Cockburn, Catharine

, a lady much distinguished by her literary accomplishments, was born in London, August 16, 1679, the daughter of captain David Trotter, who was a native of Scotland, and a commander in the royal navy, in the reign of king Charles the Second. Her mother was Mrs. Sarah Ballenden, nearly related to the noble lord of that name, and to the illustrious families of Maitland, duke of Lauderdale, and Drumrnond, earl of Perth. She had the misfortune to lose her father when very young; an event which also reduced her mother to narrow circumstances. In her childhood, she surprised a company of her relations and friends with some extemporary verses, on an incident which had happened in the street, and which excited her attention. By her own | application and diligence, without any instructor, she learned to write, and also made herself mistress of the French language; but had some assistance in the study of the Latin grammar and logic; and of the latter she drew up an abstract for her own use. She was educated in the protestant religion, but having an early intimacy with several Roman catholic families of distinction, she was led, when very young, to embrace the Romish communion, and continued in it for some years.

In 1693, when she was only fourteen years of age, she wrote some verses, and sent them to Mr. Bevil Higgons, tf on his sickness and recovery from the small-pox,“and was only in her seventeenth year when she produced a tragedy, entitledAgnes de Castro,“which was acted with applause at the Theatre-Royal in 1695, and printed the following year in 4to, without her name. The play is founded upon a French novel of the same title, printed at Paris in 1688. In 1697, she addressed some verses to Mr. Congreve on his” Mourning Bride“which gave rise to an acquaintance between her and that celebrated writer. In 1698, her tragedy, entitled” Fatal Friendship,“was performed at the new theatre in Lincoln’s-inn-fields, and printed the same year in 4to, with a dedication to the princess Anne of Denmark. This play was considered as the most perfect of her dramatic performances and it was praised by Hughes and Farquhar.*


We are more inclined to agree with Dr. Beattie, that this tragedy ought to have been suppressed. That critic adds, “’It does her no credit, and shews her to have been at eighteen a greater adept in love matters than unmarried women of that age are commonly supposed to be.” He refers the blame, however, to “her youth, and the licentiousness of the English stage in the end of the last (seventeenth) century.” Forbes’s Life of Beattie.

On the death of Mr. Dry den, in 1701, our poetess joined with several other ladies, in paying a just tribute to his memory in verse. Their performances were published together in that year, under the title of” The Nine Muses; or, Poems written l>y so many Ladies, upon the death of the late famous John Dryden, esq.“The same year she also brought upon the stage a comedy, called” Love at a Loss; or, most votes carry it,“acted at the Theatre-Royal, and published in quarto; but on account of her absence from London while it was in the press, it was so incorrectly printed, that she would gladly have suppressed the edition; and many years after she revised it, with a view to a second performance, | which never took place. Soon after, before the close of the year 1701, she produced another tragedy, called” The Unhappy Penitent,“which was performed at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-lane, also printed in 4to. In the midst of this attention to poetry and dramatic writing, she spent much of her time in metaphysical studies. She was a great admirer of Mr. Locke’s” Essay on Human Understanding;" and drew up a defence of that work, against some remarks written by Dr. Thomas Burnet, master of the Charter-house. This was published in May 1702, without a name, lest the public should be prejudiced against a metaphysical treatise written by a woman. She also professed herself to be desirous of concealing her name, from an unwillingness tobe known to Mr. Locke, under the character of his defender. But her name was not long concealed; and Mr. Locke desired his cousin, Mr. King, afterwards lord chancellor, to pay her a visit, and make her a present of books; and upon her owning her performance, he wrote her a letter of acknowledgment.*

In her defence of Mr. Locke, Mrs. Trotter endeavoured to prove that there was nothing in his sentiments which weakened the evidences of a future state, or which was inconsistent with the principles of morality, or with any of the doctrines of Christianity: and she maintained, that it was of dangerous consequence to assert, that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul depended on its immateriality,

She also received a letter of thanks for this piece from Mrs. Burnet, the last wife of the celebrated prelate of that name. It appears, that at the latter end of 1701, she was some time at Salisbury, on a visit to her relations in that city.

