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“ something of the rigour of their demands; the mutual necessity of an accord is visible, “ the king is persuaded of it. And to tell you “ the truth (which I take to be an argument “ above all the rest), Virgil has told the same “ thing to that purpose.”
This expression from a secretary of the present time would be considered as merely ludicrous, or at most as an ostentatious display of scholarship; but the manners of that time were so tinged with superstition, that I cannot but suspect Cowley of having consulted on this great occasion the Virgilian Lots", and to have given some credit to the answer of his oracle.
* Virgilian Lots (Sortes Virgilianae) is a method of divination by the opening of Virgil, and applying to the circumstance, of the peruser the first passage in either of the two pages that he accidentally fixes his eye on. King Charles I. and lord Falkland, being in the Bodleian library, made this experiment of their future fortunes, and met with passages equally ominous to each. That of the king was the following:
At bello audacis populi vexatus & armis,
Some years afterwards, “business,” says Sprat, “passed of course into other hands;” and Cowley,
Auxilium imploret, videatque indigna suorum
Yet let a race untam’d, and haughty foes,
Lord FAL KLAND's:
O Pallas, thou hast fail'd thy plighted word,
being no longer useful at Paris, was in 1656 sent back into England, that, “under pretence of “ privacy and retirement, he might take occasion “ of giving notice of the posture of things in “ this nation.”
Soon after his return to London, he was seized by some messengers of the usurping powers, who were sent out in quest of another man; and, being examined, was put into confinement, from which he was not dismissed without the security of a thousand pounds given by Dr. Scarborough.
This year he published his poems, with a preface, in which he seems to have inserted some
That boiling blood would carry thee too far,
Hoffman gives a very satisfactory account of this practice of seeking fates in books; and says, that it was used by the Pagans, the Jewish Rabbins, and even the early Christians; the latter taking the New Testament for their oracle.
thing, suppressed in subsequent editions, which was interpreted to denote some relaxation of his loyalty. In this preface he declares, that “ his “ desire had been for some days past, and did still “very vehemently continue, to retire himself to “ some of the American plantations, and to for“ sake this world for ever.”
From the obloquy which the appearance of submission to the usurpers brought upon him, his biographer has been very diligent to clear him, and indeed it does not seem to have lessened his reputation. His wish for retirement we can easily believe to be undissembled : a man harassed in one kingdom, and persecuted in another, who, after a course of business that employed all his days and half his nights in cyphering and decyphering, comes to his own country and steps into a prison, will be willing enough to retire to some place of quiet and of safety. Yet let neither our reverence for a genius, nor our pity for a sufferer, dispose us to forget that, if his activity was virtue, his retreat was cowardice.
He then took upon himself the character of
physician, still, according to Sprat, with intention “ to dissemble the main design of his coming
and, as Mr. Wood relates, “ complying “ with the men then in power (which was much “ taken notice of by the royal party), he ob“tained an order to be created doctor of physick; “ which being done to his mind (whereby-he “ gained the ill-will of some of his friends), he “ went into France again, having made a copy of
“ verses on Oliver's death.”
This is no favourable representation, yet even in this not much wrong can be discovered. How far he complied with the men in power, is to be inquired before he can be blamed. It is not said that he told them any secrets, or assisted them by intelligence, or any other act. If he only promised to be quiet, that they in whose hands he was might free him from confinement, he did what no law of society prohibits.
The man whose miscarriage in a just cause has put him in the power of his enemy may, without any violation of his integrity, regain his liberty, or preserve his life, by a promise of neutrality: