Page images
PDF
EPUB

Gay's Fables into Latin verse, and made ners, something of a saintly purity and deEnglish translations of several Greek and corum, and in cherishing that persive and Latin Epigrams. This languid exercise of contemplative turn of mind, by which he was his once-vigorous powers was continued till so much distinguished. His temper appears the month of January 1800, when symptoms to have been yielding and benevolent; and of dropsy became visible in his person, and though sufficiently steady and confident in soon assumed a very formidable appearance. the opinions he had adopted, he was very After a very rapid but gradual decline, which little inclined, in general, to force them upon did not seem to affect the general state of his the conviction of others.' The warmth of his spirits, he expired, without struggle or agita- religious zeal made an occasional exception : tion, on the 25th of April, 1800.

but the habitual temper of his mind was of the volumes now before us, we have toleration and indulgence; and it would be little more to say. The biography of Cowper difficult, perhaps, to name a satirical and naturally terminates with this account of his popular author so entirely free from jealousy death; and the posthumous works that are and fastidiousness, or so much disposed to now given to the public, require very few make the most liberal and impartial estimate observations. They consist chiefly of short of the merit of others, in literature, in poliand occasional poems, that do not seem to tics, and in the virtues and accomplishments have been very carefully finished, and will of social life. No angry or uneasy passions. not add much to the reputation of their indeed, seem at any time to have found a author. The longest is a sort of ode upon place in his bosom; and, being incapable of Friendship, in which the language seems to malevolence himself, he probably passed be studiously plain and familiar, and to which through life, without having once excited Mr. Hayley certainly has not given the highest that feeling in the breast of another. poetical praise, by saying that it "contains the As the whole of Cowper's works are rov essence of every thing that has been said on before the public, and as death has finally the subject, by the best writers of different closed the account of his defects and excelcountries.?' Some of the occasional songs lencies, the public voice may soon be expectand sonnets are good; and the translations ed to proclaim the balance; and to pronounce from the anthologia, which were the employ- that impartial and irrevocable sentence which ment of his last melancholy days, have a is to assign him his just rank and station in the remarkable closeness and facility of expres- poetical commonwealth, and to ascertain the sion. There are two or three little poetical value and extent of his future reputation. As pieces, written by him in the careless days the success of his works has, in a great meaof his youth, while he resided in the Temple, sure, anticipated this sentence, it is the less prethat are, upon the whole, extremely poor and sumptuous in us to offer our opinion of them. unpromising. It is almost inconceivable, that The great merit of this writer appears to the author of The Task should ever have been us to consist in the boldness and originality guilty of such verses as the following: of his composition, and in the fortunate au" 'Tis not with either of these views,

dacity with which he has carried the doThat I presume to address the Muse; minion of poetry into regions that had been But to divert a fierce banditii,

considered as inaccessible to her ambition. (Sworn foes to every thing that's witıy!)

The gradual refinement of taste had, for nearly That, with a black infernal train, Make cruel inroads in my brain,

a century, been weakening the force of origiAnd daily threaten to drive thence

nal genius. Our poets had become timid and My little garrison of sense :

fastidious, and circumscribed themselves both The fieree bandini which I mean,

in the choice and the management of their Are gloomy thoughts, led on by spleen.

subjects, by the observance of a limited numThen there's another reason yet, Which is, that I may fairly quit

ber of models, who were thought to have exThe debt which justly became due

hausted all the legitimate resources of the art. The moment when I heard from you : Cowper was one of the first who crossed this And you might grumble.crony mine, enchanted circle; who reclaimed the natural

If paid in any other coin."— Vol. i. p. 15. liberty of invention, and walked abroad in the It is remarkable, however, that his prose open field of observation as freely as those by was at this time uncommonly easy and ele- whom it was originally trodden. He passed gant. Mr. Hayley has preserved three num- from the imitation of poets, to the imitation bers of the Connoisseur, which were written of nature, and ventured boldly upon the repby him in 1796, and which exhibit a great resentation of objects that had not been sane. deal of that point and politeness, which has tified by the description of any of his prede. been aimed at by the best of our periodical cessors. In the ordinary occupations and essayists since the days of Addison. duties of domestic life, and the consequences

