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peí sons so nobly patronised themselves on the score of literature, should resolve to give no encouragement to it in return.'1 We think во too.
The period that elapsed from the publication of nis first volume in 1781, to that of his Homer in 1791, seems to have been by far the happiest and most brilliant part of Cowper's existence. It was not only animated by the vigorous and successful exertions in which he was engaged, but enlivened, in a very pleasing manner, by the correspondence and society of his cousin, Lady Hesketh, who renewed, about this time, an intimacy that seems to have endeared the earlier days of their childhood. In his letters to this lady, we have found the most interesting traits of his simple and affectionate character, combined with an innocent playfulness, and vivacity, that charms the more, when contrasted with the gloom and horror to which it succeeded, and by which it was unfortunately replaced. Our limits will not allow us to make many extracts from this part of the publication. We insert, however, the following delightful letter, in answer to one from Lady Hesketh, promising to pay him a visit during the summer.
"I shal 1 see you again !—I shall hear your voice— we shall take walks together: I will show you my prospects, the hovel, the alcove, the Ouse, and its banks, every thing thai I have described. I anticipate the pleasure of those days not very far distant, and feel a part of it at this moment. Talk not of an inn; mention it not for your life. We have never had so many visitors, bul we could easily accommodate them all, though we have received Uuwin, and his wife, and his sister, and his eon, all at once. My dear, I will not let you come till the end of May, or beginning of June, because before that time my green-house will not be ready to receive us; and it is the only pleasant room belonging 10 us. When the plants go out, we go in. I line u with mate, and spread the floor with mats, and there you shall ait with a bed of mignonette at your side, and a hedge of honeysuckles, roses, and jecmine; and I will make you a bouquet of myrtle every day. Sooner than the time I mention, the country will not be in complete beauty. And I will tell you what you shall find at your first entrance. Imprimit, As soon as you nave entered the vestibule, if you cast a look on cither side of yon, you shall see on the right hand a box of my making. It is the box in which have been lodged all my hares, and in which lodges puss at present. But he, poor fellow, is worn out with age, and promises to die before you can see him. Un the right hand elands a cupboard, the work of the same author. It was once a dove-cage, but I transformed it. Opposite to you stands a table, which I also made; but a merciless servant having scrubbed it until it became paralytic, it serves no purpose now but of ornament; and all my clean shoes stand under it. On the left hand, at the farther end of this superb vestibule, you will find the door of the
rrlonr into which I shall conduct you, and where will introduce you to Mrs. Unwin (unless we should meet her before).—and where we will be as happy as the day is long! Order yourself, my cousin, to the Swan at Newport, and there you shall find me ready to conduct you to Olncy.
"My de.nr, I have told Homer what you say about casks and urns: and have asked him whether he is sure that it is a cask in which Jupiter keeps his wine. He swears that it is a cask, and that it will never be any thing beller ¡han a cask to eternity. So if the god is content with it, we must even
wonder at his taste, and be во too." — Vol. i. pp. 161—163.
The following is very much in the ваше style.
This house, accordingly, since it has been occupied by us and our Meubla, is as much superior to what it was when you saw it as you can imagine. The parlour is even elegant. When I say that tte parlour is elegant, I do not mean to insinuate thai the study is not so. It is neat, warm, and «lent, and a much better study than I deserve, it I d '["t produce in il an incomparable translation of Honier. I think every day of those lines of Milton, and congratulate myself on having obtained, before I am quite superannuated, what he seems not to bave hoped for sooner.
* And may at length my weary age
For if it is not a hermitage, at least it is а mach better thing; and you must always unders'ard, my dear, that when poets talk of collages, hermitages, and such like things, they mean a house wvh six sashes in front, two comfortable parlour«, i smart staircase, and three bedchambers of convenient dimensions; in short, exactly auch a bousf as this."— Vol. i. pp. 227, 22S.
In another letter, in a graver humour, be eaye —
"I am almost the only person at Weston. kno«". to you, who have enjoyed tolerable healih tiu» winier. In your next letter give us some account of your own state of health, for I have had nv anxieties about you. The winter has been mu; but our winters arc in general such, that, whcni friend leaves us in the beginning of that season. I always feel in my heart a perhaps, importing 'hit we have possibly met for the last time, and tbattbe robins may whisile on the grave of one ot u» before the return of summer.
