« PreviousContinue »
Nor is he always severe. He is perpetually en-livening the mind of his readers by sportive descriptions, and by representing, in elevated measure, ludicrous objects and circumstances, a species of the mock-heroic of which Philips was the first author. In this latter sort of style Mr. Cowper has displayed great powers of versification, and great talents for humor. Of this the historical account he has given of chairs, in the first book of the Task, is a striking specimen.
The attention, however, is the most detained by those passages, in which the charms of rural life, and the endearments of domestic retirement, are pour. trayed. It is in vain to search in any poet of ancient or modern times for more pathetic touches of representation. The Task abounds with incidents, intro-duced as episodes, and interposing an agreeable relief to the grave and serious parts of the poetry. Who has not admired his crazy Kate? A description in which the calamity of a disordered reason is painted with admirable exactness and simplicity.
“She begs an idle pin of all she meets.” I know of no poets who would have introduced so minute a circumstance into his representation; yet who is there that does not perceive that it derives its effect altogether from the minuteness with which it is drawn?
It were an endless task to point out the beauties. of the poem. It is now established in its reputation, and, by universal consent, it has given Cowper a very high place among the English poets.
ARGUMENT OF THE FIRST BOOK. Historical deduction of seats, from the stool to the Sofa...A school
boy's ramble....A walk in the country.... The scene described.... Rural sounds as well as sights delightful....Another walk....Mistake concerning the charms of solitude corrected....Colonnades commended....Alcove, and the view from it.... The wilderness.... The grove.... The thresher.... The necessity and the benefits of exercise.... The works of nature superior to, and in some in. stances inimitable by, art.... The wearisomeness of what is commonly called a life of pleasure...Change of scene sometimes expedient....A common described, and the character of Crazy Kate introduced.... Gipsies... The blessings of civilized life.... That state most favorable to virtue.... The South Sea islanders compassionated, but chiefly Omai...His present state of mind supposed.... Civilized life friendly to virtue, but not great cities....Great cities, and London in particular, allowed their due praise, but censured.... Fete champetre.... The book concludes with a reflection on the fatal effects of dissipation and effeminacy upon our public measures.
I sing the sofa. I, who lately sang
Time was, when clothing sumptuous or for use, Save their own painted skins, our sires had none. As yet black breeches were not ; satin smooth, Or velvet sost, or plush with shaggy pile: The hardy chief upon the rugged rock Wash'd by the sea, or on the grav’ly bank Thrown up by wintry torrents roaring loud, Fearless of wrong, repos’d his weary strength. Those barb'rous ages past, succeeded next The birth-day of invention ; weak at first, Dull in design, and clumsy to perform. Joint-stools were then created; on three legs
*Sce Poems, vol. I.
Upborne they stood. Three legs upholding firm
At length a generation more refin’d
Now came the cane from India, smooth and bright