« PreviousContinue »
the religion of the gospel and the heathen philosophy—where we wander amidst a waste of sublimated feelings, and rise with heated minds, yet feel that something is still wanting. In Cowper, on the contrary, all is reality; there is no doubt - no vagueness of opinion, the only satisfactory object on which our affections can be fixed, is distinctly pointed out. A perfect line is drawn between truth and error ; for, as gospel truth is the base of morality, it is the groundwork of his precepts." - GIFFORD, Quarterly Review.
Would urge a wiser suit than asking more.
How readily we wish time spent revoked,
Note 2.–Page 283, line 10. And through the trees I view the embattled tower. 6. The embattled tower” is Emberton church steeple ; hence we perceive the connection between the introductory verses and the subsequent train of thought. Cowper must be supposed to have pursued his usual walk to the uplands, where the sound of village bells comes like a spell over his soul, awakening the undescribable, yet not painful mixture of feelings which accompanies the retrospect of early days. From this reverie he is recalled by the same “ cadence sweet,” which had roused the dormant fancies of many years, and instantly bursts away into his subject, commencing with a rural landscape reposing under å clear frosty noon after a stormy night.
NOTE 3.–Page 283, line 11 from bottom.
And learning wiser grow without his books. The local scenery here described is on the grounds of Weston House, in a favourite haunt of the poet's — the Spinnie, or Shrubbery. The entrance was, (for they are cut down,) by a lonely alley, shaded by sycamores and oaks ; in the midst of the shrubbery itself stands the moss-house, in which were placed the following verses :
Here, free from riot's hated noise,
A book or friend bestows;
And sweeten my repose. The painted board with this inscription being stolen, Cowper substi, tuted another, with the lines in the text.
Note 4.–Page 284, line 36.
So duly, all is miracle in vain. This doctrine of the poet, though abstractly true, would lead to great practical evils. The suspension or interruption of the laws of Nature is properly a miracle; their continuance and regularity bespeak the omnipotence and providence of the Creator. It is of consequence in the scheme of Christian evidence that this distinction be carefully preserved.
Note 5.- Page 288, line 23.
Or promising with smiles to call again. - The effect of Cowper's ridicule is sometimes injured by the acrimony with wbich it is attended, and the slightness of its objects : he who spent years in making bird cages and rabbit hutches, should have viewed, as no mortal sins, a game at chess, or a morning's shopping.”_JEFFREY.
Note 6.- Page 292, line 12.
Denounce no doom on the delinquent ? None. It is different in our day, which is either more virtuous or more hypocritical than the poet's. “ Mercy to his beast” is now enforced upon the owner by act of parliament.
Note 7.–Page 295, line 18.
And taught a brute the way to safe revenge. All judicious critics unite in their disapprobation of this episode of Misagathus. It may justly be characterized as the only instance of continued bad taste in the whole writings of Cowper. In itself, it is startling, improbable, and unpleasing; in reference to the general argument, it is inapplicable, and, indeed, contradictory. The entire portion of the book, relative to the treatment of animals, is too declamatory, and as to the insinuation that the use of animal food is sinful, decidedly false. The concluding paragraph, however, following the passage to which this note refers, is feeling, spirited, and just.
Note 8.- Page 297, line 14.