"Many thanks for the cuckow, which irrivfd perfectly safe, and goes well, to the amusement and amazement of all who hear it. Hannah Iks awake to hear it; and I am not sure that we hare not others in ihe house that admire hi* mtuic ч much as she." — Vol. i. p. 331.
In the following passage, we have au lie calmness of a sequestered and good-natured man, and we doubt whether therewasano'.hif educated and reflecting individual to be loi: '• in the kingdom, who could think and sptui; so dispassionately of the events which wer»1 passing in 1792.
"The French, who, like all lively folk», »re «• treme in every thing, ore such in their 2cal 'j1 freedom; and if it were possible (o make «o no. a cause ridiculous, their manner of promoTM?!1 could not fail to do eo. Princes and petrs reduced to plain gentlemanship, and gentles reduce J;" level with their own lackeys, a re excesses of wni( they will repent hereafter. Difference of rank ai subordination are, 1 believe, of God's
Homer was scarcely finished, when a proposal was made to the indefatigable translator, to engage in a magnificent edition of Milton, for which he was to furnish a version of his Latin and Italian poetry, and a critical commentary upon his whole works. Mr. Hayley had. at this time, undertaken to write a life of Milton: and some groundless reports, as to an intended rivalry between him and Cowper, led to a friendly explanation, and to a very cordial and affectionate intimacy. In the year 1792, Mr. Hayley paid a visit to his newly acquired friend at Weston; and happened to be providentially present with him when the agony which he experienced from the sisht of a paralytic attack upon Mrs. Unwin. had very nearly affected his understandins. The anxious attention of his friend, and the gradual recovery of the unfortunate patient, prevented any very calamitous effect from this unhappy occurrence: But his spirits appear never to have recovered the shock; a;id the solicitude and apprehension which he constantly felt for his long tried and affectionate companion, suspended his literary exertions, aggravated the depression to which he had always been occasionally liable, and rendered the remainder of hie life a very precariou* struggle against that overwhelming malady by which it was at last obscured. In the end of summer, he returned Mr. Hayley's visit it Eartham; but came back again to Weston, with spirits as much depressed and forebodinsf as gloomy as ever. His constant and tender attention to Mrs Unwin, was one cause ot" his neglect of every thing else. "I cannot «ii.'! he says in one of his Tetters, :iwith my pen in my hand, and my books before me, while she is, in effect, in solitude—silent, and lookins in the fire." A still more powerful cause was, the constant and oppressive dejection of spirits that now began again to overwhelm him. <!It is in vain," he says, "that I have made several attempts to write since I came from Sussex. Unless more comfortable days arrive, than I have now the confidence to look for, there is an end of all writing with me! I have no spirits. When Rose came, I was obliged to prepare for his coming, by a nightly dose of laudanum."
In the course of the year 1793, he seems to have done little but revise his translation o: Homer, of which he meditated an improved edition. Mr. Hayley came to see him a second time at Weston, in the month of November; and gives this affecting and prophetic account of bis situation—
"He possessed completely at this period oil the Hmirable faculties of nia mind, and all the native |fnderness of his heart; but there was something i ¡describable in his appearance, which led me in »pprehend, that, without gome signal event in his favour, to re-animate his spirits, they would graduil'.y »ink into hopeless dejection. The state of his s?fd infirm companion, aflbrded additional ground for increasing solicitude. Her cheerful and beneficent spirit could hardly resist her own accumulated miMie», so far as to preserve ability sufficient to »i:ch over the tender health of him whom ehe had »airbed and guarded ю long. Imbecility of body "xi mind mast gradually render this tender and heroic woman unfit for the charge which she had ю laudably sustained. The signs of such imbe
cility were beginning to be painfully visible; nor can nature present a spectacle more truly pitiable, than imbecility in such a shape, engcrly grasping for dominion, which it knows not either how to retain, or how to relinquish."—Vol. it. pp. 161,162.
