« PreviousContinue »
forgetting, by the world forgot ;" but Cowper allows of no mere indolent luxury :
“Nor means he to approve, still less enforce,
Of half the toils they must encounter there." This poem, then, may be especially recommended as “a guide to retirement.” It contains a truthful analysis of the whole matter; full of the most genuine feeling for the sweets of repose in rural enjoyment, but free from sickly sentimentalism : and, indeed, it is a work of such uniform excellence and high-level merit (not unvaried by humour), that I shall trust to the few text lines given above as a sufficient inducement to read and judge for yourselves.
The remaining poem of length which is written in rhyme, is the “ Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools ;” an admirable pleading against the defects of the then only great colleges and seminaries of learning, and of schools conducted on their plan; but still liable to be met with counter-reasonings, and I therefore leave it to wiser heads than mine.
I have already given, as I trust, enough to show what Cowper is as a poet; but I have still to notice those of his poems on which his fame is more particularly founded. These poems are six in number, forming the six books of a work comprehensively entitled “The Task.” The former poems are written in rhyme; those of “The Task” are written in blank verse. For my own part, in a long poem of declamatory, descriptive, or meditative character, I prefer the blank verse ; unless (as in the case of Byron's "Childe Harold”) it be written in separate stanzas, each being a passage of distinct melody in itself.
And here we might rest on a fact too little considered by many of us who aspire at poetical attempts. Poetry is to be had without any rhymes or measured lines at all ; while harmonious rhymes and melodious measure may exist without any poetry whatever. Now, unquestionably, in the writings of Cowper and certain poets who have followed him, there is much that is not strictly poetical ; and there are not wanting critics who deny to Cowper high rank as a poet, because the poetic element in his writings is only as a spirit diluted. Yes ; but diluted with what? If it be with water, it is not with soft water, or nambypamby ; it is not with muddy water, or mystification ; it is not even with pump-water, or common-place: it is water from the Rock of Truth, sparkling, clear, and fresh, that has yet gathered no animalculæ for the solar microscope to magnify into horrors enough to terrify even the temperance society. His poetry is certainly not all spirituous, like that of a more recent writer, of which the late Lady Morgan said to me—“Bless your heart! my dear sir, his poetry's nothing but whisky intellectualised "
Now, Cowper's poetry is piety, moral purity, manly feeling, political principle, and wholesome entertainment poetised; the main veħicle being either rhythmic blank verse or melodious rhyme. His poetry was subject to his purpose, which was to make mankind better, and, alas ! to make them happier than he was himself! It seems to me that he stands precisely midway between Pope and Wordsworth ; the poems I have already mentioned forming that kind of alliance with the “Essay on Man," which those I have now to adduce may be said to form with “The Excursion.” In the element of satire he was Pope's equal, though not as to its bitterness. In the deduction of lessons from commerce with external nature and the poor, he was the equal of Wordsworth.
The six "books," or distinct poems, comprised in Cowper's “Task,” are respectively entitled “ The Sofa,” “The Time Piece," "The Garden," The Winter Evening" “The Winter Morning Walk,”. “ The Winter Walk at Noon.” The “Sofa
--- meaning the piece of furniture—has limited mention in the poem so called ; but, as the symbol of luxury and lassitude, it is allowed to suggest a contrast between the London drawing room and the invigorating charms of country life. The opening of the poem is an
excellent specimen of Cowper's playful mood. He soon, however, leaves the sofa, and takes a walk into the country ; nor can we do better than walk with him. The description of Crazy Kate in this poem is unequalled, even by Wordsworth, for its exquisite finish and simplicity.
“The Time Piece” is not a chimney clock, but a severe anathema on the vices of the then passing times. It opens with the well-known denunciation of slavery :
" Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
I had much rather be myself the slave
Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too." While there is in Cowper's “Time Piece” much that still is in our own time too true, we conclude that in things of the most serious import there has been a great change for the better. The picture he draws of the "petit maitre parson” only amuses as that of an evil gone by ; and his description of what a preacher should be, is now more generally realised than his picture of
“ The things that mount the rostrum with a skip,
And then skip down again; pronounce a text;
And with a well-bred whisper close the scene!" The idea that Cowper favoured the opposite error is sufficiently contradicted when, having denounced the “start theatric, practised at the glass,” he says
" To me 'tis odious as the nasal twang
Heard at conventicle."
(To be continued.)
London : FRED. PITMAN, 20, Paternoster Row, E.C.
Printed by J. WARD, Dewsbury.
[Delivered at the Working Man's Club, Cheltenham.]
T HE only work with which I am acquainted in this coun
try relating to the hand, is that of Sir Charles Beil. But, like another work of his relative to expression, it deals with the dry bones and mechanical adaptation of muscles, but neglects entirely its psychonomic character. In his “Anatomy of Expression,” Sir Charles has described, for example, certain muscles as devoted to the actions of laughing and crying ; but he nowhere ventures to show in what manner the action of those muscles is modified ; nor do we find that he extended his researches so far as to enable him to determine how it is that certain faculties have their peculiar laugh-the scornful laugh of offended Self-esteem, for example the bitter laugh of Destructiveness—the sly la of Secretiveness--the insinuating ugh of Love of Approbation-or the soft, gentle, and winning laugh of Benevolence. But Sir Charles had neglected to provide himself with the key by which alone these distinctions can be realised. He had not sufficiently considered that expression depends altogether upon the modified action of the primitive faculties of the mind ; for of these, it is sincerely to be regretted, he appears to have been ignorant. Mr. Ruskin has well said that “whenever we feel driven to dissect the animal frame, or conceive it as dissected, and substitute in our thoughts the neatness of mechanical con