1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gilbert Cooper

Nathan Drake, in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 2:302-05.



JOHN GILBERT COOPER was born in 1723 and resided at Thurgarton Priory, his family seat, in Nottinghamshire. He was educated at Westminster school, and in 1743 was entered a Fellow Commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge. On leaving the University he married Susanna, daughter of William Wrighte, Esq. with whom he long enjoyed a more than common share of conjugal felicity.

The reputation of Mr. Cooper as an author, though once considerable, has now greatly declined; poetry and criticism were the chief objects of his cultivation; and in the first of these departments he may be pronounced occasionally elegant and easy; that to obtain this praise, in his attachment to the Muses, was the summit of his ambition, appears from his own declaration in the following lines:

The vi'lets round the mountain's feet,
Whose humble gems unheeded blow,
Are to the shepherd's smell more sweet
Than lofty cedars on its brow.
Let the loud Epic sound the alarms
Of dreadful war, and heroes sprung
From some immortal ancestry,
Clad in impenetrable arms
By Vulcan forg'd: my lyre is strung
With softer chords; my Muse, more free,
Wanders through Pindus' humbler ways
In amiable simplicity: Unstudy'd are her artless lays,
She asks no laurel for her brows;
Careless of censure or of praise,
She haunts where tender myrtle grows;
Fonder of happiness than fame,
To the proud bay prefers the rose,
Nor barters pleasure for a name.

This quotation is taken from his Epistles to his Friends in Town, from Aristippus in Retirement, with the exception of his beautiful Song to Winifreda, the most pleasing of his poems. His other productions in verse are, The Power of Harmony, printed in l 745, in imitation of the Pleasures of Imagination; several pieces in the Museum of Dodsley; The Genius of Britain, addressed to Mr. Pitt, in 1756; the Tomb of Shakspeare, a Vision; the Call of Aristippus, an Epistle to Mark Akenside, M.D; a Father's Advice to his Son; and translations of the King of Prussia's Epistle to Voltaire, and of the Ver Vert of Gresset.

The chief prose works of Mr. Cooper consist of The Life of Socrates, collected from the Memorabilia of Xenophon, and the Dialogues of Plato, &c. 8vo. 1749, and Letters on Taste, 8vo. 1754. The first of these publications, which, though once popular, is now little valued, involved its author in a quarrel with Warburton, in a great measure owing to the petulance and presumption of the Biographer; but the Letters on Taste redeemed his credit, and may be still perused with interest; they are more remarkable, however, for splendour of style and imagery than for strength of reasoning, and are occasionally tinged with the hue of affectation.

The papers which Mr. Cooper contributed to the World, are N. 110, on persons who live in an extravagant style without any visible means of support; and No. 159, including a ludicrous scheme for the erection of an hospital for decayed actors: they are written with vivacity and spirit, though inferior to many other essays in the collection.

Mr. Cooper was a disciple of the Shaftsburian school, and a zealous admirer, not only of the noble founder of this sentimental philosophy, but of its well-known advocates Hutcheson and Akenside. He was, both in public and private life, useful and amiable. He died on April the 14th, 1769.