The best account of Sir ASTON COKAYNE may be picked out from various passages in his own volume of poems. This indeed has been in some degree done already by the present writer in an article inserted in the Gent. Mag. for July 1797, p. 554. But by way of variety the sketch now given shall be filled up from other passages, there omitted for want of room.
Sir Aston Cokayne, son of Thomas Cokayne, Esq. of Ashbourne Hall in Derbyshire, and of Pooley in Warwickshire, was born in 1608 at Elvaston in Derbyshire, the seat of the family of his mother, Anne daughter of Sir John Stanhope of Elvaston, Knt. The Cokaynes had been seated at Ashbourne in great credit from the reign of K. Edw. III. Sir Thomas, his great grandfather, who died in 1592, was the author of a very scarce volume, which will be mentioned in the long-expected and forthcoming reprint of Dame Juliana Barnes, by Mr. HASLEWOOD.
Our poet was educated at Trinity College Cambridge, as appears by the following Epigram 1. of Book II. of his poems.
"To the Fellow Commoners of Trinity College in Cambridge."
Gentlemen, in my youth I spent some years
Within your walls; but few, it plain appears
By this poor book, which I an offering make
Unto you, for your recreation's sake:
Not that I do presume that you may find
Any thing in it worth your eyes or mind;
But that the view of these slight toys may raise
You to accomplish works deserving praise.
When you have laugh'd enough at these, pray take
Each of you pen in hand, and better make:
Which would a noble emulation prove,
And from our rank an obloquy remove.
In 1632 Sir Aston set out on his travels through France and Italy, of which he has given an account in a poem to his son Mr. Thomas Cokayne, beginning at p. 93. On his return he married Anne daughter of Sir Gilbert Kniveton of Mercaston, Co. Derby, Knt. and retiring to his lordship of Pooley, gave himself up to his books, and boon companions.
His mother seems to have lived at this time at Ashhourne Hall, probably as her jointure house; for the following appears among her son's Epigrams, IV. 10.
"To my Mother, Mrs. Anne Cokain."
Let none our Ashbourn discommend henceforth;
Your gardens shew it is a place of worth.
What delicate sparagus you have growing there,
And in how great abundance every year?
What gallant apricots, and peaches brave,
And what delicious nectarins you have?
What melons that grow ripe without those glasses
That are laid over them in other places?
What grapes you there have growing? and what wine
Pleasant to taste you made last vintage time?
Plant vines, and when of grapes you have got store,
Make wine enough, and I will ask no more:
Then Mr. Bancroft in high hues shall tell
The world, your cellar's Aganppe's well.
He boasts at this time of his friends among the poets, Donne, Suckling, Randolph, Drayton, Massinger, Habington, Sandys, and May.
But our author cultivated the acquaintance of antiquaries as well as of men of genius. The following lines appear to me to have considerable merit.
"To my worthy and learned Friend Mr. William Dugdale upon his Warwickshire illustrated."
They that have visited those foreign lands
Whence Phoebus first our hemisphere commands;
And they that have beheld those climes or seas
Whence he removes to the Antipodes;
Have followed him his circuit through, and been
In all those parts that day hath ever seen,
Although their number surely is but few;
Have not, learn'd friend, travel'd so much as you;
Though in your study you have sat at home
Without a mind about the world to roam.
Witness this so elaborate piece; how high
Have you oblig'd us by your industry!
We way be careless of our fames, and slight
The pleasing trouble any books to write.
The nobles and the gentry that have there
Concern, shall live for ever in your shire.
Our names shall be immortal, and when at
The period of inevitable fate
We do arrive, a poet needs not come
To grace an herse with's epiladium.
Marbles and brass for tombs we now may spare
And for an epitaph forbear the care:
For, for us all unto our high content
Your book will prove a lasting monument.
And such a work it is, that England must
Be proud of, if unto your merit just;
A grace it will unto our language be,
And ornament to every library.
No old, or modern rarity we boast,
Henceforth shall be in danger to be lost.
Your worthy book comes fortunately forth,
For it again hath builded Kenilworth.
