1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Cooke

Anonymous, "Biographiana. Rev. Thomas Cooke" William Hone, The Table Book 1 (1827) 406-09.



Sir — In reply to the inquiries of your correspondent G. J. D at p. 136, I beg to state, that the person he alludes to was the translator of Hesiod, immortalized by Pope in his Dunciad.

The Rev. Thomas Cooke was a profound Greek and Latin scholar, and consequently much better versed in the beauties of Homer, &c. than the irritable translator of the Iliad and Odyssey: his remarks on, and expositions of Pope's glaring misconceptions of many important passages of the ancient bard drew down the satirical vengeance of his illustrious translator.

It would, however, appear that Pope was not the assailant in the first instance, for in the Appendix to the Dunciad we find "A list of Books, Papers, and Verses, in which our author (Pope) was abused, before the publication of that Poem;" and among the said works "The Battle of the Poets, an heroic Poem, by Thomas Cooke, printed for J. Roberts, folio, 1725," is particularly mentioned. In book ii. of the Dunciad, we have the following line, — "Cooke shall be Prior, and Concanen Swift;" to which the following note is appended: — "The man here specified writ a thing called The Battle of the Poets, in which Philips and Welsted were the heroes, and Swift and Pope utterly routed."

Cooke also published some "malevolent things in the British, London, and daily journals, and at the same time wrote letters to Mr. Pope, protesting his innocence."

His chief work was a translation of "Hesiod, to which Theobald writ notes, and half notes, which he carefully owned."

Again, in the testimonies of authors, which precede the Dunciad, we find the following remark:—

Mr. Thomas Cooke,
After much blemishing our author's Homer, crieth out
But in his other works what beauties shine,
While sweetest music dwells in ev'ry line!
These he admir'd, on these he stamp'd his praise,
And bade them live t' enlighten future days!

I have somewhere read that Cooke was a native of Sussex; that he became famous for his knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages while at Cambridge; and was ultimately settled in some part of Shropshire, where he soon became acquainted with the family of the young lady celebrated by his muse, in the fifth number of the Table Book, and where he also greatly distinguished himself as a clergyman, and preceptor of the younger branches of the neighbouring gentry and nobility. This may in some measure account for the respectable list of subscribers alluded to by G. J. D.

It is presumed, however, that misfortune at length overtook him; for we find, in the "Ambulator, or London and its Environs," under the head "Lambeth," that he lies interred in the church-yard of that parish, and that he died extremely poor: he is, moreover, designated "the celebrated translator of Hesiod, Terence, &c"

I have seen the poem entitled "The Immortality of the Soul," mentioned by G. J. D., though I have no recollection of its general features or merit; but of "The Battle of the Poets" I have a copy; and what renders it more rare and valuable is, that it was Mr. Cooke's own impression of the work, and various several small productions upon various occasions, written, I presume, with his own hand, each having the signature "Thomas Cooke," on the blank leaves at the commencement of the book.

On my return from the continent, I shall have no objection to intrust this literary curiosity to your care for a short time, giving you the liberty of extracting any (and all if you think proper) of the pieces written on the interleaves: and, in the mean time, I will do myself the pleasure of selecting one from the number, for insertion in the Table Book, which will, at least, prove that Mr. Cooke's animosity was of transient duration, and less virulent than that of Pope.

It is possible that at some future time I may be able to enlarge upon this subject, for the better information of your correspondent; and I beg, in the interim, to remark that there is no doubt the Annual Register, from about the year 1750 to 1765, or works of that description, will fully satisfy his curiosity, and afford him much more explanation relative to Mr. Cooke than any communications from existing descendants.

In Mr. Cooke's copy of "The Battle of the Poets," the lines before quoted run thus:—

But in his other works what beauties shine—
What sweetness also dwells in ev'ry line!
These all admire — these bring him endless praise,
And crown his temples with unfading bays!

I remain, sir,
Your obedient servant and subscriber,

**** ********
Oxford, Jan. 29, 1827.

_________________


VERSES, OCCASIONED BY THE LAMENTED DEATH OF MR. ALEXANDER POPE.
POPE! though thy pen has strove with heedless rage
To make my name obnoxious to the age,
While, dipp'd in gall, and tarnish'd with the spleen,
It dealt in taunts ridiculous and mean,
Aiming to lessen what it could not reach,
And giving license to ungrateful speech,
Still I forgive its enmity, and feel
Regrets I would not stifle, nor conceal;
For though thy temper, and imperious soul,
Needed, at times, subjection and controul,
There was a majesty — a march of sense—
A proud display of rare intelligence,
In many a line of that transcendent pen,
We never, perhaps, may contemplate again—
An energy peculiarly its own,
And sweetness perfectly before unknown!

Then deign, thou mighty master of the lyre!
T' accept what justice and remorse inspire;
Justice that prompts the willing muse to tell,
None ever wrote so largely and so well—
Remorse that feels no future bard can fill
The vacant chair with half such Attic skill,
Or leave behind so many proofs of taste,
As those rich poems dulness ne'er disgrac'd!

Farewell, dear shade! all enmity is o'er,
Since Pope has left so for a brighter shore,
Where neither rage, nor jealousy, nor hate,
Can rouse the little, nor offend the great;
Where worldly contests are at once forgot,
In the bright glories of a happier lot;
And where the dunces of the Dunciad see
Thy genius crown'd with immortality!
THOMAS COOKE.