1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cook

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 74 (April 1824) 374-75.



April 3. At his house in Halfmoon-street, Piccadilly, at a very advanced age, Wm. Cooke, esq. He was born at Cork, which city he left in the year 1766, and never returned to it. He came to this country, with strong recommendations to the first Marquis of Lansdown, the Duke of Richmond, Edmund Burke, and Dr. Goldsmith. He retained an intimacy with all three distinguished characters through life. Soon after his arrival in London he entered himself a member of the Middle Temple, but after a Circuit or two purchased a share in two public journals, and devoted himself chiefly to the public press. His first poem was entitled "The Art of Living in London," which was attended with considerable success. His next work was a prose essay, entitled "Elements of Dramatic Criticism." He afterwards wrote the Life of Macklin the actor, with a History of the Stage during the life of that performer. He also wrote the Life of that celebrated wit, Samuel Foote, with whom, as well as with Macklin, he was on intimate terms. Both of these works abound with anecdotes, and judicious remarks on the merits of contemporary actors and actresses. Mr. Cooke, by desire of the Marquis of Lansdown, then Lord Shelburne, wrote a pamphlet on Parliamentary Reform, which contained true constitutional principles, expressed in nervous language. His chief poetical work was an excellent didactic poem, intituled "Conversation," first published in 1807, and dedicated to John Symmons, Esq. F.R.S. a gentleman well known in the literary circles. In this dedication, when the poem came to a second edition, Mr. Cooke introduced the character of their mutual friend Maurice Morgan, esq. the author of an admirable Essay on the character of Falstaff. In the fourth edition (1815) the author introduced with accuracy and spirit the characters of several of the Members of the well-known Literary Club in Gerrard-street, and of that which was afterwards established in Essex-street, in imitation of the perpetual club in the Spectator, for the express purpose of amusing the evenings of Dr. Johnson, and of listening to his instructive conversation. Amongst those names of Johnson, Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Goldsmith; on the last he always dwelt with true friendship. The late Mr. Wyndham and David Garrick are given with truth and energy.

From the Essex-street Club are selected the names of Boswell, Dr. Horsley, Dr. Brocklesby, Arthur Murphy, and John Nichols.

The last of these Characters is concluded by the following apostrophe:

Yet oh! my Friend, with whom full many a night
I've heard these Worthies with supreme delight,
How sad to tell those happy scenes are o'er,
And all those lov'd Associates are no more!
All — all are gone — save we who still remain,
As mourning heralds of the matchless train.

Mr. Cooke, as we have said, was much advanced in years; and, as a proof that he came from a long-lived family, his father was actually a class-fellow with the youngest son of Dryden, and well remembered the funeral of that great Poet. Having, by industry and bequests of friendship, acquired considerable property, which he prudently managed, he had retired for many years into private life, and maintained an intercourse with a very few select friends. Mr. Cooke had enjoyed such extensive connexions as gave him a deep and comprehensive knowledge of mankind, and had stored his mind with anecdotes which he related with ease, spirit, and humour.