Maugre the rage of war, or time to come,
Aston shall flourish till the general doom;
And the Holts' progeny shall owe as much
Unto your lines, as him that made it such.
The spires and walls of Coventry your pen
Hath built more lasting than the hands of men.
The prospects of our noble seats you shall
Secure from any ruin may befall:
Our pleasant Warwick, and her castle, that
Surveys the stream of Avon from her seat,
Your labours more illustrious have made
Than all the reparation they e'er had.
Victorious Guy you have reviv'd, and he
Is now secure of immortality.
Ee'n my beloved Pooley, that hath long
Groan'd underneath sinister fortune's wrong,
Your courteous eyes have look'd so kindly on,
That now it is to its first splendor grown;
Shall slight time's devastations, and o'er
The banks of Anchor flourish evermore;
For there's such virtue in your powerful hand,
That every place you name shall ever stand.
The skilfullest anatomist that yet
Upon an human holy e'er did sit,
Did never so precisely shew his art,
As you have yours in your Cornavian part.
You in your way do them in theirs exceed;
You make the dead to live; they spoil the dead.
Now Stratford upon Avon, we would choose
Thy gentle and ingenious Shakspeare Muse,
Were he among the living yet, to raise
T' our Antiquary's merit some just praise:
And sweet-tongued Drayton, that hath given renown
Unto a poor before and obscure town,
Harsull, were she not fall'n into his tomb,
Would crown this work with an encomium.
Our Warwickshire the heart of England is,
As you most evidently have prov'd by this;
Having it with more spirit dignified,
Than all our English counties are beside.
Hearts should be thankful; therefore I obtrude
This testimony of my gratitude.
You do deserve more than we all can do:
And so, most earned of my friends, Adieu!
The 91st Epigram of the Second Book is addressed to another Antiquary, whose work has never appeared.
"To my honoured friend, Mr. Samuel Roper."
Make Derbyshire by your most able pen
Allow you her obliging'st countryman;
From dust and dark oblivion raise her glories,
And from old records publish all her stories:
So you with Mr. Dugdale shall remain,
Your country's honour; other countries' stain!
The poet gives a trait of his habits and sentiments in Epigr. 107 of B. I.
"To my Wife."
My Mall, how we desire both to go down,
And still how business stays us in the town!
Since plays are silenc'd by the presbyter,
And wine is grown so very naught and dear;
London seems frowning like a step-dame now,
That look'd before with so serene a brow.
Away therefore, and let us hasten home
To our love's pledges our dear Mall and Tom.
Another trait appears in the following Epig. 108 of Book II.
"To my son Mr. Thomas Cokaine."
Let others glory in their hawks and hounds,
Their golden heaps, and circuit of their grounds;
Their gallant breed of horses, and their meat,
Drest so, that Heliogabalus would eat;
Their mistresses whose beauties would inflame
Unknown lands' salvages, and make them tame
Themselves, and then so richly dress'd, that you
The heavens without a cloud would think in view:
Give me a study of good books, and I
Envy to none their hugg'd felicity.
The poems from whence the above extracts have been made were published under the following title: Poems of divers sorts. Written by Sir Aston Cokain. London, Printed by William Godbid, 1658, small 8vo.
At page 289, another title-page thus:
The Obstinate Lady, a Comedy, written by Aslom Cokain. London, printed by William Godbid, 1658.
At page 414, a third title-page, thus:
Trappolin creduto Principe, or Trappolin suppos'd a Prince. An Italian Trage-comedy . The scene part of Italy. Written by Sir Aston Cokain. London, printed by William Godbid, 1658.
The above first title-page was soon displaced for the following:
A chaine of golden Poems, embellished with wit, mirth, and eloquence, together with two most excellent comedies, 1658.
The same edition had the change of a third title in 1669, which called it
Choice Poems of several sorts; and to this, as Wood has remarked, was superadded the Tragedy of Ovid.
The volume consists first of a long poem entitled A Remedy for Love, in which he principally advises a tour through England. Then follow Two Eclogues and A Satire, which are succeeded by 25 Love-Elegies; and these by 6 Funeral-Elegies.