The personal character of Cowper is easily of modern manners, in the common scenery estimated, from the writings he has left, and of a rustic situation, and the obvious contemthe anecdotes contained in this publication. plation of our public institutions, he has found He seems to have been chiefly remarkable a multitude of subjects for ridicule and refor a certain feminine gentleness, and deli- flection, for pathetic and picturesque descripcacy of nature, that shrunk back from all tion, for moral declamation, and devotional that was boisterous, presumptuous, op rude. rapture, that would have been looked upon His secluded life, and awful impressions of with disdain, or with despair, by most of our religion, concurred in fixing upon his man- poetical adventurers. He iook as wide a range in language too, as in matter; and, that are bestowed upon them ; nor can we shaking off the tawdry incumbrance of that believe that soldiership, or Sunday music, poetical diction which had nearly reduced have produced all the terrible effects which the art to the skilful collocation of a set of he ascribes to them: There is something very conventional phrases, he made no scruple to undignified, too, to say no worse of them, in set down in verse every expression that would the protracted parodies and mock-heroic pas. have been admitted in prose, and to take ad- sages with which he seeks to enliven some vantage of all the varieties with which our of his gravest productions. The Sofa (foi language could supply him.

instance, in the Task) is but a feeble imitaBut while, by the use of this double licence, tion - The Splendid Shilling; the Monitor he extended the sphere of poetical composi- is a copy of something still lower; and the tion, and communicated a singular character tedious directions for raising cucumbers, which of freedom, force, and originality to his own begin with calling a hotbed “a stercorarious performances, it must not be dissembled, that heap," seem to have been intended as a the presumption which belongs to most inno- counterpart to the tragedy of Tom Thumb. vators, has betrayed him into many defects. All his serious pieces contain some fine devoIn disdaining to follow the footsteps of others, tional passages: but they are not without a he has frequently mistaken the way, and has taint of that enthusiastic intolerance which been exasperated, by their blunders, to rush religious zeal seems but too often to produce. into opposite extremes. In his contempt for It is impossible to say any thing of the detheir scrupulous selection of topics, he has fects of Cowper's writings, without taking introduced some that are unquestionably low notice of the occasional harshness and ineleand uninteresting; and in his zeal to strip off gance of his versification. From his correthe tinsel and embroidery of their language, spondence, however, it appears that this was he has sometimes torn it (like Jack's coat in not with him the effect of negligence merely, the Tale of a Tub) into terrible rents and but that he really imagined that a rough and beggarly tatters. He is a great master of incorrect line now and then had a very agreeEnglish, and evidently values himself upon a ble effect in a composition of any length. his skill and facility in the application of its This prejudice, we believe, is as old as Cowrich and diversified idioms: but he has in- ley among English writers; but we do not dulged himself in this exercise a little too know that it has of late received the sanction fondly, and has degraded some grave and of any one poet of eminence. In truth, it animated passages by the unlucky introduc- does not appear to us to be at all capable of tion of expressions unquestionablý too collo- defence. The very essence of versification quial and familiar. His impatience of control, is uniformity; and while any thing like versiand his desire to have a great scope and va- fication is preserved, it must be evident that riety in his compositions, have led him not uniformity continues to be aimed at. What only to disregard all order and method so en- pleasure is to be derived from an occasional tirely in their construction, as to have made failure in this aim, we cannot exactly undereach of his larger poems professedly a com- stand. It must afford the same gratification, plete miscellany, but also to introduce into we should imagine, to have one of the butthem a number of subjects, that prove not to tons on a coat a little larger than the rest, or be very susceptible of poetical discussion. one or two of the pillars in a colonnade a little There are specimens of argument, and dia- out of the perpendicular. If variety is wantlogue, and declamation, in his works, that ed, let it be variety of excellence, and not a partake very little of the poetical character, relief of imperfection : let the writer alter the and make rather an awkward appearance in measure of his piece, if he thinks its unia metrical production, though they might formity disagreeable; or let him interchange have had a lively and brilliant effect in an it every now and then, if he thinks proper, essay or a sermon. The structure of his sen- with passages of plain and professed prose; tences, in like manner, has frequently much but do not let him torture an intractable scrap more of the copiousness and looseness of of prose into the appearance of verse, nor slip oratory, than the brilliant compactness of in an illegitimate line or two among the poetry; and he heaps up phrases and circum- genuine currency of his poem. stances upon each other, with a profusion that There is another view of the matter, no is frequently dazzling, but which reminds us as doubt, that has a little more reason in it. A often of the exuberance of a practised speaker, smooth and harmonious verse is not so easily as of the holy inspiration of a poet.

