1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Cook

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 2:365-67.



WILLIAM COOKE, ESQ. This gentleman, whom I have mentioned in the previous article, was one of my early friends. He came from Cork, after having been engaged in a mercantile concern contrary to his inclination, and arrived in London in the year 1766. He was married when very young to a lady rather older than himself, who possessed good property, but, as they mixed in all the gaieties of fashionable life, it was soon dissipated. The lady lived about two years after the marriage; and his purpose in visiting London, soon after her death, was to adopt the profession of the law. He entered himself of the Middle Temple, and in due time was called to the bar; but finding little encouragement to pursue the profession which he bad chosen, wholly devoted himself to the labours of the pen. He had brought from Ireland letters of recommendation to Dr. Goldsmith, to Edmund Burke and his brother Richard. With Dr. Goldsmith he retained an intimacy till the death of that excellent writer; but notwithstanding his high admiration of Edmund Burke's powers, he had no confidence in his integrity, or that of his brother

Richard, and having been nearly involved in a heavy debt by the latter, he did not cultivate a connexion with either.

Mr. Cooke's first publication was a poem entitled The Art of living in London, which contained a good description of the manners of the time, and some useful precepts for avoiding its dangers. His friend Goldsmith supplied the title of this poem, and revised the whole. It was very successful, and soon went through a second edition. He then published a work, entitled, Elements of Dramatic Criticism, and wrote many political pamphlets, under the patronage of the Duke of Richmond, and Lord Shelburn, afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne.

Mr. Cooke was well acquainted with the chief wits of the time, and when Dr. Johnson formed his Essex Street Club, he nominated Mr. Cooke as the first member.

Mr. Cooke was employed in reporting the debates in the House of Lords, and in the India House, for the public journals. He was also a theatrical reporter, and became a proprietor in a daily newspaper, but soon sold his share from a conviction of the uncertainty of that kind of property. He was married to his second wife before I became acquainted with him. She was a handsome and very amiable lady. By her he had fifteen children, but most of them died young; the last a daughter, who reached her fifteenth year, and then sunk into the grave with the rest.

Mr. Cooke was a warm friend of Mrs. Abington. He altered for her the comedy of "The Capricious Lady," originally written by Beaumont and Fletcher, and she increased her reputation by appearing as the heroine of the piece. By his connexion with the public press, he was able to give support to her professional exertions. Mrs. Abington was much alive to public notice, and peculiarly fearful of critical censure.

Mr. Cooke's last work was a didactic poem, entitled "Conversation," in which he enumerates the merits and defects of colloquial intercourse, with critical acumen, and knowledge of mankind. This poem he dedicated to his old friend John Symmons, Esq. of Paddington, whose character he introduced under the name of Florio. I had for many years the pleasure of being intimate with Mr. Symmons; and a more liberal, elegant, and hospitable character never existed. He is still alive, at a very advanced age, and with a reverse of fortune, which all who knew him must deeply regret, as it was chiefly the result of the generosity, I may say, the magnificence of his wind, his confidence in false friends, and an incautious disposal of his property. He found it necessary to leave England, and I fear is involved in the unhappy events which now overwhelm the Netherlands, to which country be has retired, and where he intended to pass the remainder of his life.