Next come 8 Epistles; and then Encomiastic Verses on several Books. These are succeeded by
A Masque presented at Bretbie in Derbyshire on Twefth-Night, 1639.
Then An Epithalamium on Sir Andrew Kniveton and Elizabeth Slanhope of Elvaston.
Now come Three Books of Epigrams, followed by a set of Songs; and last the two Plays of The Obstinate Lady, and Trappolin.
The encomiastic verses are
1. To my friend Mr. Thomas Randolph, on his play called The Entertainment, printed by the name of The Muses Looking Glass.
2. To my friend Mr. Philip Massinger, on his tragi-comedy, called The Emperour of the East.
3. To the same, on his tragi-comedy, called The Maid of Honour.
4. Of Mr. John Fletcher, his plays, and especially The Mad Lover.
5. To my very good friend Mr. Thomas Bancroft on his works.
6. To Mr. Humphrey C. on his poem called Love's Hawking-Bag.
7. To Mr. James Strong, Bachelour, upon his wonderful poem called Joanareidos.
8. A Praeludium to Mr. Richard Brome's plays.
9. To Dugdale, already extracted.
10. To my learned friend, Mr. Thomas Bancroft, upon his book of Satires.
11. To my most honoured cousin, Mr. Charles Cotton, the younger, upon his excellent Poems.
12. To my learned friend, Mr. Thomas Bancroft, upon his poem, called The Heroic Lover.
Charles Cotton, the younger, was a constant subject of Sir Aston's praises; and he deserved them. But as his poetry is now too much neglected, I will transcribe two of these encomiums.
"To my cousin Mr. Charles Cotton the younger." (Epigr. 66, B. I)
In how few years have you rais'd up an high
Column of learning by your industry,
More glorious than those pyramids, that old
Canopus view'd, or Cair doth yet behold!
Your noble father, that for able parts
Hath won an high opinion in all hearts,
May like the elder Scaliger look down
With admiration on his worthy son!
Proceed, fair plant of exc'llencies, and grow
So high, to shadow all that are below!"
"To the same." (From No. 11 of Encomiastic Verses, as above)
Bear back, yon crowd of wits that have so long
Been the prime glory of the English tongue;
And room for our arch-poet make, and follow
His steps, as you would do your great Apollo:
Nor is he his inferior; for see
His picture, and you'll say that this is he;
So young arid handsome both; so tress'd alike,
That curious Lely, or most skil'd Vandyke
Would prefer neither: only here's the odds,
This gives us better verse, than that the gods.
Beware you poets, that at distance you
The reverence afford him that is due
Unto his mighty merit, and not dare
Your puny shreds with his lines to compare;
Lest for so impious a pride, a worse
Than was Arachne's fate, or Meda's curse,
Posterity inflicts upon your fames,
For vent'ring to approach too near his flames;
Whose all-commanding Muse disdains to be
Equall'd by any, in all poesy.
As the presumptuous son of Clymene
The sun's command importun'd for a day
Of his unwilling father, and for so
Rash an attempt fell headlong into Po;
So you shall fall or worse; not leave so much
As empty names, to shew there once were such.
The Greek and Latin language he commands,
So all that then was writ in both these lands
The French and the Italian he hath gain'd,
And all the wit that in them is contain'd.
So, if he pleases to translate a piece
From France, or Italy, old Rome, or Greece,
The understanding reader soon will find
It is the best of any of that kind:
But when he let his own rare fancy loose,
There is no flight so noble as his Muse
Treats he of war? Bellona doth advance,
And leads his march with her refulgent lance.
Sings he of love Cupid about him lurks;
And Venus in her chariot draws his works.
Whate'er his subject be, he'll make it fit
To live hereafter Emperor of Wit.
He is the Muse's darling: all the Nine
Phoebus disclaim, and term him more divine.
