1719 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

Giles Jacob, in Poetical Register: or the Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets (1719) 48-51.



This excellent Poet was born in London, in the Year 1618. He had his Education at Westminster School, and Trinity College in Cambridge. He had an early, ripe and casting Wit; and great natural and improv'd Abilities. His early Inclinations to Poetry, proceeded from his lighting, by chance, on Spenser's Fairy Queen: At ten Years old he writ the Tragical Story of Pyramus and Thisbe; at twelve, that of Constantia and Philetus; by thirteen he had publish'd several Poetical Pieces: And most of his Works were writ or design'd, whilst he was at the University of Cambridge. He had an unaffected Modesty, natural Freedom, and easy Vigour in his Writings, as well as his Manners, and the highest Characters of Religion, Knowledge and Friendship: He was entertain'd in the Service of my Lord of St. Albans; and he attended the Queen-Mother to France, where he was very serviceable to the Royal Family, during the Exile. He has publish'd three Plays; and in neither of them he cannot be charg'd with borrowing from any other. They are,

I. Love's Riddle; a Pastoral Comedy, 1633. Dedicated to Sir Kenelm Digby. This Play was written by the Author, whilst he was a King's Scholar at Westminster; and was first printed with his Poetical Blossoms. The Author makes this Apology for it in his Dedication.

Take it as early Fruits, which rare appear,
Though not half ripe, but worst of all the Year;
And if it please your Taste, my Muse will say,
The Birch which crown'd her then, is grown a Bay.

II. The Guardian; a Comedy, printed 1650. This Play was acted several times privately in London during the Prohibition of the Stage; as also at Cambridge before Prince Charles; and after the Restoration it was publickly acted at Dublin with great Applause.

III. The Cutter of Coleman-street; a Comedy, 1663. This was the Play, call'd The Guardian, new writ, and perfectly alter'd. It was represented at the Duke of York's Theatre in Salisbury Court; and was at first oppos'd by some Persons who envied the Author for his Loyalty; but was afterwards acted with universal Applause.

This Gentleman likewise wrote a Latin Comedy, intitled Naufragium Joculare; The Merry Shipwreck; which was acted before the University of Cambridge, by the Members of Trinity College, 1638. He likewise wrote a great many other excellent Verses, call'd The Mistress; and his Davideis, a sacred Poem on the Troubles of David, cannot be too much admir'd; and as he did not play the Plagiary in any of his Dramatick Works; so he cannot be accus'd of borrowing any thing in his other Writings: Which is elegantly express'd in these Lines of Sir John Denham.

Horace's Wit, and Virgil's State,
He did not steal, but emulate;
And when he would like Them appear,
Their Garb, but not their Cloaths, did wear.

Mr. Cowley's Life was written by Dr. Sprat, late Bishop of Rochester, and is prefix'd to his Works, which are in three Volumes Octavo. Mr. Evelyn gives his this Commendation, in his imitation of Ovid's "ad Invidos."

So long shall Cowley be admir'd above
The Croud, as David's Troubles Pity move,
Till Women cease to charm, and Youth to love.

He was buried at Westminster Abbey, near Two of our most celebrated English Bards, Chaucer and Spenser: The Duke of Buckingham erected a fine Monument over him; with the following Inscription.

ABRAHAMUS COWLEIUS,
Anglorum Pindarus, Flaccus, Maro,
Deliciae, Decus, Desiderium Aevi sui,
Hic juxta situs est.

Aurea dum volitant late tua scripta per orbem,
Et fama eternum vivis, Divine Poeta,
Hic placida jaceas requie; Custodiat urnam
Cana fides, vigilentque perenni lampade Musae;
Sit sacer iste Locus, Nec quis temerarius ausit
Sacrilega turbare manu Venerabile Bustum.
Intacti maneant, maneant per secula Dulcis
Coulei cineres, serventque immobile Saxum.

Sic vovet
Votumque suum apud Posteros Sacratum esse voluit,
Qui viro Incomparabili posuit Sepulcrale Marmor;
GEORGIUS DUX BUCKINGHAMIAE.

Excessit e vita An. Aet. 49 & honorifica pompa elatus ex Aed. Buckinghamianis viris Illustribus omnium ord. exsequias celebrantibus, sepultus est die 3 M. Aug. A.D. 1667.