1723
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Battle of the Sexes. The Preface.

The Battle of the Sexes. A Poem.

Thomas Cooke


Thomas Cooke's preface to Samuel Wesley the Younger's Battle of the Sexes, the first Spenser imitation to become truly popular,makes a disappointingly brief mention of the imitation of Spenser: "The true Oeconomy throughout the whole, the lively Descriptions, the natural Similies, the simple Grandeur of the Language, and the Regularity of the Numbers, render it a finish'd Work. As to the Verse, 'tis in Imitation of Spencer, as is much of his Stile; which they that have read both will easily perceive" p. 5. One should have thought that the use of Spenserian stanzas, so unusual at this time, would deserve a mention. But Cooke is no doubt correct in singling out the allegory as the most successful dimension of the poem.

Thomas Cooke, who later acquired fame as a translator of Hesiod, had migrated to London from Essex the year before this preface was published. As Cooke was a stout Whig, and Wesley a stout Tory, one is left to speculate on how the poem came to be published through the unnamed intermediary. When Cooke later on was caught in up in the controversy over Pope's Dunciad, Wesley acted as a go-between between Cooke and Pope.

W. Davenport Adams: "Thomas Cooke, poet (b. about 1702, d. 1750), edited the works of Andrew Marvell, and translated Hesiod, Terence, Cicero's De Natura Deorum, and Plautus's Amphitryon. An unlucky reference to Pope, in a farce by Cooke called Penelope, gave him an unenviable notoriety in the pages of the Dunciad" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 153.




The following Poem being given me by a Gentleman of Worth, (whose Favours hereafter I shall be proud to acknowledge in a more Publick Manner) who meeting with it by Accident from a Friend abroad; I prevail'd with him to let it be publish'd thro' my Hands, since he as well as I thought it wrong that so excellent a Piece should be kept for the Amusement of Two or Three only. I need give it no further Commendation, than to say he approv'd of it.

This Poem would bear the strictest Observations of the severest Criticks, and more rightly claims their Remarks, than several that have been criticis'd upon: I must needs say It deserves to be introduc'd to the World by an older Hand;

For when had Youth the Leisure to be wise?

I would not be thought to encroach upon the Province of that profound Society; but if any Thing made me exert the Critick, 'tis the following Poem; for doubtless some of the most shining Parts would be hurry'd over unobserv'd, and blended with the rest. For 'tis most certain, That more than are capable of finding out the Beauties, will come to the Reading of it.

The true Oeconomy throughout the whole, the lively Descriptions, the natural Similies, the simple Grandeur of the Language, and the Regularity of the Numbers, render it a finish'd Work.

As to the Verse, 'tis in Imitation of Spencer, as is much of his Stile; which they that have read both will easily perceive.

He inscribes it to his Friend, and his Mistress; his Manner of Address is admirable: He quite thro' does Justice to both Sexes. The Field of Battle is Life, where he gives a lively Description of it; which I may say of all the rest of his Descriptions. The Choice of his Antagonists is much to be admir'd; he makes Beauty conquer Fortitude: His Opposition of Cunning to Wisdom is very just. His Description of Patience, Lust, and his Shield, Virtue, Marriage, and Love, show as deep a Penetration as any that were ever wrote.

The following Lines of Patience plainly demonstrate he was as well read in the Ancients of other Languages, as of his own.

Nobly deform'd with honourable Scars,
A branching Palm the Chieftain's Target bore,
Whose Boughs, the more oppress'd, superior rise the more.

And that of the Prude,

By Mortals Honour call'd, by Angels Pride.

As do several others in the Poem.

His making Lust in the Disguise of Love, conquer Pride and Modesty, calls to my Remembrance an Observation I heard a very ingenious Gentlewoman make of her own Sex; That if they were free from both Modesty and Pride, they were left entirely expos'd to the Assaults of Man.

He shews in the 41st Stanza the powerful Effects of true Love.

The Speech that Marriage makes at the latter End carries pure undeniable Truths with it;

Gently shall those be rul'd who gently sway'd,
Abject shall those obey, who haughty were obey'd.

In the 45th Stanza see the fatal Consequence of mercenary Marriages.

And each Day's Truth shall moralize his Song.

I have proceeded thus far to no other Purpose, but to enlighten the Reader in the main Design, and to encourage him, from this, to search out the Beauties I have left undiscover'd; for should I pretend to give the unknown Author his Due, I must canvas every Line; which would swell my Observations to a far more voluminous Piece than the Work it self.

To conclude; if the noblest Way of Wit consists in Description; and if that Description is to be set off by a just Propriety of Words and Thoughts, in Subjects capable of being enliven'd by Imagination and Fancy, all which serve at once both for the Improvement and Delight of Mankind: Then this Author must be allow'd to have attain'd the great End of Poetry.


[pp. 3-8]