The wondrous Tasso, that so long hath borne
The sacred laurel, shall remain forlorn:
Alonso de Ercilla, that in strong
And mighty lines hath Araucuna sung:
And Sallust, that the ancient Hebrew story
Hath poetiz'd, — submit unto your glory:
So the chief swans of Tagus, Arne, and Seine
Must yield to Thames, and veil unto your strain.
Hail, generous magazine of wit, you bright
Planet of learning, dissipate the night
Of dullness, wherein us this age involves,
And from our ignorance redeem our souls!
A word at parting, Sir: I could not choose
Thus to congratulate your happy Muse:
And, though I vilify your worth, my zeal,
And so in mercy think, intended well.
The world will find your lines are great and strong;
The nihil ultra of the English tongue.
In the following Epigram Sir Aston gives an opinion of his own compositions.
"To Sir Andrew Knyveton, my wives brother" (Epig. 94, of B. I)
Wonder not why among so many of
My Epigrams, I do no oftener scoff;
And taunt of men, observing when they halt,
And tax them smartly after for their fault.
I know that epigrams should either be
Satires reduc'd to an epitome;
Or else in choicest language should invite,
Being what you please, the readers with delight.
Troth! I in scoffs but little do prevail,
Which is the cause that I no oftner rail;
And have for eloquence but what you see;
And therefore all my friends must pardon me.
The reader will now probably think that specimens more than enough have been given of Sir Aston's verses. But they exhibit the character of his life as well as of his talents. His days seemed to have been passed between his bottle, his books, and his rhymes. Perhaps his addiction to the first might arise from the cares which overwhelmed him; for being a Catholic he is said to have suffered much for his religion, and for the cause of K. Charles I. who, according to his own account, rewarded him with a Baronetage, dated about the 10th of Jan. 1641, which was however afterwards disputed by the Officers of Arms, his patent not being enrolled.
His mind appears to have been much cultivated with learning; and it is clear that he possessed considerable talents: but he exhibits scarcely any marks of genius. He is never pathetic, sublime, or even elegant; but is generally characterized by a kind of familiarity which amounts to doggrel, and frequently to flatness and insipidity. Still it is impossible to read notices of so many of his cotemporaries, whose habits of life are recalled to our fancies, without feeling a subordinate kind of pleasure that gives these domestic rhymes a lively attraction. Sir Aston, compared with most of his associate authors whom he commemorates, displays a very dim light. Yet as a country-gentleman of an ancient family and good patrimony, he calls forth no small tribute of respect from reflecting minds, if we compare him with most of his own class, who having spent their lives in sensual gratifications, have done nothing to preserve their names from the graves in which their bodies are buried.
The beautiful scenery of the country, the leisure and dignity of an independent life, acting on a polished education, would seem in theory most fitted to qualify the human intellect for the utmost refinement, and the best efforts of genius. But alas! how few of this order make use of the great opportunities thus bestowed upon them! We see them disdainful of books! insensible to works of reason or fancy and malicious towards any among themselves, who by any chance aspire to those mental acquisitions which themselves neglect! I am not sure that the manners have been much mended since it has become the fashion for gentlemen to engage with such ardour in the occupation of practical farming. Defend me from the society of men, all "whose talk is of bullocks," and of sheep! I would not be one to follow the ploughman to measure his furrows, and watch with a surly grudge the unnecessary half hour he may spend at his meals! To men of ample property and liberal education Providence has surely allotted higher duties, and more refined amusements. It matters little, whether I turn bailiff, or turn groom. If I desert my station in society, let me take the consequence of my own degradation, and be fixed there, never to rise again! Thrust me among clod-hoppers and stable-boys, and let me associate and feed with them, as I ought. But do not let me intrude to irritate the nerves, or damp the nicer sense of delight of those who have made use of the talent God has given them as they ought I who justify the station they fill yet more by the superiority of their employments than by their birth or fortune!
