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So many wondrous gleams of light,
And gentle ardours from above,
Have made me sit, like seraph bright,
Some moments on a throne of love:
O what is virtue! why bad I,
Who am so low, a taste so high?
Ere long, when Sovereign Wisdom wills,
My soul an unknown path shall tread,
And strangely leave, who strangely fills
This frame, and waft me to the dead:
O what is death! 'tis life's last shore,
Where vanities are vain no more;
Where all pursuits their goal obtain,
And life is all retouch'd again;
Where in their bright results shall rise
Thoughts, virtues, friendships, griefs, and joys.
Of this most Christian of our poets—in his theology the most evangelical, in his standard of right and wrong the most scriptural, and in his tone and spirit, constitutional melancholy notwithstanding, the most benevolent and cheerfulthere is no need that we should say anything. No literary career has so often tempted the biographical pen, and, selfportrayed in his charming lays and no less charming letters, no figure is more familiar to the English mind than the bard of Olney. Evenings too dull for a severer task, or too exhausted for a brisker excitement, have often been beguiled by his inimitable epistles. Our classical exercitations are associated with his effort, so hard but so hearty, to transfer into curt but sturdy English the thoughts which wander at their will along the sunny tide of Homer's song; and our knowledge of human nature has been enlarged by his clear intuitions, and his clever but not ill-natured descriptions. Many a merry schoolboy has been made still merrier by “The
Diverting History of John Gilpin," and many a mourner in Zion has been consoled whilst seeking with him “the calm retreat, the silent shade," and praying for “ a closer walk with God.” And if art can desire no better picture of a homely modern Eden, than the Alcove at Olney, and its gentle occupant feeding his hares, the calamities of genius record few sadder tales than the dark eclipse of that fine mind, and its long and dreary setting.
COWPER was born at Berkhampstead, November 26, 1731, and died at East Dereham, April 25, 1800.
It was about 1772 that Cowper wrote most of the hymns which, to the number of sixty-eight, afterwards appeared in the Olney Collection. The first volume of his poems was published in 1782, and its much more successful companion followed in 1785, silencing at once the captiousness of criticism, and securing for ever the fame of the author of “ The Task.”
Southey has well described the period at which Cowper's star surmounted the horizon :-“The Task' appeared in the interval when young minds were prepared to receive it, and at a juncture when there was no poet of any great ability or distinguished name in the field. Gray and Akenside were dead. Mason was silent. Glover, brooding over his * Atheniad,' was regarded as belonging to an age that was past. Churchill was forgotten. Emily and Bampfylde had been cut off in the blossom of their youth. Crabbe having, by the publication of his · Library,' his Village,' and his Newspaper,' accomplished his heart's immediate desire, sought at that time for no further publicity; and Hayley ambled over the course without a competitor. · The Task was at once descriptive, moral, and satirical. The descriptive parts everywhere bore evidence of a thoughtful mind and a gentle spirit, as well as of an observant eye ; and the moral sentiment which pervaded them gave a charm in which descriptive poetry is often found wanting. The best didactic poems,
when compared with The Task,' are like formal gardens in comparison with woodland scenery. . . . . Its satire is altogether free from personality; it is the satire, not of a sour and discontented spirit, but of a benevolent though melancholy mind; and the melancholy was not of a kind to affect artificial gloom and midnight musings, but rather to seek and find relief in sunshine, in the beauties of nature, in books and leisure, in solitary or social walks, and in the comforts of a quiet fireside."*
The Author Himself.
I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infix'd
My panting side was charged, when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by One who had Himself
Been hurt by th' archers. In His side He bore,
And in His hands and feet, the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
He drew them forth, and heal'd, and bade me live.
Since then, with few associates, in remote
And silent woods I wander, far from those
My former partners of the peopled scene;
With few associates, and not wishing more.
Here much I ruminate, as much I may,
With other views of men and manners now
Than once, and others of a life to come.
I see that all are wanderers, gone astray
Each in his own delusions; they are lost
In chase of fancied happiness, still woo'd
And never won. Dream after dream ensues;
And still they dream that they shall still succeed,
And still are disappointed.
Expects, in darkness and heart-chilling fears,
The shameful close of all his misspent years ;
If chance, on heavy pinions slowly borne,
A tempest usher in the dreaded morn,
Upon his dungeon walls the lightning play,
The thunder seems to summon him away,
The warder at the door his key applies,
Shoots back the bolt, and all his courage
If then, just then, all thoughts of mercy lost,
When Hope, long lingering, at last yields the ghost,
The sound of pardon pierce his startled ear,
He drops at once his fetters and his fear;
A transport glows in all he looks and speaks,
And the first thankful tears bedew his cheeks.
Joy, far superior joy, that much outweighs
The comfort of a few poor added days,
Invades, possesses, and o'erwhelms the soul
Of him whom Hope has with a touch made whole.
'Tis heaven, all heaven, descending on the wings
Of the glad legions of the King of kings;
'Tis more—'tis God diffused through every part,
'Tis God himself triumphant in his heart!
Oh, welcome now the sun's once hated light,
His noon-day beams were never half so bright.
Not kindred minds alone are call’d t' employ
Their hours, their days, in listening to his joy;
Unconscious nature, all that he surveys,
Rocks, groves, and streams must join him in his praise.
The Patriot and the Martyr.
Patriots have toil'd, and in their country's cause
Bled nobly; and their deeds, as they deserve,
Receive proud recompence. We give in charge
Their names to the sweet lyre. Th' historic muse,
Proud of the treasure, marches with it down
To latest times; and Sculpture, in her turn,
Gives bond in stone and ever-during brass
To guard them, and t’immortalise her trust:
But fairer wreaths are due, though never paid,
To those who, posted at the shrine of Truth,
Have fallen in her defence. A patriot's blood,
Well spent in such a strife, may earn indeed,
And for a time insure to his loved land
The sweets of liberty and equal laws;
But martyrs struggle for a brighter prize,
And win it with more pain. Their blood is shed
In confirmation of the noblest claim
Our claim to feed upon immortal truth,
To walk with God, to be divinely free,
To soar, and to anticipate the skies !
Yet few remember them. They lived unknown
Till persecution dragg’d them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven. Their ashes flew-
No marble tells us whither. With their names
No bard embalms and sanctifies his song:
And history, so warm on meaner themes,
Is cold on this. She execrates indeed
The tyranny that doom'd them to the fire,
But gives the glorious sufferers little praise.
He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves beside. There's not a chain
That hellish foes, confederate for his harm,
Can wind around him, but he casts it off
With as much ease as Samson his green withes.
He looks abroad into the varied field
Of nature, and, though poor perhaps, compared
With those whose mansions glitter in his sight,
Calls the delightful scenery all his own.
His are the mountains, and the valleys his,
And the resplendent rivers. His t' enjoy
With a propriety that none can feel,
But who, with filial confidence inspired,
Can lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,
And smiling say—“My Father made them all!"
Are they not his by a peculiar right,
And by an emphasis of interest his,
Whose eye they fill with tears of holy joy,
Whose heart with praise, and whose exalted mind
With worthy thoughts of that unwearied love