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of the Old Testament; it was printed anonymously in 1781 and was "willingly let die". It is in heroic couplets, partly on the model of Churchill, partly on that of Pope. The satire is not trenchant, nor is the mock-heroic chivalry graceful.
5. It was his old school-companion Churchill he took as his model when he began his mature poetic work. Mrs. Unwin suggested The Progress of Error as the subject of a moral satire (December 1780) and the poem was soon written. It was crude in its art and harsh in its spirit, guided as it was by the unreasoning didacticism that surrounded the poet. He runs through all the pet aversions of the old puritans, writing as he was for the new audience descended from them ; instrumental music, cards, dancing, and hunting he counts as deadly sins for the clergy;
“Oh! laugh, or mourn with me, the ruesul jest,
A cassocked huntsman and a fiddling priest”.
“ If he the tinkling harpsichord regards
Laymen have leave to dance, if parsons play."
Gorgonius sits abdominous and wan,
Like a fat squab upon a Chinese fan”. Novel-reading and novel-writing he next attacks. And then he satirically describes tbe education of the young man of the time, who, after the school and university, travels with a tutor, and, returning, "proclaims,"
“ By shrugs and strange contortions of the face
How much a dunce that has been sent to roam
Excels a dunce that has been kept at home”. He closes with an attack on critics and interpreters of the Bible, on the "god of our idolatry, the Press ” which “makes earth the vestibule of hell," and on philosophy, speculation, and free-thinking. The style at the beginning, in spite of an
, occasional line like “Musical as the chime of tinkling rills," is very prosaic; for example,
“ Heaven from above and Conscience from within
Cry in his startled ear, ‘Abstain from sin'".
But it becomes more trenchant and the satire more pointed as the poem proceeds.
6. His next attempt was Truth. And the first part of this is a great improvement on his former satire. He begins in the sermonising vein, and very inaptly compares the pharisee to the peacock, "A praying synagogue-frequenting beau", and the true Christian to the pheasant. He then gives a picture of the Christian hermit and the Bramin selftormentor, and on the whole prefers the latter. But his satirical portrait of the “ancient-prude” shows his real power; it is as vigorous and realistic as anything in Hogarth's pictures; she
“Sails with lappet-head and mincing airs,
Duly at clink of bell to morning prayers ”. Behind her
“ The shivering urchin, bending as he goes,
With slip-shod heels and dew-drop at his nose”, “ Carries her Bible tucked beneath his arm,
And hides his hands to keep his fingers warm. She counts herself "half an angel ”, because " she fasts and item goes to church ”; narrates fictions of “who spanned her waist” and drank out of her slipper ; “laughs at the reputations she has torn”, and feeds on malice whilst she mortifies the flesh. “True piety”, he adds, “is cheerful as the day”. He compares the good servant and the base hireling ; has a long-drawn and feeble simile for the sinner alarmed; and draws a contrast between Voltaire, “the brilliant Frenchman to whom “the Scripture was a jest-book ", and “yon cottager who weaves at her own door”, and “just knows and knows no more the Bible true". This is the most striking part of the poem and thereafter he falls into pulpiteering that becomes once or twice eloquent, but is usually prosaic.
7. Then followed Table Talk, the most desultory poem in the volume. It is practically a panegyric of liberty, of the past, of the true poet, and of religion as the true theme of poetry. But it is in the form of a dialogue like many of Churchill's; the speakers are simply called A and B, B evidently representing the poet himself, and A a somewhat subtle and carping critic of his theories. They begin on
glory and the curse of war; B passes from a eulogy of the true patriot to a picture of the warlike tyrant, a mastiff” panting for blood, better represented by Death and his scythe. “ Man was made for kings” is the maxim of the seldom logical "royal brains”. Kings made for men is the true maxim. “Blest England ! if this happiness be thine”. He will not flatter or lie like a poet-laureate. He pities kings, brought up as they are, amid flattery, servility, and dissimulation,
• Smooth dissimulation skilled to grace
A devil's purpose with an angel's face”; he would rather be poor and free than a king. A objects it is easy for a poet to come from “dreaming study”, and “prate and preach what others prove”; better if he took a practical subject like taxation.
