and I never then proposed to myself any other advantage from his Majesty's happy restoration, but the getting into some moderately convenient retreat in the country, which I thought, in that case, I might easily have compassed, as well as some others who, with no greater probabilities or pretences, have arrived to extraordinary fortunes."
In 1654 Queen Henrietta, under influence of a new confessor, had left the Louvre, and, with the little daughter born at Exeter, taken up her quarters in a foundation of her own, at Chaillot, for nuns of the visitation of St. Mary. Lord Jermyn having little use left for a secretary in Paris, Cowley in 1656, after twelve years' service in France, was sent to England that he might there live in the retirement he preferred, and with the understanding that he would be able to send information upon the course of home affairs. In England he was presently seized by mistake for another man, and, when his name and position were known, he was imprisoned, until a friendly physician, Sir Charles Scarborough, undertook to be security in a thousand pounds for his good conduct. In this year, 1656, Cowley published the first folio volume of his Poems, prepared in prison, and suggested, he said, by his finding, when he returned to England, a book called "The Iron Age," which had been published as his, and caused him to wonder that any one foolish enough to write such bad verses should yet be so wise as to publish them under another man's name. Cowley thought then that he had taken leave of verse, which needed less troubled times for its reading, and a mind less troubled in the writer. He left out of his book, he said, the pieces written during the Civil War, including three books of the Civil War itself, reaching as far as the first battle of Newbury. These he had burnt, for, he said, "I would have it accounted no less unlawful to rip up old wounds than to give new ones." "When the event of battle and the unaccountable Will of God has determined the controversy, and that we have submitted to the will of the conqueror, we must lay down our pens as well as arms." The first part of this folio contained early poems; the second part "The Mistress;" the third part "Pindaric Odes;" and the fourth and last his "Davideis."
In September of the following year, 1657, Cowley acted as best man to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, on his marriage at Bolton Percy, to Fairfax's daughter; Cowley wrote also a sonnet for the bride. In December he obtained, by influence of friends, the degree of M.D. from the University of Oxford, and retired into Kent to study botany. Such study caused him then to write a Latin poem upon Plants, in six books: the first two on Herbs, in elegiac verse; the next two on Flowers, in various measures; and the last two on Trees, in heroic numbers:- "Plantarum, Libri VI."
After the death of Cromwell, Cowley returned to France, but he came back to England in 1660, when he published an "Ode on His Majesty's Restoration and Return," and "A Discourse by way of Vision concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell." He was admitted, as Dr. Cowley, among the first members of the Royal Society then founded; but he was excluded from the favour of the king. He had written an "Ode to Brutus," for which, said his Majesty, it was enough for Mr. Cowley to be forgiven. A noble lord replied to Cowley's Ode, in praise of Brutus, with an Ode against that Rebel. Cowley's old friend, Lord Jermyn, now made Earl of St. Alban's, joined, however, with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, in providing for the poet all that was required to secure to him the quiet life that he desired. Provision to such end had been promised him both by Charles I. and Charles II., in the definite form of the office of Master of the Savoy, but the post was given by Charles II. to a brother of one of his mistresses.
Cowley recast his old comedy of "The Guardian," and produced it in December, 1661, as "Cutter of Coleman Street." It was played for a week to a full audience, though some condemned it on the supposition it was a satire upon the king's party. Cowley certainly was too pure and thoughtful to be a fit associate for Charles II. and many of his friends. The help that came from the Earl of St. Albans and the Duke of Buckingham, was in the form of such a lease of the Queen's lands as gave the poet a sufficient income. Others who had served little were enriched; but he was set at ease, and sought no more. He then made his home by the Thames, first at Barn Elms, and afterwards at Chertsey, at which latter place he lived for about a year in the Porch House, that yet stands. Cowley was living at Chertsey when a July evening in damp meadows gave him a cold, of which he died within a fortnight. That was in the year 1667, year also of the death of Jeremy Taylor, and of the birth of Jonathan Swift.
Abraham Cowley is at his truest in these ESSAYS, written during the last seven years of his life. Their style is simple, and their thoughts are pure. They have, for their keynote, the happiness of one who loves true liberty in quiet possession of himself. When he turns to the Latins, his translations are all from those lines which would have dwelt most pleasantly upon a mind that to the last held by the devout wish expressed by himself in a poem of his early youth--(A Vote, in "Sylva"):
"Books should, not business, entertain the light, And sleep, as undisturbed as death, the night. My house a cottage more Than palace, and should fitting be For all my use, no luxury. My garden, painted o'er With Nature's hand, not Art's, should pleasures yield, Horace might envy in his Sabine field."
The liberty of a people consists in being governed by laws which they have made themselves, under whatsoever form it be of government; the liberty of a private man in being master of his own time and actions, as far as may consist with the laws of God and of his country. Of this latter only we are here to discourse, and to inquire what estate of life does best suit us in the possession of it. This liberty of our own actions is such a fundamental privilege of human nature, that God Himself, notwithstanding all His infinite power and right over us, permits us to enjoy it, and that, too, after a forfeiture made by the rebellion of Adam. He takes so much care for the entire preservation of it to us, that He suffers neither His providence nor eternal decree to break or infringe it. Now for our time, the same God, to whom we are but tenants-at-will for the whole, requires but the seventh part to be paid to Him at as a small quit-rent, in acknowledgment of His title. It is man only that has the impudence to demand our whole time, though he neither gave it, nor can restore it, nor is able to pay any considerable value for the least part of it. This birthright of mankind above all other creatures some are forced by hunger to sell, like Esau, for bread and broth; but the greatest part of men make such a bargain for the delivery up of themselves, as Thamar did with Judah; instead of a kid, the necessary provisions for human life, they are contented to do it for rings and bracelets. The great dealers in this world may be divided into the ambitious, the covetous, and the voluptuous; and that all these men sell themselves to be slaves-- though to the vulgar it may seem a Stoical paradox--will appear to the wise so plain and obvious that they will scarce think it deserves the labour of argumentation. Let us first consider the ambitious; and those, both in their progress to greatness, and after the attaining of it. There is nothing truer than what Sallust says: "Dominationis in alios servitium suum, mercedem dant": They are content to pay so great a price as their own servitude to purchase the domination over others. The first thing they must resolve to sacrifice is their whole time; they must never stop, nor ever turn aside whilst they are in the race of glory; no, not like Atalanta for golden apples; "Neither indeed can a man stop himself, if he would, when he is in this, career. Fertur equis auriga neque audit currus habenas.