From a part of these evils, however, the poet was relieved, by the generous compassion of Lady Hesketh, who nobly took upon herself the task of superintending this melancholy household. We will not withhold from our readers the encomium she has so well earned from the biographer.
"Those only, who have lived with the superannuated and melancholy, can properly appreciate the value of such magnanimous friendship; or perfectly apprehend, what personal sufferings it must cost the mortal who exerts it, if that mortal hat* received from nature a frame of compassionate sensibility. The lady, to whom I allude, has tell but too severely, in her own health, the heavy tax that mortality is forced to pay for a resolute perseverance in such painful duty."—Vol. ii. p. 177.
It was impossible, however, for any care or attention to arrest the progress of that dreadful depression, by which the faculties of this excellent man were destined to be extinguished. In the beginn ing of the year 1794. be became utterly incapable of any sort of exertion, and ceased to receive pleasure from the company or conversation of his friends. Neither a visit from Mr. Hayley, nor his Majesty's order for a pension 300/. a-vcar. was able to rouse him from that languid and melancholy state into which he had gradually been sinking; and, at length, it was thought necessary to remove him from the village of Weston to Tuddenham in Norfolk, where he could be under the immediate superintendence of his kinsman, the Reverend Mr. Johnson. After a long cessation of all correspondence, he addressed the following very moving lines to the clergyman of the favourite village, to which he was no more to return:
"I will forget, for a moment, that to whomsoever I may address myself, a letter from me can no otherwise be welcome, than as a curiosity. To you, sir, I address this, urged by extreme penury of employment, and the desire I feel to learn something of what is doing, and has been done, at Westpn (my beloved Weston '.) since I left it? No situation, at least when the weather is clear and bright, can be pleasanter than what we have here; which you will easily credit, when 1 add, that it imparts something a little resembling pleasure even to me.—Gratify me with news of Weslon !—If Mr. Gregson and the Courtney's are there, mention ine to them in such terms as you see good. Tell me if my poor birds are living! I never see the herbs I used to give them, without a recollection of them, and sometimes am ready to gather them, forgetting that I am not at home.— Pardon this intrusion.
In summer 1796, there were some faint glimmerings of returning vigour, and he again applied himself, for some time, to the révisai of his translation of Homer. In December, Mrs. Unwin died; and such was the severe depression under which her companion then laboured, that he seems to have suffered but little on the occasion. He never afterwards mentioned her name! At intervals, in the summer, he continued to work at the revisa! of his Homer, which he at length finished in 1799; and afterwards translated some of Gay's Fables into Latin verse, and made English translations of several Greek and Latin Epigrams. This languid exercise of his once-vigorous powers was continued till the month of January 1800, when symptoms of dropsy became visible in his person, and soon assumed a very formidable appearance. After a very rapid but gradual decline, which did not seem to affect me general state of his spirits, he expired, without struggle or agitation, on the 25th of April, 1800.
Of the volumes now before us, we have little more to say. The biography of Cowper naturally terminates with this account of his death; and the posthumous works that are now given to the public, require very few observations. They consist chiefly of short and occasional poems, that do not seem to have been very carefully finished, and will not add much to the reputation of their author. The longest is a sort of ode upon Friendship, in which the language seems to be studiously plain and familiar, and to which Mr. Hayley certainly has not given the highest poetical praise, by saying that it "contains the essence of every thing that lias been said on the subject, by the best writers of different countries." Some of the occasional songs and sonnets are good; and the translations from the anlholocia, which were the employment of his last melancholy days, have a remarkable closeness and facility of expression. There are two or three little poetical pieces, written by him in the careless days of his youth, while he resided in the Temple, that are, upon the whole, extremely poor and unpromising. It is almost inconceivable, that the author of The Task should ever have been guilty of such verses as the following: "'Tie noi wiih either of these views, Thai I presume lo address the Muse; But lo divert a fierce banditti, (Sworn foes to every thing that's witty !) That, with a black infernal train, Make cruel inroads in my brain, And daily threaten to drive thence My linle garrison of sense: The fierce banditti which I mean, Are gloomy thoughts, led on by spleen. Then ihere's another reason yet, Which is, that I may fairly quit The debt which justly became due The moment when I heard from you: And you might grumble, crony mine. If paid in any other coin."—Vol. i. p. 15. It is remarkable, however, that his prose was at this time uncommonly easy and elegant. Mr. Hayley has preserved three numbers of the Connoisseur, which were written by him in 1796, and which exhibit a great deal of that point and politeness, which has been aimed at by the best of our periodical essayists since the days of Addison.
