Imatges de pÓgina
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one of the highest offices of poetry be to exhibit, as upon a stage, the fortunes and passions of his fellow-beings—few have attained such eminence in his art as Cowper. His hymns are the close transcripts of his own soul. His rhymed poems have more of a didactic character ; but they are for the most part exhibitions of man in all his attitudes of thought and action. They are mirrors in which every man may contemplate his own mind. In the “ Task," he passes every moment from the contemplation of nature, to that of the being who inhabits this fair, though fallen, world. He lashes the vices, , laughs at the follies, mourns over the guilt of his species; he spares no pains to conduct the guilty to the feet of their only true Friend, and to land the miserable amidst the green pastures and still waters of heavenly consolation.

Another property in the mind of Cowper, which has given birth to some of the noblest passages in his poems, is his intense love of freedom. The political state of this country was scarcely ever more degraded than at the period when he began to write; and every real patriot who could wield the pen, or lift the voice in the cause of legitimate and regulated free

dom, had plenty to do at home. At the same period also the profligacy and tyranny of the privileged orders in France, and other of the old European dynasties, were such as to provoke the indignation of every lover of liberty. And lastly, at this time, that horrible traffic in human flesh, that capital crime, disgrace, and curse of the human species, the Slave Trade, prevailed in all its horrors. How splendid are many of the passages scattered so prodigally through his poems, in which the author rebukes the crimes of despotism and cruelty at home or abroad, and claims for mankind the high privileges with which God, by an everlasting charter, has endowed them.

What lines can breathe a deeper indignation, than those quoted with such admiration by Mr. Fox, in the House of Commons, on the Bastile?

“ Ye horrid towers, th' abode of broken hearts,

Ye dungeons and ye cages of despair,
That monarchs have supplied, from age to age,
With music such as suits their sovereign ears,
The sighs and groans of miserable men :
There's not an English heart that would not leap
To hear that ye were fallen at last.”

And what passage in any uninspired writer is more noble and heart-stirring, than that on the decision in the case tried by the illustrious Granville Sharpe, to establish the liberty of all who touched the soil of England—a passage confessedly the foundation of the noblest effort of Curran, in his great speech on the liberty of the subject !

“ I would not have a slave to till my ground,

To carry me, to fan me while I sleep,
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
That sinews bought and sold have ever earn’d.
No: dear as freedom is, and in

my

heart's
Just estimation priz'd above all price,
I had much rather be myself the slave,
And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him.
We have no slaves at home—then why abroad?
And they themselves once ferried o’er the wave
That parts us, are emancipate and loos’d.
Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs
Receive our air, that moment they are free;
They touch our country, and their shackles fall.
That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud
And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then,
And let it circulate through ev'ry vein
Of all your empire ; that, where Britain's pow'r
Is felt, mankind may feel her mercy too.”

But after all, perhaps, the peculiarity in the mind of Cowper, which gives the chief charm

to his poetry, is the depth and ardour of his piety.

It is impossible not to be aware of the severance which critics have laboured to effect between religion and poetry,-between the character of the prophet and the poet: and that Johnson's decision is thought by some to be final on the subject. Cowper himself admits that the connexion has been rare between the two characters—as witness the following lines -

Pity religion has so seldom found
A skilful guide into poetic ground !
For flow'rs would spring where'er she deigned to stray,
And ev'ry muse attend her in her way.
Virtue indeed meets many a rhyming friend,
And many a compliment politely penn'd;
But, unattir'd in that becoming vest
Religion weaves for her, and half undrest,
Stands in the desert, shiv'ring and forlorn,
A wintry figure like a wither'd thorn.”

But he does not despair of seeing some

“ Bard all fire,
Touch'd with a coal from heaven, assume the lyre,
And tell the world, still kindling as he sung,
With more than mortal music on his tongue,
That He who died below, and reigns above,
Inspires the song, and that his name is · Love.'

Indeed no theory can have less foundation either in philosophy or in fact, than that poetry and religion have too little in common, for either to gain by an attempt to unite them. They seem to us born for each other. And, so important is this topic, that, although at the risk of repeating what has been said elsewhere, it may be well, for a moment, to dwell upon it.

The theory which endeavours to secure a perpetual divorce between religion and poetry has not the authority of the great critics of antiquity. Longinus maintains, in one place, that she who aims at the reputation of a sublime writer must spare no labour to educate his soul to grandeur, and to impregnate it with great and generous ideas.” And he affirms, in another, that “ the faculties of the soul will grow stupid, the spirit be lost, and good sense and genius lie in ruins, when the care and study of man is engaged about the mortal and worthless part of himself, and he has ceased to cultivate virtue, and polish up the nobler part, his soul.” Quinctilian has a whole chapter to prove that a great writer must be a good man. And the greatest modern critics hold the same language. But, perhaps, in no passage is the

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