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but whose unwavering principle and purity of character, joined to rich intellectual powers, overflow upon us in secret, and bind us to him forever.
It is scarcely to be wondered at that Cowper's first volume was coldly received. The subjects of his poems ( Table Talk," The Progress of Error,' Truth,' . Expostulation,' • Hope,' 'Charity,' &c.) did not promise much, and his manner of handling them was not calculated to conciliate a fastidious public. He was both too harsh and too spiritual for general readers. Johnson had written moral poems in the same form of verse, but they possessed a rich declamatory grandeur and brilliancy of illustration which Cowper did not attempt, and probably would, from principle, have rejected. There are passages, however, in these evangelical works of Cowper of masterly execution and lively fancy. His character of Chatham has rarely been surpassed even by Pope or Dryden :
A. Patriots, alas! the few that have been found,
Where most they flourish, upon English ground,
The country's need have scantily supplied ;
And the last left the scene when Chatham died.
B. Not so: the virtue still adorns our age,
Though the chief actor died upon the stage.
In him Demosthenes was heard again;
Liberty taught him her Athenian strain ;
She clothed him with authority and awe,
Spoke from his lips, and in his looks gave aw.
His speech, his form, his action full of grace,
And all his country beaming in his face,
He stood as some inimitable hand
Would strive to make a Paul or Tully stand.
No sycophant or slave that dared oppose
Her sacred cause, but trembled when he rose ;
And every venal stickler for the yoke,
Felt himself crushed at the first word' he spoke. Neither has the fine simile with which the following retrospect closes :
Ages elapsed ere Homer's lamp appeared,
And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard ;
To carry nature lengths unknown before,
To give a Milton birth asked ages more.
Thus genius rose and set at ordered times,
And shot a day-spring into distant chimes,
Ennobling every region that he chose.
He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose;
And, tedious years of Gothic darkness past,
Emerged all splendour in our isle at last.
Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main,
Then shew far off their shining plumes again. The poem of Conversation' in this volume is rich in Addisonian humour and satire, and formed no unworthy prelude to The Task.' In 'Hope' and 'Retirement,' we see traces of the descriptive powers and natural pleasantry afterwards so finely developed. The highest flight in the whole, and the one most characteristic of Cowper, is his sketch of
The Greenland Missionaries.
That sound bespeaks salvation on her way,
The trumpet of a life-restoring day;
'Tis heard where England's eastern glory shines,
And in the gulfs of her Cornubian mines.
And still it spreads. See Germany send forth
Her sons to pour it on the furthest north;
Fired with a zeal peculiar they defy
The rage and rigour of a polar sky,
And plant successfully sweet Sharon's rose
On icy plains and in eternal snows.
O blest within the inclosure of your rocks,
Nor herds have ye to boast, nor bleating flocks;
No fertilising streams your fields divide,
That shew reversed the villas on their side;
No groves have ye; no cheerful sound of bird,
Or voice of turtle in your land is heard ;
Nor grateful eglantine regales the smell
Of those that walk at evening where ye dwell;
But Winter, armed with terrors here unknown,
Sits absolute on his unshaken throne,
Piles up his stores amidst the frozen waste,
And bids the mountains he has built stand fast;
Beckons the legions of his storms away
From happier scenes to make your lands a prey ;
Proclaims the soil a conquest he has won,
And scorns to share it with the distant sun.
Yet Truth is yours, remote unenvied isle !
And Peace, the genuine offspring of her smile;
The pride of lettered ignorance, that binds
In chains of error our accomplished minds,
That decks with all the splendour of the true,
A false religion, is unknown to you.
