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TAST DAYS OF COWPER.
A noble apostrophe to England, and a brilliantly sarcastic picture of a fashionable preacher are among the more striking passages of this book. Then come The Garden, The Winter Evening, The Winter Morning Walk, and The Winter Walk at Noon, full of exquisite description and deep kindliness. Mirrored in these beautiful poems, we see the peaceful recreations and the gentle nature of this amiable afilicted man. We learn to reverence him for his wisdom, to love him for his human tenderness, and to sympathize pitifully and deeply with the overshadowing sorrow of his fitful life.
Accompanying "The Task," which appeared in 1785 to take the hearts of all Englishmen by storm, was a review of schools, entitled Tirocinium, strongly recommending private tuition in preference to education at a public school. The sad experience of his own early school-days was, without doubt, the root from which this poem sprang.
Dissatisfied with Pope's version of the great Greek epics, Cowper now undertook to translate Homer into English verse; and by working regularly at the rate of forty lines a day, he accomplished the task in a few years. A passing attack of his old malady laid him by for a while during the progress of this work. The “Homer" appeared in 1791 ; and a revised edition, altered and corrected to a great extent, followed in 1799. Kind friends of his youth drew round the poor old man in his last years. His cousin, Lady Hesketh, induced him to remove to a villa at Weston, about a mile from his well-loved Olney. But the last and thickest cloud was darkening down. About 1794 the gloom of madness fell again upon his mind, and only for very brief intervals was there any light, until the ineffable brilliance of a higher lifo broke upon his raptured gaze. A sad sight it must have been to see the grey-haired sufferer standing by the coffin, where his faithful friend of many years—the kind, devoted Mary Unwin-lay in the last marble sleep. She died in 1796; and in less than four years the gentle poet, whom her roof-tree had sheltered, and her gentle ministerings had cheered and solaced for April 25, fully thirty years, closed his eyes for ever on the earth, 1800 wbich had been to him indeed a place of many sorrows.
A pension of £300 a year from the king had comforted his declining days. He was able before death to revise his “Homer," and to leave in the little poem of The Castaway—descriptive of a sailor's death, who had been washed overboard in the mid Atlantic
the last sad wail of his noble lyre. Already the darkness of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was on his soul, when he sang the concluding words
“We perished, each alone; But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he." To forget Cowper's Letters, in a sketch of his literary life, would be unpardonable. Southey, his best biographer, calls him “the best of English letter-writers;” and there is no exaggeration in the praise. Loathing from his soul, as he tells us, all affectation, he writes to his friends in fine simple English words, which have caught their lustre, as style must always do, from the beauty of the thoughts expressed. A sweet, delicate humour, plays throughout these charming compositions, like golden sunlight on a clear and pebbled stream.
APOSTROPHE TO WINTER.
(FROM "TIE TASK," BOOK IV.)
Till the street rings; no stationary steeds
In the year 1790 a profligate and dissipated captain in the Guards abandoned his wife and a little child of two years in the stony wilderness of London. The officer's name was John Byron; his wife was Catherine Gordon of Gight in Aberdeenshire. He went abroad to die; she went north to Aberdeen with her little lame boy to live as well as she could on £130 a year.
There, in Scottish schools, the boy received his early education, until an announcement reached the small household in the city of granite, that, by the death of his grand-uncle, “Geordie” was a lord,
and owner of Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. At 1798 once his weak, capricious mother, was seized with a desperate
horror of her son's lameness, which had existed from his
birth. In vain she tried quacks and doctors. The foot remained unchangeably distorted, and to the last a look at the deformity stabbed Byron like a dagger. Less than two years at a Dulwich boarding-school, and some time at Harrow, prepared the young lord for entering Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1805. Already the youth of seventeen, thoroughly spoiled by his foolish mother, who flung things at him one moment, and strained him to her breast the next, had been neglecting his regular studies, but eagerly devouring other books of every class and kind. Oriental history seems early to have fascinated his taste; and this early love gave its own colouring to his chief poetical works. Already, too, another love than that for books had been tinging his spirit with its
ENGLISH BARDS AND SCOTCH REVIEWERS."
hues. The lame but handsome boy was only fifteen, when he met that Mary Chaworth, whose coldness towards him was the first rill of lasting bitterness that mingled with the current of his life. The beautiful Dream, which we find among
tells the sad story of this boyish love and its results.
The young lord's life at Cambridge lasted about two years, during which he made some firm friends among the students, but annoyed and estranged the college Dons by his irregularities. Among other freaks, he kept bull-dogs and a bear in his rooms, the latter of which he introduced to visitors as in training for a fellowship. His lameness did not prevent him from taking a full share in athletic sports. , At school he had loved hockey and cricket better than the Latin poets. At college, and during his residence at Newstead, before he came of age, he was passionately fond of boating. A large Newfoundland dog was his invariable companion during the lonely cruisings he enjoyed.*
During his leisure hours at school and college he had been penning occasional verses, which appeared at Newark in 1807, in a little volume entitled Hours of Idleness. Very boyish and very weak these verses were, but they hardly merited 1807 the weighty scorn with which an Edinburgh reviewer A.D. noticed them within the year. Stung to the quick by this article, with the authorship of which Lord Brougham is charged, the “ noble minor” retorted in a poem, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which showed the world that the abused versicles were but the languid recreations of a man in whose hand, when roused to earnest work, the pen became a tremendous and destruc
Two years of foreign travel (1809-1811), led the poet through scenes whose beauty and historic interest inspired the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Though Byron was only one-and-twenty when he set out upon this tour of Spain and Turkey, the shadow of disappointed love had long been brooding upon his heart. In spite of his own repeated denials, we cannot
* The Epitaph on this dog; especially the last line, affords a strange glimpse of the poet's misanthropic pride