History

Abraham Cowley

History

In Poets' Corner Westminster Abbey is a white marble monument to poet Abraham Cowley. It consists of an oval panel on a pedestal with a large wreathed urn above and is by sculptor John Bushnell. The inscription was written by Cowley's friend and biographer Thomas Sprat, Dean of Westminster and the Latin can be translated:

"Near this place lies Abraham Cowley, the Pindar, Horace and Virgil of England and the delight, ornament and favourite of his age. While sacred bard far worlds thy works proclaim, and you survive in an immortal fame, here may you blessed in pleasing quiet lie, to guard thy urn may hoary faith stand by; and all thy favourite tuneful nine repair, to watch thy dust with a perpetual care. Sacred for ever may this place be made, and may no desperate hand presume to invade, with touch unhallowed, this religious room, or dare affront thy venerable tomb: Unmoved and undisturbed, till time shall end, may Cowley's dust this marble shrine defend. So wishes, and desires that wish may be sacred to posterity, George, Duke of Buckingham, who erected this marble monument for that incomparable man"

Below are the lines:

"He died in the 49th year of his age and was carried from Buckingham House with considerable pomp; his obsequies being attended by persons of illustrious character of all degrees, and buried 3 August 1667".

In an Abbey guide of 1722 an image of Cowley is shown in the medallion under the urn.

The inscription on the black marble gravestone in front of the monument has been re-cut:

"ABRAHAM COULEIUS H.S.E. 1667" [Here lies buried Abraham Cowley, 1667]

This also shows his coat of arms "a lion rampant within a bordure engrailed, charged with eight mullets". In the 19th century the names of several other poets who were buried in the area but had no gravestones were added to the top of Cowley's stone.

He was born in London, a son of Thomas Cowley and his wife Thomasine, and was educated at Westminster School. HIs career as a poet began at an early age with the publication in 1633 of Poetical Blossoms. While at Cambridge university he wrote comedies. During the English Civil War he lived in Oxford and was later employed on the continent by the royalists on secret cipher work. His works include poems, prose and essays. He died at Chertsey on 28 July 1667 and had a lavish funeral in the Abbey. But his contemporary reputation soon waned.

A photo of the monument can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

"The Works of Mr Abraham Cowley" by Thomas Sprat, 1668.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.