Nature indeed vouchsafes for our delight
The sweet vicissitudes of day and night;
Soft airs and genial moisture feed and cheer
Field, fruit, and flower, and every creature here;
But brighter beams than his who fires the skies
Have risen at length on your admiring eyes,
That shoot into your darkest caves the day
From which our nicer optics turn away. In this mixture of argument and piety, poetry and plain sense, we have the distinctive traits of Cowper's genius. The freedom acquired by composition, and especially the presence of Lady Austen, led to more valuable results; and when he entered upon The Task,' he was far more disposed to look at the sunny side of things,-and to launch into general description. His versification underwent a similar improvement. His former poems were often rugged in style and expression, and were made so on purpose to avoid the polished uni. formity of Pope and his imitators. Åe was now sensible that he had crred on the opposite side and accordingly “The Task’ was made to unite strength and freedom with elegance and harmony. No poet has introduced so much idiomatic expression into a grave poem of blank verse; but the higher passages are all carefully finished, and rise or fall, according to the nature of the subject, with inimitable
grace and melody. In this respect, Cowper, as already mentioned, has greatly the advantage of Thomson, whose stately march is never relaxed, however trivial be the theme. The variety of “The Task' in style and mạnner, no less than in subject, is one of its greatest charms. The mock-heroic opening is a fine specimen of his humour, and from this he slides into rural description and moral reflection so naturally and easily, that the reader is carried along apparently without an effort. The scenery of the Ouse-its level plains and spacious meads——is described with the vividness of painting, and the poet then elevates the character of his picture by a rapid sketch of still nobler features:
Nor rural sights alone, but rural sounds,
Exhilarate the spirit and restore
The tone of languid nature. Mighty winds
That sweep the skirt of some far-spreading wood
Of ancient growth, make music not unlike
The dash of ocean on his winding shore,
And lull the spirit while they fill the mind,
Unnumbered branches waving in the blast,
And all their leaves fast fluttering all at once.
Nor less composure waits upon the roar
Of distant floods, or on the softer voice
Of neighbouring fountain, or of rilis that slip
Through the cleft rock, and chiming as they fall
Upon loose pebbles, lose themselves at length
In matted grass, that with a livelier green
Betrays the secret of their silent course.
Nature inanimate displays sweet sounds,
But animated nature sweeter still,
To soothe and satisfy the human ear.
Ten thousand warblers cheer the day, and one
The livelong night; nor these alone whose notes
Nice-fingered art must emulate in vain,
But cawing rooks, and kites that swim sublime
In still-repeated circles, screaming loud,
The jay, the pie, and even the boding owl
That hails the rising moon, have charms for me.
Sounds inharmonious in themselves and harsh,
Yet heard in scenes where peace forever reigns,
And only there, please highly for their sake. The freedom of this versification, and the admirable variety of pause and cadence, must strike the most uncritical reader. With the same playful strength and equal power of landscape-painting, he describes
The Diversified Character of Creation.
The earth was made so various, that the mind
Of desultory man, studious of change
And pleased with novelty, might be indulged.
Prospects, however lovely, may be seen
Till half their beauties fade; the weary sight,
Too well acquainted with their smiles, slides off
Fastidious, seeking less familiar scenes.
Then snug inclosures in the sheltered vale,
Where frequent hedges intercept the eye,
Delight us, happy to renounce a while,
Not senseless of its charms, what still we love,
That such short absence may endear it more.
Then forests, or the savage rock may please
That hides the sea-mew in his hollow clefts
Above the reach of man; his hoary head
Conspicuous many a league, the mariner
Bound homeward, and in hope already there,
Greets with three cheers exulting. At his waist
A girdle of half-withered shrubs he shews,
And at his feet the baffled billows die.
