« 이전계속 »
"Mary," his dear and faithful friend, Mrs. Unwin. Some of his pieces may equal, but none surpass this unadorned and touching effusion of Cowper's muse. In Southey's edition of Cowper's works, a satirical poem appears for the first time, entitled “ Anti Thelphthora, the object of which is to ridicule those writers who have advocated the abolition of the institution of marriage.
The details of the poet's last illness, and of his dying hours, have been narrated with great feeling by Hayley, Southey, Willmott, and other biographers. The lastmentioned author quotes the following particulars of Cowper's death from the account given of the event by his kinsman, Dr. Johnson, and by Mr. Greatheed :
Adverting,” says Dr. Johnson, “to the affliction, as well of body as of mind, which his beloved inmate was then enduring, he ventured to speak of his approaching dissolution as the signal of his deliverance from both these miseries. After a pause of a few moments, which was less interrupted by the objections of his desponding relative than he had dared to hope, he proceeded to an observation more consolatory still; namely, that in the world to which he was hastening, a merciful Redeemer had prepared unspeakable happiness for all his children, and therefore for him. To the first part he had listened with composure ; but the concluding words were no sooner uttered, than his passionately-expressed entreaties that his companion would desist from any further observations of a similar kind, clearly proved that though it was on the eve of being invested with angolic light, the darkness of delusion still veiled his spirit.
The narrative of Mr. Greatheed is still more painful and minute :
friend and relative,” he says, “convinced that Cowper would shortly exchange a world of infirmity and sorrow for a far more exceeding weight of glory, repeatedly endeavoured to cheer him with the prospect, and to assure him of the happiness that awaited him, still he refused to be comforted. Oh, spare me, spare me, you know-you know it to be false,' was his only reply. The last words he uttered
“ His young
were to Miss Perowne, declining a cordial,- What can it signify?"
"He expired, on the 25th of April, 1800, about four minutes before five in the afternoon; and was buried, May the 3rd, in the parish church of East Dereham, where a monument, the work of Flaxman, was erected to his memory by Lady Hesketh, with the following affectionate and appropriate inscription by Hayley, who also contributed some lines to the tablet raised by two friends to the virtues of Mrs. Unwin;" —
Ye, who with warmth the public triumph feei,
His virtues form'd the magic of his song, The epitome of Cowper's life now given has run to so great a length as to leave but little space for a review of his genius as a poet, and his excellence as a prose writer. The extract that follows is from Campbell's “Speci: mens of the British Poets ;" and the second quotation is taken from Willmott, to whose admirable “Lives of the English Sacred Poets," we are so largely indebted in compiling this volume :-" The nature of Cowper's works makes us peculiarly identify the poet and the man in perusing them. As an individual, he was retired and weaned from the vanities of the world ; and as an original writer, he left the ambitious and luxuriant subjects of fiction and passion for those of real life and simple nature, and for the development of his own earnest feelings in behalf of moral and religious truth. His language has such a masculine idiomatic strength, and his manner, whether it rises into grace or falls into negligence, has so much plain and familiar freedom, that we read no poetry with a deeper conviction of its sentiments having come from the author's heart, and of the enthusiasm, in whatever he describes, having been
unfeigned and unexaggerated. He impresses us with the idea of a being whose fine spirit had been long enough in the mixed society of the world to be polished by its intercourse, and yet withdrawn so soon as to retain an unworldly degree of purity and simplicity. He was advanced in years before he became an author; but his compositions display a tenderness of feeling so youthfully preserved, and even a vein of humour so far from being extinguished by his ascetic habits, that we can scarcely regret his not having written them at an earlier period of life: for he blends the determination of age with an exquisite and ingenuous sensibility; and though he sports very much with his subjects, yet, when he is in earnest, there is a gravity of long-felt conviotion in his sentiments, which gives an uncommon ripe ness of character to his poetry:
“It is due to Cowper to fix our regard on this unaffectedness and authenticity of his works, considered as representations of himself
, because he forms a striking instance of genius writing the history of its own secluded feelings, reflections, and enjoyments, in a shape so interesting as to engage the imagination like a work of fiction. He has invented no character in fable, nor in the drama; but he has left a record of his own character, which forms not only an object of deep sympathy, but a subject for the study of human nature. His verse, it is true, considered as such a record, abounds with opposite traits of severity and gentleness. of playfulness and superstition, of solemnity and mirth, which appear almost anomalous; and there is, undoubtedly, sometimes an air of moody versatility in the extreme contrasts of his feeling. But looking to his poetry as an entire structure, it has a massive air of sincerity. It is founded in steadfast principles of belief; and, if we may prolong the architectural metaphor, though its arches may be sometimes gloomy, its tracery sportive, and its lights and shadows grotesquely crossed, yet altogether it still forms a vast, various, and interesting monument of the builder's mind. Young's works are as devout, as satirical, sometimes as merry as those of Cowper ; and, undoubtedly, more witty. But the
melancholy and wit of Young do not make up to us the idea of a conceivable or natural being. He has sketched in his pages the ingenious, but incongruous form of a fictitious mind-Cowper's soul speaks from his volumes."
