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The insupportable fatigue of thought,
root, Deceive no student. Wisdom there, and truth Not shy, as in the world, and to be won By slow solicitation, seize at once The roving thought, and fix it on themselves.' His satire is also excellent. It is pointed and forcible, with the polished manners of the gentleman and the honest indignation of the virtuous man. His religious poetry, except where it takes a tincture of controversial heat, wants elevation and fire. His Muse had not a seraph's wing. I might refer, in illustration of this opinion, to the laboured anticipation of the Millennium at the end of the sixth book. He could describe a piece of shell-work as well as any modern poet ; but he could not describe the New Jerusalem so well as John Bunyan, nor are his verses on Alexander Selkirk so good as Robinson Crusoe. The one is not so much like a vision, nor is the other so much like the reality.
1 Of the Task.' - ED.
The first volume of Cowper's poems has, however, been less read than it deserved. The comparison in these poems of the proud and humble believer to the peacock and the pheasant, and the parallel between Voltaire and the poor cottager, are exquisite pieces of eloquence and poetry, particularly the last,
*Yon cottager, who weaves at her own door, Pillow and bobbins all her little store, Content though mean, and cheerful if not gay, Shuffling her threads about the livelong day, Just earns a scanty pittance, and at night Lies down secure, her heart and pocket light; She, for her humble sphere by nature fit, Has little understanding, and no wit, Receives no praise ; but, though her lot be such (Toilsome and indigent), she renders much; Just knows, and knows no more, her Bible true, A truth the brilliant Frenchman never knew; And in that charter reads with sparkling eyes Her title to a treasure in the skies. 'O happy peasant ! O unhappy bard! His the mere tinsel, hers the rich reward; He praised, perhaps, for ages yet to come, She never heard of half a mile from home; He lost in errors his vain heart prefers, She safe in the simplicity of hers.' His character of Whitefield, in the poem on Hope, is one of his most spirited and striking things. It is written con amore :
• But if, unblamable in word and thought,
These lines were quoted, soon after their appearance, by the Monthly Reviewers to show that Cowper was no poet, though they afterwards took credit to themselves for having been the first to introduce his verses to the notice of the public. It is not a little remarkable that these same critics regularly damned, at its first coming out, every work which has since acquired a standard reputation with the public. Cowper's verses on his mother's picture, and his lines to Mary, are some of the most pathetic that ever were written. His stanzas on the loss of the Royal George' have a masculine strength and feeling beyond what was usual with him. The story of John Gilpin has perhaps given as much pleasure to as many people as anything of the same length that ever was written.
His life was an unhappy one. It was embit. tered by a morbid affection and by his religious sentiments. Nor are we to wonder at this, or bring it as a charge against religion ; for it is the nature of the poetical temperament to carry everything to excess, whether it be love, religion, pleasure, or pain, as we may see in the case of Cowper and of Burns, and to find torment or rapture in that in which others merely find a resource from ennui, or a relaxation from common occupation.
There are two poets still living who belong to the same class of excellence, and of whom I shall here say a few words : I mean Crabbe, and Robert Bloomfield, the author of the • Farmer's Boy. As a painter of simple natural scenery, and of the still life of the country, few writers have more undeniable and unassuming pretensions than the ingenious and self-taught poet last-mentioned. Among the sketches of this sort I would mention, as equally distinguished for delicacy, faithfulness, and naiveté, his description of lambs racing, of the pigs going out an acorning, of the boy sent to feed his sheep before the break of day in winter ; and I might add the innocently told story of the
poor bird-boy, who in vain through the livelong day expects his promised companions at his hut, to share his feast of roasted sloes with him, as an example of that humble pathos in which this author excels. The fault indeed of his genius is that it is too humble ; his Muse has something not only rustic, but menial in her aspect. He seems afraid of elevating Nature, lest she should be ashamed of him. Bloomfield very beautifully describes the lambs in spring-time as racing round the hillocks of green turf. Thomson, in describing the same image, makes the mound of earth the remains of an old Roman encampment. Bloomfield never gets beyond his own experience; and that is somewhat confined. He gives the simple appearance of Nature, but he gives it naked, shivering, and unclothed with the drapery of a moral imagination. His poetry has much the effect of the first approach of spring, 'while yet the year is unconfirmed,' where a few tender buds venture forth here and there, but are chilled by the early frosts and nipping breath of poverty. It should seem from this and other instances that have occurred within the last century that we cannot expect from original genius alone, without education, in modern and more artificial periods, the same bold and independent results as in former