Mrs. Trotter still continued in the communion of the church of Rome; and the sincerity of her attachment to it, in all its outward severities, obliged her to so strict an observance of its fasts, as proved extremely injurious to her health. This occasioned Dr. Denton Nicholas, an ingenious and learned physician of her acquaintance, to advise her by a letter, dated October 19, 1703, to abate of those rigours of abstinence to which she addicted herself; which he represented as insupportable to a constitution naturally infirm: and he desired her to shew his letter to her friends and confessor for their satisfaction. What effect this remonstrance had, we are not told.

Her friend Mr. Burnet continued to keep up a correspondence with her during his travels; and upon his arrival at the court of Berlin, where he was received with great | marks of respect by Sophia Charlotte, queen of Prussia, daughter to the princess Sophia, he took an opportunity of writing to that princess in such advantageous terms of Mrs. Trotter, that her royal highness, in her answer to him from Hanover, on the 29th of July, 1704, declared herself “charmed with the agreeable picture which he had drawn of the new Scots Sappho, who seemed to deserve all the great things which he had said of her.” Jn 1704, Mrs. Trotter addressed some verses to the duke of Marlborough, upon his return from Germany, after the battle of Blenheim; and in 1706, after the battle of Ramillies, she also addressed a second poem to the duke of Marlborough. The same year, her tragedy called “The Revolution of Sweden,” was acted at the queen’s theatre in the Haymarket, and printed at London in 4to. It is founded upon the revolution in Sweden under Gustavus Erickson.

She had now for some time begun to entertain doubts concerning the Romish religion; which led her into a thorough examination of the grounds of it, by consulting the best books on both sides of the question, and conversing with persons of the best judgment, both papists and protestants, amongst her acquaintance. The result of her inquiries was, a full conviction of the falseness of the pretensions of the Romish church, and a return to the communion of the church of England, about the beginning of 1707; and she continued a firm protestant during the remainder of her life. In the course of her inquiries, the great question concerning “a Guide in Controversies,” was particularly discussed by her; and two letters which she wrote on this subject, were published this year under the following title: “A Discourse concerning a Guide in Controversies, in two Letters: written to one of the church of Rome, by a person lately converted from that communion.

A considerable part of the summer of 1707 was spent by Mrs. Trotter at Ockham- Mills, near Ripley, in the county of Surrey. During her retirement there, Mr. Fenn, a young clergyman of an excellent character, paid his addresses to her, but she had previously engaged in a correspondence by letters with Mr. Cockburn ,*


The father of this gentleman was Dr. Cockburn, an eminent and learned divine of Scotland, at first attached to the court of St. Germain’s, but obliged to quit it, on account of his inflexible adherence to the protestant religion; then for some time minister of the episcopal church at Amsterdam, and at


last collated to the rectory of Northall in Middlesex, by Dr. Robinson, bishop of London, at the recommendation of queen Anne, who intended him for one of the bishops of our American Plantations, if the scheme of establishing them had been executed. He was a man of considerable learning, and published, in the Weekly Miscellany, a defence of prime ministers, in the character of Joseph; and likewise wrote a treatise on the Mosaic deluge, published since his death, a volume of Sermons, several single discourses, a funeral sermon for bishop Compton, a work called “Right notions of God and Religion,” another very curiout volume entitled “The History and Exanimation of Duels,1720, 8vo, and some tracts on religious subjects. He died Nov. 20, 1729, and was buried in the chancel at Northall. Birch’s Life of Mrs. Cockburn, and Lysons’s Environs, vol. III. There was a contemporary, a Dr. William Cockburn, a physician, and author of some medical tracts, probably a relation of Dr. John Cockburn, who died in 1739. There is some account of him in —Rees’s Cyclopaedia, and in Noble’s Continuation of Granger, but scarcely important euough for a separate article.