The personal character of Cowper is easily estimated, from the writings he has left, and the anecdotes contained in this publication. He seems to have been chiefly remarkable for a certain feminine gentleness, and delicacy of nature, that shrunk back from all that was boisterous, presumptuous, or rude His secluded life, and awful impressions of religion, concurred in fixing upon his man
ners, something of a saintly purity and decorum, and in cherishing that pensive aid contemplative turn of mind, by wnich he wu so much distinguished. His temper appears to have been yielding and benevolent : arai though sufficiently steady and confident ¡л the opinions he had adopted, he was ven little inclined, in general, to force them upon the conviction of others. The warmth of hi« religious zeal made an occasional exception: but the habitual temper of his mind was toleration and indulgence; and it would be difficult, perhaps, to name a satirical an.i popular author so entirely free from jealousy and fastidiousness, or so much disposed to make the most liberal and impartial estimate of the merit of others, in literature, in politics, and in the virtues and accomplishments of social life. No angry or uneasy pasfionf indeed, seem at any time to have fonnd a place in his bosom; and, being incapable d malevolence himself, he probably paraed through life, without having once excited that feeling in the breast of another.
As the whole of Cowper's works are an before the public, and as death has finally closed the account of his defects and exeet lencies, the public voice may soon be expecled to proclaim the balance; and to pronounce that impartial and irrevocable sentence which is to assign him his just rank and station in the poetical commonwealth, and to ascertain the value and extent of his future reputation. Ai the success of his works has, in a great mesure, anticipated this sentence, it i в the le« prt• sumptuous in us to offer our opinion of then.
The great merit of this writer appeaif to us to consist in the boldness and originality of his composition, and in the fortunate audacity with which he has carried the dominion of poetry into regions that had been considered as inaccessible to her ambition. The gradual refinement of taste had, for nearl; a century, been weakening the force of одаnal genius. Our poets had become timid ar<i fastidious, and circumscribed themselvesbotk in the choice and the management of their subjects, by the observance of a limited пшпber of models, who were thought to hare eihausted all the legitimate resources of the art Cowper was one of the first who crossed tUJ enchanted circle; who reclaimed the nalurtl liberty of invention, and walked abroad in the open field of observation as freely an those by whom it was originally trodden. He paswd from the imitation of poets, to the imitation of nature, and ventured boldly upon the representation of objects that haa not been sanctified by the description of any of his predecessors. In the ordinary occupations and duties of domestic life, and the consequence» of modern manners, in the common eceneiy of a rustic situation, and the obvious contemplation of our public institutions, he has foucd 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 with despair, by most of oof poetical adventurer». He took as wide i tinge in language too, as in matter; and, shaking off the tawdry iricnmbrance of that poetical diction which had nearly reduced the art to the skilful collocation of a set of conventional phrases, he made no scruple to pet down in verse every expression that would have been admitted in prose, and to take advantage of all the varieties with -which our language could supply him.
Bat while, by the nse of this double licence, he extended the sphere of poetical composition, and communicated a singular character of freedom, force, and originality to his own performances, it muet not be dissembled, that the presumption which belongs to most innovators, has betrayed him into many defects, in disdaining to follow the footsteps of others, he has frequently mistaken the way, and has been exasperated, by their blunders, to rush into opposite extremes. In his contempt for their scrupulous selection of topics, he has introduced some that are unquestionably low and uninteresting'; and in his zeal to strip off the tinsel and embroidery of their language, he has sometimes torn it (like Jack's coat in the Tale of a Tub) into terrible rents and Ьег-jarly tatters. He is a great master of English, and evidently values himself upon hi* skill and facility in the application of its rich and diversified idioms: but he has inndsed himself in this exercise, a little too fondly, and has degraded some grave and animated passages by the unlucky introduction of expressions unquestionably too colloqnial and familiar. His impatience of control, and his desire to have a great scope and variety in his compositions, have led him not only to disregard all order and method so entirely in their construction, as to have made each of his larger poems professedly a complete miscellany, but also to introduce into them a number of subjects, that prove not to !•? very susceptible of poetical discussion. There are specimens of argument, and dialocne, and declamation, in his works, that partake very little of the poetical character, an 1 make rather an awkward appearance in a metrical production, though they might tere had a lively and brilliant effect in an essay or a sermon. The structure of his sentences, in like manner, has frequently much more of the copiousness and looseness of oratory, than the brilliant compactness of poetry; and he heaps up phrases and circumstances upon each other, with a profusion that i« freqnently dazzling, but which reminds us as often of the exuberance of apractised speaker, u of the holy inspiration of a poet.