'Not Brindley nor Bridgewater would essay
To turn the course of Helicon that way”, is the reply, a reply that reveals awakening criticism of the didactic schools of poetry that had so long held sway. The Briton's love of freedom is then suggested as a theme. And he explains it as a product of nature, of the rigorous climate. France has a softer climate; hence
'The Frenchman, easy, debonair and brisk,
And laughs the sense of misery away” Nature is here almost identified with Providence by the poet. And, when it is objected that if Providence can
encourage slavery to a smile” and “fill with discontent a British isle", freedom and slavery come to the same, he shows that freedom raises the mind, makes the nature noble, encourages genius, science, religion. He bewails license and tumult, and, in panegyrising Chatham, holds that freedom neither came to life nor died with him. He confesses the evils that exist, venality, perjury,
("Stamps God's own name upon a lie just made
To turn a penny in the way of trade"), avarice, vice, mutiny; and the tyranny and ruin as the inevitable result of luxury; but he feels that all is in the hand of God. At the sneer from A, “mean you to prophesy or but to preach”, he answers by showing that the true poet is also
the prophet and by refusing the name of poet (“I play with syllables and sport in song "). A says he wrote at Westminster school when a boy; but verse now must have a creamy smoothness” to charm; it depends on the ear, and
“A man of sense could scarce do worse
Than caper in the morris-dance of verse”. B too objects to the poetry of the day for its artificiality, its frivolity, its meaningless and hackneyed verse, and its “clockwork tintinnabulum of rhyme”. The age of epic comes rarely. In Eden
poetry was not an art", but flowed naturally with “God the theme”. Next it praised heroes and kings; then, under the influence of luxury, became lascivious and bacchanal ; Anacreon and Horace played this “bedlam part”. He objects as much to the puritan ideal
harsh, intolerant, austere”, and seems to be expressing his usual defence of his art to the Rev. John Newton's stoical condemnation of it, and to his own puritan tendencies. With Charles the Second came Circean riot into literature ; and the century was purging it of "wantonness”. Pope had great "musical finesse
“”, and a most “ delicate touch”; but he
And every warbler has his tune by heart”. Of contemporaries he praises Churchill alone, and writes a most eulogistic epitaph on his old school-fellow, acknowledging at the same time his “negligence"; "spendthrift alike of money and of wit ”, he “disdained the rules he understood”. Churchill corrected by Pope is evidently still what he admires and aims at. He paints the ideal poet, instinct with nature, and mourns that religion has never been the theme of poetry. A interjects;
“Hail Sternhold then and Hopkins hail !” and he answers “amen”; they could shift if all the secular poetry were lost.
8. His fourth poem Expostulation was ready by March 1781. It is manifestly an attempt to carry out the suggestion at the close of Table Talk. For it is a jeremiad over the neglect of religion in England. He compares the country to Israel, and evidently considers it the chosen land of modern times, if only it will purge itself of its vices and acknowledge the hand of God in everything. There are few of the felicities of the three previous poems; he is too earnest to be epigrammatic or paint satiric portraits of types. He gives a sketch of the history of Britain from the point of view of an evangelical Jeremiah, and though there are some good pictures, they are unrelieved by wit or humour, and are heavy with sermonising.
9. Much the same fault belongs to Hope” and “Charity", two that he wrote at the suggestion of his publisher to fill out his volume whilst it awaited publication. They are versified sermons of the most hackneyed type, yet touched here and there into life by a strain of eloquence or a satiric portrait. They are long, Hope being as long as Table Talk, and they are full of the commonplaces of the pulpit, text and simile, reference and persuasion, that seem to have lost their life from repetition even by Cowper's time, so automatically do they roll off in periods. The heroic couplet makes them still more monotonous and soporific. The only relief is here and there a picture done with the true feeling and insight of the new poet. In Hope there are the portraits of Jonquil the blasé follower of fashion,
f" with almost every breath, Sighs for his exit, vulgarly called death '), of the schoolboy tyrant, of Vinosa, the wine-drinking defender of good works against grace,
(" The Christian hope is-Waiter draw the cork
If I mistake not-Blockhead ! with a fork !-
Mere folly and delusion-Sir, your toast.”), and of Sir Smug, the pompous patron, who is lauded by his guests as a prophet and oracle. But perhaps the most vivid episode of the poem is the picture of the life and character of Whitefield, the great preacher.
“ Leuconomus (beneath well-sounding Greek
I slur a name a poet must not speak,)
And bore the petty scorn of half an age.”
This more than monster in his proper guise.