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to evolve its productive agencies, to pursue their subtle ramifications. Complete, as the most characteristic specimen of this class of poets, stands Pope. He was the sort of person we cannot even conceive existing in a barbarous age. His subject was not life at large, but fashionable life. He described the society in which he was thrown—the people among whom he lived. His mind was a hoard of small maxims, a quintessence of petty observations. When he described character, he described it not dramatically, nor as it is in itself; but observ. antly and from without, calling up in the mind not so much a vivid conception of the man, of the real, corporal, outward, substantial being, as an idea of the idea which a metaphysical bystander in an elaborate moment might refine and excruciate concerning him. Society in Pope is scarcely a society of people, but of pretty little atoms, coloured and painted with hoops or in coats—a miniature of metaphysics, a puppet-show of sylphs. Yet exactly on this account it the more elucidates the doctrine that the tendency of civilized poetry is towards an analytic sketch of the existing civilization. Nor is the effect diminished by the pervading character of keen judgment and minute intrusive sagacity; for no great painter of English life can be without a rough sizing of strong sense; or he would fail from want of sympathy with his subject. In short, Pope does but the more represent the class and type of “common-sense” poets who substitute an animated “catalogue raisonné" of working thoughts and operative principles—a sketch of the then present society, as a whole and as an object, for the kilea avòpwv the tale of which is one subject of early verse, and the stage effect of living, loving, passionate, impetuous men and women, which are special topics of another.
What Pope is to our fashionable and town life, Cowper is to our domestic and rural life. This is perhaps the reason why he is so national. It has been said no foreigner can live in the country. We doubt whether any people, who felt their whole heart, and entire exclusive breath of their existence to be concentrated in a great capital, could or would appreciate such intensely provincial pictures as are the entire scope of Cowper's delineation. A good many imaginative persons are really plagued with him. Everything is so comfortable; the tea-urn hisses so plainly, the toast is so warm, the breakfast so neat, the food so edible, that one turns away, in excitable moments, a little angrily from anything so quiet, tame, and sober. Have we not always hated this life ? What can be worse than regular meals, clock-moving servants, a time for everything, and everything then done, a place for everything, without the Irish alleviation, “Sure, and I'm rejiced to say, that's jist and exactly where it isn't,” a common gardener, a slow parson, a heavy assortment of near relations, a placid house flowing with milk and sugar-all that the fates can stuff together of substantial comfort, and fed and fatted monotony? Aspiring and excitable youth stoutly maintains it can endure anything much better than the “gross fog Bæotian ”--the torpid, in-door, tea-tabular felicity. Still a great deal of tea is really consumed in the English nation. A settled and practical people are distinctly in favour of heavy relaxations, placid prolixities, slow comforts. A state between the mind and the body, something intermediate, half-way from the newspaper to a nap—this is what we may call the middle-life theory of the influential English gentleman-the true aspiration of the ruler of the world.
"Tis then the understanding takes repose
In indolent vacuity of thought,
It is these in-door scenes, this common world, this gentle round of “ calm delights,” the trivial course of slowly-moving pleasures, the petty detail of quiet relaxation, that Cowper excels in. The post-boy, the winter's evening, the newspaper,
, the knitting-needles, the stockings, the waggon-these are his subjects. His sure popularity arises from his having held up to the English people exact delineations of what they really prefer. Perhaps one person in four hundred understands Wordsworth, about one in eight thousand may appreciate Shelley, but there is no expressing the small fraction who do not love dulness, who do not enter into
" Homeborn happiness,
Of long uninterrupted evening know.” His objection to the more exciting and fashionable pleasures was perhaps, in an extreme analysis, that they put him out. They were too great a task for his energies asked too much for his spirits. His comments on them rather remind us of Mr. Rushworth-Miss Austen's heavy hero's remark on the theatre, “I think we went on much better by ourselves before this was thought of, doing, doing, doing nothing."
The subject of these pictures, in point of interest, may be
what we choose to think it, but there is no denying great merit to the execution. The sketches have the highest meritsuitableness of style. It would be absurd to describe a postboy as sonneteers their mistress—to cover his plain face with fine similes—to put forward “the brow of Egypt,"—to stick metaphors upon him as the Americans upon General Washington. The only merits such topics have room for is an easy and dextrous plainness-a sober suit of well-fitting expressions—a free, working, flowing, picturesque garb of words adapted to the solid conduct of a sound and serious world, and this merit Cowper's style has. On the other hand, it entirely wants the higher and rarer excellencies of poetical expression. There is none of the choice art which has studiously selected the words of one class of great poets, or the rare, untaught, unteachable felicity which has vivified those of others. No one, in reading Cowper, stops as if to draw his breath more deeply over expressions which do not so much express or clothe poetical expressions as seem to intertwine, coalesce, and be blended with the very essence of poetry itself.