“ To Cowper belongs pre-eminently,” says Will. mott, "above any writer in our language, the title of the "Poet of the Affections.' Campbell compares the “Task' to a playful little fountain, which gathers magnitude and beauty as it proceeds. Cowpor found the fountain in his heart. He has brought the muse, in her most attractive form, to sit down by our hearths; and has breathed a sanctity over the daily economy of our existence. He builds up no magic castles; he conducts us into no enchanted gardens; no silver lutes sigh through his verse; no wings of faëry glisten over his page. Instead of wandering over the shores of old romance, he teaches us out of the Book of Life, and invests with a delightful charm the commonest offices of humanity. He pauses with no delight upon the varie gated fancy of Davenant, the serious sweetness of Spenser, or the resplendent visions of Milton; and he joyfully exchanges the beautiful pomp of the Attic mythology for the dearer recollections of his native vil. lage ; for the garden gate over which he has often hung; the humming of the bees; and the piping of the robin in his own apple-tree.”
The most interesting lives of Cowper are those by Hayley, Southey, Grimshawe, and the accomplished author from whose work the preceding beautiful passage has been taken. His criticism on the various works of the author of the “ Task" are written with great elegance, and with a true appreciation of Cowper's peculiar merits. The concluding passage of the memoir, comparing his religious poetry with that of Milton and Young, is eloquent and impressive :-“In becoming the poet of Christianity, Cowper addressed himself espe cially to the common business of life. He preached to us in our amusements and occupations. Milton, whose imagination was irradiated with all the splendours of prophecy, and all the beauty of the elder literature,
often describes the rites of the true worship with a Grecian ceremonial glittering in the distance. Young frequently dazzles our eyes with the blaze of fashion, or the allurements of ambition; but the poetry of Cowper is uniformly reflective, sober, and harmonious. The inspiration which Milton found in the Old Testament he finds in the New; and instead of the terrible threatenings of Isaiah, or the dark sayings of Ezekiel, he warns and consoles us from the lips of our Saviour, and builds up our lives from the teaching of his apostles.”
Cowper's superiority as a prose writer, particularly in the department of epistolary composition, has called forth many laudatory criticisms. An able contributor to "The Quarterly Review” for 1835(probably Southey), thus speaks on this point :-“His letters are inexpressibly delightful. They possess excellence so opposite, a naivè simplicity, arising from perfect goodness of heart, and singleness of purpose, contrasted with a deep acquaintance with the follies and vices of human nature, and a keen sense of humour and ridicule. They unite the playfulness of a child, the affectionateness of a woman, and the strong sense of a man. They give us glimpses of pleasure, so innocent and pure, as almost to realize the Eden of our great poet, contrasted with horrors so deep, as even to exceed his powers of imagery to express. His pathos is no bright, cold gleam of the imagination, but bursts warm from a heart in which every right and true feeling had its home. In a word, he either writes because he has something. to say—not because he would say something—or he fairly tells you that he is going to trifle; and then his badinage is the lightest and most graceful in the world.” Lord Jeffrey, one of the founders, and for many years the principal editor, of “ The Edinburgh Review," and who is pre-eminently distinguished for the beauty, and, with a few exceptions, for the justice of his critical dissertations, has written in the same strain of animated panegyric. In reference to Cowper's inimitable letters, he observes :—“We have rarely met with any similar collection of superior interest and beauty. Though the incidents to which they relate be of ño