In the times of Sir Aston Cokayne, it may be doubted, if the minds of the country gentlemen were not in an higher state of cultivation than they are now. In truth that class were then of much mere honourable birth than they are at present. The century which succeeded annihilated an incredible number of old families: an effect of which it is not now the place to inquire into the causes; or whether these sources were productive of exclusive evil, or were attended by a large portion of concomitant good. If we look into Sir Aston's book, we shall see scarce a family among his friends in Derbyshire, and the surrounding counties, who are not of known antiquity. By the manner in which he speaks of them they rather cherished and respected than despised his Muse. Would this have been the case with modern gentry, the spawn of the Stock-Exchange, or of the manufacturing towns, or colonies? Many of the same families still remain in those parts, but in the overwhelming numbers of mercantile wealth they have lost their spirit and their power. I do not despise commerce; I know its political value; but I grieve at its attendant evils on the moral character of society.
We are perhaps somewhat measuring back our steps — we have found out that wealth is not the only strength of a nation: we have found out that "the warrior and his sword" may perhaps be a still more effectual preserver of our safety and our power. Hence liberal professions may once more come into credit — and we may perhaps once more discover that there are other as solid grounds of distinction as those of the purse!
In the times of great convulsions talent is roused. Ordinary faculties will be found sufficient for common times; and then it is that intrigue and corruption obtain promotion rather than high qualifications. The first half of the seventeenth century brought forward a variety of splendid characters who had slept unnoticed in tranquil reigns. Sir Aston therefore even among his own class probably found the intellectual powers all alive! — He does not himself seem to have taken an active part in the war between the King and the Parliament. One is apt indeed to suspect that he wanted energy of character, and was not a little indulgent to his own ease! Perhaps it arose from this that he completely wasted his ancient patrimony, and sold both his lordships of Ashbourne and Pooley.
Some of the principal persons to whom his Epigrams are addressed, are the following.
