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Skilful alike to seem devout and just,
And stab religion with a sly side-thrust;
Nor those of learn'd philologists, who chase
A panting syllable through time and space.
Start it at home, and hunt it in the dark,
To Gaul, to Greece, and into Noah's ark ;
But such as learning without false pretence,
The friend of truth, th' associate of sound sense,
And such as, in the zeal of good design,
Strong judgment labouring in the Scripture mine,
All such as manly and great souls produce,
Worthy to live, and of eternal use ;
Behold in these what leisure hours demand, -
Amusement and true knowledge hand in hand.
Luxury gives the mind a childish cast,
And, while she polishes, perverts the taste ;
Habits of close attention, thinking heads,
Become more rare as dissipation spreads,
Till authors hear at length one general cry,
Tickle and entertain us, or we die.
The loud demand, from year to year the same,
Beggars invention, and makes fancy lame,
Till farce itself, most mournfully jejune,
Calls for the kind assistance of a tune;
And novels (witness every month's review)
Belie their name, and offer nothing new.
The mind, relaxing into needful sport,
Should turn to writers of an abler sort,
Whose wit well managed, and whose classic style,
Give truth a lustre, and make wisdom smile.
Friends (for I cannot stint, as some have done,
Too rigid in my view, that name to one -
Though one, I grant it, in the generous breast
Will stand advanced a step above the rest :
Flowers by that name promiscuously we call,
But one, the rose, the regent of them all)
Friends, not adopted with a schoolboy's haste,
But chosen with a nice discerning taste,
Well born, well disciplined, who, placed apart
From vulgar minds, have honour much at heart,
And, though the world may think the ingredients odid,
The love of virtue, and the fear of God !

Such friends prevent what else would soon succeed,
A temper rustic as the life we lead,
And keep the polish of the manners clean
As theirs who bustle in the busiest scene :
For solitude, however some may rave,
Seeming a sanctuary, proves a grave,
A sepulchre in which the living lie,
Where all good qualities grow sick and die.
I praise the Frenchman,* his remark was shrewd
“How sweet, how passing sweet, is solitude !
But grant me still a friend in my retreat,
Whom I may whisper, Solitude is sweet.”
Yet neither these delights, nor aught beside,
That appetite can ask, or wealth provide,
Can save us always from a tedious day,
Or shine the dulness of still life away :
Divine communion, carefully enjoy'd,
Or sought with energy, must fill the void.
O sacred art! to which alone life owes
Its happiest seasons, and a peaceful close,
Scorn'd in a world, indebted to that scorn
For evils daily felt and hardly borne,
Not knowing thee, we reap with bleeding hands
Flowers of rank odour upon thorny lands,
And, while experience cautions us in vain,
Grasp seeming happiness, and find it pain.
Despondence, self-deserted in her grief,
Lost by abandoning her own relief,
Murmuring and ungrateful discontent,
That scorns afflictions mercifully meant,
Those humours, tart as wines upon the fret,
Which idleness and weariness beget;
These, and a thousand plagues that haunt the breast,
Fond of the phantom of an earthly rest,
Divine communion chases, as the day
Drives to their dens th' obedient beasts of prey.
See Judah's promised king, bereft of all,
Driven out an exile from the face of Saul.
To distant caves the lonely wanderer flies,
To seek that peace a tyrant's frown denies.

* The author here refers in a note to La Bruyere. The remark occurs also in Rousseau, but the former claims the priority in time.

Hear the sweet accents of his tuneful voice,
Hear him, o'erwhelm’d with sorrow, yet rejoice;
No womanish or wailing grief has part,
No, not a moment, in his royal heart ;
'Tis manly music, such as martyrs make,
Suffering with gladness for a Saviour's sake;
His soul exults, hope animates his lays,
The sense of mercy kindles into praise,
And wilds, familiar with a lion's roar,
Ring with ecstatic sounds unheard before :
'Tis love like his that can alone defeat
The foes of man, or make a desert sweet.

