1872 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Cooke

Whitwell Elwin, Note in Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 8:239-40, 245n.



Thomas Cooke, the translator of Hesiod, addressed a letter to Pope, Aug. 11, 1728, in which he said, "Since I have been informed that you have expressed some resentment on the supposition of my being the author of some scurrilous pieces which have been lately printed in the daily papers, I think it incumbent on me to make this declaration that I am not." The disclaimer was the statement Pope could "hardly believe," and his doubts cost him many weeks of perplexity. He had prepared a note for his new edition of the Dunciad in which Cooke was charged with being the author of "some malevolent things in the British, London, and Daily Journals." Pope could not endure to forego his vengeance if Cooke was guilty, and, if he was innocent, to persist in accusing him of an act he had disavowed would have empowered him to hold up Pope as a wilful caluminator.

"I must own," said Cooke in his letter, "I have formerly wrote a poem of which I am now sincerely ashamed, and which, with some other trifling productions, I shall take an occasion to disown." The piece was entitled The Battle of the Poets, and appeared in 1725. Pope is introduced upon the scene in this triplet:

First on the plain a mighty gen'ral came
In merit great, but greater far in fame,
In shining arms advanced, and Pope his name....

Cooke said in his letter, "I beg your acceptance of the mean present I have honoured myself to send you," and from the manuscript of the Prologue to the Satires we learn that the "books" were the translation of Hesiod, which was published in 1728....

Pope's first letter to Cooke was dated Aug. 17, 1728, and through the absence from town of Lord Oxford and [Samuel] Wesley, it was only delivered on Sept. 16. Cooke replied on the same day, and his second letter appears to have remained unanswered till Jan. 6, 1729, from which we may conclude that Pope had continued in doubt whether to acquit or condemn him. The fruit of Pope's long delay was disapproved by Lord Oxford, and the letter was not sent on to Cooke. The nature of its contents may be guessed from the public result. Pope printed his note against Cooke in the Dunciad, and Cooke re-wrote his Battle of the Poets, and converted his first mild criticism on Pope into a bitter invective.