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public magnitude or moment, and the remarks which they contain be not uniformly profound or original, yet there is something in the sweetness and facility of the diction, and more, perhaps, in the glimpses they afford of a benevolent mind, that diffuses a charm over the whole collection, and communicates an interest that cannot always be commanded by performances of greater dignity and pretensions. These letters will continue to be read, long after the curiosity is gratified, to which, perhaps, they owed their first celebrity; for the character with which they make us acquainted will always attract by its rarity, and engage by its elegance."
The private correspondence of Cowper, published in 1823, by Dr. John Johnson, a distant connexion of the poet, is a work of great interest, and a valuable addition to a department of our literature, which presents a variety of attractions to the general reader. The editor quotes the subjoined testimony to the merits of Cowper's epistolary style from the pen of the late Rev. Robert Hall
, whose accuracy of judgment, in all that relates to English prose composition, no one will doubt who has perused his own eloquent sermons and essays. In writing to Johnson, that eminent divine observes :“It is quite unnecessary to say that I perused the letters with great admiration and delight. I have always considered the letters of Cowper as the finest specimen of the epistolary style in our language; and these appear to me of a superior description to the former, possessing as much beauty, with more piety and pathos. To an air of inimitable ease and carelessness, they unite a high degree of correctness, such as could result only from the clearest intellect, combined with the most finished taste. I have scarcely found a single word which is capable of being exchanged for a better,
Literary errors I can discern none. The selection of words and the structure of the periods are inimitable; they present as striking a contrast, as can well be conceived, to the turgid verbosity which passes at present for fine writing, and which bears a great resemblance to
the degeneracy which marks the style of Ammianus Marcellinus, as compared to that of Cicero or of Livy. A perpetual effort and struggle is made to supply the place of vigour, garish and dazzling colours are substituted for chaste ornament, and the hideous distortions of weakness for native strength. In my humble opinion, the study of Cowper's prose may, on this account, be as · useful in forming the taste of young people as his poetry.”
The excellences of Cowper, as a poet of the first class, are ably and impartially summed up by Lord Jeffrey in his review of Hayley :-"The great merit of this writer appears to us to consist in the boldness and originality of his composition, and in the fortunate audacity with which he has carried the dominion of poetry into regions that had been considered as inaccessible to her ambition. The gradual refinement of taste had, for nearly a century, been weakening the figure of original genius. Our poets had become timid and fastidious, and circumscribed themselves both in the choice and the management of their subjects, by the observance of a limited number of models, who were thought to have exhausted all the legitimate resources of the art. Cowper was one of the first who crossed this enchanted circle, who regained the natural liberty of invention, and walked abroad in the open field of observation as freely as those by whom it was originally trodden; he passed from the imitation of poets to the imitation of nature, and ventured boldly upon the representation of objects that had not been sanctified by the description of any of his predecessors. In the ordinary occupations and duties of domestic life, and the consequences of modern manners, in the common scenery of a rustic situation, and the obvious contemplation of our public institutions, he has found a multitude of subjects for ridicule and reflection, for pathetic and picturesque description, for moral declamation, and devotional rapture, that would have been looked upon with disdain, or with despair, by most of our poetical adventurers. He took as wide a range in language, too, as in matter; and, shaking off the tawdry encumbrauce
of that poetical diction which had nearly reduced the art to the skilful collocation of a set of appropriated phrases, he made no scruple to set down in verse every expression that would have been admitted in prose, and to take advantage of all the varieties with which our language could supply him."
Shaw's “Outlines of English Literature” may be referred to for an excellent analysis of Cowper's works.
Born, 1735; DIED, 1803.
