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Library Catalog No. COWL1667

“To the Royal Society.” Prefatory verses for Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal-Society of London. London: Printed by T. R. for J. Martyn at the Bell without Temple-bar, and J. Allestry at the Rose and Crown in Duck-lane, Printers to the Royal Society, 1667. B1r–B3v.

by Abraham Cowley

e-Copyright © 2004–2017 < http://she-philosopher.com/library.html >

First Issued:  March 2004
Reissued:  20 August 2012
Revised (substantive):  12 June 2014

Part II: Cowley’s ode to the Royal Society


Head-piece from Thomas Sprat's _History of the Royal-Society_ (London, 1667)

T O   T H E

Royal Society.


P H I L O S O P H Y the great and only Heir
Of all that Human Knowledge which has bin
Unforfeited by Mans rebellion 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 Virtu seems to me)
Has still bin 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’re consent to set him Free,
Or his own Natural Powers to let him see,
Lest that should put an end to their Autoritie.

I I.

That his own busines he might quite forgit,
They amus’d him with the sports of wanton Wit,
With the Desserts of Poetry they fed him,
Instead of solid meats t’ encreas his force;
Instead of vigiorous exercise, they led him
Into the pleasant Labyr nths of ever fresh Discours:
     Instead of carrying him to see
The Riches which doe hoorded for him lye
     In Natures endless Treasurie,
     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 Chancellour of both their Laws,
And boldly undertook the injur’d Pupils caus.

I I I.

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 Magique of tru 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
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 Orchards open now, and free;
Bacon has broke that Scar-crow Deitie;
     Come, enter, all that will,
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.

I V.

From Words, which are but Pictures of the Thought,
(Though we our Thoughts from them perversely drew)
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 Tru;
And when on heaps the chosen Bunches lay,
He prest them wisely the Mechanic 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;
     No, not from Rubens or Vandike;
Much less content himself to make it like
Th’ Idæas and the Images which ly
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,
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;
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 always in a Triumph, or a Fight?

V I.

From you, great Champions, we expect to get
These spacious Countries but discover’d yet;
Countires where yet instead of Nature, we
Her Images and Idols worship’d see:
These large and wealthy Regions to subdu,
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)
     Too many to O’recome 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.

V I I.

Thus you prepar’d; and in the glorious Fight
Their wondrous pattern too you take:
     Their old and empty Pitcher first they brake,
And with their Hands then lifted up the Light.
     ! Sound too the Trumpets here!
Already your victorious Lights appear;
New Scenes of Heven 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.
Natures great Works 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.
She with much stranger Art than his who put
     All th’ Iliads in a Nut,
The numerous work of Life does into Atomes shut.
     Y’ have learn’d to Read her smallest Hand,
And well begun her deepest Sense to Understand.

V I I I.

Mischief and tru Dishonour fall on those
Who would to laughter or to scorn expose
So Virtuous and so Noble a Design,
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,
     In many thousand years
     A Star, so long unknown, appears,
Though Heven 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.

I X.

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 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,
     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.

A.   C O W L E Y.          

FINIS tail-piece from William Derham's 1726 edn., _Philosophical Experiments and Observations of the Late Eminent Dr. Robert Hooke_

Part I: Editor’s Introduction for Library Cat. No. COWL1667 pointer

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