Messiah's eulogy for Handel's sake. This passage was probably written during the revisal of the proof sheets, since the commemoration was solemnized in the summer of 1784, and in June of that year the poet thus writes to Newton on the same subject..We are much pleased with your designed improvement of the late preposterous celebrity, and have no doubt that, in good hands, the foolish occasion will turn to good account. A religious service, instituted in honour of a musician, and performed in the house of God, is a subject that calls loudly for the animadversion of an enlightened minister; and would be no mean one for a satirist, could a poet of that description be found spiritual enough to feel and to resent the profanation. It is reasonable to suppose that in the next year's Almanack we , shall find the name of Handel among the red-lettered worthies, for it
would surely puzzle the Pope to add any thing to his canonization." Newton in fact did soon after preach upon this subject, and in a striking manner, though not one of which good taste would approve. He supposes a number of condemned criminals getting up a play on the subject of their own trial and condemnation, and enacting the - dreadful farce" in the interval before their execution. But it may be well to introduce here Cowper's own words, in a letter dated July 19, 1784 : “ My dear friend, — Notwithstanding the justness of the comparison by which you illustrate the folly and wickedness of a congregation assembled to pay divine honours to the memory of Handel, I could not help laughing at the picture you have drawn of the musical convicts. The subject, indeed, is awful, and your manner of representing it is perfectly just; yet I laughed, and must have laughed had I been one of your hearers. But the ridicule lies in the preposterous conduct which you reprove, and not in your reproof of it. A people so musically mad as to make not only their future trial the subject of a concert, but even the message of mercy from their King, and the only one he will ever send them, must excuse me if I am merry where there is more cause to be sad ; for melancholy as their condition is, their behaviour under it is too ludicrous not to be felt as such, and would conquer even a more settled gravity than mine. Yours, my dear friend, - W. C.” Handel was born at Halle in Saxony; entered the service of George I. while elector of Hanover; came to England with his royal patron, and died in London, 1759, aged seventy-six. The commemoration took place in Westminster Abbey, being celebrated, in presence of some thousands of spectators, by five hundred and twenty-five voices and instruments. What would Cowper now say, if he read, as we have very lately done, in one and the same newspaper, that while the British Parliament were recommending a better observance of the Sabbath, the Sunday evening amusements of royalty consisted in listening to foreign and maimed musicians performing heathen dramas ! It is in vain to hope by legitimate enactments to urge men to duties of religion and conscience; but a little more consistency would have been decorous.
Note 9.–Page 297, line 6 from bottom.
When wanderiny Charles, who meant to be the third. The news of the Battle of Culloden reached Ely House on Sunday morning, while the bishop, and his household and immediate flock, were at prayers in the chapel. The clerk, either by order or from his own assurance of doing something acceptable, “ gave out” the intelligence, and struck up « to the praise and glory of King George !” William Duke of Cumberland, whose clemency so well became his bravery, was shamefully beaten in every other engagement where he had the com. mand, save at Culloden ; witness Fontenoy, Lanfeldt, Hastembeck, and Closter Seben!
Note 10.–Page 300, line 15. The conclusion of the Task, from
O scenes surpassing fable, and yet true, is grand, solemn, and affecting. Virgil's Pollio, and other passages in the classics with which it might be, and in some lights has been compared,
it almost as far surpasses, as the sources whence Cowper drew his inspiration excel the turbid fountains of heathen knowledge. In sublimity, even Pope's Messiah is not superior, while in the practical observations there is a pathos -a bosom-searching truth - which the plan of that exquisite performance did not perhaps admit, but which it certainly does not possess. As the Christianity of Cowper was personal, so his poetry, above all other verse, has the power of rendering religion a matter of personal concern with his readers. His works, from Table Talk to this magnificent close of the Task, form one grand epic, whose inspiration is the glory of God, and its object to teach man, with trembling gratitude, to acknowledge His hand from redemption downward to the humblest blessing - to fix upon the human heart a sentiment coeval with time and lasting as eternity – that we, meriting nothing, have received all.
- Jeos TOU OOL Tóv idwxsy!
NOTES TO TIROCINIUM.
Note 1.- Page 322, line 5. There is more of practical truth in these remarks than generally obtains in this poem. To excite a vulgar emulation is an easy matter; but to restrain the excitement within the limits of a generous endeavour, and to render youthful ambition a means of moral culture, demand no common share of skill and watchfulness in a teacher. We are not prepared to say that emulation should be prohibited in the business of education ; but of this we are certain, that it is always a dangerous instrument save under the control of one who is perfectly master of his profession.
NOTE 2.- Page 323, line 7.
Oh, 'tis a sight to be with joy perused. The line is imitated from the Task, but not happily-a sight is not perused. The preceding paragraph exhibits the very essence of misjudgment and illiberality.