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the sustaining aid of rhyme: in blank verse it is apt to overflow in pools and shallows. And this is one among other reasons why, after all, some of his short poems, which are nearly all in rhyme, are perhaps what he has done best. His John Gilpin, universally known and universally enjoyed by his countrymen, young and old, educated and uneducated, and perhaps the only English poem of which this can be said, of course at once suggests itself as standing alone in the collection of what he has left us for whimsical conception and vigor of comic humor; but there is a quieter exercise of the same talent, or at least of a kindred sense of the ludicrous and sly power of giving it expression, in others of his shorter pieces. For tenderness and pathos, again, nothing else that he has written, and not much that is elsewhere to be found of the same kind in English poetry, can be compared with his Lines on receiving his Mother's Picture :
O that those lips had language! Life has passed
Faithful remembrancer of one so dear,
My mother! when I learned that thou wast dead,
Ah that maternal smile! it answers — Yes.
Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more,
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay
Could Time, his flight reversed, restore the hours,
Thou, as a gallant bark from Albion's coast (The storms all weather'd and the ocean crossed) Shoots into port at some well-havened isle, Where spices breathe, and brighter seasons smile, There sits quiescent on the floods, that show Her beauteous form reflected clear below, While airs impregnated with incense play Around her, fanning light her streamers gay ; So thou, with sails how swift! hast reached the shore “ Where tempests never beat, nor billows roar.' » 1 And thy loved consort on the dangerous tide Of life long since has anchored by thy side. But me, scarce hoping to attain that rest, Always from port withheld, always distressed Me howling blasts drive devious, tempest-tossed, Sails ripped, seams opening wide, and compass lost ; And day by day some current's thwarting force Sets me more distant from a prosperous course. Yet O the thought that thou art safe, and he ! That thought is joy, arrive what may to me. My boast is not, that I deduce
And now farewell. -Time unrevoked has run
Thyself removed, thy power to soothe me left. This is no doubt, as a whole, Cowper's finest poem, at once springing from the deepest and purest fount of passion, and happy in shaping itself into richer and sweeter music than he has reached in any other. It shows what his real originality, and the natural spirit of art that was in him, might have done under a better training and more favorable circumstances of personal situation, or perhaps in another age. Generally, indeed, it may be said of Cowper, that the more he was left to himself, or trusted to his own taste and feelings, in writing, the better he wrote. In so far as regards the form of composition, the principal charm of what he has done best is a natural elegance, which is most perfect in what he has apparently written with the least labor, or at any rate with the least thought of rules or models. His Letters to his friends, not written for publication at all, but thrown off in the carelessness of his hours of leisure and relaxation, have given him as high a place among the prose classics of his country as he holds among our poets. His least successful performances are his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey, throughout which he was straining to imitate a style not only unlike his own, but, unfortunately, quite as unlike that of his original, — for these versions of the most natural of all poetry, the Homeric, are, strangely enough, attempted in the manner of the most artificial of all poets, Milton.
NEITHER, however, did this age of our literature want its artificial poetry. In fact, the expiration or abolition of that manner
among us was brought about not more by the example of a fresh and natural style given by Cowper, than by the exhibition of the opposite style, pushed to its extreme, given by his contemporary Darwin. Our great poets of this era cannot be accused of hurrying into print at an immature age. Dr. Erasmus Darwin, born in 1721, after having risen to distinguished reputation as a physician, published the Second Part of his Botanic Garden, under the title of The Loves of the Plants, in 1789; and the First Part, entitled The Economy of Vegetation, two years after. He died in 1802. The Botanic Garden, hard, brilliant, sonorous, may be called a poem cast in metal — a sort of Pandemonium palace of rhyme, not unlike that raised long ago in another region,
where pilasters round
The poem, however, did not rise exactly “like an exhalation.” “ The verse," writes its author's sprightly biographer, Miss Anna Seward, “ corrected, polished, and modulated with the most sedulous attention ; the notes involving such great diversity of mattei relating to natural history ; and the composition going forward in the short recesses of professional attendance, but chiefly in his chaise, as he travelled from one place to another ; the Botanic Garden could not be the work of one, two, or three years; it was ten from its primal lines to its first publication.” If this account may be depended on, the Doctor's supplies of inspiration must have been vouchsafed to him at the penurious rate of little more than a line a day. At least, therefore, it cannot be said of him, as it was said of his more fluent predecessor in both gifts of Apollo, Sir Richard Blackmore, that he wrote “ to the rumbling of his chariot wheels.” The verse, nevertheless, does in another way smack of the travelling-chaise, and of “the short recesses of professional attendance.” Nothing is done in passion and power; but all by filing, and scraping, and rubbing, and other painstaking. Every line is as elaborately polished and sharpened as a lancet; and the most effective paragraphs have the air of a lot of those bright little instruments arranged in rows, with their blades out, for sale. You feel as if so thick an array of points and edges demanded careful