Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)

I believe I can tell the particular little chance that filled my head first with such chimes of verse as have never since left ringing there: for I remember when I began to read, and to take some pleasure in it, there was wont to lie in my mother's parlour (I know not by what accident, for she herself never in her life read any book but of devotion), but there was wont to lie Spenser's works. This I happened to fall upon, and was infinitely delighted with the stories of the knights, and giants, and monsters, and brave houses which I found everywhere there (though my understanding had little to do with all this), and by degrees with the tinkling of the rhyme and dance of the numbers; so that I think I had read him all over before I was twelve years old, and was thus made a poet as immediately as a child is made an eunuch.

Abraham Cowley, Essays, Plays and Sundry Verses, ed. A. R. Waller (1906), pp. 457-8.

[Dryden indulges in some anecdotal banter at the expense of Cowley.]

WITHOUT being injurious to the memory of our English Pindar, I will presume to say that his metaphors are sometimes too violent, and his language is not always pure. But at the same time I must excuse him; for through the iniquity of the times he was forced to travel at an age when, instead of learning foreign languages, he should have studied the beauties of his mother-tongue, which, like all other speeches, is to be cultivated early, or we shall never write it with any kind of elegance. Thus, by gaining abroad, he lost at home; like the painter in the Arcadia, who, going to see a skirmish, had his arms lopped off, and returned, says Sir Philip Sidney, well-instructed how to draw a battle, but without a hand to perform his work.

Essays of John Dryden, ed. W. P. Ker (1900), ii. 229-30.

« NEXT » « 17th Century Anecdotes » « All Anecdotes » « Humour » « Library »