Religion does not censure or exclude
Unnumber'd pleasures harmlessly pursued ;
To study culture, and with artful toil
To meliorate and tame the stubborn soil ;
To give dissimilar yet fruitful lands
The grain, or herb, or plant that each demands ;
To cherish virtue in a humble state,
And share the joys your bounty may create ;
To mark the matchless workings of the power
That shuts within its seed the future flower,
Bid these in elegance of form excel,
In colour these, and those delight the smell,
Sends Nature forth the daughter of the skies,
To dance on earth and charm all human eyes ;
To teach the canvass innocent deceit,
Or lay the landscape on the snowy sheet, —
These, these are arts pursued without a crime,
That leave no stain upon the wing of Time.

Me poetry (or rather notes that aim Feebly and vainly at poetic fame) Employs, shut out from more important views, Fast by the banks of the slow winding Ouse; Content if thus sequester'd I may raise A monitor's though not a poet's praise, And while I teach an art too little known, To close life wisely, may not waste my own.


: « ADVERTISEMENT. - The history of the following production is briefly this:-A lady, fond of blank verse, demanded a poem of that kind from the author, and gave him the SOFA for a subject. He obeyed, and having much leisure, connected another subject with it ; and preserving the train of thought to which his situation and turn of mind led him, brought forth at length, instead of the trifle which he at first intended, a serious affair-a volume.”

Such is the modest account of its name and origin with which Cowper introduced this noble poem to the world. It may be necessary to remind the reader, that the allusion is to Lady Austen ; and that the undertaking thus gently imposed, occupied in its completion nearly fourteen months, from June or July, 1783, to October, 1784, when the manuscripts were sent to press, though the work did not appear till the succeeding summer.

During almost a century previous to the publication of the Task, a poetical school had dominated, which may be termed the Classical, inasmuch as its principles of composition and maxims of taste were derived more from the usage of the ancients, than framed in obedience to the peculiarities and genius of the native idiom, or adapted to seek and to find its materials in the national manners and modes of thinking. The system hung a dead weight upon the fancy taste was exercised rather than genius displayed - and merit consisted more in the absence of what offended in others, than in the presence of that which charmed from its own native freshness.

Hence, though some of the most splendid names in the annals of letters adorned our poetry, England could scarcely be said to possess a single poem descriptive of national manners and home scenes, till the publication of Cowper's great work. Nay, even in language hardly had we a poet truly British, who yielded himself up to the unrestrained flow of the national numbers, or who would not hesitate to adopt a word if it expressed his meaning, though it might not have received the stamp of poetical, that is conventional usage. We do not intend in this to magnify his powers, or overrate the debt which living poetry owes to our present subject : on the contrary, English genius had long previously been but as a Goliah in fetters, playing constrained feats, and unequal to a far inferior strength in one who should first dare to cast from him the intellectual chains imposed by the practice of his predecessors. Cowper had the courage, or the good fortune, to vindicate for himself the full privileges of language and nature. At first, indeed, the classic system still enchained his admiration-- his juvenile pieces are composed in that style—and in manner, at least, even his earlier volume belongs more to the preceding school than to his own ; but in its best compositions we discover also successful innovation upon monotony and false refinement. We find a vigour, a freshness, an originality of thought and description, with a natural, an unstudied force of idiomatic expression, and even a colloquial familiarity of verse, which had long been banished, or never previously received into the service of the muses. The praise, then, of having knowingly and boldly struck into a path traced by his own genius through the untrodden scenery of nature, may hardly be denied to Cowper; for we can note his systematic deviations from the beaten track, and placing ourselves in his position, can descry the distant landmarks which conducted him onwards to the high places of poesy. Doubtless such was the taste of his own age, and in some respects such is still the taste of ours, that these his earlier exertions would have failed to make an impression,unsupported by the Task they would have sunk, though possessing some of the finest requisites of buoyance in them, selves ; and through the latter alone may his admirers fully claim for him the highest meed of genius, - the praise of invention, and the honour of being the most conspicuous founder of a new and influential school of national poetry.

This distinction is now shared with others, whose claims are

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