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few days afterwards at thirty-eight. His wife was lying-in of her fifth child at the time of her husband's funeral.
the Government was twenty-nine. Yet English Jacobinism was taken by the
throat and held down:
"The Habeas Corpus Act was repeatedly suspended. Writers who propounded doctrines adverse to monarchy and aristocracy, were proscribed and punished without mercy. It was hardly safe for a republican to avow hig political creed over his beefsteak and his bottle of port at a chophouse. Men of cultivated mind and polished manners were (in Scotland), for offences which at Westminster would have been treated as mere misdemeanours, sent tc herd with felons at Botany Bay." * vated that of the Government. If any But the intolerance of the nation aggra one had dared to avow democratic sen timents, he would have been insulted. The papers represented the innovators as wretches and public enemies. The mob in Birmingham burned the houses of Priestley and the Unitarians. And in the end Priestley was obliged to leave England.
New theories could not arise in this society armed against new theories.
A sad life, most often the life of the men in advance of their age; it is not wholesome to go too quick. Burns was so much in advance, that it took forty years to catch him. At this time in England, the conservatives and the believers took the lead before skeptics and revolutionists. The constitution was liberal, and seemed to be a guarantee of rights; the church was popular, and seemed to be the support of morality. Practical capacity and speculative incapacity turned the mind aside from the propounded innovations, and bound them down to the established order. The people found themselves well off in their great feudal house, widened and accommodated to modern needs; they thought it beautiful, they were proud of it; and national instinct, like public opinion, declared against the innovators who would throw it down to build it up again. Suddenly a violent shock changed this instinct into a passion, and this opinion into fanaticism. The French Revolution, at first admired as a sister, had shown itself a fury and a monster. Pitt declared in Parliament, "that one of the leading features of this (French) Government was the extinction of religion and the destruction of property.' ." Amidst universal applause, the whole thinking and influential class rose to stamp out this party of robbers, united brigands, atheists on principle; and Jacobinism, sprung from blood to sit in purple, was persecuted even in its child and champion also. Buonaparte, who is now the soul organ of all that was formerly dangerous and pestiferous in the revolution." + Under this national rage liberal ideas dwindled; the most illustrious friends of Fox-Burke, Windham, Spencerabandoned him: out of a hundred and sixty partisans in the House of Commons, only fifty remained to him The great Whig party seemed to be disappearing; and in 1799, the strongest minority that could be collected against
*The Speeches of William Pitt, 2d ed. 3 vols., 1808, ii. 17, Jan 21, 1794. + Ibid. iii. 152, Feb. 17, 1800.
Yet the revolution made its entrance; it entered disguised, and through an in direct way, so as not to be recognized It was not social ideas, as in France, that were transformed, nor philosophical ideas as in Germany, but literary ideas; the great rising tide of the modern mind which elsewhere overturned the whole edifice of human conditions and speculations succeeded here only at first in changing style and taste. It was a slight change, at least apparently, but on the whole of equal value with the others; for this renovation in the manner of writing is a renovation in the manner of thinking: the one led to all the rest, as a central pivot being set in motion causes all the indented wheels to move
Wherein consists the reform style? Before defining it, I prefer to exhibit it; and for that purpose we must study the character and life of a man who was the first to use it, without any system-William Cowper: for his talent is but the picture of his character, and his poems but the echo of his life. He was a delicate, timid chird, of a tremulous sensibility, passionately tender, who, having lust his mother at six, was almost' at once subjected to
*Macaulay's Works, vii. ; Life of William Dill, j9h.
