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When I see an afflicted, and an unhappy man, I say to myself, there is perhaps a man whom the world would envy, if they knew the value of his sorrows, which are possibly intended only to soften his heart, and to turn his afflictions towards their proper centre. But when I see, or hear of a crowd of voluptuaries, who have no ears but for music, no eyes but for splendour, and no tongue but for impertinence and folly-I say, or at least I see occasion to say-This is madness— This persisted in must have a tragical conclusion-It will condemn you, not only as Christians, unworthy of the name, but as intelligent creatures-You know by the light of nature, if you have not quenched it, that there is a God, and that a life like yours cannot be according to his will.' F. 100.
'Let a man attach himself to a particular party, contend furiously for what are properly called evangelical doctrines, and enlist himself under the banner of some popular preacher, and the business is done. Behold a Christian, a Saint, a Phoenix !-In the mean time perhaps his heart and his temper, and even his conduct, are unsanctified; possibly less exemplary than those of some avowed infidels. No matter-he can talk-he has the Shibboleth of the true church-the bible in his pocket, and a head well-stored with notions. But the quiet, humble, modest, and peaceable person, who is, in his practice, what the other is only in his profession, who hates a noise, and therefore makes none, who knowing the snares that are in the world, keeps himself as much out of it as he can, and never enters it, but when duty calls, and even then with fear and trembling-is the Christian, that will always stand highest in the estimation of those, who bring all characters to the test of true wisdom, and judge of the tree by its 'fruit.' P. 107.
What there is of a religious cast in the volume, I have thrown towards the end of it, for two reasons-first, that I might not revolt the reader at his entrance-and secondly, that my best impressions might be made last. Were I to write as many volumes as Lopez de Vega, or Voltaire, not one of them would be without this tincture. If the world like it not, so much the worse for them. I make all the concessions I can, that I may please them, but I will not please them at the expence of my conscience.' P. 296.
To malady of mind, or a momentary fanaticism, we have ascribed the venial errors and indiscreet assertions of this amiable man. Of these, impartiality induces us to mention only the most prominent.
The death of captain Cook, Cowper seems to attribute to a particular intervention of Providence:
Last night I had a letter from lord Dartmouth. It was to apprise me of the safe arrival of Cook's last voyage, which he was so kind as to lend to me, in St. James's square. The reading of those volumes afforded me much amusement, and I hope some instruction. No observation however, forced itself upon me with more violence than one, that I could not help making, on the death of captain Cook. God
is a jealous God, and at Owhyhee the poor man was content to be worshipped. From that moment, the remarkable interposition of providence in his favour, was converted into an opposition, that thwarted all his purposes. He left the scene of his deification, but was driven back to it by a violent storm, in which he suffered more than in any that had preceded it. When he departed, he left his worshippers still infatuated with an idea of his godship, consequently well disposed to serve him. At his return, he found them sullen, distrustful, and mysterious. A trifling theft was committed, which by a blunder of his own in pursuing the thief, after the property had been restored, was magnified to an affair of the last importance. One of their favourite chiefs was killed too by a blunder. Nothing in short, but blunder and mistake attended him, 'till he fell breathless into the water, and then all was smooth again. The world indeed will not take notice, or see that the dispensation bore evident marks of divine displeasure; but a mind, I think, in any degree spiritual, cannot overlook them.' P. 293.
On this singular statement, Mr. Hayley remarks, in a note,
'I cannot pass the present letter without observing that I am persuaded my friend Cowper utterly misapprehended the behaviour of captain Cook, in the affair alluded to. From the little personal ácquaintance which I had myself with this humane and truly Christian navigator, and from the whole tenor of his life, I cannot believe it possible for him to have acted under any circumstances, with such impious arrogance, as might appear offensive in the eyes of the Almighty. P. 294.
