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In 1784 appeared his «Task," a poem which, as Hazlitt well remarks, contains "a number of pictures of domestic comfort and social refinement which can hardly be forgotten but with the language itself." The same year he began his "Tirocinium," a poem on the subject of education, the object of which was to censure the want of discipline, and the inattention to morals, which prevailed in public schools. In the same year also he commenced his translation of Homer, which was finished in 1791, and which is, on the whole, the best translation of Homer that we possess: that is, it gives us the best idea of the style and manner and sentiments of the great Grecian bard: for having adopted blank verse, he had to make no sacrifices of meaning or language to rhyme.
In the mean time, the loss of Lady Austen was, in a degree, made up by his cousin Lady Hesketh, who, two years after the publication of "The Task," paid him a visit at Olney, and settling at Weston Hall, in the immediate neighborhood, provided a comfortable abode for him and Mrs. Unwin there, to which they removed in 1786; and here he executed his translation of Homer.
In 1792, the poet Hayley, afterwards his biographer, made him a visit at Weston, having corresponded with him previously. Of him, Cowper, in one of his letters, thus writes: "Everybody here has fallen in love with him, and wherever he goes everybody must. We have formed a friendship that, I trust, will last for life, and render us an edifying example to all future poets." While Hayley was with him, Mrs. Unwin had a severe paralytic stroke, which rendered her helpless for the rest of her life. To this most excellent woman, to whom we are indebted, perhaps, as the instrument of preserving Cowper's reason, and it may be his life, he addressed one of the most touching, and perhaps the most widely known of all his poems-"To Mary." Mr. Hayley says he believes it to be the last original piece he produced at Weston, and that he doubts whether any language on earth can exhibit a specimen of verse more exquisitely tender.
In 1794 his unhappy malady returned upon him with increased violence, and Lady Hesketh, with most commendable zeal and disinterestedness, devoted herself to the care of the two invalids. Mr. Hayley found him, on a third visit, plunged into a sort of melancholy torpor, so that when it was announced to him that his majesty had bestowed on him a pension of £300 a year, he seemed to take no notice of it. The next year it was thought best for both Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, that their location should be changed, and accordingly they were removed to the house of his kinsman, Mr. Johnson, at North Tuddenham, in Norfolk. The removal, however, had no good effect upon either, and the next year Mrs. Unwin died. Cowper would not believe she was dead, when the event was broken to him, and desired to see her. Mr. Johnson accompanied him to the room where lay her remains. He looked upon her for a few moments, then started away with a vehement, unfinished exclamation of anguish, and never afterwards uttered her name.
In the year 1799, some power of exertion returned to him; he completed the revisal of his Homer, and wrote the last original piece that he ever composed-The Cast-Away." It is founded on an incident mentioned in one of Anson's Voyages, and when we consider the circumstances under which it was written, and the parallelism constantly preying upon the diseased mind of the author, it is one of the most affecting pieces that ever was composed. His own end was now drawing near, and on the 5th of April, 1800, he breathed his last.
Cowper is eminently the David of English poetry, pouring forth, like the great Hebrew bard, his own deep and warm feelings in behalf of moral and religious truth. "His language," says Campbell, "has such a masculine, idiomatic strength, and his manner, whether he rises into grace or falls into negligence, has so much plain and familiar freedom, that we read no poetry with a deeper conviction of its sentiments having come from the author's heart; and of the enthusiasm, in whatever he describes, having been unfeigned and unexaggerated. He impresses us with the idea of a being, whose fine spirit had been long enough in the mixed society of the world to be polished by its intercourse, and yet withdrawn so soon as to retain an unworldly degree of purity and simplicity." And a writer in the Retrospective Review remarks, that "the delightful freedom of his manner, so acceptable to those who had long been accustomed to a poetical school, of which the radical fault was constraint; his noble and tender morality; his fervent piety; his glowing and well-expressed patriotism; his descriptions, unparalleled in vividness and accuracy since Thomson; his playful humor and his powerful satire; the skilful construction of his verse, at least in the 'Task,' and the refreshing variety of that fascinating poem,-all together conspired to render him highly popular, both among the multitude of common readers, and among those who, possessed of poetical powers themselves, were capable of intimately appreciating those of a real poet."
We might thus fill many pages with encomiastic remarks upon the poetry of Cowper, but the reader would rather taste of the original for himself.1
THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN ALL THINGS.
Happy the man, who sees a God employ'd
And manifold results, into the will
And arbitration wise of the Supreme.