the fagging and brutality of a public
and he was placed in an asylum, whilst "his conscience was scaring him, and the avenger of blood pursuing him "* to the extent even of thinking himself damned, like Bunyan and the first Puritans. After several months his reason returned, but it bore traces of the strange lands where it had jour neyed alone. He remained sad, like a man who thought himself in disfavor with God, and felt himself incapable of an active life. However, a clergyman, Mr. Unwin, and his wife, very pious and very regular people, had taken charge of him. He tried to busy himself mechanically, for instance, in mak ing rabbit-hutches, in gardening, and in taming hares. He employed the rest of the day like a Methodist, in reading Scripture or sermons, in singing hymns with his friends, and speaking of spiritual matters. This way of living, the wholesome country air, the maternal tenderness of Mrs. Unwin and Lady Austen, brought him a few gleams of light. They loved him so generously and he was so lovable! Affectionate
The evil changed form, diminished, but did not leave him. As he had only a small fortune, though born of a high family, he accepted, without reflection, the offer of his uncle, who wished to give him a place as clerk of the jour-full of freedom and innocent raillery nals of the House of Lords; but he had to undergo an examination, and his nerves were unstrung at the very idea of having to speak in public. For six months he tried to prepare himself; but he read without understanding. His continual misery brought on at last a nervous fever. Cowper writes of himself: "The feelings of a man when he arrives at the place of execution, are probably much like mine, every time I set my foot in the office, which was every day, for more than a half year together. In this situation, such a fit of passion has sometimes seized me, when alone in my chambers, that I have cried out aloud, and cursed the hour of my birth; lifting up my eyes to heaven not as a suppliant, but in the hellish spirit of rancorous reproach and blasphemy against my Maker." The day of examination came on: he hoped he was going mad, in that he might escape from it; and as his reason held out, he thought even of "self-murder." At last, "in a horrible dismay of soul," insanity came,
with a natural and charming imagina tion, a graceful fancy, an exquisite delicacy, and so unhappy! He was one of those to whom women devote them. selves, whom they love maternally, first from compassion, then by attraction, because they find in them alone the consideration, the minute and tender attentions, the delicate observances which men's rude nature cannot give them, and which their more sensitive nature nevertheless craves. These sweet moments, however, did not last. He says: "My mind has always a mel ancholy cast, and is like some pools I have seen, which, though filled with a black and putrid water, will nevertheless in a bright day reflect the sunbeams from their surface." He smiled as well as he could, but with effort, it was the smile of a sick man who knows himself incurable, and tries to forget it for an instant, at least to make others forget it: "Indeed, I wonder that a sportive thought should ever knock at the door of my intellects, and still more that it should gain admit trude himself into the gloomy chamber tance. It is as if harlequin should in
• Ibid. 97.
where a corpse is deposited in state. | spring, which polishes the blue peb His antic gesticulations would be un- bles, this is enough to fill him with seasonable at any rate, but more spe- sensations and thoughts. He returned, cially so if they should distort the fea- sat in his little summer-house, as large tures of the mournful attendants into as a sedan-chair, the window of which laughter. But the mind, long wearied opened out upon a neighbor's orchard, with the sameness of a dull, dreary and the door on a garden full of pinks, prospect, will gladly fix his eyes on roses, and honeysuckle. In this nest any thing that may make a little variety he labored. In the evening, beside his in its contemplations, though it were friend, whose needles were working for but a kitten playing with her tail."* him, he read, or listened to the drowsy In reality, he had to: delicate and too sounds without. Rhymes are born in pure a heart: pious, irreproachable, such a life as this. It sufficed for him, austere, he thought himself unworthy and for their birth. He did not need of going to church, or even of praying a more violent career : less harmonious to God. He says also: "As for hap- or monotonous, it would have upset piness, ne that once had communion him; impressions small to us were with his Maker must be more frantic great to him; and in a room, a garden, than ever I was yet, if he can dream of he found a world. In his eyes the finding it at a distance from Him." + smallest objects were poetical. It is And elsewhere: "The heart of a evening; winter; the postman comes Christian, mourning and yet rejoicing, (is) pierced with thorns, yet wreathed about with roses. I have the thorn without the roses. My brier is a wintry News from all nations lumbering at his back. one; the flowers are withered, but the True to his charge, the close-packed load bethorn remains." On his deathbed, Yet careless what he brings, his one concern when the clergyman told him to confide Is to conduct it to the destined inn ; in the love of the Redeemer, who de- And, having dropped the expected bag, pass sired to save all men, he uttered a pas- He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch, sionate cry, begging him not to give Cold and yet cheerful: messenger of grief him such consolations. He thought Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some." * himself lost, and had thought so all At last we have the precious "closehis life. One by one, under this terror packed load; " we open it; we wish to all his faculties gave way. Poor charm-hear the many noisy voices it brings ing soul, perishing like a frail flower from London and the universe: transplanted from a warm land to the snow: the world's temperature was too rough for it; and the moral law, which should have supported it, tore it with its thorns.
