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becomes unmanageable without it; but to begin education rightly, and from the beginning, appears unfortunately to be a task to the delicate observation and ceaseless duty of which few parents are inclined to submit.
Note 6. - Page 32, line 23.
And every post, and where the chaise broke down. We are informed, in one of Cowper's private letters, of a rather curious emendation, which was requisite in this passage as originally written. “ In the Progress of Error, a part of the young squire's apparatus, before he yet enters upon his travels, is said to be
Memorandum-book, to minute down
Here, the reviewers would say, is not only • down,' but • down, derry down,' into the bargain, the word being made to rhyme to itself. This never occurred to me till last night, just as I was stepping into bed. Í should be glad, however, to alter it thus.” Then follow the lines as now printed. -Cowper to Newton, July 7, 1781.
Note 7.- Page 35, line 16.
Even Lewenhoeck himself would stand aghast. A self-taught philosopher, born at Delft 1632, where he died after a life of ninety years, devoted chiefly to observations with the microscope ; of which instrument he may almost be termed the inventor. His works are published in four quarto volumes, consisting of exceedingly curious experiments and descriptions of his discoveries.
NOTE 8. - Page 36, line 18.
Nor rested till the gods had given it life. Pygmalion, whose age forms an important era in the history of ancient art, though more lightly applied in the text. See Ovid for the fable, and Arnobius, lib. vi. for the history; but both have omitted the pleasing connection which by such traditions the Greeks endeavoured to establish between the origin of the arts and the human affections.
NOTE 9. - Page 36, line 27. Such was Sir Isaac, and such Boyle and Locke. Newton, the great master of experimental philosophy, was born in 1642, and died, aged eighty-five, in 1727, exactly a century after the decease of Bacon, its founder. Of the truth, however, of the poet's previous remark,
Our most important are our earliest years, Newton furnishes a striking proof, since his three immortal discoveries - Fluxions, the Theory of Light, and the System of Gravitation -
were made before he was thirty. But again, Bacon's Novum Organon was not completed till its author had reached his sixty-first year.
For fame that's true, life is a light exchange. Boyle was born 1626, three months after Lord Bacon's death, thus filling up, by a most useful and early devotion of his life to study, the gap between the latter and Newton. Locke, born 1632, and dying 1704, directed into another channel the stream of knowledge, doing for the world of mind what these illustrious contemporaries were effecting for that of matter. In remarking upon a poet whose every aim points to religion, it is delightful thus to contemplate, in the very instances which he brings from the history of human knowledge, the care of God, who no sooner called away one servant, than he seemed to place that torch of true wisdom which a dying hand had relinquished in a young and vigorous grasp created for its reception.
NOTES TO TRUTH.
Note 1.- Page 41, line 10.
He reads his sentence at the flames of hell. “ I am no friend,” writes the author in his Private Correspondence, “ to the use of words taken from what an uncle of mine called the Diabolical Dictionary, but it happens sometimes that a strong expression is almost necessary to do justice to the indignation excited by an abominable subject.” Cowper could not but deem sin a subject of this nature, and he has marked his own detestation, and its dangers, by the most fearful line in the whole compass of English poetry.
NOTE 2. - Page 41, line 20.
Your wilful suicide on God's decree.
So without least impulse or shadow of fate,
Paradise Lost, Book III. The admirers of both poets will find it an occupation barren neither of Christian edification, nor literary improvement, to compare frequently the religious views of Milton and Cowper. It would, however, be unpardonable intrusion in these notes, to quote even a portion of the numerous passages in which the latter resembles the former so closely, as almost to approach imitation. Upon the same principle, all references to other poets are omitted. We are persuaded also, with Cowper himself, that the majority of instances which have been adduced, of intentional borrowing, are merely the effects of accidental coincidence. Besides, we have his solemn assurance, and the fact is a very singular one, that he had read the works of but one poet, for twenty years previously. “I reckon it” (says he in a letter dated November, 1781,) « among my principal advantages as a composer of verses, that I have not read an English poet these thirteen years, and but one these twenty years. Imitation even of the best models is my aversion ; it is servile and mechanical, a trick that has enabled many to usurp the name of author, who could not have written at all, if they had not written upon the pattern of somebody indeed original. But when the ear and the taste have been much accustomed to the manner of others, it is almost impossible to avoid it; and we imitate, in spite of ourselves, just in proportion as we admire.” After this confession, though it by no means surprises to find where the subject is not far beyond such learning - a perfect familiarity with the classics, especially the Latin authors, in the compositions of Cowper, yet his present and intimate knowledge of those English poets with whose works he could not thus have been conversant since manhood, and hardly before, has been matter of admiration. An extraci from one of Lady Hesketh's letters, which we have lately met witł, appears to offer some explanation. “My account of Mrs Unwin may seem perhaps to you contradictory; but her character developes itself by degrees, and though I might have led you to suppose her grave and melancholy, she is not so by any means. When she speaks upon grave subjects, she does express herself with a puritanical tone, and in puritanical expressions ; but on all other subjects she seems to have a great disposition to cheerfulness and mirth. I must say, too, that she seems to be very well read in the English poets, as appears by several little quotations, which she makes from time to time, and has a true taste for what is excellent in that way.” Cowper would thus be brought insensibly to renew the impressions of his earlier studies, and without the disadvantages, which he dreaded, of overlaying fancy, derive all the benefits which he himself so well describes, when he says, “ he who would write, should read, not that he may retail the observations of other men, but that being thus refreshed and replenished, he may find himself in a condition to make and to produce his own.”
