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prompter, to have been popularly considered as a satire on the royalists.
That he might shorten this tedious suspense, he published his pretensions and his discontent, in an ode called “ The Complaint;” in which he styles himself the melancholy Cowley. This met with the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited more contempt than pity.
These unlucky incidents are brought, maliciously enough, together in some stanzas, written about that time, on the choice of a laureat; a mode of satire, by which, since it was first introduced by Suckling, perhaps every generation of poets has been teased:
Savoy-missing Cowley came into the court,
His vehement desire of retirement now came again upon him. “Not finding,” says the morose Wood, “ that preferment conferred upon him
which he expected, while others for their money carried away most places, he retired discontented into Surrey.”
“He was now,” says the courtly Sprat, “weary of the vexations and formalities of an active condition. He had been perplexed with a long compliance to foreign manners. He was satiated with the arts of a court; which sort of life, though his virtue made it innocent to him, yet nothing could make it quiet. Those were the reasons that made him to follow the violent inclination of his own mind, which, in the greatest throng of his former business, had still called upon him, and represented to him the true delights of solitary studies, of temperate pleasures, and a moderate revenue below the malice and flatteries of fortune.”
So differently are things seen, and so differ
ently are they shewn; but actions are visible,
though motives are secret. Cowley certainly retired; first to Barn-elms, and afterwards to Chertsey, in Surrey. He seems, however, to have lost part of his dread of the hum of men”. He thought himself now safe enough from intrusion, without the defence of mountains and oceans; and, instead of seeking shelter in America, wisely went only so far from the bustle of life as that he might easily find his way back, when solitude should grow tedious. His retreat was at first but slenderly accommodated; yet he soon obtained, by the interest of the earl of St. Albans and the duke of Buckingham, such a lease of the queen's lands as afforded him an ample income.
By the lover of virtue and of wit it will be solicitously asked, if he now was happy. Let them peruse one of his letters accidentally preserved by Peck, which I recommend to the consideration of all that may hereafter pant for solitude.
“To Dr. THOMAS SPRAT.
“Chertsey, 21 May, 1665. “The first night that I came hither I caught “ so great a cold, with a defluxion of rheum, as
made me keep my chamber ten days. And, two after, had such a bruise on my ribs with a fall, that I am yet unable to move or turn myself in my bed. This is my personal fortune here to begin with. And, besides, I can get no money from my tenants, and have my meadows eaten up every night by cattle put in by my neighbours. What this signifies, or may come to in time, God knows; if it be ominous, it can end in nothing less than hanging. Another misfortune has been, and stranger than all the rest, that you have broke your word with me, and failed to come, even though you told Mr. Bois that you would. This is what they call Monstri simile. I do hope to recover my late hurt so farre within five or six days (though it be uncertain yet whether I shall ever recover it) as to walk about again. And then, methinks, you and I and the Dean might be very merry upon S. Anne's Hill. You might vary conveniently come hither the way of Hampton Town, lying there one night. I write this in pain, and can say no more: Verbum sapienti.”
He did not long enjoy the pleasure or suffer the
uneasiness of solitude; for he died at the Porchhouse * in Chertsey in 1667, in the 49th year of his age.
He was buried with great pomp near Chaucer and Spenser; and king Charles pronounced, “That Mr. Cowley had not left behind him a “better man in England.” He is represented by Dr. Sprat as the most amiable of mankind; and this posthumous praise may safely be credited, as it has never been contradicted by envy or by faction.
Such are the remarks and memorials which I have been able to add to the narrative of Dr. Sprat; who, writing when the feuds of the civil war were yet recent, and the minds of either party were easily irritated, was obliged to pass over many transactions in general expressions, and to leave curiosity often unsatisfied. What he did not tell, cannot however now be known. I must therefore recommend the perusal of his work, to
* Now in the possession of Mr. Clark, chamberlain of London. vol. 1. D'