1764 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

David Erskine Baker, in Companion to the Play-House (1764) 2:Sig H3v.



Mr. Cowley, as a Writer, had perhaps as much Fire and Imagination as any Author of the English Nation; his Wit is genuine and natural; but then his Versification is frequently irregular, rough and incorrect, and the Redundancy of his Fancy outrunning the Power of his Expression; this latter appears sometimes puerile, and even flat and insipid. — Yet these Faults are certainly excusable, when we consider at how early a Time of Life almost all his Pieces were written. — Had he lived in a less perplexed Period of our History, or been himself less principally concerned in the Transactions of the Period he did live in, we perhaps might have met with greater Pleasure from those Writings which he might have produced at a more advanced Age, when the Judgment, being arriv'd at greater Maturity, could have held a tighter Rein over the rapid and unruly Courses of Imagination. It is evident that Fancy was his principal Directress, and by a kind of Sympathy with Writers of the same Disposition, he became involuntarily a Poet. — He tells us himself, that his Admiration of Spencer, whom he had read over before he was twelve Years old, first inspir'd him with an Inclination for Poetry; and what Writer has imagination equal to Spencer? And we are also told that his accidentally meeting with the Works of Pindar, the most exalted Genius for the Flights of Fancy among the Ancients, led him into that Pindarique Way of Writing, in which, however faulty he may sometimes be in Respect to Numbers, he has never yet been excelled in the Force of his Figures, and the Sublimity of his Stile and Sentiments.