which | terminated in a mirriage in the beginning of 1708. Mr. Cockburn had taken orders in the church of England but a short time before his marriage; and soon after that event, he had the donative of Nayland in Suffolk, where for some time they settled; but Mr. Cockburn removed to London to be curate of St. Dunstan’s church in Fleet-street. In this situation he remained till the accession of king George the First, when, entertaining some doubts about taking the oath of abjuration, he was obliged to quit his curacy, and for ten or twelve years was reduced to great difficulties in procuring subsistence for his family. During that period, he was employed in instructing the youth of an academy in Chancery-lane in the Latin tongue. But in 1726, by consulting the lord chancellor King, and his own father, upon the meaning and intent of the oath of abjuration, and byreading some papers which were put into his hands upon the subject, he was at length reconciled to taking it. In consequence of this, being the following year invited to be minister of the episcopal congregation at Aberdeen, he qualified himself conformably to the law; and on the day of king George the Second’s accession, he preached there a sermon on the duty and benefit of praying for the government. This sermon was printed, and being animadverted upon, he published a reply to the remarks on it, with some papers relative to the oath of abjuration, which were much commended. Soon after his settlement at Aberdeen, the lord chancellor King presented him to the living of LongHorseley, near Morpeth, in Northumberland, in order to enable him the better to support his family, and he was permitted to remain at Aberdeen, till the negligence and ill behaviour of the curates, whom he employed at | LongHorseley obliged him to quit his station at Aberdeen in 1737, whereby his income was considerably lessened.

Mrs. Cockburn, after her marriage, was almost entirely prevented from any application to her studies, for many years, in consequence of her close attention to the duties of a wife and of a mother. To the ordinary cares of an increasing family, were added those resulting from the straitened circumstances of her husband; so that she had little time for reading. But in 1726, when she had been married about eighteen years, she published, “A Letter to Dr. Holdsworth,” in vindication of Mr. Locke. Dr. Holdsvvorth, who was a fellow of St. John’s college in Oxford, had preached a sermon before the university, on John v. 28, 29, concerning the resurrection of tfee same body. This sermon he afterwards printed in 8vo, professing, in his title page, to examine and answer “the cavils, false reasonings, and false interpretations of scripture, of Mr. Locke, and others, against the resurrection of the same body.” Mrs. Cockburn remonstrated, in her publication, against the manner in which Dr. Holdsworth had treated Mr. Locke: and urged, that it could be of no service to the church, nor was it in any respect prudent, to take so much pains to rank Mr. Locke amongst heretics, and the worst enemies of Christianity. Dr. Holdsworth, however, renewed the charge in his “Defence of the doctrine of the Resurrection of the same Body,” 8vo, 1727. To this Mrs. Cockburn wrote a reply, which she entitled, “A Vindication of Mr. Locke’s Christian Principles, from the injurious imputations of Dr. Holdsworth.” But as she could meet with no bookseller who would undertake to print it at his own hazard, it continued in manuscript, until printed in the edition of her works, by Dr. Birch.

In 1732, she wrote a poem on occasion of “the Busts set up in the Queen’s Hermitage,” which was afterwards printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine, for May 1737, with some alterations, which she thought to its disadvantage. About two years after, she wrote “Remarks upon some writers in the controversy concerning the foundation of Moral Duty and Moral Obligation; particularly the translator of archbishop King’s Origin of Moral Evil, and the author of the Divine Legation of Moses: to which are prefixed, some cursory thoughts on the controversies concerning necessary existence, the reality and infinity of | space, the extension and place of spirits, and on Dr. Watts’s notion of substance.*


Mrs. Cockburn’s name was not prefixed or subjoined to these remarks; but they were “inscribed, with the utmost deference, to Alexander Pope, esq. by an admirer of his moral character.” She had conceived an high veneration for Mr. Pope, and was desirous of being made known to him, but seems to have known little of him, as among his virtues, she enumerates his friendship for Patty Blount. It appears by her remarks on the writers concerning the foundation of morality, that she maintained the opinion of Dr. Samuel Clarke, that there are eternal and immutable relations, essential differences of things, and fitnesses restilting from them, independently of the will of God, which are obligatory on all reasonable beings, antecedently to any positive appointment, or declaration of the will of God concerning them.

