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Man disavows and Deity disowns me;
Bolted against me." When bodily darkness fell on the footsteps of Milton, he imagined it the overshadowing of heavenly wings; and we might ascribe to a like cause the spiritual darkness of poor Cowper's days. The gloomy thought that had taken possession of him was never relinquished; but often it seemed to fade away into the unreal wretchedness of a distressing dream. Happiness was ministered to him in various forms. He found contentment in humble occupations,—the innocent amusement of some work of mechanism or the playful companionship of the pet animals he has immortalized. Friends, the kindest and most constant man was ever blessed with, were providentially raised up, one after another, to watch over him.
Criticism could find few better themes than to examine the character of Cowper's poetry,—to show it always pure and gentle, though sometimes overcast by the melancholy of his malady or of a sombre theology, and occasionally rising from its usual familiar range to a region of sublimity. There is great interest, too, in tracing how his imagination extracted melody from his madness,—the evil spirit that troubled him charmed to rest by the harpings of his Muse. But I can notice only the most beautiful of his minor poems. It was Cowper's misfortune to lose his mother before he was six years of age. A picture of her was sent to him when he was nearly sixty years old. At the sight of it there started up images and recollections and feelings which had slept for more than half a century. Time and forgetfulness were baffled by a sister art; and the work was completed by Poetry in as touching lines as ever recorded the movements of a poet's memory into the shadowy region of childhood :
“Oh that those lips had language! Life has pass'd
With me but roughly since I heard thee last.
Now, while that face renews my filial grief,
My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
Perhaps thou gavest me, though unfelt, a kiss,-
But, though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot.” It did not please Heaven to unweave the tangled meshes of poor Cowper's brain. The dark delusion of despair hung over his mind to the very verge of his long life of just threescore years and ten. His last original piece, the “ Castaway,” is, indeed, under all the circumstances, one of the most affecting ever composed. He had been reading, in Anson's Voyages, an account of a man lost overboard in a gale of wind : that appalling casualty, which often consigns the sailor to a helpless fate, is told in vivid stanzas, closing with the saddest possible moralizing :
“No poet wept him; but the page
Of narrative sincere,
Is wet with Anson's tear :
“ I therefore purpose not, or dream, ,
Descanting on his fate,
A more enduring date :
“No voice divine the storm allay'd,
No light propitious chone,
“ COWPER'S GRAVE.”
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
We perish'd, each alone,-
And whelm'd in deeper gulfs than he." On his death-bed Cowper put away the words of consolation and hope that were addressed to him, thus showing, in the words of a friend who tended his last moments, that, though his spirit was on the eve of being invested with angelic light, the darkness of delusion still veiled it. As if to mitigate the anguish of those kind hearts which had watched so dark a death-bed, the expression into which his countenance settled after death was that of calmness and composure mingled, as it were, with holy surprise.
For these very imperfect notices of Cowper, falling so very far below the interest of the subject and my own wishes, let me make some arends by repeating to you some admirable stanzas, entitled “Cowper's Grave.” They are from a living woman's pen :
COWPER'S GRAVE, It is a place where poets crown'd may feel the heart's decaying ; It is a place where happy saints may weep amid their praying : Yet let the grief and humbleness as low as silence languish! Earth surely now may give her calm to whom she gave her anguish. O poets! from a maniac's tongue was pour’d the deathless singing ! O Christian ! at your cross of hope a hopeless hand was clinging ! O men ! this man, in brotherhood, your weary paths beguiling, Groan'd inly while he taught you peace, and died while ye were smiling. And now, what time ye all may read through dimming tears his story, How discord on the music fell, and darkness on the glory, And how, when, one by one, sweet sounds and wandering lights departed, He wore no less a loving face because so broken-hearted, He shall be strong to sanctify the poet's high vocation, And bow the meekest Christian down in meeker adoration ; Nor ever, shall he be, in praise, by wise or good forsaken; Named softly, as the household name of one whom God hath taken. With quiet sadness, and no gloom, I learn to think upon
him With meekness, that is gratefulness to God whose heaven hath won him, Who suffer'd once the madness-cloud to his own love to blind him, But gently led the blind along where breath and bird could find him, And wrought within his shatter'd brain such quick poetic senses As hills have language for, and stars, harmonious influences ; The pulse of dew upon the grass kept his within its number, And silent shadows from the trees refresh'd him like a slumber.
Wild timid hares were drawn from woods to share his home-caresses,
with leaps of heart, he sees her bending o'er him,
Deserted! Who hath dreamt that, when the cross in darkness rested
Deserted! God could separate from his own essence rather,
MONOTONY OP POPE'S VERSE-THE REVIVAL OF A TRUER SPIRIT OF POETRY
CHATTERTON-MERIT OF COWPER-DR. JOHNSON'S LITERARY DICTATORSHIPHIS “LIVES OF THE POETS "-SIR EGERTON BRYDGES'S CRITICISM ON THEMCOWPER'S JUDGMENT OF THEM JOHNSON'S INCAPACITY FOR POETICAL CRITICISM - JOHNSON'S JUDGMENTS ON GRAY -“ LONDON"-" VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES"-PERCY'S “RELIQUES OF ANCIENT ENGLISH POETRY”-THE CHARACTER OF THIS POETRY-ROBERT BURNS-HIS BOYHOOD-EARLY TRIALS MOSSGEIL FARM-THE FRESHNESS OF HIS POETRY-ITS UNIVERSALITY-WORDSWORTH'S LINES—THE MOUNTAIN-DAISY-THE FIELD-MOUSE-COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT-TAM O'SHANTER-MARY CAMPBELL-MORALITY OF BURNS'S POETRY -THE BARD'S EPITAPH-WORDSWORTH'S LINES TO THE SONS OF BURNS.
my last lecture I was constrained to pass, somewhat too hastily,
from the poetry of Pope to that of Cowper, thus bringing the earlier portion of the eighteenth century in too close contact with its later period. It has been my aim throughout this course of lectures, to make it, as far as possible, comprehensive not only of the exposition of the individual poets selected, but of the progress of English poetry in its successive ages, as it has been modified by the influence of genius and the spirit of the times. I propose, therefore, in order not to deviate now from the plan as presented to my own mind at the outset, to endeavour to supply, in a very general way, the chasm in my last lecture between Pope and Cowper. Before proceeding to the chief subject of the present lecture, I wish to dispose in as short a space of some of the omitted subjects. The influence of Pope's poetry, or rather that school of poetry which began with Dryden and was completed by Pope, was unquestionably injurious on all the writers who came within its reach. It reduced poetry to mere versification, and thus, in the hands of pupils who were deficient in the natural powers of the masters, it became mechanical,—a thing of sound, and little else. Besides, the ear was habituated but to one fashion of sound; for Dryden and Pope had spent almost their whole effort upon one form of verse,—the rhyming couplet of the ten-syllable line. They had set English poetry to one tune in the position of its pauses and the balanced succession of the notes, so that