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CHAPTER VII.

Poesy!--Thou sweet'st content
That e'er heaven to mortals lent.
Though they as a trifle leave thee
Whose dull thoughts cannot conceive thee;

Though thou be to them a scorn
That to nought but earth are born;

Let my life no longer be

Than I am in love with thee.

Though our wise ones call thee madness,

Let me never taste of gladness

If I love not thy maddest fits

More than all their greatest wits.

WITHER.

THE days we had passed at Lynton were not spent in intellectual idleness. In our long rambles we discussed many of the great topics of the day, and gained—I speak at least from my own experience-a more buoyant and healthful spirit, from the light and strength produced by such intercourse. Indeed, I have often discovered the solution of a moral or intellectual problem by unconstrained converse with a friend. I may have pondered over it myself till the brain has become dizzy, and the mind bewildered; while he, on the contrary, in looking at it freshly, will discern at once those salient points for which I had long been eagerly, yet vainly, searching.

These observations are suggested to me by some remarks in my note book, which follow in order of time the conversations I have just recorded. It was a dull heavy evening,

and the outward gloom was increased by two unpleasant letters I had received from London. I was feeling depressed, and confessed my disinclination for any poetical divertisement.

STANLEY. To yield to mere impulses of feeling, is to weaken one's intellectual stamina. Better never to yield at all, than to yield too easily to mental weariness, or the love of change. I remember being once cautioned by a friend to avoid a life full of "brackets" or "parentheses." The advice was sound, and I have oftentimes felt its value when the discomforts or perplexities of existence have threatened to oppose its healthful progress, when some sorrow or annoyance stops the current of daily thought, and tempts one to idleness and indecision. But the joyous and gladsome-voiced Lyn, bounding towards the sea, with never-ceasing eagerness, with untiring life, is not curbed into stagnation by the rocks which oppose its course, but winds round them, or leaps over them in mirthful swiftness. Let us learn a lesson from the stream, and fight on gallantly in spite of all obstacles.

HARTLEY. Poets-not the greatest, but of the second order—are of all men the most prone to despondency. Their strength of wing carries them upward into a region of joy and sunlight, and there for awhile happy thoughts will sustain them buoyantly; but anon a cloud conceals the glory, their singing-robes become moist and heavy with earth-born vapours, and burdened and soiled they fall wearily to the ground. You know what Wordsworth says:

"We poets in our youth begin in gladness,

But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness."

TALBOT. I will not believe that it is so; but if it be, the fault must be traced to the disposition of the poets themselves—not to the noble gift wherewith God has endowed them. Verily the poet should be one of the sanest and most cheerful of mortals; for to him it is given to pierce through those clouds and fogs which so often make the atmosphere of ordinary men murky and oppressive. Would that for this evening I might be transformed into a poet!

HARTLEY. Your theory is good, TALBOT, but I fear there is a huge array of facts against it. I do not think, indeed, that great wit is most frequently allied to madness; although in our history, and especially amongst our poets, there are several instances of the alliance. Still I would agree with you, so far as to assert that minds of largest power have been pre-eminently healthy. How free from all morbid taint were Chaucer, Shakspeare, Milton, Scott, and Goethe; and I doubt whether Spenser and Wordsworth had enough madness between them to infect a hare. Depend upon it, the most loftily endowed minds are proportionately strong-strong for gladness, strong also for sorrow.

TALBOT. Not with these, then, must we class William Cowper, for never was mortal cast in a more delicate mould; never, perhaps, did any man possess a mental organisation more painfully constructed. There is no story in our literature so sad as his, and yet there is not one over which I linger so often, or with which I am more familiar. Every little act, every trifling pleasure, every domestic incident connected with Cowper seems, as it were, to link itself with one's own life. His gentle spirit

hovers still over our rural haunts, and English rural poetry may willingly confess that he is the lord paramount of her domain. How keen his observation was, and with what watchful love did he brood over every feature of the somewhat tame, but thoroughly rural scenery amidst which the greater part of his life was spent. I suppose it is the home-feeling we have about Cowper, and not his poetry merely, which makes him so dear to us; and, though I will not go so far as to say with Earl Stanhope, that even Mrs. Unwin's knitting needles have been made immortal by his pen, I perfectly agree with the general assertion of that able and interesting writer, that such was Cowper's power of description and felicity of language, that "even the most trivial objects drew life and colour from his touch."

In his pages," he says, "the training of three tame hares, or the building of a frame for cucumbers, excite a warmer interest than many accounts compiled by other writers of great battles deciding the fate of empires. In his pages the sluggish waters of the Ouse-the floating lilies which he stooped to gather from them-the poplars in whose shade he sat, and over whose fall he mournedrise before us as though we had known and loved them too."

STANLEY. I conclude from this preamble that the Bard of Olney-the household poet of England-is to come to-night under our critical harrow. The gentlest of God's creatures must be treated gently; but the most popular of English poets need not, as a poet, be merely complimented. When living, Cowper's poetic sensibility never ran away with his good sense. He was at all times

ready to gather up whatever good he could find in hostile criticism, and now that he has been in heaven for more than half a century, little will he reck if we speak of his genius as impartially as though he were a stranger-poet.

HARTLEY. Cowper's beauties and defects, as a poet, are equally obvious, and both are thoroughly his own. His Pegasus seldom uses his wings, nor, indeed, does he often venture to take a hedge or a ditch, or a five-barred gate, but goes quietly round the lane, and along the macadamized road, or sometimes, when more lively than usual, right across the turf. A careless looker-on might imagine occasionally that the horse was going to stumble, for he will sometimes stoop his head forward, and his limbs seem to give under him; but this is only a feint made to suit his rider's convenience, and to give more effect to the free action with which at a touch of the spur, he moves along the way. Cowper is as matter of fact as a poet well can be, who has so just a claim to the title. He is the antipodes to Spenser. He never creates, he only observes and describes. His words, like Mrs. Primrose's wedding gown, are serviceable and good for use, but they are not "winged;" they do not take you captive as the words of our greatest poets do, indeed one may even be so bold sometimes, as to think they could be changed for the better. Yet Cowper was not by any means a careless writer, but took infinite labour, I will not say to polish his verses, but rather to improve them. In one of his letters to Bull, he speaks of "The Sofa" as ended but not finished, and of his Homer he said:-"I have taken great pains, on no occasion suffering a slovenly line to escape me." Indeed it would be impossible for any

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