« AnteriorContinuar »
He evidently remembers Hotspur's description of the fop ambassador in Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth. Chatham and Wolfe are dead ;
“ praise enough,
And Wolfe's great name compatriot with his own All that England has now to teach France is “superior jockeyship”. The audience of poetry has grown "fastidious or else listless”. It is not mere satire that is needed ;
“ Leviathan is not so tamed; Laughed at, he laughs again”. Earnest teaching from the pulpit is essential ; not sermons bought from “the Doctor”, “grand caterer and dry-nurse of the church”. He appeals to the bishops not to lay
“ careless hands
And then skip down again ; pronounce a text,
And with a well-bred whisper close the scene". He scorns all affectation and loves simplicity. He hates the facetious preacher, who courts a grin when he should woo a soul, and seeks popular applause; he hates the philosophic and histrionic pulpiteer. He explains for his “gentle reader yet unborn" the wooden “monitor”, evidently a board strapped on to the back to keep the body erect, “one proof at least of manhood”, but evidently the only one in the age. He launches into indignant satire on the frequenters of society,
She that asks
And 'tis a fearful spectacle to see
So many maniacs dancing in their chains”. “Profusion is the sire” of all this; and “it is a hungry vice”. It has taken all virtue away, it has killed the sage Discipline at the universities,
“where Ignorance instils,
He closes with a pathetic eulogy of his dead brother and a wail over the spawn,
the race obscene with which profusion fills the land.
16. In the third book called The Garden he falls back under the influence of the eighteenth century spirit. The verse is more monotonous, the method more palpably didactic, the judgment and principles often retrograde. There is the same theme, the contrast between the overgrown, turbulent, and vicious city and the peaceful and innocent pleasures of the country. But he has got into his preaching mood again, and he is satisfied with the moral, and little anxious to send it home by felicitous phrase or picture. He apostrophises domestic happiness twice, condemns science, especially geology and astronomy, for their audacity in trying to discover truth, their toil of " dropping buckets into empty wells”, yet praises Newton, Milton, and Sir Matthew Hale, goes into tedious prosaic details about pruning and making a hot-bed and attending to a greenhouse, and ends with an attack on gambling and over-improving estates, and an apostrophe to London, the “crowded coop”. His description of gardening is quite on a level with the most prosaic of eighteenth century didactic poems like Dyer's Fleece and Grainger's Sugar Cane; it is almost bathos ;
“The stable yields a stercoraceous heap
“ Then leisurely impose,
From the full fork, the saturated straw". The most interesting passages are the autobiographical, especially that beginning
“I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since”, the description of the true lovers of the country, the condemnation of the “detested sport”, hunting, and the compassionate picture of the hare which he has fed for ten years. This last is to be placed along with Burns's Addresses to a Mouse and to a Daisy, and his “On Seeing a Wounded Hare Limp by me, which a fellow had just shot at ”, as a true product of the new sympathy with lower life. And in it he approaches again to the attitude of Rousseau.
17. In the fourth book called The Winter Evening he gets into his true vein 'as painter of the joys of peaceful home-life in the country. He becomes again the melodious versifier of the half-humorous, half-meditative social essay. He gets clear of his eighteenth century didacticism and chats in melodious verse on topics that exactly suited the new audience; and in the course of the book he confesses himself “reclaimed” from his "erroneous taste for “ingenious Cowley”; whilst he rejects all Arcadian pictures of rural felicity, such as Virgil and Sir Philip Sidney give. He abandons secondhand or artificial poetic raptures and looks with his own eyes on the world around him. Hence the attractive pictures of the cosy home on a winter's night with the "bubbling urn”, the
that cheer but not inebriate” (a phrase from Bishop Berkeley's Siris), the arrival of the post-boy with the newspaper and all its echoes of the outside world, the suggestions of the snowstorm, the struggling waggoner, and the sweet twilight gaze into the "flickering fire". Hence too the pictures of the winterpinched yet honest poor, of the fowl-yard plunderer, and of the village alehouse, an intentional contrast with its “stale debauch and “cheek-distending oath” to Goldsmith's rose-coloured scene. In the latter part of the book he mourns as usual over the degenerate days in which his lot has fallen. He attributes the growing immorality and crime to fashion, ("the town has tinged the country”), to the desertion of their country-houses by the gentry and nobility to the corruption amongst magistrates, to “universal soldiership”, the soldier returning with low tastes to corrupt his home and village, and to the growth of commercial and other companies, which "build factories with blood”. He closes with an assertion that the love of nature is “ born with all” and is never completely quenched even in the city. The description of the newspaper must have been written contemporaneously with Crabbe's Newspaper (1785), and shows how the increase of journalism was a new feature of country life that was changing its face.