written, as a harsh and clumsy one; and, in Mr. Hayley has pronounced a warm eulo- order to make it smooth and elegant, the gium on the satirical talents of his friend : strength and force of the expression must but it does not appear to us, either that this often be sacrificed. This seems to have been was the style in which he was qualified to Cowper's view of the subject, at least in one excel, or that he has made a judicious selec- passage. “Give me," says he, in a letter to tion of subjects on which to exercise it.- his publisher, "a manly rough line, with a There is something too keen and vehement deal of meaning in it, rather than a whole in his invective, and an excess of austerity in poem full of musical periods, that have nothhis doctrines, that is not atoned for by the ing but their smoothness to recommend them." truth or the beauty of his descriptions. Fop- It is obvious, however, that this is not a depery and affectation are not such hateful and fence of harsh versification, but a confession Egantic vices, as to deserve all the anathemas of inability to write smoothly. Why should not harmony and meaning go together? It is it is translated, is a true English style, though difficult, to be sure; and so it is, to make not perhaps a very elegant or poetical one, meaning and verse of any kind go together: may also be assumed; but we are not sure But it is the business of a poet to overcome that a rigid and candid criticism will go far. these difficulties, and if he do not overcome ther in its commendation. The language is them both, he is plainly deficient in an ac- often very tame, and even vulgar; and there complishment that others have attained. To is by far too great a profusion of antiquated those who find it impossible to pay due at- and colloquial forms of expression. In the tention both to the sound and the sense, we dialogue part, the idiomatical and familiar would not only address the preceding exhort- turn of the language has often an animated ation of Cowper, but should have no scruple and happy effect; but in orations of dignity, to exclaim, "Give us a sentence of plain this dramatical licence is frequently abused, prose, full of spirit and meaning, rather than and the translation approaches to a parody. a poem of any kind that has nothing but its In the course of one page, we observe that versification to recommend it."

Nestor undertakes to entreat Achilles to a Though it be impossible, therefore, to read calm.Agamemnon calls him, " this wrangler the productions of Cowper, without being de- here." And the godlike Achilles himself lighted with his force, his originality, and his complains of being treated "like a fellow of variety; and although the enchantment of no worth.” his moral enthusiasm frequently carries us

· Ye critics say, insensibly through all the mazes of his digres

How poor to this was Homer's style!” sions, it is equally true, that we can scarcely In translating a poetical writer, there are read a single page with attention, without two kinds of fidelity to be aimed at. Fidelity being offended at some coarseness or lowness to the matter, and fidelity to the manner of the of expression, or disappointed by some "most original. The best translation would be that, lame and impotent conclusion.” The dignity certainly, which preserved both. But, as this of his rhetorical periods is often violated by is generally impracticable, some concessions the intrusion of some vulgar and colloquial must be made upon both sides; and the largest idiom, and the full and transparent stream of upon that which will be least regretted by his diction broken upon some obstreperous the common readers of the translation. Now, verse, or lost in the dull stagnation of a piece though antiquaries and moral philosophers, of absolute prose. The effect of his ridicule may take great delight in contemplating the is sometimes impaired by the acrimony with state of manners, opinions, and civilization, which it is attended ; and the ex site that prevailed in the age of Homer, and be beauty of his moral painting and religious offended, of course, at any disguise or modem views, is injured in a still greater degree by embellishment that may be thrown over his the darkness of the shades which his enthu- representations, still, this will be but a secondsiasm and austerity have occasionally thrown ary consideration with most readers of poet. upon the canvas. With all these defects, ry; and if the smoothness of the verse, the however, Cowper will probably very long re- perspicuity of the expression, or the vigour tain his popularity with the readers of Eng- of the sentiment, must be sacrificed to the lish poetry. The great variety and truth of observance of this rigid fidelity, they will his descriptions; the minute and correct generally be of opinion, that it ought rather painting of those home scenes, and private to have been sacrificed to them; and that the feelings with which every one is internally fa- poctical beauty of the original was better miliar; the sterling weight and sense of most worth preserving than the literal import of of his observations, and, above all, the great the expressions. The splendour and magnifiappearance of facility with which every thing cence of the Homeric diction and versification is executed, and the happy use he has so is altogether as essential a part of his compooften made of the most common and ordinary sition, as the sense and the meaning which language; all concur to stamp upon his poems they convey. His poetical reputation depends the character of original genius, and remind quite as much on the one as on the other; and us of the merits that have secured immor- a translator must give but a very imperfeci and tality to Shakespeare.

