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poetry religious, but religious after a manner which his excellent editor, Mr. Benham, himself a clergyman, calls 'hard and revolting.' And the same temper which led him to measure the Unseen with the foot-rule of Calvinistic orthodoxy, led him to visit the science, the politics, even the characters which he did not understand, with a censure like that of the Syllabus. 'It would be hard,' 'says Mr. Benham, 'to find a more foolish and mischievous piece of rant than that contained in The Garien'—in the lines where Cowper reviles the geologist and the historian; and we might extend the same sentence to his promiscuous denunciations of London life, of the amusements of ordinary people, even of the game of chess. When the Commemoration of Handel takes place, he joins with Newton in crying Idolatry! When he writes his Review of Schools, it never occurs to him that boys may get good as well as harm from each other's society, and that there may be desirable elements of character that cannot be acquired in 'some pious pastor's humble cot.' When he turns, as he often does, to politics, his amiable Whiggism is sorely tried by current events, by the lack of great men, and by the miscarriage of the American war. He believes that 'the loss of America will be the ruin of England,' but consoles himself with the thought that the surrender of Cornwallis was 'fore-ordained,' and that the end of the world is approaching. 'My feelings are all of the intense kind,' he says in one of his letters; and the Nemesis of intensity is narrowness.

'Again, in curious contrast to the neatness and ease of his rhymed couplets, there is unquestionably a ‘lumbering movement' in Cowper's blank verse; heaviness, difficulty, coming sometimes from the necessity that he was under of adorning trivialities, sometimes from a want of mastery over the language.


Warmed, while it lasts, by labour, all day long
They bave the season, and yet find at eve,

Ill clad and fed but sparely, time to cool.'

-There are too many commas, the reader cannot help crying. Sometimes, again, we find a worse than Wordsworthian nudity of phrase

'The violet, the pink, the jessamine,

I pricked them into paper with a pin'; sometimes an intolerable instance of the quasi-heroic'The stable yields a stercoraceous heap';

or a positive barbarism, as here, in Tirocinium—

Have ye, ye sage intendants of the whole,
A ubiquarian presence and control?'


We find frequent descents into prose, and rarely indeed a compensating ascent into the higher music of the great poets. How should we find such ascents, indeed, in Cowper? They demand some moving force of passion, or some inspiring activity of ideas, and for neither of these can we look to him. The only passion that really moved him was the morbid passion of despair, when the cloud that obscured his brain pressed heavy upon him; and it was only when he wrote under this influence that he produced masterpieces, such as that noble and terrible poem, The Castaway, and the lines of self-description in The Task. His ideas, tco, have not the inspiring activity necessary to produce great poetry; they are not vital ideas; they are seen to be less and less in harmony with the facts of the world as the years go on. We read Cowper, indeed, not for his passion or for his ideas, but for his love of nature and his faithful rendering of her beauty; for his truth of portraiture, for his humour, for his pathos; for the refined honesty of his style, for the melancholy interest of his life, and for the simplicity and the loveliness of his character.




[From Table Talk.]

In Eden, ere yet innocence of heart
Had faded, poetry was not an art;
Language above all teaching, or if taught,
Only by gratitude and glowing thought,-
Elegant as simplicity, and warm
As ecstasy, unmanacled by form,—
Not prompted, as in our degenerate days,
By low ambition and the thirst of praise,
Was natural as is the flowing stream,
And yet magnificent, a God the theme.
That theme on earth exhausted, though above
'Tis found as everlasting as His love,
Man lavished all his thoughts on human things,
The feats of heroes and the wrath of kings,
But still while virtue kindled his delight,
The song was moral, and so far was right.
'Twas thus till luxury seduced the mind
To joys less innocent, as less refined,
Then genius danced a bacchanal, he crowned
The brimming goblet, seized the thyrsus, bound
His brows with ivy, rushed into the field
Of wild imagination, and there reeled
The victim of his own lascivious fires,

And, dizzy with delight, profaned the sacred wires.
Anacreon, Horace, played in Greece and Rome
This Bedlam part; and, others nearer home.
When Cromwell fought for power, and while he reigned
The proud Protector of the power he gained,
Religion harsh, intolerant, austere,

Parent of manners like herself severe,
Drew a rough copy of the Christian face

Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace;
The dark and sullen humour of the time
Judged every effort of the Muse a crime;
Verse in the finest mould of fancy cast,
Was lumber in an age so void of taste:
But when the second Charles assumed the way,
And arts revived beneath a softer day,
Then like a bow long forced into a curve,

The mind, released from too constrained a nerve,
Flew to its first position with a spring
That made the vaulted roofs of pleasure ring.
His court, the dissolute and hateful school
Of wantonness, where vice was taught by rule,
Swarmed with a scribbling herd as deep inlaid
With brutal lust as ever Circe made.
From these a long succession in the rage
Of rank obscenity debauched their age,
Nor ceased, till ever anxious to redress
The abuses of her sacred charge, the press,
The Muse instructed a well-nurtured train
Of abler votaries to cleanse the stain,
And claim the palm for purity of song,
That lewdness had usurped and worn so long.
Then decent pleasantry and sterling sense,
That neither gave nor would endure offence,
Whipped out of sight, with satire just and keen,
The puppy pack that had defiled the scene.

In front of these came Addison. In him
Humour, in holiday and sightly trim,
Sublimity and Attic taste combined,
To polish, furnish, and delight the mind.
Then Pope, as harmony itself exact,
In verse well-disciplined, complete, compact,
Gave virtue and morality a grace

That, quite eclipsing pleasure's painted face,
Levied a tax of wonder and applause,

Even on the fools that trampled on their laws.
But he (his musical finesse was such,
So nice his ear, so delicate his touch)

Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
And every warbler has his tune by heart.
Nature imparting her satiric gift,
Her serious mirth, to Arbuthnot and Swift,
With droll sobriety they raised a smile
At folly's cost, themselves unmoved the while.
That constellation set, the world in vain
Must hope to look upon their like again.

A. Are we then left-B. Not wholly in the dark:
Wit now and then, struck smartly, shows a spark,
Sufficient to redeem the modern race
From total night and absolute disgrace.
While servile trick and imitative knack
Confine the million in the beaten track,
Perhaps some courser who disdains the road
Snuffs up the wind and flings himself abroad.
Contemporaries all surpassed, see one,
Short his career, indeed, but ably run.
Churchill, himself unconscious of his powers,
In penury consumed his idle hours,

And, like a scattered seed at random sown,
Was left to spring by vigour of his own.
Lifted at length, by dignity of thought
And dint of genius, to an affluent lot,
He laid his head in luxury's soft lap,
And took too often there his easy nap.
If brighter beams than all he threw not forth,
'Twas negligence in him, not want of worth.
Surly and slovenly, and bold and coarse,
Too proud for art, and trusting in mere force,
Spendthrift alike of money and of wit,
Always at speed, and never drawing bit,
He struck the lyre in such a careless mood,
And so disdained the rules he understood,
The laurel seemed to wait on his command,
He snatched it rudely from the Muses' hand.
Nature, exerting an unwearied power,

Forms, opens, and give scent to every flower,
Spreads the fresh verdure of the field, and leads

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