1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Cooke

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 10:210-12.



THOMAS COOKE, a poet and miscellaneous writer, was born at Braintree in Essex, in 1702 or 1703, where his father was an inn keeper, and as Pope used to say, a Muggletonian. He was educated at Felsted school, where he made considerable proficiency, but how long he remained here, or what was his destination in life is not known. For some time he appears to have been domesticated in the family of lord Pembroke, who died in 1733, and who probably suggested to him a translation of Hesiod, to which his lordship contributed some notes. Before this nobleman's death, he came to London in 1722, and became a writer by profession, and a strenuous supporter of revolution-principles, which formed a bond of union between him and Tickell, Philips, Welsted, Steele, Dennis, and others, whose political opinions agreed with his own. He wrote in some of the weekly Journals of the time, and was considered as a man of learning and abilities. He is supposed to have attacked Pope from political principles, but it is fully as probable, that, as he was a good Greek scholar, he wished to derive some reputation from proving that Pope, in his translation of Homer, was deficient in that language. In 1725 he published a poem entitled The Battle of the Poets, in which Pope, Swift, and some others were treated with much freedom; and translated and published in the Daily Journal, 1727, the episode of Thersites, from the second book of the Iliad, to show how much Pope had mistaken his author. For this attack Pope gave him a place in the Dunciad, and notices him with equal contempt in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. In a note likewise he informs us that Cooke "wrote letters at the same time to him, protesting his innocence;" but Cooke's late biographer, sir Joseph Mawbey, is inclined to doubt this, and rather to believe that he was regardless of Pope's enmity. In a subsequent edition of the Battle of the Poets Cooke notices the Dunciad with becoming spirit, and speaks with little respect of Pope's "philosophy or dignity of mind, who could be provoked by what a boy writ concerning his translation of Homer, and in verses which gave no long promise of duration."

In 1725 or 1726, Cooke published The Knights of the Bath, and Philander and Cydippe, both poetical tales; and several other pieces of poetry; the former evidently meant to attract the public attention, on the revival, about that time, of the order of the Bath. He wrote soon after The Triumphs of Love and Honour, a play; The Eunuch, a farce; and The Mournful Nuptials, a tragedy; all performed at Drury-lane theatre, but with little success. In 1726 he published an account of the Life and Writings of Andrew Marvell, esq. prefixed to an edition of the poetical works of that celebrated politician, 2 vols. 12mo, and in 1728 his translation of Hesiod. In 1734 he published an edition of Terence, with an English translation, 3 vols. 12mo, and in 1737 A Translation of Cicero on the Nature of the Gods, with philosophical, critical, and explanatory notes, to which is added an examination into the astronomy of the ancients, 8vo. In 1741 he encreased his classical reputation by an edition of Virgil, with an interpretation in Latin, and notes in English. In 1742 he published a volume of his original Poems, with imitations and translations, and in 1746 undertook a new edition and translation of Plautus, by subscription. Of this he produced in 1754 the first volume, containing a dissertation on the life of Plautus, and a translation of the comedy of Amphitryon, but although his list of subscribers was very copious, and he went on receiving more, he never completed the work.

He was always, however, employing his pen on temporary subjects, either in poems or pamphlets, and for some time was concerned in the political paper established in opposition to sir Robert Walpole, entitled The Craftsman; and at one time, in 1748, was apprehended for some libel against the government, but it does not appear that a prosecution followed. During his latter years he published a variety of single poems, which it would be unnecessary to enumerate, more particularly as they have been long consigned to oblivion; and he also contributed songs and ballads for Vauxhall, long the Parnassus of the minor poets. In 1756 Dr. Leonard Howard, rector of St. George's, Southwark, published a collection of Ancient Letters, in 2 vols. 4to, but as he had not materials to fill up the second, Cooke, who was his intimate friend, gave him many letters from his correspondents, and some pieces of poetry, with which Howard completed this strange jumble. The letters, however, are in some respects amusing, and show that Cooke was complimented at least, by some persons of eminence, although probably not much respected. Sir Joseph Mawbey had a tragedy of his entitled Germanicus, which Garrick refused, and three folio volumes of his MSS. His residence in the latter part of his life was at Lambeth, in a small and insignificant house and garden, of which he used to speak with great pomp, and where he died Dec. 20, 1756, in great poverty. He was buried by a subscription among a few friends, who also contributed to the support of his widow and daughter, neither of whom survived long. His biographer's account of his morals and religious principles is not very favourable, but it is unnecessary to dwell longer on the merits of an author whose productions it would, perhaps, be impossible to revive.