To The Royal Society (excerpts)

Abraham Cowley 1618 (London) – 1667 (London)

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
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Submitted on May 13, 2011


Abraham Cowley

Abraham Cowley was an English poet born in the City of London late in 1618. He was one of the leading English poets of the 17th century, with 14 printings of his Works published between 1668 and 1721. more…

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"To The Royal Society (excerpts)" STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 13 Aug. 2020. <>.

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