Many letters teem with methodistical expressions.-To Mr. Unwin he thus addresses his consolations:
'Be not sorry that your love of Christ was excited in you by a picture. Could a dog or a cat suggest to me the thought, that Christ is precious, I would not despise that thought because a dog or a cat suggested it; the meanness of the instrument cannot debase the nobleness of the principle. He that kneels before a picture of Christ is an idolater, but he in whose heart the sight of a picture kindles a warm remembrance of the Saviour's sufferings, must be a Christian. Suppose that I dream as Gardiner did, that Christ walks before me, that he turns and smiles upon me, and fills my soul with ineffable love and joy. Will a man tell me that I am deceived, that I ought not to love or rejoice in him for such a reason, because a dream is merely a picture drawn upon the imagination? I hold not with such divinity. To love Christ is the greatest dignity of man, be that affection wrought in him how it may.' P. 337.
That reviewers seldom show mercy to an advocate for evangelical truth, whether in prose or verse,' justice to our associates and to our rivals forces from us a denial. The sacred interests of religion and morality are as profoundly
venerated and more powerfully defended by critical journalists than by the most credulous enthusiasts.
To religious discussion we have yielded an ample portion of our pages. Subjects of a literary and miscellaneous nature must give variety to our remaining space.
Cowper was neither entirely devoid of the pride of being considered singular, nor of professional poetic egotism.
My descriptions are all from nature. Not one of them secondhanded. My delineations of the heart are from my own experience. Not one of them borrowed from books, or in the least degree conjectural. In my numbers, which I have varied as much as I could (for blank verse without variety of numbers, is no better than bladder and string) I have imitated nobody, though sometimes perhaps there may be an apparent resemblance; because at the same time that I would not imitate, I have not affectedly differed.' P. 296.
In his critical observations he is usually correct, often felicitous; particularly in his vindication of Milton from the rude attacks of Dr. Johnson, a service which he has accomplished with the gallantry of a genuine poet.
His treatment of Milton is unmerciful to the last degree. He has belaboured that great poet's character with the most industrious cruelty. As a man, he has hardly left him the shadow of one good quality. Churlishness in his private life, and a rancorous hatred of every thing royal in his public, are the two colours with which he has smeared all the canvas. If he had any virtues, they are not to be found in the doctor's picture of him, and it is well for Milton, that some sourness in his temper is the only vice with which his memory has been charged; it is evident enough that if his biographer could have discovered more, he would not have spared him. As a poet, he has treated him with severity enough, and has plucked one or two of the most beautiful feathers out of his muse's wing, and trampled them under his great foot. He has passed sentence of condemnation upon Lycidas, and has taken occasion from that charming poem, to expose to ridicule (what is indeed ridiculous enough) the childish prattlement of pastoral compositions, as if Lycidas was the prototype and pattern of them all. The liveliness of the description, the sweetness of the numbers, the classical sprit of antiquity that prevails in it, go for nothing. I am convinced by the way, that he has no ear for poetical numbers, or that it was stopped by prejudice against the harmony of Milton's; was there ever any thing so delightful as the music of the Paradise Lost? It is like that of a fine organ; has the fullest and the deepest tones of majesty, with all the softness and elegance of the Dorian flute. Variety without end and never equalled, unless perhaps by Virgil.' P. 6.
Many hints are scattered through his correspondence, of which careless writers, who undervalue criticism, may advantageously avail themselves.
Whatever is short should be nervous, masculine, and compact. Little men are so; and little poems should be so; because, where the work is short, the author has no right to the plea of weariness, and laziness is never admitted as an available excuse in any thing. Now you know my opinion, you will very likely improve upon my improvement, and alter my alterations for the better. To touch and retouch is, though some writers boast of negligence, and others would be ashamed to show their foul copies, the secret of almost all good writing, especially in verse. I am never weary of it myself, and if you would take as much pains as I do, you would have no need to ask for my corrections.' P. 39.
