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410 GOOD SENSE AND SIMPLICITY.
"There is a roughness on a plum which nobody that understands fruit would rub off, though the plum would be much more polished without it. I wish you to guard me from all such meddling; assuring you that I always write as smoothly as I can, but that I never did, never will, sacrifice the spirit or sense of a passage to the sound of it.”
The power and charm of Cowper's good sense and simplicity, as well as tenderness of feeling, in his poetry, were acknowledged in a very unexpected way, when the clerk of All-Saints' parish in Northhampton came to him with a renewed application for the annual mortuary stanzas to be printed with his Bill of Mortality at Christmas. Cowper told him there must be plenty of poets at Northhampton, and referred him in particular to his namesake Mr. Cox, the statuary, as a successful wooer of the Muse. The clerk made answer that all this was very true, and he had already borrowed help from him. But, alas! sir, Mr. Cox is a gentleman of much reading, and the people of our town do not well understand him. He has written for me, but nine in ten of us were stone-blind to his meaning." Cowper felt all the force of this equivocal compliment; his mortified vanity came near refusing, if the merit of his own verses was considered as insured by the smallness of his reading. But finding that the poor clerk had walked over to Weston on purpose to implore his assist
ance, and was in considerable distress, he goodnaturedly consented, and supplied the clerk's Mortality Bill with his beautiful verses for several years; a fig for the poets, said he, who write epitaphs upon individuals! I have written one that serves two hundred persons. Among these productions is to be found the beautiful dirge, beginning,
Thankless for favors from on high,
Man thinks he fades too soon;
The last verse in this poem is truly sublime; and it is one of the most perfect stanzas, taking into consideration the greatness and compactness of thought expressed, and the dignity and simplicity of the expression, that even Cowper ever wote.
'Tis judgment shakes him: there's the fear,
That prompts the wish to stay;
He has incurred a long arrear,
And must despair to pay.
Pay? follow Christ, and all is paid;
His death your peace insures;
Think on the grave where He was laid,
Another of these pieces is that beginning,
O most delightful hour by man
The hour that terminates his span,
That also beginning,
He lives, who lives to God alone,
For other source than God is none,
This last was composed in 1793; and it is somewhat strange that the critics who deemed it so hazardous to the verge of insanity for Cowper to have been engaged by Newton in composing the Olney Hymns, should not have fallen upon poor John Cox, the parish clerk of Northhampton, for the pertinacity with which he enlisted the genius and the heart of the poet again in so dangerous an undertaking.
One of Cowper's apothegms to his young friend and kinsman Mr. Johnson, deserves quoting, because, although simplicity and perspicuity were in Cowper the intuition and native element of his genius, yet he also made it a principle, both of intellect and conscience. "Remember," said he, "that in writing, perspicuity is always more than half the battle; the want of it is the ruin of more than half the poetry that is published. A meaning that does not stare you in the face, is as bad as no meaning, because nobody will take the pains to poke for it."
We may add here the admirable advice given by Cowper in another letter to the same young
friend, in regard to his course of study. "Life is too short to afford time even for serious trifles. Pursue what you know to be attainable, make truth your object, and your studies will make you a wise man. Let your divinity, if I may advise, be the divinity of the glorious Reformation: I mean in contradiction to Arminianism, and all the isms that ever were broached in this world of error and ignorance. The divinity of the Reformation is called Calvinism, but injuriously. It has been that of the Church of Christ in all ages. It is the divinity of St. Paul, and of St. Paul's Master, who met him in his way to Damascus."
Cowper's own religious views, as well as Newton's, were what are called Calvinistic; but he meant that any nomenclature except that of Christ, given to the divinity of the Reformation, was injurious. That divinity rose above all names, went back of all Churches, and was taken immediately from the Scriptures.
What Cowper practiced in himself, and what grew out of the very instinct and life of his character, he loved in others. He told Newton that he preferred his style as a historian (referring to Newton's excellent work on the early history of the Church) to that of the two most renowned writers of history the present day has seen. referred not to Hume, whose style was more simple, and whose volumes were not then all pub
lished, but to Robertson and Gibbon. He gave his reasons for this preference, with his own point and beauty. "In your style I see no affectation, in every line of theirs I see nothing else. They disgust me always; Robertson with his pomp and his strut, and Gibbon with his finical and French You are as correct as they. You express yourself with as much precision. Your words are arranged with as much propriety, but you do not set your periods to a tune. They discover a perpetual desire to exhibit themselves to advantage, whereas your subject engrosses you. They sing, and you say; which, as history is a thing to be said and not sung, is in my judgment very much to your advantage. A writer that despises their tricks, and is yet neither inelegant nor inharmonious, proves himself, by that single circumstance, a man of superior judgment and ability to them both. You have my reasons. I honor a manly character, in which good sense and a desire of doing good are the predominant features; but affectation is an emetic."
Hayley, one of the dearest friends, and the first biographer of Cowper, has connected his own fame with that of the poet by this friendship. It gives him an immortality which his own poetical works, though of no little excellence, could not have secured for him. His admiration and love of Cowper were heartfelt and unbounded; but he did not exag