unfaithful copy of his original, if he leave out After having said so much upon the original half of those qualities in which the excellence writings of Cowper, we cannot take our leave of the original consisted. It is an indispensaof him without adding a few words upon the ble part of his duty, therefore, to imitate the merits of the translation with which we have harmony and elevation of his author's lanfound him engaged for so considerable a por- guage, as well as to express his meaning; and tion of his life. The views with which it was he is equally unjust and unfaithful to his undertaken have already been very fully ex- original, in passing over the beauties of his plained in the extracts we have given from diction, as in omitting or disguising his senhis correspondence; and it is impossible to timents. In Cowper's elaborate version, there deny, that his chief object has been attained are certainly some striking and vigorous pasin a very considerable degree. That the sages, and the closeness of the translation translation is a great deal more close and lite- continually recals the original to the memory ral than any that had previously been at- of a classical reader; but he will look in vain tempted in English verse, probably will not for the melodious and elevated language of be disputed by those who are the least dis- Homer in the unpolished verses and colloposed to admire it; that the style into which quial phraseology of his translator.

[ocr errors]

(Iuly, 1804.) The Life and Posthumous Writings of William Cowper, Esq. With an Introductory Letter

to the Right Honourable Earl Cowper. By William Hayley, Esq. Vol. III. 410. pr. 416. Johnson, London : 1804.

This is the continuation of a work of which public; and having lived in a state of entire we recently submitted a very ample account seclusion from the world, there were no anecand a very full character to our readers: On dotes of his conversation, his habits or opinthat occasion, we took the liberty of observ- ions, in circulation among his admirers. The ing, that two quarto volumes seemed to be publication of his correspondence has in a almost as much as the biography of a seclud- great measure supplied this deficiency; and ed scholar was entitled to occupy; and, with we now know almost as much of Cowper as a little judicious compression, we are still of we do of those authors who have spent their opinion that the life and correspondence of days in the centre and glare of literary or Cowper might be advantageously included in fashionable notoriety. These letters, however, somewhat narrower limits. We are by no will continue to be read, long after the curimeans disposed, however, to quarrel with this osity is gratified to which perhaps they owed third volume, which is more interesting, if their first celebrity: for the character with possible, than either of the two former, and which they make us acquuinted, will always will be read, we have no doubt, with general attract by its rarity, and engagé by its eleadmiration and delight.

