1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Abraham Cowley

Thomas Campbell, in "Essay on English Poetry" Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1841) lxxix-lxxx.



Had Cowley written nothing but his prose, it would have stamped him a man of genius, and an improver of our language. Of his poetry Rochester indecorously said, that "not being of God, it could not stand." Had the word "nature" been substituted, it would have equally conveyed the intended meaning, but still that meaning would not have been strictly just. There is much in Cowley that will stand. He teems, in many places, with the imagery, the feeling, the grace, and gaiety of a poet. Nothing but a severer judgment was wanting to collect the scattered lights of his fancy. His unnatural flights arose less from affectation than self-deception. He cherished false thoughts as men often associate with false friends, not from insensibility to the difference between truth and falsehood, but from being too indolent to examine the difference.