Metaphysical to Augustan: Studies in Tone and Sensibility in the Seventeenth Century

By Geoffrey Walton | Go to book overview

5
COWLEY'S ESSAYS IN VERSE AND PROSE AND THE TRANSITION TO NEO-CLASSICISM

COWLEY FIRST MIXED PROSE and verse together in a single composition and I can recall no one since, with the exception of Traherne, who in any case does not link them so closely in theme, who has attempted to use the mode until Auden, in The Orators, and some of the Surrealist writers, who again are too different to be comparable. It was a plan peculiarly congenial to Cowley, and in every essay prose and verse are held together not only by subject- matter, but also by style; his handling of both mediums shows remarkable consistency of tone and feeling. Though it is necessary to separate prose and verse for purposes of description, it is not difficult to bear this unity in mind.

Before he came to write the Essays Cowley had considerable practice in prose writing. He had progressed from the almost Elizabethan manner of his Preface to Sylva to the plain and business- like diplomatic letters. He had written A Vision, concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell, which combines solemn passages reminiscent of Browne with others which have the cool irony and simpler vigour of Dryden, and shows great skill in the analysis of character. He had also written the Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy, Baconian in both style and thought, and his critical prefaces.

Sprat tells us of the Essays:

The last Pieces that we have from his hands are Discourses, by way of Essays, upon some of the gravest subjects that concern the Contentment

-94-

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