gance. The feminine delicacy and purity of Though it still bears the title of the life of Cowper's manners and disposition, the roCowper, this volume contains no further par- mantic and unbroken retirement in which his ticulars of his history; but is entirely made innocent life was passed, and the singular up of a collection of his letters, introduced by gentleness and modesty of his whole characa long, rambling dissertation on letter-writing ter, disarm him of those terrors that so often in general, from the pen of his biographer. shed an atmosphere of repulsion around the This prologue, we think, possesses no pecu- persons of celebrated writers, and make us liar merit. The writer has no vigour, and more indulgent to his weaknesses, and more very little vivacity; his mind seems to be delighted with his excellences, than if he had cultivated, but not at all fertile; and, while been the centre of a circle of wits, or the orahe always keeps at a safe distance from ex. cle of a literary confederacy. The interest travagance or absurdity, he does not seem 10 of this picture is still further heightened by be uniformly capable of distinguishing affect- the recollection of that tremendous malady; ation from elegance, or dulness from good to the visitations of which he was subject, and judgment. This discourse upon letter-writ- by the spectacle of that perpetual conflict ing, in short, contains nothing that might not which was maintained, through the greater have been omitted with considerable advan- part of his life, between the depression of those tage to the publication; and we are rather constitutional horrors, and the gaiety that reinclined to think, that those who are ambi- sulted from a playful imagination, and a heart tious of being introduced to the presence of animated by the mildest affections. Cowper, will do well not to linger very long In the letters now before us, Cowper disin the antichamber with Mr. Hayley. plays a great deal of all those peculiarities by

of the letters themselves, we may safely which his character was adorned or distinassert, that we have rarely met with any guished; he is frequently the subject of his similar collection, of superior interest or own observations, and often delineates the beauty. Though the incidents to which they finer features of his understanding with all the relate be of no public magnitude or moment, industry and impartiality of a stranger. But and the remarks which they contain are not the most interesting traits are those which are uniformly profound or original, yet there is unintentionally discovered, and which the something in the sweetness and facility of the reader collects from expressions that were emdiction, and more, perhaps, in the glimpses ployed for very different purposes. Among they afford of a pure and benevolent mind, the most obvious, perhaps, as well as the most that diffuses a charm over the whole collec- important of these, is that extraordinary comtion, and communicates an interest that is not bination of shyness and ambition, to which often commanded by performances of greater we are probably indebted for the very existdignity and pretension. This interest was ence of his poetry. Being disqualitierl, by promoted and assisted, no doubt, in a consid- the former, from vindicating his proper place erable degree, by that curiosity which always in the ordinary scenes either of business or of seeks to penetrate into the privacy of celebrat- society, he was excited, by the latter, to aled men, and which had been almost entirely tempt the only other avenue to reputation that frustrated in the instance of Cowper, till the appeared to be open, and to assert the real appearance of this publication. Though his dignity of the talents with which he felt that writings had long been extremely popular, he was gifted. If he could only have mus: the author himself was scarcely known to thé tered courage enough to read the journals ei the House of Lords, or been able to get over i men, would alarm him no more than the chaira they the diffidence which fettered his utterance in sit on. Such is the effect of custom."'-p. 60. general society, his genius would probably There is much acuteness in the following have evaporated in conversation, or been con- examination of Dr. Paley's argument in favour tented with the humbler glory of contributing of the English hierarchy. to the Rolliad or the Connoisseur.

" He says first, that the appointment of various As the present collection relates to no par- orders in the church, is attended with this good ticular set of subjects or occurrences, but consequence, that each class of people is supplied exhibits a view of the author's miscellaneous with a clergy of their own level and description, correspondence with the few intimate friends with whom they may live and associate on ierms he had retained, it is impossible to give any pose, there ought to be at least three parsons in

of equality. But in order to effect this good purabstract of its contents, or to observe any every parish; one for the gentry, one for ihe traders order in the extracts that may be made from and mechanics, and one for the lowest of the vul. it. We shall endeavour, however, to intro- gar. Neither is it easy to find many parishes. duce as great a variety as possible.

where the laity at large have any society with their Though living altogether in retirement, minister at all: this therefore is fanciful, and a mere Cowper appears to have retained a very nice invention. In the next place, he says it gives a

dignity 10 the ministry itself; and the clergy share perception of the proprieties of conduct and in the respect paid to their superiors. Much good manners, and to have exercised a great deal may such participation do them! They themselves of acuteness and sagacity upon the few sub- know how little ir amounts to. The dignity a cu. jects of practical importance which he had rate derives from the lawn sleeves and square cap occasion to consider. The following sketch of his diocesan, will never endanger his humility. is by a fine and masterly hand; and proves have been justly regarded as prizes, held out to in