Of course a poet could not deal in any measure with such subjects as Cowper dealt with, and not become inevitably, to a certain extent, satirical. The ludicrous is in some sort the imagination of common life. The “ dreary intercourse" of which Wordsworth makes mention, would be dreary, unless some people possessed more than he did the faculty of making fun. A universe in which Dignity No. I. conversed decorously with Dignity No. II. on topics befitting their state, would be perhaps a levee of great intellects and a tea-table of enormous thoughts; but it would want the best charm of this earth-the medley of great things and little, of things mundane and things celestial, things low and things awful, of things eternal and things of half a minute. It is in this contrast that humour and satire have their place-pointing out the intense unspeakable incongruity of the groups and juxtapositions of our world. To all of these which fell under his own eye, Cowper was alive. A gentle sense of propriety and consistency in daily things was evidently characteristic of him; and if he fail of the highest success in this species of art, it is not from an imperfect treatment of the scenes and conceptions which he touched, but from the fact that the follies with which he deals are not the greatest follies—that there are deeper absurdities in human life than John Gilpin touches upon—that the superficial occurrences of ludicrous life do not exhaust or even deeply test the mirthful resources of our minds and fortunes.
As a scold, we think Cowper failed. He had a great idea of the use of railing, and there are many pages of laudable in
vective against various vices which we feel no call whatever to defend. But a great vituperator had need to be a great hater; and of any real rage, any such gall and bitterness as great and irritable satirists have in other ages let loose upon men, of any thorough brooding, burning, abiding detestation he was as incapable as a tame hare. His vituperation reals like the mild man's whose wife eat up his dinner, “Really, Sir, I feel quite angry!” Nor has his language any of the sharp intrusive acumen which divides in sunder both soul and spirit that is necessary for fierce and unforgettable reviling,
Some people may be surprised, notwithstanding our lengthy explanation, at hearing Cowper treated as of the school of Pope. It has been customary, at least with some critics, to speak of him as one of those who recoiled from the artificiality of that great writer, and at least commenced a return to a simple delineation of outward nature. And of course there is considerable truth in this idea. The poetry (if such it is) of Pope would be just as true if all the trees were yellow and all the grass fish-colour. He did not care for “snowy scalps," or " rolling streams," or "icy halls," or “ precipice's gloom. for that matter did Cowper either. He, as Hazlitt most justly said, was as much afraid of a shower of rain as any man that ever lived. At the same time, the fashionable life described by Pope has no reference whatever to the beauties of the material universe, never regards them, could go on just as well in the soft, sloppy, gelatinous existence which Dr. Whewell (who knows) says is alone possible in Jupiter and Saturn. Indeed, a good deal of Pope would perhaps suit a warm and refined polyp. But the rural life of Cowper's poetry has a constant and necessary reference to the country, is identified with its features, cannot be separated from it even in fancy. Green fields and a slow river seem all the material of beauty Cowper had given him. But what is more to the purpose, his attention was well concentrated upon them. As he himself said, he did not go more than thirteen miles from home for twenty years, and very seldom as far. He was, therefore, well able to find out all that was charming in Olney and its neighbourhood, and as it presented nothing which is not to be found in any of the fresh country parts of England, what he has left us is really a delicate description and appreciative delineation of the simple essential English country.
However, it is to be remarked that the description of nature in Cowper differs altogether from the peculiar delineation of the same subject, which has been so influential in more recent times, and which bears, after its greatest master, the name Wordsworthian. To Cowper nature is simply a background, a beautiful background no doubt, but still essentially a locus in quo—a space in which the work and mirth of life pass and are performed. A more professed delineation does not occur than the following:
" Oh Winter! ruler of the inverted year,
After a very few lines he returns within doors to the occupation of man and woman—to human tasks and human pastimes. To Wordsworth, on the contrary, nature is a religion. So far from being unwilling to treat her as a special object of study, it would seem that he hardly thought any other equal or comparable. He was so far from holding the doctrine that the earth was made for men to live in, that it would rather seem as if he thought men were created to see the earth. The whole aspect of nature was to him a special revelation of an immanent and abiding power-a breath of the pervading art-a smile of the Eternal Mind—according to the lines which every one knows,
“A sense sublime