1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 5:204.



The poetry of Cowley has had its full share of Praise during the life of its author. And the rambling measure of his odes, which was called Pindaric, inundated the regions of poetry for half a century after his death, in violation of taste, correctness, and nature. Though unable to recognize wit by any of its definitions, every one readily perceives where it is not; no one therefore can ever mistake the conceits of the metaphysical poets (as Doctor Johnson terms them) for wit; of these, Cowley was the chief; he found their poetry the fashion of his day; and he preferred it to the pure models of antiquity, which he was so well acquainted with. It is to be lamented, that so much learning and genius has been lavished, now, to so little purpose; for, those who read Cowley, must be contented to admire rather than to be pleased. From this however, in his voluminous works, there are many exceptions. His anacreontics in particular, are peculiarly delightful, perhaps equal to their ancient models; and their diction is so finely polished, that the rust of time has not as yet been able to tarnish their lustre.