These remarks continued in manuscript till the year 1743, when they were printed in “The History of the Works of the Learned.” She had the misfortune this year to lose a daughter; and it appears also, that she had at this time a son in Germany, in some office connected with the army, and who was afterwards clerk of the cheque at Chatham.

When Dr. Rutherforth’s “Essay on the Nature and Obligations of Virtue” appeared, it soon engaged the attention of Mrs. Cockburn, who undertook to write a confutation of that elaborate discourse, and transmitted her manuscript to Mr. Warburton, afterwards the celebrated bishop of Gloucester, who published it in 1747, under the title of “Remarks upon the Principles and Reasonings of Dr. Rutherforth’s Essay on the Nature and Obligations of Virtue, in vindication of the contrary principles and reasonings, enforced in the writings of the late Dr. Samuel Clarke.” In the preface to this confutation of Dr. Rutherforth, Mr. Warburton says, that “it contains all the clearness of expression, the strength of reason, the precision of logic, and attachment to truth, which makes books of this nature really useful to the common cause of virtue and religion.” The merit of this performance, and the general reputation of her writings, at length induced her friends to propose to her an edition of them by subscription, but she did not live to discharge the office of editor; which, in consequence of her death, was afterwards undertaken by Dr. Birch. She lost her husband on the 4th of Jan. 1748-9, in“the seventy-first year of his age; and did not long survive the shock. She died on the llth of May, 1749, in her seventy-first year, after having long supported a painful disorder, with the utmost patience and resignation. Her memory and understanding continued unimpaired, till | within a few days of her death. She was interred, near her husband and youngest daughter, at Long-Horseley, with this short sentence on their tomb:” Let their works praise them in the gates," Prov. xxxi. 31.

In her younger years, Mrs. Cockburn was much celebrated for her beauty, as well as for her genius and other accomplishments. She was small of stature, but was distinguished by the unusual vivacity of her eyes, and the delicacy of her complexion, which continued to her death. In her private character she appears to have been benevolent and generous; and remarkable for the uncommon evenness and chearfulness of her temper. Her conversation was innocent, agreeable, and instructive: she had not the least affectation of being thought a wit; but was modest and diffident, and constantly endeavoured to adapt her discourse to her company. Throughout the whole course of her life, she seems to have been in very narrow and straitened circumstances; and after her marriage she had little leisure for study, and was very ill provided with books. But she endured the inconveniences of her situation, with a patience and fortitude that were truly exemplary. It is justly observed by Dr. Birch, that “her abilities as a writer, and the merit of her works, will not have full justice done them, without a due attention to the peculiar circumstances in which they were produced; her early youth, when she wrote some; her very advanced age, and ill state of health, when she drew up others; the uneasy situation of her fortune, during the whole course of her life; and an interval of nearly twenty years, in the vigour of it, spent in the cares of a family, without the least leisure for reading or contemplation. After which, with a mind so long diverted and encumbered, resuming her studies, she instantly recovered its entire powers, and in the hours of relaxation from her domestic employments, pursued, to their utmost limits, some of the deepest inquiries of which the human mind is capable.” It was in 1751, that her works were published by Dr. Birch, 2 vols. 8vo, under the following title: “The Works of Mrs. Catherine Cockburn, theological, moral, dramatic, and poetical.” None of her dramatic pieces were included in this collection, excepting “The Fatal Friendship,” it being found, that all her writings could not be comprised in the two volumes proposed to be printed for those who had subscribed for her works. Besides the other pieces already | mentioned in the course of this account of her life, Dr. Birch’s collection contains, a letter of advice to her son; letters between Dr. Sharp, archdeacon of Northumberland, and prebendary of Durham, and Mrs, Cockburn, concerning the foundation of moral virtue letters between Mrs. Cockburn and several of her friends and some short essays in prose, with several songs, and other poems. 1


Life by Birch.—Biog. Brit.—Forbes’s Life of Seattle.—Cibber's Lives.