The Abraham Cowley Text and Image Archive

To the Royal Society.

from Works (1668; editor's copy); this text normalized in the same way as Cowley's hymn "To Light"

PHilosophy the great and only Heir
        Of all that Human Knowledge which has bin
Unforfeited by Mans rebellious Sin,
        Though full of years He do appear,
(Philosophy, I say, and call it, He,
For whatsoe're the Painters Fancy be,
        It a Male-virtue seemes to me)
Has still been kept in Nonage till of late,
Nor manag'd or enjoy'd his vast Estate:
Three or four thousand years one would have thought,   10
To ripeness and perfection might have brought
        A Science so well bred and nurst,
        And of such hopeful parts too at the first.
But, oh, the Guardians and the Tutors then,
(Some negligent, and some ambitious men)
        Would ne're consent to set him Free,
Or his own Natural Powers to let him see,
Lest that should put an end to their Autoritie.
That his own business he might quite forget,
They'amus'd him with the sports of wanton Wit,   20
With the Desserts of Poetry they fed him,
In stead of solid meats t'encrease his force;
In stead of vigorous exercise they led him
Into the pleasant Labyrinths of ever-fresh Discourse:
        In stead of carrying him to see
The Riches which doe hoorded for him lie
        In Natures endless Treasurie,
        They chose his Eye to entertain
        (His curious but not covetous Eye)
       With painted Scenes, and Pageants of the Brain.   30
Some few exalted Spirits this latter Age has shown,
That labour'd to assert the Liberty
(From Guardians, who were now Usurpers grown)
Of this old Minor still, Captiv'd Philosophy;
        But 'twas Rebellion call'd to fight
        For such a long-oppressed Right.
Bacon at last, a mighty Man, arose
        Whom a wise King and Nature chose
        Lord Chancellour of both their Lawes,
And boldly undertook the injur'd Pupils cause.   40
Autority, which did a Body boast,
Though 'twas but Air condens'd, and stalk'd about,
Like some old Giants more Gigantic Ghost,
        To terrifie the Learned Rout
With the plain Magick of true Reasons Light,
        He chac'd out of our sight,
Nor suffer'd Living Men to be misled
        By the vain shadows of the Dead:
To Graves, from whence it rose, the conquer'd Phantome fled;
        He broke that Monstrous God which stood   50
In midst of th'Orchard, and the whole did claim,
        Which with a useless Sith of Wood,
        And something else not worth a name,
        (Both vast for shew, yet neither fit
        Or to Defend, or to Beget;
        Ridiculous and senceless Terrors!) made
Children and superstitious Men afraid.
        The Orchard's open now, and free;
Bacon has broke that Scar-crow Deitie;
        Come, enter, all that will,   60
Behold the rip'ned Fruit, come gather now your Fill.
        Yet still, methinks, we fain would be
        Catching at the Forbidden Tree,
        We would be like the Deitie,
When Truth and Falshood, Good and Evil, we
Without the Sences aid within our selves would see;
        For 'tis God only who can find
        All Nature in his Mind.
From Words, which are but Pictures of the Thought,
Though we our Thoughts from them perversly drew)   70
To things, the Minds right Object, he it brought,
Like foolish Birds to painted Grapes we flew;
He sought and gather'd for our use the True;
And when on heaps the chosen Bunches lay,
He prest them wisely the Mechanick way,
Till all their juyce did in one Vessel joyn,
Ferment into a Nourishment Divine,
        The thirsty Souls refreshing Wine.
Who to the life an exact Piece would make,
Must not from others Work a Copy take;   80
        No, not from Rubens or Vandike;
Much less content himself to make it like
Th'Ideas and the Images which lie
In his own Fancy, or his Memory.
        No, he before his sight must place
        The Natural and Living Face;
        The real object must command
Each Judgment of his Eye, and Motion of his Hand.
From these and all long Errors of the way,
In which our wandring Prædecessors went,   90
And like th'old Hebrews many years did stray
        In Desarts but of small extent,
Bacon, like Moses , led us forth at last,
        The barren Wilderness he past,
        Did on the very Border stand
        Of the blest promis'd Land,
And from the Mountains Top of his Exalted Wit,
        Saw it himself, and shew'd us it.
But Life did never to one Man allow
Time to Discover Worlds, and Conquer too;   100
Nor can so short a Line sufficient be
To fadome the vast depths of Natures Sea;
        The work he did we ought t'admire,
And were unjust if we should more require
From his few years, divided 'twixt th'Excess
Of low Affliction, and high Happiness.
For who on things remote can fix his sight,
That's alwayes in a Triumph, or a Fight?
From you, great Champions, we expect to get
These spacious Countries but discover'd yet;   110
Countries where yet in stead of Nature, we
Her Images and Idols worship'd see:
These large and wealthy Regions to subdue,
Though Learning has whole Armies at command,
        Quarter'd about in every Land,
A better Troop she ne're together drew.
        Methinks, like Gideon's little Band,
        God with Design has pickt out you,
To do these noble Wonders by a Few:
When the whole Host he saw, They are (said he)   120
        Too many to O'rcome for Me;
        And now he chuses out his Men,
        Much in the way that he did then:
        Not those many whom he found
        Idely extended on the ground,
        To drink with their dejected head
The Stream just so as by their Mouths it fled:
        No, but those Few who took the waters up,
And made of their laborious Hands the Cup.
Thus you prepar'd; and in the glorious Fight   130
        Their wondrous pattern too you take:
Their old and empty Pitchers first they brake,
And with their Hands then lifted up the Light.
        Io! Sound too the Trumpets here!
Already your victorious Lights appear;
New Scenes of Heaven already we espy,
And Crowds of golden Worlds on high;
Which from the spacious Plains of Earth and Sea;
        Could never yet discover'd be
By Sailers or Chaldæans watchful Eye.   140
Natures great Workes no distance can obscure,
No smalness her near Objects can secure
        Y'have taught the curious Sight to press
        Into the privatest recess
Of her imperceptible Littleness.
        Y'have learn'd to Read her smallest Hand,
And well begun her deepest Sense to Understand.
Mischief and true Dishonour fall on those   [add 1668
Who would to laughter or to scorn expose
So Virtuous and so Noble a Design,   150
So Human for its Use, for Knowledge so Divine.
The things which these proud men despise, and call
        Impertinent, and vain, and small,
Those smallest things of Nature let me know,
Rather than all their greatest Actions Doe.
Whoever would Deposed Truth advance
        Into the Throne usurp'd from it,
Must feel at first the Blows of Ignorance,
        And the sharp Points of Envious Wit.
So when by various turns of the Celestial Dance,   160
        In many thousand years
        A Star, so long unknown, appears,
Though Heaven it self more beauteous by it grow,
It troubles and alarms the World below,
Does to the Wise a Star, to Fools a Meteor show.
With Courage and Success you the bold work begin;
        Your Cradle has not Idle bin:
None e're but Hercules and you could be
At five years Age worthy a History.
        And ne're did Fortune better yet   170
        Th'Historian to the Story fit:
        As you from all Old Errors free
And purge the Body of Philosophy;
        So from all Modern Folies He
Has vindicated Eloquence and Wit.
His candid Stile like a clean Stream does slide,
        And his bright Fancy all the way
        Does like the Sun-shine in it play;
It does like Thames, the best of Rivers, glide,
Where the God does not rudely overturn,   180
        But gently pour the Crystal Urn,
And with judicious hand does the whole Current Guide.
T'has all the Beauties Nature can impart,
And all the comely Dress without the paint of Art.