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sorious—the peevish—the bashful—with others of similar kind, may here find their character drawn by the pen of a master, in the liveliest colours, and with striking accuracy.
Many excellent and judicious remarks are to be found in this admirable poem, on the manner in which conversation, to make it really edifying, must be carried on; and the certain benefits resulting from it, where it is so conducted, are forcibly and clearly pointed out.
Retirement, will be read with delight by all, but especially by those who are looking forward to that season when—
• "Hackney'd in business, wearied at that oar, Which thousands, once fast chain'd to, quit no more, But which, when life at ebb runs weak and low, All wish, or seem to wish, they could forego."
The poet happily ridicules the fallacy of supposing it impossible to be pious while following the active pursuits of life,
"Truth is not local, God alike pervades
In the same happy strain he exposes the absurdity of seeking retirement as an excuse for indolence.
"An idler is a watch that wants both hands,
• • - • * •
Absence of occupation is not rest;
A mind quite vacant is a mind distrest."
The Task, however, is by far the poet's greatest production, and had he written nothing else, would have immortalized his name, and given him a place among the highest class of poets. Here his muse kindled into its happiest inspirations, and burst forth into its sublimest strains. Commencing with objects the most familiar, and in a manner inimitably playful, the poet touches on a vast variety of subjects, many of them unsung, and unattempted before, scattering wherever he goes
"From grave to gay, from lively to severe,"
an exuberance of beauty and elegance, that enchains the reader, carrying him through the muse's adventurous track, without the least restraint, and without feeling a moment's uneasiness. The transitions are tha happiest imaginable; after delineating one object with matchless felicity and force, presenting it in shapes almost endlessly diversified, ere he is aware of it, another and another starts up before the reader, with magical effect, but without the slightest confusion, or the least violation of perspicuity. This admirable poem may be repeatedly read with increasing delight. It yields an almost inexhaustible source of pleasure and instruction. The reader rises from its perusal, not only filled with astonishment at the mighty powers of its author, but what is of equal, and perhaps of greater importance, with feelings of the most unfeigned esteem for the poet, and with sentiments of benevolence towards all mankind.
The letters of Cowper are unquestionably among the best productions of this interesting class of writings that are to be found in the English language. Easy and natural, and everywhere simple and elegant, without the slightest affectation of formality, or the most distant approach to that studied and artificial style, which invariably destroys the beauty of such productions, they never fail to interest and delight the reader; and will ever be regarded as perfect models of epistolary correspondence. Their peculiar charm is, perhaps, to be attributed chiefly, if not entirely, to that affectionate glow of pure friendship, by which they are so pre-eminently distinguished! Fascinating as they are to every reader of taste, for the chaste, yet unornamented style in which they are composed; for their easy and natural transitions; and for their concise, yet sufficiently copious descriptions, it is to that sprightly and genuine affection which runs through the whole of them, causing the reader to peruse them with almost as much interest as if they were addressed to him personally, that they are principally indebted for their claim to superiority.
To the above remarks on Cowper's letters, we have great pleasure in adding the following testimony of the late distinguished scholar and writer, the Rev. Robert Hall of Bristol, whose eloquence was unrivalled, and whose powers being all consecrated to the cause of religion, rendered him an ornament to the age in which he lived. In a letter to Rev. J. Johnson, Cowper's justly esteemed relative, he thus writes: "It is quite unnecessary to say that I perused the letters with great admiration and delight. I have always considered the letters of Mr. Cowper as the finest specimens of the epistolary style in our language. To an air of inimitable ease and carelessness, they unite a high degree of correctness, such as could result only from the clearest intellect, combined with the most finished taste. I have scarcely found a single word which is capable of being exchanged for a better. Literary errors I can discern none. The selection of the words, and the structure of the periods, are inimitable; they present as striking a contrast as can well be conceived, to the turgid verbosity which passes at present for fine writing, and which bears a great resemblance to the degeneracy which marks the style of Ammianus Marcellinus, as compared to that of Cicero or Livy. A perpetual effort and struggle is made to supply the place of vigour; garish and dazzling colours are substituted for chaste ornament; and the hideous distortions of weakness for native strength. In my humble opinion, the study of Cowper's prose may, on this account, be as useful in forming the taste of young people as his poetry."
Poets have almost invariably been charged with adulation, whenever they have ventured to eulogize an individual, however much he may have been distinguished by his virtues and his talents. In many cases, they have undoubtedly richly merited this censure; but there are some honourable exceptions, and amongst this class Cowper is pre-eminently distinguished. Of this wicked and foolish practice he had the utmost abhorrence; and in some instances it may be doubted whether he did not carry his aversion to flattery, almost to an opposite extreme; withholding praise where he knew it was due. The following lines occur almost at the commencement of his Table Talk. After painting the portrait of that most virtuous monarch, George the Third, in language as just as it is beautiful, he abruptly exclaims,
"Guard what you say; the patriotic tribe
In the character of Cowper there was not the slighest particle of ostentation; on no occasion did he assume any airs of consequence; he never aimed, or wished to be what he was not. Everything in the shape of affectation was the object of his disgust. He loved simplicity without rudeness, and detested that squeamish mimicry of fine feeling which not unfrequently, either under the assumed garb of superior sanctity, or of ardent friendship, conceals the most pitiable imbecility and ignorance.
It must be acknowledged that Cowper sometimes dipped his pen in gall. Some expressions the most bitterly sarcastic are to be found in his poems. Of his first volume it was said, by one of his friends, "There are many passages delicate, many sublime, many beautiful, many tender, many sweet, and many acrimonious." Cowper's satire, however, though keen and powerful as a whip of scorpions, was employed only to expose and punish the openly profligate, and the hypocritical professors of religion. Everything in the shape of deception he ever held in perfect detestation. The castigation of vice, of ignorance, or of dissimulation, was his object, when he became a satirist. If he held up philosophy to ridicule, it was that glare of false philosophy, which, instead of being beneficial to men, only led them from the plain and beaten track of truth, into paths of error and misery. He never wantonly, for the sake only of his own gratification, inflicted his satiric lash on a single individual. He became a satirist, not to give vent to a waspish, revengeful, and malicious disposition, (to feelings of this kind he was an entire stranger,) but for the same purpose as the holy prophets of old were satirists to expose, in mercy to mankind, the hideous deformity of those vices, which have ever been the fruitful parents of misery to mankind.
The exquisite sensibility of Cowper, and the real goodness of his disposition, with his entire abhorrence of cruelty, whether practised by man towards his own species, or towards any part of the Creator's works, are evinced by the following striking lines.
"I would not enter on my list of friends,
Than cruelty, most devilish of them all!
Mercy, to him that shows it, is the rule
And righteous limitation of its art,
By which Heaven moves in pardoning guilty man;
And he that shows none, being ripe m years,
And conscious of the outrage he commits,
Shall seek it, and not find it, in his turn.
Distinguished much by reason, and still more
By our capacity of grace divine,
From creatures that exist but for our sake,
Which, having served us, perish, we are held
Accountable: and God, some future day,
Will reckon with us roundly for the abuse
Of what he deems no mean or trivial trust!"
Liberty lias always been the soul-inspiring theme of poets. On no subject has the muse sung in sweeter strains, or towered to more sublime heights. Cowper has given ample proofs that his muse felt all the fire of this ennobling theme. In his Table Talk, some beautiful lines will be found on this interesting subject, so dear to the heart of every Englishman; but in his most masterly production, the Task, he thus sings—
"'Tis liberty alone that gives the flower