1776 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

James Beattie, in "On Classical Learning" Essays (1776) 742.



I know not whether any nation ever produced a more singular genius than Cowley. He abounds in tender thoughts, beautiful lines, and emphatical expressions. His wit is inexhaustible, and his learning extensive; but his taste is generally barbarous, and seems to have been formed upon such models as Donne, Martial, and the worst parts of Ovid: nor is it possible to read his longer poems with pleasure, while we retain any relish for the simplicity of ancient composition. Is this author's ideas had been fewer, his conceits would have been less frequent; so that in one respect learning may be said to have hurt his genius. Yet it does nor appear, that his Greek and Latin did him any harm; for his imitations of Anacreon are almost the only parts of him that are now remembered or read. His Davideis, and his translations of Pindar, are destitute of harmony, simplicity, and every other Classical grace. Had his inclinations led him to a frequent perusal of the most elegant authors of antiquity, his poems would certainly have been the better for it.