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published in this volume ; yet this is true concerning Mr. Cowper's productions ; that in all, the varieties of his style, there may still be discerned the likeness of the same mind; the same unaffected modesty, which always rejects unsea-, sonable ambitions and ornaments of language. He understands the whole science of numbers, and he has practised their different kinds with considerable happiness : and if his verses do not flow to swiftly as the delicacy of a modern ear rerequires, that roughness, which is objected to his poetry, is his choice, not his defect. But this sort of critics, who admire only what is exquisitely polished, these lovers of “ gentleness withoutsinews,” ought to take into their estimate that vast effusion of thought, which is so abundantly poured over the writings of Mr. Cowper, without which human discourse is only an idle combination of sounds and syllables.
What has, however, peculiarly given to Cow. per the character of a poet is the Task. Though the occasion that gave birth to it was a trivial one, yet he expanded the performance into one of the finest inoral poems of which the English language has been productive.
It is written in blank verse, of which the construction, though in some respects resembling Milton's, is truly original and characteristic. It is not too stately for familiar description, nor too depressed for sublime and elevated imagery. If it has any fault, it is that of being too much laden with idiomatic expression, a fault which the author, in the rapidity with which his ideas and his utterance seemed to have flowed, very naturally incurred.
In this poem his fancy ran with the most excursive freedom. The poet enlarges upon his topics, and confirms his argument by every variety of illustration. He never, however, dwells upon them too long, but leaves off in such a manner, that it seems it was in his power to have said more.
The arguments of the poem are various. The works of nature, the associations with which they exhibit themselves, the designs of Providence, and the passions of men. Of one advantage the writer as amply availed himself. The work not being rigidly confined to any precise subject, he has indulged himself in all the freedom of a miscellaneous poem. Yet he has still adhered so faithfully to the general laws of congruity, that whether he inspires the softer affections into his reader, or delights him with keen and playful raillery, or discourses on ordinary manners, or holds up the bright pictures of religious consolation to his mind, he adopts at pleasure a diction just and appropriate, equal in elevation to the sacred effusions of Christian rapture, and sufficiently easy and fa
miliar for descriptions of domestic life ; skilful i alike in soaring without effort, and descending without meanness.
He who desires to put into the hands of youth a poem, which, not destitute of poetical embellishment, is free from all licentious tendency, will find in the Task a book adapted to his purpose. Here all is grave, and majestic, and moral. A vein of religious thinking pervades every page ; and he discourses, in a strain of the most finished poetry, on the insufficiency and vanity of human pursuits. VOL. I.
Nor is he always severe. He is perpetually enlivening the mind of his reader by sportive descriptions. The Task abounds with incidents, introduced as episodes, and interposing an agreeable relief to the grave and serious parts of the poetry. Who has not admired his Crazy Kate? A description, in which the calamity of a disordered reason is painted with admirable exactness and simplicity.
6She begs an idle pin of all she meets."
Perhaps no poet would have introduced so minute a circumstance into his representation ; yet it derives its effect altogether from the minuteness with which it is drawn.
The next work which Mr. Cowper published, was a translation of the Iliad, and the Odyssey. The design was worthy of his talents. His object was to present the father of poesy to the English reader, not in English habiliments and modern attire, but in the graceful and antique habit of his own times. He, therefore, adopted blank verse to avoid the restrictions which rhyme imposes.
It is foolish to compare the translation of Pope with that of Cowper. The merits of each are distinct. Pope has exhibited Homer as he would have sung had he been born in England. Cowper has attempted to pourtray him as he wrote in Greece, adhering frequently to the peculiarities of his own idiom, and endeavoring to preserve his strength and energy, as well as his harmony and smoothness.
THE following extracts from Mr. Cowper's letters, written to his cousin, Mrs. Cowper, are given as a specimen of the Christian temper by which he was habitually influenced. The first gives a brief account of his conversion, and clearly demonstrates that he considered man in his natural state as actuated by a heart of enmity against God, and that his recovery from that state is alone by Christ's atonement, applied to the soul by faith. The second evidences that his religion disposed him to spend his time in the service, and to the glory of his Redeemer, and that he contemned the fashionable methods of murdering time by vain amusements. In the third, his evangelical principles are plainly declared, and the influence of them manifested in his determinate choice to be devoted to God, though the consequence were the world's disapprobation. The fourth discovers a holy sympathy with his religious friends in trouble, and shows that he knew how to direct them to the only solid source of comfort. In the fifth is an account of the motives which induced him to write and publish his poems, and his desire that they might be useful in the reformation of a dissolute age.
( No. 1. )
“ I would discourage in myself upon all occasions, even a pride that felt itself hurt upon a nere suspicion of neglect. I have so much
kuse for humility, and so much need of it too, and every little sneaking resentment is such an enemy to it, that I hope I shall never give quarter to any thing that appears in the shape of sullenness or self-consequence hereafter. Alas! if my best friend, who laid down his life for me, were to remember all the instances, in which I have neglected him, and to plead them against me in judgment, where should I hide my guilty head in the day of recompense ? I will pray, therefore, for blessings upon my friends, even though they cease to be so, and upon my enemies, though they continue such. The deceitfulness of the natural heart is inconceivable : I know well that I passed upon my friends for a person at least religiously inclined, if not actually religious ; and what is more wonderful, I thought myself a Christian when I had no faith in Christ, when I saw no beauty in him, that I should desire him ; in short when I had neither faith nor love, nor any Christian grace whatever, but a thousand seeds of rebellion instead, ever more springing up in enmity against him. But blessed be God, even the God who is become my salvation. The hail of affliction and rebuke for sin has swept away the refuge of lies. It pleased the Almighty in great mercy to set all my misdeeds before me. At length, the storm being past, a quiet and peaceful serenity of soul succeeded, such as ever attends the gift of lively faith in the all sufficient atonement, and the sweet sense of mercy and pardon purchased by the blood of Christ. Thus did he break me and bind me up ; thus did he wound me, and his hands made me whole. My dear