Treasure Island

Abraham Cowley

(1618 – 28 July 1667 / London)

To The Royal Society (excerpts)


Philosophy the great and only heir
Of all that human knowledge which has bin
Unforfeited by man's rebellious sin,
Though full of years he do appear,
(Philosophy, I say, and call it, he,
For whatso'ere the painter's fancy be,
It a male-virtue seems 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,
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'er consent to set him free,
Or his own natural powers to let him see,
Lest that should put an end to their authority.

That his own business he might quite forget,
They' amus'd him with the sports of wanton wit,
With the desserts of poetry they fed him,
Instead of solid meats t' encrease his force;
Instead of vigorous exercise they led him
Into the pleasant labyrinths of ever-fresh discourse:
Instead of carrying him to see
The riches which do hoarded for him lie
In Nature's endless treasury,
They chose his eye to entertain
(His curious but not covetous eye)
With painted scenes, and pageants of the brain.
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 Chancellor of both their laws,
And boldly undertook the injur'd pupil's cause.

Authority, which did a body boast,
Though 'twas but air condens'd, and stalk'd about,
Like some old giant's more gigantic ghost,
To terrify the learned rout
With the plain magic of true reason's light,
He chas'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 phantom fled;
He broke that monstrous god which stood
In midst of th' orchard, and the whole did claim,
Which with a useless scythe of wood,
And something else not worth a name,
(Both vast for show, yet neither fit
Or to defend, or to beget;
Ridiculous and senseless terrors!) made
Children and superstitious men afraid.
The orchard's open now, and free;
Bacon has broke that scarecrow deity;
Come, enter, all that will,
Behold the ripen'd fruit, come gather now your fill.
Yet still, methinks, we fain would be
Catching at the forbidden tree,
We would be like the Deity,
When truth and falshood, good and evil, we
Without the senses 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 perversely drew
To things, the mind's 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 press'd them wisely the mechanic way,
Till all their juice did in one vessel join,
Ferment into a nourishment divine,
The thirsty soul's refreshing wine.
Who to the life an exact piece would make,
Must not from other's work a copy take;
No, not from Rubens or Vandyke;
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 wand'ring predecessors went,
And like th' old Hebrews many years did stray
In deserts 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 mountain's 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;
Nor can so short a line sufficient be
To fathom the vast depths of Nature's 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 always in a triumph, or a fight?

From you, great champions, we expect to get
These spacious countries but discover'd yet;
Countries where yet in stead of Nature, we
Her images and idols worshipp'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 pick'd out you,
To do these noble wonders by a few:
When the whole host he saw, they are (said he)
Too many to o'ercome for me;
And now he chooses out his men,
Much in the way that he did then:
Not those many whom he found
Idly 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.
...

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
Th' historian to the story fit:
As you from all old errors free
And purge the body of philosophy;
So from all modern follies he
Has vindicated eloquence and wit.
His candid style 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,
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.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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