Imatges de pÓgina



As sickly plants betray a niggard earth,
Whose barren bosom starves her gen'rous birth
Nor genial warmth, nor genial juice retains
Their roots to feed, and fill their verdant veins;
And as in climes, where Winter holds his reign,
The soil, though fertile, will not teem in vain,
Forbids her gems to swell, her shades to rise,
Nor trusts her blossoms to the churlish skies:
So draw mankind in vain the vital airs,
Unform'd, unfriended, by those kindly cares,
That health and vigour to the soul impart,

Spread the young thought, and warm the opening neart :
So fond Instruction on the growing powers

Of nature idly lavishes her stores,

If equal Justice with unclouded face

Smile not indulgent on the rising race,
And scatter with a free, though frugal hand
Light golden showers of plenty o'er the land:
But Tyranny has fix'd her empire there,
To check their tender hopes with chilling fear,
And blast the blooming promise of the year.

This spacious animated scene survey,
From where the rolling orb, that gives the day,
His sable sons with nearer course surrounds
To either pole, and life's remotest bounds.
How rude soe'er th' exterior form we find,
Howe'er opinion tinge the varied mind,
Alike, to all the kind, impartial Heav'n
The sparks of truth and happiness has giv'n;
With sense to feel, with memory to retain,
They follow pleasure, and they fly from pain;
Their judgment mends the plan their fancy draws,
Th' event presages, and explores the cause;
The soft returns of gratitude they know,

By fraud elude, by force repel the foe;
While mutual wishes, mutual woes endear
The social smile and sympathetic tear.

Say, then, through ages by what fate confined
To different climes seem different souls assign'd?
Here measured laws and philosophic ease

Fix, and improve the polish'd arts of peace.
There industry and gain their vigils keep,
Command the winds, and tame th' unwilling deep.
Here force and hardy deeds of blood prevail;
There languid pleasure sighs in every gale.
Oft o'er the trembling nations from afar
Has Scythia breathed the living cloud of war;
And, where the deluge burst, with sweepy sway
Their arms, their kings, their gods were roll'd away.
As oft have issued, host impelling host,

The blue-eyed myriads from the Baltic coast.
The prostrate South to the destroyer yields
Her boasted titles and her golden fields.

With grim delight the brood of winter view
A brighter day, and heavens of azure hue,
Scent the new fragrance of the breathing rose,
And quaff the pendent vintage as it grows.
Proud of the yoke, and pliant to the rod,

Why yet does Asia dread a monarch's nod,
While European freedom still withstands

Th' encroaching tide, that drowns her lessening 'ands;

And sees far off with an indignant groan

Her native plains, and empires once her own.
Can opener skies and suns of fiercer flame
O'erpower the fire that animates our frame;
As lamps, that shed at eve a cheerful ray,
Fade and expire beneath the eye of day?
Need we the influence of the northern star
To string our nerves and steel our hearts to war?
And, where the face of nature laughs around,
Must sick'ning virtue fly the tainted ground?
Unmanly thought! what seasons can control,
What fancied zone can circumscribe the soul,
Who, conscious of the source from whence she springs,

By reason's light, on resolution's wings,

Spite of her frail companion, dauntless goes

O'er Lybia's deserts and through Zembla's snows?
She bids each slumb'ring energy awake,

Another touch, another temper take,
Suspends th' inferior laws, that rule our clay:
The stubborn elements confess her sway;
Their little wants, their low desires, refine,
And raise the mortal to a height divine.

Not but the human fabric from the birth
Imbibes a flavour of its parent earth.
As various tracts enforce a various toil,
The manners speak the idiom of their soil.
An iron race the mountain-cliffs maintain,
Foes to the gentler genius of the plain:
For where unwearied sinews must he found
With side-long plough to quell the flinty ground,
To turn the torrent's swift-descending flood,

To brave the savage rushing from the wood,
What wonder, if to patient valour train'd

They guard with spirit, what by strength they gain'd?
And while their rocky ramparts round they see,

The rough abode of want and liberty,

(As lawless force from confidence will grow)
Insult the plenty of the vales below?
What wonder, in the sultry climes, that spread,
Where Nile redundant o'er his summer-bed
From his broad bosom life and verdure flings,
And broods o'er Egypt with his wat'ry wings,
If with advent'rous oar and ready sail
The dusky people drive before the gale;
Or on frail floats to neighb'ring cities ride,
That rise and glitter o'er the ambient tide.

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WILLIAM COWPER. 1731-1796.

WILLIAM COWPER,* the most popular poet of his generation and the best of English letter-writers was the son of Rev. John Cowper, D.D., rector of Great Barkhampstead, Herts, and was born at the parsonage house in 1731. His mother died when he was six years old, and her sweet presence, and his happy childhood, he has embalmed forever in the "Lines" suggested by his mother's picture, a gift from his cousin later in life.

"Oh that those lips had language! Life has pass'd
With me but roughly since I heard thee last.
Those lips are thine-thy own sweet smile I see,
The same that oft in childhood solaced me;
Voice only fails, else how distinct they say,
'Grieve not, my child, chase all thy fears away!'




My mother! when I learn'd that thou wast dead,
Say, wast thou conscious of the tears I shed?
I heard the bell toll'd on thy burial day,

I saw the hearse that bore thee slow away,
And, turning from my nursery window, drew
A long, long sigh, and wept a last adieu!
But was it such ?-It was.-Where thou art gone,
Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.
May I but meet thee on that peaceful shore,
The parting word shall pass my lips no more!
Thy maidens, grieved themselves at my concern,
Oft gave me promise of thy quick return.
What ardently I wish'd, I long believed,
And, disappointed still, was still deceived.
By expectation every day beguiled,
Dupe of to-morrow even from a child.
Thus many a sad to-morrow came and went,
Till, all my stock of infant sorrows spent,

I learn'd at last submission to my lot,

But, though I less deplored thee, ne'er forgot.

