1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hannah Cowley

Anonymous, "Life and Writings of Mrs. H. Cowley" European Magazine 15 (June 1789) 427-28.



Amongst the ladies of the present times who have distinguished themselves by their literary pursuits, and demonstrated the equality of talents in each sex, the authoress whose portrait we now present to our readers stands in a point of view equally conspicuous and eminent. From few authors now living has more theatrical entertainment been derived; from scarce any one, which we reflect on the fertility of her genius, is more to be expected.

Mrs. COWLEY is the daughter of Mr. Parkhouse, of Tiverton, in Devonshire. He is said to have been every way a man of respectable endowments. To the advantages of education he joined a natural flow of humour, which, together with the information he possessed, rendered him a useful friend and a pleasing companion. He has lately paid the debt to nature, leaving his widow, Mrs. Cowley's mother, who still resides at Tiverton, enjoying the affection of her daughter, and such attentions as are due from filial piety to virtuous age. To the poem called The Maid of Arragon, Mrs. Cowley has prefixed a dedication to her father, which may serve as a testimony of her regard for her parents. It is as follows:

Accept, dear parent! from a filial pen,
The humble off'ring of my pensive muse:
She pointed on my mind a daughter's woes,
Nor could my heart the tender theme refuse.
The rightful patron of th' eventful tale,
To you I dedicate the scenes I drew;
My soul she search'd to find Osmida's thoughts,
And colour'd her from what I feel for you.
Yours then the meed — if meed kind fame will grant,
The tale to you — to you the bays belong;
You gave my youthful fancy wings to soar;
From your indulgence flows my wild-note song.
Its music in your ear will sweetly sound;
Its page with fond delight you'll traverse o'er:
With half your pleasure may the world peruse!
My muse, my vanity can ask no more.
Dear other parent! guiltless hold my heart,
Though unadorn'd my numbers with your name;
Your worth, your goodness, in its centre lives,
And then shall perish only with my frame.

About the year 1772 she married Mr. Cowley, who is now in the service of the East-India Company at Bengal (and brother to Mr. Cowley of Cateaton-street) by whom she has three children, a son and two daughters.

It was not, until the year 1776 that Mrs. Cowley appeared as a dramatic writer. At the conclusion of Mr. Garrick's management, The Runaway was performed, and was the last drama received before his relinquishing the stage both as a performer and manager. To this comedy, which was acted with great success, he contributed an epilogue; and the reception the piece met with encouraged our authoress to continue her exertions for the stage. It is worthy to be remarked, that she has been highly successful in the different walks of Tragedy, Comedy, and Farce; and that she is not distinguished merely by literary endowments; for her engaging person and manners render her conspicuous in those lines where ladies generally like to be conspicuous.

The poetical correspondence of DELLA CRUSCA and ANNA MATILIDA has engrossed much of the public attention. The utmost ingenuity has been exerted to remove the veil of mystery from those two charming writers, who have actually formed in this late age a new SCHOOL for POETRY, which must reign, and will have disciples, as long as the language endures. It is at length confidently whispered, that the ANNA MATILDA is Mrs. Cowley, and the DELLA CRUSCA, Mr. Merry; if so, the country is indebted to THEM for specimens of the most beautiful poetry that any period has produced; and what is very extraordinary, it appears that they are personally total strangers to each other, though mutually struck with admiration.

In the life of one devoted to literature there is seldom to be recorded either incident or adventure. In that of Mrs. Cowley, the even tenor of domestic life has been little varied, consequently no circumstance has arisen worthy of particular notice. We shall therefore conclude with a list of her works, after observing that she went last summer to Paris for the purpose of superintending the education of her daughters and nieces, where she is visited by people of rank and talents. The place of her residence is the Hotel de Vendome, at present remarkable for the abode of several persons of distinguished abilities; a Marquis on the ground floor, who has composed a petit piece; a Count, the author of two operas; and a Bishop, celebrated for the beauties of his style in composition. Her apartments command a view of the gardens of the Augustines.

Besides the Maid of Arragon already mentioned, Mrs. Cowley is the authoress of The Scottish Village, a poem, and the following dramas:

1. The Runaway, a Comedy, acted at Drury Lane 1776.

2. Who's the Dupe, a Farce, acted at Drury Lane 1779.

3. Albina, a Tragedy, acted at the Hay-market 1779.

4. The Belle's Stratagem, a Comedy, acted at Covent Garden 1780. This had a run of upwards of twenty nights.

5. The School for Eloquence, an Interlude, acted at Drury Lane for Mr. Brereton's benefit 1780. Not printed.

6. The World as it Goes, or a Trip to Montpelier, a Comedy, acted at Covent Garden 1781. This piece was unfavourably received, which occasioned its being altered, and again brought forward under the title of

7. Second Thoughts are Best, a Comedy, acted at Covent Garden 1781, and again unfavourably received. Neither of these pieces are published.

8. Which is The Man? a Comedy, acted at Covent Garden 1782.

9. A Bold Stroke for a Husband, a Comedy, acted at Covent Garden 1783.

10. More Ways than One, a Comedy, acted at Covent Garden 1783.

11. A School for Grey Beards, a Comedy, acted at Drury Lane 1786.

12. The Fate of Sparta, a Tragedy, acted at Drury Lane 1788.