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human philosophy with a kind of clerical contempt. In his eye the great and little things of the world were reduced to the same level, while he adored the almightiness and the moral purposes of the Being who had created them. This religious indifference does not, however, blunt his susceptibility to the simple beauties of nature; but the places which he loves, associated with his reveries and his tranquil moments, those spots, above all, filled with the presence of the Divinity, who had brought him consolation, appear to him in their naked characteristics far above all the ornaments of poetry. There is less of the ideal in his landscapes than in those of the author of the Seasons; but they possess more of the charm of reality.
Thomson had the ambition to describe the whole earth; Cowper only the cultivated plains which he had seen. There can be no doubt, if the latter had inhabited a country of mountains, precipices, and torrents, that his genius would have amply sufficed for a description of these more savage characteristics.
Thence it was that living in the tranquillity of solitude, and remote from the tumultuous scenes of the world, he prefers in his verses to the richer subjects of fiction and the heroic passions, those subjects of real life, and the confessions of his own sentiments in religion and morality. His sincerity is recognizable in the bold energy and even the negligences and familiarities of his style. The man cannot be separated by those who peruse his works from the poet. His enthusiasm and his exaggerations have nothing artificial about them. It is perceived that this hermit has lived sufficiently in the world to acquire a certain polish, but that he has withdrawn from it sufficiently early to carry with him more virtue and simplicity than the world allows us to preserve.
Cowper was already of a certain age, when he undertook to become a poet; but his talents had all the freshness and the susceptibility of youth, and even more gaiety than might have been expected from his secluded habits. This combination of sadness or devotion with pleasantry, of profound and occasionally burlesque thoughts, with often witty sallies,—this expression of the capricious contrasts of his humour, with which the inequality of his verse so happily allies itself, imparts to the poetry of Cowper the character of a familiar dialogue, varied with metaphors and turns of expression borrowed from old authors. Cowper had even made it a system to abandon himself to the impulse of the moment; he delighted in moralizing on a singular subject, and in imparting abruptness to his transitions. I should be rather inclined to think that he would have considered it a service to have had a difficult text given to him. The origin of the poem of the Task is well known. Lady Austen was a great admirer of the blank verses of Milton, and frequently induced her friend to prefer them to rhyme. She requested him to complete an entire poem in that metre. Cowper promised to obey her, on condition that she supplied the subject. "Oh !" replied Lady Austen, "you cannot be in want of subjects; all are equally good to you; take this sofa for instance and accordingly Cowper composed several thousand verses, in which there is much less said about the sofa than any thing else. This poem has more beauties than are requisite to redeem a more defective plan and many other imperfections of detail; it is sufficient to evidence the peculiar manner of Cowper. Tender or pious sentiments, and eloquence often sublime; interesting allusions to his daily occupations and attachments; little pictures of interiors and charming landscapes are all combined by Cowper within this frame. The first book alone bears the title of Sofa, the history of which seldom re-appears after the first hundred verses. One transition leads to another, and the poet changes tone and style at each new subject with incredible facility. When it is recollected that the admiration of Lady Austen for Milton gave birth to the Task, one cannot regret that Cowper has not only imitated the manner of the model proposed to him like a great master, but that he has, moreover, dared to parody him with a considerable degree of humour.*
I should be pleased to be enabled to quote successively the description of the arrival of the post;
* For instance, in the enumeration of the different kinds of sleep, which are not comparable to the sleep enjoyed upon the sofa, the same turns of expression are found as in the famous passage of Paradise Lost,
"Sweet is the breath of morn," && It is one of the passages tolerably well translated by Delille. that of the preparations for tea; that on snow, with the admirable satirical allusion to the ice palaces of the Empress of Russia; winter walks, and a multitude of studies and pictures which appertain to the Flemish school of poetry. Delille has enriched himself as much by the loans he has borrowed from Cowper, as by those which Darwin might legitimately claim.
"Le printems nous disperse et Phiver nous rallie
Oui, l'instruct social est enfant de l'hiver;
En cercle un mime altrait rassemble autour de latre
La veillesse conteuse, et l'enfance folatre.
La courent a la ronde et les propoi joyeaux
Et la veillc romance et les amiables jeux;
La, sc de dommage aut de ses longues absences
Chacun vient retrouver ses cheres annaissances."
Dilille Les Trois Regnes.
The first conception of the whole of this morceau is to be found in the Winter Evening, third book of the Task, and we must confess if Delille sometimes equal his rival, he is still oftener inferior to him. His profuse or rather his lingering rhymes, are incapable of contending against the bold and original precision of Cowper,—a precision which does not always exclude eloquence, and which is not hostile to noble and graceful imagery, as in the following passages.
"'lis pleasant through the loop-holes of retreat
Thus sitting and surveying thus at ease
The globe and its concerns, I seem advanced
To some secure and more than mortal height,
That liberates and exempts me from them all.
It turns submitted to my view, turns round
With all its generations. I behold
The tumult and am still. The sound of war
Has lost its terrors ere it reaches me;
Grieves but alarms me not. I mourn the pride
And avarice, that make man wolf to man;
Hear the faint echo of those brazen throats
By which he speaks the language of his heart,
And sigh but never tremble at the sound.
He travels and expatiates, as the bee
From flower to flower, so he from land to land;
The manners, customs, policy of all
Pay contribution to the store he gleans;
He sucks intelligence in every clime,
And spreads the honey of his deep research
At his return, a rich repast for me."
In his lines addressed to the Hollow Oak oj Y.ardley, Cowper elevates himself to meditations of the highest philosophy, and in his Ode upon the Loss of the Royal George, he has taken a Pindaric flight. There is not less verve in his satires. There is the measured tone of good company, combined at the same time with the unshackled indignation of virtue. He has accused himself of having sometimes written under the inspiration of bile; but whatever is to be found in him of too harsh and mordant, is sufficiently excusable, inasmuch as he never had to reproach himself with a single personality. Voltaire* was already dead, when Cowper painted him in the following terms:
* This man, born for the misfortunes of many other men, erected a temple to God, and endeavoured to vilify and ridicule his Holy Word.
It is known that Voltaire built a church at Ferney with this inscription; Deo immortali, Voltaire.