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Due to thy last and most effectual work, · Thy word fulfill'd, the conquest of a world.
He is the happy man, whose life even now Shews somewhat of that happier life to come; Who, doom'd to an obscure but tranquil state, Is pleased with it, and, were he free to choose, Would make his fate his choice; whom peace, the fruit Of virtue, and whom virtue, fruit of faith, Prepare for happiness; bespeak him one Content indeed to sojourn while he must Below the skies, but having there his home. The world o’erlooks him in her busy search Of objects more illustrious in her view; And occupied as earnestly as she, Though more sublimely, he o'erlooks the world. She scorns his pleasures, for she knows them not; He seeks not hers, for he has proved them vain. He cannot skim the ground like summer birds Pursuing gilded flies, -and such he deems Her honours, her emoluments, her joys. Therefore in contemplation is his bliss, Whose power is such, that whom she lifts from earth She makes familiar with a heaven unseen, And shews him glories yet to be reveald. Not slothful he, though seeming unemploy'd, And censured oft as useless. Stillest streams Oft water fairest meadows, and the bird That flutters least is longest on the wing. Ask him, indeed, what trophies he has raised, Or what achievements of immortal fame He purposes, and he shall answer -- None. His warfare is within. There unfatigued His fervent spirit labours. There he fights, And there obtains fresh triumphs o'er himself, And never-withering wreaths, compared with which The laurels that a Cæsar reaps are weeds. Perhaps the self-approving haughty world, That as she sweeps him with her whistling silks Scarce deigns to notice him, or, if she see, Deems him a cipher in the works of God,
Receives advantage from his noiseless hours,
He puts it on, and for decorum sake
The idea of this poem, which was completed in November, 1784, Cowper appears to have first entertained while corresponding on the subject of education with Unwin, to whom . it was dedicated in these terms :-“ To the Rev. William
Cawthorne Unwin, Rector of Stock, in Essex, the tutor of his two sons, the following poem, recommending private tuition in preference to an education at school, is inscribed by his affectionate friend, William Cowper.” In the dedication, as originally written, the words, “and of his two sons only,” occurred, but were suppressed, though with some reluctance, by the poet, who acknowledges his fears lest, without such insertion, the poem might be regarded as “ an interested recommendation of a friend's boarding establishment.” To neither of the requisites for writing on practical education-freedom from prejudice and enlightened experience-could Cowper lay claim. From his earliest infancy he suffered under a temperament which unfitted him for the active scenes of life; and that which was merely personal in his case, he makes incidental to the system. What to most other boys is a mere passing unhappiness, a momentary cloud on the sun of their joyous hours, and leaving not a trace upon the memory of the man, settled down in his recollection into rooted antipathy. His actual acquaintance also with public education in England, was, for a professional man, singularly imperfect. Save Westminster, he knew nothing of any seminary of eminence. Of the universities which he censures so freely, he possessed, beyond hearsay, absolutely no information. Accordingly, as a didactic treatise, the “ Review of Schools” is a failure ; while, as a poem, it displeases by unpoetical sentiments, exhibiting Cowper's peculiarities of genius and manner to the greatest disadvantage. The occasional carelessness of his language and versification, which, in his other works, supported by natural sentiment, assumes the semblance of a graceful negligence, becomes here harshness and obscurity. On the other hand, a general, even painful elaboration of the whole takes away much of
the wonted airiness and freedom of his effects. As a satirist, he displays here more than infelicity in the application of his censure. The imputed vices of students are reprehended in language which it would be indecent to read in the hearing of youth : teachers are absurdly and meanly blamed for selling their instructions ; and parents are accused of sending their children to public schools from motives of personal caprice, or the mercenary hope of their contracting advantageous friendships. On the main question discussed, - the relative advantages of public and private education, it is sufficient that utility and experience have long since determined it in favour of the system of education which trains the boy for the active concerns of the world where the man is to play a part. Besides, Cowper does not even attempt to make good his abuse of public schools : he gravely assumes, instead of proving the points at issue. True, at a public school a boy may learn some vices which he might not have witnessed at home ; but his heart, his morals, and his understanding will be more debased by one day's familiarity with the menials of his father's house or stable, than by years of such intimacies as he is likely to form among his equals at a public seminary.
Notwithstanding these defects, the work was a favourite with the writer ; and he has prefixed to it the longest, and the only laboured, preface which he ever wrote. “ In the poem on Education, he (the author) would be very sorry to stand suspected of having aimed his censure at any particular school. His objections are such as naturally apply themselves to schools in general. If there were not, as for the most part there is, wilful neglect in those who manage them, and an omission even of such discipline as they are susceptible of, the objects are yet too numerous for minute attention ; and the aching hearts of ten thousand parents, mourning under the bitterest of all disappointments, attest the truth of the allegation. His quarrel, therefore, is with the mischief at large, and not with any particular instance of it.” But whatever objections may be urged again st the doctrines of the poem, all must willingly and with pleasure confess that there are passages of great beauty and pathos, where domestic scenes and domestic affections are described.