Abraham Cowley: The Muse's Hannibal

Abraham Cowley: The Muse's Hannibal

Abraham Cowley: The Muse's Hannibal

Abraham Cowley: The Muse's Hannibal

Excerpt

The purpose of this, the first attempt at a complete account of the life and works of a man whose position as a major English poet was considered by his contemporaries to be as secure as Shakespeare's own, is to study and evaluate Abraham Cowley in all of his aspects as poet, playwright, Royalist and spy, physician, educational theorist, early member of the Royal Society, and friend of Sir John Evelyn, the Duke of Buckingham, and the Earl of St. Albans, rather than to discuss him simply as a ' Metaphysical Poet', as it has been the general custom to regard him. The result, it is hoped, will be to relieve him somewhat from the stigma of his past reputation, and to present him as a figure of some interest and importance from a less narrow point of view.

Specifically, on the biographical side, this book may claim to offer considerable new material on the tantalizing mystery of Cowley's return to England from his French exile (two full years before the date ordinarily given), on his activities as a secret agent of the Stuarts, on his 'recantation', on his disfavour under Charles II, and on his true income at the end of his life. On the critical side, the book may claim to present a new picture of the struggle between the two phases of Cowley's nature, culminating in a partly forced victory for the side of simplicity and true philosophic imagination against that of fantastic elaborateness and 'metaphysical' display. But during this struggle he succeeded in composing the first religious epic in English, in virtually inventing the Pindaric or irregular ode and the Anacreontic, in devising a new and more liberal theory of translation, in becoming one of the three or four important English critics before Dryden, and in writing the first real familiar essays in the language.

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