Lecture VII: Cowley and the Transition
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[ 725 Lecture VII Cowley and the Transition Donne was born in 1573; Crashaw in 1612; Cowley in 1618. The difference of a literary generation between Donne and Crashaw is indicated by the years; but the years do not indicate the difference that there is between Crashaw and Cowley. Crashaw is Caroline of the first Charles; Cowley is Caroline of the Exile – for indeed he is antiquated in the Restoration.1 I know of no figure at once so mediocre and so important as Cowley. For in much of his work he is the most faithful disciple and mimic of Donne; and on the other side he is the prototype of the man of letters of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. We have seen that Donne by his greatness , Crashaw by his catholicity of culture, become symbols of the origin of modern Europe; Cowley is a symbol of the change from seventeenth- to eighteenth-century England. With Cowley, all problems are reduced in size and artificially simplified. One illustration to begin with will show the difference of proportion. In the mind of Donne we find all the ideas of his time co-existent in their most abstract form; that is to say, we find in Donne the emotional co-efficients of the most general ideas. Some of these ideas are of contemporary science, some of contemporary theology; but they are all entertained on an equal footing; and this is typical of his time. In the mind of Cowley, many of these ideas no longer find entrance; what are left are certainly more coherent and orderly, but are not believed by himself with the same intensity with which the ideas of Donne were entertained by himself. It is difficult to expound my meaning here, for the subject is really the subject for a book on The History of Belief. I suggest to psychologists that Belief alters from age to age, so that when a person asserts “I believe X,” we must take into account the position in time of the author of the statement. The eighteenth century appears much more settled, orderly and positive and confident in some aspects than the seventeenth; but its belief is of a different, I think of an inferior quality to that of the thirteenth century . And mind you, I am not speaking of the object of belief, but of the believing itself.2 So Cowley, already Cowley, appears much more settled than Donne. It is that his mind, like the minds of greater men than he, Dryden, Pope, even 1926 726 ] the colossal Swift, the greatest writer of English prose, and the greatest man who has ever written great English prose – his mind was restricted. With all the psychological differences that I have tried to indicate, between himself and Dante, Donne was still able to find the emotional equivalent of highly abstract or generalised ideas. Dryden, or Pope, or Swift, or any later man, is only able to find the equivalent, when he does find it, by reducing the idea. In Donne the essence of modern science was co-existent, in an entertained form, with the essence of theological science. Cowley kept his theology and science separate by dwarfing them both. He was a man of scientific tastes, and he had known the great Hobbes,3 and men of science in Paris probably, and what was his science? Botany. He was an enthusiastic gardener.4 He loved to formulate schemes for founding institutions for scientific research. He was almost as enthusiastic as Mr. H. G. Wells. His scheme for the foundations of a college of science was almost practical enough to be laid before any philanthropic capitalist today; according to this scheme, income and expenditure are equal, and the latter allows for “Four Old Women” to make the beds of the professors.5 And he was, so far as I know, the first person to suggest the foundation of colleges for the teaching of agriculture as a science.6† I have not touched upon these matters to make pleasant anecdotes, but to lead to the appreciation of the vast difference between the lyrics of Donne and the Mistress of Cowley.7 It shows, I think, the essential place of Donne in an English tradition, the fact that this moderate and uninteresting man Cowley, who was himself to have so much influence, should have reverted to, and perpetuated, the influence of Donne. Especially considering his acquaintance with, and admiration for Crashaw, recognised in one of...


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