1802 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

Joseph Dennie, "Miscellany: Abraham Cowley" Port Folio [Philadelphia] 2 (19 June 1802) 188.



I am so pleased with COWLEY'S easy prose, that from a liberal sentiment of regard for his genius in general, I sometimes look into his poetry, and here and there find a short poem, or a few lines, with which not only my judgment is satisfied, but my fancy is amused. I avoid his "Mistress," as the most frigid creature, that ever the muse embodied. I skip over his "Davideis," as a rumbling epic, if possible, more grating to the ear, than the "scrannel pipe" of the noisy Blackmore. As I abhor metaphysics in any mode, his metaphysical lays are not calculated to sooth me, and the fantastic flutter of his Pindaric hoyden excites as little complacency, as the affected gaiety of a hobbling old maid. Of his tedious verse, descriptive of the properties of plants, not even Linnaeus would scan a line; and to the loves of "Constantia and Philetus," the most sentimental of modern misses would not devote the most languid of her summer hours. But I have not often perused a more lively copy of the festal pleasures of the merry Greek, than in the "Anacreontics," and few of the moderns, who, either drunk or sober, have attempted to carol the praises of love and wine, have sung so cheerily, as Cowley, in these airy odes. Another performance remains to be favourable excepted, from the above mass of censure. I allude to the "Chronicle," in which the poet, as in a sort of calendar, registers the vicissitudes of his love, and, like a grave historian, composes the annals of the various empresses, who, in succession, mildly governed, or haughtily swayed, a susceptible and fickle heart. Of this bewitching performance, all encomium is superseded by the elegant panegyric from the pen of JOHNSON, who has invested this lovely child of a poet's fancy with the richest brocade, and ushers the darling into the drawing room of taste, with the eager partiality of a fond friend, and the polished phrase of an accomplished courtier.