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are more close and minute: not that Thomson was either deficient or undelightful in circumstantial traits of the beauty of nature, but he looked to her as a whole more than Cowper. His genius was more excursive and philosophical. The poet of Olney, on the contrary, regarded human philosophy with something of theological contempt. To his eye, the great and little things of this world were levelled into an equality, by his recollection of the power and purposes of Him who made them. They are, in his view, only as toys spread on the lap and carpet of nature, for the childhood of our immortal being. This religious indifference to the world, is far, indeed, from blunting his sensibility to the genuine and simple beauties of creation; but it gives his taste a contentment and fellowship with humble things. It makes him careless of selecting and refining his views of nature, beyond their casual appearance. He contemplated the face of plain rural English life, in moments of leisure and sensibility, till its minutest features were impressed upon his fancy; and he sought not to embellish what he loved. Hence his landscapes have less of the ideally beautiful than Thomson's; but they have an unrivalled charm of truth and reality.
The flat country where he resided certainly exhibited none of those wilder graces of nature, which he had sufficient genius to have delineated; and yet there are perhaps few romantic descriptions of rocks, precipices, and torrents, which we should prefer to
the calm English character and familiar repose of the following landscape. It is in the finest manner of Cowper, and unites all his accustomed fidelity and distinctness with a softness and delicacy, which are not always to be found in his specimens of the picturesque.
“ How oft upon yon eminence our pace “ Has slacken’d to a pause, and we have borne “ The ruffling wind, scarce conscious that it blew, “ While Admiration, feeding at the eye, “ And still unsated, dwelt upon the scene. « Thence with what pleasure have we just discern'd “ The distant plough slow moving, and beside “ His lab'ring team, that swerv'd not from the track, • The sturdy swain diminish'd to a boy! “ Here Ouse, slow winding through a level plain “ Of spacious meads with cattle sprinkled o’er, “ Conducts the eye along his sinuous course “ Delighted. There, fast rooted in their bank, “ Stand, never overlook'd, our fav’rite elms, “ That screen the herdsman's solitary hut; “ While far beyond, and overthwart the stream, « That, as with molten glass, inlays the vale, “ The sloping land recedes into the clouds; “ Displaying on its varied side the grace « Of hedge-row beauties numberless, square tow'r, “ Tall spire, from which the sound of cheerful bells “ Just undulates upon the list’ning ear, “ Groves, heaths, and smoking villages, remote.”
The whole scene is so defined, that one longs to see it transferred to painting.
He is one of the few poets, who have indulged neither in descriptions nor acknowledgments of the passion of love; but there is no poet, who has given us a finer conception of the amenity of female influence. Of all the verses that have been ever devoted to the subject of domestic happiness, those in his winter evening, at the opening of the fourth book of the Task, are perhaps the most beautiful. In perusing that scene of “ intimate delights," “fireside enjoyments,” and “home-born happiness," we seem to recover a part of the forgotten value of existence, when we recognize the means of its blessedness so widely dispensed, and so cheaply attainable, and find them susceptible of description at once so enchanting and so faithful.
Though the scenes of " The Task” are laid in retirement, the poem affords an amusing perspective of human affairs. Remote as the poet was from the stir of the great Babel, from the “confusæ sonus urbis et illætabile murmur,” he glances at most of the subjects of public interest, which engaged the attention of his contemporaries. On those subjects, it is but faint praise to say, that he espoused the side of justice and humanity. Abundance of mediocrity of talent is to be found on the same side, rather injuring than promoting the cause, by its officious declamation. But nothing can be farther from the stale common-place, and cuckooism of sentiment, than the philanthropic eloquence of Cowper-he speaks “ like one having authority.” Society is his debtor. Poetical expositions of the horrors of slavery may, indeed, seem very unlikely agents in contributing to destroy it; and it is possible that the most refined planter in the West Indies, may look with neither shame nor compunction, on his own image in the pages of Cowper, exposed as a being degraded by giving stripes and tasks to his fellow creature. But such appeals to the heart of the community are not lost. They fix themselves silently in the popular memory, and they become, at last, a part of that public opinion, which must, sooner or later, wrench the lash from the hand of the oppressor.
I should have ventured to offer a few remarks on the shorter poems of Cowper, as well as on his translation of Homer, if I had not been fearful, not only of trespassing on the reader's patience, but on the boundaries which I have been obliged to prescribe to myself, in the length of these notices. There are many zealous admirers of the poet, who will possibly refuse all quarter to the observations on his defects, which I have freely made; but there are few, who have read him, I conceive, who have been so slightly delighted as to think I have over-rated his descriptions of external nature, his transcripts of human manners, or his powers as a moral poet, of inculcating those truths and affections which make the heart feel itself better and more happy.
FROM THE TASK.
Colonnades commended-Alcove, and the view from it-The
Wilderness_The Grove—The Thresher—The necessity and benefits of Exercise.
Nor distant far, a length of colonnade
Descending now (but cautious, lest too fast)