"The herald of a noisy world, With spattered boots, strapp'd waist, and
"Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast, Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round, And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn Throws up a steamy column, and the cups, That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each, So let us welcome peaceful evening in." t Then he unfolds the whole contents of the newspaper -politics, news, even advertisements -not as a mere realist, like so many writers of to-day, but as a poet; that is, as a man who discovers a beauty and harmony in the coals of a sparkling fire, or the movement of fingers over a piece of wool-work; fo such is the poet's strange distinction Objects not only spring up in his mind more powerful and more precise than they were of themselves, and before • The Works of W. Cowper, ed. Southey; entering there; but also, once con Letter to the Rev. John Newton, July 2ceived, they are purified, ennobled Ibid. Letter to Rev. J. Newton, August 5,
Such a man does not write for the pleasure of making a noise. He made verses as he painted or worked at his bench to occupy himself, to distract his mind. His soul was too full; he need not go far for subjects. Picture this pensive figure, silently wandering and gazing along the banks of the Ouse. He gazes and dreams. A buxom peasant girl, with a basket on her arm; a distant cart slowly rumbling on behind horses in a sweat; a sparkling
*The Task, iv. · The Winter Evening. ↑ Ibid.
colored, like gross vapors, which, be- | hazard-the Sofa, and speaks about ing transfigured by distance and light, it for a couple of pages; then he goe change into silky clouds, lined with whither the bent of his mind leads him, purple and gold. For him there is describing a winter evening, a number à charm. in the rolling folds of the va- of interiors and landscapes, mingling por sent up by the tea-ur.1, sweetness here and there all kinds of moral re in the concord of guests assembled flections, stores, dissertations, opin around the same table in the same ions, confidences, like a man who house. This one expression, 'News thinks aloud before the most intimate from India," causes him to see India and beloved of his friends. I et us itself, "with her plumed and jewelled look at his great poem, the Task !urban." ." The mere notion of "The best didactic poems, tise" sets before his eyes 66 ten thou- Southey, "when compared with the sand casks, for ever dribbling out their Task, are like formal gardens in com base contents, touched by the Midas parison with woodland scenery." It finger of the State (which), bleed gold we enter into details, the contrast is for ministers to sport away." ↑ Strictly greater still. He does not seem to speaking, nature is to him like a gal- dream that he is being listened to; he lery of splendid and various pictures, only speaks to himself. He does not which to us ordinary folk are always dwell on his ideas, as the classical covered up with cloths. At most, writers do, to set them in relief, and now and then, a rent suffers us to im- make them stand out by repetitions agine the beauties hid behind the unin- and antitheses; he marks his sensa. teresting curtains; but the poet raises tion, and that is all. We follow this these curtains, one and all, and sees a sensation in him as it gradually springs picture where we see but a covering. up; we see it rising from a former one, Such is the new truth which Cowper's swelling, falling, remounting, as we see poems brought to light. We know vapor issuing from a spring, and infrom him that we need no longer go to sensibly rising, unrolling, and developGreece, Rome, to the palaces, heroes, ing its shifting forms. Thought, which and academicians, in search of poetic in others was congealed and rigid, beobjects. They are quite near us. If comes here mobile and fluent; the we see them not, it is because we do rectilinear verse grows flexible; the not know how to look for them; the noble vocabulary widens its scope to fault is in our eyes, not in the things. let in vulgar words of conversation and We may find poetry, if we wish, at our life. At length poetry has again befireside, and amongst the beds of our come lifelike; we no longer listen to kitchen-garden.t words, but we feel emotions; it is no longer an author, but a man speaks. His whole life is there, perfect, beneath its black lines, without falsehood or concoction; his whole effort is bent on removing falsehood and concoction. When he describes his little river, his dear Ouse, “slow winding through a level plain of spacious meads, with cattle sprinkled o'er," * he sees it with his inner eye; and each word, cæsura, sound, answers to a change of that inner vision. so in all his verses; they are full of personal emotions, genuinely felt, never altered or disguised; on the contrary. fully expressed, with their transien shades and fluctuations; in a word, as they are, that is, in the process of production and destruction, not all com The Task, i.; The Sofa.
