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Of his piety we have a delightful testimony in these lines :
With as much zeal, devotion, piety,
Weeping all debts out ere he slept.
Like the sun's laborious light
Which still in winter sets at night,
The ear of Cowley was tuned to verse by the works of Spenser, which by a fortunate accident used to lie in his mother's parlour. How many poets have drawn the first milk of song from the bosom of the FAIRY QUEEN? Milton, More, Fletcher, Pope, and Thomson, will at once recur to the memory. But in Cowley we find little that breathes of his great Master. He never intoxicates the imagination with those dreams which Spenser brought from Italy and the East. His fancy is seldom rapt into
The golden Indies in the air.
He carries us to no enchanted castles, whose casements open
On the foam of perilous seas.
No gentle Una glides by with her milk-white lamb. We catch no green visions of Elysian solitude, no Bowers of Beauty, no glimpses through trees of Paradise. His imagination was put into chains, ere it had reached its maturity. He followed in the train of Donne, and sought for distinction by the same arts: but nature sometimes prevailed over habit, and the language of his heart broke out in all its original simplicity and grace. His pensive morality, his vigour of expression, his force and novelty of sentiment, are more than enough to rescue his remains from oblivion. Let the reader who wishes fully to understand the acquirements of Cowley when a young student at Cambridge, read with care the notes upon the Davideis.
The following conversation is supposed to occur on Cowley's return to Trinity after an absence of two months, during which time he had waited in vain for any communication from his friend,whom he affectionately and playfully upbraids for his silence.
“Fie, Will! shall I sit down and pelt thee with a hundred choice sentences stolen out of the
grave Seneca, or his elder brethren, the Grecian Dramatists? Dost thou not merit them ? Verily thou didst wait for the Greek Kalends to give thee a pen! Methinks, you might have been wandering along the reedy shores of Acheron, or strewing flowers
before the silver seat of Proserpine*, or quarrelling with Charon about a bad obolus, for aught that I, your ancient companion on the banks of the Cam, knew of your employment. Yet I did not forget thee, William ! and often, often, during the last two months, have the quiet grassy courts of Trinity risen before me, with those shady walks—the true bowers of the Pierian birds—and those beloved trees, which have in so many dewy hours beheld us breaking the moonlight shadows with our feet, beneath their umbrageous branchest.
Cambridge I think can boast of more poets than trees—but to us every one is known. From that yew-tree at Trinity Hall, where tradition tells us the conceited Harvey-Spenser's friend—loved to display his Italian hose, to the quiet garden of Pembroke, and the spot still hallowed as “ Ridley's Walk.” What richer blessings can fortune have in store for us, than those she has already showered from her golden horn. She has given us a home where Genius and Learning have so long abode. The green paths we tread have been trodden by Spenser. Our foot cannot fall upon a spot which learning has not ennobled, or poetry endeared, or piety made holy ground. Bacon goes before us through the gate of Trinity; the shade of Chaucer brightens the courts of Clare; the martyr who suffered and died with Latimer, consecrates the very stones of Pembroke.
* See The Fairy Queen.
+ So in the Elegy on Hervey.
Ye fields of Cambridge, our dear Cambridge, say
The love betwixt us two ?
Or your sad branches thicker join,
And into darksome shades combine, Dark as the grave wherein my friend is laid.
“ But these glorious influences are vain, unless they kindle in us the desire of the same excellence. The trophies of triumphant Genius charm the soul to no purpose, if they stir us not up, as with the voice of a trumpet, to go forth and conquer. Those sublime poems, those eloquent exhortations, those beautiful strains of fervent and religious hope, are unprofitable as the light down on the road-side thistle, if they fail to inspire us with a passionate craving to be numbered with them who being dead, yet speak; whose voices live through the world, while their bodies moulder in the earth. A purer voice, indeed, than ever broke from mortal lips, has commanded us to work while it is day; nor is this sacred injunction limited to our religious duties, albeit to them doth its peculiar application belong. The arm that hurled the stone into the brain of the Philistine had not been hardened
by twenty Summers. My friend! let us follow the example of the son of Jesse. When, indeed, should we toil, if not now, when, by the mercy of God! we have friendly eyes to watch over us, friendly hands to protect us, the love and anxieties of a whole household bound
in our welfare ! Be sure that not a single hour returns to heaven, from the time when the sun looks into the linnet's nest, till it sends the lamb to its grassy cradle, without carrying some prayer for us to our heavenly Father:
Τωδε θρονω πυροεντι παρεστασιν πολυμοχθοι
“ The hasty scrawling of our name upon an old book, or an angling-rod, or a theorbo* long silent, recalls the absent one to the memory; and then, perchance, the tears creep into the glistening eyes of a fond sister, or a little brother, whose wooden stool hath ofttimes been betwixt our knees. And • What is William doing, or where is he now?' rises to the lips. But when the pale brother of sleep hath rocked into quietness the graver friend, whom some of us have not known long enough to
* Theorbo, an improvement of the French lute, from the Italian Tiorba. See an engraving of one in Hawkins's History of Music, Vol. iv., p. 110.