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those who are judges of only the one or the other, Cowper has had the enviable lot to become a favourite, because of his excellence in that which either class can singly appreciate and admire. The close of his greatest work is in harmony with this presentiment in his first. Having finished his "Task," he says, alluding to the same subject, and the same inspiration—
"But all is in his hand, whose praise I seek,
Whose frown can disappoint the proudest strain,
The Task, Book vi.
No formal essay on the genius and writings of Cowper is proposed in the following pages, which, from the limitations under which they have been prepared, must consist of desultory remarks on his principal works, in reference to his intellectual character, his deplorable malady, and the strikingly contrasted eras of his early and his later life. Yet, to do justice to the subject, the critic of Cowper ought to be his biographer; and the productions of his mind ought to be examined chronologically, in connection with the events of his history, there being a beautiful and affecting relationship between his most interesting poems and his personal circumstances, of the same date. It is this that inexpressibly endears Cowper to his readers, as a man of like passions with themselves, while, by the simplicity of his manner, he quietly raises them above their own level, and
makes them feel as though they were of kindred endowments with him. With as little egotism, in the invidious sense of that word, as a human being can betray, he often alludes to incidents in former years, and to present scenes, which render us familiarly and delightfully acquainted with what he was, what he is, and what he aims to be. In fact, he has delineated himself more truly, more vividly, than Romney or Lawrence can have done in their touching memorials of his meek, intelligent, but pensive countenance; though the latter, particularly, has given us the very soul of the poet's features, in lines so few, yet perfect, that we cannot look upon them, without thinking that he must have been just such a man as these represent him; for such he has been, to our imagination, ever since we knew him in his works, and formed an idea from them of his personal appearance. Cowper, indeed, is one whom we seem to have known and loved from our youth. We read his thoughts as the thoughts of a friend, in whom every thing is dearer and more engaging to us, than the same in a stranger could be. Yet Cowper must be known well, to be loved heartily. He appears dry, and cold, and even repulsive at first, in his greater poems; nor even in his more exquisite sketches, will the grace, the delicacy, the tenderness, of his humour or his pathos, come out at once. Familiarity, however, with him, instead of breeding contempt, attaches us more and more to his company, while it more and more elevates his peculiar talents in our esteem. There are few compositions, either in prose or rhyme, that will mend so much, on repeated
perusal, as Cowper's, and none that will wear better in the memory, or take stronger hold upon the affec
A brief outline of our Author's story may be useful for reference in the subsequent strictures on the character of his mind and his writings.
WILLIAM COWPER was the son of a clergyman, allied to a noble family. He lost his mother at an early age, and soon after her death was removed from his father's house, and placed at Westminster School. Here he continued till he had reached his eighteenth year. The honours and fortunes of several of the most illustrious of his ancestors, having been derived from their connection with the administration of justice, he also was doomed to study the law, as a profession, with the prospect of preferment through his family interests. Accordingly, he was articled for three years to an attorney, and actually served out his term; though, from a letter of his own to Lady Hesketh, we learn that he and the future Lord Chancellor, (Thurlow,) who was his companion, mispent their time as pleasantly as two youths of such promise could desire. The talents of each, in the sequel, raised him to pre-eminence in the path of distinction which he chose; but the contrast of their fortunes was no less singular than the coincidence. Thurlow rose to wealth, power, and glory, unrivalled in their combination, during his lifetime; but when death had shorn him of those of his honours that were mortal, it extinguished three-fourths, at least, of the splendour attached to his name. Cowper emerged, in the middle stage of life, from obscurity and inaction,
and, though the season of enterprise and hope might be imagined past, succeeded in gaining a poet's reputation, even at a time when poetry was little regarded. This he achieved by one victorious effort of mind,* in a lucid interval of comparative peace, amidst a life of despondency. Without this golden occasion, all the other fruits of his genius might have fallen to the ground, ungathered by the public, because, like his first miscellaneous volume, it is probable that they would have failed to attract that attention, which, once obtained, has insured their acceptance with all who can enjoy unsophisticated verse, in alliance with pure and undefiled religion. But the felicity was transient; no after exertion advanced his fame; he continued in retirement, and though the kindness of many friends added comforts to his declining days, he languished in circumstances barely above poverty, and at length died-for "wealth," by the royal bounty, came literally to him "a day too late"-under the darkest cloud that could cover the brightness of an immortal spirit, before its departure from the body. Death, which reduced Thurlow to the standard of his intellect alone, among the illustrious of his age, exalted poor Cowper to the standard of his, and made him as much greater in the eye of posterity than the Chancellor now appears, as the latter was greater than he in the sight of their contemporaries. But this is digression.
After Cowper had fulfilled his clerkship, he entered upon those studies which were to qualify him
for a barrister, with about as much intensity and success as he had pursued those which were to have qualified him for a solicitor. It is difficult to imagine how he occupied his time from his twentysecond to his thirty-third year; his very means of maintenance, and the nature of his professional employment, if he had any, being entirely unmentioned by his biographers. We gather from his letters, and other imperfect records, that, during this period, he was familiar with many of the more fashionable literati of the day, and occasionally contributed both prose and verse to popular publications. Colman, Lloyd, Bonnel Thornton, and Churchill, have been particularly named as his companions, with whom he enjoyed the pleasures of the world, as far as the world could please one, so ill prepared, by delicacy of taste and constitutional infirmity, to endure the turbulence either of its mirth or its exasperations. When, from his timidity, as well as negligence, it became evident that he would never excel at the bar, his powerful friends, naturally enough thinking that he might serve his country in some easy, well-paid post, successively procured for him two offices in the House of Lords. Each of these he was compelled to forego, by the diseased state of his nerves, (whatever was the cause,) which would not permit him to perform tasks less difficult than the daily exercises of a school-boy. Disappointment in this "tide of his affairs," the only one, that, "taken at the flood," promised to "lead on to fortune," induced the first violent paroxysm of that mental derangement, which, with few intervening