18. The first part of the fifth book, The Winter Morning Walk, contains perhaps the finest poetic picture of winter scenes in English; they are the product of the keenest
powers of observation and the most loving fancy; phrases, like
“half petrified to sleep In unrecumbent sadness” of cattle waiting on the snow for their fodder, and
“Lean pensioners upon the traveller's track” of the rooks after a snowstorm are whole pictures in themselves. There follows his habitual indignation at war ; but here it passes into revolutionism ; he shows the inflated paltriness and tyrannical injustice of kings,
". The arbiters of this terraqueous swamp,
Storks among frogs”; and bursts into a glowing panegyric of freedom; and in this occurs the famous passage descriptive of the Bastille and its horrors.
“ There's not an English heart that would not leap
To hear that ye were fallen at last," is his cry that was to be answered seven years after. He mourns over England, yet loves her still as the home of freedom. The latter half is his versified sermon, to which his own earnestness, his idea of the poet's mission, and the section of the new audience he addressed all prompted him. It consists of a picture of man's depravity, an attack on the futility of the deism of the time, a comparison of patriots and martyrs and of their treatment by Hume the historian, and an eloquent address to the Creator.
19. The last book, The Winter Walk at Noon, is the longest ; it contains much noble eloquence and much somewhat tedious didacticism, many pictures of nature, and one or two satiric touches. He begins with the sound of distant bells and the memories they awaken. And, as he walks under the cloudless vault or beneath umbrageous trees, he meditates, and thinks
“ meditation here
May think down hours to moments”;
“ Lanes in which the primrose ere her time
and wisdom differs from knowledge. He dilates upon the beauty of the various flowers and the change that spring works; nature evincing
" that there lives and works
A soul in all things and that soul is God”. This looks like the shadowy pantheism of Wordsworth ; but some fifty lines farther on he corrects his language;
“ Nature is but a name for an effect
Whose cause is God”. He condemns the chess and billiards and shopping that keep men and women at noon from looking into nature; and he laughs at the would-be connoisseur in pictures who hangs about auction-rooms with
Tongue accomplished in the fulsome cant
And pedantry of art-criticism. Better to seek the loveliness of nature and the innocent sympathy with animal life in which Cowper seems to anticipate the American solitary Thoreau. He breaks into another eloquent attack on sportsmen ;
“ Carnivorous through sin, Feed on the slain, but spare the living brute”. He tells a story of a young atheist Misagathus or Hater of Good, who in braggart mood tries to ride over a cliff, but is checked by his horse, though afterwards the horse throws him from the saddle on to the rocks below. The poet “ would not enter on his list of friends” the man, however polished, who “needlessly sets foot upon a worm”. The latter part of the book is a long depreciation of human encomiums of man; however great like Handel or Garrick, men should never cover them with fulsome praise. He ends by defending his habit of seclusion.
20. The poem is important in the evolution of English poetry more for its themes and method of treatment of them than for its originality or the lasting nature of its music. It revealed that the quiet religious middle-class were about to join the audience of poetic literature and be its controlling element. The Task emanated from their atmosphere and was written for them; and its great popularity proved that the literary sceptre was about to pass from the hands of city