< I considered that the taste of the day is refined, and delicate to excess, and that to disgust that delicacy of taste, by a slovenly inattention to it, would be to forfeit at once all hope of being useful; and for this reason, though I have written more verse this last year, than perhaps any man in England, I have finished and polished, and touched and retouched, with the utmost care.' P. 98.
This diligence was highly commendable: yet in many of the verses of Cowper we are at a loss to discover the traces of an attention so meritorious.
In his judgement on the merits of celebrated authors we cannot uniformly coincide. Hume is characterised with uncommon asperity; Robertson and Gibbon with unbe coming disrespect:
They disgust me always, Robertson with his pomp and his strut, and Gibbon with his finical and French manners.'
On other authors his opinions are acute and discriminating; not always liberal. To Pope he has done justice, although partial to Dryden :
With the unwearied application of a plodding Flemish painter, who draws a shrimp with the most minute exactness, he had all the genius of one of the first masters. Never I believe, were such talents, and such drudgery united. But I admire Dryden most, who has succeeded by mere dint of genius, and in spite of a laziness and carelessness, almost peculiar to himself. His faults are numberless, and so are his beauties. His faults are those of a great man, and his beauties are such, at least sometimes, as Pope, with all his touching, and re-touching, could never equal.' r. 109.
Of Prior, he thinks the Solomon, in subject and execution, the best composition. Johnson is poetically censured for his 'fusty-rusty remarks upon Henry and Emma :'
'I wonder almost, that as the Bacchanals served Orpheus, the boys and girls do not tear this husky, dry, commentator, limb from limb, in resentment of such an injury done to their darling poet. I admire Johnson, as a man of great erudition and sense, but when he sets
himself up for a judge of writers upon the subject of love, a passion which I suppose he never felt in his life, he might as well think himself qualified to pronounce upon a treatise on horsemanship, or the art of fortification.' P. 111.
Among contemporary writers, he applauds Beattie too profusely, and is too sparing in his praises of Blair.
-Beattic, the most agreeable and amiable writer I ever met with. The only author I have seen whose critical and philosophical researches are diversified and embellished by a poetical imagination, that makes even the driest subject, and the leanest, a feast for an epicure in books. He is so much at his ease too, that his own character appears in every page, and, which is very rare, we see not only the writer, but the man and that man so gentle, so well tempered, so happy in his religion, and so humane in his philosophy, that it is necessary to love him if one has any sense of what is lovely.' P. 247.
'I have read six of Blair's Lectures, and what do I say of Blair? That he is a sensible man, master of his subject, and excepting here and there a Scotticism, a good writer, so far at least as perspicuity of expression, and method, contribute to make one. But oh the sterility of that man's fancy! if indeed he has any such faculty belonging to him. Perhaps philosophers, or men designed for such, are sometimes born without one, or perhaps it withers for want of exercise. However that may be, Dr. Blair has such a brain as Shakespeare somewhere describes, " dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage.". P. 247.
Blair has crept a little farther into my favor. As his subjects improve, he improves with them, but upon the whole I account him a dry writer, useful no doubt as an instructor, but as little entertaining as with so much knowledge it is possible to be. His language is (except Swift's) the least figurative I remember to have seen, and the few figures found in it, are not always happily employed. I take him to be a critic very little animated by what he reads, who rather reasons about the beauties of an author than really tastes them, and who finds, that a passage is praise-worthy, not because it charms him, but because it is accommodated to the laws of criticism, in that case made and provided.' P. 251.
With a few miscellaneous passages, literary, moral, and philosophical, in his peculiar manner, we shall amuse our readers, and leave to their judgement the success, of our attempt to delineate the character of Cowper from his own letters.
He affords consolation to the timid letter-writer by a pleasing and practical remark :
A letter is written as a conversation is maintained, or a journey performed, not by preconcerted or premeditated means, a new contrivance, or an invention never heard of before, but merely by maintaining a progress, and resolving, as a postillion does, having once set