The common overgrown with feru, and rough
With prickly goss, that, shapoless and deform,
And dangerous to the touch, has yet its bloom,
And decks itself with ornaments of gold,
Yields no unpleasing ramble; there the turf
Smells fresh, and rich in odoriferous herbs
And fungous fruits of earth, regales the sense
With luxury of unexpected sweets. From the beginning to the end of “The Task' we never lose sight of the author. His love of country rambles, when a boy,
O’er hills, through valleys, and by river's brink; his walks with Mrs. Unwin, when he had exchanged the Thames for the Ouse, and had grown sober in the vale of years;' his playful satire and tender admonition, his denunciation of slavery, his noble patriotism, his devotional earnestness and sublimity, his warm sympathy with his fellow-men, and his exquisite paintings of domestic peace and happiness, are all so much self-portraiture, drawn with the ripe skill and taste of the master, yet with a modesty that shrinks from the least obtrusiveness and display. The very rapidity of his transitions, where things light and sportive are drawn up with the most solemn truths, and satire, pathos, and reproof alternately min gle or repel each other, are characteristic of his mind and temperament in ordinary life. His inimitable ease and colloquial freedom, which lends such a charm to his letters, is never long absent from his poetry; and his peculiar tastes, as seen in that somewhat grandilo. quent line.
Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too, are all pictured in the pure and lucid pages of “The Task.' not be said that Cowper ever abandoned his sectarian religious tenets, yet they are little seen in his great work. His piety is that which all should feel and venerate; and if his sad experience of the world had tinged the prospect of life, 'its fluctuations and its vast concerns,' with a deeper shade than seems consonant with the ge. neral welfare and happiness, it also imparted a higher authority and more impressive wisdom to his earnest and solemn appeals. He was
a stricken deer that left the herd,' conscious of the follies and wants of those he left behind, and inspired with power to minister to the elight and instruction of the whole human race.
From · Conversation.'
The emphatic speaker dearly loves to oppose,
In contact inconvenient, nose to nose,
As if the gnomon on his neighbour's phiz,
Touched with a magnet, had attracted his.
His whispered theme, dilated and at large,
Proves after all a wind-gun's airy charge
An extract of his diary-no more-
A tasteless journal of the day before.
He walked abroad, o'ertaken in the rain,
Called on a friend, drank tea, stept home again;
Resumed his purpose, had a world of talk
With one he stumbled on, and lost his walk;
I interrupt him with a sudden bow,
Adieu, dear sir, lest you should lose it now.
A graver coxcomb we may sometimes see,
Quite as absurd, though not so light as he:
A shallow brain behind a serious mask,
An oracle within an empty cask,
The solemn fop, significant and budge;
A fool with judges, amongst fools a judge;
He says but little, and that little said,
Owes all its weight, like loaded dice, to lead.
His wit invites you by his looks to come,
But when you knock, it never is at home:
"Tis like a parcel sent you by the stage,
Some handsome present, as your hopes presage;
l'is heavy, bulky, and bids fa
An absent friend's fidelity of love;
But when unpacked, your disappointment groans
To find it stuffed with brickbats, earth, and stones.
Some men employ their health-an ugly trick-
In making known how oft they have been sick,
And give us in recitals of disease
A doctor's trouble but without the fees;
Relate how many weeks they kept their bed,
How an emetic or cathartic sped;
Nothing is slightly touched, much less forgot;
Nose, ears, and eyes seem present on the spot.
Now the distemper, spite of draught or pill,.
Victorious seemed, and now the doctor's skill;
And now-alas for unforeseen mishaps !
They put on a damp night-cap, and relapse;
They thought they must have died, they were so bad;
Their peevish hearers almost wished they had.
Some fretful tempers wince at every touch,
You always do too little or too much :
You speak with life, in hopes to entertain-
Your elevated voice goes through the brain ;
You fall at once into a lower key-
That's worse—the drone-pipe of a humble-bee.
The southern sash admits too strong a light;
You rise and drop the curtain—now 'tis night.
He shakes with cold-you stir the fire, and strive
To make a blaze-that's roasting him alive.
Serve him with venison, and he chooses fish;
With sole-that's just the sort he would not wish.
He takes what he at first professed to loathe,
And in due time feeds heartily on both;
Yet still o'erclonded with a constant frown,
He does not swallow, but he gulps it down.