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Th’ adorning thee with so much art
Is but a barbarous skill;
Too apt before to kill.10
Often, I regret to say, he condescended to the fashionable licence of seventeenth-century speech and sentiment. In the extravagant, but more innocent, boisterousness of The Chronicle he pretends to a primacy for himself in its practical indulgence :
Margarita first possest,
If I remember well, my breast,
Margarita first of all;
Martha took the flying ball.
Martha soon did it resign
To the beauteous Catharine.
Beauteous Catharine gave place-
heartTo Eliza's conquering face.
Eliza to this hour might reign,
Had sbe not evil counsels ta'en.
Fundamental laws she broke,
And cast away her yoke.
Mary then, and gentle Anne,
Both to reign at once began ;
Alternately they sway'd ;
And sometimes both I obey'd.
Another Mary then arose,
And did rigorous laws impose ;
A mighty tyrant she !
Had not Rebecca set me free.
'Twas then a golden time with me;
But soon those pleasures fled ; For the gracious princess dy'd, In her youth and beauty's pride,
And Judith reigned in her stead. One month, three days, and half an hour,
Judith held the sovereign power :
Wondrous beautiful her face ! But so weak and small her wit, That she to govern was unfit,
And so Susanna took her place. But when Isabella came,
Arm’d with a resistless flame,
And th' artillery of her eye ; Whilst she proudly march'd about, Greater conquests to find out,
She beat out Susan by the bye. But in her place I then ubey'd
Black-ey'd Bess, her viceroy-maid ;
To whom ensued a vacancy : Thousand worse passions then possest The interregnum of my breast;
Bless me from such an anarchy ! Gentle Henrietta then,
And a third Mary next began;
Then Joan, and Jane, and Audria ;
And then a long et cetera.
But I will briefer with them be,
Since few of them were long with me.
An higher and a nobler strain
Whom God grant long to reign ! 11
The insolence, no less than the gaiety, of the confession is irresistible. But it need not overmuch shock serious readers who would like to respect the man as well as admire the poet. Both here and elsewhere in Cowley's amatory effusions, I find abundance of wit ; I fail to discern passion, Disappointing as to some may be the theory, I am fully persuaded of the decorum of his life, loose as may be some of his verse. The freedom of his talk about women probably was little more than a flourish of intellectual audacity. By choice he pursued his amours in the free and safe communion of his own imagination, where he could
careless and unthoughtful, lying,
With all their wanton boughs dispute,
Nor be myself, too, mute.
A silver stream shall roll his waters near,
Gilt with the sunbeams here and there;
On whose enameld bank I'll walk,
How prettily they talk.12 If he permitted any material passion to divert his thoughts from life's incurable disease ’, it was gardening :
God the first garden made, and the first city Cain.13 When he meditates on womanly companionship ; on
A mistress moderately fair,
Only belov’d, and loving me! the wish, carefully toned down as it is, comes distinctly second to his primary longing :
Ah, yet, ere I descend to th' grave,
May I a small house and large garden have ! 14 In praising a wife, he can devise no higher compliment than to discover
The fairest garden in her looks,
And in her mind the wisest books.15 I can read more satisfaction with the floral charms which are left to him, than despair at the departure of a beloved female guest, in the polite endeavour, in The Spring, to account for his garden's stolid complacency at its and his bereavement :
Though you be absent here, I needs must say
As ever they were wont to be ;
they sung to pleasure you;
The blushing morning open'd not more fair. 16 Gardening itself he loved chiefly because it excused his retirement from affairs to hold converse with books and his own thoughts. His translations from the Classics demonstrate him an accomplished scholar, if not with Dryden's imperious strength of adaptation, richer in occasional felicities of diction ; if without Milton's profound learning, more on a level than he with contemporary and applied science. For catching the spirit of Anacreon in particular, he has never had a superior ; for instance :
The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
up the sea, and when he's done,
He was a master of prose, as of verse, and its reformer ; at once metaphysician and orator. His essays, jewelled with rhyme, especially on gardens, charm still. History contains no written character more grandly outlined, and more deeply graven, than his of Protector Oliver. Ponderous he can be, both in Pindarics, and in Heroics; witness, his failures—On the late Civil war, as recognized by himself ; the Resurrection; the noisy Plagues of Egypt; the Ecstasy; and the ambitious, and tiresomely respectable, Davideis. Often even in his finest efforts inspiration appears to be lagging. But we always may hope for a break. The Muse, after dozing in a dull grey twilight, suddenly awakes. The mist parts. Ears, eyes, and soul open in response to a burst of sunshine, and grave, rich harmony, as in the monody on Richard Crashaw. At any rate, his own period,