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Man disavows and Deity disowns me;
When bodily darkness fell on the footsteps of Milton, he imagined it the overshadowing of heavenly wings; and we might ascribe to a like cause the spiritual darkness of poor Cowper's days. The gloomy thought that had taken possession of him was never relinquished; but often it seemed to fade away into the unreal wretchedness of a distressing dream. Happiness was ministered to him in various forms. He found contentment in humble occupations, the innocent amusement of some work of mechanism or the playful companionship of the pet animals he has immortalized. Friends, the kindest and most constant man was ever blessed with, were providentially raised up, one after another, to watch over him.
Criticism could find few better themes than to examine the character of Cowper's poetry,—to show it always pure and gentle, though sometimes overcast by the melancholy of his malady or of a sombre theology, and occasionally rising from its usual familiar range to a region of sublimity. There is great interest, too, in tracing how his imagination extracted melody from his madness, the evil spirit that troubled him charmed to rest by the harpings of his Muse. But I can notice only the most beautiful of his minor poems. It was Cowper's misfortune to lose his mother before he was six years of age. A picture of her was sent to him when he was nearly sixty years old. At the sight of it there started up images and recollections and feelings which had slept for more than half a century. Time and forgetfulness were baffled by a sister art; and the work was completed by Poetry in as touching lines as ever recorded the movements of a poet's memory into the shadowy region of childhood :
"Oh that those lips had language! Life has pass'd
Those lips are thine. Thy own sweet smile I see,—
Now, while that face renews my filial grief,
A momentary dream that thou art she.
My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
Perhaps thou gavest me, though unfelt, a kiss,—
Thus, many a sad to-morrow came and went,
Till, all my stock of infant sorrows spent,
I learn'd at last submission to my lot,
But, though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot."
It did not please Heaven to unweave the tangled meshes of poor Cowper's brain. The dark delusion of despair hung over his mind to the very verge of his long life of just threescore years and ten. His last original piece, the " 'Castaway," is, indeed, under all the circumstances, one of the most affecting ever composed. He had been reading, in Anson's Voyages, an account of a man lost overboard in a gale of wind: that appalling casualty, which often consigns the sailor to a helpless fate, is told in vivid stanzas, closing with the saddest possible moralizing:
"No poet wept him; but the page
Of narrative sincere,
That tells his name, his worth, his age,
Is wet with Anson's tear:
And tears by bards or heroes shed
"I therefore purpose not, or dream,
To give the melancholy theme
"No voice divine the storm allay'd,
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
We perish'd, each alone,
But I beneath a rougher sea
And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he."
On his death-bed Cowper put away the words of consolation and hope that were addressed to him, thus showing, in the words of a friend who tended his last moments, that, though his spirit was on the eve of being invested with angelic light, the darkness of delusion still veiled it. As if to mitigate the anguish of those kind hearts which had watched so dark a death-bed, the expression into which his countenance settled after death was that of calmness and composure mingled, as it were, with holy surprise.
For these very imperfect notices of Cowper, falling so very far below the interest of the subject and my own wishes, let me make some amends by repeating to you some admirable stanzas, entitled "Cowper's Grave." They are from a living woman's pen :
It is a place where poets crown'd may feel the heart's decaying;
O poets! from a maniac's tongue was pour'd the deathless singing!
And how, when, one by one, sweet sounds and wandering lights departed,
He wore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted,
He shall be strong to sanctify the poet's high vocation,
And bow the meekest Christian down in meeker adoration;
Nor ever shall he be, in praise, by wise or good forsaken;
With quiet sadness, and no gloom, I learn to think upon him
Wild timid hares were drawn from woods to share his home-caresses,
But while in blindness he remain'd unconscious of the guiding,
Like a sick child that knoweth not his mother while she blesses,
The fever gone, with leaps of heart, he sees her bending o'er him,
Thus? Oh, not thus! No type of earth could image that awaking,
Deserted! Who hath dreamt that, when the cross in darkness rested
What frantic hands outstretch'd have e'er the atoning drops averted?
Deserted! God could separate from his own essence rather,
And Adam's sins have swept between the righteous Son and Father;
It went up from the Holy's lips amid his lost creation,
(WITH NOTICES OF JOHNSON'S LIVES OF THE POETS.)
MONOTONY OF POPE'S VERSE-THE REVIVAL OF A TRUER SPIRIT OF POETRYCHATTERTON-MERIT OF COWPER-DR. JOHNSON'S LITERARY DICTATORSHIPHIS "LIVES OF THE POETS"-SIR EGERTON BRYDGES'S CRITICISM ON THEMCOWPER'S JUDGMENT OF THEM-JOHNSON'S INCAPACITY FOR POETICAL CRITICISM JOHNSON'S JUDGMENTS ON GRAY" LONDON "—" VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES "-PERCY'S "RELIQUES OF ANCIENT ENGLISH POETRY "-THE CHARACTER OF THIS POETRY-ROBERT BURNS-HIS BOYHOOD-EARLY TRIALS-MOSSGEIL FARM-THE FRESHNESS OF HIS POETRY-ITS UNIVERSALITY-WORDSWORTH'S LINES THE MOUNTAIN-DAISY-THE FIELD-MOUSE-COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT-TAM O'SHANTER-MARY CAMPBELL-MORALITY OF BURNS'S POETRY -THE BARD'S EPITAPH-WORDSWORTH'S LINES TO THE SONS OF BURNS.
last I to too
from the poetry of Pope to that of Cowper, thus bringing the earlier portion of the eighteenth century in too close contact with its later period. It has been my aim throughout this course of lectures, to make it, as far as possible, comprehensive not only of the exposition of the individual poets selected, but of the progress of English poetry in its successive ages, as it has been modified by the influence of genius and the spirit of the times. I propose, therefore, in order not to deviate now from the plan as presented to my own mind at the outset, to endeavour to supply, in a very general way, the chasm in my last lecture between Pope and Cowper. Before proceeding to the chief subject of the present lecture, I wish to dispose in as short a space of some of the omitted subjects. The influence of Pope's poetry, or rather that school of poetry which began with Dryden and was completed by Pope, was unquestionably injurious on all the writers who came within its reach. It reduced poetry to mere versification, and thus, in the hands of pupils who were deficient in the natural powers of the masters, it became mechanical,—a thing of sound, and little else. Besides, the ear was habituated but to one fashion of sound; for Dryden and Pope had spent almost their whole effort upon one form of verse, the rhyming couplet of the ten-syllable line. They had set English poetry to one tune in the position of its pauses and the balanced succession of the notes, so that