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CHAPTER XVIII. Description of his person, his manners, his disposition, his piety — His attachment to the Established Church — His attainments — Originality of his poetry — His religious sentiments — The warmth of his friendship — His attachment to the British constitution — His industry and perseverance — Happy manner in which he could console the afflicted — His occasional intervals of enjoyment—Character as a writer — Powers of description—Beauty of his letters—His aversion to flattery, to affectation, to cruelty—His love of liberty, and dread of its abuse—Strong attachment to, and intimate acquaintance with the scriptures — Pleasure with which he sometimes viewed the works of creation—Contentment of his mind—Extract from an anonymous critic—Poetic tribute to his memory. It is scarcely necessary to add anything on the subject of Cowper's character, after the ample delineation that has already been given of it in this memoir: we shall, however, subjoin the following brief remarks, which could not so conveniently be introduced in any other part of the narrative. Cowper was of the middle stature; he had a fine,open, and expressive countenance; that indicated much thoughtfulness, and almost excessive sensibility. His eyes were more remarkable for the expression of tenderness than of penetration. The general expression of his countenance partook of that sedate cheerfulness, which so strikingly characterizes all his original productions, and which never failed to impart a peculiar charm to his conversation. His limbs were more remarkable for strength than for delicacy of form. He possessed a warm temperament; and he says of himself, in a letter to his cousin Mrs. Bodham, dated February 27, 1790, that he was naturally "somewhat irritable," but, if he was, his religious principle had so subdued that tendency, that a near relation, who was intimately acquainted with him the last ten years of his life, never saw his temper ruffled in a single instance. His manners were generally somewhat shy and reserved, particularly to strangers: when, however, he was in perfect health, and in such society as was quite congenial to his taste, they were perfectly free and unembarrassed; his conversation was unrestrained and cheerful, and his whole deportment was the most polite and graceful, especially to females, towards whom he conducted himself, on all occasions, with the strictest delicacy and propriety. Much as Cowper was admired by those who knew him only as a writer, or as an occasional correspondent, he was infinitely more esteemed by his more intimate friends; indeed, the more intimately he was known, the more he was beloved and revered. Nor was this affectionate attachment so much the result of his brilliant talents, as it was of the real goodness of his disposition, and gentleness of his conduct.
Cowper was emphatically, in the strictest and most scriptural sense of the term, a good man. His goodness, however, was not the result of mere effort, unconnected with Christian principles, nor did it arise from the absence of those evil dispositions of which all have reason, more or less, to complain; on the contrary, all his writings prove that he felt and deplored the existence of evil affections, and was only able to suppress them by a cordial reception of the gospel of Christ, and the diligent use of those means enforced under that pure and self-denying dispensation. Nor was the goodness of Cowper a mere negative goodness, inducing him only to avoid doing evil; it is evident, from many passages, both in his poetic and prose productions, that he ever looked upon his talents, not as his own, but as belonging to Him from whom he had received them. Under the influence of this impression, all his best and most important original productions were unquestionably written. Desirous of communicating to his fellow-men the same invaluable benefits which he had himself received from the simple yet sublime truths of Christianity, and incapable of attempting it in any other way than that of becoming an author, he took up his pen and produced those unrivalled poems, which, while they delight the mere literary reader for their elegance, beauty, and sublimity, are no less interesting to the Christian for the accurate and striking delineations of real religion, with which they abound. As long as the English language exists, they will most eagerly be sought after, both by the scholar and by the Christian. Cowper was warmly attached to the religion of the established church, in which he had been trained up, and which, like his friend Mr. Newton, he calmly and deliberately preferred to any other. His attachment, however, was not that of the narrow-minded bigot which blinds the mind to the excellencies of every other religious community; on the contrary, it was the attachment of the firm and steady friend of religious liberty, in the most liberal sense of the term. Of a sectarian spirit he was ever the open and avowed opponent. He sincerely and very highly respected the conscientious of all parties. In one of his letters to Mr. Newton, adverting to a passage in his writings that was likely to expose him to the charge of illiberality, he thus writes. "When I wrote the passage in question, I was not at all aware of any impropriety in it. I am, however, glad you have condemned it; and though I do not feel as if I could presently supply its place, shall be willing to attempt the task, whatever labor it may cost me; and rejoice that it will not be in the power of the critics, whatever else they may charge me with, to accuse me of bigotry, or a design to make a certain denomination odious at the hazard of the public peace. I had rather my book should be burnt, than a single line guilty of such tendency should escape me."
Cowper's attainments as a scholar were highly respectable; he was master of four languages, besides his own: Greek, Latin, Italian, and French; and though his reading was by no means so extensive as that of some, it was turned to better account, as he was a most thoughtful and attentive reader, and it was undoubtedly amply sufficient for every purpose, with a genius so brilliant and a mind so original as his. The productions of Cowper were eminently and entirely his own; he had neither borrowed from nor imitated any one. He copied from none, either as to his subjects or the manner of treating them. All was the creation of his own inventive genius. Adverting to this circumstance, in one of his letters, he thus writes : — "I reckon it among my principal advantages as a composer of verses, that I have not read an English poet these thirteen years, and but one these twenty years. Imitation even of the best models is my aversion; it is a servile and mechanical trick, that has enabled many to usurp the name of author, who could not have written at all if they had not written upon the pattern of some original. But when the ear and the taste have been much accustomed to the style and manner of others, it is almost impossible to avoid it, and we imitate, in spite of ourselves, just in the same proportion as we admire." Cowper's mode of expressing his thoughts was entirely original. His blank-verse is not the blank-verse of Milton, or of any other poet. His numbers, his pauses, his diction, are all of his own growth, without transcription, and without imitation. If he thinks in a peculiar train, it is always as a man of genius, and what is better still, as a man of ardentand unaffected piety. His predecessors had circumscribed themselves, both in the choice and management of their subjects, by the observance of a limited number of models, who were thought to have exhausted all the legitimate resources of the art. "But Cowper," says a great modern critic, " at once ventured to cross this enchanted circle, and thus regained the natural liberty of invention, and walked abroad in the open field of observation as freely as those by whom it was originally trodden. He passed from the imitation of poets to the imitation of nature, and ventured boldly upon the representation of objects that none before him had imagined could be employed in poetic imagery. In the ordinary occupations, occurrences, and duties of domestic life, he found a multitude of subjects for ridicule and reflection, for pathetic and picturesque description, for moral declamation and devotional rapture, that would have been looked upon with disdain or despair by all his predecessors. He took as wide a range in language too, as in matter; and shaking off the tawdry encumbrance of that poetical diction which had nearly reduced poetry to a skilful collection of a set of appropriated phrases, he made no scruple to set down in verse every expression that would have been admitted in prose; and to take advantage of all the varieties and changes of which our language is susceptible." It has been justly remarked, "that between the poetry of Cowper and that of Dryden and Pope, and some of their successors, there is an immense difference. It would be easy to show how little he owed to his immediate