Did not his eye rule all things, and intend
The least of our concerns; (since from the least
1 Read-Hayley's Life, a most interesting piece of biography-Grimshaw's Life, prefixed to his edition in 8 vols., and Southey's Life, prefixed to his edition in 15 vols. The latter is the best edition of the poet. Read, also, articles in the Edinburgh Review, ii. 64, and iv. 273, and in the Quarterly xvi. 116, and xxx. 185. Also, an article in Jeffrey's Miscellanies. An admirable dissertation on the progress of Engleh poetry, from Chaucer to Cowper, will be found in vol. ii. chap. 12, of Southey's edi tion of the poet.
Kindle a fiery boil upon the skin,
And putrefy the breath of blooming Health.
Forth steps the spruce Philosopher, and tells
Of action and reaction: he has found
The source of the disease that nature feels,
Still wrought by means since first he made the world?
Than a capacious reservoir of means,
Form'd for his use, and ready at his will?
Go, dress thine eyes with eye-salve; ask of Him,
And learn, though late, the genuine cause of all.
THE WOUNDED SPIRIT HEALED.
Task, ii. 161.
I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
He drew them forth, and heal'd, and bade me live.
In the pure fountain of eternal love,
Has eyes indeed; and viewing all she sees
Task, iil. 108.
Gives Him his praise, and forfeits not her own.
Friends in the friends of science, and true prayer
Task, ill. 248.
THE GEOLOGIST AND COSMOLOGIST.1
Some drill and bore
The solid earth, and from the strata there
To the sharp peak of her sublimest height,
There is no flesh in man's obdurate heart;
Not color'd like his own; and having power
Task, iii. 150.
1 In the early history of geology many good and pious people were concerned, lest such discoveries should be made as would invalidate the Mosaic account of the creation. But how groundless have all their fears proved! Truth is one, and God's works can never be in conflict with his Word. Of the whole race of "spruce philosophers," as Cowper calls them, even the infidel Voltaire could thus write: "Philosophers put themselves, without ceremony, in the place of God, and destroy and renew the world after their own fashion." "From the time of Buffon," says Dr. Wiseman, in his learned Lectures on Science and Revealed Religion, "system rose beside system, like the moving pillars of the desert, advancing in threatening array; but like them they were fabrics of sand; and though in 1806 the French Institute counted more than EIGHTY such theories of geology hostile to Scripture history, not one of them has stood till now, or deserves to be recorded." And Turner, in his learned work on Chemistry, says, "Of all the wonders of geology, none is so wonderful as the confidence of the several theorists."
2 Upon this and other pieces of Cowper, in behalf of the poor slave, the poet Campbell thus truthfully as well as feelingly remarks: "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, exposed in the pages of Cowper, as a being degraded by giving stripes and tasks to his fellow creatures. 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."-Specimens, vii. 364.
As human nature's broadest, foulest blou,
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
I had much rather be myself the slave,
And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him.'
Task, ii. 8.
KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM.
Knowledge and Wisdom, far from being one,
The mere materials with which Wisdom builds,
Task. vi. 88.
MERCY TO ANIMALS.
I would not enter on my list of friends,
(Though graced with polish'd manners and fine sense,
1 When Cowper wrote these lines, nearly a million of African slaves toiled in the British colonies But the English abolitionists, led on by Sharpe, and Clarkson, and Wilberforce, so earnestly por trayed their wrongs and plead their cause, that the great heart of the nation became at length fully aroused to the subject, and they were declared absolutely and unconditionally free on the 1st of Au gust, 1838.
It was predicted that theft, and plunder, and murder, would be the consequence, and the 1st of August was anticipated by all with the most intense interest. It came and passed with all the solemnity of a Sabbath-day. The houses of worship were thronged the preceding evening, to wer come the advent of Liberty, and as the clock tolled out the hour of midnight, the assembled populace bowed the knee in prayer and praise to the God who had bestowed it. Not a blow was struck in revenge-not an arm upraised in riot.
Ten years have now elapsed, and they have borne witness to the constant and rapid improvement of the freedmen. Their food, clothing, and furniture are much better: nearly every family has a horse or a mule, and very many have several. They are willing to work steadily for moderate wages, and most of them remain on the estates of their former masters. Many have purchased land, and it is estimated that there are now 20,000 freeholders among the emancipated peasantry of Jamaica alone. Marriage is now "honorable" among them; the parental relation is better understood, and its duties better performed; education is appreciated; and churches have multiplied. The freedmen contribute liberally towards sustaining the ministration of the gospel among themselves, and are already beginning to stretch out their hands, and to send forth their missionaries to their benighted fatherland. For these condensed facts I am indebted to Rev. C. S. Renshaw, for many years a der voted missionary among the freedmen in Jamaica.