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The title of this piece, which was composed in July, 1781, might seem to imply similarity to Table Talk. The reader, however, will remark, that they are altogether distinct in their objects, the latter being in fact a conversation, while the present poem teaches the art of conversing. From a hint in one of his letters, the poet appears to have intended to commence a second volume of poetry with this piece; but afterwards, as it would seem, abandoned the idea of publishing two small volumes instead of one of more respectable size. None of Cowper's efforts shew greater versatility than Conversation. It abounds in admirable description and well-drawn character; it is one of the smoothest in versification, and most sprightly in manner of all his earlier efforts, qualities which rendered this poem a favourite from the beginning. The poet assumes here a new office-- a master of manners as well as a teacher of piety ; but the great aim of his writings is never long forgotten. We sit down to be delighted, and are so ; but at the same time are surprised into wisdom, and rise from the perusal of this his lightest essay both wiser and better. The solemn tenderness of the scene atEmmaus ; the description of a Christian's conversation ; the picture of fanaticism ; the cheerful influence of religion upon the temper and conduct, are equal in true poetry to any passages which had previously adorned English literature ; and yet some of them were quoted in contemporary criticism as evidence of the "author's being a good devout gentleman without one particle of genius.” We have sometimes heard the same sentiment expressed in our own day; and, in reply, would only ask the objector to point out an equal number of lines superior to the ten which conclude Conversation. But Cowper contended not for poetical superiority ; he had in his own heart the best of consolations. “The critics cannot,” says he, “ deprive me of the pleasure I have in reflecting, that, so far as my leisure has been employed in writing for the public, it has been conscientiously employed, and with a view to its advantage.”


Nam neque me tantum venientis sibilus austri,
Nec percussa juvant fluctû tam litora, nec quæ
Sazosas inter decurrunt flumina valles.

VIRG. Ed. 5.

TROUGH Nature weigh our talents, and dispense
To every man his modicum of sense,
And Conversation in its better part
May be esteem'd a gift, and not an art,
Yet much depends, as in the tiller's toil,
On culture, and the sowing of the soil.
Words learn'd by rote a parrot may rehearse,
But talking is not always to converse ;
Not more distinct from harmony divine,
The constant creaking of a country sign.
As alphabets in ivory employ,
Hour after hour, the yet unletter'd boy,
Sorting and puzzling with a deal of glee
Those seeds of science call’d his A B C;
So language in the mouths of the adult,
Witness its insignificant result,
Too often proves an implement of play,
A toy to sport with, and pass time away.
Collect at evening what the day brought forth,
Compress the sum into its solid worth,
And if it weigh th' importance of a fly,
The scales are false, or algebra a lie.
Sacred interpreter of human thought,
How few respect or use thee as they ought !
But all shall give account of every wrong,
Who dare dishonour or defile the tongue;
Who prostitute it in the cause of vice,
Or sell their glory at a market price;
Who vote for hire, or point it with lampoon,
The dear bought placeman, and the cheap buffoon.


There is a prurience in the speech of some, Wrath stays him, or else God would strike them dumb; His wise forbearance has their end in view, They fill their measure, and receive their due. The heathen lawgivers of ancient days, Names almost worthy of a Christian's praise, Would drive them forth from the resort of men, And shut up every satyr in his den. Oh, come not ye near innocence and truth, Ye worms that eat into the bud of youth ! Infectious as impure, your blighting power Taints in its rudiments the promised flower ; Its odour perish'd and its charming hue, Thenceforth 'tis hateful, for it smells of you. Not e'en the vigorous and headlong rage Of adolescence, or a firmer age, Affords a plea allowable or just For making speech the pamperer of lust ; But when the breath of age commits the fault, 'Tis nauseous as the vapour of a vault. So wither'd stumps disgrace the sylvan scene, No longer fruitful, and no longer green;

The sapless wood, divested of the bark,
Grows fungous, and takes fire at every spark.

Oaths terminate, as Paul observes, all strife
Some men have surely then a peaceful life ;
Whatever subject occupy discourse,
The feats of Vestris,* or the naval force,
Asseveration blust'ring in your face
Makes contradiction such a hopeless case ;
In every tale they tell, or false or true,
Well known, or such as no man ever knew,

They fix attention, heedless of your pain,
With oaths like rivets forced into the brain ;
And e'en when sober truth prevails throughout,
They swear it, till affirmance breeds a doubt.
A Persian, humble servant of the sun,
Who, though devout, yet bigotry had none,

• The name of a celebrated Parisian dancer. The family consisted of three generations upon the stage at once.

Hearing a lawyer, grave in his address,
With adjurations every word impress,
Supposed the man a bishop, or, at least,
God's name so much upon his lips, a priest;
Bow'd at the close with all his graceful airs,
And begg'd an interest in his frequent prayers.

Go, quit the rank to which ye stood preferr'd,
Henceforth associate in one common herd;
Religion, virtue, reason, common sense,
Pronounce your human form a false pretence;
A mere disguise, in which a devil lurks,
Who yet betrays his secret by his works.

Ye powers who rule the tongue, if such there are,
And make colloquial happiness your care,
Preserve me from the thing I dread and hate -
A duel in the form of a debate.
The clash of arguments and jar of words,
Worse than the mortal brunt of rival swords,
Decide no question with their tedious length,
(For opposition gives opinion strength)
Divert the champions prodigal of breath,
And put the peaceably disposed to death.
Oh thwart me not, Sir Soph,* at every turn,
Nor carp at every flaw you may discern;
Though syllogisms hang not on my tongue,
I am not surely always in the wrong;
'Tis hard if all is false that I advance -
A fool must now and then be right by chance.
Not that all freedom of dissent I blame;
No- there I grant the privilege I claim,
A disputable point is no man's ground;
Rove where you please, 'tis common all around.
Discourse may want an animated -- No,
To brush the surface, aud to make it flow :
But still remember, if you mean to please,
To press your point with modesty and ease.
The mark, at which my juster aim I take,
Is contradiction for its own dear sake.

• Soph, a term in the English Universities for a student who is not a graduate.

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