1. To Philip Earl of Chesterfield, his uncle.
2. To his cousin, Mrs. Olive Cotton.
3. To his friend, Mr. Herbert Aston.
4. On his younger brother, Mr. Tho. Cokaine.
5. To his uncle, Sir John Stanhope.
6. To his cousin, Charles Cotton.
7. To his friend and cousin, Roger King.
8. On his cousin, Mrs. Eliz. Stanhope.
9. On his sister, the Lady Boteler.
10. To his friend, Mr. Marmaduke Wyvel.
11. To his cousin, Col. Ralph Sneyde.
12. To his cousin, the Lady Elizabeth Darcy.
13. To his friend, Col. Edward Stamford.
14. To his cousin, Mrs. Cordelia Harryes.
15. To his friend, Mr. Francis Lenton.
16. To his cousin, William Milward.
17. To his friends, the two Col. William Bales.
18. To his cousin, Robt. Milward.
19. To his kinsman Henry Kendal the younger.
20. To the noble Sir Arthur Gorges.
21. To his wife's brother, Sir Andrew Knyveton.
22. To his cousins, Cromwell, Byron, Ratcliff, and Alexr. Stanhope.
23. To his kinsman, Sir John Reppington.
24. To his brother-in-law, Col. Wm. NevilI.
25. To his friend, Mr. Henry Thimbleby.
26. To his friend, Sir Wm. Persal.
27. To his cousin, the Lady Trentharn.
28. To his friend, Robt. Grosvenor.
29. To his brother-in-law, Sir Francis Boteler.
30. To Henry Lord Hastings, of Loughborough.
31. To his cousin, Henry Hastings, of Branston.
32. To Charles Visct. Cullen.
33. On his cousin, Col. Michael Stanhope.
34. To his cousin, John Stanhope, of Elvaston.
35. To Col. Ferdinand Stanhope.
36. To his wife's niece, Mrs. Eliz. Pegge.
37. To her brother, Tho. Pegge.
38. On Mr. Isaac Coe, of Lincoln's Inn,
39. On Humphry Cumbertord.
40. To his cousin, Bryan Cokaine.
41. To his lady, Mrs. Eliz. Cokaine.
42. To his kinsman, John Cokaine.
43. To Sir Robert Brett.
44. To Mr. George Porter.
45. To Mr. Richard Grey, of Adderston.
46. On his cousin, Edwd. Reppington.
47. To his friend, Alexander Brome.
48. To his cousins, Anne, Eliz. Philipia, and Dorothy Stanhope.
49. To his uncle-in-law, Mr. Richd. Sutton.
50. To his cousins, Mrs. Stanhope, and Mrs. Isabella Hutchinson.
51. To Mr. Ralph Rawson.
52. To his cousin, Lady Mary Fitzherbert, of Tissington.
53. On Mr. Wm. Davenport, of Henbury, Cheshire.
54. To Mrs. Eliz. Spencer.
55. On Mr. Tho. Pilkington, of Wolverhampton.
56. On his sisters, Lettice Armstrong and Lucy Cokaine.
57. To his cousin, Tho. Cokaine, of Manciter.
58. On Edw. Tilsly and Anne Fleetwood.
59. To his cousin, Mrs. Anne Adams.
60. To his cousin, Arthur Stanhope.
61. To his wife's niece, Eliz. Kendall.
62. To his cousin, Sir Francis Burdet, Bart.
63. To his cousin, Isabella Milward.
64. On Mr. Ralph Fitzherbert.
65. On his wife's sister, Kath. Pegge.
66. To Eliz. Nevill, his wife's sister.
67. To Francis Shalcross, and Julia Boteler, his niece.
68. To Gilbert and Thos. Knyveton, his wife's brothers.
69. To his sister Kath. Weston.
70. On Peter Allibond, of Lincoln Coll. Oxf.
71. To his niece, Isabella Boteler.
72. On his father Tho. Cokaine.
73. On Ferdinando, Earl of Huntingdon.
74. To Sir Robt. Hilliard.
75. To his cousin, Basil Fitzherbert, of Norbury.
76. To his daughter, Mary Cokaine.
77. To his kinsman, Wingfield Cromwell, Earl of Ardglass.
78. To his friend, Henry Turville.
79. To his cousin, John Adams.
80. To his friend, Cassivelan Burton.
81. To Henry Longville.
82. To Robt. Creitton, D.D.
83. To Edmoud Ravenhill.
84. To his kinsman, Edward Darcy.
85. To his brother-in-law, William Nevill.
86. To Alice Nevill, his sister.
87. To Ann and MiIdred Nevill, her daughters.
88. To his friend, Major Wm. Warner.
89. On Eliz. Lady Reppingtcn.
90. To Mr. John Reppington.
91. To his cousin, Charles Hutchinson.
92. To his kinsman, Francis Fitzherbert, of Lincolns Inn,
93. To his cousin, Wm. Stanhope, the younger.
94. To his mother, Ann Cokaine.
After our poet had sold his lordship of Pooley to Humphry Jennings, Esq. and his lordship of Ashbourne to Sir William Boothby, Bart. he retired to Derby, where he died on the breaking of the great frost in Feb. 1685, at the age of seventy-five.
Wood says he translated into English an excellent Italian Romance, called Dianea, 1654.
I refer for a character of his Comedies to the Biographia Dramatica.
His Masque at Bretby is reprinted in the third volume of the Topographer; where also may be found several of his Epigrams.
The above list of his connections may not be uninteresting to the families to whom they belong.
In any other work than such as the present, Sir Aston scarcely deserves the notice he has here obtained. But I believe that his book is scarce, and it contains many notices of ages that are passed away. It is some encouragement to literature, that even its amateurs can thus have their fame revived, after it has slept for nearly a century and an half. I love in my fancy to assemble round Sir Aston, his boon companions, and to listen to his mingled bursts of wit and raillery and literature and verse. But how inferior was he in genius and acquirements, in that pure stream of natural and touching sentiment which is one of the first attractions of unsophisticated genius, to his younger cousin, Charles Cotton, a man equally careless in his fortunes, but of a refined and exquisite heart, who possessed much of the nicer and more tender vein of Cowper, which might have displayed itself in similar compositions had the age and his own unpardonable haste allowed it. But he too lived a life of pecuniary embarrassment, productive of cares, which chilled and froze up the Pierian fountain of his bosom That bosom was a well-spring of genuine poetry, which scattered its waters without economy or thought.