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the instrumentality of their compositions! We thought of Cowper, and his earthly gloom and desolation, and his rapture in the world of light and glory, on occasion of one of those vast and crowded gatherings, when the missionary Dr. Duff poured forth the fervor of his Christian eloquence. At the close of one of his last speeches in America, on occasion of the meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, his mind had been wrought up to such a point of excited feeling, and climacteric agglomeration of thought, sentences and images, that by the very law of evolution he was forced to go higher and higher with each successive sentence, till an almost painful feeling of wonder and anxiety was produced in almost every mind-how can he end? how can he close? how descend from such an elevation, or how continue his soaring? There was but one page in one poem in the world that could have given him the means, and that was in the sixth book of "The Task;" and it was as if Cowper himself, as a guardian angel, had borne him on his wings, and lighted with him from his transcendent flight. He closed his thrilling address, and its unrivaled climax, with those magnificent lines,
One song employs all nations, and all cry,
From distant mountains catch the flying joy,
If our recollection does not mislead us, we believe the speaker repeated the last line three times, swinging his long arm at each exulting repetition, with an accompanying sweep of grandeur,
Earth rolls the rapturous Hosanna round!
The effect was sublime, overwhelming, and it seemed as if the vast audience would break forth into the same shout simultaneously!
At one time, Cowper was seriously questioning whether he ought not to devote himself to the ministry of the Gospel; but the case was soon made perfectly plain to his own mind, as indeed it was afterward to all. His sphere of labor and of usefulness had been determined by Divine Providence, and the ruin of all his own schemes was just a necessary part of that discipline by which God would prepare him for the dominion he was to hold by his genius and piety in men's minds and affections. It was a much wider dominion than he ever could have gained in sacred orders; a dominion over the Church which indeed he could never have obtained as a minister in and of the Church. He knew this, and sometimes playfully intimated
as much to Lady Hesketh, as when he heard from her that a certain duchess was interesting herself in his behalf. "Who in the world," exclaims he, 66 set the duchess of a-going? But if all the Duchesses in the world were spinning, like so many whirligigs, for my benefit, I would not stop them. It is a noble thing to be a poet, it makes all the world so lively. I might have preached more sermons than even Tillotson did, and better, and the world would have been still fast asleep; but a volume of verse is a fiddle that puts the universe in motion."
Cowper sometimes thought it was his over-sensitive shyness that ruined him, in preventing him from succeeding at the bar. He sympathized much with his young friends Johnson and Rose, when he saw in them something of the same awkward timidity. The advice he gave them both was excellent, especially to Rose. "I pitied you," says he, "for the fears which deprived you of your uncle's company, and the more for having suffered so much by those fears myself. Fight against that vicious fear, for such it is, as strenuously as you can. It is the worst enemy that can attack a man destined to the forum ;-it ruined me. To associate as much as possible with the most respectable company for good sense and good breeding, is, I believe, the only, at least I am sure it is the best, remedy. The society of men of pleasure will not
cure it, but rather leaves us more exposed to its influence in company of better persons."
The ruin of Cowper as a lawyer, politician, and man of the world, was the making of him as a poet and a useful being, but only by the intervention of Divine grace. Without this, he would have been ruined indeed. And in a beautiful letter he commends the same dear young friend for his diligence in the study of the law. "You do well, my dear sir, to improve your opportunity; to speak in the rural phrase, this is your sowing-time, and the sheaves you look for can never be yours, unless you make that use of it. The color of our whole life is generally such as the three or four first years in which we are our own masters, make it. Then it is that we may be said to shape our own destiny, and to treasure up for ourselves a series of future successes or disappointments. Had I employed my time as wisely as you, in a situation very similar to yours, I had never been a poet perhaps, but I might by this time have acquired a character of more importance in society, and a situation in which my friends would have been better pleased to see me. But three years misspent in an attorney's office were almost of course followed by several more, equally misspent in the Temple, and the consequence has been, as the Italian epitaph says, Sto qui. The only use I can make of myself now, at least the best, is to serve in terrorem
to others, when occasion may happen to offer, that they may escape (so far as my admonitions can have any weight with them) my folly and my fate. When you feel yourself tempted to relax a little of the strictness of your present discipline, and to indulge in amusement incompatible with your future interests, think on your friend at Weston."
Cowper's letters contain some of the finest passages of instructive criticism in the English language. Of this character are his remarks on occasion of one of his own poetical lines having been tampered with to make it smoother.
"I know," says he, "that the ears of modern verse-writers are delicate to an excess, and their readers are troubled with the same squeamishness as themselves, so that, if a line do not run as smooth as quicksilver, they are offended. A critic of the present day serves a poem as a cook serves a dead turkey, when she fastens the legs of it to a post, and draws out all the sinews. For this we may thank Pope; but unless we could imitate him in the closeness and compactness of his expression, as well as in the smoothness of his numbers, we had better drop the imitation, which serves no other purpose than to emasculate and weaken all we write. Give me a manly, rough line, with a deal of meaning in it, rather than a whole poem full of musical periods, that have nothing but their oily smoothness to recommend them."