A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature/Cowley, Abraham

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Cowley, Abraham (1618-1667). -- Poet, s. of a grocer or stationer in London, where he was b. In childhood he was greatly influenced by reading Spenser, a copy of whose poems was in the possession of his mother. This, he said, made him a poet. His page 97first book, Poetic Blossoms (1633), was pub. when he was only 15. After being at Westminster School he went to Camb., where he was distinguished for his graceful translations. On the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Royalists, was turned out of his college, and in 1646 followed the Queen to Paris, where he remained for 10 or 12 years, during which he rendered unwearied service to the royal family. At the Restoration he wrote some loyal odes, but was disappointed by being refused the Mastership of the Savoy, and retired to the country. He received a lease of Crown lands, but his life in the country did not yield him the happiness he expected. He is said by Pope to have d. of a fever brought on by lying in the fields after a drinking-bout. The drinking-bout, however, is perhaps an ill-natured addition. C.'s fame among his contemporaries was much greater than that which posterity has accorded to him. His poems are marred by conceits and a forced and artificial brilliancy. In some of them, however, he sings pleasantly of gardens and country scenes. They comprise Miscellanies, The Mistress, or Love Poems (1647), Pindaric Odes, and The Davideis, an epic on David (unfinished). He is at his best in such imitations of Anacreon as The Grasshopper. His prose, especially in his Essays, though now almost unread, is better than his verse; simple and manly, it sometimes rises to eloquence. C. is buried in Westminster Abbey near Spenser.

Ed., Grosart (1881), Waller (1903).