Mr. Hayley has pronounced a warm euloirnra on the satirical talents of his friend: but it does not appear to us, either that this «as the style in which he was qualified to excel, or that he has made a judicious selection of subjects on which to exercise it.— TVre is something too keen and vehement in hi^ invective, and an excess of austerity in his doctrines, that is not atoned for by the trith or the beauty of his descriptions. Fopfry and affectation are not such, hateful and ;: „-antic vices, ал to deserve all the anathema» 21
that are bestowed upon them; not can we believe that soldiership, or Sunday music, have produced all the terrible effects which he ascribes to them: There is something very undignified, too, to say no worse of them, in the protracted parodies and mock-heroic passages with which he seeks to enliven some of his gravest productions. The Sofa (for instance, in the Task) is but a feeble imitation of "The Splendid Shilling; the Monitor is a copy of something still lower; and the tedious directions for raising cucumbers, which begin with calling a hotbed "a stercorarious heap," seem to have been intended as a counterpart to the tragedy of Tom Thumb. All his serious pieces contain some fine devotional passages: but they are not without a taint of that enthusiastic intolerance which religious zeal seems but too often to produce.
It is impossible to say any thing ot the defects of Cowper's writings, without taking notice of the occasional harshness and inelegance of his versification. From his correspondence, however, it appears that this was not with him the effect of negligence merely, but that he really imagined that a rough and incorrect line now and then had a very agreeable effect in a composition of an v length. This prejudice, we believe, is as olcf as Cowley among English writers; but we do not know that it has of lato received the sanction of any one poet of eminence. In truth, it does not appear to us to be at all capable of defence. The very essence of versification is uniformity; and while any thing like versification is preserved, it must be evident that uniformity continues to be aimed at. What pleasure is to be derived from an occasional failure in this aim, we cannot exactly understand. It must afford the same gratification, we should imagine, to have one of the buttons on a coat a little larger than the rest, or one or two of the pillars in a colonnade a little out of the perpendicular. If variety is wanted, let it be variety of excellence, and not a relief of imperfection: let the writer alter the measure of his piece, if he thinks its uniformity disagreeable; or let him interchange it every now and then, if he thinks proper, with passages of plain and professed prose; but do not let him torture an intractable scrap of prose into the appearance of verse, nor slip in an illegitimate line or two among the genuine currency of his poem.
There is another view of the matter, no doubt, that has a little more reason in it. A smooth and harmonious verse is not so easilv written, as a harsh and clumsy one; and, in order to make it smooth and elegant, the strength and force of the expression must often be sacrificed. This seems to have been Cowper's view of the subject, at least in one passage. "Give me," says he, in a letter to his publisher, "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 smoothness to recommend them." It is obvious, however, that this is not a defence of harsh versification, but a confession of inability to write smoothly. Why should о 2
not harmony and meaning go together? It is difficult, to be sure; and so it is, to make meaning and verse of any kind go together: But it is the business of a poet to overcome these difficulties, and if he do not overcome them both, he is plainly deficient in an accomplishment that others have attained. To those who find it impossible to pay due attention both to the sound and the sense, we would not only address the preceding exhortation of Cowper. but should have no scruple to exclaim, '• Give us a sentence of plain prose, full of spirit and meaning, rather than a poem of any kind that has nothing but its versification to recommend it."