Where once we dwelt our name is heard no more.
Children not thine have trod my nursery floor.
And where the gardener Robin, day by day,
Drew me to school along the public way,
Delighted with my bauble coach, and wrapp'd
In scarlet mantle warm, and velvet-capp'd,
'Tis now become a history little known,

That once we call'd the pastoral house our own.
Short-lived possession! but the record fair,
That memory keeps of all thy kindness there,
Still outlives many a storm, that has effaced

A thousand other themes less deeply traced.

Thy nightly visits to my chamber made,

That thou might'st know me safe and warmly laid;

*This sketch is taken substantially from Timb's "School days of Eminent Men.”

Thy morning bounties ere I left my home,
The biscuit, or confectionery plum;

The fragrant waters on my cheeks bestow'd
By thy own hand, till fresh they shone and glow'd:

All this, and more endearing still than all,

Thy constant flow of love, that knew no fall,

Ne'er roughen'd by those cataracts and breaks,
That humor interposed too often makes;
All this still legible in memory's page,
And still to be so to my latest age,
Adds joy to duty, makes me glad to pay
Such honors to thee as my numbers may

Perhaps a frail memorial, but sincere,
Not scorn'd in heaven, though little noticed here."

In the year of his mother's death, he was, as he himself describes it, "taken from the nursery, and from the immediate care of a most indulgent mother," and sent out of his father's house to a considerable school kept by a Dr. Pitman, at Market-street. Here for two years he suffered much from ill-treatment by his rough companions: his sensibility and delicate health were the objects of their cruelty and ridicule; and one boy so relentlessly persecuted him that he was expelled, and Cowper was removed from the school. Cowper retained in late years a painful recollection of the terror with which this boy inspired him. "His savage treatment to me," he says, "impressed such a dread of his figure on my mind, that I well remember being afraid to lift my eyes upon him higher than his knees; and that I knew him better by his shoe-buckle than by any other part of his dress." To the brutality of this boy's character, and the general impression left upon Cowper's mind by the tyranny he had undergone at Dr. Pitman's, may be traced Cowper's prejudice against the whole system of public education, so forcibly expressed in his poem called "Tirocinium; or, a Review of Schools."

About this time Cowper was attacked with an inflammation in the eyes, and was placed in the house of an oculist, where he remained two years, and was but imperfectly cured.

At the end of this time, at the age of ten, he was removed to Westminster School. The sudden change from the isolation of the oculist's house to the activity of a large public school, and the collision with its variety of characters and tempers, helped to feed and foster the moods of dejection to which Cowper was subject. His constitutional despondency was deepened by his sense of solitude in being surrounded by strangers; and thus, thrown in upon himself, he took refuge in brooding over his spiritual condition. This tendency had first manifested itself at Dr. Pitman's school, and next at Westminster. Passing one evening through St. Margaret's churchyard, he saw a light glimmering at a distance from the lantern of a grave-digger, who, as Cowper approached, threw up a skull that struck

him on the leg. "This little incident," he observes, “was an alarm to my conscience; for the event may be remembered among the best religious documents I received at Westminster." He sought hope in religious consolations, and then hopelessly abandoned them; and he was struck with lowness of spirits, and intimations of a consumptive habit, which the watchful sympathies of home might possibly have averted or subdued.

Nevertheless, Cowper appears to have been sufficiently strong and healthy to excel at cricket and football; and he persevered so successfully in his studies, that he stood in high favor with the master for his scholarship. Looking back many years afterward on this part of his life, he only regretted the lack of his religious instruction. Latin and Greek, he complains, were all that he acquired. The duty of the school-boy absorbed every other, with the single exception of the periodical preparations for confirmation, to which we find this interesting testimony in his Letters:

“That I may do justice to the place of my education, I must relate one mark of religious discipline, which, in my time, was observed at Westminster; I mean the pains which Dr. Nichols took to prepare us for confirmation. The old man acquitted himself of this duty like one who had a deep sense of its importance; and I believe most of us were struck by his manner, and affected by his exhortations."

Cowper translated twenty of Vinny Bourne's poems into English, and his allusions to his old favorite usher of the fifth form at Westminster are frequent.*

"I remember (says Cowper) seeing the Duke of Richmond set fire to Vinny's greasy locks, and box his ears to put it out again." And again writing to Mr. Rose, Cowper says: "I shall have great pleasure in taking now and then a peep at my old friend, Vincent Bourne; the neatest of all men in his versification, though, when I was under his ushership at Westminster, the most slovenly in his person. He was so inattentive to his boys, and so indifferent whether they brought good or bad exercises, or none at all, that he seemed determined, as he was the best, so he should be the last, Latin poet of the Westminster line; a plot, which I believe he exercised very successfully; for I have not heard of any one who has at all deserved to be compared with him." Even in the time of his last illness, we find that Cowper's dreary thoughts were, for the moment, charmed away by the poems of his old favorite, Vincent Bourne.

Vincent or Vinny Bourne, the elegant Latin poet and usher of Westminister School, where he was educated, died in 1747. Cowper has left also this feeling tribute to his old tutor :

"I love the memory of Vinny Bourne. I think him a better Latin poet than Tibullus, Propertius, Ausonius, or any of the writers in his way, except Ovid, and not at all inferior to him... It is not common to meet with an author who can make you smile, and yet at nobody's expense; who is always entertaining, and yet always harmless; and who, though always elegant, and classical in a degree not always found even in the classics themselves, charms more by the simplicity and playfulness of his ideas than by the neatness and purity of his verse: yet such was poor Vinny."

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