Abraham Cowley was born in the parish of St. Michael le Quern, Cheapside, in London, sometime after July, 1618, the seventh child and fifth son (born posthumously) of Thomas Cowley, a stationer and grocer, who left 1000 to be divided among his seven children. His mother was Thomasine Berrye, to whom Thomas Cowley had pledged his faith sometime in 1581. The widow did the best she could to educate her children through her own devices and then managed to send the boys off to more formal institutions. Thus, she obtained young Abraham’s admission as a king’s scholar at Westminster School, to which he proceeded armed with some acquaintance with Edmund Spenser. By the age of fifteen, he was already a published poet; his first collection of five pieces, entitled Poeticall Blossomes, was followed by a second edition three years later. One of the poems, “Pyramus and Thisbe,” some 226 lines long, had been written when he was ten; another, “Constantia and Philetus,” was written during the poet’s twelfth year.
Cowley’s scholarly skills unfortunately did not keep pace with the development of his poetic muse. Apparently the boy balked at the drudgeries of learning grammar and languages; furthermore, his masters contended that his natural quickness made such study unnecessary. In the end, he failed to gain election to Cambridge University in 1636 and had to wait until mid-June of the following year, at which time he became a scholar of Trinity College. Cambridge proved no deterrent to young Cowley’s poetic bent; in 1638, he published a pastoral drama, Loves Riddle, written at least four years previously. Then, on February 2, 1638, members of Trinity College performed his Latin comedy, Naufragium Joculare, which he published shortly thereafter. After taking his B.A. in 1639, Cowley remained at Cambridge through 1642, by which time he had earned the M.A. The year before, when Prince Charles had passed through Cambridge, the young poet had hastily prepared for the occasion a comedy...
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