Is the kitchen-garden indeed poetical? To-day, perhaps; but to-morrow, if my imagination is barren, I shall see there nothing but carrots and other kitchen stuff. It is my feelings which are poetical, which I must respect, as the most precious flower of beauty. Hence a new style. We need no longer, after the old oratorical fashion, box up a subject in a regular plan, divide it into symmetrical portions, arrange ideas into files, like the pieces on a draught-board. Cowper takes the first subject that comes to hand-one which Lady Austen gave him at har
The Tast, iv.; The Winter Evening.
Crabbe may also be considered one of the masters and renovators of poetry, but his style is too classical, and he has been rightly nicknamed "a Pope in worsted ckings."
Now appeared the English romanic school, closely resembling the French in its doctrines, origin, and alliances, in the truths which it discovered, the exaggerations it committed, and the scandal it excited. The followers of that school formed a sect, a sect of "dissenters in poetry," who spoke out aloud, kept themselves close together, and repelled settled minds by the audacity and novelty of their the ories. For their foundation were attributed to them the anti-social principles and the sickly sensibility of Rousseau; in short, a sterile and misanthropical dissatisfaction with the present institutions of society. Southey, one of their leaders, began by being a Socinian and Jacobin; and one of his first poems, Wat Tyler, cited the glory of the past Jacquerie in support of the present revolulion. Another, Coleridge, a poor fellow, who had served as a dragoon, his brain stuffed with incoherent reading and humanitarian dreams, thought of founding in America a communist republic, purged of kings and priests; then, having turned Unitarian, steeped himself at Göttingen in heretical and mystical theories on the Logos and the absolute. Wordsworth himself, the third and most moderate, had begun with enthusiastic verses against kings: 'Great God
child of clay,
grant that every sceptred
Wao cries presumptuous, 'Here the flood shall stay,
May in its progress see thy guiding hand, And cease the acknowledged purpose to withstand;
Or, swept in anger from the insulted shore, Sirk with his servile bands, to rise no more ! " ↑
But these rages and aspirations did not last long; and at the end of a few * 1793-1794.
t Wordsworth's Works, new edition, 1870, 6 vols.; Descriptive Sketches during a Pedestrian Tour, i. 43.
years, the tree, brought back into the pale of Church and State, became, Coleridge, a Pittite journalist, Wordsworth a distributor of stamps, and Southey, poet-laureate; all zealous converts, decided Anglicans, and intolerant Conservatives. In point of taste, however, they had advanced, not retired. They had violently broken with tradition, and leaped over all classical culture to take their models from the Renaissance and the middle age. One of their friends, Charles Lamb, like Saint-Beuve, had discovered and restored the sixteenth century. The most unpolished dram atists, like Marlowe, seemed to these men admirable; and they sought in the collections of Percy and Warton, in the old national ballads and ancient poetry of foreign lands, the fresh and primitive accent which had been wanting in classical literature, and whose presence seemed to them to be a sigr of truth and beauty. Above every other reform, they labored to destroy the grand aristocratical and oratorical style, such as it sprang from methodi cal analyses and court polish. They proposed to adapt to poetry the ordinary language of conversation, such as is spoken in the middle and lower classes, and to replace studied phrases and a lofty vocabulary by natural tones and plebeian words. In place of the classical mould, they tried stanzas, sonnets, ballads, blank verse, with the roughness and subdivisions of the primitive poets. They adopted or ar ranged the metres and diction of the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Charles Lamb wrote an archaic tragedy, John Woodvil, which we might fancy to have been written during Elizabeth's reign. Others, like Southey, and Coleridge, in particular, manufactured totally new rhythms, as happy at times, and at times also as unfortunate, as those of Victor Hugo: for instance, a verse in which accents, and not syllables, were counted; * a singular medley of confused attempts, manifest abortions, and original inver aristocratical costume, sought another tions. The plebeian having doffed the borrowed one piece of his dress from
*In English poetry as since modified no one dreams of limiting the number of syllables even in blank verse.-TR.