Though it be impossible, therefore, to read the productions of Cowper, without being delighted with his force, his originality, and his variety; and although the enchantment of his moral enthusiasm frequently carries us insensibly through all the mazes of his digressions, it is equally true, that we can scarcely read а ?шг!е page with attention, without being offended at some coarseness or lowness of expression, or disappointed by some "most lame and impotent conclusion." The dignity of his rhetorical periods is often violated by the intrusion of some vulgar and colloquial idiom, and the full and transparent stream of his diction broken upon some obstreperous verse, or lost in the dull stagnation of a piece of absolute prose. The effect of his ridicule is sometimes impaired by the acrimony with which it is attended; and the exquisite beauty of his moral painting and religious views, is injured in a still greater degree by the darkness of the shades which his enthusiasm and austerity have occasionally thrown upon the canvas. With all these defects, however, Cowper will probably very long retain his popularity with the readers of English poetry. The great variety and troth of his descriptions; the minute and correct painting oi t'nose home scenes, and private feelings with which e very one is internally familiar; the sterling weight and sense of most of his observations, and, above all, the great appearance of facility with which every thing is executed, and the happy use he has so often made of the most common and ordinary language; all concur to stamp upon his poems the character of original genius, and remind us of the merits that have secured immortality to Shakespeare.
А пег having said so much upon the original writings of Cowper, we cannot take our leave of him without adding a few words upon the merits of the translation with which we have found him engaged for so considerable a portion of his life. The views with which it was undertaken have already been very fully explained in the extracts we have given from his correspondence; and it is impossible to deny, that his chief object has been attained in a very considerable degree. That the translation is a jrreatdeal more close and literal than any that had previously been attempted In English verse, probably will not be disputed by those wao are the least disposed to admire it: that the style into which
it is translated, is a true Englieh style, though not perhaps a very elegant or poetical one, may also be assumed; but we are not sure that a rigid and candid criticism will go farther in its commendation. The language is often very tame, and even vulgar; and there is by far too great a profusion of antiquated and colloquial forms of expression. In the dialogue part, the idiomatical and familial turn of the language has often an animated and happy effect; but in orations of dignity, this dramatical licence is frequently abuíbi and the translation approaches to a parody. In the course of one page, we observe thai Nestor undertakes "to entreat Achilles to a calm.1' Agamemnon calls him, "this wranglei here." And the godlike Achilles himself complains of being treated "like a fellov of no worth."
"Ye critics say,
In translating a poetical writer, there are two kinds of fidelity to be aimed at. Fidelity to the matter, and fidelity to the manner oi the original. The best translation would be that, certainly, which preserved both. But, as thii is generally impracticable, some concessions must be made upon both sides; and the largest upon that which will be least regretted by the common readers of the translation. Now, though antiquaries and moral philosophers, may take great delight in contemplating the state of manners, opinions, and civilization, that prevailed in the age of Homer, and be offended, of course, at any disguise or modrrr. embellishment that may be thrown over L» representations, still, this will be but a secondary consideration with most readers of poetry; and if the smoothness of the verse, the perspicuity of the expression, or the vigour of the sentiment, must be sacrificed to the observance of this rigid fidelity, they «..• generally- be of opinion, that it ought rather to have been sacrificed to them; and that the poetical beauty of the original was better worth preserving than the literal import i'í the expressions. The splendour and m-nsn;.cence of the Homeric diction and versification is altogether as essential a part of his corr.f«sition, as the sense and the meaning which they convey. His poetical reputation dependí quite as much on the one as on the other; ar.J a translator must give but a very imperfectar.il unfaithful copy of his original, if he leave out half of those qualities in which the excellt i.ct' of the original consisted. It is an indispt i,^ble part of his duty, therefore, to imitate the harmony and elevation of his authors language, as well as to express his meaning ; uni he is equally unjust and unfaithful to his original, in passing over the beauties of his diction, as in omitting or disguising his sentiments. In Cowper s elaborate version, there are certainly some striking and vigoróos passages, and the closeness of the translation continually recals the original to the memory of a classical reader; but he will look in vain for the melodious and elevated language of Homer in the unpolished verses and colloquial phraseology of his translator.