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Mortuary Stanzas for 1792,
Sonnet to George Romney, Esq.
On Receiving Hayley's Picture,
Epitaph on Mr Chester, of Chicheley,
On a Plant of Virgin's Bower,
To my Cousin, Anne Bodham,
Inscription for an Hermitage in the Author's Garden,
To Mrs Unwin,
To John Johnson, on his presenting me with an Antique Bust of Homer, 471
To a Young Friend, on his arriving at Cambridge wet, when no rain had
The Progress of Error,
RELIGION - its blessedness in this life — its regenerating influences preparatory to a world to come, inspire their pervading spirit into the strains of Cowper. The opening poem presents almost the sole exception. It is honourable to the taste or seriousness of these days, that the first place was originally assigned to it from this very absence of those topics, the frequent and felicitous introduction of which now constitute the great charm of his writings.
“ I think,” says the poet in his Private Correspondence, “ Table Talk will be the best to begin with, as the subjects of it are, perhaps, more popular. One would wish, at first setting out, to catch the public by the ear, and hold them by it as fast as possible, that they may be willing to hear one on a second and a third occasion. Now, Table Talk is a medley of many things; some that may be useful, and some that, for aught I know, may be very diverting. I am merry, that I may decoy people into my company,
grave that they may be the better for it. Now and then, I put on the garb of a philosopher, and take the opportunity that disguise procures me to drop a word in favour of religion. In short, there is some froth, and here and there a bit of sweetmeat, which seems to entitle it justly to the name of a certain dish the ladies call a trifle. I did not choose to be more facetious, lest I should consult the taste of my readers at the expense of my own approbation ; nor more serious than I have been, lest I should forfeit theirs. Whether all this management and contrivance be necessary I do not know, but am inclined to suspect that if my Muse had gone forth clad in Quaker colour, without one bit of riband to enliven her appearance, she might walk from one end of London to the other as little noticed as if she were one of the sisterhood indeed.” February, 1781. Newton, through whose hands the manuscripts of Cowper's first volume were transmitted to the press, concurred in this supposed necessity of forbearing to put religion foremost. - “ The poet's favourite topics,” so the original preface composed by that divine expresses it, “are least insisted on in the piece entitled Table Talk ; which, therefore, with some regard to the prevailing taste, and that those who are governed by it may not be discouraged at the very threshold from proceeding farther, is placed first.”. All this, we confess, resembles not a little that exclusive righteousness which, viewing with overweening partiality its own modes and attainments, is disposed to give to the world at large less credit than due for piety and serious thoughts. At all events, we feel assured that to the present age no such ground of precedence could be justly pleaded. Had not the order of these poems been fixed by long prescription, and also by some allusions in the Task, a different arrangement might now have been substituted with propriety.