Boteler, (Epigram 85, book II. p. 280.) p. 150, there is an "epitaph on his sear sister, the Lady Boteler, who deceased about the 34th year of her age," which ends thus:

Cockaine her own name was; Elveston gave
Her life, Tutburie death, Ashbourn a grave.

P. 140, is "an epitaph on his younger brother, Mr. Thomas Cokaine, who died at Bath, about the 18th year of his age, and lies buried there."

P. 214 is "an epitaph on his dear sister, Mrs. Lettice Armstrong, who deceased about the 43 of her age; and of Mrs. Lucy Cokaine, who died about the 34 of hers, and lye both buried at Ashborn." P. 224, he speaks of "Mrs. Julia Boteler, his niece;" and, p. 227, "his niece, Mrs. Isabella Boteler."

His wife's eldest sister was married to Mr. Pegge, and her youngest sister to Col. William Nevil, of Holt, in Leicestershire, and Weston Lodge, Cambridgeshire; and both had issue. His wife's brother, Mr. Gilbert Kniveton, died in London, aet. 36, and lies buried in the church of St. Giles in the Fields. p. 239.

Sir Aston, during the civil wars, suffered much for his religion (which was that of Rome). He often speaks in his poems with cordial hatred and contempt of the sourness and cant of the Presbyterians. About Jan. 10, 1641, he assumed the title and dignity of a baronet; but, as there was no record or enrollment of his patent, this dignity was not allowed by the officers of arms; yet I cannot doubt but he had a grant, though, from the confusion of the times, it never went through the proper forms.

Whether by his sufferings in the cause of royalty alone, or the addition of personal extravagance, he is said, many years before his death, to have wasted his property. In Epigram 94, book II. p. 232, "to Mrs. Mary Cockaine, his eldest daughter," he says, "because he fears his fate is not good enough to give her such a portion as he wishes, he intends the education he shall give her as a proof of his love to her. She shall be taught music and dancing, and all sorts of needle-work, and all kinds of housewifery; and, more than all, rectitude of conduct, and the road to heaven." In p. 212, he speaks of the birth of another daughter, Isabella, whom he wished to have been a son.

In the latter part of his life, after having sold his lordship of Pooley to Humphry Jennings, esq. reserving to himself an annuity during his life; and his fair lordship of Ashbourne to Sir William Boothby, bart. (of whose descendant, Sir Brook Boothby, bart. also a poet, it is now the seat), he retired to Derby, and died on the breaking of the great frost, Feb. 1683,4. at the age of 76, and was buried in the chancel of Polesworth, co. Warwick, the 13th of the same month. (Wood's Ath. II. 757).

His poems are intituled, Small Poems of divers Sorts, written by Sir Aston Cokain. London, printed by Will. Godbid, 1658; and contain also, The obstinate Lady, a comedy; and, Trappolin supposed a Prince, a tragi-comedy. Wood says these poems were re-printed in 1669; and the tragedy of Ovid added to them.

Wood also says, Sir Aston translated into English an excellent Italian romance called Dianea, Lond. 1654.