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poet. His letters are perhaps unequalled in our language, for ease, grace, and sprightliness.
The first poem in his works is that of “ Table Talk,” a dialogue between A. and B., in which are discussed regal and military glory,
" And liberty, the pris'ner's pleasing dream ;
The poet's muse, his passion and his theme.” I select a passage in which B. replies to the question
of A. :
“Now tell me, if you can, what pow'r maintains
A Briton's scorn of arbitrary chains." The reply, at all events, reconciles us to our climate, and justly makes reference to that respect for our laws which is among the characteristics of an Englishman :
“ The cause, tho' worth the search, may yet elude
Conjecture and remark, however shrewd.
The next poem is entitled “The Progress of Error.” He traces its progress through various channels, reprobating the too general abandonment to music, and to the chace; especially denouncing
“ The cassock'd huntsman and the fiddling priest;" and severely commenting on the hypocrisy of justifying a Sunday evening concert, by our affecting to be only influenced by the sacred title of the music. Card-playing, and the dance,-the "rank debauch” which suits the “filthy taste" of one man, and the finnikin indulgences of another, which he regards as equally bad, -are next attacked; and here we have an example of the wholesomeness of Cowper's writings, which allow of no distinction between the criminality of those gross indulgences which are offensive to taste, and those of more refined character which he conceives equally injurious to good morals, and subversive of religion.
Even the poet must be viewed with caution:
“ The sacred in plement [poetry? I now employ,
It stabs at once the morals of the land !" He next attacks the sentimental novelist as affording a covert means for error's progress; and, with just severity, lashes the seductive, but graceful writings of Lord Chesterfield,
“The polish'd and high-finished foe to truth,
Greybeard corrupter of our listening youth." He thence proceeds to trace the progress of a young gentleman, from school, through college and continental travels, home again; shewing, with exquisite humour, how in the professed search of accomplishments, the progress of error may be advanced by misuse of our earlier years. This so illustrates the satiric humour of the poet, that I shall extract the
The lash at antiquarianism is peculiarly amusing; but this is a folly-not a vice :
“From school to Cam or Isis, and thence home,
And thence with all convenient speed to Rome;
Ere long, some bowing, smirking, smart Abbé
Strange the recital ! from whatever cause
The poet next alludes to the mischief of vain authors in producing, and of the hireling press in publishing, short-sighted and misdirected speculations on the more obscure passages
in the pages of divine truth ; and pronouncing sincerity as the only claimant to a mansion in the sky,” points to the cross, and so concludes this poem.
The next poem is entitled “Truth ;" the writer's object being to advocate scriptural truth as the only truth for a professing Christian. The most valuable passage in the poem, is perhaps that in which the writer answers the question
“ Is virtue, then, unless of Christian growth,
Mere fallacy, or foolishness, or both ?" No, says he–let the virtuous heathen, who was “not blind by choice, but destined not to see,”-let him, and all others of past or present ages, who have done well with the partial light of reason, or in spite of the false lights, or the no light, in which they have been born, let them take, unenvied, the reward they sought; but let it be at the same time remembered that
“He who scorns the midday sun, perverse,
Shall find the blessing unimproved a curse !" Leaving the virtuous heathen of antiquity in possession of his reward, he proceeds to consider the respective claims of certain others of his own day; and having shown that the bigotry of the Christian hermit may have as little or even less—to do with truth, than the self-torturing devotions of the Indian Brahmin, he gives the portrait of another religionist, --the grand archtype of much that still prevails, more or less, among those who think that the ob servance of stated formalisms will constitute their claim to fellowship in the communion of saints. It is a curious evidence, too, to the regard which Cowper had for the satirical power of the painter
Hogarth. Usually the painter illustrates the poet; but here the poet describes the picture, to illustrate his own coincident impression. The following portrait of a bitterly religious old maid going to church on a morning as cold as her piety, and as bare of comfort as her own denuded bosom, is an accurate copy, in verse, of Hogarth's picture entitled “Morning:"
“ Yon ancient prude, whose withered features show
She might be young some forty years ago;
tucked beneath his arm,
She, half an angel in her own account,
Such are the fruits of sanctimonious pride,