Thy shades, thy silence now be mine,
From Beattie's Poem of Retirement
This pleasing poet and eminent moralist was born on October 25, 1735, at Laurencekirk, in the county of Kincardine, in Scotland. He was descended froin a family of good character and cultivated intellect, but of an humble rank in life. His father kept a small shop in the town of which his son James was a native, and rented a little farm contiguous to it. Ile was a man of superior acquirements for his station, and had received the advantage of a good, plain education in one of the Scotch parochial schools. James lost his father when he was only seven years of age, and his mother placed him at an elementary seminary in the village. His progress appears to have been rapid for his years, for he exhibited a decided taste for poctical composition at a very early period; and before he was ten years old, took great delight in reading translations of Homer and Virgil. He became a student at Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1749, at the age of fourteen, where he was placed partly by the assistance of his elder bro
ther, David Beattie, and where he distinguished himself as a scholar in the Greek class, under Dr. Blackall. In addition to the usual academical course, he instructed himself in Italian, and evinced great industry in the acquisition of various branches of knowledge. The sum allowed him by his mother for his education being limited, he succeeded in obtaining one of the bursaries in college, which enabled him to complete his academical course. In 1753 he got his degree as Master of Arts; and accepted the office of parish clerk and schoolmaster, at the village of Fordoun, about six miles distant from Laurencekirk, situated at the foot of the Grampian mountains. He looked forward to becoming a minister of the Scotch church; and with that view, he continued to attend the divinity lectures at the University of Aberdeen. The spot where he then resided, was remarkable for the wildness and beauty of its scenery. He loved to contemplate nature in all its variety; and it was here he first indulged in his passion for poetry. His early effusions attracted the favourable notice of Lord Monboddo, Mr. Garden, afterwards Lord Gardenstown, and other literary characters. By means of the reputation he there acquired, he procured the situation of Usher in the grammar school at Aberdeen, and in 1760 that of Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Marischal College, where he was formerly a student. This appointment he soon after exchanged for that of the Professorship of Moral Philosophy and Logicbranches of knowledge which he cultivated with diligence and eminent success. He passed the remainder of his life in the University, where he enjoyed the intimacy of many distinguished literary men.
In the summer of 1760 he paid a visit to London, and published a volume of poems, of which the reception was favourable, though he did not think so highly of their merits as the public. In 1767 he formed a union with the daughter of Dr. Dun, rector of the grammar school at Aberdeen, which proved an unhappy one. Soon after his marriage his wife was afflicted with mental derangement, and confined in a lunatic asylum. He was ardently devoted to the study of
metaphysics; and cultivated, as congenial with his taste, the society of Reid, the celebrated author of an “Inquiry into the Human Mind," and of Campbell, the writer of
Essay on Miracles”—en who had distinguished themselves in philosophical researches. These circumstances led to the publication, in 1770, of his “Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth in Opposition to Sophistry, and Scepticism,”—a work which gained him considerable reputation, and was deemed instrumental in promoting the interests of religion. It was so popular, that in four years five large editions were sold; and it was translated into several foreign languages. It was regarded as a triumphant reply to Hume, Helvetius, and other infidel writers. The friends of Hume's sceptical views assailed the work with unsparing severity. Amongst other able combatants, Dr. Priestly entered the field of controversy as an opponent of Beattie. He replied to their arguments with temper, judgment, and moderation, adhering to his opinions with unyielding firmness. In return for these successful labours in the cause of Christian truth, he secured the esteem and confidence of Doctor Johnson, Hurd, and other eminent writers. The University of Oxford conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws; and George III., as a mark of the high value he attached to the work, honoured him with an interview, and settled upon him a pension of £200 a year.
Beattie was singularly disinterested and conscientious. He frequently refused pecuniary favours from his numerous patrons. Orders in the Church of Eng land were three times offered to him, under the highest patronage of the bench of bishops, but firmly declined. One of his principal reasons for refusing preferment was, as he stated to Dr. Porteus, lest his motives might be suspected for writing his “Essay on Truth.” The first book of his “Minstrel,” which was the poem that established his fame, was published in 1770. The second part appeared in 1774, and was equally well received. A new edition of his “ Essay on Truth” came out at the same time, accompanied by a series of essays on “Poetry and Music," on " Laughter and Lu.