Note 3.–Page 41, last line. The soul-quickening words - Believe and live. Cowper kindles into poetry when only a stray thought of religion mingles its influence with even the lowliest subject. In proportion, then, as divine themes became the habitual language of his muse, that language assumes more and more of nobleness and beauty. Both the words and imagery in this passage are a proof of this, and their pleasing grandeur strikes with greater force, as a contrast to the gloomy sternness of Dante's and Milton's inscription over the “ infernal doors.”
Note 4.-- Page 43, line 18.
Till his religious whimsy wears out him. These lines, by their peculiar turn and play upon the words, are happily characteristic of the contempt, mixed with ridicule, by which it is the author's object to bring into disrepute all such hollow subst.tutions for practical sanctity.
Note 5.—Page 44, line 12.
Abstinence, and beggary, and lice. Cowper, in his Letters, avows a disregard of merely poetical refinements in language, and a resolution to employ all words which may strongly represent his own meaning. Hence, a very ordinary tone is often given to his verses, even on topics of deep interest; rarely, however, save when indignantly satirical, are his expressions coarse. In this preference of vigour he appears to have followed his ancestor Donne, whose famous line,
The grave-dust without, and stink within, affords an example of the nature and superiority of Cowper's practice. In Donne's line, the satire on human pride is so offensive, that instead of improving it disgusts us. Our associations with the grave, exist less in personal feeling, than in sympathies which belong to our most revered affections, our most sacred hopes. But Cowper, as a satirist, evinces consummate knowledge of the human heart; be his admoni. tions, remonstrances, or sarcasms ever so stern, indignant, or biting, they never glance from their legitimate objects — follies and vices; they never wound where they cannot correct.
Note 6.—Page 47, line 8.
Blown all aslant, a driving, dashing rain. In the description of natural scenery, our author very seldom, perhaps never, rises to the sublime. Indeed, with the grand features of creation, the lofty mountain, or dark forest, or wide extended main, he had been but little conversant. Of Nature, however, in her quieter moods and ordinary appearances, he was not only a diligent observer, but he looked upon her with that rare intelligence, granted only to the highest order of genius in the imitative arts, which seizes at once the character and the details, thus reproducing what is great without confusion, and what is minute without feebleness. Hence is the descriptive poetry of Cowper pre-eminently animated with a graphic power, which now delights by variety of elaborate finish, now strikes by a bold reality compressing a whole description into a single epithet. The Task chiefly abounds in examples of the former, these earlier poems of the latter excellence. In this respect, the two lines in the text,
See where it smokes along the sounding plain,
Blown all aslant, a driving, dashing rain, may be advantageously compared with any couplet in the whole compass of descriptive poetry. It must, however, be confessed, that the entire simile is feeble, incapable of sustaining the awful truth that follows. The escape of a traveller from the anger of the “ impotent elements," brought to illustrate the salvation of a soul from « infinite wrath,” leaves the imagination vainly labouring to discover a resemblance.
NOTE 7.—Page 48, line 9.
Hence a demeanour holy and unspeck’d. “ Unspeck'd” is one of the very few instances, perhaps the only one, in which Cowper has employed a word on his own authority. He is indeed a great master of genuine English ; but though he often makes very bold attempts, hazardous they would be in other hands, to render common, or even mean expressions poetical, his works have extended the limits of the language of poetry by novel applications, rather than augmented the number of its vocables by new inventions. This is the true method of writing well, which it were to be wished his successors had imitated.
NOTE 8. – Page 48, line 3 from bottom.
Oh — then a text would touch him at the quick. Marie Francis Arouet de Voltaire, born February 20, 1694, was educated in the Jesuits' College at Paris, in which capital he also died on the 30th of May, 1778. Voltaire's life was more chequered than the lives of literary men usually are. He was twice incarcerated as a state prisoner in the Bastile before he was thirty, and in both instances, we believe, unjustly. During his first imprisonment he formed the plan of the Henriade; during the interval of liberty he published three tragedies ; and after his second captivity, resided three years in England. On his return, work followed work from his pen with wonderful rapidity; he became an academician, a courtier, and historiographer of France. At the age of fifty-six he accepted the invitation and friendship of Frederic the Great; but after three years residence, quarrelled with his royal friend, and on quitting the Prussian dominions, Paris being interdicted to him, purchased the estate of Ferney, near Geneva, where, for thirty years, he gave himself wholly to literature. The fruits of all these labours in the best edition (that of Beaumarchais's) occupy seventy volumes octavo. But Voltaire is not only one of the most copious, he is likewise one of the most excellent writers of modern times." There is not,” observes La Harpe, “ in the literature of any country, either in verse or prose, an author who has written on so many opposite kinds of subjects, and has so constantly displayed a superiority in all of them.”
This is true; but, unfortunately, the strictures of our text are also true, and Voltaire fulfilled the prediction of one of his tutors, and became the Coryphæus of deism in France. The scenes alluded to in these verses took place during Voltaire's last visit to Paris, after an absence of twentynine years, when his bust was crowned on the stage, and placed by the French academicians next to that of Corneille. But it is not true that Voltaire, “ an infidel in health,” was touched by a text when sick. There are three men, famous by “ the bad eminence” of deism - Voltaire, Rousseau, and David Hume — whom the well-meaning, with very mistaken notions about the honour of religion, represent as expiring ia agonies of awakened conviction. Not so. The first died of an overdose of laudanum, consequently in a stupor; the second expired while gazing upon the sinking sun with that love of Nature, which was the only unaffected sentiment he retained to the last; while Hume departed, like Socrates, almost in the midst of philosophical conversation. What then ? Do these instances reflect on the power of Christianity over the conscience ? By no means. The heart of the stubborn unbeliever is hardened, so that it may not be « touched” by the Gospel to conversion and saving faith. The dying impenitence of men such as these, accomplished possessors of a perishable learning, is, in fact, a proof of the veracity of that knowledge which is from above.