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In the imitation of Cowley, in two pieces, on a Garden, and on Weeping, Pope has properly enough, in conformity to his original, extorted some moral, or darted forth some witticism on every object he mentions. It is not enough to say, that the laurels sheltered the fountain from the heat of the day; but this idea must be accompanied with a conceit:
Daphne, now a tree, as once a maid,
The flowers that grow on the water-side could not be sufficiently described without saying, that
"The pale Narcissus on the bank, in vain
In the lines on a Lady Weeping, you might expect a touching picture of beauty in distress; you will be disappointed. Wit, on the present occasion, is to be preferred to tenderness; the babe in her eye is said to resemble Phaeton so much,
"That heav'n the threat'ned world to spare,
Let not this strained affectation of striving to be witty, upon all occasions be thought exaggerated, or a caricature of Cowley. It is painful to censure a writer of so amiable a mind, such integrity of manners, and such a sweetness of temper. His fancy was brilliant, strong, and sprightly; but his taste false and u n classical, even though he had much learning. In his Latin compositions, his six books on plants, where the subject might have led him to a contrary practise, he imitates Martial rather than Virgil, and has given us more epigrams than descriptions. I do not remember to have seen it enough observed, that Cowley had a most happy talent of imitating the easy manner of Horace's
epistolary writings; I must therefore insert a specimen of this his excellence:
Ergo iterum versus? dices. O Vane! quid ergo
There is another epistle also, well worthy perusal, to his friend, Mat. Clifford, at the end of the same volume. Pope, in one of his imitations of Horace, has exhibited the real character of Cowley with delicacy and candour:
"Who now reads Cowley? If he pleases yet,
But still I love the language of his heart."
His prose works give us the most amiable idea both of his abilities and his heart. His Pindaric odes cannot be perused with common patience by a lover of antiquity. He that would see Pindar's manner truly imitated, may read Masters's noble and pathetic Ode on the Crucifixion; and he that wants to be convinced that these reflections on Cowley are not too severe, may read also his epigrammatic version of it:
“Ἢ οὐχ ὁράας ὁλοπόρφυρον
λ' αἵματι σταζομένῳ
"Dost thou not see thy prince in purple clad all o'er,
But made at home with richer gore?"
"Open, oh! open wide the fountains of thine eyes,
Their stock of moisture forth where e'er it lies,
"Twould all, alas! too little be,
Though thy salt tears came from a sea."
Cowley being early disgusted with the perplexities and vanities of a court life, had a strong desire to enjoy the milder pleasures of solitude and retirement; he therefore escaped from the tumults of London to a little house at Wandsworth; but finding that place too near the metropolis, he left it for Richmond, and at last settled at Chertsey. He seems to have thought that the swains of Surrey had the innocence of those of Sydney's Arcadia; but the perverseness and debauchery of his own workmen soon undeceived him, with whom, it is said, he was sometimes so provoked, as even to be betrayed into an oath. His income was about three hundred pounds a year. Towards the latter part of his life he shewed an aversion to the company of women, and would often leave the room if any happened to enter it whilst he was present, but still retained a sincere affection for Leonora. His death was occasioned by a singular accident; he paid a visit on foot with his friend Sprat to a gentleman in the neighbourhood of Chertsey, which they prolonged, and feasted too much, till midnight. On their return home they mistook their way, and were obliged to pass the whole night exposed under a hedge, where Cowley caught a severe cold, attended with a fever, that terminated in his death. All these particulars were communicated to me by Mr. Spence from his Anecdotes, who assured me he received them from Mr. Pope's own mouth.
FAIN would my Muse the flow'ry Treasures sing,