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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,
VIRG. Ed. 5.
TROUGH Nature weigh our talents, and dispense
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,
Oaths terminate, as Paul observes, all strife
They fix attention, heedless of your pain,
• 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,
Go, quit the rank to which ye stood preferr'd,
Ye powers who rule the tongue, if such there are,
• Soph, a term in the English Universities for a student who is not a graduate.