Again- Rich and splendid situations in the church, how much a bashful recluse may excel a gen- vite persons of good hopes and ingenious attain. tleman from the grand tour in delicacy of ob- menis.' Agreed. But the prize held out in the servation and just notions of politeness. Scripture, is of a very different kind; and our ec“Since I wrote last, we had a visit from I

clesiastical bairs are 100 often snapped by the worthdid not feel myself vehemently disposed to receive less, and persons of no attainments at all. They him with that complaisance, from which a stranger

are indeed incentives 10 avarice and ambition, but generally infers that he is welcome. By his man: isterial function can be adorned. zeal for the salva.

not to those acqniremenis, by which only the min. ner, which was rather bold than easy, I judged that there was no occasion for it; and that it was a trifle tion of men, humility, and self-deial. Mr. Paley which, if he did not meet with, neither would he and I therefore cannot agree.”-pp. 172, 173. feel the want of. He has the air of a travelled man, One of the most remarkable things in this but not of a travelled gentleman; is quite delivered volume, is the great profusion of witty and from that reserve, which is so common an ingre- humorous passages which it contains; though himself gently and gradually, as men of polite he. they are usually so short, and stand so much haviour do, but bursts upon you all at once.

He connected with more indifferent matter, that talks very loud; and when our poor little robins it is not easy to give any tolerable notion of hear a great noise, they are immediately seized with them by an extract. His style of narrative is an ambition to surpass it—the increase of their vo particularly gay and pleasing, though the inciferation occasioned an increase of his; and his, incidents are generally too trifling 10 bear a return, acted as a stimulus upon theirs-neither side entertained a thought of giving up the contest, which separation from the whole tissue of the corbecame continually more interesting to our ears respondence. We venture on the following during the whole visit. The birds, however, sur account of an election visit. vived it, -and so did we. They perhaps flavier

" As when the sea is uncommonly agitated, the themselves they gained a complete victory, but I believe Mr. would have killed them both in which in iis calmer state it never reaches, in like

water finds its way into creeks and holes of rocks, another hour."-pp. 17, 18.

manner the effect of these turbulent times is fele Cowper's antipathy to public schools is well | even at Orchard-side, where in general we live as known to all the readers of his poetry. There undisturbed by the political element, as shrimps or are many excellent remarks on that subject cockles tha! have been accidently deposited in some in these letters. We can only find room for hollox beyond the water-mark, by the usual dash

ing of the waves. We were sitting yesterday after the following:

dinner, the two ladies and myself, very composedly, "A public education is ofien recommended as the and without the least apprehension of any such in. most effectual remedy for that bashful and awkward trusion, in our snig parlour, one lady knitting, the restraint, so epidemical among the youth of our other nering, and the gentleman winding worsted, country. But I verily believe, that, instead of being when, to our unspeakable surprise, a mob appeared a cure, it is often the cause of it. For seven or before the window, a smart rap was heard at the eight years of his life, the boy has hardly seen or door, the boys halloo’d, and the maid announced conversed with a man, or a woman, except the Mr. G- Puss" was unfortunately let out of her maids at his boarding house. A gentleman or a box, so that the candidate, with all his good friends lady, are consequently such novelties to him, that at his heels, was refused admittance at the grand he is perfectly at a loss to know what sort of beha entry, and referred 10 the back door, as the only viour he should preserve before them. He plays possible way of approach. wiin his buttons, or the strings of his hat, he blows “Candidates are creatures not very susceptible his nose, and hangs down his head, is conscious of of affronts, and would rather, I suppose. climb in his own deficiency to a degree that makes him quite at the window than be absolutely excluded. In a unhappy; and trembles lest any one should speak to minute, the yard, the kitchen, and the parlour were bin, because that would quite overwhelm him. Is filled. Mr. G-, advancing toward' me, shook not all this miserable shyness the effect of his edu- me by the hand with a degree of cordiality ihat was cation ? To me it appears to be so. If he saw good extremely seducing. As soon as he, and as many company every day, he would never be terrified at the sight of it, and a room full of ladies and genıle.

* His tame hare.

« PreviousContinue »