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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
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,
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.
THE PAST AND FUTURE OF POETRY
[From Table Talk.]
In Eden, ere yet innocence of heart
And, dizzy with delight, profaned the sacred wires.
Parent of manners like herself severe,
Without the smile, the sweetness, or the grace;
The mind, released from too constrained a nerve,
In front of these came Addison. In him
That, quite eclipsing pleasure's painted face,
Even on the fools that trampled on their laws.
Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
A. Are we then left-B. Not wholly in the dark:
And, like a scattered seed at random sown,
Forms, opens, and give scent to every flower,